As the days counted down to Christmas, the temperature continued to drop, and Alexis was kept inside longer each day. Snow in December was uncommon in Misty, Texas, so the change in the weather took everyone by surprise. When snow started falling on December 23, the hardware store sold out of show chains, and the local housewives made rushed shopping trips to stock up on the supplies they would need if their families got snowed in. The snow lasted through the next day, and everyone in town was excited about the prospect of a White Christmas.
In the afternoon, when the snow had attained a depth of all of six inches, Kelly took his little daughter out of the house bundled up in winter-wear. She could only walk in by rocking side to side, letting her legs swing back and forth. Alexis thought that the strange clothes, which made her walk funny, were part of the game her daddy was playing. She laughed and giggled, making her way through the snow, as Kelly kept a strong grasp on her hand to keep her upright. He led her to an area at the side of the house where the grass was cut short before winter had set in, and the snow was lying in an unbroken blanket, bright in the weak winter sunlight.
When the pair came to a standstill Alexis leaned over stiffly and examined the white stuff. Looking up at her father she asked solemnly, “Daddy, what dat?”
Kelly crouched down next to her and scooped up a double handful of snow and held it up for her to see and said, “This is snow baby.”
“Daddy, you called me baby! That means you love me! Love you too baby!” said Alexis with gusto, making her father realize that he was going to have to work on refining how Alexis used the endearment, or she would be calling the elders of the town baby, like some sort of hip young thing.
“Ah, yes, I do love you sweetheart,” he said pondering as to how he was going to get Alexis to use the endearment correctly without making her feel that her big-girl status was being challenged.
“What’s snow?” asked Alexis, forgetting semantics.
“It is rain that got very cold, because it got caught in the wind in the clouds. It went round and round up in the clouds, getting colder and colder, until it crystalized. When it got crystalized, it was too heavy for the wind to carry anymore and it drifted down to the ground,” he said, wondering if he was giving her too much information for her age.
“What is cry-stal-ized?” asked Alexis, pronouncing the word very slowly, producing each syllable as if it were a separate word.
“Look very closely at the snow on the arm of my jacket. You can see each flake against the dark cloth. See how each one is all spiky and makes a nice pattern? Those are crystals,” he said, thinking that he would have to set up an experiment to make rock candy for her soon. He dropped the snow after she had time to examine it, and pulled off his glove. Taking a small amount of snow into his hand, he held it so she could watch the snow melt. “See when I warm it with my hand it becomes water again.”
“Again Daddy, Again!” exclaimed Alexis, bouncing up and down in her stiff outfit.
“No, baby, it makes Daddy’s hand very cold. I will show you again, next time it snows,” he said, as he pulled his glove back on. Seeing the corners of her mouth twitch, he knew that Alexis was gearing up to protest, so he quickly distracted her by scooping up more snow, “Here is something even more fun,” he said as he pressed the snow into a ball, and placed the ball into Alexis’ mittened hand.
She looked at the snowball briefly, and knowing what to do with a ball, threw it as hard as she could. When the ball exploded into the snow, kicking up more snow, Alexis looked to her father in amazement.
“Yes, baby, snowballs don’t stay together very well,” he said, before making her another one. He made the white orbs and she tossed them, over and over, oblivious to the watching faces in the kitchen window.
“Mr. Archie sure loves that little girl,” remarked Eileen, as they watched the display outside.
“Yes, she has become his life. You know, we never wanted children,” said Genevieve, thinking back to the day in New York nearly five years ago when she had woken up sick, and became even more sick with fear, when she realized the meaning of her illness.
“You are kidding me!” exclaimed Eileen, finding the idea that a person might not want a child, quite strange.
“No, Alexis was a big surprise. I was told when I was a young girl that I would never be able to have children, so I had made my peace with that, and had my whole life planned,” explained Genevieve.
“Well, I can understand that, but Mr. Archie? I thought all men wanted a son to carry on,” said Eileen, always interested in finding out how city folk thought about things. To her, it didn’t matter that Kelly was a local boy because he had run away to the city all those years ago.
“Well, it surprised me when I met him too. I have always wondered about it, but have never gotten him to open up about why,” said Genevieve, slowly, realizing that it was a long time since she had thought about Kelly’s once strongly held opinions on fatherhood.
“Well, I remember when he was a boy, he thought his father hung the moon and stars. Maybe he just didn’t believe he could live up to Napoleon,” said Eileen, wisely.
“You may be right, Eileen. Though I met him long after his father was killed, he acted as if it had happened just the day before,” said Genevieve sadly. “But anyway, we were shocked and downright horrified when we found out Alexis was coming, but by the time she arrived, she was the center of our lives,” said Genevieve, blushing slightly at the memory of throwing her pocketbook at the wall of the doctor’s examining room after he had walked out, picking it up and taking it home and throwing it again, at Kelly.
“I guess that is why it takes nine months for them to get here,” said Eileen with a smile. “It gives you time to adjust to the idea.”
“I think you are right. Oh, look Kelly is rolling up a larger ball. He is going to make a snowman. Oh, I am going to get the Zoomatic and get a movie of this,” said Genevieve, and dashed to her living room studio, grabbed her coat and the camera, before dashing out the back door.
“Oh, I see you have your new toy,” said Kelly, when he looked up to see his wife adding her footsteps to the snow, as she advanced, winding the spring motor of the camera he had given her as an early Christmas present when her first camera had inexplicably stopped working. Genevieve and Kelly took turns filming and building, until they had built a mirror family to themselves of a snowman, snow-woman and snow-child.
“I have hot coco ready,” Eileen called from the kitchen door. She timed the making of the coco to finish just after the finishing touches were made to the snow family.
“Oh, you are a gem, Eileen,” called out Kelly, as he turned to Alexis. “Let’s go get some hot coco, Alexis, I am about frozen as this snowman.”
Christmas Day dawned bright, clear, and snow free, though a little muddy. When Kelly woke, his wife was sitting in the window seat of the dormer window, gazing out at the remains of the snow people standing tilted in the now visible grass. “How is the snow?” asked Kelly in a sleepy voice.
“Gone, I am afraid,” she said, her voice expressing her disappointment that her daughter wouldn’t be getting a white Christmas. “I miss New York.”
“I know you do baby, but we both agree that it is no place to raise a child,” he reminded her, as he lay in bed wondering again, why such a wonderful woman should have passed up all the handsome men in their circle to accept him.
“That is true. Are you enjoying how quiet it is, this early in the morning? Next year and for many years to come, I bet we won’t be able to sleep this late on Christmas Day,” she remarked.
“You speak the truth, woman,” he said stretching and heaving himself out of the warm bed with reluctance. As he stood he sniffed the air and looked at his wife with a puzzled expression on his face.
Laughing, Genevieve enlightened him, “What you are not smelling is … coffee and breakfast. Remember Eileen doesn’t work on Christmas. Even her devotion has its limits. We had better get downstairs and see if we still know how to do it ourselves.”
As they slowly drug themselves out of bed, Kelly noticed that his wife was frowning, and asked, “What is the matter dear? I know that you can’t be that worried about us having to shift for ourselves, can you?”
“Kelly, I am worried about Bennie, being alone in New York over the holidays. Maybe we should have invited him to come to the farm. Not as my model, but as a guest,” said Genevieve, broaching a subject that was on her mind for some time.
“No, dear, Bennie doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and he was with Eitan Abrahams, for Hanukkah. Living there, you know he will never be alone. Though the old man passed away, Eitan keeps up the tradition. It is still a great place for a young actor to be,” said Kelly, reassuringly.
“You are right of course, but … Bennie is beginning to feel like family,” said Genevieve, wistfully.
“Well, next year we will ask him to come… Okay?” asked Kelly, receiving a wide smile from his wife.
The couple donned their robes, taking advantage of their solitude by not dressing before going down to the kitchen. Once there, Kelly rummaged through the refrigerator and found that Eileen had arranged everything they would need for breakfast, including a pan of biscuits with baking instructions, on the center shelf, so that he couldn’t miss it. “That woman is a gem!” He remarked, again, as his wife took on the chore of starting the percolator that was all ready primed with water and fresh coffee grounds.
Kelly turned on the oven, and set the raw biscuits out to warm a little while the oven was preheating. Eileen had left a small bowl with six eggs sitting ready on the counter. When they had first expanded Eileen’s duties to cooking, Genevieve was shocked to see that eggs were kept unrefrigerated for so long. But Eileen had finally convinced her by reminding Genevieve that fresh eggs in the market are refrigerated, because it is so long between the laying and the selling. It was with great trepidation that Genevieve ate that first serving of unrefrigerated eggs, but the wonderful flavor of the deep orange yokes of yard raised eggs won her over.
When the oven was heated, Kelly put the biscuits onto the middle rack, and set the timer. Genevieve sat drinking her coffee, watching her husband cook the country ham in one skillet and the scrambled eggs in another. When he removed the ham from the pan, she stood up and handed him a cup of black coffee. Kelly smiled at his wife as he took the cup and splashed it into the pan, to deglaze it and let the coffee cook down to make redeye gravy. He was cooking the eggs on a very slow heat, as his mother had taught him, so they were ready just as the timer sounded and he took the hot biscuits from the oven.
As soon as the food was on the breakfast table, and Genevieve had poured a cup of coffee for Kelly, this time with cream and sugar added, an excited squeal sounded from the living room. Before Kelly and Genevieve could react their daughter dashed into the kitchen ducking under the saloon doors. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy … Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” she screeched, jumping up and down in her footed all-in-one pajamas, the rubbery soles keeping her from slipping on the polished linoleum flooring.
“Alexis, what is the matter?” her mother asked dropping down to her knees and starting to check to see if she was hurt.
“A bike, in there! Can I have it?” asked Alexis.
“It looks like someone has found out that Santa came last night,” said Kelly. “Yes, Alexis, you can have the bike, if you join us for some breakfast.” Alexis was nodding her head, willing to do any thing to receive the diminutive bike her father had assembled after she had gone to bed the night before. Genevieve scooped Alexis up and placed her in her booster seat at the breakfast table. Genevieve made up a small plate of food and sat it in front of Alexis, before serving herself.
As they ate their breakfast, Kelly and Genevieve explained to Alexis that, since she was a good girl over the past year, Santa Claus had brought her lots of nice things, including the new bike.
At the mention of Santa Claus, Alexis let a bite of egg fall off her fork to her plate, and stared suspiciously at her parents, looking at first one and then the other.
“Don’t worry baby, it was really Santa. Mr. Elbert is at home with his own kids.” Kelly assured his little girl, struggling to keep a straight face thinking of it being Gene Elbert, who had shimmied down the chimney in the night. “Mr. Elbert was just helping Santa at the Lions party. You know, Santa was very busy getting ready for last night and couldn’t go to all the parties that were being held all around the world, so nice people like Mr. Elbert stand in for him, to make life easier for Santa,” explained Kelly hoping that Alexis wouldn’t give Gene a hard time next time he came out to the farm to tend to the horses shoes.
“That’s right Alexis. It really was Santa. I know because he loves chocolate chip cookies and there is a big bite out of one that Eileen left for him,” said Genevieve, remembering how hard it was to keep Kelly from eating that last cookie completely as he finished assembling the bike.
“I have never seen her eat so much,” commented Kelly as he followed his wife and daughter into Genevieve’s public studio, where he had placed the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.
“Neither have I, but she is going to need her energy for playing with all these toys,” her mother said.
Alexis went straight for the bicycle and climbed up into the seat, well braced by both the kickstand and the training wheels. She turned the handlebars back and forth making engine noises. “Mommy, I want to go out and ride my bike!” she announced.
“Not yet dear, you are going to have to wait until it warms up outside. That will be after lunch I suspect. Nana is coming for lunch. Your great uncle and aunt are coming and bringing Toby. We will wait for them to see you ride for the first time,” said Genevieve, as she went and sat down next to the packages under the tree. She selected one and handed it to her husband. Genevieve was glad that her in-laws were spending Christmas morning at the reverend’s house, though it had surprised her that Louise would prefer her nephew to her granddaughter on Christmas morning.
“Why thank you dear,” said Kelly, and began to remove the gaudy wrapping paper. Intrigued Alexis slipped off her new bike and stood next to her father as he finished removing the paper, exposing a plain brown box. He slipped off the lid and removed a wide brimmed cowboy hat, made of straw. “Why this is just what I need!” he exclaimed, smiling at his wife and placing the hat on his head, “a summer hat.”
“You look very good in it dear,” said Genevieve, remembering how in New York, her husband had affected a black Greek fisherman’s hat, which was his trademark in their circle.
“Well, now it is your turn Alexis,” said Genevieve, handing her daughter a small package. Alexis looked at the package quizzically, “Tear it open dear,” said Genevieve, in defiance to the memory of her mother cautioning her to be careful removing wrapping paper, so that it could be folded and reused. She watched as Alexis ripped off the paper exposing a BigLittle book about one of her favorite cartoon characters.
“Oh, mommy, it is the bunny!” exclaimed Alexis in wonderment, never having realized that her beloved cartoons could be in books, as well as on the missing television and the Sunday papers.
“Yes, Honey, all your favorite cartoons can be found in books.” Kelly assured her, enjoying the look of happiness on her face. Then as he handed a package to his wife saying, “Now it is mommy’s turn.”
Genevieve took the elaborately wrapped package and ripped it open to find it mostly empty, only containing two reels of unexposed film. She looked quizzically at her husband and asked, “Why such a large box?”
“It was supposed to have your camera in it, but I had to give it to you early when the other one broke,” admitted Kelly sheepishly, wishing that he had thought to add something else to the box.
“Oh, my camera!” said Genevieve, jumping up rushed over to the cabinet where she had placed the camera after the building of the snowman, and began recording the ritual of opening the gifts, knowing that one day the films would give her grandchildren a good laugh to see their mother as a small child.
When all the packages were opened, and the torn wrappings taken out to the trash can, Kelly went into the kitchen to work on cooking their Christmas dinner. He was proud of the meal he had planned and shopped for himself, eschewing Eileen’s help. He was glad that the ham was precooked, so that it only had to bake long enough to warm it through and make a nice sweet crust on the outside. It would be ready by lunchtime. As he worked getting the ham ready to go into the oven, Genevieve wandered in and asked if he needed any help.
“No, not really, but I would enjoy it if you would stay and keep me company. Will Alexis be okay in the living room by herself?” He asked, as he closed the oven door and checked the potatoes to see if they were boiled enough to mash.
“Oh, yes, she is having the time of her life. But did you notice something? She isn’t playing with the Barbie or Ken, which Louise and Carol bought for her. Do you think it is because we told her who they were from; they weren’t from Santa?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think that is an issue. She seems to be ignoring the Chatty Cathy doll Santa brought too,” He noted.
“Oh, well, she does seem to love all the other presents. She really loves the Tonka tow truck you bought her, and the matchbox cars Bennie sent,” said Genevieve. “When are you going to give her the big present?”
“What big present? Wasn’t the bike big enough?” asked Kelly, innocently, as he strained the potatoes, saving the water for Eileen’s baking needs.
“I know you got her a new saddle. Dean Massey’s wife told me when you ordered it,” said Genevieve, reminding Kelly, of the fact that small-town-secret is an oxymoron.
“When the others get here, but I am going to tell Alexis that it is the pony’s Christmas present. I want her to get the idea of giving. After we exchange presents with the family we will go out and make presents to the animals,” he said, proud of himself for thinking up a new Christmas tradition for his family.
“Oh, Kelly that is such a good idea,” said Genevieve beaming, and reached up to wipe a smear of ham glaze off his cheek.
After the family exchanged a few more presents and consumed Kelly’s dinner with praise, they adjourned to the yard where the winter sun was making a heroic effort to dry the last of the mud-puddles.
Alexis’ heart was pounding as she eased herself up onto the bike-seat. Though her father was holding the bike steady, being outside, and not in the living room made the bike suddenly seem dangerous. Her grandmother was calling out encouragement, and her cousin Toby was sticking his tongue out at her whenever the adults looked away. She knew that he wanted a bike and thought he would get it that year. He seemed to be quite mad that the younger child got a bike first.
Her father took the bike up on a small rise, well away from the area where the standing water was all that was left of the wonderful snow she played in the day before. “Now Alexis, you must remember all you have to do now is guide the bike like I showed you. Going down the hill will make you go forward. After you get the steering down you can start to peddle.”
Alexis smiled up at her father, knowing that he didn’t know she pedaled Woody Cooper’s trike when she last visited. She assumed that there couldn’t be much difference between the trike and the bike. With a gentle push in the middle of her back from her father’s hand, Alexis started down the hill. Steering seemed to come naturally, though it seemed to her to be very different from the trike. The bike was reacting faster, but she seemed to have the hang of it. When the bike lost its momentum she started peddling without thinking what she was doing. She peddled across the flat part of the yard, staying off the training wheels for the most part, enjoying the cheers of the adults in her family. She didn’t see her father and mother looking at each other in amazement as she rode.
“Well, dear, I guess those training wheels are not going to be around too long,” said Kelly with pride.
“You are right about that,” said Genevieve, glad that her daughter was so fearless.
Toby wondered off to sulk in the kitchen, where he proceeded to eat all the left over pecan pie, while the adults watched Alexis go down the hill, over and over again. Each time they cheered as it if were the first. Finally when Genevieve saw that Alexis was getting tired, she poked Kelly with her elbow and glanced toward the barn.
“Alexis, I think you have ridden your new bike quite enough for one day. I think it is time for us to take Christmas presents to the animals,” said Kelly, garnering a look of disapproval, from his uncle. Kelly was halfway hoping that the reverend would make an issue of including animals in the Christmas celebration, so he could come back with his observations of the nativity. But Darrell tended to avoid riding his nephew when Kelly’s mother was in earshot.
“Oh, Daddy, I forgot about the animals!” cried Alexis guiltily.
“Don’t worry honey, you are new to this Christmas thing.” Kelly assured her, hoping that Alexis didn’t remember that they never celebrated Christmas in their home before. Though they probably would have avoided the celebration this year if not for Louise’s visit, he knew now that they participated once, there was no turning back. “Having lofty ideals was so much easier in the city, without all the expectations of family and community,” he thought.
Kelly went back into the kitchen, not noticing the missing pie. He retrieved the baskets of animal treats his wife put together while he cooked Christmas lunch. For the pigs, there was a bucket of slops left from the preparing the meal and cleaning the dishes afterwards.
Rejoining the family, he led them out to the barnyard, where he first greeted the sow and her piglets that came out of their sty to see what the people brought for them. Giving them their slops, Kelly felt a little guilty to be feeding pigs ham. Inside the barn, Kelly asked Alexis to help him hand around the treats to the cows, goats, sheep, and horses, who had been brought into the barn because of the colder than normal weather expected that night, as well as the dogs and cats, who knew to get themselves inside.
“Daddy, there is nothing left for Cheyenne!” said Alexis with despair, as she looked down into the last bucket.
“Is that so?” exclaimed Kelly, as if he hadn’t planned it that way. “Genevieve, whatever will we do? There is nothing in the bucket for Cheyenne.”
“Maybe Santa brought Cheyenne something. Alexis what is that in the tack room?” asked Genevieve, being coached by Kelly ahead of time.
“What?” asked Alexis, turning her attention to the open door and seeing something on a saddle-stand covered in bright wrapping paper, draped like a blanket, and festooned with a big bow. She went in and stood by the present and asked, “Santa brought this?”
“Yes, go ahead and unwrap it; Cheyenne can’t do it herself,” encouraged Kelly.
“Oh, look, it is wonderful!” exclaimed Alexis, after she ripped off the paper. Spinning around, she rushed out of the tack room and climbed up on the railing of Cheyenne’s stall. “Cheyenne! Santa brought you a beautiful saddle! And a bridle too! I am sorry you can’t use them today. Daddy said it is too wet for you to be out. Daddy, bring Cheyenne’s present so she can see it!”