I am the product of a mixed marriage. Mother embraced Christmas with all the enthusiasm of a four-year-old while Daddy had to be pulled, kicking and fighting into the season, dreading the ruckus and expense. Mother felt the Christmas tree had to be up no later than December 18, to get maximum joy from it. Daddy dawdled around as long as possible, insisting December 22 was the earliest it could go up. He always put it off until Mother was about to blow a gasket.
Finally, he’d hook the trailer to his old tractor, fetch his power saw and call us to all pile on for the search. We’d bump over rutted farm trails, hanging on for dear life. Mother and Phyllis would be clinging to the little ones while Mother yelled for Daddy to take it slow. Daddy had plenty of kids and assured Mother we were having a great time as we clutched the rails. Most of the time we were. Before long, we’d be combing through several groves while Daddy rejected tree after tree. Finally, he’d steer us toward the one he’d earmarked weeks or months earlier.
The roar of his power saw signaled the fall of the tree. Sometimes, Mother wouldn’t be quite satisfied and would bring home an extra, which she wired together with the first to make it fuller.
Eventually, the tree trimming was complete, every ball, string of tinsel, and special ornament in place. Mother garnished it with shimmering fiberglass angel hair. Every year when the lights came on, we oohed and ah’ed our gorgeous tree, assuring ourselves that this year’s was the most beautiful we’d ever had.
Anya lay awake a long time thinking after Joe went to the barn and the kids slept, the baby snuggled up warm and sweet in the curve of her body. In his rope bed near the fire, the boy cried out for his mama in his sleep and whimpered without waking. Anya went to him, smoothed his hair and rubbed his back till he went back to sleep. His warm little hand sought hers and she felt stirrings of pity for him, even though she tried not to. She’d already lost the battle of staying detached from the little girl, and was beginning to wonder if she could take the poor motherless thing when she left though she saw the folly in that. She had no friends, nowhere to go and no way to care for the child. Not only that, she might have killed the peddler. The law was hard on a woman. They might be looking to hang her right now. She needed to get far enough away to disappear in a sizable town. The baby would just hold her back. A woman alone would have a hard enough time providing for herself, even if she had nothing to hide. She had to get as far away as possible and seek work as a housekeeper or cook, since that was all she knew. Having barely been to school, she couldn’t be a schoolmarm. She’d had enough of men to know she’d never marry. She needed to get to town where folks had enough money and house to need help. Her prospects were poor, but maybe when she got to Meadow Creek Church she’d meet up with somebody who could help get her on the road to something else. It would break her heart, but there’s no way she could take the tiny girl.
Out in the barn, Joe was thinking his own gloomy thoughts. He didn’t want Anya to go. He started to hope she might stay and they could be a family. Even though Anya hadn’t warmed to him, he’d gotten a little taste of family watching her doing for the baby and doing about the house. It had been such a pleasure to come in last night and find supper laid out. No one had done that for him since Ma died. When Anya left, he and the boy manage, but who would do for the baby? She was far too young to go around with him while he worked.