Claudia Schalm retired a few years ago and has finally found time to write. She joined the Williams Lake Writers Group for ‘much-needed encouragement’ and was not disappointed. “Because of them I am feeling confident enough to write and share my work,” she said. Schalm is a winner in the Tribune’s Spirit of Christmas Writing Contest.
A blizzard blew that cold Christmas evening. Snow piled high around the tiny prairie cottage. Roast duck splattered in the pan surrounded by succulent squash, potatoes and pies, piled high with tart gravenstein apples. The year was 1903.
My great grandmother Alice, a young mother then, basted the ducks, glancing contentedly at her husband as he sat in his chair reading his book, a favourite pastime for Henry.
The children Doris age 9 and Muriel age 7, happily bounced their new dolls up and down, creating all manner of imaginary games. Doris was especially jubilant as she pushed away unhappy thoughts of the previous Christmas, when she had searched for the largest of her father’s socks to hang by the fire. The larger the sock, the more goodies she would receive, was her plan.
Painful memories of that Christmas morning and her sock filled to the brim with coal, while her sister’s smaller sock was laden with candies, fruit and small handmade toys. Poor Doris, only coal, a harsh lesson in greed.
Suddenly mood and memories were shattered by a loud banging on the door. Most unusual, as their closest neighbour was a mile away. It was Christmas Day, and a blizzard was blowing. Alice jumped, burning her finger. The girls stopped their play and Henry put down his book.
“Who would be out on such an evening?” they wondered.
Henry opened the door. Just visible amid the swirling snow, stood an Indigenous man and his wife, wrapped in brightly coloured blankets. Closer inspection revealed two little girls clinging to their parents for warmth and protection.
“Come in,” boomed Henry.
Hesitantly they entered the warmth of the cabin.
“Please sir,” said Elan, the man. “We are very cold, hungry and lost. If you send us away as the others have done, we will not survive this blizzard. I am very worried for my wife and little girls. Please help us.”
“Of course, come in, come in.” Henry ushered, as he began helping them off with their wraps. Alice quickly set four extra places at the table. The little girls were about the same ages as Doris and Muriel. They stared at one another in shyness.
“Would you like to see my doll,” asked Muriel, as she pushed the doll toward her new friend. The little girls stared in wonder at the beautiful dolls.
Elan explained to Henry how they had become confused and lost when the blizzard came upon them. He had stopped at several farms and been turned away.
Soon the duck and all the trimmings were placed upon the table. Henry said a prayer of thanks for the food before them and especially for their new friends, Elan, his wife Lena and the two girls Winonah and Kalista. With the filling of empty bellies, the warmth of the fire, a friendship kindled, and comfortable conversation flowed.
Later that evening, warm blankets were placed on the floor beside the fire and the weary travellers bedded down for the night, lulled to slumber by the howling winds outside and the crackling fire inside.
Morning dawned clear and cold. Huge snowdrifts blanketed the land. After a breakfast of warm porridge and strong coffee, the young family bid farewell to the kind settlers who had become their friends.
Alice whispered a firm suggestion to Doris and Muriel, and the two little girls reluctantly offered their beautiful dolls to Winonah and Kalista as a parting gift.
And they were gone.
Months later, in the early spring, two horses galloped into the yard. The family had returned. Elan slipped from his horse and approached. He held a beautifully beaded purse and he presented it to Henry.
“A gift for your kindness. We are friends.” He smiled, bowing to Henry and his family.
He turned quickly. Silently, he swung onto his horse, turned, and without a backward glance, they galloped into the distance.
The story of the unexpected guests has been told through the years and the framed beaded purse has found a home on the living room wall of my brother Mark.