Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Christmas memory that became a novella
What follows is excerpted from a book of sod house memories published by the Sod House Society. Many years after I first read it, it inspired my novella titled "A Patchwork Love" for A Patchwork Christmas. I hope you enjoy reading "the rest of the story" (as Paul Harvey would say).


It was Christmas Eve! I was seven years old during World War I. My father was in Los Angeles. My mother worked as a satin lady in a big store in North Platte, Nebraska. On Christmas eve when the store closed, we took the seven o'clock train to go out to Ogallala way out in the sandhills of Nebraska where her brother lived on a farm with seven children.

We were the only passengers going to Ogallala as the train headed into a terrible snowstorm. The heavy snowstorm increased the depth of the snow until the train was forced to stop. 

My mother hadn't brought any food because it was supposed to be only a two-hour journey. We were snowbound on the train. The drifts of snow were up to the tops of the windows. The only people on that train (five passenger cars and a mail car) were the engineer, the fireman, the conductor, the brakeman, and us. 

My mother was very tired and emotional. She began to cry and sat quietly crying the whole evening--how terrible it was! But the conductor and brakeman were very good to me, giving me a nickel and some candy, and tried to cheer up my mother.

About twelve o'clock midnight I was awakened, as we heard some jingling bells outside the train. The conductor came into our car and said, "You'd better put your coats and boots on, because a nearby farmer has come to get you in his sleigh." 

We went to the door of the train with our suitcase and my doll and looked out. There were two great big black horses with bells all over the harness. They took us out and put us in the sleigh and covered us with fur lap robes. I recall how wonderful it was for me to ride behind the bells through a white world.

The man could not speak English and neither could his wife. They were Norwegian. She gave us hot coffee and some kind of wonderful bread. I can just remember that good bread because we were so hungry.

It was a two-story homestead house--two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs. We went upstairs and there was a featherbed. It was cold--oh, my land, but it was cold! It must have been 40 degrees below zero and no heat upstairs. We got into bed and the lady put another feather tick on top of us.

In the morning, I dressed by the big cookstove in the kitchen. The lady had made a Christmas tree for me. She had taken this beautiful handmade lace and wrapped it around and around a chair with ribbon bows, and right on the seat bottom of the chair was a dish with an apple, an orange, and some hard candy. Another plate had some beautiful cutout cookies. She didn't have anything else to give me but I thought it was wonderful. My mother had a sewing box for me. Inside was a blue satin lining with needles and thimbles, scissors, and some satin scraps. 

I was happy.

--from "Pioneering--My Story" by Florence May Callihan Noble May

Here is a link to the book of Sod House Memories in which Mrs. May's original ten-page memoir first appeared. The book is out of print, but used copies can occasionally be found.

Have a blessed Christmas.