Healthy, Happy Friends - December 2013
By Joan Sewell

Shoveling snow off the walkway to our front door was a difficult task but everyone in the family took a turn. We grew cold, weary and in need of warm food. Just as we stored the shovels, we realized our neighbors, an elderly couple, might not be physically able to clear their walk.

They could be injured even trying, So it was agreed that we would rest a bit and then shovel their walk after supper.

As we ate, snow began to fall again. Great fluffy flakes fell, blurring the view of the street and yard. A layer began to stick to our just-cleared walk and groans arose from around the table. “Might as well wait until morning. No one needs to be out in this weather”.

Maybe not. But carolers appeared around eight o’clock. Bundled up, we stood listening to beautiful voices rise in crisp air against a background of falling snow. Soon neighbors from both sides of the street came to listen. Music is a part of every fond Christmas memory I have.

Later – I do not know what time – my grandmother shook me awake. “Get dressed, get your coat and mittens and come with me.” Outside my window it was pitch dark. If there was a moon, it wasn’t giving off much light.

“Where are we going” Has Santa been here?” I asked.

“Never mind that? We are going to shovel the Thompson’s walk. Quiet now. Let’s get to it!”

“Can’t I see my presents first?”

No child! Don’t make a noise or turn on the light. Our neighbors might think we have someone sick. We’d wake everyone.”

The stars made the night not quite so dark. Our walk was fairly clean where the carolers had stood. The snow had stopped. “Walk where the carolers walked.” My grandmother instructed. “We’ll go down to the corner and cross. If we directly across and leave prints, they’ll know who did their walk.” She handed me the shovel used to remove ashes from the fireplace while she carried the huge snow shovel.

“Why don’t we want them to know we did it? Would they be mad or something?” I asked. I had resolved to match my grandmother shovel for shovel and it was heartening the Thompson’s walk was not as long as ours.

“No, Child, it’s not that. If they know, they’ll try to pay us back in some way and frankly; they don’t have the wherewithal to do that. Besides, the Bible tells you not to do your alms to be seen of men.”

As we finished and were walking back to the corner, Grandmother was tired and I insisted on carrying the big shovel. I studied the starry skies and inquired if a certain star could be the Star of Bethlehem. “Well, it’s kind of far in time and miles from Bethlehem, but I guess it could be. Starlight has to travel a long way. Good Girl! Now your thinking of the real Christmas instead of all that Santa stuff” Later, she ordered, “Straight to bed. Back to sleep. Not a word of this to anyone.”

I did try to get back to sleep but I got to thinking about those footprints we had walked so far to avoid leaving. Maybe, Santa, if there was a Santa, left prints on the roof. Lately, I had had my doubts about the crafty old elf. I had found yarn in the knitting basket matching a sweater Santa had brought me the previous year.

I waited until I could see the entire front roof. To be honest, I wanted to see those prints and I was disappointed when I didn’t.

Back in bed, I realized the chimney was on the back of our house. Obviously, Santa with the big bag would park as close to the chimney as possible. So how could I check out that roof without leaving prints in our back yard? I felt sure it was not wise to let a grown-up know I had doubts.

A spindly tree grew close to my window. With luck, I managed to climb from the window to a lower limb without touching the ground. I had climbed almost even with the roof when the tree cracked and tilted. Clutching the limb frantically, I began to slide down. With great effort, I swung back into my room before the tree broke in half. It landed against the house bringing lots of snow off the roof.

Quickly, I undressed and popped into bed just as my grandmother came to see what had happened. My mom and grandfather followed close behind. While the older couple discussed the fallen tree, my mom picked up my coat. “Joan, don’t you hang anything up? This coat is soaking wet. If you had hung it up last night, it would be dry now.”

Shocked, my grandmother snatched the coat from my mom. “Give it to me I’ll dry it by the stove as I cook breakfast.” As she left the room, she mouthed silently. “Not a word!”

Left alone, I wandered to the window to gaze at the fallen snow from the roof. I mourned the lost opportunity to see Santa’s prints and I never told my two secrets until now.