And another thing—I didn’t know Becky could sing. I like to sing too, but no one has ever heard me, no one alive now anyway, not since the day Priscilla went into the river. Priscilla, the star at the top of my Christmas tree . . .

Christmas Eve

“Watch it, Blum.” That’s Daniel.

“Don’t drop me,” Patience squeals.

What in tarnation?

I fling open my bedroom door to find a strange procession.

Daniel backs down the steps, gripping the legs of a wooden chair, which is tilted at a forty-five-degree angle. Patience sits on the chair like the Queen of Sheba, and Dr. Blum supports the back, followed by Danny who scoots down on his bottom.

“Be careful!” Patience laughs again, as if it’s a big joke. She’s dressed, bare-legged in a red silk kimono with dangling red cut-glass earrings that catch the light.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I inquire.

“Patience wanted to come down to sing Christmas carols around the piano,” Hester explains.

“I’ll recline on the sofa. What’s the difference, lying down here or lying up there? It’s Christmas Eve.”

“What if they drop you?” I roll my eyes.

The men groan, their faces red from the exertion, and when they reach the davenport, Patience, giggling like a schoolgirl, quickly slides over onto it.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say the woman has had something to drink and I don’t mean lemonade. Hester carries around that little flask. . . .

“There! Isn’t this nice?” Daniel proclaims. “Blum, bring the cookies.”

In the corner in a bucket is a six-foot newly cut spruce that the men brought in earlier this afternoon, and the room is filled with its fragrance. “Let’s put the decorations on. Did you bring down the paper chains Danny and I made and the lights and the box of glass balls?” Patience asks.

I leave the room while they begin the process of putting on the ornaments and lights and return, after a major search, with the one decoration I’ve had with me all these years: a glass nutcracker on a golden string, made in Holland and brought to me by my soldier husband when he returned from the Great War. Isaac wires it near the top, next to a wooden angel that Patience says belonged to her old midwife teacher, Mrs. Kelly.

“Shall I dim the lights and plug in the tree? Everyone ready?” Daniel asks. Patience makes the sound of a drum roll while he reaches for the prong, and instantly the room is illuminated by the large red, blue, gold, and green bulbs. The midwife claps her hands like a little girl and hugs Danny, whose eyes are round with surprise. When I look over at Blum, he is looking at me, this time as if he actually sees me.

27

Caroling

“O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree!” Patience begins, and Daniel slides onto the piano bench to bang out the tune. I have never heard him play before and assumed that only Patience knew how. “Your branches green delight us!” We wing through the English version, then Daniel sings the German.

“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, Wie true sind deine Blätter!” My grandmother who came from the old country taught me,” he explains, then reaches for an old hymnal and hands it to me. I draw a kitchen chair next to the sofa so that Patience and I can share. We all know the first verse and sometimes the second, but without the words in front of us we can’t remember the rest.

Blum still stands next to the kitchen door and I squeeze past him to bring in another chair, and then lead him over so that if he wanted to, and I’m not saying he would, he could share the hymnal with us.

“How about ‘Silent Night,’ ” Patience suggests. “Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright,” we sing the old words. Patience looks up at me. “Thinking of the Virgin Mary, having a baby alone in the stable?”

I shrug and smile. Actually, I was thinking of my husband, David Myers, remembering our last Christmas together. I tried so hard to make it nice for him. . . .

“How about number 214?” Daniel asks. “ ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’ . . . No, wait a minute. I’ve got something special on the stove.” He returns with a tray of four mugs and a glass of sweet warm milk for Danny. “Rum toddies!” He passes them all around and this time I don’t say a word about Dr. Blum not drinking alcohol.

“Daniel first seduced me with rum toddies. They’re dangerous drinks. This was back when we first met. He came to my house on Wild Rose Road and brought cream and liquor. It was still during Prohibition and it was Christmas Eve.” He grins his lopsided grin, she smiles, and I raise my eyebrows.

“Nothing happened. See you’ve shocked Becky,” the vet jokes.

The music starts up again. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”; “The First Noel”; and then one I don’t know, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” For a minute there’s silence, then finally I rise to give Patience a good night hug. My embrace is stiff, for I’m not much of a hugger. “Merry Christmas.”

“Come here, you two.” Daniel jumps off the piano bench and enfolds both Dr. Blum and me into his arms, squeezes so hard I hear the bells ringing.

“Me too. Me too!” Danny hollers until we open the three-person circle and let him in. Patience yawns and rubs her growing belly. “It’s Christmas Eve, Danny. Come hang up your stocking and see if Saint Nick will bring you a present. I’ll sleep down here and keep an eye out. Did we save old Mr. Claus a few cookies?” Danny runs upstairs to find a sock and, returning, hangs it over the back of a chair. Isaac brings in gingersnaps for Santa on a plate.

“Good night, all,” I say again. “And off to bed, Dr. Blum! I’ll brush your teeth in the kitchen. Thank you for a lovely evening, both of you.” I stand and take the doctor’s arm, then turn to look at the tree one more time. In its simplicity it’s as beautiful as any we had in Vermont.

“You’ll turn off the Christmas lights won’t you?”

“Yes, worrywart.” Patience smiles and I can’t help but smile back.

She’s probably right. I worry too much.

Silent Night

After I get Blum settled, I perform my ritual lock check. This is something the Hesters don’t do, and since I sleep downstairs it seems only prudent. Before I latch the kitchen door, I open it and look out. The flurries have stopped and new snow covers every rock and stump, the fence rails, and branches. An almost full moon shines through the ragged clouds and I suck in air so cold it makes my lungs hurt.

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