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A Christmas Star

Written and illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner

Inspired by a story told by Grandma Mead on many a Christmas Eve.


My breath blew out in front of me in billowy, white clouds. “I wonder if Bella knows what today is.” I said.


Jacob looked up from milking. “Sure she does, don’t ya ol’ girl.” He slapped the cow’s round side.


I held out a handful of hay for her. “How does she know? She’s just a cow?”


“Baby Jesus was laying in a cow’s manger,” Jacob said.


“Not Bella’s. That was a long time ago.”


“Haven't you ever heard of tales being told from generation to generation?” he asked. I nodded. “So, who’s to say cows don’t do the same thing?”


Jacob liked to fool with me, so I said. “I’ll ask Pa when he comes home. He’ll tell me straight.”


“If he makes it over the mountain,” Jacob said.


Girl in a Field by Traci Van Wagoner
I pulled out the lucky charm Pa gave me at Thanksgiving,

“He’ll make it, you’ll see.” I pulled out the lucky charm Pa gave me at Thanksgiving, his brass identification tag from the last coal mine he worked at. “He said wild horses couldn’t keep him away. He’s going to bring me a new coat.”


“Sure, sure,” Jacob said. “If the mine boss let’s him off in time, and if it’s not too cold, windy, or snowy to pass over the summit.”


At lunch, I stared at the melting butter on the steaming hunk of homemade bread and worried.


“Why aren’t you eating?” Mom asked.


“Jacob said Pa might not make it home for Christmas.” I looked at Jacob and he shrugged.


Ma scolded my brother. “Stop filling her head with nonsense.”


“He’s coming home tonight, right?” I asked. “It’s Christmas Eve. He’s got to.”


“Stop fussing child,” Ma said. “Now run along both of you and play.”


Jacob and I headed to the creek, and I looked back to see Mama look up at the sky. Her eyebrows furrowed and she bit her bottom lip. Puffy white clouds snagged on top of the mountain peaks.


“Mama is worried that Pa won’t make it home,” I said. I stood up and tested the ice. Solid. “But I know he will. He promised.”


“Not if it snows,” Jacob said. “If it snows, he could get stuck for the whole winter, or worse, get lost in the mountains.”


“You’re just being mean,” I pouted, but dark clouds bunched up on top of the mountain that separated Pa from us.


girl and boy iceskating on a frozen river

The sun sank low and Jacob breezed past me. “Last one home is a lump of coal!”


I raced to catch up. “Maybe Pa is home by now!”


Jacob beat me home, and I saw his shoulders sag when he didn’t see the horse and wagon.


“He’ll be home,” I muttered as we brought in coal and wood for the fire. But the sun was going down.


“Don’t you miss him?” I asked.


“Sure, I guess,” Jacob said.


He acted casual, but I knew better.


I worried as we pulled out the Christmas box. “I don’t care if he doesn’t bring us presents,” I said.


I worried while helping drape the popcorn garland around the tree.


I heard Jacob mutter, “I don’t care if he doesn’t bring us a Christmas orange.”


“Can we put on the topper?” I asked.


“No, not ‘til Pa comes home,” Jacob said.


While we ate supper, my eyes drifted to Pa’s empty chair. I noticed Ma and Jacob looking too. Afterward, we joined Mama at the piano for some Christmas caroling.


Bong, bong, bong… the clock struck nine.


girl, boy, and mom sitting around an upright piano singing with a Christmas tree in the background anda  grandfather clock in the foreground with family photos on top of the piano

I sang my heart out, sometimes glancing out the window. It wasn’t snowing. But Papa still wasn’t home, and now the grandfather clock chimed ten. Bed time.


“I don’t want to go to bed,” Jacob said, peeking out the window.


“Mama, please let us stay up,” I said.


“Oh, all right, children. Come, let’s sit by the fire, and I’ll tell you a story about the star and the wise men.”


Halfway through the story, my eyes rolled to the window. My heart stopped. Snowflakes fell in a white curtain.


I bolted out of Ma’s lap and ran to the Christmas box. I dug deep… to the bottom. Old newspapers crinkled as I pulled out the delicate package.

top down view of a Christmas Star wrapped in paper and sittin gin a brown box painting.

I peeled back the layers of newspaper to get to the tree topper. A shiny, silver star.


“The star will guide Papa home!” I said.


Ma put a candle in the star, and Jacob carefully placed it on top of the tree in our window. “Pa will be able to see that from miles away,” he said.


“I hope so,” I whispered.


Snow piled up on the windowsill, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the glowing star on top of our tree. It had to work. Papa had to see it.


Tick-tock, tick-tock. Almost eleven.


I heard something. A snort. A whinny. The creak of wagon wheels and a whistle. “It’s Papa!”


“I knew he would make it!” Jacob hollered.


We raced outside toward Papa’s bobbing lantern. I elbowed Jacob and grinned, “I knew you missed him.”


“Whoa!” Papa’s voice boomed. The horses stopped in a jangle of harnesses.


I flew into Papa’s arms. “I knew you would make it home.” I placed his little piece of luck into his cold hands. “I kept it with me always so I knew you would come home safe.”


Pa smiled. “I felt your warm thoughts clear on the other side of the mountain. And through the blustering wind at the summit. When I saw the star glowing in the window, I knew which way was home.”


As we walked back to the house, Pa reached into his pockets. “I brought you both something. It isn’t much, but I know you haven’t had one since last Christmas.”


He handed us each an orange as orange as the star shining brightly in our window, the star that guided Papa home.


a girl leaps into her papa's arms with mama looko=ing on and her brother holding the horse the pulled the wagon that brought pap home on Christmas Eve

©Traci Van Wagoner, all rights reserved

 


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