How Sandy Claus Come to the River


HIM and her, living all by theirselves there on the upper river, with the young ones growed up and gone, they kept right on a-setting considerable store by Christmas. Yes, sir, the old man and the old woman, they was great hands for to keep Christmas. He would cut a young fir and stand it by the south kitchen window, and the old woman would string popcorn — they growed all their own popcorn — and fetch out the busted trinkets and trim it. By a-doing so, a man’s got to suppose, they figgered somehow the children still was with them. And besides it give them two a rest from a-jowering and a-jawing one at tother the whole eternal time.

But the time a man recollects best was that time the old man taken it into his head for to play Sandy Claus for the old woman. Some says the minister give him the red suit, and there’s some tells that the old man sneaked it home from a rummage sale. There wasn’t no whiskers to it. No matter, it was all wore out and most of the trimming was gone, wherever he got it, but he reckoned that it would do for to surprise the old woman.

So he hid the Sandy Claus suit in a manger under some straw, and there’s where he hid the old woman’s Christmas presents, too. What was he fixing for to give the old woman?

Well, the old man allowed he would surely please her for once, by Godfrey, so he bought a new buttermold with the oak-leaf and acorn pattern, like she’d always hankered for, and a new crockery pitcher for pancake batter, and a brooch for to wear at her throat when they come down to the valley to church. It was a right pretty brooch, and it ought to been, on account of the old man paid six bits for it at the variety store, for a fact.

Then he bought her a pail of hard candy, like him and her was so fond of, and a big hag of niggertoes. That there was going to he a Christmas the old woman never would forget — when Sandy Claus come into the kitchen on Christmas Eve.

You never knowed him and her, did you? They was gone long before your time, wasn’t they? A man kind of forgets. Anyhow, the old woman was sharp as a bradawl and quick as a steel trap, and nary time did ever he fool her. So she knowed well enough the old man was up to something, a-grinning like a chessycat, and juking around, but all t he old woman done was to click her store teeth, like when she was a mite aggravated, and snort, and tend to her housework.

“The old fool!” she says to herself. Fact is, she said it to him more’n once, but she couldn’t rile him, and when she couldn’t she knowed for certain that the old fool was a-scheming for to make himself ridiculous somehow. And she knowed it had something to do with Christmas.

So that’s the way things was betwixt them two the day before Christmas, when they had the tree in the window with the doodads hung onto it, pretty as ary picture, and the strings of popcorn, and the colored stub candles ready in their holders. Them two et their supper without a word passed, and it a-growing darker and darker, and the old woman got up and lit the kerosene lamp, and the old man he snickered, and the old woman she sniffed and clicked her store teeth at him. He’s about ready, she says to herself, for whatever it is he’s schemed for to do. A-watching him like a sparrer-hawk, as women sometimes does.

By and by the old man got up from the table, and taken a straw from the broom, and started a-picking his teeth. Then he lit the lantern and he says to her that he was a-going out to tend to the stock, and the kitchen door slammed. She was a-smiling then, and hustling for to get the dishes done in a jiffy.

Then she put on a shawl, and opened the door real careful, and snuck out to the barn with the lantern light a-coming through the cracks. The old woman clapped an eye to a crack and she seen what she seen. She seen Sandy Claus, with the lantern on a harness peg, a-stuffing straw in them red pants. Then the old woman struck out for the house in a terrible hurry.

The old man was a-wishing she was there in the barn for to help him, but he made out somehow, with a scrap of mirror on top the feed bin. Only thing was, he had to make Sandy Claus’ whiskers — his own was too breshy and the wrong color — out of some cotton batting he pulled from an old quilt they’d used for the horses, and some tag ends of last spring’s wool clip. He strung the whiskers on binder twine and fetched it over his ears and tied it, and, by Godfrey, he looked into the mirror and seemed like he was Sandy Claus to the life!

He wished the children was little and to home like it used to be. He fished around in the feed bin, and h’isted the whiskers, and taken a long swig from his hard-cider jug. The old woman’s presents he chucked into a feed sack, and he picked up a string of rusty old sleighbells and he blowed out the lantern and started for the house, a-jangling them sleighbells. It was a starry night.

The old woman, she’d been pretty busy her own self, for a fact. First-off she changed to clean calico, and fixed up her hair, and then she got fire from the cook stove and lit all them Christmas tree candles, and blowed out the lamp, and set down and leant back in the rocker, and made out she was a-sleeping.

By Godfrey, the old man he says to himself, a-jangling them sleighbells, why don’t she come to the door like she ought to? But she never come to the door. He flang them sleighbells down on the porch, fit to wake the dead, and yelled “Whoa!” a couple times. There wasn’t ary sound from the kitchen. So Sandy Claus swore and went in, with the feed sack over his shoulder.

She’s a-sleeping; old woman’s a-sleeping. She’s got for to work too hard on the old home place. She ain’t young any more like she used to be. The old woman looks like a child in the candlelight, a-sleeping there on Christmas Eve in the rocker. Dang me, if she don’t look like the girl I brung home from the valley. Effie May. Effie May.

Seemed like the old man plumb forgot that he was Sandy Claus. In the candlelight from the Christmas tree he drawed nigherand nigher to the old woman — and he stooped, sort of, and them cotton batting and sheep’s wool whiskers of his’n, they breshed the old woman’s face. Well, sir, she snorted like a heifer, and with one swipe she had them whiskers off’n him, and she like to took an ear with ‘em. “You old fool!” she says, but her eyes was a-laughing.

She put up her arms to Sandy Claus, still a-laughing, and he come into them, and his face come down to her’n, and her’n come up to his’n, like it was forty year back. He smelled pretty strong of corncob pipe, and sheep dip, and glue, and hard cider, and horse liniment — but a woman gets used to that. And Sandy Claus dropped his pack on the kitchen floor at the old home place.