A Christmas excerpt from ‘Til Shiloh Come

If you have a few minutes, click on the link below and read a Christmas story from the second volume of my Shiloh Saga.  Keep in mind that this takes place in the middle of the story, and Mac and Laurel are celebrating their second Christmas together in their homestead.  At this New Year’s Eve of 1858, they are celebrating the Christmas eve they missed trying to get home from Little Rock.  They are hosting a family supper with Laurel’s Uncle Matt and Aunt Ellie, the two orphaned Dunn Children, Mac’s father Thomas MacLayne and his ward, Andrew.    Please leave me a comment and tell me what you think.  Christmas Blessings, Pat

A Family Christmas at Shiloh     

Laurel came from the second pen, dressed and ready to prepare for the family celebration.  She fairly danced across the walnut plank floor to her husband. “This is the most glorious home in the world. Nothing we have seen in our travels can come close to our home.”

            “Good morning, wife. Merry Christmas.”

            “The same to you and Happy New Year, too. Good morning, boys. So good to see you both.”

            “Run on now boys. Let’s get started.”  Laurel returned to the kitchen to begin breakfast. How fine a thing to be able to knead her bread and cut out biscuits!  Simple tasks like separating the cream from the morning milking did not seem to be work, only a pleasure on that last day of 1858.  Mac built a large fire at the hearth as the oven would need to heat to be ready to bake the bread and the spit would wait for the meat that would supply their delayed Christmas dinner.

            After a quick breakfast, Mac took his rifle from the nook behind the fireplace. “Wife, I’m off to find our Christmas meal while the boys go gather our family. Would you prefer a turkey or a goose?”

            “It doesn’t matter. Whatever you find first will be fine. I’m so pleased to be home, I could eat ham and beans and think it a feast today.”

            Work began to transform the cabin into a festive, cheery home where a family could gather to celebrate Christmas a week late. Laurel decided to join the New Year’s celebration into the same event, so she put a large kettle of black eyed peas to cook with several pieces of pork from the smokehouse. An extra pone would add little to her work load and would make the joint meal complete. She went to the woods after the meal was on the hearth. She searched just beyond the fenced pastures for small branches of holly, an evergreen bough or two and a few sprigs of mistletoe. She’d brought a few lengths of red ribbon in the fall to use in her Christmas decorations.

            When she returned, she displayed the greenery and red holly berries across the mantel and on the dining room table. She placed candles in her mother’s pewter candleholders among the evergreens. The final touch to the table was Mac’s mother’s red crystal lantern. Red bows placed here and there about the room finished the decoration. The cabin took on the atmosphere of Christmas, the sights and smells Laurel remembered from her own childhood.

            Shortly before noon, Roy returned with Cathy. She ran into Laurel’s arms. “Mrs. Mac. I am so glad you are home.”  The girl wrapped her arms around Laurel’s waist and could hardly stand still in her excitement.

            “I have missed you, Cathy. We have work to do to get ready for our family Christmas tonight. Can you help me hang this mistletoe over the doors?”

            “Oh, yes!  I was afraid we’d missed Christmas with you and Mr. Mac this year.”

            “Did you have a nice holiday with Brother Matt and Miss Ellie?”

            “Yes, even Mr. MacLayne and Andrew came to dinner. and Miss Ellie made a fine dinner and we got our presents, but it wasn’t the same without you.”

            “Well, we’re here now and we’re going to celebrate together. We’re just going to pretend it’s Christmas Eve.”

            “Wow!  Two Christmases!  I love that idea.”  She hugged Laurel again.

            Shortly, Mac returned with a large goose he’d found down by the creek. The bird would make a fine centerpiece for their Christmas meal the next day.

            “Cathy, girl!  How pretty you’ve gotten while we’ve been gone!”

            “Oh, Mr. Mac!  I’ve not changed one bit. I think you’re just glad to see me.”

            “Right you are, darling.”  Mac planted a kiss on Cathy’s forehead.

            Just before sunset, Thomas MacLayne rode into the yard with Andy on the front of his saddle. They had come to spend the night and the next day at the homestead. “Welcome, Pa and Andy. I’m glad you’re both here. Now we can start the holiday celebration.”

            “Are we ahavin’ a New’s Year  Eve party, Mr. Mac?”

            “No, Andy. We’re celebrating our family Christmas – just a little late this year.”

            “Goody!  We’ll eat then ‘cos at the Campbells’ we had such good vittles at Christmas. We even had gingerbread cookies Aunt Ellie made. Them was scrumptious.”

            “We’ll have more tonight and tomorrow. Christmas is a special time in our family, Andrew, whenever we celebrate it.”

            As the sun sank below Crowley’s Ridge, the entire Mac Layne family sat at their Christmas Eve dinner table on that New Years’ Eve. Heads were bowed as Mac offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the season, his family gathered around his table, and for the birth of a Savior who had led him to salvation. This room was filled with the sounds and sights of family and home. The scent of the cedar and cinnamon, the sounds of the cracking logs in the fireplace and the wavering light from the many candles added to the essence of Christmas. The family enjoyed the hot beef stew, black-eyed peas, hot corn bread and bubbling blackberry cobbler Laurel and Cathy had prepared for their family supper. Mac sat at the head of the table, more relaxed and rested than Laurel had seen him in a long while. He enjoyed the stories his father was telling of Christmases past and of his childhood back in Maryland.

            “Patrick was the worst at Christmas time. He always wanted to know what he was getting from St. Nicolas. He’d start nagging at me and his ma the first day of Advent. When he was seven, he got it into this head that he’d get a horse. His ma said no because he was too young to be responsible for a horse. We had decided he had to wait a couple more years, hoping a growth spurt would kick in. He was not very big at that age, though you’d not know it now.  Anyway, Patrick’s brother Sean was near grown, and he did need a new horse to ride to school, so we got him one.

            “That Christmas morning, Patrick sneaked to the barn in the early hours and found Sean’s horse. What a fuss he made when we told him the saddle horse was Sean’s!  He tried to climb on the bareback of that stallion, and the feisty animal threw him into a hay stack. Wonder he didn’t break his neck. He got up, brushed the hay from his hair and told his brother, ‘Sean, that old horse is too brown to suit me. I want a black stallion. That horse is a nag!”

            Everyone around the table laughed. Mac nodded, “It was true!  Sean agreed with me when Lancer threw him the very next week, and he got a broken arm.”  Again laughter filled the room.

            Andy spoke up. “It’s fun having Christmas at New Years. This is the best time I ever had.”

            “Andy, Christmas is the best holiday every year. See how Laurel and Cathy decorated our cabin? We had a special supper tonight with all our family. It’s Christmas Eve.”

            “It ain’t really though, is it?”

            “The date doesn’t matter. For us it is. Didn’t you celebrate Chrismas when you were with your mother and grandpa in Tennessee?”

            “Not as I know.

         “Well, it’s high time you got to know about Christmas then. Pa, would you read the Christmas story to us?”  Mac handed his father the Bible from the side table.

            “Which Gospel do you want to hear?”

            “Let’s start with Matthew and we’ll read the others tomorrow and the next couple days while I’m still home.”  So Thomas MacLayne read the first account of the Nativity  from Matthew 1:17 to 2:14. He told them about the birth of the baby in a stable, the bad king who wanted to kill the new baby, and the visit of the wise men bringing gifts. Andy listened intently, but at times a puzzled look came to his face, but he did not stop listening.

            “You tell it so nice, Mr. MacLayne. Did you like the Christmas story, Andy?”  Cathy looked at her playmate. Andy nodded.

            “Well, it’s time to sing Christmas carols now, Mr. Mac. Can we start with Silent Night? It’s my favorite.”

            “Yes, Matt, lead us in Silent Night.”  Matt rose and stood near the fireplace and the family sang. Andy listened again as he watch his family sing about Christmas.

            “That  is about that same story Mr. MacLayne just read to us, ain’t it?
Mac felt a pang of shame. His son knew nothing of Christmas or Jesus’ love or even family life. His wasted years had hurt many people besides himself, and he hadn’t even been aware of the pain he’d cause. Silently he prayed for forgiveness for the damage he’d done. He  would spend the rest of his life trying to make up for the six lost years of Andrew’s childhood. He pledged that not one more day would pass when this small boy would not feel and know all the things he’d been denied before this night.

            “Yes, Andrew. It’s the same story.”

            “What is frankincense and myrrh?

            “Precious gifts for the Christ child, the very first gifts of Christmas. Just like St. Nicolas brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve.”

            “Brother Matt said something about that on Christmas morning, but I didn’t ask about him. I figured he was a friend from his church.”

            “Well, Andy, come over here and sit with me in my chair. Let me tell you about Saint Nicolas.”  Mac pulled the boy into his lap and began to explain.

            “You’re joking me, Mr. Mac. No one gives away things for nothin’.”

            “Andrew, didn’t you have any kind of Christmas at all with your family in Tennessee? Didn’t you get fruit or candy or new clothes?”

            “No ma’am. I don’t think we have that holiday over in Franklin. I’m pretty sure St. Nicolas don’t live over in our neck of the woods. We did have a fine Independence Day every summer, but I don’t remember nothin’ about a winter party like Christmas. In the winter, we mostly just stayed in and tried to keep warm.”

            “Didn’t you hear about it at church, Andy?”  Cathy couldn’t believe he hadn’t ever celebrated Christmas, even at church.

            “No. My grandpa didn’t hold much with church.”

            Laurel looked at the small boy who was so much like her beloved Patrick. Her heart hurt, knowing he’d never experience a real family or the joy of Christmas. Learning to love him would be easy. She smiled at him sitting in his father’s lap. Andrew saw her and he smiled back.

            “Well, Andy. We put a lot of store in church here, and it’s all because of Christmas. Just you wait and see tomorrow after St. Nicolas comes. You’ll see why Christmas is such a great day.”

       The family sang Joy to the World and Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem. The night had been very special for them all. Laurel sighed, thinking, ‘Even a week late, this is a perfect family Christmas.’

            “Family,  before we retired for the night, I want to do more thing. Cathy, Roy and Andrew, you three young people have been a blessing to us. Thank you for becoming a part of this family.”

            “Gee, Mr. Mac. You’re the ones been good to us. I don’t know if Cathy and me could of made it alone when Gran died. You took real good care of us.”

            “Roy, son, you’ve worked hard as any hand I ever had  You’ve more than earned your keep.”

            “But Mr. Mac. I ain’t done nothin’ to help. I ain’t earned nothin’.”

            “Andrew, families don’t have to earn their place. They belong because they are loved. Laurel and I love all of you.”

            “But, Mr. Mac, I ain’t family. That ole lawyer just left me with your pa. I don’t know why.”

            “He left you with your grandfather. Andrew, I am your pa.”  Mac stopped and looked into the face of the small boy in his lap. Andrew didn’t move or say anything. “Is that all right with you?”

       Laurel looked on with tears filling her eyes. Andrew looked first at Mac and then at Thomas MacLayne and back to Mac. He didn’t speak. Mac sat with hope showing in his face. He wanted this boy to accept his place in the family. Laurel could see the confusion that had left Andrew at a loss for an answer. The situation was difficult for a grown person to understand so how could a six year old know how to react?

            “Andrew, your father and I want you to be our little boy. We hope you’ll want to grow up here with Cathy and Roy. If you want us, we will be good parents to you. We’ll be one family, all of us here in this room.”

            “Is this for real, Mr. MacLayne?”  Andrew looked to the man who’d been his guardian for the last six months.

            “Andy, I think you should call me granddad. Would you like that?”

            “Mr. Mac…are you my for sure Papa? For real?”

            “Yes, Andrew. I am your for sure Papa. I hope you’ll want to be a part of my family.”

            “What’d I have to call you, Mrs. Mac?”

            “You can call me whatever you like. I’d be very glad to have you be my son.”

            “Well, golly geez, now I got me a new granddad and a papa of my own. I suppose if I call you mama, that won’t be slightin’ my ma, would it?”

            “No, Andy, I don’t think so.”

            “Can I give you a hug, mama?”  The boy leaped from Mac’s arms and ran to embrace Laurel.

            “You can do this anytime you want, son.”

            Mac watched and was overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of his family. Was it less than two years ago, he’d all but given up on the idea of ever knowing this life? God had given him his wish, and Laurel had made it all happen with her willingness to love his child. A tear slipped from his lashes. After a while he spoke, “Kids, we are a family. After Christmas, Laurel and I will do whatever it takes to make this all legal. Cathy and Roy, we want to adopt you both, if that is what you want.”

            “Mr. Mac, you want to be my papa, too?”

            “That’s right, Cathy. We want to be your parents and Roy’s too if he wants it.”

            “Gracious me!  Christmas is special, ain’t it?”  With those words, Andrew walked over to Mac, who bent down to pick up the boy. Andy put his arms around Mac’s neck. “I’m glad you’re my papa.”

2 thoughts on “A Christmas excerpt from ‘Til Shiloh Come

  1. Great piece from your book about Christmas time. After already reading the first part, I need to fill in the gaps asap!! Where did these children come from? Why were they not home for Christmas Eve?


  2. How I adore you daughter! The piece you read takes place about eighteen months after the end of The Dream of Shiloh. You are right there has not enough time to have had three children…it’s about life in the frontier and dealing with consequences of one’s past life. Not home for Christmas Eve…think of the time period…no cars, no trains, no planes, poor roads and obligations to duty…I will work hard to finish the second part so you can see how all the pieces fall into place. I love you. Thank you for reading my story.


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