Christmas Eve at the Backdoor
Right then a knock sounded once again on the backdoor. With a tired sigh, Mrs. Kabrick pushed back her chair and stood up. Never could she remember a time before when there had been this many visitors on Christmas Eve. Who was it this time? A neighbor? A relative?
Pulling the door open, she saw another tramp. This one was younger but he seemed just as tired and hungry as Mr. Bruce had been.
“I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am,” the stranger began, “but could you spare a crust of bread? I . . . I’ll shovel your walks in the morning if I can sleep in your woodshed.”
Mrs. Kabrick noticed then for the first time that it had begun to snow. Soft flakes drifted down and settled on the man’s bare head and torn jacket. It was not a good night to be sleeping under bridges, and besides, it was Christmas Eve. “Come on in,” she beckoned softly. “You look like you could use a good hot meal.”
Following her inside, the stranger blinked in the glare of the lights and stood waiting awkwardly in a corner of the kitchen.
Quickly Jody had risen and carried her dishes to the sink before she brought a clean plate and spoon and carried them to her empty place at the table. Then she beckoned to the man. “Come over here and sit down.”
Shuffling over, his feet still almost numb with cold, the young man stumbled into the seat. It was only then that he seemed to notice the others. For several minutes he stared at the twins and then shook his head as though trying to shake off a memory. Then his eyes fell on the other tramp for the first time. “Adam Bruce?” he asked in amazement.
Mr. Bruce nodded. “It’s me, Son. But I didn’t expect to be sharing a Christmas Eve supper in a warm, friendly kitchen like this one with you this year.”
Over at the stove, Jody whispered to her mother, “He looks a little bit like Uncle Dale, doesn’t he?”
“I hadn’t had time to notice, Jody,” Mrs. Kabrick softly replied, ladling some stew into a bowl. Carrying the bowl over she set it before her newest guest. “I hope it warms you up. Ceddy, put some more wood in the stove, please.”
“Mrs. Kabrick,” Mr. Bruce said, “I’d like to introduce an old friend of mind. We’ve ridden the rails many times together and he’s always shared what he had with an old man like me. This is Cedric Marr. Cedric . . .”
But neither Mrs. Kabrick nor the young man were listening anymore. Each was staring at the other in wonder, doubt and disbelief.
“Ced?” Mrs. Kabrick whispered as though not daring to believe what her eyes were seeing.
“Nanny? Nanny!” The stranger of moments before sprang up suddenly, swayed and then found himself in a tight embrace, while he heard his name whispered over and over. “Ced! Oh, my Ceddy! Where have you been? Why didn’t you write us? Oh, Ced, it’s been so long!”
The rest of the Kabrick family, along with Mr. Bruce, stared in wide-eyed, open mouthed amazement. What was it all about?
At last Mrs. Kabrick seemed to gain some control over her emotions, for she held the young man off at arms length and looked him up and down, shaking her head the whole time. After another embrace she gently pushed him back to his chair. “You eat now, Ced. By the looks of it, you haven’t had a decent meal in days. You certainly aren’t sleeping in the woodshed tonight, though I don’t know but you deserve a trip to one, and if Dale were here, he might threaten you with one.”
“I wish he were,” was the low toned answer the young man gave before he began to eat hungrily.
Into the silence of the kitchen came the sound of a plaintive mew.
“Jody, heat up some milk for the kitten and Roger, you’d best bring in some wood.”
“But we already did, Mama,” Roger protested. “Before supper, remember?”
“So you did, your uncle’s coming has me so mixed up I don’t know what I’m saying. But, I didn’t introduce you! Ced, you met Jody and Roger when they were small.” Ced nodded his head, his mouth was too full to even think of trying to talk. “But you never met the twins.” Gently Mrs. Kabrick placed a hand on each twin’s head. “This is Cindy and this one is your namesake, Cedric.”
Seeing the emotion in her young brother’s face, Mrs. Kabrick said softly, “We have a lot to catch up on, Ced. Ten years with no contact is too long.” Then her voice changed and she began issuing orders briskly.
“Roger, start a fire in the fireplace in the living room. Jody, as soon as you’ve finished feeding the kitten, get water ready to wash the dishes. Cindy, start clearing away the dishes and Ceddy, take two of these chairs into the living room. We’re going to need a few extra seats tonight.”
Mr. Bruce stood up. “I’m an old hand at washing dishes, Mrs. Kabrick,”
“Very well, you may wash and Jody and I will wipe them. Cindy, it’s your job to sweep the floor tonight.”
Before long the Kabrick family, with their two unexpected but welcomed guests, were gathered in the living room before the bright, blazing fire. Only one lamp was on near Mrs. Kabrick’s chair and the room was dim save for the fire, the lamp and the many colored lights sparkling on the Christmas tree. The soft scuffles of restless feet grew still as Mrs. Kabrick began to read.
“Now it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. . . . And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem . . .”
When she finished, the sounds of voices singing far down the road were faintly heard in the stillness of the room.
“It’s the carolers, Mama!” Ceddy and Cindy exclaimed, jumping up to race to the windows and peer out into the winter night.
Mrs. Kabrick looked up at the ticking clock on the mantle. “Why, it’s nearly ten o’clock! Where has Christmas Eve gone?”
With a smile, Jody replied, “I think it’s gone out the backdoor.”
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