, I thought I had you but you pulled it out at the end! Nice game," his Dad said to his Mom as they put the cribbage board and cards
away. It was a board Joesph had made for his parents last year. It had taken a lot of convincing for Dad to allow him to use the drill press alone,
but Joseph proved he could do it safely and his father gave in.
Joseph sat on a chair near the fireplace in their small home, reading a book and sipping from a mug of hot chocolate. He loved the smell of the oak
and ash logs as they burned. Combined with the scent of pine coming from the Christmas tree, the flickering Advent candles, the twinkling tree lights
and presents wrapped under their tree, it gave him a feeling he couldn't really identify. It was like sinking down into a soft, bed of pillows under
a heavy blanket. He felt warm, and safe. He could almost forget Mr. Norling shouting at him to get off his porch. He didn't think he would ever
sing that carol again – the thought frightened him now - but he was glad he had gone through with his plan for the twelve presents all the way to
the end. He hoped someday Mr. Norling might not be so angry.
Christmas Eve was always quiet at the Turner household. They had no other family close, so it was just the four of them - Mom, Dad, Joseph, and
little Teresa. They always had a special meal of fondues - first they would fry marinated venison in hot oil, and dip apples, bread, and crackers in
Mom's delicious cheese fondue, then they would finish by dipping more apples, dried apricots and dried cherries in chocolate. Joseph and his father
would have egg nog, while Mom would have hot tea with cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. It was the same every year, and Joseph looked forward to it all
month long. His friends thought his family was strange for this tradition - they all had soup, or ham, or traditional Scandinavian things like a
julbord with meatballs and herring, or maybe smørbrød and rømmegrøt.
They had just finished with the venison and the cheese fondue when the doorbell rang. Dad looked at Mom curiously. "Kate honey, are you expecting
"Not a soul," she shook her head.
Joseph's father walked into the front room to go get the door. After a moment, he called out: "Son, would you come out here please?"
Joseph got up and walked into the front room. There was his dad, and to his shock, old Mr. Norling. His dad held the four-pack of bottles Joseph had
given Mr. Norling days ago, now empty.
"Hello, Mr. Norling," Joseph said quietly. His heart raced. Was he going to be yelled at in his own home?
"Did you carve this, Joey?" asked Mr. Norling, holding up the little red cardinal.
"Yes sir,” he said quietly. “I..I only know how to carve a couple things, but birds are one of them. I like the cardinals because of their
Mr. Norling nodded, and looked intently at Joseph. Joseph noticed he was wearing the beret he had given him. "Son, I need to say I'm sorry," he said
gruffly. "You didn't deserve to be treated like that."
"Uh...I'm sorry I upset you, Mr. Norling."
"Lucas," Mr. Norling turned to his dad, "Would you give me a minute with him?"
"Sure, Arne, why don't you do have a seat?" He gestured into the family room.
They sat down as Joseph's dad left the room. Mr. Norling crumpled the beret in his big hands a few times, looking around. Then he spoke.
"I used to have a sister, Joseph, a little sister like you do. Her name was Solveig, but we all called her Solvie. Matter of fact she was just about
the same difference in age - about five or six years younger, am I right?"
"Yes sir, Tee-tee - ah, Teresa - is six, I'm twelve. And a half," he added. “And I prefer Joseph, sir,” he added in a rush.
Mr. Norling nodded, and his chin bunched up once or twice.
"It doesn’t excuse how I behaved, son, but I want to explain something. See, when I was your age, my father was the minister at the church here,
and we all lived in the parsonage. Me, and Solvie, Pa, and Ma..." he trailed off. After a deep breath, he continued. "She loved cardinals...loved
them. Had cardinals all over her room - pictures, figurines. Ma even knit her a sweater and cap that had cardinals on them. I carved her a cardinal
for Christmas once, just like the one you gave me."
He took a deep breath. "You see, son, she died when I was about your age. It was..." he stopped, and he seemed to struggle. He took another deep
breath, then continued. "It was my fault. My Pa was practicing carols with my Ma over in the church, and I snuck in and got his pipe. I thought I
would try to smoke it, you know, like a grownup. But I didn't know what I was doing, and...well..." Tears flowed down his face freely now, each one
following the one before it. "Solvie got caught in the fire, wouldn't come out of her room, y'see, so my Pa, he went back into the parsonage,
Joseph started putting pieces together. What had he done? How could he have been so stupid?
"Mr. Norling, I'm..." but the old man bulled on.
"Ma, well, she didn't last long after Pa and Solvie died. So I got sent off to an orphanage for a few years, ‘til I got too old for it. Not sure
why I came back here, but I felt like I had to, so...well, that's neither here nor there. Look," he said, turning his watery eyes on Joseph, "You're
a good kid, Joseph. You had no way of knowing, I know that. You did a nice thing for me, and I was mean to you over it, so I'm sorry, young man."
"It's OK, Mr. Norling, I think I understand now. Can I...can I ask you a question?"
The old man nodded.
"You said they were practicing carols that night. It was Coventry Carol, wasn’t it?"
Mr. Norling's chin bunched up again, and he looked down for a moment, then back at Joseph and he nodded.
"I'm really sorry, Mr. Norling, I didn't mean to..."
"I know, son, I know. It’s not your fault," he said, shaking his head. "Look, I brought you something...for Christmas. I'm not much for wrapping,
though, seems like a waste of time to me." He held out a rolled up bundle of what looked like leather.
Joseph took the old, worn leather and untied the strap. It was a scrip, and inside were a dozen pristine carving tools with pale handles in what
Joseph guessed were maple. He looked up at Mr. Norling, surprised.
"That's my old set, son. I can't carve anymore, my hands hurt too much. But you keep that, and keep carving. I expect to see you enter something in
the county fair next year, okay? They always have a carving ribbon. You win it, son, win that ribbon." He nodded, as if since he said it, it was
already done. "Yah, you win it."
edit on 12-15-2016 by PrairieShepherd because: (no reason given)
edit on 12-15-2016 by PrairieShepherd because: (no reason