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 Nineteen Stockings by the Chimneypiece

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PostSubject: Nineteen Stockings by the Chimneypiece   Thu Nov 06, 2008 9:27 pm

Nineteen Stockings By The Chimneypiece

By Pearl Buck

This is the hour, unique in the whole year. Twenty seven times the calendar has rolled around the circle of months to this hour of Christmas Eve. It is always the same and always different. The blessed same-ness is in the old house which is our home and the Christmas Tree, the gifts piled beneath it ready for tomorrow. it is in the quiet of the night when all are asleep except the two - or, as now, the one, myself; it is in the great stone chimneypiece by which I sit and the row of stockings hanging there. There have always been the stockings at this hour. The only difference has been in the number and the sizes.

They are limp and empty at this moment, but I shall fill them. And while I fill them, my mind as always, goes back over the years when in this room, by this chimneypiece, we have filled the children's stockings. It is the final preparation for Christmas. even when the children grew big enough to scoff at Santa Claus, even when they were big enough to go away to school and then to college, we never let them share this last hour of Christmas Eve and the filling of the stockings. This was our hour, the hour of recall and reflection, of private laughter and tenderness. We remembered, as I remember tonight, the incidents which made up the year so soon to be ended. We compared the children of this year with what they were the year before, the stockings bigger. How can boys have such enormous feet? Have we enough to fill them? These were annual cries. We always had enough, however big the feet were. And how small they were at first! There are still small ones, and the smallest now belongs to the newest baby, the tiny son of my daughter. And the row of stockings grows longer, five little stockings belonging to five little boys, and three little stockings belonging to three little girls, all the children of my children, hanging between the long stockings of their mothers and the big-footed socks of their fathers. Somehow each stocking looks like it's owner,the boys ranging from the newborn baby to a couple of six-footers, and the girls-well girls come in all sizes, too.

Here beside my chair are piled the gifts that I shall put into the stockings. The logs are blazing in the fireplace, and in the library next to the living room someone who should be in bed is playing Christmas carols softly, with the sweet intent, I am sure, of keeping me from being lonely. For I refuse to have anyone with me now for this hour. The tradition in our house has been that on Christmas Eve, for stockings, the parents are Santa Claus, and since I am now the only parent, I am Santa Claus. Nineteen piles of gifts on the floor beside me-each carefully wrapped, the size commensurate to the stocking. Inexpensive gifts, of course, amusing rather than valuable, but I like to put one unexpected gift into each stocking, something small enough to fit the toe, but unusual enough to inspire the last search. A ring for a girl who thought she would not get a ring this year, a pair of earrings for a young mother who lost an earring last summer that a baby tugged off and threw in the grass, a gold pencil for the young man with a new job, a silver spoon for the middle-sized baby who believes she can feed herself better than parent or grandparent can do it, widespread food not with standing, a watch for a little boy who has just learned to tell time, such things are the treasures.

Everything is wrapped and , if possible, my time permitting, that is , a nonsense verse or a message of love goes with each gift. Some years I am full of verse, on other years I cannot find a rhyme however I search my brain. The children, large and small, take me as I come and they are philosophical about it. Children learn to be philosophical about their parents, for which I am grateful. It is a holy experience to receive into one's arms a newborn human being, but sometimes I think that the highest experience of all is took a full-grown man or woman in the face and recognize the mature human being that once was the new born child. A new communication is established and upon equal terms. The satisfaction, the sheer human comfort of it!Next to the primary love between man and woman, I know of no other emotion as deep as that which parents feel when they know their children are grown men and women, ready to take their share in life's work.

The babies' stockings are full now. I have been busy all this while, half remembering, half thinking, and in betwen listening to the music from the other room.
"What Child is this- on Mary's breast--"
We sang the carols as every family does, every year,and we sang them again this year around the piano, the young mothers holding their babies, the young mothers, whose mother I am, and the babies listened wide-eyed.

The middle-sized stockings next, and these belong to my three youngest daughters, those whom the world has given to me, one from Germany, two from Japan, fathers American soldiers, beautiful world-children who by some good fortune for me found their way to this house and to me as their mother. Sixteen, fourteen, and thirteen, and a ring goes into the toes of two stockings and a gold thimble into the toe of the third, for the one who likes to sew. "No candy this year, please, Mother"-and so no sweets to this fastidious three who are beginning to know they are pretty. I put in the lipstick for the eldest and next year I shall have to put in a lipstick for the next one. Fifteen is the beginning of such decorations in our family, but a necklace goes in for each one, a silver handwrought necklace bought in Darjeeling, India, when I was there visiting the Tibetan refugees last spring. They are brave people, working hard to support themselves though exiled from their beloved and beautiful mountain country. I write a little message to go with the necklaces.

"Wear this with reverence for the pair of hands that worked so carefully to make something beautiful."

I am glad, too, that I bought the Tibetan jackets for the little boys and the gay Tibetan dresses for the tiny girls. I am glad I bought the handwrought brass candlesticks for the young married ones, I am glad I bought the two fine rugs for myself. I want to remember those noble people working to begin life again, anxious not to become a burden to their Indian hosts. Now at Christmas here in my home, in my country as yet undisturbed by war, I want to remember them. Let me never forget! Peace on Earth, Goodwill To Men---

Ah, here is a treasure for my tall dark-eyed daughter, an emerald, rough cut, from India. She is clever with her crafts and she will set it into a gold ring or perhaps a clip. That goes into the toe of a very long stocking, so long that I wonder if I can fill it. A fan from Japan, that helps, and then the nonsense things, and last of all a paperback book for the top. It is of course essential that every stocking must appear to bulge and certainly to overflow at the top. Dolls, of course, for the tiny girls, little dolls, not competing with big ones under the Christmas Tree, and small trucks for the small boys, not competing with large vehicles tomorrow, and for the older ones the paperback books that curl up nicely, or any other such object that protrude pleasantly from stockings. Candy canes always, for what is a Christmas stocking without a candy cane, red and white striped peppermint, harmless to all alike?

The value of stockings is apparent on Christmas Morning when the older folk must get breakfast ready, a simple breakfast, remembering turkey and plum pudding later, ample in numbers, however, for while the table is set, orange juice and eggs and bacon and so forth in preparation, the stockings are unpacked. The little ones concentrate on the delightful tastk, and the older ones perform the same task en route between table and stove. By the time we sit down the stockings are limp again, and between sips and mouthfuls we exclaim and compare and the little boys swallow with dangerous haste so that they can get down on the floor and run their cars.

But that is tomorrow morning and it is still Christmas Eve. I finish the last stocking and hang it on the chimneypiece and sit down in the big chair to survey the noble work. A find array, each year more stockings than the last, and peace descends. It is almost midnight. I wait as we always did, until I hear Big Ben from London. The logs are a mass of coals, crimson under the gray ash. The music comes to a close in the other room and the one who made it tiptoes in and curls up beside me on the floor. I put out my hand and she takes it. Mother and daughter we wait. Midnight. Across the ocean we hear the bells in London. Christmas Eve is ended again for another year. I refuse the mist of sadness that might envelope me if I allowed it. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. This silent room will be filled with life, new life, life renewed. Another Christmas, for this world in peril. A trembling Peace and Goodwill too scarce, but, thank God, another Christmas.
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