This story was written a few years ago by my distant relative, Dr. E.O. Lester, about my great-grandfather. E.O. visits the blog from time to time, so if you enjoy this story, leave him a comment at the bottom of this page.
My father was born over a hundred years ago on a large cotton farm in the Deep South. Most of his memories of childhood Christmases featured food and surcease from work.
His father, my grandfather, had grown up in that difficult period in the history books called Reconstruction, and that may have accounted for his fervent worship at the altar of Hard Work.
On Christmas Day, though, even this no-nonsense mn I remember only as a stern octogenarian loosened up a little. Nobody had to work on Christmas Day, even when it fell in the middle of the week.
My grandmother took advantage of the day’s leisurely pace to prepare dishes the family could not have fully savored many other times of the year. The two that Father especially remembered were egg custard pie–eggnog n a pie shell, he called it–and ambrosia. He still got misty-eyed recalling that ambrosia in his eighth decade.
Then, there was the visit from Santa–Santy Claus, grandfather called him. By today’s standards, the fruits of the visit were pretty modest– stockings full of fresh oranges, tangerines, bright red (store bought) apples, all kinds of exotic nuts: almonds, filberts, English walnuts, and Brazil nuts (pecans were common there and not really prized.)
In a good year, each of the 10 children would receive a small box of stick candy. That was about all, but children saw their little windfall as a veritable cornucopia of the Good Life.
For as long as Father could remember, Grandfather would customarily announce at Christmas breakfast, “When I went out to feed this morning, I saw some reindeer tracks in the yard. If you young’uns go out on the gallery after breakfast, you may be able to see them too.”
So after breakfast, all the children would go out on the gallery–Grandfather’s word for the front porch– and, sure enough, encircling the whole house would be reindeer tracks, which the children would view in awestruck silence as a tangible vestige of their visit from Santa.
Grandfather always explained that the reindeer had to run around the house several times to getup enough speed to jump all the way to the top of the roof.
One Christmas morning when Father was about 10, his older brother, Oliver, sidled up to him during The Viewing and ventured, “Say, Elbee, have you ever noticed that those reindeer tracks are about the same size as Memphis’s hoof?”
Now, Memphis, Grandfather’s pride, and the envy of all his neighbors, was simply the finest mule in the county, maybe even the state. Smaller than the other dozen or so mules Grandfather kept, he was nevertheless uncommonly strong, docile, and intelligent, able to work from sunup to sundown without any sign of tiring and always ready to hit the cotton fields again the next day.
A furtive visit to Memphis in his stall and a comparative analysis of the reindeer tracks and the mule’s hoof prints confirmed Oliver’s suspicions to the satisfaction of both boys.
Far from making them cynical, their discovery had just the opposite effect on the brothers. It showed them a side of their father they had never seen before and, except for that discovery, might not have seen for a long time.
They now knew that Grandfather, too, was capable of a little tomfoolery at least once a year. Most surprising, though, is that both boys resisted the temptation to flaunt their knowledge that Memphis had been moonlighting as a reindeer, so the annual Adoration of the Tracks remained a family Christmas tradition for several years to come.