Every time Isabel entered the parlor, a new carved animal rested in or near the stable but she never saw Mama or Papa go into the parlor without the children.
“How did they get here?” Isabel asked Mama and Papa but their reply was the same.
“Must have come to see the Baby Jesus!”
After dinner dishes were washed and put away, each child donned their coats, hats, scarves, mittens and boots while Papa packed the sleigh.
“Did you remember to put on your woolens?”
“Yes, Mama but they’re so scratchy!” Isabel said as she scratched her arms and legs. When she struggled to scratch her back, Mama smiled. “Okay young lady, I’m convinced.”
“All aboard!” Papa said as he helped Mama into the front seat and handed her baby Sylvia. “Poor baby,” he said, “you have her so bundled, she can’t move a finger and probably can’t breathe with that piece of blanket flopped over her face!”
“She wouldn’t be able to breathe at all if I didn’t protect her face. That cold air will take her breath away – especially once we get started. It’s awfully breezy, you know. Besides, this is a very thin blanket with air holes since it is crochet.” Mama lifted the blanket long enough to place a kiss on the baby’s head, smiled at the child’s cooing.” Isabel followed Eugene into the second seat, followed by Maggie and then Curtis.
“Mama, make them scoot over so I will have room,” Curtis said as he gently pushed Maggie against Isabel who slid into Eugene who bumped his elbow against the sleigh. “Hey, watch what you’re doing!”
“I didn’t do it,” Isabel said as she looked past Maggie in Curtis’ direction. “He did it!” “That’s enough, children,” Mama said cheerfully. “Let’s see, what shall we sing on the way?”
“Why don’t we sing Jingle Bells?” Papa said as he handed Isabel a leather strap with jingle bells attached. “Try to keep time with the horses,” he said with a grin. “See? They’re wearing jingle bells!”
The entire family began to sing. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way; oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh.” The children finished three songs before they reached the Albright home.
“Oh boy,” Isabel exclaimed. “May I see Sally Anne?”
“Yes, you may. I wanted it to be a surprise but your friend is going with us. Mrs. Albright and Cookie have volunteered to take care of baby Sylvia while we are caroling.”
“Oh Boy!” Isabel stood up in anticipation and fell into Eugene’s lap.
“Hey, sit down silly goose!” Isabel jumped out of the sleigh, hitting a piece of ice, sliding face down into six-year-old Curtis who landed with a thump on the ground.
“Hey,” he said sternly, “watch where you’re going!”
Isabel looked down at the torn stockings and already felt the sting of skinned knees.
“Oh dear,” Mama said, “you must be careful. It’s awfully slippery out here. Are you alright?”
“I’m okay,” Curtis replied as he pointed to Isabel. “Looks like the silly goose skinned her knee.”
“Son, don’t call your sister silly or a goose. Now wipe the snow from your clothes and carefully stand at the foot of the steps so that we may sing at least one Christmas Carol for the Albrights before we go inside.” Isabel brushed away tears from her cold face and tried to sing Joy To The World with the rest of her family but her knee stung as well as her pride. Sally Anne was standing at the door when Isabel fell and cried out to her friend.
Papa picked up Isabel in his arms and led the family into the welcoming light of the Albright home. “Come in, come in,” Mrs. Albright said as she reached for baby Sylvia. “Oh, what a sweetie. Cookie and I have been looking forward to this all day, haven’t we Cookie?”
“We surely have,” Cookie confirmed and reached for Isabel. “Why don’t you come with me, child? Cookie will get you all fixed up!”
“Yes,” Mrs. Albright said, “Sally Anne has a pair of woolen stockings Isabel may have. She can’t go out into the cold with the torn ones.” And so Isabel followed the Albright’s cheerful cook into the kitchen to sit by the warm stove. When it was time to go, Isabel had a bandaged knee, new woolen stockings and a peppermint stick for being brave.
Three-year-old Maggie stood quietly behind Mama looking around the room and timidly receiving a gingerbread boy from Mrs. Albright. Sally Anne, dressed in her warmest clothes, a hooded cape, and a fur muff, stood by Isabel until Papa declared it was time to go. She jumped up and down with excitement and then ran to the Christmas tree. “May I please give Isabel and Maggie their gifts now, Mother?” With a nod of the head from her mother, Sally Anne reached for two beautiful hat boxes.
“This one is for you, Isabel,” she said as she handed her friend the largest package. “And this one is for you, Maggie,” she said with a smile. “You may open them when I say … Go!” Isabel looked at her little sister and they lifted the box tops together.
“It’s a muff! Just like Sally Anne’s! Look, mama, look!”
“It’s soft, Mama!” Maggie said as she ran her fingers over the soft fur.
“Oh Lillian,” Mama said with a catch in her voice. “You shouldn’t have!”
“We wanted to,” Mrs. Albright replied with a smile as she adjusted the muff around Maggie’s neck and showed her how to slip her hands inside. Maggie’s eyes grew enormous as a shy smile spread over her face. Isabel had hers on in record time.
“What do you say, girls?” Mama asked as she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Thank you!” they said in unison.
“You’re quite welcome.”
“Mama,” Isabel pulled at her mother’s cape, “may I give Sally Anne her gift now?”
“Her gift is in the back of the sleigh so why don’t we wait until we come back to pick up baby Sylvia?”
“Yes, ma’am.” It was then Isabel noticed her two brothers wearing leather gloves instead of their knitted mittens. They were also eating gingerbread men, jamming them in their mouth as they turned toward the door.
“This is going to be so much fun,” Sally Anne said as she linked arms with Isabel. “This is the best night – ever!”