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…By the Chimney with Care

by | Dec 22, 2014

photoWhen Christmas rolls around, our fireplace is front and center. But it’s a place for knitting stockings, not hanging them. There is no mantel. The stockings would be toast in no time.

photoOn Christmas Eve, we usually line the stockings up on a nearby couch. On Christmas morning, they lie there temptingly chubby and lumpy, to be poured out upon the hearth rug as the fire snaps at a safe distance.

IMG_0282 stockingsAnd then there is the whole question of whether Santa Claus even comes down the chimney. I used to imagine it possible. One Christmas morning long ago, my father needed to leverage a little more time, and asked us to stay upstairs a tad longer. Santa Claus had apparently gotten stuck in the small chimney for a bit—or so he said– and Daddy was tending his scraped foot in the kitchen. We understood Santa was shy and just wanted to get on his way soon without fanfare. We waited excitedly for the all-clear.

At the Ackerman farmhouse, not many folks have actually come down the chimney. There were those two young starlings last summer, and maybe that bat we found hanging in a corner one morning.

And then there was Robby, barely out of his twenties. Our chimney had been replaced after a distressing fire, leaving a mortar job to be done just above the fireplace flue. The building industry was booming, and no brick mason would take it on. Why would they want to hang upside down in a three-story chimney when they had plenty of work outside in the sunshine?

I was away the day Robby decided to just do it himself. He first lowered a 5-gallon bucket of mortar down the chimney from the scary high roof. Then, he climbed headfirst down the ladder. There was so little room to move that he had to do his mortar job with his head actually in the mortar bucket. The thought did cross his mind that he could meet his end by falling headfirst into mortar. Who could have rescued him?

The house, the chimney, and my husband survived to celebrate many Christmases after that. He still tends the flues lovingly, though he has been asked to stop doing his own chimney repair!

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I’m thankful as I knit by the firelight night after night. The stockings might not hang on a mantel, but our family lore is knit right into my stitches.

There is a strand of silvery blue running through three of the stockings I knitted for grandsons. The boys enjoy the bright stripes and the stretchy capacity of those stockings as they dump them out Christmas morning. Some day they will also understand that the shine in the blue yarn holds the memory of a grandmother that is no longer with them. That it represents the gift she chose but was never able to create for them.

And while our hearts are tender, I can’t help telling the story about the one Christmas morning when stockings hung flat and empty. I was a newborn baby. My big sister was critically ill with whooping cough, scarlet fever, and pneumonia. My parents were desperate. Christmas was the last thing on their minds.

That was not true of the five-year-old in the family. When bedtime came on Christmas Eve, she took off her long brown stockings. She hung one for herself and another for her brother who was almost three. The distracted parents never noticed.

In the morning the children rushed to the stockings. They were flat and empty. I asked her later: “What did you do?” She said, “I just put my stockings back on.” But there was a gift after all. That new thing, penicillin? It worked a miracle for my sister. There were many, many years ahead to hang stockings—always with a tangerine in the toe and a Christmas cane hanging out the top.

Whether or not you have a cozy fireside or even a full stocking this Christmas, here is wishing you and yours much health, happiness, and gratitude!

 

Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].