[Every story must have a title, even if it’s not a good one.]
Early on Christmas Eve morning if 1944, Martje’s momma put the largest pan on the makeshift wood-stove her father had crafted out of the toy galvanized bucket. It took a very long time to cook anything on this tiny stove so her mom had to start early in the day to have something hot by nighttime. Martje was very hungry, something she was accustomed to by now.
“What are you cooking for Christmas dinner, Momma?”
“You will see.”
It had been a very hard winter. Most of the ponds were frozen over with snow on top. Her [Martje’s] papa made a straw pit in the back yard where he stored some carrots, potatoes and rutabagas—but that was empty now. All they had left was some sugar beet pulp, a couple hands full of flour and a smidgeon of oil.
Martje was curious about what was going to happen this Christmas Eve. They had a tiny tree from their own back yard. Her mother had allowed Martje to place the nativity underneath scrub they kept in a bucket. She noticed her mother set the table as she always did for special occasions and every Christmas Eve Dinner. She used her nice linen tablecloth and her finest china and polished silverware. Her mother picked some holly that grew by their front bay window and decorated each plate with a tiny branch of holly and a candle with a red ribbon tied around it.
That night, the main thing that was missing was the usual holiday aromas from the delicious meals her mother cooked. Martje’s mother brought in the soup terrine [is this a regional word? or do you mean tureen?] and placed it on the table. Her father gathered everyone around the table,[–] Martje, her sister Greet, and her mother. The only one missing was her brother, Ton, whom she missed fiercely. He was fighting for the resistance and she hadn’t seen him since the day he mysteriously showed up and rescued her from her school before it was bombed.
Her father said a prayer. He thanked the Lord for blessings of health and safety. He thanked God for sending the wonderful gift of His only begotten Son. He pleaded [personal peeve; use “pled”–also pled to whom?] to guard his son and bring him safely home. After the amen her [Martje’s] mother placed one beef bouillon cube in each of their soup plates. “I’ve saved these so we could have something special.” Then, as if she were serving a most exquisite cuisine she ladled out hot water from the soup terrine and poured it over the top of each cube. “Stir your bullion.” And so they did. The soup plates were deep so nothing spilled.
The family sat slurping up their “soup” without comment. All of them had participated on [in; not sure this is the best phrase] hunger walks trying to gather food from outlying farm areas over the past few years. But as the war raged on, there was less food to be obtained and greater danger anytime [two words] they wandered that far from home.
After the soup was gone; [comma] each had a thin slice of tasteless sugar beet loaf. It was not enough to assuage the hunger, but eleven year old Martje knew it would do no good to complain. She did wonder why her mother went through all the trouble to set a fancy table, when they could have easily drunk the bullion from cups.
When dinner was finished, her father read the Christmas story out of the Bible. Then they all sang Silent Night. That would have to do this year as the usual live nativity at their church was not allowed due to the German occupation.
That night when Martje got ready for bed she asked her mother, “Why the fancy table?”
“What day is it?”
“It’s the night Jesus was born.”
Her mother looked her in the eye. “Christmas, [no comma] hasn’t changed. We can still celebrate the birth of Christ, and honor him [capitalize]. We can thank God for the birth of His son. It does not require fancy food. It does require a nice looking table, even for only a bouillon cube. We should show proper respect and so we always use the best and look out nicest. That way we can be ready to invite Him to be our guest.”
It was a meal Martje never forgot.
Throughout her 75 years she has shared the story with many people so that they can know that we should always remember the reason for Christmas, and give thanks for what we have, no matter how little or humble it may be. We don’t need this. Instead, have Martje think and react to her mother’s words and end it there.
What I liked best: The idea that war and/or poverty does not change what Christmas is.
Magazine ready? Close. Needs a new ending and a title.