This week’s creative writing assignment was to write a story either: 1) Write a sentimental, inspirational Christmas story that touches the heartstrings. OR 2) Write a playful story about how a Christmas fable came to be. I went for the former. As Anne of Green Gables says, “I would much rather make people cry than laugh.” Not that mine will probably make you cry… But I went for the sweet/sad rather than the funny. Hope you enjoy!
And I did have some brainstorming help from Dad (his idea to set it in our house). And some help from Mom on how to keep it within 1500 words.
Aaannd don’t forget to read the ‘Not All Fiction’ at the end…
“The thing is, you always are in such a rush to get done and on to whatever you’re trying to do that you never do it properly. Look at how much hair I found!” I held up a wad of fuzz before my ten-year-old sister Abby who had just unplugged the vacuum cleaner.
She returned my scolding with a resentful look. “Well, you’re not the boss! I did vacuum that part! If you want it so perfect, why don’t you just do it yourself?”
“Because I’m still trying to get my part of the floor cleaned up!”
“Girls…” Mom interrupted our altercation from downstairs.
I bit my lip, and called back, “Yes, Mom?” — even though I knew exactly why she was calling.
“Please come down here.”
Guiltily, we walked down the stairs from our bedroom to the main floor.
Sitting at the table by the Christmas tree, photos, envelopes, and stamps spread out everywhere, Mom did not look pleased. “Why does it go like this every time you clean your room?”
Neither of us answered.
“I’m not going to go through this with you one more time. Rachel,” she turned to address me, “I want you to go to the attic find the Ethiopian nativity the Hilts sent us, and while you’re up there, to think about how you could have handled this situation differently. You are seventeen; I need you to act like it.”
“Yes, Mom,” I mumbled, and ran off the find the nativity set, glad to have an excuse to leave the room.
Stepping into the closet where the attic door was, I pulled down the ladder, climbed up, and crossed over to the plastic totes of Christmas stuff, quickly finding the nativity set on top of some Christmas boxes.
I was not quite ready to go back down yet, so I thought I’d poke around a bit while reflecting on my quarrel with Abby. Why did it always go like this with her? Trying to ignore my nagging feeling of guilt, I grabbed a flashlight from amongst an ordered mess of camping stuff and decided to go around the back of the attic to the little alcove that wrapped around our bedroom. Brushing past some weary cobwebs, I reached the extremity of the attic. A board leaned against the dusty studs. Dad must have left the opening to the upper attic open, I realized. Since our house was an old church built in 1877, the highest heights of our attic was full of old beams – some with bark still on them – and the remains of the belfry. I shivered with delight, thinking of the fascinating history. Hoisting myself up into the dark hole – thank goodness I’d been up here before – I pulled myself onto the piece of plywood Dad had laid over the beams. If I stepped off the board, I’d fall through the insulation and through the ceiling of the living room – probably not what Mom would like.
I walked carefully over to the biggest beam, thoughtfully fingering the bark. I need to apologize to Abby. But I really don’t want to! Something rough snapped me out of my reverie, and I shone the light down on what my fingers had felt. Initials, it looked like – scratched into the wood. Excitedly, I made out ‘ISK’. I wonder who ISK was…
Isaiah walked down the road, wrapping his coat tighter around him to keep out the December cold. He was too immersed in his thoughts to take much note of the Blue Ridge Mountains around him.
Thirteen years ago. It was thirteen years ago I ran away to Canada. I was only thirteen back then in 1864. Momma told me to wait. She told me the war would be done soon enough, and we would be free. Why didn’t I listen to her?
Isaiah furrowed his dark brow, thinking back to the night he had run away. “Please, ‘Saiah boy, jus’ wait. President Lincoln will win the war, I promise, honey. Don’t run away. Don’t leave me here alone.” How Momma had pleaded with him!
And how rudely he had shouted back at her, “I can’t wait till this war is done with! I have to be free, Momma! You’re as bad as Massa Kent, wantin’ me to stay here and be a slave!” Then he had turned and run out the door, blind with rage and hurt and pangs of guilt. Isaiah grimaced at the memory.
How he had made it from Virginia to Canada alone, Isaiah did not know. Those weeks were a blur of fear, forest, and acute loneliness. He had found work at a sawmill, sweeping up sawdust. Of course, the war had ended in the spring of 1865, and Isaiah’s heart had twinged, remembering his mother’s words – “President Lincoln will win the war, I promise, honey”. She had been right. How he had longed to go and make things right with Momma! But a preacher had explained to him that he needed to pay his master for the freedom he had taken – almost $150. So Isaiah had worked at the sawmill another twelve years, aiming to save enough to purchase his own freedom and his mother’s. Though no man had owned him, though he had filled his lungs with free Canadian air each day, Isaiah could not shake off the chains of regret that tightened with every thought of his mother. A craving for reconciliation burned in his mind.
With each step closer to home, the craving intensified while the fear of what he must do mounted. “What will Momma think of me?” he murmured to himself.
As he reached more familiar territory, the village he recollected from childhood, Isaiah gaped at the differences he saw. Burnt, shelled remains of old houses mixed with new cabins and buildings painted a scene fresh to his memory. A newly-constructed, Lutheran church, he noted with a grin, stood invitingly by the road, the sound of music escaping from within. On an impulse, he turned to go up its steps. Maybe the pastor can tell me where to find Momma now that the Emancipation Proclamation has shaken things up so much. She may not be at Massa Kent’s anymore, Isaiah reminded himself.
Opening one of the double doors, the freedman stepped in the sanctuary. A quick survey of the single room told him the pastor was not there. With a sigh, Isaiah lowered himself into the back pew to rest his aching feet. Day after day of walking had taken its toll. The church pianist, a white girl, was practicing. Probably for the Christmas Eve service tomorrow, he surmised. “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…” her soprano sang.
The lyrics caught his attention. ‘God and sinners reconciled.’ That was what was what he was seeking: reconciliation. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation made him a free man, Isaiah knew that he needed freedom in his heart. He needed to make things right with his mother and with Massa Kent. True emancipation comes from the inside out, he suddenly understood. When he had run away in 1864, he had thought being his own master was all that mattered. It had not taken him long to realize that liberty involved much more. And this, he grasped, is why the Lord Jesus came at Christmastime: to reconcile us with God, to make things right with Him, and make us free from sin and guilt.
Rising abruptly, Isaiah found the ladder and climbed up to the belfry. He wanted to get closer to Heaven. Leaning on the rough, exposed beam, Isaiah stifled a sob of glad relief. “‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free…’” he recited from the Good Book. Pulling out his knife, Isaiah carved his initials into an out-of-the-way edge of the timber: ISK. “Hitherto the Lord has helped me,” he quoted, his voice cracking with emotion as he engraved this makeshift Ebenezer into the wood.
A few minutes later, Isaiah stepped out the door of the church, the joy and gratitude in his heart manifesting itself in a diffident, yet exuberant smile, illuminating his dark face like a Christ candle. Quickly, he stopped to ask the pastor who was just coming up the steps, and the kind reverend pointed him to his mother’s abode. Striding into the darkness with the Light of the world in his heart, Isaiah left with a joyful determination to make things right with his master and his mother. Thirteen years later, reconciliation would at last make him a free man.
“Isaiah something Kent,” I murmured to myself, tracing the letters scratched into the beam with my finger. “’God and sinners reconciled…’” That was what I, too, was seeking: reconciliation. Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. Turning resolutely back towards the opening I had climbed up through, I asked God to give me strength to go and talk to Abby. True freedom must come from the inside out.
Not All Fiction!
The bedroom cleaning scene: perhaps a little familiar…
Old church house with beams and belfry remains: Yes, I do live in an old church with a really cool upper attic — but there are no initials 😦
Newly-constructed Lutheran church: My house is the former St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, built in 1877. It is even mentioned on Wikipedia — practically famous! X)
And all the pictures are mine, so please don’t steal! 🙂