~*~*~ Advent Calendar ~*~*~
* Day 19 *
Summary: When a young doctor arrives at the Mormon settlement near the Sierras, he finds his roots and discovers the community has not one, not two, but three Mitten Angels.
Rating: G 6,370 words
Note: This story was written for the Bonanza Brand 2020 Advent Calendar, originated in the Forums.
The Mitten Angels
Paul Martin added another log to his wood stove as a knock sounded on his front door. Padding to the front room he smiled when he saw his guest.
“Adam, my goodness, come in before that wind blows you into the next county.”
Adam Cartwright slid past the barely opened door and shivered at the change between the frigid air outside and the cozy warmth inside.
“Come to the kitchen and warm up. I’ve just made some coffee.”
“Thanks, Paul. I can’t recall a wind as fierce as that. It’s bone chilling. Hope it’s not a foreboding of what we might get on Christmas Day next week.”
“Let’s hope not. I’m not quite ready for snow.” Paul laughed as he filled their cups with steaming coffee. Both men knew that the Sierra snowfalls and doctoring patients didn’t mix well. After returning the coffee pot to the stove, Paul asked his burning question. “What brings you out in such fierce weather? I hope all is well at home.”
Adam tried and failed to hide a knowing smirk at the familiar statement. “Everything’s fine at home, Paul. Actually, today is the day for delivering the coats and such to the orphanage, and you’re the last stop on my list.”
“I clean forgot it was that time already. With this sudden burst of cold, I’ve been run ragged. This is the first calm day I’ve had in awhile. But I have everything ready to go. You sit and finish your coffee and I’ll go get the box.”
In a flash Paul disappeared upstairs and returned with a large box. Adam’s eyes grew wide as he helped Paul lower it to the floor. “You have been busy.”
Paul chuckled. “I have but not with this. I just put the word out and the items seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. I even added some scarves and gloves of my own.”
Adam rummaged through the overflowing box with a pleased eye. It was a good collection and when added to what he had in the wagon outside would see the orphans through until Spring. As he pushed the items back into place something green caught his eye. Giving it a tug he pulled out a mitten that was attached by a string to its mate. Fingering the item, his thoughts flew to a time long ago when he was a child. Paul’s questioning voice brought him back to the present.
“Adam, did you hear me? Is something wrong?”
“Um, no, I’m fine. Paul, do you know where these mittens came from?”
Paul’s eyes shifted from his friend to the woolen mittens in his lap. “I think those and some coats came from Maisy Jones. I don’t know if you know her. Her family’s been here since the beginning, about the time I arrived, I think. She was probably three or four years old at the time. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that, well, it jogged a distant memory. I remember when the settlement was just getting started and we had just met you. I have a vague recollection of Maisy. But I also recall you gave me and Hoss some mittens, and…” Adam paused, looking slightly embarrassed.
“And you gave them away.”
Paul reached for the mittens to examine them more closely. “I think I know what you’re thinking.”
The name came from both men at the same time, “Mary…”
Ghostly images swirled and coalesced as the two friends reached for the same memories and began their journey back in time, twenty years earlier.
Oh, the winds are wicked in this place. A man practically has to tie his hat on his head to keep it from flying off to Oz. Beginning to wonder why he left a civilized city for such a desolate place, Doctor Paul Martin slid from his horse and placed one firm hand on top of his hat to keep it on his head. He used his other hand to squeeze his jacket collar together in a futile attempt to keep his body warm. It didn’t help that his medical bag in that second hand kept hitting him in the face with each icy gust of wind. I’ll definitely require a warmer coat before the real winter sets in. Almost doubled over, he ran headlong into the tempest until reaching his destination, a small cabin which sat on the outskirts of a burgeoning settlement. A firm knock and a swing of the door landed him inside the warm room in no time.
“Wal, Mary, look what th’ north winds blew in.”
“And a good morning to you too, Mister Coffee.”
“Now then, Doc, I done told ya a dozen times ta call me Roy.”
“Shed that coat of yours and come have some coffee.”
“Thanks. I can’t believe how quickly it got so cold, and it’s not even November yet.”
Roy shared a smile with his wife who was confined to the bed in the corner of the small room. “Didn’t I tell ya, Mary, that he had that thin blood like most folks from back East?”
Mary nodded then turned her bright eyes toward the young doctor. “Don’t you listen to him, Doctor. You’ll get used to the weather around here soon enough.”
“I sure hope you’re right Missus, uh, Mary.”
A contented silence fell among the new friends as Paul sipped the steaming coffee. It did wonders to warm up his insides, and visiting with Roy and Mary Coffee did the same for his soul. Relaxing into the warmth, he began to reflect on the changes in his life since January. He was relatively new to the medical profession, and had struggled back home to find his own way while under the tutelage and strong hand of his father. News that medical care was needed in the new territories was the catalyst for Paul to leave the comforts of home and family, and make his own mark on the medical profession. He arrived in early summer at the new Mormon settlement after a grueling time crossing the country. When he arrived it was meant to be a place for the travelers to stop and rest before continuing their journey, but Paul had had enough of traveling so he chose to end his journey there. The few structures around were located out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, however, the land was lush and there was a steady river nearby, though by eastern terms Paul would have called it a wide stream.
A tap on the table got Paul’s attention. “You okay, Doc? You disappeared there for a bit.”
“Oh sorry, just thinking about all the changes in my life this year. When I set out in January, I would never have figured on finding a place like this and having friends so quickly.”
“Wal, you’ve been a God-send for all of us, but especially for me an’ Mary. Want another cup of coffee?”
“Sure, I’m not completely thawed out yet.”
Emptying his second cup and feeling warm again, the young doctor turned a professional eye toward Mary. She was propped up in the double-sized bed that occupied one corner of the do-it-all room. Across the way was a water pump and sink, some shelving for storage, and a small stove. A fireplace also doubled for cooking and heating the room, and in the middle of the room was a table and chairs where the two men now sat. Roy had begun the addition of the second room but its completion was halted when Mary became ill, and now, with winter looming, was going to have to wait until the following Spring.
Although Mary was confined to bed, she was always making something with her hands, a lap quilt or some new dish towels. With the cooler weather arriving she took up knitting. Roy rose to clean up the cups as Paul drifted over to the bed. “I see you’ve got some new colors of yarn, Mary.”
Her needles never stopped moving even though she glanced up at Paul with a big smile. “Roy traded some of our preserves, the dear man, to get me some of the new colors that just came in.”
Paul stealthily analyzed his patient’s condition while enjoying the conversation. “What are you making this time?”
“Woolen mittens, all sizes. Roy tells me there are some new families in the area and I wanted to make them a welcome gift.” Her needles finally paused as she eyed her husband who always hovered close by. “Roy’s going to deliver them next week. Paul, would you like to go with him? That way you can meet the new folks.”
“I’d love to Mary.” He reached for his medical bag and retrieved his stethoscope. “Since you’re taking a break, would you mind if I do a little doctoring?”
Her head bobbed as she relented to his gentle ministrations. A few moments later, he pronounced everything fine and unchanged, and left the bedside so she could continue her knitting.
“Doc, grab yer coat and we’ll head to th’ barn so’s you can check on my horse. Mary, we’ll be back real soon.”
“Take your time, Roy. I’m doin’ just fine right here.”
Out in the barn, Paul pronounced the mare’s right foreleg was healed and Roy could ride her again. Roy took up a brush and began tending to his horse while Paul settled on a crate. After a few strokes Roy tossed the brush into a box and turned to face his friend.
“So how’s my Mary, Doc? Tell me the truth.”
Paul watched as the farmer shoved his hands deep into his pockets and kicked at some stray hay in the dirt. His head soon lifted to look the doctor straight in the eye. That was one thing Paul liked about the man who was about ten years his senior. He didn’t mince words and wanted straight answers.
“She’s holding her own. As I’ve told you before, Roy, her heart is going to give out but it’s impossible to say when. As long as she’s resting and eating well, she’ll be fine.”
Paul sighed inwardly as he watched his friend digest those words. He had been practicing medicine for only a couple of years and had learned that it never got easier to tell someone that their loved one wouldn’t get any better.
After a few silent moments Paul reached out to squeeze the friend’s arm. “I’ve got to get going. I’ve a couple of other patients to see. Just let me know when you’ll be delivering those mittens and I’ll join you.”
Roy brightened and shook the doctor’s hand. “I’ll send word when they’re ready. I thank ya Doc for lookin’ after my Mary. I feel like she’s lookin’ better since you came to this place.”
“Not to be boastful, but I’ll agree to that. Just keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll see you next week, if not sooner.”
Roy watched from the barn door as Paul dashed to his horse then rode off toward the settlement. “There goes a good man,” he muttered as he turned back to his mare and gave her some extra hay. “Well, Molly, guess you an’ me are gonna get some work done t’morrow. I got to go check on Mary, now. It’s about time for lunch.” He patted the big bay on the neck then closed the barn doors behind him. He, too, ran to the house to escape the strong northerly winds.
Paul tied his horse to a rail and visited a few tents and a couple of buildings. It was his way of greeting his new friends and meeting any travelers. A couple of merchants had been dealing with illnesses, but he was pleased to hear they were getting better. Leaving Cass’ store with some small sacks of staples, he paused in the doorway to note that several wagons had arrived and watched a cluster of children playing around them. There were obviously several families and the children ranged in age from about three to around eleven or twelve. Soon the parents called and the family groups sorted themselves out. As two of the wagons headed toward the outskirts where they could camp for the night, Paul noticed a third wagon with only a man and two young boys.
“Did you forget something Doctor Martin?”
Will Cass’ soft voice brought Paul from his musings. “No, just watching the families that came in.” His gaze followed the third wagon until it disappeared. Will noted the doctor’s questioning look.
“That’s Ben Cartwright and his boys, Adam and Hoss. They’ve got some land further into the mountains. He comes in about every month or so to trade pelts for supplies.”
“Did he leave his wife at home?”
“Um, well, he’s a widower. Came here that way, but hasn’t said anything about losing her. I reckon she died on the trail somewhere. He’s a good man, and those boys of his are some of the best-behaved children I’ve ever seen. But I don’t mind saying it’s a pretty hard life trying to eek a living out of those mountains, and raise two young children to boot.”
Paul gave the merchant a knowing smile then headed to his horse. As he made his way home he realized that the Cartwrights rode past his place each time they came to the settlement. As he took care of his horse, he mused about his interesting morning. “Well, Jake. Looks like more folks are moving here so that’s more business for me and you. You rest up and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Paul whistled a jaunty tune as he entered his home. After lunch he filled his afternoon with completing a few more repairs to winter-proof the cabin. With an appreciative eye, Paul glanced around the little structure. When he arrived he needed a place to stay. Will Cass told him about an abandoned cabin and, with some help from other settlers, Paul had been able to make it livable again. During the repairs, he met Roy and Mary Coffee and discovered they had a small farm next to his tiny parcel of land. He also learned rather quickly that Mary had a health condition. After that Paul began exchanging his medical services for milk, vegetables, and deer meat from Roy, and later with other settlers.
As the sun set on another day, Paul stretched out before a warm fire and let his thoughts drift. After living at the settlement for several months, and having received a couple of letters from his mother begging him to come home, he began to ponder his initial decision to leave home. Each night he sat by his fireplace and weighed the pros and cons of his situation. And each night it seemed the pros of staying were slowly outnumbering the pros of returning home. Since the settlement was so small there wasn’t too much need for human medicine but he was surprised how quickly he picked up skills like repairing a roof or a wagon wheel and caring for ailing animals. The best part for Paul was the growing list of friendships he was making in those who chose to remain.
Adding another log to the fire before heading to bed, he had to smile. It may be trying to act like winter in October and the cold was chilling him to his bones, but it couldn’t reach his heart which was warming to the people of this settlement.
As November floated in Paul had settled in quite well with the growing community. Since they also traded with the local tribes, he was able to get a heavier coat in exchange for some basic medical care and some deer meat he had.
Mary Coffee had turned her knitting project into a small source of income for her and Roy. Will Cass kept her supplied in yarn and in exchange had agreed to sell her scarves and mittens in his store. Some folks paid cash while others traded for them. Paul and Roy also handed some out to travelers as well.
After first seeing the Cartwright family back in October, Paul noticed Ben and his boys began coming in almost weekly. He usually had a wagon full of furs, and often left with more supplies, not only dry goods but tools as well. The doctor still had yet to meet the man but while observing him from afar he learned a great deal. Ben was usually all business and not very sociable. His boys, especially the older one, were well-behaved as Cass had mentioned but always looked longingly at the other children running around. On a rare occasion or two, Paul noted that Ben would relent and allow his sons to mingle with the children. After observing them for a few weeks, Paul also noted that the family seemed to be lacking in clothing. They usually wore only one or two outfits and, at least had warm coats, but no gloves or mittens to speak of. He decided this was a family that could benefit from Mary’s skills, so he pushed away from the door frame to make his over to Roy who was chatting with the blacksmith.
“Hi Roy, Sam. Say Roy, do you still have some of those parcels with you?”
Roy caught Paul’s raised brows over his blue eyes and understood just what the doctor was looking for. “Yep, go take a peek in my saddle bags.”
“Thanks, Roy. Good day to you both.”
Finding Roy’s horse, Paul rummaged through the parcels until he found one with three sets of woolen mittens. Tucking it under his arm he headed toward the Cartwright wagon. Paul walked up to the wagon while Ben was checking a harness.
Ben turned and eyed the young man. His hair was as dark as Ben’s but it was the twinkling pale blue eyes that held his attention. He offered his hand. “Good afternoon. I’m Ben Cartwright.”
“Paul Martin. I’m the doctor around these parts. I’ve seen you in passing these last few weeks and realized we’ve not properly met.”
“Good to meet you. I don’t mean to be rude but I’ve got to collect my sons and get going. It’s getting late and we have a long ride back home.”
“Don’t let me keep you. I just wanted to say hello. Also, if you ever need anything, not just medical services, but anything at all, you actually drive past my place. It’s a few miles out, the small cabin near the creek. Feel free to stop by any time.”
“Thank you. Now if you’ll excuse me.” The tall man rounded the back of the wagon and started to yell but stopped when he saw his sons coming from the store. “You boys get in the back. Adam help your brother.”
“Yessir. Hi mister.”
The dark headed boy smiled at Paul then turned to lift and push his chubby little brother into the wagon.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Martin. What’s your name?”
“I’m Adam and he’s Hoss, my little brother. Are you a real doctor?”
“Yep, I sure am.”
“Adam, are you and Hoss ready?”
“Yes Pa. I gotta go Mister and get settled before Pa starts the wagon movin’.” Paul watched as the boy settled himself by his brother in a niche just their size.
As Ben picked up the reins, Paul remembered his parcel stuck under his arm and ran around to the front of the wagon. “Mister Cartwright, it was a pleasure meeting you. This is for you and your sons. Have a safe trip home.”
The doctor was gone before Ben could refuse the package, or at the very least ask about it. He shrugged and placed it beside him. “Okay boys, let’s go home.”
Paul stood by another wagon to watch the family leave. He hoped the next time he saw them he could offer them a meal.
It was two weeks later when Ben returned to the settlement. He was speaking to the blacksmith when Paul saw him from across the street. He continued down the street to Cass’ store and found the Cartwright boys there.
“Hello Adam, Hoss. How are you two this fine morning?”
“Good morning, Doctor Martin.” Adam blew on his hands then reached out to take his brother’s hands in his to warm them.
Paul noticed they didn’t have their mittens with them. “Boys did your father open the package I gave him last time you were here?”
“Oh yes sir.” Adam smiled big enough to show some dimples. “Thank you for the mittens.”
“You’re quite welcome. They were made by a friend of mine, Mary Coffee. I’m guessing you forgot them at home?”
“Oh, no sir. We brought them, but as Hoss and I were coming here, we saw a little girl and her Ma who didn’t have much at all, so we gave ‘em our mittens. They smiled real big at us for doing that.”
Paul was speechless, his heart swelling at the generosity of these boys, despite their young age. He made a note to get another set from Mary before the family left that day.
He ruffled Adam’s hair and offered to buy both of them some candy. Soon, Ben joined them and the two men shared some coffee with Will Cass while Will’s and Ben’s children played together.
Paul excused himself to see a patient but spoke to Will first about buying a pair of Mary’s mittens. On his way out of home he placed the parcel in the back of the wagon where Adam would find it. He wondered if the boys would manage to hang on to these mittens, but somehow he doubted it. There seemed to be something inside them that made them want to help others in spite of the little they had for themselves. Little did he know he would find out more about that closer to Christmas.
December had arrived with the first snowfall. It had been light but had added a sparkle to the dreary surroundings. Paul huddled up in his fur coat he’d gotten from the local tribe and headed into Cass’ store. It was becoming his pattern to spend the morning with the Coffee’s, visit Will Cass and other merchants then head back to his place for the afternoon. Being in the settlement gave Paul a chance to see if any travelers were passing through and to see if the Cartwrights were there There was a tiny seed of friendship with the man and Paul was patient to let it grow at its own speed. However, his friendship with the Cartwright boys was well on its way to full bloom.
Hearing the deep voice as the wagon drew up in front of the store, Paul turned to watch through the small window. Ben stepped down then reached up to lower each of his boys to the ground.
“Adam, you and Hoss go in and stay with Mister Cass while I see to the wagon repairs. I’ll be back here in a couple of hours.”
“Yes, Pa. Come on, Hoss. Let’s go play with Sally and Dave.” The boys made a beeline for the store, Adam holding Hoss’ hand.
Paul smiled at them as they passed on their way to the back room. With a wave to Will, he headed over to the smithy to catch up to Ben.
“Mornin’ Mister Cartwright.”
“I know you’re busy. I just wanted to invite you and your boys to stop by my place on Christmas Eve. Thought we could spend a little time together for the holiday.”
“Thank you, but I don’t know if I’ll be back by then. I’ll think about it. Now if you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course. Have a good day.”
Paul headed to his horse with a warm thought. The look in Ben’s eyes showed he was interested. Now all he had to do was to let his guard down and come for the visit. Pausing by his horse he turned when he heard children’s laughter. The Cartwright and Cass children were running down the street toward one of the wagons. Paul recognized it as belonging to Milford and Lucy Jones. The family had arrived that Fall and had settled on some rich farmland near the big river. He watched as the cluster of children paused to say hello to little Maisy. It appeared the family was getting ready to pull out when Adam whipped his mittens off and gave them to Maisy who was furiously rubbing her hands together. She grinned and gave him a hug before clamoring into the wagon. Paul noted the gentle smile on Adam’s face and the hug he gave his own brother. Realizing he was reflecting that smile, Paul made a mental note to tell Mary when he saw her again. She received such a joy out of hearing about her little mitten angel as she had dubbed him.
Paul headed toward home but something niggled at him to stop by the Coffee’s farm. After putting his horse in the barn he made his way to the house and knocked softly. A quiet voice bid him to enter.
The fire burned low and one lamp sat on the table. “Roy?”
Paul couldn’t miss the anguish in his friend’s voice. He moved to the bed and rested a hand on Roy’s shoulder.
“Hi…Paul.” Mary’s voice was just a whisper but still it contained a warm greeting for him.
Roy moved away to let Paul get closer. He retrieved his stethoscope from his bag. “I see you’re not feeling well, Mary.”
“I…guess it’s…my time, Paul. Came…on… suddenly.”
“Shh, let me listen.”
After hearing the weak beats of her heart, Paul put his bag aside and shifted to let Roy sit on the bed once more. He pulled a chair close, after adding a log to the fire.
“Don’t you both…fret now. I’ll be watching…you know. Roy, don’t forget…the gift.”
“I won’t Mary. I’ll see that he gets it.” Roy glanced in Paul’s direction. “She finished a gift for her mitten angel and we need to get it to him by Christmas.”
“We’ll do that Mary. Oh, and he did it again today, to help little Maisy Jones.”
For a moment Mary’s eyes twinkled as she smiled. “Who knew…that my simple mittens would… turn out to be such…a blessing to others, and…that I’d have a special helper.”
Roy took a deep breath and squeezed his wife’s hand. “You’re an angel, my dear, and it just encourages others to be the same.”
Paul nodded then rose to give Mary a kiss on her forehead. He held her bright gaze for a moment then moved to the darker part of the room. Roy and Mary spent their remaining time together sharing memories in soft whispers. After a time, Paul’s heart trembled to hear the quiet sobs of his friend. Stepping outside to release his own grief, he watched as the evening star appeared and a few snowflakes began to fall. In the silence, Paul thought he could hear music but it soon faded. Despite his sorrow he felt a warmth inside, knowing that Mary Coffee would live on in so many wondrous memories.
Over the next few days the community of settlers gathered around Roy, providing services, food, and gentle companionship. Paul was amazed at the outpouring of love for this gentle man and his folksy ways.
When Christmas Eve arrived so did a rather large box for Paul. Pretty sure he knew what was in it, he loaded it into a wagon borrowed from Sam, the blacksmith and took it home. Pulling the wagon to a stop at his cabin he heard the jingle of harnesses coming from the road. A moment later, Ben Cartwright steered his wagon toward Paul.
“Good morning, Doctor Martin. And Merry Christmas.”
Paul couldn’t miss the broad smile on Ben’s face and the grins from his sons.
“Good morning and Merry Christmas to you all. I have to say this is a nice surprise.”
“I must apologize for not telling you that I would accept your offer of a visit, but the snow in the mountains kept us there until today.
“Oh, it’s no problem at all. I’m thrilled you came. Listen, I was just heading over to see a good friend whose wife died last week. We’re celebrating Christmas together and I know he would be pleased to meet you and your sons. Will you join us?”
Ben hesitated but with a nudge from both his sons, his smile returned. “We would be glad to join you. Just lead the way.”
Paul ran into his cabin to collect a pie and the gift from Mary which Roy had put in his safe keeping, then the two wagons made their way to Roy’s farm.
Roy was sitting by the fire reading the Christmas story when Paul arrived with the large box in his arms.
“I’ve received a package from my parents and I wanted to share it with you. I’ve also brought some friends.”
“Wal, ain’t that nice. Just put it by the fire an’ we’ll unpack it later. An’ just who are the guests?”
Paul stepped aside to introduce his new friends. The arrival of the Cartwrights was good medicine for all of them. Roy greeted each one and soon had little Hoss permanently attached to his lap. The boy even refused to go back to his father or brother when they set the food on the table to eat.
After sharing their meal and the pie, Paul pulled the box closer and began unpacking it. “I wrote my parents back in the summer and asked for a few things for myself and my friends. Roy, this one’s for you.”
He handed the first package to Roy who tore through the paper to reveal two new heavyweight shirts for winter and some packages of tobacco for his pipe. Deeply moved, he could only utter an emotional “Thank you.”
Paul pulled out another package. It was heavy and addressed to him. He opened it and found it was a full collection of medical journals that belonged to his father. He read aloud the note that was attached:
As you have found yourself in a new place and with many needs, I felt you could use these journals more than I. I will send more as they become available. Know that your mother and I miss you terribly but we are quite proud of the journey you have undertaken. Do let us know if there is anything else we can do to help.
Your loving parents
Finally, he pulled out the last package and hesitated. He recognized the label on it. Roy noticed. “What is it, Doc?”
“I think this one was meant for Mary. Would you like me to open it?”
“No, I’d like to, ifn you don’t mind.”
Paul handed the package over and Roy carefully unwrapped it. Inside lay several skeins of yarn. “Oh my…” Roy whisked out his handkerchief to pat his eyes. “Paul, would you see that the ladies in the settlement get these as a gift from me and Mary for all their kindnesses?”
“I’d be pleased to.”
Paul caught Adam’s look of surprise at the yarn and Ben’s askance expression. He started to explain but Roy spoke up. “My Mary loved to make things, an’ when her heart began ta give out, she took to her bed but still continued ta make things. Her last project was makin’ woollen mittens for the families passin’ through. Wal, it grew from there, especially thanks to a little mitten angel,” his eyes flicked to Adam, “who gave his own away, time and again, to ones whom he said ‘needed them more than he did’. It did my Mary such good to hear them stories an’ she kept knitting more mittens ‘cause of it.”
Ben quickly caught on and looked down at his son. “Adam, are you the mitten angel Mister Coffee is referring to?”
Adam kept his head down and shared a sheepish look with Hoss whose blue eyes twinkled at him. Taking a deep breath he raised his head and looked his father in the eye. “Yessir, I guess that would be me.”
Ben blinked a few times and pursed his lips then drew his son to his chest. Hoss squeezed himself into the hug too. “Me, too, Papa. Me angel too.”
Ben gazed at the earnest look on his youngest son’s face then looked at Adam. “Yeah, I reckon he’s one too, Pa.”
Laughter filled the room as Ben gave more hugs. “Well, this was an unexpected surprise. Boys, you’ve made your Pa very proud today.”
As the excitement died down Roy caught Paul’s eye and gave a slight nod. Paul reached under his coat that lay on the bed and handed a small package to Adam.
“This is for you and Hoss, from Miss Mary.”
Adam looked at the label and read it aloud since his brother couldn’t read yet. “To my Mitten Angels. God bless you for the joy you’ve brought to me and to others.”
The eight year old was unsure how to proceed. He’d never thought he and Hoss were doing anything special and especially didn’t feel they deserved a reward.
Sensing his son’s emotional quandary, Ben pulled him into his lap and whispered to him, “Go ahead son. It’s alright. Open it and see what Miss Mary gave you.”
Adam pulled the string and allowed the paper to open in his lap. Inside were two pairs of mittens. A blue pair sized for Hoss’ small hands, and a brown pair for his. On the backs of each mitten was sown a golden star. As he lifted them up a piece of paper fell out. Roy retrieved it and handed it to Ben who read it silently then aloud, glancing first at Paul then at Roy.
“While I am overjoyed that my simple mittens found many little hands to warm, these special ones belong to my Mitten Angels. May they not only keep your little hands warm, but your hearts too.
Adam slid from his father’s lap, took Hoss by his hand and walked over to Roy. “Mister Coffee, my brother and I will keep these mittens always and when Hoss is bigger I’ll tell him about being a Mitten Angel. Would you tell us about Miss Mary, please, so we can remember her, too?”
With tears in his eyes, Roy began telling his friends in that little cabin a few of the many stories he would tell over the years. As Ben watched his boys and listened, his heart warmed and made room for two new friends. As Paul enjoyed Roy’s stories, he realized he was home. He would cherish these new friends and look forward to watching the community grow. As Roy shared his memories of his beloved Mary, he felt his heart fill with a new kind of love. Outside, the stars shined bright, but one particular one seemed to dance in the night sky.
In the good doctor’s home, Adam and Paul sat silently.
“I had almost forgotten that time. You know I never gave it any thought about giving my mittens away. I remembered how it was for me on that trail and I just wanted to help those kids.” Adam’s voice grew quiet as he continued to finger the mittens.
“I suppose those special mittens are long gone.”
Adam looked up to see his friend’s eyes shining. “I guess so. I think Pa took them when we outgrew them. Paul, do you mind if I keep these, for a little while? I want to show them to Hoss and Pa, and Roy.”
“Of course. I think they all would like to be reminded of that time.”
Adam stood and slipped into his coat. He left Paul’s house with the box in his arms and hollered back to come out to the ranch to share in the stories and memories.
A few days later, on Christmas Eve, six men sat around the Ponderosa fireplace. Joe has been told that it was going to be an evening of stories and surprises. After the stories of those early days were told, ending with the special mittens Adam and Hoss had received, Ben cleared his throat and passed a box over to Adam. He also invited Hop Sing to join them.
With his dark brows rising, Adam slowly opened and gasped. “Oh Pa. You saved them?” He pulled out the blue and brown mittens, handing the blue pair to Hoss.
“They were too special to just throw away, despite the holes in them. When you came home and showed me the green mittens I remembered yours. I found them and asked Hop Sing to mend them the best he could after I told him the story.”
Hoss turned his over and put two of his thick fingers into one of them. He grinned up at Hop Sing. “Ya did a mighty fine job of it, too. Not a hole anywhere.”
Adam remained strangely silent, finally sharing a special look with Roy. “She was quite a woman. Although I never met her, I feel I’ve known her all my life.”
For the rest of the evening, the six men, Ben, Adam, Hoss and Joe, along with Roy and Paul, shared more stories and laughter as the years melted away.
After returning home, Paul reflected on that Christmas Eve and the first Christmas Eve they had all spent together. He gave a silent thanks to the One who had guided him to that valley, and his new life and new friends. Turning in for the night, he smiled. He would always cherish his life on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Character – Dr. Paul Martin
Gift – Woolen Mittens
Link to the Bonanza Brand 2020 Advent Calendar – Day 20 – Orange You Glad It’s Christmas by Puchi Ann
Other Stories by this Author
- Christmas Child (by AC1830)
- Christmas Spirit (by AC1830)
- A Heart of Hope (by AC1830)
- A Christmas Journey (by AC1830)
- Finding Bobby (by AC1830)