Grandma’s house was old. But not that dark, scary old, that fires the imagination of the local youngsters about town. The house was bright, airy and always freshly cleaned. The house was an old style bungalow with a pillared front entrance porch that led to a welcoming front door, while off to the side of the house was a west facing porch off the summer kitchen which allowed for unobstructed views over Normanby township and the westerly evening sunsets. This town cottage, as the style was known to be, had a hipped roof that made the home appear as though it was wearing hat. The house stood perched on a small rise, slightly elevated from its surroundings, a remnant of part lot 1, when the town was young. It cast a solid and matriarchal presence. Joel knew the house as “the house with the hat”. It was Grandma’s house.
Joel looked up at his father, the little boys head peeking out from the heavy woolen blanket that was wrapped about him. Today, being December 24th and Christmas Eve, Joel’s father chose to borrow the Hutchinson’s cutter tethered to the old mare to make today’s special journey. The car would be left at home for the short but important ride in the early winter snow which was quickly accumulating along the concession. The cutter pulled into the drive of ‘the house with the hat’ and stopped near the west facing porch. The porch side entrance was used for family and informal visits from neighbors. The old mare snorted her final “humph” as she stopped and frosted air ballooned from her icy nostrils. “Grandma’s house, Joel”, his father said, and the young lad stood up bravely on the cutters bench seat. Joel’s father coddled the young boy and adjusted his blanket, lifting him up and out of the cutter onto the snowy ground below.
Joel’s father remembered this porch well with its welcoming veranda, box stove and wood pile and the wind weathered rocking chair. He was always fascinated by the u-shaped front stone which was worn away into its present form by years of happy visitors crossing this threshold into the summer kitchen. As Joel’s fathers eyes turned up from the threshold stone, he caught sight of Grandma already standing in the doorway holding the door open widely to greet her son and especially her young grandson Joel. “Grandma”, Joel shouted as he rushed to her side. This would be Joel’s third Christmas and he was beginning to becoming familiar with the traditions of the season. “ I shall not be too long this night”, stated Joel’s father, ‘but I will ask that he stays the night and I will return with ma in the morning for Christmas Day”. “I’m repairing Martins elevator boot at the granary, last day before we stop for the holiday”. Grandma hustled Joel into the kitchen and said farewell to her boy as he returned to work for one last time before the festive season. Having his blanket, coat and boots removed Joel stood by the stove. He knew today he would help Grandma finish the decorations on the Christmas Tree and his favorites, the village and the manger. Grandma presented Joel with a biscuit and directed him to the living room with a gentle arm on his shoulder. The room was familiar and warm to Joel as he looked around at the uniqueness of the surroundings, so many things to look at, to touch and always ample comfortable places to sit.
Grandma had already partially completed the Christmas Tree which stood in the corner of the room near the fireplace mantle, but Joel knew he was there to help and help he would. Joel called his father “workin man”. In fact anyone in the neighborhood who was involved in some task or other was a “workin man”. On Christmas Eve, Joel was the “workin man” and he would help Grandma. All of Grandma’s boxes of decorations, tinsel and bows were spread on the bureau beside the partially completed tree. Grandma handed Joel some small wooden trains to get him started and he duly began quietly adorning the tree as he was instructed. Time passed by as the two worked steadily on. The time soon came when the winter toy village and the manger were to be set out. Joel enjoyed this and quickly assembled the village house and cars and people in a joyful winter scene. Suddenly a gasp filled the air and caught young Joel’s attention. Joel turned to face his Grandmother upset by some occurrence or other. “Joel”, she stated in a quivering voice, “the manger is missing one piece and I cannot as yet find it. It was here moments before”. The manger was missing the baby Jesus.
Joel’s Grandma stood over the boxes and scrutinized their contents from a distance. Hands on her hips, in a posture of stern concentration, she retraced in her mind the un-boxing and unwrapping of the tissue paper which protected each of the requisite pieces of the manger. Joel watched the events unfold and wandered over to his Grandma’s side and adopted the exact same posture. With his hands on his hips he too scanned the boxes and papers for the missing centre piece. Joel turned after a few moments and with a significance of purpose, he wobbled into the kitchen. Within the kitchen was a corner closet with a door that was ever easy to open. This was his cupboard and within it there was a small cardboard box with a label affixed to it calling it out as “Joel’s Toys”. Joel reached the cupboard, turned the handle and squatted down opening the box. He quickly found his toy construction hat and placing it on his head he wobbled, like a ticket collector negotiating the narrow aisle way of a passenger train shifting his weight from one foot to the other to maintain maximum balance. The construction hat was a gift he received last summer from a municipal work crew. The crew was performing road maintenance outside the ‘house with the hat’ and everyday for five days Joel would walk with his Grandma to his play area within view of the activity on the road. Each day he would use his toy diggers and shovels to move sand and dirt into piles, then re-distribute the same material again and again mimicking the road crew. This activity, no doubt caught the attention of the crew foreman and after they completed their five days of work they presented Joel and Grandma with a bright yellow, plastic construction hat. “It is for the young lad”, proclaimed the foreman. He has been out here working everyday with us and even harder than some of my crew I might add”. Joel was proud of his ‘workin man’s” hat and wore it every time at Grandma’s when there was an important task at hand. Finding a missing piece of the manger was an important task.
Entering the living room Joel looked about the large room, Grandma was still there seemingly fretting over the missing article. Joel teetered over to a small curio cabinet and after a few moments loudly proclaimed “Jesuth!” His eyes were wide and bright and full of accomplishment as he stood with hat on head. Reaching up to the curio cabinet he gently lifted out a glass figurine and cradled it in his cupped hands. “Jesuth!” he loudly proclaimed again and this time his Grandmother’s attention was engaged and she turned to see the young lad standing beside the manger, construction hat on and holding out to her a glass figurine. A figurine of a hedgehog.
Grandma bent down to Joel and held his closed hands in such a way as to convey her happiness and her pride in the young lad’s notion. Seeing into his eyes, she knew that he truly felt the little glass figurine held a special place in Joel’s heart and that for now the hedgehog could reside within the manger. Grandma uncupped Joel’s hands and taking the figurine gently from them she placed the figure beside the vacancy where the Christ Child should be. The glass hedgehog sparkled in the reflected light of the many Christmas candles that were positioned throughout the room. It happily resided amongst the other animals of the manger, beside the wise men with their multi-coloured robes. “Thank you Joel, Grandma said, “that will do fine.” Grandma looked at the clock on the mantle, it had passed eight o’clock and was beyond Joel’s bedtime. “Bedtime Joel, and when you awake your mother and father will be here as it will be Christmas Day”. Joel sleepily nodded and began himself to walk towards the hallway that led to the front bedroom. Grandma stopped the little fellow mid-hall and picked him up under the arms carrying him to his waiting bed. Preparing Joel for bed was a very easy task as he was already closing his eyes fighting the sleep that would inevitably come. Closing the bedroom door behind her, Grandma returned to the livingroom. She stood near one of the large windows of the room and looked outside. The snow continued to fall. Softly and gently it swirled in the breeze and bounced off the window. The snowflakes were large and bright and fluffy. It seemed as though someone had begun shaking the contents of a down-filled pillow from the roof. She watched in quiet fascination the dancing white clouds. Out of the corner of her eye, on the mantle and near her clock, she also noticed something white. She turned her head. Behind the clock, partially hidden, was a small, white ball of tissue wrapping paper. She collected the ball and within it she found the baby Jesus. “I remember”, she stated. The tissue had been placed there when Joel’s father approached in the cutter. Grandma unravelled the tissue and placed the figure of the Christ Child in its rightful place in the manger.
She stepped back and sighed. All was right in the manger and all was right in “the house with the hat”. The snow continued to fall outside as she walked toward her General Electric floor radio. She turned it on and could hear the tubes warming up as the lights and dials slowly began to glow. The radio program was a reading of The Christmas Carol on station WJR. She walked over to her rocking chair and sat down to reflect on the evenings events. In the morning Joel’s mother and father would arrive and she would tell them all that transpired this eventful evening. This day, Tuesday, December 24th, nineteen hundred and forty, would be remembered for years to follow within the family as the night young Joel found Jesus.