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I’ll Be Home For Christmas (At Last) by Vicki L. Nelson

Word Count 12, 595

Eighth in the Small Matters Series


Today is the nineteenth of December and today is my fourteenth birthday. I’m not celebrating it with my family at Lancer, though.

I ran away from Boston several months ago to meet my father, Murdoch Lancer. My mother, Catherine, died shortly after giving birth to me and my grandfather Garrett took me back to Boston and raised me, without permission from Pa.

I later found out that Pa had come to Boston on my fifth birthday to bring me home. Grandfather wouldn’t permit it and threatened my father with legal action. Legal action which would involve dragging me, a young child, through the court system. Pa didn’t want that for me so he returned home without me.

Shortly after I arrived at Lancer, about six months ago, Grandfather took my father to court. He wanted to regain custody of me and take me back to Boston. Luckily, the judge saw through him and gave custody of me to my father.

Then shortly after the custody fight, my little brother, Johnny, showed up at Lancer. He wanted to shoot our father because his mother had lied to him and told him Pa had kicked them both out of the house when he was just a toddler.

We fought like cats and dogs until we broke a bottle of Pa’s best scotch. We both got a licking, then started talking because we were both mad at Pa. We made up and now we’re brothers and best friends.

Johnny will be eleven on December 23rd and I have to be back by then. I know my little brother will be very disappointed if I’m not there to help him celebrate.

You see, I’m not in school where I should be. I’m on a stagecoach headed for Carterville. I’m missing my first birthday at Lancer because of it.

I’m pretty sure that after what I’ve done, there will be no presents and no birthday cake for me. I think that when my father gets a hold of me, I will probably get the worst tanning of my life. He warned me that I could expect one the next time I ran off.

But, tanning or not, though, I have to do this.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll start at the beginning.

L * L * L * L

I’ve already told you that my mother died shortly after giving birth to me. My father had sent us from Lancer because he was afraid for both of us. There were land pirates, fighting ranchers to take their land. Pa sent my mother and his Segundo, Paul O’Brien, in a wagon bound for San Francisco. My grandfather was to meet my mother there and take care of both of us until Pa could send for us.

But I came earlier than everyone expected and my mother was forced to give birth to me in a lonely little burg called Carterville. She died the day after having me, but Grandfather swore that she gave me all the love she could to send me forth in life. He was worried for her and for me and he loaded us both into a wagon and headed for San Francisco. He wanted to get to a big city where he felt medical care would be superior.

Sadly, though, my mother died on the side of the road. So, she was brought back to Carterville for burial. And that’s where I’m going. I want to be at my mother’s grave on the anniversary of her death. Not just want to, but feel I have to.

I grew up believing that my father didn’t want me because I was the cause of my mother’s death. I don’t think that’s true any more, but Pa has never come out and told me so.

In fact, I wanted to hear about my mother directly from my father. But he won’t talk about her when I bring up her name in conversation or ask direct questions. He gets a sad and faraway look on his face and says he’ll talk about her later.

I don’t think I can wait for ‘later.’ That is why I’m making this journey. I’m going back to the place where I was born to see where my mother is buried. Maybe there will be someone left in Carterville that can tell me something, anything, about her.

Growing up, my friends asked me if I missed her. The truth is, you can’t miss what you never had. I was lucky enough to have a loving nanny so I didn’t miss out on the closest thing to maternal love.

But, I missed the idea of having my mother. I’ve thought a lot about her since coming to California. I’ve even dreamed of her a couple of times. I observed my friends with their mothers, and felt that I was missing something.

Grandfather had a large portrait of her hanging in his study. I would stand and stare up at her and I thought she looked like an angel, with her long flowing blonde hair and blue eyes. I believed that she was my Guardian Angel in Heaven, looking down on me and watching over me. That thought gave a young child comfort.

The only time Pa mentioned my mother was the time he told me that I “had my mother’s eyes.”

And, truth be told, Grandfather told me a lot of stories about my mother. He made her sound as if she were absolutely perfect and never did anything wrong. If that was true, I had a lot to live up to.

Growing up in Boston, I didn’t realize that I was different from the other children until I started school. It was then I noticed that all my little friends had both a father and a mother. I knew all about my mother, but nothing about my father.

I knew I had a father in California because I asked my grandfather why my last name was Lancer, instead of Garrett like his. It was then that he told me about Murdoch Lancer, my father.

I wondered why he had never come to see me or take me home with him. When I asked Grandfather, he told me that my father was a very busy man who was working hard to build a ranch and he had no time for little boys, even his own.

That surprised me and gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. When I was old enough to be told the facts, I knew that I had been born on the 19th of December and my mother had died the day afterward, on the 20th of December.

I thought about that and then a horrible idea occurred to me and I brought it up to Grandfather.

“ Grandfather,” I asked. “Do you think my father has never come for me because he blames me for my mother’s death?”

Grandfather looked at me for the longest time without saying anything. He neither confirmed it or denied it, just shook his head sadly. I was free to draw my own conclusions and so I did. My father blamed me for my mother’s death; why else would he not want me or come to claim me?

I was stubborn, though. Every year, on my birthday when I became old enough to write, I wrote a letter to my father and asked if he wanted to meet me. I gave Grandfather the letters to post and waited, in vain, for a reply. None ever came.

Then on my thirteenth birthday, my first year at boarding school, I decided to try one more time to reach out to my father. Imagine my surprise when I got an answer. He liked, he said he loved me and had always wanted me.

In my mind, I knew Grandfather would never give me up and I knew my father could never take me away from Boston.

So, I made plans with my best friend, Will Snowden and his older brother, Ward. To make a long story short, they helped me make my escape. Ward took me to the New York harbor and I lied about my age and got a job as a cabin boy on the Clipper ship, The Rainbow.

Three months later, I showed up on the doorstep of Lancer and shocked my father. But after he got over his shock, he was happy that I was finally home with him where I had always belonged.

And I already told you about the court battle for custody of me and what happened. I also told you about meeting my brother, Johnny, and how we finally warmed up to each other.

I was excited for the Holidays, our first together. First there was Thanksgiving, then my birthday on the 19th and Johnny’s on the 23rd, then Christmas, Pa’s birthday on the 28th and the New Year’s holiday. It was going to be wonderful to be all together. There are a lot of December birthdays, little Teresa turned seven on the first. She was very excited to have us all together for her birthday dinner.

I couldn’t wait to spend my first birthday at Lancer. I was turning fourteen and looking forward to being with my family. But something happened that prevented me from spending my first birthday at Lancer.

I often noticed Pa looking at a miniature of my mother and of Johnny’s mother, Maria. He would get a sad look on his face and he tried to hide the fact from Johnny and me. He keeps the miniature in his desk and takes it out and looks at it when he thinks neither Johnny and I are looking.

I never knew Pa kept it in the top drawer of his desk until I was looking through it for some writing paper. I stared at it and, for the first time, I did see the resemblance between my mother and me. And Johnny was the spitting image of his mother, Maria.

I heard Pa coming in the front door and I hastily shoved the miniatures back into the drawer. I tried to look innocent and Pa stared at me for a long while, but didn’t ask me what I had been doing.

Shortly after that, it occurred to me that I was finally in California, where I was born and my mother died. I could finally visit her grave and see where she was buried. I never had the chance before.

It was then I got the idea: I wanted to be there, in Carterville, on the 20th, the date of my mother’s death. And, maybe there would be someone there who could tell me something, anything about my birth, about my mother.

Screwing up my courage, I asked Pa if he would tell me something about my mother. How they met, what made him fall in love with her, what she was truly like, were they excited about my upcoming birth?

Pa just stared at me with a sad expression on his face and said he would tell me those things in good time. I didn’t understand….it had been almost fourteen years since she died, when would it be a good time to talk to me about her?

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him if he blamed me for my mother’s death but I held my tongue. What if I didn’t like the answer? Grandfather always told me, “If you don’t want the answer, don’t ask the question.”

Then I tried another tactic. I asked Pa if we could travel to Carterville as I felt it was really important to me to visit her grave site on the anniversary of her death.

He stared at me again and went white around the mouth.

“ No, now is not the time.” he said. “There is too much going on at the ranch right now. Someday we can travel to Carterville, but not now, not this close to your birthday and Johnny’s birthday and the Holidays. I want us all to be together.”

I got mad then and stubbornly said, “When then? When can we go? It would only take a day to get there and it’s just really important to me that I be there!”

“ No! That would mean traveling on your birthday. I want all of us here to celebrate your first birthday at Lancer,” he said, sternly.

“ I would like that, too!” I retorted. “But, it’s more important that I be in Carterville!”

“ Scott, I said ‘no’ and that’s final! I do not want to discuss it any further!” snapped my father.

I didn’t argue any further, but I had made my plans and I would not be deterred, no matter what Pa said.

I want to know, am I anything like her? Was she stubborn? Did she like books? Did she have a smart mouth like me? I know I have a smart mouth because my father tells me all the time, ‘Watch that smart mouth of yours, young man!’

I planned for about a week but I just couldn’t see how I could pull it off. The nineteenth was a school day, several days before the Christmas Holiday. If I missed a day of school, both Johnny and Teresa would notice it and I wouldn’t get too far.

God must have heard my prayers, though. Several children at school had taken sick and both Johnny and Teresa were sick the day I was to leave and would miss school. I could catch the stage to Carterville and, hopefully, no one would miss me until dinnertime.

I would catch the stagecoach at Spanish Wells where no one really knew me and have a day’s head start on Pa. The first stage left early and I could make it to Carterville in a day’s time.

I wrote a note, explaining my actions, and left it propped up on my pillow. I sneaked out to the barn and loaded some extra clothes and food in my saddlebags. I would leave Shadow at the livery stable and catch the first stage.

That morning, I had breakfast alone with Pa and he noticed how quiet I was. He felt my forehead and asked if I was feeling poorly.

I told him a little white lie and said that I was nervous about the math test we were having that morning. He smiled at me and assured me that I would do well because I was a very smart boy.

Boy, if that didn’t make me feel guilty! I grabbed up the lunch that Mia had packed for me and tried to make a quick getaway. No such luck, Pa called me back for a hug and a peck on the cheek.

Boy, Johnny and I were sure wondering when the newness of Pa having his sons around would wear off. We were getting too old for hugs and kisses, especially me!

I couldn’t help but notice that he hadn’t wished me a happy birthday, though. Maybe he had his mind on the ranch and on Johnny and he just forgot. I still felt a little knot in my stomach because of it, though.

I called out “good-bye” over my shoulder as I ran out the door. I had butterflies in my stomach from the attack of guilts I was having. I was still going to Carterville, though!

L * L * L * L

I caught the stagecoach in Spanish Wells. No one really knew me there as Murdoch Lancer’s son nor did they question me about traveling alone. I had the money for fare and that was all that really mattered.

I left Shadow at the livery station. I had considered riding to Carterville, but figured I’d be in a little less trouble with Pa if I took the stagecoach and didn’t travel alone.

Nothing eventful happened on the trip. I managed to snag a corner of the bench and slept most of the way. We stopped at the way station, grabbed some lunch, changed horses and we were on our way again.

L * L * L * L

Around dinnertime, I noticed a sign saying Carterville. I had arrived at my destination which seemed rather desolate. There was a general store, a saloon, a livery, and some houses. That was about it. Apparently, Carterville had not changed much since I was born there fourteen years ago.

Alighting from the stagecoach, I waited for the driver to toss my small valise down. I stood looking around and wondered what to do next.

I needed to find my mother’s grave site, but I saw no cemetery or graveyard. Now that I had reached my destination, I was at a loss for what to do next.

Lunch had been quite some time ago, so I thought I would wander over to the General Store and look around. It was beginning to grow dark as the days were growing shorter. I knew that I could not visit my mother’s grave until tomorrow, but I needed to find a place to sleep tonight.

I wanted to get a meal, but I saw no cafes and I knew that my father would not want me walking into a saloon alone at my age.

Walking into the General Store, I wandered the aisles. It seemed that I was the only one in the store and the lady who was running the store, leaned over the counter and watched me with interest. “Hello, there,” she said. “Can I help you find something? What brings you to Carterville? Are you all alone?”

Boy, she sure was asking a lot of questions! Walking over to her, I told another little white lie. I didn’t want her to know that I was alone, there might be too many questions asked.

“ No, I’m traveling with my family. We’re wondering if there is anywhere around here that serves meals and where we can get a room?” I inquired.

“ Well, as you can see, Carterville is barely a pinpoint on a map, but there is a nice boarding house at the end of the street. Ask for Mrs. Dettman, she’ll fix you up.”

Thanking her, I turned to leave but turned around again to ask her a question.

“ My mother is buried in Carterville. Her name was Catherine Lancer. Would you know where she’s buried?”

She stared at me sympathetically. “I’m very sorry. I don’t, but I’m rather new to Carterville. Mrs. Dettman has lived in Carterville for many years. If anyone can answer your question, she can.”

Thanking the lady, I set off towards Dettman’s Boarding House. I would find out if Mrs. Dettman could tell me where my mother was buried; maybe find the midwife who had delivered me. I hoped to find someone, anyone, who could tell me about my birth. I would talk to them, get some answers and then go spend some time at my mother’s grave.

It didn’t take long to reach the boarding house and I was just in time for the evening meal. Mrs. Dettman seemed a very pleasant lady, but again I was asked if I was traveling alone. Everyone seems to worry about a kid traveling by themselves, even though I was practically a grownup at the age of fourteen!

I told another white lie (my third) and said my father would be meeting me in town and was there a room available for us both? Luckily, that wasn’t a problem.

Sitting down at the table, it seemed I was the only boarder. Mrs. Dettman brought me a plate of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, biscuits, and tall cold glass of milk.

Even though Mia and Pa never think I eat enough, they would have been proud to see me tuck into my meal. Traveling had made me purely ravenous. Mrs. Dettman smiled at me as she watched me put it away. What is it about women that makes them happy to watch young boys stuff themselves?

I was stuffed but Mrs. Dettman brought me a big slice of spice cake. I happily dug into it, thinking this was kind of like my birthday cake. I had turned fourteen that very day, but I didn’t share that information with her.

She gave me a thoughtful look and said, “So, what brings you to Carterville? We don’t get many visitors here.”

I looked up at her, she seemed friendly enough and I hoped she had answers for me.

“ …Well, I was born in Carterville fourteen years ago. The day after I was born, my mother passed away. She’s buried here and I want to visit her grave site for the very first time. Her name was Catherine Lancer. Do you know where she’s buried?” I asked hopefully.

She looked at me with a sad expression. “Oh, you poor child…Yes, I do know where your mother is buried and I can take you there.”

She studied me for a long moment, started, then gasped. “Are you the boy?”

I stared at her, eyes wide open. “…The boy?”

“ Yes, yes…the baby boy that Mrs. Lancer gave birth to the day before she died? Are you Scott?”

My mouth dropped open. How could she know my name?

“ Yes,” I said, hesitantly. “I’m Scott Lancer.”

Her eyes opened wide and she stared at me. Surprising me, she jumped up and hugged me.

“ My sister, Berta, was the midwife to your mother. It was a hard birth and she needed my help at that time.”

I gasped. What were the odds of this happening?

I whispered, “Can you..can you tell me anything about the day I was born? About the day my mother died? I know it was a long time ago; do you remember anything of those two days?”

“ Sweetheart,” she said, reaching over and brushing my bangs out of my eyes. “I remember that time as if it had happened only yesterday. It’s still early, why don’t we sit in the parlor and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

I stood up, too surprised to remember my manners and thank her for the fine meal. She seemed to understand and, putting a hand on my shoulder, she guided me into the parlor and started a fire in the fireplace.

“ Wait, right here,” she instructed me. “I’m going to bring us some cocoa and then I’ll be back to tell you what you want to know.”

L * L * L * L

“ I remember your mother as a very beautiful lady, very genteel and very much ready to have you.

I remember what a surprise it was for my sister to be summoned to deliver her baby. It was obvious that your mother was a woman of breeding from the East. She was accompanied by an older man, her father, and another man. If I remember right, he was a ranch foreman sent by your father to accompany her to San Francisco…but, babies don’t always come when you expect them. Apparently, you were in a hurry to be born and they were all surprised to find themselves in Carterville with you ready to be born.”

She stopped and looked at me; I think she was wondering how much she should share with me, but she continued on.

“ Since you were her first; your mother had a bit of a hard time of it. Even though you were early, it took you quite a while to make your appearance to the world. Your mother had been in labor for several hours before reaching Carterville and it was another eight hours before you were finally born early in the evening.”

I sat, spellbound. “Was she happy? Did she get to see me? Did she say anything to me; spend any time with me?” I asked, in hushed tones.

Mrs. Dettman took a handkerchief from her apron pocket and dabbed her eyes.  “ Oh, honey,” she said. “Were you never told? She was over the moon with you. She counted all your little toes and little fingers. She hugged you and petted you and kissed you over and over. She said, ‘Welcome to the world, Scott. Your papa will be so proud when he sets eyes on you.’ She told you over and over she loved you. And your grandfather was as pleased as punch as was the foreman…’ ”

“ Mr. O’Brien?” I asked.

“ Yes, I do believe that was his name,” she replied.

“ Your mother was very tired but she was so happy, she was beaming. She held you in the crook of her arm and nursed you and hummed to you. She let your grandfather hold you briefly, but then snatched you right back. She told you all the plans that your papa and she had for you.

She grew tired and slept but she kept you by her side, keeping her hand upon you all the time. Unfortunately, during the early morning hours, she developed a fever and was having a hard time nursing. We could see her fading, but there was nothing we could do to help her besides give her tea and wet her down with cold cloths. There was no doctor nearby that could help.

Your mother was getting weaker and weaker, but she held you and rocked you and sang to you. Over and over, she told you she loved you. I think she knew she was dying because she told Berta and me that she had to give you all the love she could to send you forth into the world without her.

I can still see your beautiful mother, holding you, kissing you, and crying over you. I saw a tear drop on top of your little head and you waved your little hands and frowned. Your mother laughed through her tears but she was fading fast.

Your grandfather panicked. He felt that you would both be safer if he could get you to a big city like San Francisco. They loaded the wagon with mattresses, food, and provisions and hustled the both of you in. My sister really felt that your mother shouldn’t be moved, but your grandfather wouldn’t listen to reason.

Once you all arrived in San Francisco, your father was to be wired. He was to come and collect your mother and you once it was safe to travel.

Sadly, though, Mr. O’Brien returned with your mother and the wagon. Your sweet mother had died along side the road and he was to bring her back to Carterville for burial. Your grandfather gave him money for a decent burial, a lovely burial site, and upkeep through the years. Your grandfather didn’t return with Mr. O’Brien, he was so fearful for you that he had to find a wet nurse as soon as possible and return to San Francisco with you.

Mr. O’Brien stayed for the funeral and every year we are sent money for the upkeep of your mother’s grave.

Oh, I almost forgot. Your father came to Carterville several days later, but my sister had to tell him the sad news of your mother and that your grandfather had taken you away. My sister told me that she was saddened by the look of devastation that came over your father’s face at the news.”

“ Did he say anything?” I needed to know.

She shook her head slightly, “I can’t recall exactly, but your poor father was in shock. He’d lost his whole world: his wife and newborn son…You said your father was coming to meet up with you here, so I guess everything worked out and you grew up with him as your mother wanted.”

She stopped as I began to cry in earnest.

“ Oh, dear,” she said. “I know how hard this was for you to hear. But your mother loved you deeply and she was able to spend time with you. She looked so tired but so happy, she was glowing. I’m so sorry, sweetheart. Just know that you were loved deeply by your mother just as I am sure you are loved deeply by your father.”

I continued to cry and she pulled me onto her lap and comforted me. I should have been embarrassed because I was a big boy of fourteen, but it felt right. Just for a moment, I could pretend it was like being comforted by my mother.

She handed me a handkerchief, and I pulled myself together, climbed down from her lap, and took my seat back in the rocking chair.

Mrs. Dettman patted me on my hand and said, “Sweetheart, drink your cocoa and I’ll show you to your room. You must be exhausted after all that.”

L * L * L * L

I finished my cocoa and sat for a while. The moment I’d thought of and wanted for so long was here. So, why was I feeling scared as well as excited? I followed Mrs. Dettman up to my room, dressed for bed, and crawled between the covers. I slept well, but when I woke up, I knew that I had dreamt about my mother, but I couldn’t recall the details.

I dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. Shortly after finishing, I screwed up my courage and asked Mrs. Dettman to show me my mother’s grave.

“ Of course, I’ll take you there,” she reassured me. “But where is your father; wasn’t he supposed to join you?”

She had been so nice to me that I couldn’t keep up my lie. Shaking my head, I whispered, “I didn’t exactly tell you the truth; I came here alone.”

Mrs. Dettman frowned slightly and said, “Well, the poor man must be frantic by now.”

Hanging my head, I whispered, “I suppose he might be.”

Studying me, she said, “Well, you’re here now and I don’t want you to waste a trip. I’m afraid that I will not be able to take you there until later this afternoon. I have boarders coming in.”

I had hoped to visit my mother’s gravesite earlier than that, but I desperately wanted Mrs. Dettman to accompany me. She had been so nice to me that I figured to help her with her chores and errands. I wanted to keep busy so that I wouldn’t focus on the time.

Finally, at 2:00 in the afternoon, Mrs. Dettman led me through the front door and down the steps. Turning south, she began walking to the edge of town. I trailed behind her and she turned and looked over her shoulder at me. She must have been worried about the look on my face.

“ Will you be all right, sweetheart?” she asked. She reached her hand out to me as if she wanted to hold it. I suppose I should have felt insulted by that, being a young man of fourteen. But strangely, I wasn’t. I took her hand and it gave me comfort and strength.

When she called me ‘sweetheart,’ I got a lump in my throat. No one had ever called me that before and I could almost pretend she was my mother calling me that.

We walked past the town limits, and went about a mile to a clearing. We picked some wildflowers along the way so that I could leave them on my mother’s grave.

Mother’s grave stood alone, by itself, surround by a low white picket fence. There were rose bushes and a marble bench; someone had taken good care of her grave.

I didn’t cry, but my stomach felt funny. Mrs. Dettman led me over and stood with her arm around my shoulder and read the inscription.

She gave a slight gasp, “It was your birthday yesterday, wasn’t it?”

“ Yes, Ma’am,” I nodded. “I turned fourteen yesterday.”

She searched my face, gave me a gentle hug and said, “Happy belated birthday, Scott. Do you want to spend some time alone here?”

I nodded and she told me that she would take a walk, but remain close by.

I couldn’t trust myself to speak, so I simply nodded my head and she turned on her heel and left me by myself.

I stared at the inscription on the tombstone.

Catherine Garrett Lancer
January 5, 1822 to December 20, 1846
Beloved wife to Murdoch
Loving mother to Scott

And, that is when I cried.

L * L * L * L


I had been preoccupied that morning. Johnny was sick, there were pressing matters regarding the ranch, and the bottom line in the Lancer account was bordering near the red.

It was just me and Scott at the breakfast table. I spoke with him, but honestly, my mind was elsewhere. He got up from the table, grabbed his schoolbooks and made to leave.

I called him over to me for a hug and a peck on the cheek. I’m pretty sure the boys are feeling rather put-upon with the Old Man insisting upon it when they left for school.

I suppose that I will have to give it up some time soon, though, especially with Scott. I’ve been trying to make up for all the times that they weren’t with me, when I couldn’t show them fatherly affection. But, my firstborn is feeling quite grown up at his ‘advanced’ age.

As Scott turned for the door, I noticed that he looked a bit preoccupied. I chalked it up to nervousness over his upcoming math test.

And, there was something I was forgetting, something that I felt was very important. Try as I may, though, I couldn’t remember what it was, but it was gnawing at me.

L * L * L * L

I checked on Johnny at lunch and Maria said that he had been sleeping peacefully and had taken some broth. Laying my hand on his forehead, I was relieved that his temperature seemed down.

Paul later told me that Teresa seemed to be feeling better as well, so perhaps it was a mild illness and they’d both be able to return to school tomorrow.

L * L * L * L

It was a long, tiring day on the ranch and I arrived home shortly before dinner, hot and grubby. I went into the bathhouse to grab a quick bath. I certainly did not want to be late for dinner. It was one of my rules that no one be late for the evening meal. The boys would never let me live it down if I were.

Speaking of the boys, I needed to check up on Johnny. When I stepped into his room, he was sitting up in bed, and looking bored. He gave me a big grin when I walked in the door.

Walking over to my youngest, I again felt his forehead and was relieved to find it cool.

“ How are you feeling, Johnny?” I asked as I sat beside him on his bed.

He told me he was feeling great, that he had eaten everything Mia had brought up on a tray for him, and had taken a long nap. He wanted to go downstairs to eat the evening meal with Scott and me.

I looked him over and he looked like his old self, his sapphire blue eyes sparkling with mischief.

“ Hmm,” I said. “I don’t know. You’ve been sick and maybe it would be better to stay in bed until morning.”

His face fell and he whined, “Pa, I’m bored. I feel okay. I wanna eat with you and Scott. I’ll go to bed early if you say so. Please, Pa?”

I looked at him and couldn’t say “no” to that face.

“ All right,” I said. “But you’ll stay in your nightshirt and go back to bed early because I’m hoping that you’ll feel well enough to go back to school tomorrow. I also want to carry you downstairs.”

He wrinkled up his nose at all my ideas, but he knew that they were not up for negotiation.

Sighing dramatically, he said, “Okay, Pa.”

As I picked him up, he asked, “Where’s Scott?” Looking at him, I realized that I hadn’t seen Scott since he left for school that morning. Well, he was probably out finishing his chores, or riding Shadow. It was unusual that he hadn’t checked in on Johnny, though, as the boys were very close.

Smiling down at Johnny, I said, “Oh, he’s probably busy with something. We’ll see him at supper; he knows not to be late.”

Johnny looked sideways at me and gave a little smile. “We both know not to be late for supper, Pa. You’ve yelled at us so much!”

Laughing, I said, “Johnny, I have not yelled at either of you that much. And I am pleased that both you and Scott are now on time.”

I walked down the stairs and deposited Johnny in his chair to my right. Scott’s chair was empty and the Grandfather Clock was getting ready to strike the hour. I guessed I had spoken too soon when I told Johnny that both boys were doing well at getting to the table on time.

We held supper for another fifteen minutes, and I was growing angrier by the minute. When Scott finally drug his little butt in the house, he and I were going to have a talk in the study after the meal.

Supper and dessert had been served and the clock was getting ready to strike the hour again. It was dark outside and now I was getting nervous. Either Scott was in trouble somewhere or he was going to be very, very sorry when he did finally walk through the door.

Johnny looked at me and in a worried voice said, “Pa, where’s Scott? He missed supper and it’s dark outside. I’m scared, Pa!”

I smiled down at him and tried to reassure him. “I’m sure he just lost track of the time. I’ll remind him how important that is when he comes home.”

“ What if he doesn’t come home, Pa?” asked Johnny, in a quavering voice.

“ He’ll come back, don’t worry! Now, it’s time for you to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. That way you may feel well enough to go to school.”

Johnny looked crestfallen as I picked him up and walked up the stairs.

“ Don’t worry, Johnny. Scott will be here in the morning when you wake up,” I reassured him. I didn’t give voice to the fact that I was growing very worried. Either Scott was in trouble or that young man was going to get a good tanning for giving us all a good scare!

L * L * L * L

That damned clock chimed the hour again as I looked worriedly at it. Scott was two hours late and I was besides myself.

I thought I should go up to his room and see if there was something in there that would give me a clue as to where he was.

And, as I walked in the door, I saw it: an envelope addressed to “Pa and Johnny” in Scott’s handwriting laying on his pillow. My heart leaped in my chest when I saw it.

Nervously, I picked up the envelope, tore it open, and began to read.

L * L * L * L

December 19, 1860

Dear Pa and Johnny:

When you read this, I will be on my way to Carterville. I had to see where my mother was buried.

I’m sorry I had to miss my first birthday at Lancer, but I will be home in time for Johnny’s. I promise!

Pa, I know you will be mad and probably give me a good tanning. But, I still had to go. I had to see where I was born and where my mother died.

Please don’t worry about me. I took the stagecoach from Spanish Wells and left Shadow at the livery. I knew you wouldn’t like it if I rode to Carterville alone.



If the situation weren’t so dire, I almost could have laughed at the irony. Apparently, my firstborn son thought I would be less worried because he took a stagecoach to Carterville.

As I stared at the letter, so many feelings went through me.

Fear for my reckless son, anger at his running off with no word, and lastly; deep regret that I had forgotten his fourteenth birthday.

I had disappointed my son, once again. How many times could I do that before he turned his back on me, once and for all?

L * L * L * L

I had figured to leave very early in the morning. By horseback, I could reach Carterville late in the day. Scott had a head start on me, but the stagecoach would be slower. I was confident I could catch up with him.

I peeked in on Johnny just before I left. It was still dark out; dawn wouldn’t break for another couple of hours. I had asked Maria to let Johnny know where I was going and how soon I hoped to be back. I had hoped to be able to sneak away without Johnny being any the wiser, but he was awake as I peeked in on him.

“ Pa,” he exclaimed, sitting up suddenly in bed, “What’s wrong? Is Scott back?” He then eyed me suspiciously as he could see I was dressed for travel.

“ Where you goin,’ Pa?” he frowned.

I sighed. I’d hoped to avoid this conversation. “I’m riding for Carterville to bring your brother back home.”

Johnny jumped out of bed in a flash. “Carterville? I want to go with you, Pa! I’ll keep up….!”

“ Johnny,” I scolded. “You were sick yesterday and it’s a long ride. I don’t think it would be wise to bring you along.”

“ No, Pa, no! I want to go; I need to go! Scott will want me there!” Johnny begged.

I looked down at his upturned face and saw the eagerness there and the love and worry for his big brother. I felt his forehead; he seemed to have no fever and he looked healthy enough.

I sighed again, “Well, I want you to bundle up good. We are going to be a long time in the saddle. Are you sure you want to do this? It’s against my better judgment…but, all right. You know you’ll be missing several days of school and the Christmas party? You will likely have schoolwork to make up over the Christmas break.”

Johnny’s face lit up. “Oh yes, Pa, yes! I feel fine, I really do! I’ll bundle up; Smoke and I will keep up with you! And, I won’t mind doing schoolwork on Christmas vacation!”

We loaded up the saddlebags with provisions and I made sure Johnny was bundled up well. We headed out around 4:00 am to bring my errant son home, stopping at the livery stable to fetch Shadow. Scott would need to ride home on him, though he might find sitting in the saddle a bit uncomfortable.

Johnny and I stopped several times to eat and to allow him to rest. It was merely precautionary on my part. Johnny seemed perfectly fine. Luckily, whatever he had taken sick with was probably only a 24-hour bug.

We pushed hard for Carterville. I kept a close eye on Johnny, but he seemed fine and did not tire. I frequently asked him if he was all right to keep going and he assured me that he was. He was as anxious to get to Scott as I was.

We didn’t talk much on the road, but Johnny had a question for me. “Pa, are you gonna whup Scott when we catch up to him?”

“ Yes, Johnny. I promised your brother a good tanning the next time he ran away.”

“ But….do you hafta?” whispered Johnny.

It warmed my heart that both boys were so protective of each other.

I sighed. “Johnny, I don’t want to but I promised him one. How can I expect you boys to respect and obey me if I don’t keep my promises to you, good or bad?”

Johnny nodded but whispered, under his breath, “We would still respect and obey you.”

I pretended that I didn’t hear him.

L * L * L * L

We rode into Carterville around 2:30 in the afternoon. We had only stopped for a short time to eat lunch and with level roads, we made good time.

The town had not changed much since I had been there nearly fourteen years ago. There was a general store and I walked inside to ask where Catherine was buried. Sorry to say, it had been so long ago, that I couldn’t remember her exact burial location. I directed Johnny to wait for me on the porch with the promise of buying him some candy.

A pleasant looking lady greeted me and said, “Well, Carterville is jumping lately. You’re our second stranger to come calling in two days!”

I looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

“ Oh,” I said. “You must not get a lot of visitors. Who came in yesterday?”

“ A young man, around thirteen or fourteen came in around dinnertime yesterday. I sent him to Dettman’s boarding house. He was a handsome young fellow, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, tall and slim. He was looking for some lady’s grave.”

“ Catherine Lancer?” I asked.

Recognition dawned on her face, “Yes, yes. That was the name he gave me. Do you know him?” she asked.

“ He’s my son. Thank you for the information,” I said, turning on my heel. I then remembered my promise to Johnny, “Oh, a nickel’s worth of licorice, please.”

Johnny sat on the edge of the porch, swinging his legs, and waiting for me. His eyes lit up at the sight of the licorice. Popping a stick in his mouth, he grinned happily and said, “Thanks, Pa!”

He then looked worried, as he remembered what we were there for. “Did you find Scott, Pa?”

I looked down at his worried face and said, “Not yet, son. But he’s here; we just have to find him.”

It was at that very moment that a lady rounded the corner of the store, and stopped in surprise when she saw the two of us.

Tipping my hat to her, I said, “You seem surprised; I’ve been told that you don’t get many visitors to Carterville.”

She put her hand over her heart, looked from me to Johnny, then back to me again, “Mr. Lancer? Johnny?” she asked, softly.

“ Yes,” I affirmed. “How do you know our names?”

“ Your son, Scott, is out back aways. He is at his mother’s grave,” she said, staring at me in concern. “I’m Mrs. Dettman; I run the boarding house. My sister was your wife’s midwife. She delivered your son.”

I gaped at her. Different emotions ran through me at her words. Sorrow for my motherless son, then anger at his actions and the worry he had caused us.

I stalked off, in a hurry to find Scott. “Excuse me, I need to find my son and have a talk with him.”

“ Wait, Mr. Lancer,” she pleaded. “He’s hurting.”

“ I’m sure he is, Mrs. Dettman,” I growled. “And he will be hurting a lot more when I finish with him!”

“ Pa! Pa!” shouted Johnny. “Please don’t whup Scott!”

“ Stay with Mrs. Dettman,” I said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “Scott and I will be back shortly!”

L *L * L* L

In the distance, I could make out my firstborn, sitting inside the low picket fence that encircled his mother’s final resting place.

I hurried over, practically running. As I drew closer, my pace slowed.

There was Scott, sitting beside his mother’s grave. He looked so small and defenseless, even though he thought he was so grown up. He had drawn up both legs and encircled them with his arms, resting his chin upon his knees. He was rocking back and forth, almost imperceptibly.

He looked so lost and so much like a miniature version of my dear Catherine. He had her eyes, her hair, her bone structure and the sight of him there caused me pain, like a knife twisting in my heart.

He was huddled in the new jacket that I had just bought for him. The boy was shooting up so fast! Since both Catherine and I were tall, our son was bound to be, too, when he reached his full height.

He was focused upon his mother’s grave and he looked so bereft.

It was at that moment that all my anger fled and I knew that I could not, would not, physically punish my son.

It was then that he noticed me. He rose to his feet slowly, his eyes wide and his face pale. All the same, I noticed the slight raise of his chin as he stepped over the low fence and trudged towards me. Drawing closer, he seemed to lose his bravado as his head dropped lower, and lower, until his chin rested on his chest.

He stopped in front of me, looked up briefly, then dropped his head again. He looked like he had the weight of the world on his young shoulders and I found myself staring at the crown of his head, the texture and color of his hair like corn silk.

“ Hello, Father,” he whispered. “I’m sorry…are you..are you…gonna give me a tanning?”

“ Don’t you think I should?” I asked him.

Head still down, and tracing circles in the dirt with the toe of his boot, he shrugged and said, “I suppose…”

I couldn’t help but notice that Scott and Johnny shared the same trait of tracing circles in the dirt with the toes of their boots when they were afraid they were in serious trouble. The thought made me smile. Even though my boys didn’t grow up together, they shared a lot of the same mannerisms.

I waited a long minute before I spoke.

“ No, maybe I should, but I don’t have the heart to. We do need to talk, though, son.”

I led him over to the marble bench and he sat close by my side. I was silent for a minute, wondering what I would say. I looked into his red-rimmed eyes and asked, simply, “Why, Scott?”

“ Because, I’m finally here in California, Pa. Sometimes, back in Boston, I wished that I could visit my mother’s grave for myself and lay some flowers there. Something inside me told me that it had to be on the day she died,” he murmured.

“ But, Scott,” I said. “I promised you that we would make the trip sometime soon and we would talk about your mother.”

Scott sniffed, “But you didn’t say when and I felt like you would never bring me here. I thought you were just trying to placate me.”

“ Scott,” I said. “I would never lie to you or your brother. If you take nothing else away today, please remember that. I would have brought you here.”

“ But, you never talk about my mother. I’ve asked and you always say you will ‘later.’ Grandfather has told me about Mother, but I wanted you to tell me about her.” He bit his lip, lowered his head, then looked back up at me with tears in his eyes.

“ Father, I have to know…do, do you…blame me for my mother’s death? Is that why you don’t talk about her? Is that why you didn’t want me?” and at that, the tears rolled down his face and he began to quietly cry.

My heart dropped to my stomach. How long had he believed all this? Why had he believed this? My elder son is at the awkward age: sometimes he thinks himself as a grown man and sometimes he is still the little boy.

I was going to take the chance that he was the little boy right now, and I lifted him onto my lap.

I expected him to wriggle away, but he didn’t. He rested his head against my shoulder and toyed with the buttons on my shirt. He still small enough that his head tucked under my chin and I rested it on top of the crown of his soft blonde hair.

I began to rock him softly back-and-forth and handed him my handkerchief. I prayed that nothing would spoil this moment. Never before in my son’s life had I ever been able to hold him on my lap and rock him. I knew this chance might never come again, but I thanked God for it.

A thought then occurred to me.

“ Did your grandfather tell you that? That I blamed you for your mother’s death? That I didn’t want you?” I felt the anger rise up in me, but I kept as calm as possible for Scott’s sake.

He shook his head. “No, Grandfather never said that you did. But, he also never said you didn’t. When I asked him, he would just look at me sadly, shake his head, and walk away.”

I knew that this was a watershed moment; that I needed to say the right words to my son. I took his chin and raised it so he would look me in the eye when I told him what he wanted to know. As I looked at his glistening eyes, it struck me again that looking into Scott’s eyes was like looking into Catherine’s.

“ Scott,” I said. “I’m not sure how much you’ve been told about your birth. I want you to know that your mother and I were so excited when we found out we were expecting you. We used to lay in bed at night and talk of our hopes and dreams for you. She was convinced you were a boy and I laughed and asked her how she could be so sure. She would take my hand and lay it on her stomach. I could feel your strong kicks and she laughed and said, “How could this active little baby be anything but a boy? A little girl would be too polite to kick her mother like that.”

Scott gazed into my eyes, barely blinking and concentrated closely on everything I was saying.

“ Unfortunately, there were raiders at Lancer and other ranches. I was too frightened for your mother and you to remain because of the danger. I sent her away with Paul to meet up with your grandfather halfway to San Francisco. But, you surprised everybody and you came early. Paul and your mother were just passing by Carterville and Paul raced to find a midwife. Luckily, he found one and you were born soon after. Paul said your mother held you in her arms and cooed over you and kissed you over and over.”

“ Really?” whispered Scott, wide-eyed.

“ Yes, really. She did everything new parents do. She counted your fingers and your toes…ten of each! Paul said she was glowing when she held you in her arms and as she fed you. But, unfortunately, later that day she began to grow weak. By that time, your grandfather had caught up with them and insisted that she must see a doctor in San Francisco. He took the wagon, loaded you both into it, and told Paul that there was no need for him to accompany them.”

Scott was silent, taking it all in.

“ Unfortunately, your mother took sicker and not far out of Carterville, she lost her fight for life. Your grandfather left money for a nice burial and grave for your mother, then fled with you to San Francisco. He had to think of you, a newborn baby, in the middle of nowhere.”

I sighed, this would be the hardest part. “When I received word of your mother’s death and your birth, I lit out for Carterville as fast as I could, but I was too late. You were gone; on a ship to Boston with your grandfather while I was left looking at your mother’s grave. I was devastated as not only had I lost your mother, but I had lost you, too. I never even set eyes upon you, much to my everlasting regret.”

Scott remained silent; simply studied my face and hanging on every word.

“ I went home and I began to build up Lancer as your legacy. By working hard, I could forget my sorrow, during the day that is. But when I went to bed at night, I thought of you and I thought of your mother. Son, there never was a day in my life that I didn’t think of you. Oh, I knew you were being taken well care of so I never worried for you. But, I always wanted you to grow up at Lancer, where you belonged.”

“ And Scott, I already told you how I came to Boston on your fifth birthday to bring you back home with me. But your grandfather threatened to drag you into court as long as it took to determine custody. I just couldn’t do that to my little boy. So I had to come home without you and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Scott looked up at me, then asked, “Why didn’t you come for me before I turned five? Did you blame me for my mother’s death up until then?”

“ No, of course not, Scott. I never, ever blamed you for your mother’s death. At first, I felt you were much safer in Boston because of the raids on Lancer. And, to be honest with you, I would not have known what to do with a newborn. Then, sadly, I couldn’t raise the money to make the trip to come for you until you were older.”

I looked down at him, brushing his bangs out of his eyes. “You know the rest of the story. And when you showed up at my doorstep, I was stunned but I was so happy to finally have you with me. Then when Johnny showed up later, my happiness was complete.”

Scott looked down and was silent for a moment. When he raised his eyes to me again, he spoke so low that I had to strain my ears to hear him.

“ I was jealous of Johnny because he was born at Lancer and he got to be with you until he was almost two years old.”

I was surprised at his confession, but hurried on to assure him. “Johnny doesn’t remember that time.”

Scott looked wistful. “But, you do. You remember Johnny as a baby…”

“ Oh, Scott,” I sighed. “That’s true and one of my biggest regrets is that I never had that with you. I never knew you as a baby or a toddler and you were five when I first laid eyes on you for an all too brief time. But Son, please know that I don’t love you any less than Johnny because of that.”

“ Truly?” asked Scott, studying my face intently.

“ Truly,” I said.

“ Well, maybe if I wrote Grandfather and asked him to send some photographs of me, then you would be able to see what I looked like when I was a baby like Johnny?” Scott asked, hopefully.

“ If you feel you want to, Son. Of course, I would love to see them. I do not want your grandfather to make that a condition of you returning to Boston, even for a visit,” I warned.

“ No, Pa,” Scott reassured me. “I know he would try and keep me there. What if he came to Lancer instead…I mean if he won’t send them?”

‘The man who stole my firsborn child?’ I thought to myself. What I said, however, was “Of course, if that is what has to happen and you are prepared to see your grandfather again.” I only wanted Scott to be happy and if it meant letting Harlan Garrett stay under my roof, I was prepared. Prepared, but not anxious although I would not let my boy know my true feelings.

Scott seemed comforted at this and by now had wriggled out of my lap. I sighed; the moment had been much too brief for me.

“ Is Johnny here? Did you bring Johnny?” he asked, hopefully.

“ Yes, he’s back in town, waiting for us. He’s probably worn out a rut in the boardwalk by now. We both know how impatient he is! And, he was worried about you; he begged me not to tan you.” I continued on, “It warms my heart the way the two of you look out for each other.”

“ We better go back now, so he doesn’t worry!” said Scott.

“ Yes, in a second,” I said. “I just have a few more things to say to you. There’s not enough time right now for me to tell you everything about your wonderful mother. Just know that I loved her with all my heart and you are so much like her. You look like her. You inherited a lot of her traits: love of reading, a musical ear, independence, stubbornness.” I chuckled, “Well, I guess you inherited that last trait from both of us.”

Scott smiled through his tears. “So you shouldn’t be surprised when I dig in my heels?”

“ No, I’m not surprised at all. Both you and your brother have a healthy case of the ‘stubborns!”

Scott laughed, and he again reminded me of Catherine. They could both be so serious but when they laughed, the sun broke through the clouds.

“ When we get home, I will tell you all about your mother, anything you want to know. And, Son? Happy fourteenth birthday. I’m so sorry that it slipped my mind,” I apologized.

Scott shrugged and said, “Oh, that’s okay…”

“ No,” I said. “I know I was concerned with problems with the ranch and Johnny’s illness, but that is no excuse. I promise you, I will never, ever forget your birthday again. I’ll bet we could persuade your brother to share his celebration with you. In fact, I think it would please him very much.”

“ Speaking of Johnny, Pa…shouldn’t we get back?” asked Scott, earnestly.

“ Yes, we had better.” I began to walk off, then looked back to see Scott taking one last look at his mother’s grave. He then ran to catch up with me and slipped his hand into mine.

Looking up at me, he said, “Thank you, Papa. Let’s go home.”

My breath caught in my throat. I had been granted another first. I never thought to hear my firstborn call me “Papa.” My heart was truly full.

L * L * L * L


I sat with the nice lady and she told me about Scott bein’ born. I listened with one ear, though, ’cause I was worried about Scott. I didn’t want him to get a lickin’ from Pa.

They took a long time and I started to fret. ‘What was going on back there?’ Mrs. Dettman could see I was worried and put an arm around my shoulder.

“ Whatever happens between your brother and your father, I know he loves you both.” she assured me.

“ I know,” I said. “I just don’t want Scott sad.”

Then we heard Pa and Scott talkin’ and they appeared around the corner of the general store. Scott was holdin’ Pa’s hand and he was smilin.’ I figured Pa hadn’t whupped him and I was glad.

I jumped off the porch and ran over to Scott and threw my arms around him. He smiled and returned my hug.

“ Are you okay, Scott? You shouldn’t have run away! Me and Pa was so worried about ya!” I scolded him, then whispered in his ear, “Are you all right? Did Pa tan ya?”

Scott smiled, winked, and shook his head.

“ I’m all right, little brother” he whispered back. “And I promise to never run away again. Cross my heart,” he assured me.

“ See that you don’t, young man,” said Pa. “I won’t be as forgiving next time.”

Scott and me knew he was serious, but Pa smiled down at Scott and ruffled his hair. Scott looked at me, grinned, and rolled his eyes. I had to choke down a laugh. He was lucky Pa hadn’t seen him ’cause Pa hates eye-rollin.’ Scott might still have had to ride home with a sore backside if Pa had caught him.

I wasn’t gonna squeal on him, though.

Pa spoke to us both. “Now, let’s go home. We’ve got some birthdays to celebrate! Thank you kindly for your help, Mrs. Dettman!”

Mrs. Dettman came over and hugged both me and Scott and said, “Good-bye, Mr. Lancer. Good-bye, Johnny. Good-bye, Scott. You are welcome anytime. Mr. Lancer, you have some wonderful boys!”

“ I am truly lucky, Mrs. Dettman. Good-bye.” replied Pa.

L * L * L * L

So, we headed for home in plenty of time to celebrate my eleventh birthday on the twenty-third.

Pa, Scott, and I headed to the foothills to cut down a Christmas tree. Scott and I both picked the trees we liked, but Pa called the tune. He told us both our trees were way too tall, even for our hacienda ceilings! He picked good, though, ’cause his fit perfectly in the corner by the bookshelf.

Pa said that next year, we will go get the tree on the twenty-first of December, smack dab between Scott’s birthday and mine. He said it would be our new Lancer Christmas tradition!

Pa brought down ornaments from the attic. Some were from Scott’s Ma and some were from my Mama. Scott, Teresa, and I sat staring at the tree while we sipped the hot cocoa Mia made us.

Teresa was fascinated because she was still a little kid. I was fascinated because I’d never seen a Christmas tree before, and Scott was fascinated because his abuelo never let him have a Christmas tree in their Boston mansion. When I asked Scott ‘why,’ he said it was because of his grandfather’s puritan roots and he thought of a Christmas tree as being a pagan symbol.

I asked him what ‘pagan’ meant and he smiled and said, “Look it up in the dictionary, Little Brother.”

I hate when he does that!

It’s funny ’cause all of us have December birthdays. Teresa’s is on the first, Paul’s is on the tenth, Scott’s is on the nineteenth, mine is on the twenty-third and Pa’s is on the twenty-eighth! What are the odds?

Since Scott missed his birthday, I shared mine with him this time. We got two cakes: a chocolate layer cake for me and a burnt sugar layer cake for Scott.

We both made wishes when we blew out the candles, but we couldn’t say what we wished for or the wish wouldn’t come true. I wished that I could live at Lancer forever and, looking at Scott’s face, I think he mighta been wishin’ the same thing.

I think Scott thought he might not get any presents ’cause he ran away but we both got some great ones:  games like backgammon, draughts, chess, dominoes and cribbage. Scott was excited about Cribbage because it’s supposed to teach you how to calculate. He can take the most fun things, like games, and make them like a class assignment!

We both got new fishing poles. I got a pop-gun and Scott got a series of books: The Leatherstocking Tales by someone named James Fennimore Cooper. I figgered it to be a pretty poor present, but Scott seemed happy. We were both well-pleased with what we got as we knew Christmas was two days away and we’d be gettin’ more presents!

L * L * L * L

Both Scott and me thought ourselves lucky. We got to celebrate a Mexican Christmas and an American Christmas. We got to have twice the fun!

First came the Mexican celebration. Scott didn’t know about Las Posadas. It started on the sixteenth and ended on the twenty-fourth, Christmas Eve. He was fascinated by all of it. Joseph and Mary, who rode on the back of a burro, went from house to house looking for lodging. They would be followed by angels, and shepherds, and children carrying poinsettias. There was a band and caroling. It was such a fiesta and I could see how delighted Scott was and since Scott was happy, I was happy!

We had to miss a couple of nights of Las Posadas because of my being sick and Scott’s side trip to Carterville, but we got to experience enough of it so we didn’t feel as if we missed anything.

Each night, the carollers were invited in at the end of each night’s journey. Scott got to try red and green chili stews, posole soup, tamales, and biscoshitos cookies. Some of it was a little too spicy for my Boston brother, but he was rather fond of the tamales and the cookies. Ya see, both me and brother have a bit of a sweet tooth, after all.

Then on Christmas Eve, all the children got to try to break open the star-shaped pinata. Scott wasn’t gonna do it at first because he felt he was too mature for it. But Brother had never seen a pinata and got into the spirit of it. He took his turn trying to break the pinata, and dang, if he wasn’t the one who broke it open after a couple of whacks with the stick! It was filled with candy, fruit and coins and we all scrambled to get our share. You should have seen how fast ol’ Boston whipped off his bandana to get his share of the goodies! Guess he’s not as grown-up as he thinks he is!

L * L * L * L

Then I got to experience an American Christmas. Pa told me I got to spend two Christmases at Lancer, but I was much too young to remember anything about it.

I didn’t know nuthin’ about Santa Claus or Father Christmas but Scott told me he comes to everyone’s house and brings toys and gifts and puts good things in our stockings. He said that Santa brings the presents in a sleigh drawn by eight little reindeer. I figgered he was pullin’ my leg, but Pa swears it’s true.

Scott also told me that if you ain’t been good, Santa will leave a lump of coal or a switch (or both) in your stocking! Ya ask me, Scott and me shoulda been a little worried about that! Neither of us had been ‘zactly good as gold this year. I hoped Santa didn’t talk to Pa; Boston and I coulda been in trouble!

L * L * L * L

Then it was Christmas morning! Scott’s and my stockings were hanging over the fireplace and they looked might lumpy. I was kinda worried ’cause coal is lumpy. I didn’t see no switch stickin’ out, though!

We pulled ’em down and there weren’t no coal in either of our stockings! We got candy, an orange, nuts, a sack of marbles, tin whistles, a pocketknife, and a five-cent piece in the toe!

I was figgerin’ Santa was either blind and deaf or plenty forgivin’!

Scott and I both stuck a piece of candy in our mouth and Pa said we was to only have one ’cause we weren’t to spoil our breakfast. We weren’t too happy about that, but knew better than to kick up a fuss.

There were so many pretty packages under the tree! Paul and Teresa also celebrated Christmas with us. Scott bein’ the oldest, got to play Santa and hand out the presents this year. Pa says I get to next year and, believe me, I ain’t forgettin’ it’s my turn!

Scott got some word and numerical puzzles, (yuck) a telescope, a leatherbound journal, and more books: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (again, yuck!) but my brainy brother was well pleased.

I got a pair of stilts, a kite, a spinning-top, drawing paper and pastel chalk ’cause I like to draw. I also got a chemistry set. Pa said Santa might have made a mistake, bringing me that!

Oh yeah…we both got clothes, too. Scott’s particular about how he dresses, but me, I don’t care. Scott was happy, but I thought clothes were a pretty poor present from Santa! Guess the clothes were for when we both had been bad.

Scott and I thought we had opened all our presents, but Pa said there were two way back behind the tree. Santa Scott went to grab them, but Pa beat him to it and set a large package down in front of the both of us. We tore open the paper and gasped! We both had beautiful new leather hand-tooled saddles with our initials on one side and the Lancer “L” on the other. Scott and me just looked and looked and rubbed our hands over them. I looked over at Pa and he look right pleased at how happy we were. Scott didn’t notice ’cause he couldn’t take his eyes off of his saddle.

He didn’t even complain about not gettin’ a handgun. He wanted one in the worstest way, but Pa had said it wasn’t happenin’ ’cause Scott was still too young. Still I know it riled him ’cause I was younger than him when I showed up at Lancer with a handgun. But heck, Pa took it from me and locked it up and it’ll be years before I get it back!

Oh yeah, Teresa got girl stuff: dolls, hair ribbons and things that I weren’t much interested in, but she seemed happy enough about it.

Teresa had given us all pictures she had drawn especially for us. The one she gave Pa was the funniest! It was a picture of Pa, Scott, and me in front of the hacienda. Pa looked like a giraffe I seen in one of Scott’s nature books, I looked like a black-haired pig, and Scott resembled a dandelion. I wanted to laugh, but Pa glared at me so we had to all act like she was this great artist…kids!

Then Pa opened his gifts from Scott and me. Scott got him two new books: Paul Revere’s Rid e by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and The Conduct of Life by someone called Ralph Waldo Emerson (yuck again!) and I got him his special brand of pipe tobacco. Pa liked his gifts, even the book. He and big brother are a lot alike in that way. They love to bury their noses in books. Me? I want to be outdoors and moving as much as possible! Finally, Scott and me pulled out a last wrapped package for Pa.

“ Here, Pa,” said Scott. “This is from Johnny and me both!”

Pa looked a bit surprised at how light the package was and went ahead and opened it. We both fell on the floor laughing at the look on Pa’s face…the box was empty!

“ Pa..Pa..” I chortled. “When we asked you what you wanted most for Christmas, you said ‘peace and quiet’ so we wrapped some up for ya! Sure sorry it didn’t last long, though!”

When we quit laughing, Scott sat up and wiped his eyes from laughter.

“ Pa,” he said. “It was a great Christmas! Did you get everything you wanted?”

Pa just looked at Scott, then at me, then back to Scott with a big smile on his face.

“ Yes, boys, I did. I got everything I’ve ever wanted this Christmas and it didn’t come wrapped in paper and ribbons!”


To Small Matters : Growing Pain(s)

Happy birthday, Wayne Maunder
Merry Christmas to all!
December 19, 2013

Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Vicki directly.


3 thoughts on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas (At Last) by Vicki L. Nelson

  1. Hi, Annie. You’re most welcome. I like all my Small Matters stories but this one is one of my favorites. Thank you for your kind words.


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