Come winter on the prairie and as far as you can see,
Snow makes a great white blanket across the endless prairie sea,
Pa gets the big sleigh from the barn and greases up the blades,
To make the pulling easier for the horses, on the grades.
Mama takes out the oldest blankets, that help to keep us warm,
Pa checks the sleigh most carefully, to keep us all from harm.
Then snug in mittens, scarves and coats that mama made from wool,
Pa takes us every morning to our little country school.
He stays a while to help our teacher fill the old wood bin,
She thanks him with a curtsy, brings out the gentleman in him.
We students hang our coats and things in the cloak room at the back,
And teacher claps her hands and says, “Since Christmas’s coming that—
Today we’re going to decorate a tree that kind Mr. Mc Clune
Went up north to get for us and will bring it to us soon,
For now we’ll all make popcorn garlands and chains of colored paper,”
And from a box she lifts up a silver star—nothing had escaped her.
No reading, writin’, rithmetic, no studying today!
We’re going to decorate a tree and enjoy a day of play;
On Christmas Eve our families will come to see the tree,
And Santa will come and give us each a bag of candy, free!
“Tain’t no Santa,” One of the big boys in the back row shouted out,
The little girls in front began to shriek and cry and pout;
My younger sis is with the little girls that were in tears.
I knew I had to do something to take away their fears.
“You take that back!” I said with fists clenched, ready for a fight,
When teacher intervened and said “Now, boys, this isn’t right.
On Christmas we all celebrate the birth of Christ the King,
George, you say you’re sorry and we’ll all forget this thing.”
Then teacher told a story, while we cut and pasted rings,
As we made a garland for our tree, she told of many things,
Of the birth of one small baby, in a manger far away,
And how folks far away and near remember Him on this day.
She told about Saint Nicholas who filled the wooden shoes,
for all the good Dutch boys and girls to remember this Good News,
She said how now, we all remember Jesus in this way,
And all of us remember Him on every Christmas Day.
The big boy, George, he was abashed, and said he didn’t mean it,
But he had no ma or pa and no Santa Claus would visit;
He lived with one old aunt who had no time for foolishness,
No time for trees or holly, for Santa Claus or Christmas.
On Christmas Eve our families came and crowded in the room,
We’d cleaned our desks, the blackboard, and candles chased off gloom,
Then Santa came and brought a sack, and we all lined up to get
A little bag of peppermints, a night we’d not forget.
When all the candy had been passed out, Santa stood upright
And asked, “I wonder if a boy named George is here tonight?”
George came forward and I noticed that his face had turned beet red;
As he said “I’m sorry, Santa, I really didn’t mean to be so bad.”
“Oh, I know that!” Santa laughed, “Why, I know what’s good and true,
There’s just one gift I have to give, and George this one’s for you!”
And from his burlap bag, he reached and handed George a box;
George opened it and all of us heard him gasp with shock;
Inside the box there was a very fine Swiss army knife;
George’s eyes lit up with wonder, “I’ve wanted one all my life,
But,” he said, “I never told this to a single living soul!”
Santa patted him on his shoulder and said “Oh, George, I know!”
We all shed tears and teacher said “Let us sing a song of praise,
That we all remember this night for all our living days.”
And so we sang, then hurried home in the cold night with elation,
Before we left, I heard my mama extend a special invitation.
George said he didn’t think his aunt ever would agree,
Mama said “I won’t take no for an answer; supper is at three.”
And so next day, George and his aunt and our teacher came for dinner,
That all of us told mama was so fine and sure a winner.
In the parlor there were presents for my sis and George and me,
Scarves and mittens ma had stitched and it was plain to see
That no one had done this much for George in all his sorry life,
“Scarves and mittens!” George exclaimed, “And a fine Swiss Army knife!”
We all sipped hot tea with cookies ma had baked, just for this day,
And our guests all carried home tins of cookies wrapped so gay,
Before we went to bed that night, I heard my mother whisper,
“You dear old Claus, I do believe, I’d like to kiss your whiskers!”
Years later, when my pa was old and frail and could not see,
I ventured then to ask him what had long been bothering me,
“How could you know,” I asked him, “About George and that army knife?”
“Because,” he said, “I wanted one, most of all throughout my life.”
George married my kid sister and they have a bunch of boys;
Their farm is off in Kansas and sis tells me it’s a joy,
For George just loves his rowdy bunch, for them he’d give his life,
And every one of those young boys owns a fine Swiss Army knife.
–Sandra Lee Smith,
Originally posted in 2010
Updated, December 2018
(*This was a poem I wrote in a small collection of poems called An American Childhood, for my poetry club in 2010. Then my Canadian girlfriend, Doreen, took all of the American Childhood poetry and put it together with illustrations and one of her own poems, and compiled a booklet titled MAMA IN THE KITCHEN/AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, 1900, RECEIPTS AND VERSE WRITTEN BY SANDRA LEE SMITH).