The Evans family was finally moving out of the house on our homestead farm in New Mexico.
“I wish they’d hurry and leave so we can move in,” Ed said as we watched from the barn roof. No one but Papa had seen the inside of the house.
“I wonder if they’ll leave anything,” Caroline said.
“The Caldwells found all sorts of good things left in their house,” I put in.
“A table and some fruit jars.”
“And a pretty good harness in the barn.”
“Don’t forget the stove. They left a good stove,” I added.
“The oven has to be propped up,” Caroline reminded us.
“It’s still good.”
By the time the Evanses had finished loading their belongings onto the wagon and started out the gate, it didn’t seem likely that anything could be left. We slid down the smooth board and ran to look inside. The house was completely empty except for one thing.
“A high chair!” Caroline exclaimed. “Look at that. Georgie can have a high chair.”
“But we don’t even have a table,” I complained.
“Papa will make us one,” she said. “Let’s go ask him.”
After we moved our things from the dugout, Ed said, “Now I get to sleep in the barn.”
“Me, too,” I said.
“Nothing doing,” Mama warned. “The barn’s for animals, not children.”
“Papa promised,” Ed told her.
“It’s all right, hon,” Papa told Mama. “The loft’s clean and warm and close enough so that we could hear them call if they needed us.”
“Well, it is pretty crowded in here,” Mama relented a little. “Just one room for the seven of us.”
“Please, mama,” Ed coaxed.
“Please,” I echoed.
“I guess it won’t hurt to try it,” she conceded, and we started out the door.
Frank grabbed my legs and shouted, “I wanna sleep with Dora! I wanna sleep with Dora!”
“Let him come, Mama. I’ll take care of him.” She knew I would too.
“Watch him, then, so he doesn’t fall down the ladder,” she cautioned.
“I don’t fall down ladders.” Frank said indignantly. “I climb down.”
So the three of us moved into the barn.
Papa began to make some furniture, first a table and then a long bench. Georgie would use his high chair. He built a stretched-out sofa, too, and Mama sewed cushions for it. In the barn Papa was working on some chairs with woven seats.
Every day Papa put a bucket down the well, hoping to bring up water, but the best he could get was damp sand on the bottom of the bucket.
“Don’t try the well till I get there,” Ed called down from the loft to Papa, when he heard the door shut after milking.
“Me, too,” I yelled and scrambled down the ladder.
One day the bucket made a splash when it went down. “There’s water,” Papa announced and pulled quickly on the rope to bring up a dripping pailful.
“Water!” Ed shouted.
“Water!” I echoed.
It was a race to the house to tell Mama, and she was so excited she said, “Let’s celebrate. I’ll make pancakes for breakfast.”
“Hurry then,” Papa said. “We have to get the pipe and sucker rods in.”
“What are sucker rods?” Ed wanted to know.
“They’re wooden poles to suck the water out of the ground.”
“Where do you put them?” I asked.
“First, we put a big pipe down to the bottom of the well. Then we put the sucker rods, one at a time, inside the pipe and push them as far as they’ll go into the sand.”
“What if they aren’t long enough?” Ed asked.
“We’ll fasten another one onto the first. They’re made so they can be screwed together.”
“Then will the water come up?”
“Yes, as soon as we build a windmill to run the pump.”
“What if it pumps water all over and makes a mud hole?”
“It won’t. We’ll have it fixed so we can turn if off.”
“What if the wind doesn’t blow when we want water?”
“We’ll have a storage tank. The pump will fill it up when the wind’s blowing, and we’ll use the water when we need it. I saw a galvanized tank in the Sears Roebuck catalogue. I’d better send off for one right away.”
“Pancakes are ready,” Mama announced, and we sat up to the table to eat them.
“Anyone want to go with me to look for a Christmas tree?” Papa said one day in December.
“I do!” Ed shouted.
“Me, too,” I declared.
Caroline had just spread out her paper dolls to play with while the little boys were having their naps, and she didn’t want to pick them up just yet, so she shook her head.
“Where can you find a Christmas tree?” Mama asked. “I haven’t seen any pine trees growing around here.”
“Don’t know,” Papa said. “Maybe we’ll have to use a cactus.”
“A cactus Christmas tree?” Ed sounded disappointed.
“Why not!” Papa said. “Think how pretty it would be with paper chains and popcorn strings.”
“I guess so,” Ed conceded.
“I’ll pop the corn while you’re gone,” Mama offered. “We’ll string it when you get back.”
We tramped around in the warm sunshine, trying to imagine it was winter and that Christmas was nearly here. Although we learned to expect some snow every year, it wasn’t really very much when compared with what we had in Utah. This year December seemed more like March.
We could find nothing on our property that would do, so we started down the road to the sand hills. This definitely was not Christmas tree country. We decided there was no use hunting for a green tree and began to search for something else.
“Look at this,” Ed said, pulling a spiky round bush from next to the fence where it had tumbled in the wind.
“Not bad,” Papa said. “Not bad at all.”
I found another like it but not so squatty. “Look!” I exclaimed.
“That’s even better,” Papa said.
Once we began to look, we found a whole little forest of tumbleweeds along the fence line and finally selected one that was nearly cone shaped. Papa carried it on his shoulder, and we sang “Silent Night” as we walked home in the desert twilight.
The “tree” was suspended from the ceiling in the corner, where Frank and Georgie could see but not touch. We draped it with popcorn strings and chains made from the bright Christmas paper our purchases were wrapped in at Younger’s General Store.
We didn’t receive many gifts that first Christmas in New Mexico. Our stockings contained an apple, an orange, a handful of nuts, and a peppermint stick.
Each of us had one package, and inside was a napkin ring carved by Papa. Tucked inside the ring was a paper Mama had decorated with pretty writing and flowers painted around the edge. It read: “Coupon for part interest in a place of our own. To be redeemed for a deed in seven years.”
It was the best gift of all—the gift of hope. I put mine in the box where I kept my precious things. (To be continued.)