by Jon Hazen
For many years our extended family made an annual event of going out to Grandma and Grandpa's farm for dinner on Christmas Day. About thirty-five years ago we had an especially memorable time, that to this day, still gets mentioned at our Christmas Day family reunions.
I think it was 1958 when, a week before the holiday, Grandpa gave our beloved Grandmother a wonderful Christmas gift. It was a fancy electric range with a glass window that looked into the oven, a large griddle on the stovetop and a timer that turned the oven on and off by itself. It was an especially welcome gift because Grandma, who was quite a cook, would have the pleasure of preparing our annual Christmas dinner on her new stove.
On Christmas Day everyone arrived at the farm by mid-morning. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins filled the two-story farmhouse with handshakes, laughter and hugs. Everyone received a "tour" of the kitchen and Grandma showed-off her new chrome and white enamel stove. There were lots of oooh's and aaah's as the large woman with silver hair and wire rimmed glasses explained the stove's features with a confidence that came with memorizing the instruction booklet. Grandma was in love with her stove.
An enormous turkey, trussed with string and stuffed with bread and spices, perched formally on the counter. Grandma placed the plump bird in a large roasting pan and eased it into the over-sized oven. Then she set the timer to start the turkey cooking a little later in the morning. Aunt Mary watched from a distant counter where she prepared pies, wisely letting Grandma have the cooking area to herself.
As was our custom, Grandma, Grandpa and all the family piled back into cars to head out to Spencer's Pond to ice skate, sip hot spiced cider next to a bonfire, and talk about the year's events while the kids, myself included, were encouraged to skate our excess energy away.
By early afternoon we were worn out and the group headed into town to visit an elderly aunt who was unable to join the festivities. There was four inches of snow on the ground but the roads were clear, so we took the long drive back to the farm by way of Storm Lake and Sac City.
It was nearly dark as we pulled into the farmyard, hungry and happy with the thought of our turkey feast that evening. The cars emptied into the warm, well-lit farmhouse and grandpa built a seasoned oak fire in the large brick fireplace. The adults jockeyed for seating in the comfortable living room while we kids were herded upstairs to play until called for dinner.
Two short flights of steep stairs opened into a large playroom with flowered pink wall paper and oval braided rugs. I was the oldest of the children and did my best to see that the younger boys were kept busy with a game of marbles. Jennifer, my eleven-year-old cousin and counterpart for the girls' activities, was arranging a tea party with dolls.
My attention turned from the marbles game when I heard Jennifer say, "Grandma's crying on the back porch!"
Jennifer was standing at the side window that overlooked the back yard. More out of disbelief than curiosity, I got up to have a look for myself. Grandma was a stern, kind woman who was known to have moments of temper. But crying? I thought not.
I peered through the frosty double-hung window to the yard below. There on the steps leading up to the back porch sat Grandma in her bib apron with her head in her hands. Out in the snowy back yard in the failing light, I saw a dark oval and nearby appeared to be the beginning of a snowman.
With the palms of her hands, Grandma was wiping her eyes. As she began to stand, my attention was pulled from that scene to the sound of Jennifer sobbing. I figured this was big kid stuff, so I pulled Jennifer away from the window and guided her toward the stairs at the far end of the room.
While thinking "What the heck is going on?", I managed say, "Hey, Jenny. It's OK. Grandma will be fine."
Through the quiet sobs. Jenny choked, "It's all...my fault!"
"What do you mean, it's your fault, Jenny?", I asked with as much maturity as the voice of a twelve-year-old could muster.
"When we left this morning...the clock...had the wrong time...and I... made it right." She continued to weep. Two of my little cousins became curious and I stared them back to the marble game.
"What clock?", I asked softly.
Jenny drew in a long breath and jerked-out one final sentence: "The clock...on the stove."
At that moment there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs and Aunt Cecilia's head and shoulders appeared in the stairwell, an apparent response to her daughter's muted crying. "Aunt CC" took my place and I went back to the marbles and the tea party.
I never mentioned my conversation with Jennifer to anyone. Aunt CC knew what happened and she kept the secret too. I figured that Grandpa might have guessed because he just said, "That's the problem with these new-fangled contraptions. . . too many things to go wrong...especially if the power goes out when you're away from home. Come on Grandma, everybody, get your coats. We're all going to town for fried chicken dinner, and back here for pie and coffee."
Grandma and Grandpa are gone now, but the whole family still gets together, these days at Aunt CC's. Every year someone tells his or her version of "Grandma's Stove" about the power going out while we were ice skating on Spencer's Pond, and how Christmas dinner ended up in the snow. Jenny and I just exchange smiles and join in the fun.
A Christmas Remembered: "Parrots Have Feelings Too"