My Forty Years Scribblin's
A Stitch in Time Saves Christmas

Montana Journal September-December 1998 Volume 13 Number 6 Mildred Chaffin

Christmas was almost upon us, and as usual I had sold myself out of time. There was cooking to do, sewing to finish, candy making, cleaning—the married children and their little ones coming—and if that wasn't enough, my spouse had let himself be roped into playing Santa Claus at the community Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. He was the proud owner of a two-seated sleigh and a team of horses complete with sleigh bells, the only one for miles around in this age of the atom. Seeley Lake was having growing pains. The logging boom had set in, and expensive wood working machinery was a common sight, but only a few old timers had any idea what a Santa Claus conveyance looked like. 

Notices had gone out that Santa would arrive in the town square to hand out treats. The carolers were raising the school house roof with their practicing, a big tree stood waiting, and excitement was at the point of boiling over. Now "Pa" was showing signs of backing out. Too late—too late for that, I knew. And now my biggest problem was taking shape. We were 60 icy miles from town, and here was old St. Nick without a red stitch to his name. My own faltering Christmas spirit sickened, shriveled, and died. Well, I couldn't allow a thing like that to disappoint the whole town. No place could I buy or even rent a suit, so I'd just have to make one. Out of what? Ransacking the closets and sewing baskets didn't produce even a pair of red underwear. But I did find a worn sheet and a stack of flour sacks. I knew that the local store stocked a smattering of most everything so I hopped into the old jalopy and uttered a prayer. "Oh, please, please let them have some red dyes!" The highway wasn't plowed to bare bones in those days and I skidded and slithered my way home with my prize. I dyed, and I dried. "Bless Pa for my new clothes dryer and blast him for being such a softie." If he'd had the gumption to say no, I wouldn't be in this predicament! I snipped, and I sewed. And in due time, I came up with a pair of enormous red britches. One look at them would petrify an already reluctant Santa. The coat was even worse. For all my perversity, I couldn't let him catch his death of something, so it had to go over his mackinaw. To my relief, he laughed at the sight of the thing. "Holy Smokes! Did y' make that thing for Santy or the sleigh?" 

I drove behind him so that any on-coming traffic could see the horses in the car lights. As we rounded the last curve, a stream of boys erupted from the crowd and poured down the road to meet us. I didn't know there were so many kids in the whole valley! The excitement was contagious, and I perceived that "Pa" was having his share of the fun. The carolers flanked the huge tree. A small child clutched his bag of goodies in one hand while being hauled away by his mother, and momentarily stole the show calling back to Santa, "An' I been a good litt-a boy!" 

A starry eyed moppet put a mittened hand in mine. I had watched while Santa asked if she'd been a good girl. The tassel on her cap bobbed up and down as she answered in all sincerity, "Um-hm. An' I want a dolly!" She had failed to recognize her grandfather's voice behind the cotton whiskers. An old man whom I knew lived by himself came up to me. "This is a fine thing, Misses. A fine thing for all the younguns". I thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas. It was a figure of speech, but he smiled although I had handed him a gift. 

No one seemed to mind the pinkish-red Santa suit nor the rakish whiskers now hanging from under his cap. I was suddenly aware that problems had vanished: my work would get done as it always had. Plainly, the Christmas spirit is cut from a pattern that fits all—all those who carry an honest wish in their hearts when they utter the words, "Merry Christmas."