When they got to Muncie it was dawn and a steady snow had been falling for hours. James’s father met them at the station and they piled into his Pontiac for the ride to Grandpa Charlie and Nana’s house. When they got there it was Christmas Eve morning. The tree stood in its place in the corner, but it was bare. The living room, which Jack had never seen before, smelled odd to Jack. He could not quite place the smell, but he knew he liked it, whatever it was.
Nana ran over and wrapped each of them in a hug as they came through the door. She brushed the snow off of their shoulders and their hats and their sleeves, kissed Katherine, kissed James, kissed Jack about fifteen times right on top of the head, and then told them mock-brusquely to take their shoes off before they tracked snow through the entire house. She led them straight through the living room, past the undecorated tree, and into the dining room, where bacon and eggs were waiting for them on the table. That was it! The smell—bacon and Christmas tree melded together. Could any combination even be more incredible?
After breakfast they spent the morning decorating the tree. They popped popcorn to string on a thread, they hung family heirloom ornaments, and they made a paper chain out of construction paper. There was grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch—Jack’s first experience of that particular combination—and then an afternoon spent baking gingerbread cookies. Late afternoon Jack, Grandpa Charlie, and Nana went out to play in the snow.
Christmas Eve dinner was turkey, potatoes, cranberries, and corn washed down with non-alcoholic eggnog. It was a day of firsts for Jack and he went to bed that night reeling with the possibilities. After his bath Nana came in and sat on the edge of his bed. She gave him another peck on top of his wet head and then, almost as an afterthought, she said, “Do you want to hear a story before you fall asleep?”
No shyness. No hesitation at all. “Yes, please!”
“I know a story I used to tell your dad when he was your age. In fact, there was a full five months where he really loved this one—couldn’t get to sleep without it.”
“How old was he then?” asked Jack.
“Well…let’s see...I can picture him there now—right where you are. He had his cowboy pajamas on, so he must have been about five or six. Your age!” Nana said, and she smiled a smile at Jack that was just like the gingerbread.
She asked him, “Do you need some water or anything before I start?”
“Nope—I am ready to listen,” said Jack, snuggling down a little deeper under the comforter. From where his head was, he could see out the window to a streetlight that showed the individual flakes as they drifted down out of the orangey clouds illuminated from below by the lights of Muncie. Once in a while the wind would blow and the descending flakes would swirl and dance in the cone of light visible to Jack.