Blowin’ In: A Tale for Christmas
By Susan Mangan
One Christmas Eve, many years ago, in the sleepy little town of Rock Strand, the bells of St. Patrick’s Church did not ring and the crèche lay empty awaiting the Christ Child and the faithful of the parish. Gale force winds blew across the West of Ireland, bringing with it a blinding snow. On this rare Christmas Day, young Kate and her brother Michael bore witness to a miracle that appeared like a dream.
The day before Christmas was always a time of much expectation and preparation in the Fallon home. Darned stockings were hung on the post of the bed Kate shared with Michael. The children always looked forward to the sack of currants and stick of candy that Santy left them during the night.
Young Kate took her job as the oldest child in the house quite seriously, following her Mam at every turn.
“When will I be old enough to help pluck the goose?” Kate would ask.
“Sure, why would you want to dress the goose when there are more important jobs for the oldest girl child to do on Christmas Eve?” Mam would say with a wink of her blue eyes.
Kate knew how great her honor was to light the coinneal mor, the lone Christmas candle in the kitchen window, when darkness fell on Christmas Eve. Because of this light, the lonely traveler could find the comfort of kinship and the warmth of a hearth, much like the Star of Bethlehem lit the night sky as the Magi made their way to the Child. Kate loved to think about this ancient truth as she filled the hob kettle with water from the well to make her Da’s tea. Lost in her reverie, Kate almost spilled the bucket of clean water when her younger brother Michael came tripping across the flagstone floor.
“Kate, Kate, your darlin’ pet Sandy is about to lamb. I mean have a lamb. Ah, sure, I don’t know what I mean, but Da says it’s too early for the lamb to come and we must make haste to the field shelter!”
Kate adored her little brother. His eyes were as round as oatcakes and he darted willy-nilly with the speed of a mocking jay in flight.
“Michael, sure it can’t be as bad as that! Mam herself is heavy with child and there’s much for me to do ‘round the house today. Already, the darkness seems to be coming over the brae and me with a candle to light!”
Through the whitewashed cottage’s small windows, Kate and her Mam could see that premature darkness did indeed envelop the countryside, while the wind began to howl like a banshee in the night.
“Right Kate you are, but Da’s in need of us now! The wind has taken a turn and the rain is lashing out something wicked!”
Wringing her hands against her aproned skirt, Mam urged the children to tend to their Da and bring him a covered mug of tea for warmth. Quickly, Mam placed her own woolen shawl over her girl Kate and wished her Godspeed.
Michael hastily reached for his tweed cap and the two set out into the field.
Despite the wildness of the day, Michael began to sing at the top of his lungs, his lilting voice swept up in accord with the wind:
“The wren, the wren
The king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Up with the kettle, and down with the pan,
Give me a penny to bury the wran.”
In defiance of the weather, the children laughed and decided to make the short journey from the house to the field on the well-worn path into a game. Michael would hop over every other rock on the path while Kate would giggle, still holding tight to Da’s tea, and call out, “Watch for the wren!”
Kate could begin to hear the braying of their beloved donkey Anthony, the quack of the ducks, and the pained mewling of her darlin’ pet Sandy.
Soon the children were near the shelter and just in time, as the rain turned to ice. Michael and Kate had never seen such a sight as the wind turned white, lifting Kate’s shawl from her shoulders and whisking Michael’s cap straight off the top of his head. Astonished with the great billows of snow frosting his copper curls, Michael lost his footing and fell onto the icy ground, hitting his head on a flat stone. Dropping her Da’s tea, Kate rushed to her brother’s side as her father hurried out of the field shed.
“Boys o’ boys Kate, that was a mighty fall,” Michael exclaimed as he rubbed the side of his head.
“Kate! Kate! Have ye seen me cap? Saints and angels help me if I arrive home without it! Kate! Kate! Where are ye gone to? This is no time for games. Da’s needin’ us and I need my cap!”
“Quack, hello, quack hello,” whistled an unfamiliar nasal voice.
Startled, Michael found himself in company with a beautiful duck unlike any he had ever seen. Scarlet feathers circled the duck’s eyes and his body was cloaked in a brilliant teal green. A tall red velvet hat tufted with emerald plumes balanced majestically on his sloped head.
“Sure, I must have hit my head right hard to be hearin’ ducks who talk,” Michael thought out loud.
“Now laddie, here y’er wrong. I am as alive as can be. My name is Captain Cornelius Kilbane and you have stumbled, well fallen into our land.”
In disbelief, Michael looked around the fields and bogs where he spent so much time at work and play. He could not see the shelter, his father, or Kate. Everywhere he looked, birds of a different feather were going dutifully about their daily tasks.
A row of white doves lined the riverbed like sentries. A small footbridge that Michael never knew existed passed over the river, spilling onto a snowy meadow covered with blackberry brambles. Suddenly, Michael broke into a run, grabbing blackberries as he spoke.
“Aye, Cornelius, Sir, this must be a Christmas miracle. But our best sheep is lambin’ and I need to find me cap and get back to Da. Could ye help me like?”
“Quack, yes laddie, but we must first find our King, Gabriel.”
Michael nodded his head in agreement, but not before taking another handful of plump berries. As he reached for the fruit, Michael grabbed hold of a pure white feather. The boy found himself eye to eye with a most noble creature. It was Gabriel, a grand white goose, the ruler of this land.
“King Gabriel! Blessings to you this fine Christmas Eve, ” said Cornelius with a deep bow.
“On your webbed feet, loyal Cornelius. Our great King is the Child to arrive upon the morn,” exclaimed Gabriel.
“Quack aye, quack aye, tis’ so,” agreed Cornelius. “With Christmas soon approaching, we must get this wee lad Michael back to his family. What shall we do? What shall we do King Gabriel?” cried Cornelius.
With a vast sweep of his feathered wings, King Gabriel produced Michael’s woolen cap and embraced the boy, dissolving Michael’s fears. Soon Michael felt the gentle touch of his father’s weathered hands wiping the snow from his closed eyes.
“Ah son, ye gave us quite a scare. Sandy had just birthed a healthy lamb, small but fierce. I was on my way to deliver the good news when I saw ye on the ground with Kate at your side. Give me a minute to untether Anthony. Sure if a donkey could deliver our Holy Mother safely to the manger, Anthony can find his way through this snow and bring you back to Mam,” explained Da.
That evening passed slowly for the Fallon family. Holding a poultice of elm leaves and blackberries over the wound on Michael’s head, Mam kept watch throughout the night. Snow continued to fall. Da shook his head knowing how disappointed his wee ones would be with no Santy and no Christmas mass.
By morning, the snow had ceased, leaving the bundles of turf and hay covered like large white specters.
“Michael, are ye awake? Tis’ Christmas!” nudged Kate.
“So it tis’. I reckon Santy couldn’t come with the snow, but look out the window pane!” cried Michael.
From the children’s loft, the farm looked magical. As Michael nestled close to his sister, he rubbed his sore head and recalled a distant dream of birds and an angel, Gabriel, who looked like a grand goose.
“Kate, you would not believe what I dreamt last night!”
As he began to speak, Kate reached for Michael’s lost cap now hanging on the wooden bedpost. In awe, she grabbed Michael’s hand and pulled him toward the window. In the crisp winter sky, Michael and Kate Fallon beheld a great white goose leading a formation of ducks toward St. Patrick’s Church. Nestled in the goose’s wing lay a small baby wreathed in light.
As the vision subsided, the Fallon family heard a most joyful noise. The bells of St. Patrick’s Church began to sound.
Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace College. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org