Today's eMo continues a retelling of the events surrounding the birth of Christ, for use by parents, grandparents and teachers. I do know that it's still Advent -- I offer it now, so that people can plan how they might use it. These stories are intended to be a prelude to, not a subsititute for, the actual reading of scripture, with all its mysterious words, to a child -- even a very young one. As I said yesterday, children like mysterious words.
A Christmas Story
Part Two - A Conversation in the Kitchen
Mary was excited. She slapped the soft balls of bread dough on the wooden table hard, over and over, until they were flat, then placed each one on the stone in the middle of the cooking fire.
"You mad at that bread?" her mother asked.
"Nope." Mary went on slapping the bread. They worked in silence for a few minutes, the only sound the slapping of the dough against the wooden table.
Finally Mary said, "I know a secret."
"You do?" Anna regarded Mary with amusement. This child had always been a caution. Anna never knew what she would come up with next. "And what might that be?"
"From your own mother? That must be some secret."
"Two secrets, actually."
"Oh, two secrets, is it?" Anna was finished chopping vegetables. She put them into the big old iron pot that she used for everything. "Two more loaves and then I need to put this on, all right?" They needed a bigger kitchen, she thought for the thousandth time. It was hard for two women to cook in there together. But of course, Mary would be leaving soon. So there would be only one woman cooking in the kitchen. Anna had a secret, too: she didn't want Mary to leave. She wanted her to stay home forever. But she would never tell her that. Not get married! What an idea!
"Yup." Mary scraped the last bit of dough out of the bowl and slapped it onto the tabletop. "Want a hint?"
Yes, give me a hint."
Elizabeth? Well, she was just here a week ago -- if she had a secret, don't you think I would know it?"
"Not if it's a secret, Mama."
"Ah. Of course. Let me see: Elizabeth found a golden coin in the street and is now a rich lady."
"All right: Elizabeth is going to become a dancing girl at the palace."
Mary laughed. Elizabeth was almost as old as Mama, and seemed older. She moved very slowly, and often complained about her back. "No."
"Zechariah has bought Elizabeth her own elephant."
"Mama, this is a real secret!"
"Well, all right, Miss. Why don't you just tell me?"
Mary dropped her voice to a whisper. "Elizabeth is going to have a baby."
Her mother straightened up and looked disapproving. "That's not very funny, Mary. You know how badly she wants a baby. Don't ridicule her for something she can't help."
Mary was indignant. "I'm not ridiculing her. It's the truth. She really is going to have a baby!"
"I don't think so, sweet. That would be so nice for her, but she's too old now. It's just too late. Poor thing." Mama held a cup under the tap on the oil jar and opened it. A gold stream of olive oil poured into the cup. She replaced the cork. "You're the one who's going to have all the babies, remember? You and your thirty-seven babies?"
Mary didn't tell her mother her second secret.
"Mama, let's go see her tomorrow and find out. Can we go? We can wash the clothes early and set them out in the sun and go while they're drying, can't we? I can make more bread after supper and we can leave it for Papa's lunch, can't we? We haven't gone to see Elizabeth for a long time. And now that I'm getting married, maybe I won't be seeing her as much. Let's go tomorrow, please?"
"Mary, there's nothing to find out. I don't know where you get your ideas." Mama poured the oil into the iron pot and reached in with both hands to mix everything together.
"That's so disgusting." Mary said. "How can you do that?"
"That's the only way you know it's mixed. By hand. Next time you're going to mix it."
Suddenly Mary's stomach didn't feel well. That was strange. Mary was never ill. She gripped the edge of the table until it passed. Anna hadn't noticed.
"So, can we go?"
"Tomorrow?" Anna paused. "Well, maybe. I'll talk to your father when he comes in. Make the extra bread, anyway."
Mary smiled. She knew her father would say yes. She went over to the big crock of coarse wheatflour and measured out two cups. She got down the heavy stone mortar and pestle. She began to grind the wheatflour, a little at a time, until it was fine. They would go to Elizabeth's house in the next town. She would find out if the secret were true.
But somehow, she already knew it was.