Home for Christmas

Dusk disappeared into a desperate darkness. A storm surge descended on the black silent night. Howling winds and waves of whipping snow created massive drifts and destructive havoc in the Maine hamlet. The temperature plummeted with each savage gust.

christmas-houseThe man, a stranger, pulled his tweed wool cap tight around his ears. He watched the house.

An old oak concealed his presence. Sleet stung his exposed face. Seeking warmth, he rubbed his gloved hands together, kicked his boots like a horse stomping the ground, and brushed fast accumulating flakes off his shoulders. A ferocious blast pushed him toward the porch, piled high with the frozen white. The swirling snow obscured the glow from a weather-beaten lantern.

The dimly lit turn-of-the-century house stood secure, fortress-like, from winter’s onslaught. A light snapped on in a room above the porch. A figure, a woman, appeared in the window and started to yank down a shade. She stopped and pressed her face against the frosted glass. The watcher was being watched.

A few moments later, she opened the front door, just a crack. Tall and slim with angular features and curly ash gray hair, she eyeballed him, long and hard. “You there, in the shadows, who are you, what do you want?”

He took off his cap, revealing drooping eyelids, and ran a hand through his tousled hair. “I’m Wilbur. I’ve come a long way.”

“Lost, are you?”

“No, I’m homesick,” he said in a deep Down East accent.

“It’s Christmas Eve, there’s a blizzard blowing, a whiteout, and you’re standing there, bent over and battered, blabbering about being homesick. I’m calling the sheriff, some quick.” She started to close the door.

“Please don’t. I … I used to live here.” He pointed toward the house and hung his head. “I just … wanted to come … to remember … my last Christmas here.”

“Last Christmas?” She stepped out on the slippery porch, shivered and pulled her frayed beige sweater close about her. “You lived here, when?”

“Seventy three years ago.”

She placed a forefinger on her chin. He looked like a scared, scrawny puppy in need of a hug. She shook her head as if to admonish herself, then waved him in. “I must be loony.” Short of stature and slow of gait, he moved past her into the foyer. “Take off those boots right quick now, scarf and coat too.” He did as told, grateful to be out of the cold. “Go into the parlor.” He nodded, shuffled into the cozy room and sat in an overstuffed chair, feet dangling. She followed, removed the fireplace screen and stoked the struggling fire.

“I’m Agnes.” She sat opposite this peculiar man, leaned forward and scrutinized him. “Stop fidgeting. Fess up now, what’s going on, what’s your story. No sad eyes and no nonsense either.”

“I mean no harm. Everyone’s gone. I’m alone.”

“I can see that, Wilbur.” Snow pellets preyed on the windows, flames flickered in the fireplace. He glanced around the room. “What are you looking at?”

“My father put our tree crammed full of popcorn chains and candy canes in that corner, to the left of the
fireplace. He sat over there by the bookcase. I can see him now; pipe cupped in his hand, fleece-lined
slippers, legs crossed, a quiet smile of approval. My mother baked blueberry and apple pies in the kitchen. My word, she had such a patient way about her. My sisters, wearing ruby red and forest green flannel night gowns, laughed, bursting with joy. We were happy here in this house so long ago.” He stood.

“Where on earth are you going?”

“May I wander about, Agnes? I’d like that.”

He walked from room to room recalling his childhood memories—touching, thinking and smiling. They
ascended the stairs and ambled along the corridor overlooking the first floor. He stopped outside a
bedroom door and reached for the knob. She thrust her hand out. “Don’t, my husband died in there two years ago.” She closed her eyes. “He survived for several years, sliding away, consumed by cancer.”
Wilbur’s lips quivered. “Agnes, my mother died in there too, that last Christmas. Her heart betrayed her.”

They stared at each other. A hush gripped the hallway. Then, he slumped against the wooden banister. Sensing his anguish, she clutched his hand and buried her face against his chest.

“This is all too much, not on this night, not on Christmas Eve.” Composing herself, she scurried down the stairs back to the parlor. He followed. Neither spoke. The mantel clock bonged eleven times breaking the stillness inside the house.

“My father took the tree down the next morning on Christmas day. It was never the same again.” He took
a deep breath. “I miss the innocence of my youth and the sense of security, the comfort of it all. I miss
someone telling me that it’ll be all right. I miss the smells of the tree and the turkey cooking and the hot cider and the smoke from the wood stove. I miss the sounds of their cheerful voices. I miss my Springer Spaniel, Chauncey.” He paused. “Most of all, I miss the noise of Christmas.” His eyes misted up. “It’s difficult to get old, Agnes.” He labored to rise. “I should go.”

In a soft whisper she said, “I have a confession to make dear man. My loneliness consumes me. It aches.” She gazed up at the ceiling. “I suppose we’re two lost souls alone together on Christmas Eve. I know one thing though, I can’t bear to be lonesome tonight. Please Wilbur, stay.”

“Do you hear that, Agnes?”

“What?”

“No sound, the storm’s subsided, a silent night again.” Grabbing her wrist, he said, “come.” He opened the front door. “Look, it’s stopped snowing. See those stars, they’re showing the way for lost souls.” He felt a hand squeeze his arm.

“I have something.” She rushed back to the parlor, opened a cabinet, reached in and pulled out a record. Her fingers caressed it. “Bing Crosby’s ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ my husband’s favorite. How appropriate.”

“I have something too.” He winked and pushed against a panel in the bookcase. One side slid open. Withdrawing an object, he turned it over and over in his hands. “Like a devious pirate, I hid a precious treasure, my mother’s favorite Christmas ornament.” 

“Wilbur, this house connects us in so many ways, marvelous memories and shared sorrow. All those years … so many what ifs. I suspect I’ve been stuck a bit, staggering under the weight of all that emotional burden. It’s somewhat tolerable to keep the sorrow, like a straightjacket, up there in that room, but this house doesn’t have to be a tomb dragging both of us down under, does it?”

“I’ve traveled a long road, Agnes, in this life of mine. Now, there are only a few steps left on the last turn of a short road.” He grinned. “Let’s make the time count. Later, we’ll step out and pick us a tree and place it right where my father did. It’s a start, it’s something. What do you think?”

She put her hands on her hips. “Who would have thought. A pint-sized chap shows up on my doorstep in the dead of winter … oh my … oh Wilbur … welcome home.”

They pressed their heads together, these two gentle spirits, glimpsing hope in the twilight of their years on Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas, dear Maine folk. I wish, like Wilbur and Agnes, that you’re together with someone who cares about you, who welcomes you home this holiday season.



Hunter Howe lives in Cape Elizabeth with his wife, Colette, and their two beloved dogs, Spirit and Schooner. He writes for the Senior News, a publication of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging. Currently, he’s working on a suspense novel and an observational humor book appropriately set in a fictional town in mid-coast Maine.