Every morning Earl Olsburg would crawl from under the blankets, place his bare feet on the dirt floor, quickly pull on his woolen socks over his thermals, and then light the fire in the coal-wood stove across the room.
The one-room cabin would warm as his siblings slept on the bed. He would carefully stoke the blaze until he could feel its cheerful warmth. Then he would completely dress in his clothes and outer-garments. Next he fed and watered the chickens and one cow. By then his younger sister would be gathering the eggs. Earl would chop the kindling and stack the wood against the wall near the stove. The room would be warm as mother readied a breakfast of eggs and toast. They would all eat together around a small table in the corner.
Since the death of their father a few months before, Earl at twelve was the man of the house. When his father was living, he would bring a small fir home so that the family could decorate it with with ribbons and popcorn. On Christmas morning each of the children had small stockings filled with an orange and small bits of hard candy. Earl would save bits of the candy to remember Christmas.
Without a father, they wouldn’t have much of a Christmas. Still this Christmas Eve, mother pulled out the last of her sugar and flour and made cookies. The children sang carols as they decked the small room with fire boughs. They fell asleep under the blankets.
On Christmas morning, Earl slipped out of bed and started his morning routine. Turning towards the door, he stopped. In front of him were two black-polished boots filled to the brim with candy. His heart stopped and started. He looked to see if his mother was up. Surely she didn’t have enough money to buy these beautiful boots, let alone the candy. He knew how much money they had to the last penny.
He knelt down and looked at the boots again in their black shiny surfaces. Around the boots were four oranges. He looked up and saw his mother climb out of bed. When he saw her face filled with astonishment and yes, tears, he knew she had not done this.
They carefully divided the candy. Then Early put on the boots. They fit perfectly. For the first time in months, Earl believed in hope.