While the summer of 1918 was rough because of one childhood illness after another, Hannah enjoyed the last two weeks outside before school resumed. Ma had a piano in the living room, which she seldom played, but Hannah began taking lessons on it. The busyness of raising a family afforded her little time to devote to hobbies.
Soon enough, the dexterity with which Hannah’s nimble fingers moved over the keys felt as natural as breathing. She was a fast learner, and making magic with music was quickly becoming her favorite hobby. Notes printed on a piece of paper creating a song never failed to awe and inspire the young girl. Ma often hummed along to the familiar tunes her daughter played as she dried dishes every evening.
By Christmas, the First World War ended. The children had decorated the pine tree with a popcorn-strung garland, an assortment of handmade ornaments from school, and a few carefully placed candles.
Both Christmas Eve and Day had separate dinners that were planned to the point of perfection. Other than Lucy’s mother, only the immediate family gathered to partake in both meals. Everyone dressed in their finest, shoes polished, and under Ma’s eagle eye, not a hair out of place. It was the one time of year when Erik and Harry would allow their mother to dictate what they wore.
After dinner on Christmas Eve, the family attended church to hear the story of the birth of Jesus, the miracle of light that came into the world.
The service ended, and the family walked the short distance down Madison Avenue to their home. Snow was falling lightly. It had a magical quality when Hannah looked upward and imagined the angels dusting their wings off. She skipped ahead, kicking up the fresh thin layer of snow on the sidewalk. She was laughing, when an icy wetness suddenly hit her in the back of the head.
Her mood evaporated as she spun around to glare daggers at her brothers.
“Hey, how dare you!” she said.
Harry had the audacity to look innocent, while Erik couldn’t help but chuckle. The adults and Amy hung back farther, lost in conversation.
Hannah quickly knelt down and grabbed a handful of snow, formed a ball, and chucked it at her brothers. It missed, flying between them and ended up smacking Pa in the side of the face.
Both boys were briefly shocked, before dissolving into laughter.
“Oh, you’re in for it now, Hannah-panna,” Harry teased.
“Be quiet!” Hannah shouted. “You started it!”
The adults were upon them a few seconds later. Pa was wiping his cheek with his gloved hand, but it was Ma who was angry.
“Who threw that?” she demanded.
“It wasn’t us. It was Hannah,” Erik said.
“Yeah, but I wasn’t aiming for you, Pa” Hannah said. “One of them hit me in the back of the head.”
“A likely story,” Harry said coyly, smirking.
Ma’s eyes shifted to her younger son. “Actually, it sounds about right. Come. We will discuss this once we’re inside.”
Pa pretended to be stern, but when he walked past Hannah and the boys, he half-smiled. He winked at Hannah, and then his face was impassive once more. As Hannah watched her parents retreating down the road, she grinned.
Once back inside their small home, Pa worked at starting a fire in the grate, while Ma sat Erik, Harry, and Hannah on the sofa to give them a brief lecture on how to treat each other with more respect, “most especially on Christmas.”
“How is pelting each other with snow when it’s already freezing outside a Christ-like attitude?”
Pa, finished with the fire, came to his wife’s side, and wrapped an arm around her.
“I think, perhaps just this once, we might excuse the children. It is Christmas, after all. There will be plenty of time for extra chores in a few days.” He smirked knowingly.
“Hmm,” Ma murmured, although her eye twinkled as she exchanged a look with her husband.
Walking into the living room, Amy said, “Why don’t we sing carols and hymns? I’m sure Hannah’s just bursting to play for us.” She grinned at her little sister.
Hannah bounced up from the sofa and darted to the piano nestled between the fireplace and the Christmas tree. She had been waiting all day to play. All those weeks of practice would finally pay off when her family heard how much she’d learned since September.
“I like ‘O Tannenbaum,’” Grossmutter said. “Is good German song.”
“I don’t know all the words in German,” Harry said weakly.
“You can learn it with a few tries,” Ma said.
Hannah found the music in one of her songbooks.
A bit unsure, she said, “I haven’t really practiced this one a whole lot.”
“That’s all right, dear,” Pa said, pulling up a chair. “The important thing is to enjoy ourselves.”
“Can I run through it once before you start singing?” she asked.
At her father’s nod of approval, Hannah’s fingers began moving across the keys, slowly at first, but then picking up the pace as she grew more comfortable with the tune. Her grossmutter had been mouthing the words, perhaps even singing softly in German, during the practice run. Ma and Pa sang along in German, the song familiar from their childhood, and Grossmutter belted out the words with gusto. Amy’s pretty voice lingered in the background, the words somewhat unsure but right all the same. The boys were embarrassed as they stumbled over the foreign words, but after a while, they joined in.
The family continued for the better part of the next hour singing songs of the season. Turning off the lights, save the candles burning dimly on the tree, Ma suggested they end with “Silent Night,” in both German and English. The children knew this song well in German, as they sang it every year at church on Christmas Eve. It was the perfect way to wind down the evening and usher in the night’s dreams of what tomorrow would bring.
“Well done, Hannah,” Pa said, smiling proudly and clapping his daughter gently on the shoulder. “I think it’s high time we all retired for the evening.”
“Thanks, Pa,” Hannah replied, smiling from ear to ear. She stood from the piano bench and went upstairs to her room.
After everyone was ready for bed, the parents worked on tucking each child in. Before Hannah could turn in for the night, however, she ran downstairs to hug her grossmutter goodnight.
The old lady was sitting in the armchair nearest the piano, the light from a single lamp the only illumination. An open book perched on her lap on top of a blanket.
Grossmutter smiled, the wrinkles on her face crinkling deeper.
“Is not time for bed, child?”
“I just came to say goodnight. What were you reading?”
“The Bible. First Christmas story. Not all this nonsense about der Weihnachtsmann.”
“Not what, child, who. You call him Santa Claus.”
“Oh.” Hannah giggled. Hannah recalled being frightened by Grossmutter when she was smaller. Perhaps it was the stern-sound of the German language or the way her face could turn as firm as a stiff board, the wrinkles hiding any youth left. She knew better now. Coming to Grossmutter’s side, Hannah gazed inquiringly at the Bible. “I can’t read it.”
“Is German Bible. You know Martin Luther made Bible into German from old Latin?”
“Yes, I learned about that in Sunday school. I can’t imagine not understanding what was being read in church.”
“Yes. If you like, I teach you some German. You understand?”
“You want to read the story to me?” Hannah asked, her eyes lighting up like the candles on the tree.
“Not too much, but ja.”
Grossmutter patted the arm of the chair, and Hannah sat and listened. The old woman’s knobby finger moved slowly across the yellowed, tattered page. Hannah wondered if the Bible had been hers since she was a little girl. At the end of the passage, Grossmutter kissed Hannah and beckoned her to bed.
Upstairs, the family exchanged goodnights, kisses, and hugs. Filled with the joy and excitement of Christmas, Hannah lay awake for a while, posed on her right side, her gaze out the window. The snowflakes continued their ballet just beyond the pane, and the lackadaisical whirl of white lulled her into sleep soon enough, the music from earlier in the evening the perfect companion to the dance.
* * *
“Your father would like your attention,” Ma said in a mock-stern voice on Christmas morning as the children tore open their presents.
“Huh?” Hannah asked, pulling her eyes away from a new pair of shoes she had been admiring on her feet. “Why are you wearing your coat, Pa?”
Amy, Erik, and Harry looked up simultaneously, their fingers stopped mid-tear with the wrapping paper they each clutched. An amused smile curled Pa’s lips.
“Is something wrong?” Erik asked.
“Pa looks like he’s up to something,” Harry said. “I know that look because I’ve worn the same one.”
“Well, since you asked so kindly,” Pa said. He reached into one of the deep front pockets of his long coat and withdrew a tiny black puppy.
Hannah was the first to rush forward, holding her hands out. “Oh, he’s adorable! May I hold him?”
“Yes, you may, and she’s a girl.” Pa laughed easily as he handed the puppy off to his youngest.
Hannah cuddled the puppy close. The dog licked her chin, and she giggled. “She’s so soft.”
Her siblings gathered around her.
“Is she ours?” Harry asked.
“She sure is,” Pa said. “Ma and I decided it was high time for a dog. She’s a Labrador. She’ll grow quite large.”
“Mitchell Woods down the way has a yellow Lab,” Erik said. “He’s a good dog.”
Amy scooped the puppy up from her sister’s hands and smiled at the dog. “Does she have a name?”
“Not yet,” Pa said. “We were going to leave that up to you all to figure out.”
After a morning of debate, the children came up with the name Flossie. By the end of the day, the new pet was curled up on Hannah’s bed, and from that day forward, Flossie spent many nights sleeping there.
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