Undated, from the Gazette archives.

It was a dark morning, unusually dark, even for December, because it was cloudy, and a keen and searching wind blew shivery snowflakes out of the northeast in ever-increasing numbers, indicating that a full-fledged blizzard would soon be raging. Nicholas Mayhew grunted slightly as he thrust aside the blankets from his corn husk mattress and shoved his bare feet out upon the sheepskin rug that lay beside his bed. He couldn’t see three inches in front of his nose in that tiny, dark bed chamber.

Nicholas couldn’t see the snow flakes outside either, but he knew perfectly well that it was snowing because he could hear the soft, feathery rasp of their touch on the tiny panes of glass in the single window. He dressed in the dark, no use to awaken the family at this hour, he thought.

He walked out into the kitchen, warm and fragrant with the odor of fresh baking that seeped through the tightly closed door of the brick oven in the side of the chimney. The fire in the huge fireplace had been carefully covered the night before, but there was still a log the size of a barrel smoldering there, and bushels of hot embers. Besides, the whole chimney-breast never became cold, what with huge fires roaring all day in the fireplace, and Nicholas knew that his two young sons in the open attic would be warm and comfortable.

He drew on his knee-length socks of heavy wool, that had been hanging on the chimney all night. His heavy cowhide boots followed and then he placed small logs on the fire and poked it into a blaze so that the place would be more comfortable for the rest of the family when they would rise. Then putting on his wool-lined sealskin coat and mittens, he took his fowling piece from above the mantel and went out into the snowy darkness.

He walked unerringly for half a mile, crouched into the brush and spotted a flock of geese in an air hole in a tiny pond. Five minutes wait, and the gun roared. Five geese lay flapping in the water while the rest soared away. Gathering his bag, he staggered back to his home to find his sons milking the cows and feeding the oxen and sheep. He hung up the geese, joined the boys in completing the chores and all went in to breakfast; the simple coarse repast of the pioneer.

They had hot cornbread, out of the brick oven. They had smoked herring from the smoke-house out by the barn, and cranberry sauce made from the wild berries that they had gathered. There were slices of fried salt pork, and a dozen rabbit legs, grilled in the skillet, a great plateful of home-made butter and a huge pumpkin pie, sweetened with molasses. There was no coffee, but a huge pitcher of milk sat on the table.

Breakfast over, Nicholas and the boys went out and completed the wood-chopping that was a part of the fall work. The final logs that they split brought the supply up to ten cords or more, and Nicholas opined that it would go through the winter without any trouble. Then he and the boys went into the corn-house and shelled corn, separating the imperfect kernels on the ends of the ears from the perfect ones in the center. The former would furnish feed for the stock. The other would go to the mill to be ground for bread.

He took a look at his supply of salt fish, to see that it was well covered with pickle, and at the rows of dried eels that hung on the outside of the building, and he pitched a few more forkfuls of seaweed over the hatchway to his cellar, where the vegetables were stored. The boys, meanwhile, had taken hay from the stacks for the sheep and cattle. By that time it was noon, according to the sun and the hour glass, and midday meal time. They had a huge chunk of roast beef, cooked before the fire on a spit, platters of vegetables, more cornbread and more pie and more milk.

During the short afternoon Nicholas picked and cleaned the geese, and hung them up where they would freeze, soled a pair of boots and hammered out three pounds of nails from scrap iron on his fireside anvil. The boys made the rounds of their muskrat traps, and found a raccoon in one.

The milking done and the stock cared for, the entire family gathered around the table once more, and, eating, discussed the doings of the day. Later they sat in a semi-circle about the great fire, passing a pan of hickory nuts back and forth, Nicholas smoking his pipe, while the winter wind blew in great gusts about the house and the snow banked even higher at the corners.

Nicholas remarked to his wife that it was Christmas Day. She looked up from her knitting, pushed up her spectacles, thought for a moment, and agreed that it was indeed. Yes, it was Christmas Day, but life was not more comfortable, happy or secure, because of that.