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The HomeSteaders Gift

By Matthew Clark

Christmas Eve back in the days of Lumber,

Sean MacRae made his way while other folks were in deep slumber,

Along the old Opeongo Line he would march till morn,

All the time thinking on a years past filled with scorn,

Events had started in spring when life goes into bloom,

Only this April rained and stormed till the flood sealed every farmer's doom

To his wife and four children Sean gave a cocky smile,

Then went out and ploughed that mud mile after mile,

He worked from Sun to Sun, the farmers brown hair bleaching in the weather,

Whispering soft words to a trusty old mare on a tight tether,

Along came summer June with heat higher than a torch,

In a matter of days that mud had started to scorch,

There was no sign of worry in the Homesteader's green eyes,

That would never do,

Why wife and children did their tasks with never a curse,

Who was he to do any worse,

All summer into fall,

Sean kept a straight six feet tall,

With the failure of the seed,

Most of the livestock ran out of feed,

Faced with no choice but slaughter,

These animals were led to the block,

The family racing hungers clock,

Keeping despair out of his bones, there was still one answer,

I'will work the Jack Frost season in J.R. Booth's shanty,

Cutting the logs and making myself handy,

There will be enough money by next season's sow,

we will be planting the crop, row upon straight row,

One hug for each child and a kiss for his mate,

Sean MacRae left to make money, so food could be put on the family plate,

Marching on the trail all thoughts were glum,

He was hardly in a state to beat his own drum,

Mrs. MacRae performed her work so well,

All the children laboured at home and school just swell,

Only one part had not been up to par,

As a result from his family he would be far,

With a shake of the head the farmer shouted in anger,

Stop this pity,

Why you sound like a lawyer from the city,

When Sean came to the camp the foreman was more than glad,

To put into his employ such a strong stout lad,

This is not work for the meek,

But the pay is quite generous at fifty cents a week,

For two months and then some those backwoods the axes did chop,

Swinging away until darkness made the men stop,

Then after hours a tale or two to give some cheer,

Now and then a square dance, where some rogues would sneek a beer,

Through all this Sean was in a down mood,

All he could think of was home and brood,

Whereupon his stomach knotted up all tight,

After this adventure, by Jove, Sean MacRae would make it up to them alright,

Yet this time of woe had one more cruel fate,

A forest fire that hit in December, quite late,

Never had a blaze in winter been,

or at least by the loggers seen,

Especially one so far and wide,

Leaving a soul nowhere to hide,

When the smoke did die after a life of three noons,

All the lads were aware there would be no bushwork soon,

Now Mr. Booth had a hard and set rule,

No logs, no wage,

On this J.R. was stubborn as a mule,

Sean headed for home on the twenty-fourth at first light,

Face so full of despair it sure was not a pretty sight,

Not wanting to see Mrs. MacRae for the first time in his life,

Jeeze, what a strange thought for someone in love with his wife,

These were the thinkings going through the Homesteader's head,

When up yonder stood an old man in a crashed sled,

Looking older than time with a mane white as snow,

The lad wore a red suit which had been cut rather low,

Shaking a belly as large as a swine,

This old man oathed is not luck just fine,

I am behind as it is at our holy hour,

To have this accident now makes the day very sour,

What should I do my plans in a glitch,

Now that the sled is stuck in the ditch,

So many gifts for every good child,

When they do not arrive the screams will be wild,

Hearing such words Sean stopped feeling sad,

In truth, at himself, he got quite mad,

Here is this stranger the Homesteader to himself said,

Who risks all for child instead of resting comfortably in bed,

Mighty long strides did Sean start to make,

By gosh that sled was filled with presents, for heaven's sake,

Just then the moon made some light,

Causing Farmer MacRae to scream with fright,

At the highest pitch came the words, A pox a pox,

Imagine a sled pulled by such strange looking Ox,

Eight of them in two rows of four,

Getting them to move should be a real chore,

Who goes there,mouthed the bearded stranger,

Are my eyes playing a trick,

Has someone come to help Old Man Nick,

Yes came the reply in a voice far from cold,

I will get you free my promise is not to bold,

Seans hands grabbed the sled and pulled with his back,

Nick for his part took up the slack,

Longer than a minute but shorter than five,

That sled was on the road, oxen ready to drive,

You have done me a favour Nick smiled in the dark,

My Christmas has been given back its' shiny spark,

It is you who have helped me Sean had his say,

For which I assure you there can be no repay,

One shake, one nodd, those two went their own way,

Not before Nick found his friend's name was MacRae,

For the rest of the trip Sean moved at a run,

He wanted to see family before first Christmas sun,

Soon came six bells, hand at the door,

Inside his ear told him, someone walked the floor

Into the room Sean gave a bound,

Surprised to see all souls around a large mound,

Five ran to him for a hug and a kiss,

This was a moment no true father would miss,

Gaining his wits he glanced at the hill,

My oh my what came next was a thrill,

Food and toys sat atop each other,

Clothes even higher, the pile they did smother,

From out of Sean's stomach came a loud hoot,

His mind finally figured who was wearing that red suit.

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