The wind picks up and Ma smiles. “She’s an odd one,” thinks her son Caleb, sitting in the corner and thumbing through a dusty edition of Dickens “The Christmas Carol.” Ma likes this weather with it’s sunny chill and feeling of expectation. She’s got animal instincts when it comes to the perfect time of year to put up the decorations, neither too soon to annoy the neighbors nor too late to be enjoyed. Caleb slams the book down with a thud to get Ma’s attention. “Why do you pull this old thing out every year? I’ve seen the movies and play versions so many times I could recite the lines. No one ever actually reads the book?” Ma says, “Tradition I suppose.”
Caleb has never much cared for tradition. He’s had every color of hair in the rainbow, listens to “experimental” music that his family doesn’t understand, and has a deep seated hatred of anything “kitsch.” His Ma calls him a snob and he’s inclined to agree if snob means he wants something more from life. “There’s nothing more kitsch than Christmas. And nothing more kitsch than glamorizing the Victorian era when a lot people suffered in workhouses and factories.” Caleb sits back in his chair and broods. Ma hears the wind again and looks up. “Time to get the boxes down.”
Caleb shuffles up the stairs behind his mother. He stands at the base of the attic ladder and waits for Ma to hand down the many boxes marked “Xmas.” It’s one of the few times that Caleb actually wishes he was in school. Then Ma calls down, “I don’t believe it! I can’t believe I found it. Come up here Caleb.”
Caleb climbs the ladder into the attic. A stream of sunlight pours in through a single window and makes a rectangle on the wood planked floor. Ma is kneeling beside a trunk with the top open and holding something just out of sight. “Come here Caleb. I want to show you something.” Caleb walks through the stream of light to Ma and kneels beside her.
Inside the trunk are a stack of yellowed, handmade Christmas cards, a plaid gown that looks almost crunchy with time, and a black book with no title on the cover. “What’s this?” Caleb asks. “It belonged to one of your ancestors.” Ma says in a smiling voice, almost giddy like she got to open her present first this year. “Great, so this Christmas obsession runs in the family. Shoulda known.” Caleb teases. “You know, for all your attitude, one would think you’ve lived a lot longer.” Ma chides him back. “She was quite the woman of her day. Here’s her diary.” Ma picks up the black book. “I haven’t read it in years. Your dad usually brings these boxes down and he always overlooks this one because it isn’t marked ‘xmas.’ If he hadn’t of been working those extra hours over UPS this year, I wouldn’t have rediscovered it.” Ma hands the black book to Caleb and heads for the ladder back down to familiar.
“Hey, what am I supposed to do with this?” Caleb calls after. “Don’t they teach you what to do with books in school? What am I sending you there for?” Ma calls back. “I don’t know.” Caleb shouts, then follows his mother down the ladder. He heads to his room, Ma to her decorating. Caleb settles into a chair in the corner and opens the diary.
That’s your name from now on book, because it is my will to call you something romantic and so I shall. It is ten days before Christmas Annabella and I couldn’t be more content with myself. I have made all my cards, and Ma is pressing cider this year with apples that a distant relation over the river sent us. I have a sinking feeling that the cider will be bitter and no good to drink because Ma doesn’t know what she is doing. Her efforts are appreciated nevertheless.
All is quite right with the world here in Kentuck, but there is something I feel I should tell you Annabella. I have had the strangest dream lately about a boy with blue hair…”
Caleb slams the book shut and shakes his head, as if waking himself up. He wonders if he read that right. He has blue hair (at the moment), why would his ancestor, dead since who knows what year, would be dreaming about him?
It’s one day closer to Christmas and I’m beginning to suffer from what my Pa calls cabin fever. He says I’m lucky I like reading and writing seeing as how these are solitary activities of the mind and don’t require one to go outside. The weather has been horrid all day. I had that strange dream again last night. This time the boy with the blue hair was reading in the corner of a room. Then, as if he knew he were being watched, he shut the book quickly. His face was white as a ghost, but I wasn’t frightened. I awoke shortly after that, but with a feeling that this boy may mean something. Perhaps he is a Christmas ghost come to instruct me on how to improve my moral character? No, he does not seem like the type.”
Caleb did not sleep well that night. His ancestor, the romantic whoever she was that insisted on calling her diary Annabella, saw him yesterday as he was reading. How was this possible? He decides to throw himself into the Christmas decorating, not because he likes this “kitsch,” but to distract himself (he wanted me to tell you). Ma sits back and watches in awe. “Where did this energy come from?” She asks as she digs into a snack bowl full of nuts. “I don’t know. I just have some to burn. Weird dreams last night.” Caleb says absentmindedly. “Uh huh, I see.” Ma says with a mouth full of half-chewed cashews. “Gross Ma.” Caleb puts one last clump of tinsel on a lower bough.
I’ve experienced the most vivid dream yet. The boy was decorating a tree with the most extraordinary stuff. Some of it I recognized and others where strange in shape or I felt were alluding to some joke that I didn’t understand. He was anxious and seemed troubled. I am not versed on the proper conduct when one is inside a dream, but I feel I should help this boy somehow. It is not right that a soul be worried on this the best of all seasons.”
Caleb wakes early and goes to the living room where his mother is enjoying her first cup of coffee of the morning. “What is it hon?” She asks. “Mom, did you read this diary?” Caleb tentatively asks. “Yes, many years ago. Why?” Ma says. “Do you remember what’s in it?” Caleb asks. “Not really. She liked Christmas. That’s about it.” Ma sips her coffee.
The diary sits on Caleb’s nightstand. He is afraid to read before bed. He doesn’t know why exactly, but the word haunted would not be a bad way to describe the book. Still, he picks up the book, a compulsion, and opens it to the page where he left off.
I understand how I am to help this blue-haired boy. I must show him the spirit of Christmas. In my dream tonight I will approach the boy with a gift and a card. I will share these with him in hopes that he will understand how good one stranger can be to another. Perhaps then my mind will be free to find restful sleep again. These dreams are troubling and I find I am not rested enough to complete my daily chores. I must confront this spector and be done with it.”
Caleb has just enough courage to pull the covers of the bed over his head.
He must have slept in fits and starts because the next thing he knows it’s morning. He is lying on a sheet wet with sweat. The sunlight gives him enough courage to pull the blankets off his head. When he does, he spots a gift wrapped in brown paper with a faded, red ribbon at the foot of his bed. Lying next to it one of the yellowed Christmas cards from the upstairs trunk.
With shaking hands Caleb pulls on the red ribbon and tears at the brown paper. Inside the paper is a withered piece of embroidery with a star design as it’s theme. It smells like decay. Caleb then picks up the card and opens it…
“Dear Blue-haired ghost,
I don’t know what else to call you. I’ve made you this humble gift. I don’t know who you are or where you come from, but I do know that I must help you. My name is Sarah and I live in Louisville. My father works for the whiskey barons.
Our Christmas tree is more humble than yours, but our hearts are full of holiday spirit when we are in each other’s company. I hope you find the same joy in the presence of your people.”
Caleb runs downstairs. Ma is reading on the couch. “What is it?” She asks. “Ma…” Caleb’s voice trails off. “What is it? If you’re going to ask if we’re going to Frankfort Avenue’s Olde Tyme Christmas tonight, the answer is yes and no buts about it. It’s the only time we get to see Sarah and I do love her embroidery.” She goes back to her book as if nothing has happened.