The family had already gathered in the valley below the Gravelly Spur for an unbelievable feast of ham garnished with pineapple, green beans in a dish surrounded by little pearl onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, and dandelion greens seasoned with just the right amount of pepper and fresh churned butter.
The dinner was topped off with one of Grandma Kitty’s pumpkin pies.
She carefully prepared each item in her cast iron pots over the open flames of the hearth. She never complained about all the work that was involved in keeping the fire stoked and having to keep such close tabs on each item to make sure they were just right.
The days following Thanksgiving always meant there would be some leftovers for the family to enjoy in a variety of creations that she would lovingly craft to give the family the illusion that they were not eating the same dishes each meal.
For years, she toiled to make the three meals a day for her ever-growing family. One day when the family went to town that summer, Grandpa Bill noticed her lingering in Ollison’s General Store around a catalog with pictures of some new wood cooking stoves.
Although she never said a word, he saw in her eyes the desire she had for a wrought iron Home Comfort stove.
He decided then and there that she would have one. So he made an arrangement with Mr. Ollison to buy the stove, paying a bit at a time through the rest of the year to have it arrive just before Christmas.
Grandpa Bill had managed to keep the purchase a secret from the entire family. He even arranged for everyone to be gone to visit Cousin Winfrey Small so that when Mr. Ollison arrived in his wagon on Dec. 23, with a tarp covering the contents, no one could see.
Mr. Ollison and Grandpa Bill unloaded the stove and set it in the kitchen. He had worked all morning preparing the stove pipe so he could get it hooked up and have it ready when she returned.
He was making the last adjustment as he heard the wagon pull up in the yard. He quickly pulled a bit of red ribbon into a bow and set it in the middle of the stove. He sat down quietly at the table with his newspaper in his hand as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
As the kids rushed into the house, they did not even notice the large stove in the kitchen until Grandma Kitty dropped the pail she was carrying with her Christmas cookies inside. She stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, her hand over her mouth, holding back a flood of tears as she saw the stove.
The sound of the pail hitting the floor brought all the kids to the kitchen, and they began hovering around the stove.
Pearl said, “Did Santa come early?”
Grandpa Bill said, “Yes, he said he would be back in a couple of days, but he thought your mother might like to have her present early.”
Grandma Kitty had moved quietly to her kitchen chair, sitting down slowly, never taking her eyes off the stove except to wipe away the tears of joy flowing down her cheek.
Pearl said, “Why are you so sad about getting a present?”
“I’m not sad dear, I am just so happy I could not help crying,” she said.
“So you like the new stove?” she asked.
“I have never gotten a better present from Santa in my life,” she said.
She rose and gave Grandpa Bill a big hug.
“Thank you for telling Santa what I wanted,” she said.
“If he could, he would give you so much more,” he said.
“I have everything I need right here,” she said, as she gathered all her children close and hugged them tightly.
“The New Stove” is from Randall Franks’s “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”