The Little Christmas Goat

“Why do we make straw goats for Christmas decorations, Mormor?”

Plaiting straw, the old woman smiled. “Norse people did it to honor Thor, the thunder god, thanking him for a good harvest.

“It was a long trip around Midgard. Thor made his rounds in a wagon pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr. At night when he got hungry, he’d eat them, then bring them back to life the next day with his magic hammer.”

“Magic goats! But only two? We’re making three. What about this little one?”

“She came along for the ride when Thor delivered the Yule gifts.”

Clewiston, 1973

Rosario, I miss you and the children so much. Our camp is crowded and filthy: nine other men in this shack, no toilet or running water. Every morning we are driven to the cane fields where we cut until our backs ache and the machete blisters our hands. For lunch, rice, sometimes a little pork. (Oh, for a cassava!) I can cut eight tons a day but am lucky to get two dollars. Boss treats us like pigs. If we complain, says, “Why don’t you go home?”

I wish I could. But there is no job for me there.

Interlude

In the cool quiet of midmorning, one forgets it was nearly ninety degrees yesterday. A blue jay’s raucous cry, the tinhorn call of a nuthatch at the feeder, pierce the equinoctial stillness.

Summer fled, leaving only vague regret and mosquito bites. Seasonal residents decamp dragging boats, cargo trailers and other detritus of modern life. Waves of flickers rise from the road shoulder, gathering to migrate above them.

And now, the waiting. The low-lying fog blanketing the neighbors’ field soon gives way to a blanket of snow, crisscrossed by deer, offering gemlike the rare gift of a lone wolf track.

Unremembered

She appears only in the occasional census record and once, fleetingly, on an 1862 list as wife of a Southern soldier, entitled to low-cost salt for preservation of her family’s meager stores: my great-grandmother Mary. If she wrote letters to her absent husband, chasing Yankees across ravaged northern Virginia, they do not survive. More likely, the rigors of keeping a farm and feeding her children consumed all her time.

She lies somewhere in a Georgia Baptist cemetery, her grave unmarked, her daily toil unremembered. Money – and the attendant spirit of commemoration – were scarce commodities in the wake of Sherman’s devastation.