|Posted on December 21, 2010 at 1:43 PM|
As I sit here, trying to get into the mood to bake, I listen to mu children torment each other in the basement. Truly, my son came upstairs and said, "Mom, now she's telling me that there's a spider in my brain!" I asked what he meant by that, to which he replied, "She said it crawled in my ear and is now in my brain!" I thought of all the wonderfully wrong things I could say to that and simply calmed him by telling him that his eardrum would stop any spider that tried to get into his brain. He asked me what the spider would do then. I was nice and told him it would crawl out again, thwarted in its attempts to get to his brain. He seemed satisfied and ran off again to tell his sister what I had just told him.
So go the days of winter break in this house. I hate release days. I really do. As much as I love my children, I don't like them together for any length of time. Not even the promise of making gingerbread cookies could calm them. And now when I pull out the ingredients for oatmeal scotchies instead, they'll complain and ask why we aren't making gingerbread. To which I will resist with all that is within me saying, "Because naughty children don't get to pick what they bake, in fact they don't get to bake at all. Now go away and let mommy release the frustrations you have built by beating out some cookies that you can't eat." Oh well. I will tell them because we will run out of time now between now and when I have to leave for work.
In the meantime, I wrote a Christmas story. I did not write it today, but a couple of weeks ago. I posted it on my facebook, but no one read it. I sent it out in my Christmas cards and I've gotten some good feedback. I post it here, not as a way to get out my frustrations with my children, but only as a Merry Christmas message to you all.
It is told from the Innkeeper's wife's point of view. I know it's been done before, but not by me, and this is all my ideas. I hope you enjoy it.
The Innkeeper's Wife
by Jen Steffen
Elizabeth wiped sweat from her brow as she stirred the pot. “Esme, please take that tray to room four.” A pretty girl of eleven nodded and picked up the tray of bowls. Elizabeth watched her daughter fondly as she hurried out of the kitchen.
When Paul had suggested opening an inn in Bethlehem, Elizabeth had been dubious, but now that Cesar had called for a census, it seemed like business was more than either of them could handle. Yes, they were making good money, but the Romans who stayed with them made the others nervous. She blew hair out of her eyes and dished up another tray of stew, setting full bowls in a circle to fit as many on the tray as possible.
“Abby!” she called out the back door. Abby was tending the straw in the stable across the yard, but Elizabeth needed her to take this tray to room six. Hungry people were waiting for their dinner.
Instead of her younger daughter, her husband stormed into the kitchen. Bless him; he always looked uncomfortable around the stove and the preparation table. He pulled off his hat and looked all over the room. She stopped stirring and put a hand on her hip. If he had nothing to say, he needed to leave or he would be in the way. And they were full to capacity with tired and hungry travelers.
“What is it my love? I need Abby to take this tray to the family in room six.
Paul cleared his throat, fiddling with his hat. “I took in another family,” he said quickly. “Abby is tending to them in the stable right now.”
Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open. Another family? Wasn’t it enough that she was already making stew for ten families? Or that the Romans ate enough to feed three families themselves? “Paul,” she steadied her voice so she would not yell and scare any of their guests. “What were you thinking? We have people in every room and each room has far more people in it than should be there. Curse the Cesar for calling such an immediate count!” she spit on the floor in frustration.
“Don’t say that,” Paul rushed to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “This wasn’t the Cesar’s doing. The couple in the barn is a young, newly married couple, and his wife is ready to give birth. Abby is helping them get comfortable and as soon as she knows what the woman needs she will be in to get it. And Liz,” he eyes twinkled as he looked into her face, “there’s something about this couple. I had to let them in. When Abby comes in, you need to go see them.”
Then,looking over her shoulder, he dropped his hands and left the kitchen. “Don’t resent them, Liz.” He turned back before returning to his desk. “They’re special. I know it.” Then he disappeared in the crowd of people that insisted on sitting just outside the kitchen door.
Abby rushed in at that moment, panting as she took down a bowl. “Mom, she’s ready to give birth.”
Elizabeth handed Abby the tray she had prepared. “Is that so? Well, you take this to room six. I’ll see to the woman.”
Abby looked crestfallen, as though she thought she was old enough to deliver a baby. The poor thing was only nine. She put a hand on her daughter’s arm. “I’m sure I’ll need both you and Esme out there. Now take that stew to room six and tell your sister to start getting towels and blankets ready.”
As her daughter took the tray with a disgruntled look, Elizabeth scooped stew into another couple of bowls and took them out the back door. The scant grass of the yard scratched at her ankles as she scurried to the stable. A low light inside was the only indication of occupants other than the animals. The door pushed open slowly as she shoved it with her shoulder.
Immediately inside, the stalls were all full. The Romans had their horses in the first stalls, and then there were donkeys from a few of the families in the inn. Toward the back were her own chickens and a goat. In the middle, huddled around the light, sat a man with a worried look on his face and a woman looking very much in labor. He had piled straw up around her to make her comfortable. Bless Paul, he had at least sent Abby out with a blanket. The woman was between contractions at that moment and smiled up at Elizabeth. Paul was right. There was something special about this couple.
“I brought you some stew,” Elizabeth said, setting the bowls on a milking stool. “I have my girls getting towels and blankets for you. There is freshwater in the barrel over in the corner, but I will put some on to heat for you when I go back. Are you comfortable? I’m sorry there is no room inside.”
Goodness,she was babbling. Was she the one giving birth? Lord knew she was done with that phase of her life. The man took a bowland tried the stew. “Thank you,” he saidto her then turned to his wife. “It’swarm, Mary. Would you like a bite?”
“No,thank you,” she replied, her voice sounded weak, but her countenance held strong. Another contraction hit and Marysqueezed her fists around straw.
Elizabeth blinked and dropped to her knees. “Let me check. I’ve delivered my share of babies.”
They looked at her and Mary nodded. Elizabeth put her hands on the swollen belly and felt the child within. It was positioned for birth. That was good. It meant no complications. She lifted the woman’s skirts and put her hand between Mary’s legs. No man other than her husband should ever touch a woman like that, but Elizabeth needed to know if Mary was ready to birth this child. “Not quite there yet, miss. I’ll get that water and be right back.”
The contraction passed, and Mary nodded. “Joseph, don’t leave when she comes back. “
Elizabeth closed the door to give them privacy and hurried back to the house. Mary hadn’t been quite ready, but she was very close. She guessed that sometime after the next contraction or two, the woman would be ready to push. The kitchen gave off a plume of steam when she opened the door. First things first,she put a pot of water on the stove to warm. Then she wanted to see if anyone would give up their room. Lord knew the Romans did not need that much space.
Hurrying to the main room, she began to search the faces of the people gathered. The chatter of the guests filled the space and she raised her hands. “Quiet,people! Please, is there not one of you who would give up your room? There is a woman in the stable ready to give birth. And she is couched in the hay! Surely,you wouldn’t want that to be you, or your wives. Won’t anyone give up their bed?”
The people murmured to themselves, many pretending they hadn’t heard. Elizabeth stormed up to the Romans. “You of all people can appreciate the fact that we have a woman about to give birth in the stable. Couldn’t you spare your room, just for the night?”
The soldier stood and crossed his arms. “I’ll forgive that insolence if you turn now and leave.”
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes, but turned on her heel and stomped away. Paul met her by the kitchen door. “Liz, what are you thinking? You can’t talk to the Romans like that.”
“Well,I did. Rude buggers. I wish you could put them out on their rears.” She checked the temperature of the water on the stove, knowing it wouldn’t be warm enough yet. “If you hadn’t felt compelled to take in this family in the barn, I wouldn’t feel compelled to talk to the Romans like that.” She patted his arm and turned him to the door. “Don’t worry; I’ll make the barn feel like the best room in the house for these people. You go and be the innkeeper.”
She followed him out of the kitchen, but turned to the chest by the wall. Taking a blanket and a pillow, she left through the kitchen again. The water was taking too long to warm. “Abby! Esme!” she called as she left the kitchen.
“Inhere,” Esme called back from the barn door. “She’s really ready, mom.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” She waved Esme back into the barn and handed her the blanket at pillow. “You get her more comfortable. Stupid Romans wouldn’t offer their bed. For that matter, you’d think a barn was the perfect place to have a baby. None of them wanted to give up their beds.” She dropped to her knees again and checked Mary for readiness. “Oh my,” she drew her hand back. “You are ready. Next time you feel the urge, you need to push.”
Mary nodded, gripping Joseph’s hand tightly.
“You can hold my hand, too, if you need to.” Abby sat beside Mary and touched her tenderly on the shoulder.
Mary smiled at her and took her hand. Just then,another contraction hit. Abby bit her lip as Mary squeezed her hand.
Not taking her eyes from the birthing, Elizabeth motioned for Esme. “There is a pot of water warming on the stove inside. Get it and bring it here.”
Esme sighed, upset to be leaving in the middle of the action. Nevertheless, she went.
Mary grunted as she leaned forward, pushing.
A crown appeared with that one. “Oh, good show,”Elizabeth smiled up at Mary. “You’ve got it now, when it comes again, push hard and maybe we’ll get this baby out before midnight.”
“Does it hurt?” Abby was watching Mary’s face,worry on hers.
“Not so bad,” Mary managed to say. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she whispered. “This is the son of God. I think He’s blessed me with an easy child birth.” She squeezed her eyes shut as another contraction hit. She pushed again, grunting, and then yelling as she gave it everything she had.
“Yes,”Elizabeth breathed, holding her hands out for the child. “You’ve got it. The head is almost out. One more push and we should have a baby.”
“Here’s the water, mother.” Esme returned to the barn. Her mood improved considerably when she saw there was no baby yet.
“Set it here,” Elizabeth said, patting the floor near her side. “Sweetie,” she addressed Mary, “your mother didn’t come with you?”
Mary was breathing hard, but the contraction had subsided for the moment. “She isn’t from Bethlehem. I only came because of my husband.” She grunted the end of that, squeezing here yes shut as the next urge to push overwhelmed her.
“That’s it,” Elizabeth put her hands on the baby’s head. “It’s coming now.” She worked the shoulders free of the birth canal and the baby fell into her hands. “Oh, my darling, you are beautiful.” She turned the boy on his head and cleaned out his mouth.
The child cried out once, clearing his lungs then was quiet.
Elizabeth placed the still bloody infant on his mother’s breast and turned back to catch the afterbirth. “You have a beautiful son, Mary. There will be one more push,then we can get him cleaned up and wrapped, and you can relax.”
“What are you naming him?” Abby asked, her gaze fixed on the child.
Mary smiled, looking at her baby. “Jesus.”
She barely bucked with the final push, and Elizabeth took the afterbirth. “All right, let’s get him cleaned up. You have clothes for him?”
Joseph turned to their packs and pulled out a bundle of cloth. Elizabeth took the baby and nodded at him. “You get that ready while I get him clean.”
Holding him close, she took her snips and clipped the cord. Then she gently washed him. The water had cooled, so there was no danger of burning him. She washed his hair and cleaned his skin. The baby watched her in silence, taking in her face as she worked. He was radiant. Then, as she bent to rinse her rag, the baby reached up to touch her. Never in all of the births that she had assisted had a baby touched her. His touch was the gentlest, softest touch she had ever felt.
“Sweetie,”she breathed. “Lord.” Wrapping the infant in her apron to dry him,she took him back to his parents. His mother took him in her lap and swaddled him. Then she put him to her breast to suckle him.
Abby and Esme knelt beside her to look at the baby. “He’s special,” Elizabeth said, kneeling beside Abby.
“I know,” she whispered. “He’s the son of God.”
Their heads turned as the door to the stable opened. Three shepherds stood in the doorway, two with sheep over their shoulders. Behind them stood more men. “We came to find the child,” the man in front said. “The angel told us to come to the stable and we would see him.”
“Girls,”Elizabeth tugged at Abby’s arm. “Let’s give these people some room.” She pulled her daughters away and nodded at the shepherds as they passed.
“Here he is,” she heard Mary say quietly.
A reverent hush fell over the stable as the shepherds entered. Elizabeth shooed her girls back to the house. “Keep this quiet,” she said. “Mary will announce it when she’s ready.” The girls nodded and scurried inside to attend to the other guests. Elizabeth stayed in the kitchen. If visitors were coming, she needed to be prepared to feed them.
She put a clean pot on the stove and began adding vegetables and water. The more stew she had, the happier the people would be. The stable would be a busy place tonight.