For quite a while now, Jay's been encouraging me to post my Christmas story that I wrote to go with a gift I gave. Though I love to write and am working on a teen novel, being unpublished to date makes me fickle about my talent. However, he gives me some great support. So, I'm following his advise (I'm sure he'll pass out when he reads that).
The Christmas Cardinal
My grandmother was always an avid bird watcher. The yard of her house and her entire porch was filled with bird feeders to attract them. She loved to tell about the beautiful cardinals that had been her favorite since she was a child in Illinois. However, after she and my grandfather married, he moved them to Wyoming and she hadn’t seen a cardinal in all the years she’d lived here. Still, she told my brothers and I about the male’s scarlet feathers and black masked faces. She explained their spectacular red color symbolized hope and was a reminder for us to focus on our faith, their plumage a representation of the blood of Christ shed for the redemption of mankind.
As a writer, she often told us stories she had created herself as if they were fact, so to this day I cannot say if this particular story was truth, legend or her own tale.
A young man chose to leave his home and set out to see the world. He traveled far and wide, learning about new cultures and environments, learning a number of languages and skills from different parts of the world. Wherever he went, he tried to find some common reminder of his homeland. After many years, he grew homesick and decided he would return to see his family. In those days, there were no cars or trains, no public transportation. One had to get from place to place on foot or, if he were lucky, a horse. But as he had amassed no great fortune, it was his fate to travel on foot. As he arrived within miles of his home, a great blizzard blew up and he could scarcely see his hand in front of his face. He thought he would never find the little cabin in the woods where he knew a warm fire and loved ones would be. He trudged on, growing more and more fatigued and hopeless with each passing moment. He thought he might try to build a shelter, but the force of the storm was so great, he was certain he would freeze to death should he stop for even a moment. As he felt the last bit of his strength wane, he caught a glimpse of red in the corner of his eye and looked to see a majestic cardinal flitting in the tree just before him.
“Lead me home, little bird,” he cried out and thought for certain the cardinal looked directly at him as it began to move forward, from branch to branch. “What have I got to lose?” he thought to himself and began to follow the bird. This went on for some time, his burden of exhaustion lifted by the familiar sight of a beloved creature from his homeland. But in time, his body simply began to give in to fatigue. Just as he once again began to give up all hope, the smell of a wood burning fire reached his nostrils. He tried in vain to see ahead, but the heavy snowfall was too thick. The bird continued forward and so did he, knowing now that if he were not close to his own home, he was surely close to someone’s and there he would find shelter. Soon, he was close enough to see a rough outline of a building, though too obscured by the snow to determine anything familiar about it. As he was about to step up on the small porch, the bird rested in a branch of a tree beside it and the door to the cabin swung open. Out stepped an old man and woman and he immediately recognized his own mother and father. The man fell into their arms and the family celebrated a long awaited reunion and a tearful Christmas Eve that night.
Last year, near this special holiday season, Grandmother passed away and although we still lived in a place where none of us had ever seen a cardinal, he came to her that very night and, my brother’s and I believe, led her home to her Heavenly Father.
The ironic part of this story is that my sister-in-law mentioned that my own mother, as she lay in the hospital about to go to surgery, thought she saw a cardinal at her window (that no one else had seen). She was born and raised in Indiana where, indeed, there are cardinals and she is a bird lover. Now that she will be bedridden and both my parents journey toward the end of their lives, I guess a part of me hopes that when the time comes, her own cardinal will lead her home.