A Christmas Tale

"Breakfast, dinner, tea, here we go again in the prison cookhouse," Mary said to Joe as she wiped the sleep from her eyes.

"Soon be Christmas."

"Don't wish your life away, love, it's only May and...it's baby day! Confirmation by the Doctor."

"Oh God, sorry, babe, I forgot it was today."

Later that day Doctor Angela Gabriel verified that Mary was pregnant and that the baby was due on December 25th. They were overjoyed but were surprised by the repetition of the question posed by family, friends and people who observed her bump. Is it going to be a boy or a girl? All they were interested in was the baby's health and that hopefully there would not be too much pain for Mary. Pressure however won the day, with the pair now able to tell the world it would be a baby boy.

Things got even better for the pair as Joe, who had been out of work, received a letter offering him employment on a local farm.

The couple were overjoyed as they had fallen in arrears with their rent and had been struggling to keep up payments on other bills. The extra money would certainly help.

Joe was not afraid of hard work and built up quite a reputation with other farm workers, soon becoming accepted as part of the team. It was still a struggle but the arrears were being paid, they had more friends and it was almost Christmas. Everything was good. They were both looking forward to the birth of their son and planning for the future.

The week before Christmas Joe received a terrible letter from the landlord. After reading it he plonked himself on the bottom step of the stairs and with elbows on knees, hands supporting his resting head, he was staring at the floor trying not to cry, when Mary almost tripped over him.

"What's up, babe?"

"You had better read this," Joe said in a soulful tone.

"We owe more than I thought, and if we don't pay it we will be evicted. The rent is being increased! What are we going to do?"

Mary sat down alongside Joe, read, and burst into floods of tears.

"Joe, you've missed the last paragraph," Mary said snivelling.

"Not more bad news love?"

"The worst, if we don't clear the debt by Christmas we will be evicted...and our baby's due Christmas day!"

They must have sat there for at least thirty minutes, both staring at the floor, hugging and sharing soggy cheeks. Mary broke the silence.

"I can't do this Joe, the shame of it. We must get out before they evict us."

"How? We've no money, it's too close to Christmas. Everywhere is closing down for the holiday."

"I don't know! Ring your boss, Mr Shepherd, he might be able to help."

"I don't think so, he's in a different league to us. He's wealthy, mixes with the upper class, well respected in the community, why would he be interested in our problem."

"We've got to do something Joe, we can't just sit and wait. We've got our son to think of."

Joe, under duress, realising there was no other option, rang Mr Shepherd. His reply shook them both and made them feel very humble.

"I might be able to help you temporarily until after Christmas. It won't be in my home though. I've got a full house over Christmas. This is a serious offer so please don't laugh. I've got a large barn you can stay in it's got heating so it's lovely and warm. You'll be sharing it with our baby lambs and piglets, which need heat to survive. You don't have to worry, the lambs are up one end and the piglets the other, and you can have the space in the middle if you want.

"Yes please," said Joe joyfully. "We really appreciate your offer and will make it up to you as soon as we can."

The corners of their mouths turned up simultaneously producing a beautiful glow of happiness and slight amusement.

"A stable at Christmas!" Mary added.

They knew that this was not the answer but at least it would keep them safe over Christmas.

Christmas Eve a tractor and trailer arrived to take them and their belongings to the barn. Joe, along with Mr Shepherd's three sons, loaded what he could, hoping that the remainder would still be there after Christmas. Mary was quite large now and, although wanting to help, could only stand, watch and encourage.

"Ugh, it stinks in here," were Joes first words on arrival.

"Oh Joe, aren't they lovely, so little and cute, I wish I could cuddle them," was the only response he got.

"Tomorrow you'll have one of your own to cuddle, not a lamb or piglet but a lovely little fellah."

"Oh Joe, I do love you."

They settled down for the night not knowing that it would be a long one. Marys' waters broke so Joe called the hospital on his mobile. By the time the ambulance arrived Mary had already started to give birth. The baby was to be born in a barn.

At five past three on Christmas Day Mary and Joe became parents to a beautiful seven pound eight-ounce baby boy.

"He's a little star Joe. I can't call you babe anymore. This is our new babe."

One of the hospital team remained with them whilst the others made the return journey, stopping off at Farmer Shepherd's home on the way.

The male nurse who had stopped, spent his time fussing around ensuring baby, mother and dad were looked after and checking everything was as clean as possible, using all the equipment he had brought with him.

Half an hour later Mr Shepherd surprised them, turning up with bread, milk and many other welcome gifts. Mary and Joe were speechless, and to make things even harder to cope with, he had the local Chief Housing Officer with him.

Mr Shepherd had been on the phone most of Christmas Eve attempting to sort something more permanent for the family. Using contacts and friends he had managed to speak with the Manager of the Housing Department, who took it on himself to spend the day organising a solution. He had arranged a bedsit for them and would look further into the issue after the holiday.

The tractor with trailer arrived and Joe, with the help of the three men, loaded up and left. They were watched by three smiling faces as they headed towards their new home.

Later Joe and Mary, with their new-born, sat on the floor in their new home recounting the past two days, fighting back the tears. They heard singing outside their front door, opened it and found a group of Guides and Scouts singing Christmas Carols. The one they were singing when the door opened was, 'COME AND JOIN THE CELEBRATION.'


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