Christmas Eve 1880 : The Chambers’ Rock Ledge House – Lauren Dunbar

The Chambers sisters, Eleanor “Nora” (age 7) and Mary (age 4) could barely contain their excitement. They had been helping Mother Elsie (age 35) in their crowded kitchen for days, cooking up the family’s favorite holiday candies—butterscotch drops and sugar fondant balls—ginger cookies and apple pies made with their orchard fruit, and special treats for their Christmas feast that included a birthday surprise for Father Robert, turning 42 on Christmas Day!

The Chambers’ domestic help, sweet Mary Horton (age 23), had gathered in all the ingredients: she dressed a plump wild turkey (shot by Father), selected turnips, gooseberry preserves, and apple cider from the root cellar, winter greens from the greenhouse, all of which made such a difference to Mother.

Everyone had chores in the Chambers family. After feeding the livestock, brother Ben (age 11) was out with Father hitching up the ponies to the town carriage with an assist from the two hired hands, Jacob Steiner and Frank Murr, both “gardeners” who helped Mr. Chambers with the two greenhouses, the fruit orchards, their six dairy cows and four cattle.

Now it’s time to leave for Christmas Eve service at their M. E. Church in Colorado Springs where Father is a trustee. There will be a beautiful, tall Christmas tree with presents for all the children, singing of favorite hymns and carols that Mother had practiced for days with the girls on her beautiful new pump organ—songs from her childhood on the Woolsey family’s apple farm back in Lloyd, in New York’s Hudson River Valley. Home again through the snowy night to find that Mary Horton had tucked warming stones between their cold bed sheets. And, of course, Mother read to her sleepy children their favorite poem, The Night Before Christmas.

Later that night, when all is quiet, the girls keep watch, hoping to hear the jingle of Santa’s reindeer; but Nora imagines they’re elk, like the ones up on Cheyenne Mountain. What will Santa bring the children this year? Nora wants a new dolly—Mother has promised to help sew little clothes—Mary wants a cuddle bear, some new ribbons for her hair, and “an orange, please, Santa,” while Ben would be so happy with a toolkit of his own. Mother has knitted a fine warm sweater for Robert and crocheted colorful wool caps for her three children.

Christmas morning comes and it’s snowing again, but lightly this time, without the fierce winds. Mother tiptoes into the parlor; the tall Regulator clock ticks softly in the corner. It’s time to wake up the entire household with a rousing hymn on her organ,
“Joy to the World!”

A fictional account with real people.

Lauren Dunbar is Elsie and Robert Chambers’ great-granddaughter.

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