That next Christmas eve (1864), snow was beginning to fall all over New England. In the city of Hartford, a few flakes were falling ever so gently on the green lawn of the Applegate farm. The family was leaving for church and George Applegate told his wife, “I'm sorry to disappoint you, Zelda, but I won't be going with you to church tonight.”
“I know how you feel, George, but couldn't you go along for the children's sake?'
“No, Zelda, I couldn't. I'd feel like a hypocrite. And besides, the children are old enough to understand. I mean, it's not like they're in the pageant again this year. No, I’ll just stay here by the fire and read my newspaper.”
“Well, if you insist.” She finished bundling up the children and they headed for the family wagon.
As, from his large picture window, he watched them pull away in the wagon, he noticed that the snowfall started to pick up and become more furious. He settled into his nice comfortable armchair with his newspaper in hand. But just then, he heard a thudding sound. He looked up startled, but didn't see anything, so went back to reading his paper. But then, there was another thud, and then another. Curious, he put his paper down, got up and went to the front door. He opened the door gradually and peaked out. To his surprise, he saw, there on his front lawn, a flock of wild geese. They'd gotten caught in the burgeoning snow storm and in a desperate search for shelter, some of them had tried flying through his large picture window.
He couldn't let them freeze to death. Perhaps he should try to lead them to the shelter of his nice warm barn. He put on his coat and rubbers and hurried out into the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the door and turned on the light. He beckoned to the geese to come, but they failed to move forward at all and just honked. Perhaps food would entice them, he thought, so he hurried back into the house and fetched some crackers. By now, the snow was becoming so deep that with each footstep he sank deeper into the crunchy white powder. Breaking the crackers as he went, he made a trail of cracker pieces leading to the barn. But, to his dismay, the geese ignored the crackers and kept flapping around in the snow, going every which way except toward the barn. He tried catching them, moving with great effort through the deepening snow, but to no avail. He tried shooing them, running behind and waving his arms. But he soon became exhausted by his efforts, and the dumb creatures just waddled, honked and flapped their wings furiously, moving in all directions except toward the barn.
(Bean Goose [Source: Flicker Commons / Aly 1963 https://bit.ly/2tgo32m])
Then, as he paused to catch his breath, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I'm a strange big scary giant. If only he could think of some way to let them know that he was not trying to hurt them but to help them. But every move he made just seemed to increase their fear of him. They wouldn't follow. They wouldn’t be led or shooed. They just kept moving in all directions except toward the barn, honking ever louder and louder, flapping their wings all the more furiously. He even tried making honking sounds himself to try to communicate with them, but that just seemed to make matters worse. Even when he tried to imitate their honk patterns exactly (“Honkety honk honk”, and so forth), they paid no attention but kept flapping around furiously in the snow. Then, he thought, I must still be doing it wrong. I'm missing some fine nuance of the goose language. If only I were a goose myself, then I'd know their language. I'd know which honk means what—I'd know how to communicate with them—how to tell them that I'm not trying to hurt them, but to help them, and how to show them the way into the nice warm barn—but, I'd have to—I’d have to BE one of them.
Just then the church bells began to chime. He heard the sound of the bells over the roar of the wind, pealing the glad tidings of Christmas, and he dropped to his knees right there in the deepening snow.
Having asked forgiveness for his disbelief, he got up and headed back to the house. As he was entering, Zelda and children had arrived home from church and found him starting to enter the house with his clothes all wet from the snow.
“Hi, Father,” one of the children rang out.
“Father, you're all wet” echoed another.
“What happened to you?” Zelda asked.
“Oh, Zelda, I've been such a fool. I had a sort-of-epiphany, you might say. Now, tell me, how was the service?”
“It was great. But, let's get you inside in the warmth and get those wet clothes off you. Then, I want to hear all about your epiphany.”
“Not until you tell me about the sermon.”
Meanwhile in Cambridge, no bells sounded that night. They would be sounding strongly the next morning. But tonight, all was still in Cambridge, except for the excited utterances of the children.
“Father, tonight's Christmas Eve.”
“Yes, Father, tomorrow’s Christmas day.”
“Are we going to have a good Christmas this year, Father?” asked Edith, expectantly.
He smiled shyly and said, “Well, we'll just have to wait till tomorrow to find out, won't we? Now off to bed with you.” He had managed to drag himself to the store and purchase the token presents for them as usual, but his heart was still not really in it, after all that had happened. Yet there were some slight glimmers of hope. The news of Lincoln’s re-election which had come earlier that month did bring a ray of hope. And, Charles was on the mend and it looked like he would heal nicely. Yet, he couldn't help feeling that he should never have given his consent for him to join the army, but rather should have told him to come home when he got that letter from his commander.
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