Appalachian Christmas Story
By Cynthia Rylant - Painting by Chris K. Soentpiet
Houston Chronicle features department presents this read-aloud story
as a holiday gift to our readers. We hope your family enjoy it together.
train comes through Appalachia every year at Christmas time. And
though it doesn't have antlers, nor does the man standing on its
rear platform have a long white beard, it may as well be Santa Claus
and his sleigh, for all the excitement it stirs up.
call it the Christmas Train. And it has been coming to them for
years. Each new child born in the mountains learns to walk, talk,
and wait for the Christmas train.
It is everyone's delight.
people remember its beginning. They tell of a rich man who had come
traveling through the hills by car many years back No one knows
why he came up into the hills, but why isn't important. What
matters is what happened.
had a car accident. His car just took itself right over the side
of a ridge, and the n,.. slumped in that car, hurting and scare,'
Someone came along. Some say it was old Mr. Crookshank but others
say it was Betty Pritt. But who came along isn't important, either.
it was pulled that rich man out of his car and took him into a house
in the hills where he was nursed and cared for until he could make
it out on his own. When he left, the rich man tried to give money
to the people who had helped him. But they would not accept it.
rich man left the mountains feeling he owed a great debt. And for
the remaining years of his life, he has been
this debt from the caboose of a Christmas Train he brings into the
hills each December.
23rd - everybody knows it the train will slowly wind up and around
the mountains, and on the platform of its caboose will stand the
rich man in a blue wool coat. He will toss a sparkling silver package
into the the hands of each child who waits beside the tracks, and
for some, it will be the only present they receive So
the train is awfully important.
a boy named Frankie stands beside those tracks and waits for the
Christmas Train. It is very cold and a lot of snow has come down
the night before, Frankie's shoes are thin and his feet hurt badly
from the cold. But he is determined to wait. even if his feet and
all the rest of him become ice.
particular boy wants a particular present. Not just any present
tossed from the back of that train. A particular present: a doctor
kit. He's been waiting for it, beside the tracks.
The train comes through finally. Noisy and steaming and scary, it
is so big, but everyone loves to see it and they cheer and clap
and some of the mothers even weep to see it coming.
stands there at the tracks, praying for a doctor kit, till he sees
the caboose slowly coming up. And when it is just past his nose,
he shouts and waves and runs after the train, his icy feet aching.
the rear platform, the rich man in the wool coat sees him.
"Merry Christmas!" he calls.
tosses into Frankie's hands a sparkling silver package.
stops running. He is out of breath, so he can't yell a thank-you.
He can only hold tight to his gift and wave to the man and the train
disappearing into the mountains.
carries his package home, and puts his own name on it, and sets
it under the family Christmas tree. On Christmas morning, he opens
It isn't a doctor
kit. It's a cowboy holster and three pairs of thick red socks.
looks at his mother and father and brothers and sisters and tries
not to cry.
the socks all winter and plays with the cowboy set all year. But
he dreams of a doctor kit.
Christmas Frankie waits again in the cold for the Christmas Train.
The socks still fit him, so his feet are warm. But his fingers are
cold and hurting.
at the tracks and prays for a doctor kit. The train comes; the rich
man tosses the silver package.
morning Frankie opens it.
a little police car with lights that really work plus two pairs
of brown mittens.
Frankie doesn't cry.
the mittens all winter and
plays with the car all year. But he dreams of a doctor kit.
waits three more years for a doctor kit. It never comes. He gets
trucks and balls and games. He gets mittens and socks and hats and
But the doctor
kit never comes.
Frankie grows up, he moves away, out of the hills. He lives in different
places and meets different kinds of people and he himself changes
a little into a different person.
in him, never changing, are his memories. And what he remembers
the most about being a boy in the hills is that just when it seemed
his feet would freeze Re the snow, a man on a train had brought
socks. Just when it seemed his fingers were hardening to ice, the
man had brought him mittens. Just when the cold wind was cutting
sharp as a blade into his throat, the man had brought a scarf. And
when Frankie's ears were numb with red cold, the man had brought
remembers something about owing a debt.
grown man who has been gone a long time moves back into those same
mountains to live. His brothers and sisters are still there, waiting
to the hills where he has grown up, and that winter, near Christmas,
he stands at the tracks, watching the children wait for the train.
And it comes, as always.
man watches the steam engine moved toward him, watches the ca booms
roll by him, and he nearly runs after that train, so strong are
his memories. This grown man nearly runs after
a silver package.
he watches a little girl chase that caboose, watches a man in a
wool coat toss her a silver sparkling package, watches the gift
land near the little girl's feet, watches her fall hard to the ground.
man does run now, but not for the train. Not for a rich man in a
wool coat. For a little girl.
her up. He wipes her tears with the scarf from around his neck He
smiles at her.
OK little one," he says easily. The train is disappearing into the
trees. He had meant to wave at the
man. But there wasn't time.
He picks up the
silver package and puts it into the little girl's arms.
be all right," he tells her. "I'll make sure."
open his kit to look for a Band-Aid.
Frank" He smiles. "I'm a doctor."
1987 by Cynthia
Rylant. Illustrations ~ 1997 by Chris K. Soentpiet. Silver Packages
was first published in 1987 in the collection
Children of Christmas: Stories for the Season
by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Published with
permission of Orchard
Packages costs $16.95 and is available at local bookstores.
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