When the holidays came round the thoughts of ‘Liza Ann Lewis always turned to the good times that she used to have at home when, following the precedent of anti-bellum days, Christmas lasted all the week and good cheer held sway. She remembered with regret the gifts that were given, the songs that were sung to the tinkling of the banjo and the dances with which they beguiled the night hours. And the eating! Could she forget it? The great turkey, with the fat literally bursting from him; the yellow yam melting into deliciousness in the mouth; or in some more fortunate season, even the juicy ‘possum grinning in brown and greasy death from the great platter.
In the ten years she had lived in New York, she had known no such feast-day. Food was strangely dear in the Metropolis, and then there was always the weekly rental of the poor room to be paid. But she had kept the memory of the old times green in her heart, and ever turned to it with the fondness of one for something irretrievably lost.
That is how Jimmy came to know about it. Jimmy was thirteen and small for his age, and he could not remember any such times as his mother told him about. Although he said with great pride to his partner and rival, Blinky Scott, “Chee, Blink, you ought to hear my ol’ lady talk about de times dey have down w’ere we come from at Christmas; N’Yoick ain’t in it wid dem, you kin jist bet.” And Blinky, who was a New Yorker clear through with a New Yorker’s contempt for anything outside of the city, had promptly replied with a downward spreading of his right hand, “Aw fu’git it!”
Jimmy felt a little crest-fallen for a minute, but he lifted himself in his own estimation by threatening to “do” Blinky and the cloud rolled by.
‘Liza Ann knew that Jimmy couldn’t ever understand what she meant by an old-time Christmas unless she could show him by some faint approach to its merrymaking, and it had been the dream of her life to do this. But every year she had failed, until now she was a little ahead.
Her plan was too good to keep, and when Jimmy went out that Christmas eve morning to sell his papers, she had disclosed it to him and bade him hurry home as soon as he was done, for they were to have a real old-time Christmas.
Jimmy exhibited as much pleasure as he deemed consistent with his dignity and promised to be back early to add his earnings to the fund for celebration.
When he was gone, ‘Liza Ann counted over her savings lovingly and dreamed of what she would buy her boy, and what she would have for dinner on the next day. Then a voice, a colored man’s voice, she knew, floated up to her. Some one in the alley below her window was singing “The Old Folks at Home.”
“All up an’ down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for the old plantation,
An’ for the old folks at home.”
She leaned out of the window and listened and when the song had ceased and she drew her head in again, there were tears in her eyes–the tears of memory and longing. But she crushed them away, and laughed tremulously to herself as she said, “What a reg’lar ol’ fool I’m a-gittin’ to be.” Then she went out into the cold, snow-covered streets, for she had work to do that day that would add a mite to her little Christmas store.
Down in the street, Jimmy was calling out the morning papers and racing with Blinky Scott for prospective customers; these were only transients, of course, for each had his regular buyers whose preferences were scrupulously respected by both in agreement with a strange silent compact.