This Christmas Goose Kept Them Warm

The bird was supposed to be Christmas dinner. Then he protected them during a snowstorm.

Posted in , Oct 27, 2021

An illustration of a Christmas goose; Illustration by Jackie Besteman

This late in December, the cow path near our house in Tennessee was still covered with leaves, but I knew snow would be falling soon enough. My younger brother, Buddy Earl, and I were on an important mission: Go to Uncle Tommie’s place and get a goose. The trek over Little Mountain and back to get there would be worth it. Uncle Tommie raised the best geese around, and he’d offered to give us one for Christmas dinner.

Dark clouds were gathering in the sky above and a cold wind came in from the north. As usual, Buddy Earl lagged behind, striking every pile of leaves with the tobacco stick he carried. “Put a spring in your step,” I called back to him. “I don’t want to be caught out here if it snows.”

Buddy Earl pointed his stick at the sky. “Those aren’t snow clouds,” he declared. “They’ll be cleared out by the wind.”

At 12 years old, I knew how fast weather could change in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. I was pretty relieved when we topped the crest and saw a column of smoke from Uncle Tommie’s fireplace filtered through the trees.

Thunder rumbled suddenly. Black clouds billowed up from the valley to the west and lightning forked through the sky like a spiderweb.

Uncle Tommie met us at the door with a grim expression. “I ain’t rushing you boys off,” he said, “but the way the wind is picking up, you better get the goose and head for home.”

I didn’t argue. It didn’t take me long to scoop up a goose from the shelter in the yard and tuck him under my arm. Buddy and I said a quick thank you and goodbye. We had what we came for: the best Christmas dinner ever. Even better than a turkey. A light snow started as we began the trek up Little Mountain. The summit was shrouded in a whirling mass of dark clouds and flashes of light.

We didn’t talk for a while. The snow came down harder, blowing every which way. The wind seemed to blow straight through my coat. Halfway to the crest I turned to Buddy Earl.

“I’m as cold as ice. How about you?” he asked.

I stroked the goose’s head. “I wish we had feathers to keep us warm like you,” I said. “Or heavier coats.”

The goose tucked his head closer to his feathered body.

By the time we reached the summit both Buddy Earl and I were in dire straits. We could barely see through the snow swirling around us. Thunder crashed and flashes of lightning made the trees appear as giant monsters reaching out with gnarled fingers.

“Doug, I’m freezing,” Buddy Earl said. I could barely hear him over the wind and my own chattering teeth. “I think we should go back.”

The idea was tempting, but we were closer to home than to Uncle Tommie’s house. We had to push on. I was so cold, my legs getting so stiff, I honestly wondered if we would make it.

I knew it was time to get God involved. I kept my praying to myself so Buddy Earl wouldn’t know just how scared I was, but I prayed with all my heart. Lord, we need help. I don’t know if I can get home. The snow I can handle, but this cold is too much! Could you maybe just make things a little warmer for Buddy and me? I clutched Uncle Tommie’s goose closer to my chest. That bird was the only thing warm about me.

I stepped in front of my brother. “Buddy, open your coat!”

““Are you crazy?” he asked. “I’ll lose what little warmth I have.” When he saw I was serious he slowly unzipped his coat and opened it. “I hope you know what you are doing,” he whispered.

I placed the warm goose inside his coat and zipped it back up. “Make sure you keep the goose’s head out so he can breathe.”

Buddy Earl sighed happily. My plan was working.

On the descent down the mountain toward home I started to shiver. Buddy Earl touched my shoulder. “Doug, it is time for you to open your coat.”

He passed the goose to me. His feathered body was as warm as angel feathers inside my coat. For a long moment I just stood, warming my freezing hands on his body. We passed the goose back and forth between us all the way down. He didn’t complain about it either. Not a single honk.

At the foot of the mountain, we left the wind and whirring snow behind. We stepped up on our front porch, where my mother met us with open arms. “Don’t squeeze too hard,” I said when she gave me a hug. “I have the goose inside my coat.”

Settled in front of the warm stove, we explained how the goose had kept us from freezing. “We can’t have him for dinner,” Buddy Earl and I agreed. This goose might have saved our lives. We had to save his!

“I don’t know what we’re going to have for dinner,” Mama said. “But I couldn’t eat him either.”

I don’t remember what we ate. I just know it wasn’t goose. Charley, as we named him, lived out his life piddling around the yard and pond, bossing around the chickens we kept for eggs. Daddy even bought a couple more geese to keep Charley company. A life as the most important bird this side of Little Mountain was fitting for our hero and the answer to my prayer.

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