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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #108

[Elsje Jansen is recovering from the measles, and her friends want to do something extra special for her because she has worked so hard to help them train their dogs. Randy Chisolm has an idea.] “We can have a Saint Nicholas Feast,” he said. At their blank stares, he hurried to explain. At his home, they had a housekeeper who had lived in Holland most of her life. She had told him about Dutch Christmas traditions. On December fifth, Dutch children put their wooden shoes, filled with hay, outside their doors, and while they sleep Saint Nicholas comes on a big white horse and fills their shoes with toys and gifts. [...] The faces of the other three began to light up with understanding. [...] Libby and Sal had composed a poem to Elsje from Saint Nicholas, and they propped this up in front of the shoes. Sal glowed with pride in it. Neither she nor Libby had ever written a poem before. It’s a long way from Holland When you come on a horse (With a steamer for crossing The ocean, of course). But my horse and I, We made it all right, To wish you, Elsje Jansen, Merry Saint Nicholas Night! The last line sounded too long, but it was what they all felt, so nobody minded. [...] Inside the house, they heard Mr. Jansen boom, offhandedly, “Elsje, see who is at the door.”  “In my pajamas!” Elsje said, surprised. “It will just be the paper put there,” her father said quickly. “Go on now. Your mother and I are all seated down.” Feet came across the floor. The two girls stopped breathing as the door swung open. “Why there’s nobody here ...” Elsje began, but then, as she looked down for the newspaper, she squealed, “SAINT NICHOLAS! ... MOTHER, FATHER, PIET, PET! ... Saint Nicholas has come!” The Jansens crowded into the doorway. Instead of just taking Elsje in, Mr. Jansen called into the night, “Come, all you Saint Nicholases, come on now! Moeder has cooked you a feast! Libby! Sal!” Blushing and grinning, the amateur saints appeared from their hiding places. Elsje’s face held delight and bewilderment and measles at the same moment. Mr. Jansen sent Pieter out to the cars to bring in all the families, even the Mackenzies, and within minutes the small living room and dining room were full to bursting with people and dogs. Then, as everyone gathered around, he lifted Elsje and all her presents to the middle of the dining table. “Open them, Elsje,” he told her gently as she stared up at him. “They have brought all these things just for you.” Elsje did not look at the puppy while she undid the parcels, although he kept getting in the way, clambering over her knees to chew on the ribbons she was trying to undo and getting tangled up in tissue paper. When she had opened all the presents and read the poem, her eyes flooded with sudden dazzling tears. Then, unable to utter a word, she dropped the pile and reached out and scooped up the tiny big-eyed pup. Holding him close, she looked around at the ring of faces. “Oh,” she sobbed, “Oh ...” “Never mind, honey,” Sal’s mother said, her own voice husky. “We understand.” “But I must,” Elsje declared, mopping away her tears on her pajama sleeve. “You are such good friends. I ... Always I wanted ... I will name him Nicholas – Nicky – after you all!” There was a round of applause and a great deal of warm laughter. The four Saint Nicks, who had been separated in the rush and now stood here and there in the front of the crowd, beamed at each other blissfully. Jean Little, Mine for Keeps (1962), pp. 196-197, 204, 205-207

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