(you can listen to the recorded version at the end…in William’s voice!)
The Christmas Story
(with Fox, Mole, and Pup)
by Dr. William Rivers
Foreword by Lorrie
We - my family and I - have gotten together to bring you Fox & Mole's Christmas Story by my father, William Rivers - just for you this holiday season. I believe that the story is written in such a way that it is universal…not just for Christmas, but for Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or really anytime! We hope you enjoy! Also remember you can listen to the recorded version below. And for reference in the story, Ashleigh is my sister (William’s daughter) who found the Squirrel baby (which is its whole other story Dad wrote) and Evan is my brother (William’s son) who found Pup (yet another story Dad wrote).
FOREWORD: A few days ago my friend Kristin was at yoga class and called me very excited afterwards to tell me something. At the end of each class, we have a meditating/resting period for 10 or 15 minutes called "Savasana." When her class finished with Savasana on this Tuesday, the instructor told them to get up very quietly and cautiously and to look at the back door...a fox had been watching them during the whole meditation with its nose pressed up against the glass of the door. The fox peeking in made me think of my Father's Christmas story.
My father always made up stories for my brother, sister and me when we were younger. They featured "Fox and Mole" who were friends and part of a vast and very social animal community that lived on my Mema & Papa's property and in the surrounding woods in Mt. Croghan. Dad created these magical worlds of animals that we all - my brother and sister and I - interacted with in the stories. And we always learned something from them. His Christmas story is one of my favorites and he would tell it to us from memory every Christmas, sometimes embellishing it with new story lines or variations on previous years.
Because I'd been thinking about the Yoga-loving fox my friend Kristin told me about, I recently revisited the Christmas Story my father wrote. As I was reading it, I got a warm, full feeling inside and this light went on inside me! I'd been hearing people around me talk about how stressed out they were from the holidays and how crazy this time of the year is. This story that my father wrote illustrates so well what these holiday times are REALLY about - they aren't about the shopping or the entertaining or the decorating (though those are fun parts of it if we allow them to be) - the holidays are about Peace and Joy and Fullness and Connecting with those we love.
Because the story had such an impact on me and helped me to remember where I want my focus to be this season...I wanted to share that with you! So...we have all gotten together to bring you Fox and Mole's Christmas Story and to share with you what we hope is an uplifting and rewarding, warming, loving experience.
We hope you enjoy and this is our way of saying Happy Holidays to you and your family from all of us!
The Christmas Story
(with Fox, Mole and Pup)
If you had been watching the road between Mt. Croghan and Thompson Creek on that real cold, windy Christmas Eve several years ago, you would have been blessed with an odd sight. For on that evening, well after dark, you would have seen a little creature all bundled up in a coat, cap, and even little boots walking very quickly in short little steps toward Mt. Croghan. It was Mole. His hands were pushed deep into the pockets of his wool coat. His shoulders were scrunched up so his coat collar would meet his cap, and his chin was tucked way down against his chest. These maneuvers, though they made Mole’s appearance even odder to behold, did help to keep out the cold so that Mole was pretty warm—except when the wind, which was blowing from his back, gusted up. When that happened Mole’s cheeks tingled and he felt cold air coming in around his collar and the bottom of his coat. But Mole did not stop. He just scrunched and tucked and walked a little faster.
“What a cold Christmas Eve to be out,” muttered Mole to himself as he moved along. “Sure do wish I were back in Fox’s nice warm den drinking hot tea.” Even the memory of Fox’s home and hospitality, now at least a half an hour and a mile behind him, made Mole feel warmer inside despite a fresh and decidedly colder gust of wind.
Mole did not usually take such long walks alone at night in the winter—especially on Christmas Eve. But there was a good reason for this late night excursion. Way back before Thanksgiving he had agreed to keep all of Squirrel’s Christmas gifts in one of his spare rooms so Squirrel’s very active five children wouldn’t find them. The gifts had been stacked away in his spare bedroom since early December. And to his horror Mole had almost forgotten. He had assured Squirrel that he would be there to help him retrieve the gifts. But since then Fox had invited him to spend Christmas Eve at his house so that Mole could go with them on Pup’s first trip to Antioch. It had been a little over seven months since Fox and Mole had found Pup lying beside Number 9 after being hit by a car and had gotten Evan to help them carry him to Fox’s house so they could set Pup’s broken leg in a cast. Pup still had a bit of a limp, but he could get around just fine and he was quickly catching onto the ways of the “wild” animals. But he hand not yet been to Antioch at Christmas.
Mole loved going to Antioch at Christmas and he loved the warmth and Christmas smells and cheer he always found at Fox’s. So he went. And it was only in the early evening of Christmas Eve as Mole sat in a deep easy chair beside the fire looking at Fox’s tree with the few, but very carefully wrapped packages underneath that Mole remembered. He was bundled up and out the door almost before Fox could ask what the trouble was.
Every time he thought of how he almost forgot, Mole scolded himself and felt guilty and cold inside. But when he thought about how happy Squirrel’s children would be—especially the new little orphan squirrel Ashleigh had found and Squirrel and his family had adopted—Mole felt warmer inside. Cold guilt contended with warm satisfaction in Mole’s little breast until the warm won out. “There’s no way I could have completely forgotten,” Mole assured himself. I believe that—don’t you?
Mole was almost there. Just a short stretch of road and he would be in Mt. Croghan. Then a left turn on the north road, a brisk walk up the hill past the church and then down into the next hollow, a right turn on his special little path which crossed the field into the woods at the bottom of the filed and he would be there. As he made his left turn on to the north road, he began to hear sounds like music even over the sound of the wind. Soon he could see that that church was all lit up and the townspeople, at least a good many of them, were at church for a Christmas Eve service. When he got to the church, he paused to listen. The animals who were Mole’s friends had mixed feelings about people. Many of the things people did were not very nice, but a few things they did were quite nice. Mole said to himself, “this is one of the nice things.” Mole had listened before and even peeked in to see just what was going on. Even out in the cold he could easily imagine the warmth and friendship and cheer of the people inside; of the lights on the tree; of the brown paper bags tied with bright ribbon that Grace Gibson had filled with fruit and nuts and candy from her store up Number 9; of how excited and happy the children were as they thought of the goodies the next morning would bring. “They are really quite like us when you get down to the basic things,” Mole thought to himself. He stayed long enough to hear Edit Atkinson at the organ and Mema at the piano start “Silent Night” and then hear the small group bravely begin to sing with Billy Adams’ clear and strong baritone rising above all the other voices. And as they finished with “sleep in heavenly peace” Mole remembered his destination and felt again the cold wind, now in his face. He turned and scurried up the road and on toward his home.
Even before he got half way across the filed, Mole was sure he could hear Squirrel; he almost thought he could see him squirreling quick, quick back and forth (oh, that’s what squirrels do—they don’t pace back and forth, they squirrel quick, quick back and forth) on that large branch up high in the oak tree where Squirrel and his family lived. But it was after dark and even though the stars were shining bright in a clear sky and even with the glasses Mole wears (the ones Little Lorrie found for him soon after they met years ago) he knew that he couldn’t see Squirrel. Mole did hear him though; and Mole knew what he was doing so it was almost like he could see Squirrel.
Mole figured that Squirrel was worried and fussing. He was right. Squirrel was really beside himself (and Squirrel can move so quickly that he can almost be beside himself when he wants to. At least that’s the way it looks to my slow eyes). Anyway Squirrel was saying (and saying it very quickly indeed so that you have to read his sentences at least three times as fast as normal, that’s why it’s written in smaller, faster type):
“Where is that Mole? He should have been here long ago. Bet he forgot. Forgot about our gifts. Our gifts in his spare bedroom. What are we gonna do? The kids will be so disappointed. Oh me, oh my. If Mole ever shows up around here again, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. I will; I will.”
When Mole got to the foot of the oak tree, he looked up, cupped his hands around his mouth, and called out: “Squi—rrrrel. It’s Mo—oooooole.”
Mole had to call out several times before Squirrel heard because he was fussing so. When he did hear, Squirrel said:
“Ah! Ah! Ah! There he is. Just wait. Just wait. Am I gonna give him a piece of my mind! Making me wait and worry like this. Just wait. Just wait. Ah! Ah! Ah!”
And he said this all the way down the tree. And he meant it. But when he got to the ground and was close enough to start his harangue, he could see the worried, sorrowful look on Mole’s face and he could not fuss. He could not.
“Hi, Mole. Merry Christmas! Good night for a walk.”
“Gee, Squirrel. I’m sorry. Sorry I’m so late. I was at Fox’s and I almost forgot.”
“No problem. No problem. Just in time. Besides a little anticipation is appropriate at Christmas. Right? Right. Now, let’s go get the gifts. Lots to do. Lots to do. Get your key out. You do have your key, right? Your door is locked. I tried it. Just to make sure your things were safe, you know. They are. Very safe. Very secure. Let’s go. Lots to do. Lots to do.”
You’ve seen it before. No one can be really angry at Mole—at least not for long. And even before they had made their way to Mole’s door, Squirrel had quite forgotten his anxiety and anger. Animals are good at not carrying around their angry stuff. We should be so wise.
When all the gifts were placed at the foot of the oak so that Squirrel could take them up the tree (Mole couldn’t help him with that task. Moles are diggers, not climbers), Mole asked Squirrel if he were going to Antioch.
“No. No. No. Too many young ones. Maybe next year. If you are going, better get started. A long walk. A cold night.”
“Yes. But at least the wind is dying down. Merry Christmas to you and your family.”
“Merry Christmas to you too, Mole. And thanks again for your help.” (Did you notice? Squirrel actually slowed down to make sure that Mole heard.)
Mole was lucky. The wind had died down so Mole’s walk back to Fox’s was not that bad. It was cold, but still and the sky was moonless and filled with stars. He was walking fast, but stopped a couple of times to catch his breath and look at the stars. Once when he was about half way down the hill to Thompson’s creek and within a half a mile of Fox’s house and thus quite sure that he would make it back in time for Antioch, Mole stopped and looked up for a long time. Then he began to turn slowly so he could take in all the stars and their patterns. The effect was, Mole thought, wonderful. The stars seemed to take on a movement of their own and to spin in patterns that didn’t match his movement. He began to feel that he was still and the starts were moving. Around and around he turned uttering little “ooooohs” and forgetting completely that he was turning until his body told him he was dizzy and he almost fell down.
Just as Mole started his little circular dance, a rabbit out foraging for last minute tidbits for his Christmas table came to the edge of the road. He stopped and watched the whole thing and didn’t move until Mole had walked a ways down the road. (Though for the first ten or fifteen yards, it was more wobble than walk. Mole was quite dizzy.) The rabbit moved away shaking his head, snickering, and muttering to himself: “I’ve been down a lot of rabbit holes, but I’ve never seen anything quite like that.”
Within fifteen minutes, Mole was down the hole under the big hickory root—the hole that lead to Fox’s place. He opened the door, quickly closing it behind him so not much cold air would spill in. When he turned back toward the room, he saw Fox sitting in his big overstuffed chair reading a book. Pup was standing (a bit impatiently, Mole thought) with his back to the fire—the warm fire Mole had to leave hours ago when he started his journey.
“Ah, Mole. Welcome back,” said Fox. “Pup here was wondering if you would get back in time to go to Antioch. I told him that you would for sure and that it would take about fifteen minutes longer. And how long ago was that Pup?”
“Fifteen minutes. Are you always right, Fox?”
“Not often enough, Pup. Not often enough. Warm your hands and face a bit, Mole, and then we’d best be going.”
Pup chimed in with: “and why don’t you have some hot tea. It wouldn’t take a minute to heat the water on the fire.”
“Oh, thank you, Pup. But that would never do. Not right before going to Antioch.”
“What is it with this Antioch anyway? You two have not let me eat or drink anything but cold water since breakfast. Why? It doesn’t make sense.”
Fox just smiled and said, “You’ll see. You’ll see.” And as soon as Mole had warmed his hands at the fire, Fox banked the coals and they bundled up and headed out into the cold, clear Christmas Eve air.
They walked to the road, turned right, crossed Thompson Creek, and started climbing the hill. As soon as they were on the road and could walk side by side, Pup started in again: “What is this Antioch? Why are we going there so late on Christmas Eve? Why wouldn’t you let me eat today? I don’t understand. You two are usually such reasonable creatures.”
Fox grew tired of the questions before they were halfway up the hill. He finally responded, using that firm, authoritatiCopyright 2007, William Riversve voice he uses when he grows impatient: “Pup, you will see when we get there. Our tradition is not to talk on the way there or the way back. You will understand it all on your own. Be patient.” And then Fox patted Pup on the shoulder.
The pat told Pup that Fox still liked him. Fox’s tone told Pup that he should not say anything else. He didn’t. He wanted to, but he didn’t.
Just before they got to the top of the hill they turned left onto a dirt road that soon took them into a deeply forested area. The trees were close on either side of the road—so close that Pup could see only the stars that were directly overhead. The darkness made him a bit uneasy. He wanted to say something then. But he didn’t. He did walk closer to Fox, though.
Then they cam to another road and turned right onto it. The woods seemed even deeper and darker. Pup wanted even more to say something. But he didn’t’. He did move even closer to Fox. He noticed that Mole seemed closer to him on the other side.
As they continued to walk on this road, the darkness grew; the trees almost seemed to meet over their heads. Then after a mile or so on this road Pup could see a bit of a break in the trees on the right. As they got closer he could see that it was a definite opening in the woods and he could see stars closer to the horizon over the tree line. But the extra light enabled Pup to see what was in the clearing. Pup stopped. He did not want to go any further—especially when he felt that Fox and Mole were turning to walk in that direction.
What Pup saw disturbed him. On the right side of that opening in the woods, he saw a dark old building—an old church. Even in the dim starlight, Pup could see that the church was deserted and had broken windows and missing boards. The boards were all dark and didn’t seem to have ever been painted. All that dark wood almost made the church blend in with the darkness of the woods. But the structure was large enough and visible enough that it loomed in the night’s darkness, its high and pointed roofline clearly visible against the sky making what seemed an unnatural and forbidding statement in the dark, but natural landscape. And behind the church and to the left, Pup could see tombstones in a cemetery, their irregular shapes in stone and marble slightly more visible in the starlight.
No, no. Pup did not want to go any further. Then Pup felt Fox’s paw on his right side and Mole’s on his left and felt them, without words, urge him on. His trust of Fox and Mole was stronger than his fear and he moved with them. But he stayed very, very close.
They walked to the right front of the church past the front door and its missing front steps to a place on the side of the church where missing and broken boards offered an opening. Fox climbed through the hole into the church; Pup and Mole followed.
Once they were inside the church it took even Pup’s sharp animal eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness. But when they did he was amazed. For what he saw was that the church was filled with animals—animals of all kinds. Animals who at other times during the years were enemies were right there standing side by side without fear or worry. He saw mice and raccoons and opossums and porcupines and skunks and rabbits and a couple of beavers and squirrels and several other foxes and moles. He saw animals he had never seen before, but could guess from their shapes and sizes and equipment whether they were diggers or stalkers or foragers. He saw tow large cat-like creatures that he guessed were bobcats, animals he had only hear, screaming in the night. On the exposed rafters overhead he saw all kinds of birds: cardinals, sparrows, wrens, jays, but also, on the same perches, larger birds of prey—owls and hawks. And as he was looking up, he saw a very large bird, one he took to be an eagle, fly in through an opening at the end of the church and alight on a rafter next to several doves who moved over, not out of fear, but to make more room. On other lower perches he even saw game chickens and a few wild turkeys. And as he looked about the large room, Pup saw several deer thrust their heads through broken windows.
Pup was surprised because though he was still cold, he felt no fear. He did wonder mightily at what he was seeing. They all waited, quietly, in stillness for a while, and then, just at twelve, just at the end of Christmas Even and the beginning of Christmas Day, Pup noticed that the church seemed to fill with a soft glow. And then he began to feel around him a special warmth and within him a sweet fullness – a warmth and sweetness that he had never felt before. He glanced up and all the other animals had bowed their heads. He did too.
Then, after a few minutes, the glow faded and the animals quietly and slowly began to move out of the church to return to their nests and burrows. As they left, they greeted each other silently with nods and smiles.
Fox, Mole, and Pup returned to Fox’s home in silence, the warmth and fullness still with them. They did not feel the cold. They slept warm and snug all that night and all Christmas Day they did not eat and did not feel hunger because of the sweet and peaceful fullness that lasted. Pup now knew about Antioch, but he also knew that it was not just something that happened at Antioch. That special thing happened wherever the animals gathered on Christmas Eve and sought communion and peace.
Early in the morning on the day after Christmas Day Fox, Mole and Pup started preparing the meal they enjoyed that evening. They had corn and beans and sweet potatoes fixed in a souffle and several casseroles made with squash and cheese and onions and all kinds of breads and sweet muffins and hot apple juice spiced with cinnamon and, man, I get hungry just thinking about it all. After they had eaten (and cleaned up, they are neat creatures), they exchanged gifts. Mole got a muffler (one that he wished he had had on Christmas Eve) and a case for his glasses so they wouldn’t get scratched while he wasn’t wearing them (like when he was digging). Pup got a cap and a hot water bottle to put on his leg when it ached because of changes in the weather. Pup and Mole went together to get Fox a book he had long wanted for his collection –a history of Baroque and Classical music. For the next several days they ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company (though Fox did spend a lot of time reading and humming over his new book, as we knew he would).
Several days later Mole left to return to his house. Fox and Pup tried to convince him to stay, but Mole had other things on his mind: “I really enjoy being with you, especially at Christmas. Our times together make me stronger all through the year, especially when I am alone. But now it is time for me to return home to my place and my work. I really need to start a new tunnel tomorrow.”
Fox worried at this because he knew that new tunnels were often dangerous and he knew that Mole had experienced several close calls in the bast. But he only admonished Mole to be careful. Danger, he knew, was a part of life for the animals.
So they parted happily and Mole walked back to his snug home near Mt. Croghan. He thought of his friends as he fell asleep and dreamed that night of digging a long, wonderfully successful tunnel.
And despite a few big rocks that he had to work around, the digging went well for Mole the next day—and for many days after that.
(scroll down for recorded versions)