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Charlie, the Christmas CamelA Christmas Story to Remember
By Carol Katrana
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Carol Katrana
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAnna's Surprise
* * *
It was 1954 and the snow had not yet made its way south. The days were cold though and they were short as darkness came in early.
In the town of Tattenhall, lived a family named the Morgans, Mama, Papa, and Anna. Surrounded by rolling hills, they lived on the outskirts of town at the end of Rocky Ridge Road. The family farm house carried a wide front porch and its white two-story frame stood at attention underneath the green tin roof. Smoke curled into ribbons as it rose from the Morgan's tall chimney and the trees were bare, exceptin' the pine trees, whose needles rustled in the winter wind. Yes indeed, it was now Christmastime.
Beside the house, across the dusty driveway, sat a weathered barn, where the wood had turned gray from ageing and the metal roof showed signs of rust. This year the Morgan's barn had been selected by the locals of Tattenhall to be the site of the annual Christmas pageant. This year the production would be about the nativity and preparations were in full swing as the pageant was drawing near.
Mama Morgan loved to bake and on this cloudy morning she was busy in the kitchen baking gingerbread cookies. She hummed at the kitchen sink as she washed up metal mixing bowls and placed them into the kitchen cabinets. Wearing her favorite lime green apron with red cherries on front, her auburn hair outlined her kind round face and her blue eyes twinkled beneath her wavy bangs as she sniffed the air and took in the yummy smells surrounding her. When the kitchen timer buzzed she knew it was time to pull the cookies out of the oven and dusting her hands on her apron, she glanced at the clock above the stove. It was 9:45 and in fifteen minutes Miss Sarah Tipton would be arriving.
Sarah was the grade school's music teacher and it was her job to oversee the younger children who would be singin' in the Christmas pageant. Out of respect, she like all the women in Tattenhall were given the title of Miss, so she was known to all as Miss Sarah. She had spiked red hair, wore bright red glasses and because she was petite, she always wore spiked heels. She looked intimidatin' and she walked with quick short steps, as if she was always in a hurry. She was also very strict about being on time and Mama knew when Miss Sarah arrived; there would be no pleasin' her if Anna was not in her spot.
Using two mitts to protect her hands, Mama pulled the gingerbread cookies out of the oven. As she placed them on a cooling rack, she began to look around the kitchen and out the window toward the barn; but Anna was nowhere to be seen. Straightening her apron, as she walked through the house, Mama called, "Anna, where are you? Come here, this minute. It's time for you to dress in your angel costume. Miss Sarah and the angel choir will be here soon to rehearse the choir's music for the pageant. Anna, Anna, where are you?"
But Anna did not answer, because she was behind the weathered barn where she had been pickin' berries from the holly bushes. And at this moment, she was standing very still. For having walked from behind a row of pine trees and now standing five feet in front of her was a camel, a camel with no humps.
Anna, age six, was dressed in her white sweatshirt and blue overalls and her heavy jacket remained unzipped so she could stuff her new collection of berries into her pockets. With freckles sprinkled across her nose, she stared through big blue eyes as her brown pigtails fell into ringlets behind her fuzzy white earmuffs. She studied the camel and unable to determine what it was, she wiggled her fingers inside her gloves and beckoned the unexpected animal toward her.
"Come here little one and let me pet your head. Are you lost?"
About the size of a pony, the small animal, who could talk, walked forward.
"I am Charlie, the Camel. Can you help me? I'm a runaway and now I'm lost. I'm in trouble and I need a place to hide."
Anna blinked her eyes in surprise.
"But are you really a camel? Why can you talk? Where are your humps?"
Upon hearing the questions, Charlie's head drooped, "I don't know why I can talk and my humps have disappeared because I'm worried about what to do. But, most certainly, I'm a camel, a hungry camel, and a camel who's all alone," and then he began to sniffle.
Anna rubbed her knees, thinkin' this was all very strange and exciting, and she watched Charlie paw the ground as he waited for her to answer his plea for help. At the same time Mama came out of the kitchen and standing on the back porch, she called again, "Anna, it's time for your choir practice. Come to the house at once."
With no time to think things through, Anna gasped, "Oh my, that's my Mama callin' for me! I've gotta go! It's time for the angel choir and me to sing with Miss Sarah. Here, move by these evergreen bushes over here; they don't have stickers like the holly bushes do. We'll make this our secret meetin' place and when I come back, we'll figure out what needs to be done. I'm pretty sure I can help you."
Charlie bobbled his head.
"Thank you! Thank you ever so much! I'm in a real fix. Did your Mama call you Anna? Is that your name? Thanks some more. I can't thank you enough."
As Charlie continued to thank Anna, she interrupted, "Your welcome Charlie and yes my name is Anna. Now listen, Mama baked gingerbread cookies this morning. Since you're hungry, I'll bring you some later; but for now, I have to skedaddle."
Charlie watched Anna run toward the house and mulled over her words. What had she said? She had to go to angel choir practice? He'd heard about angels and thought they were supposed to have wings and halos. As he pondered the mystery of angels his stomach rumbled reminding him of Anna's other words, the words about bringing him cookies. He wondered if Mama's cookies were anything like his biscuits and he tried to imagine what a cookie would look like and taste like and smell like, and oh, the possibilities were endless of what a cookie could be.
As Anna darted for the back door, she stole a look over her shoulder and now covered in dust, she stomped her shoes and smacked her mittens as she entered the kitchen. "Anna, what am I gonna do with you?" asked Mama. "You can get into more grit and grime than anyone I know. Come here and let's wash you off before Miss Sarah arrives," Anna stepped over to the kitchen sink and thinking about her secret behind the barn, she began to scrub her hands, her neck and her face. When she'd washed herself off, she held her hands in the air for Mama's inspection and tried to focus on getting ready for choir practice. "Is this better Mama?" Anna asked, and as water dripped onto the pine-wood floor the door bell began to ring.
"Goodness me," replied Mama, "it must be the angel choir!" Hurrying to the front door, she called from the hallway, "You've cleaned yourself up just in the nick of time. Wipe up the floor and then dry off. You still need to run upstairs and find your costume." Turning toward the front door, Mama then beamed, "My, my, look at all the angels gracin' my front porch," and as she opened the door, she was soon surrounded by halos, giggles and wings.
In the kitchen, Anna wiped the floor, patted her hands and at once, raced upstairs to her bedroom. Upon entering her room she pitched the damp towel on the floor, and closed her door. She had a lot to think about, seein' as she had a big secret, and her favorite place to ponder important matters was sittin' in her chair by the window. Taking her seat, she studied the clouds as they hung in the sky and forgetting about the angel choir, she became lost in her thoughts as she began looking around the front yard. To her amazement, there stood Charlie! He had left his hiding spot and was now peekin' from behind the bushes well beyond the old oak tree. Anna opened her window and began flapping her arms.
"Get back behind the barn, Charlie."
Miss Sarah had yet to enter the house and she was fit to be tied. Standing in the front yard, she looked up at Anna with her jaw set and her eyes flashing.
"Anna Morgan, why are you hanging out of your window waving your arms and who are you talking to? Get down stairs at once. It's time for our rehearsal."
Anna gave no response to Miss Sarah but she did glance toward the bushes once more and was reassured as Charlie crouched out of sight. Feeling somewhat calmer, she then rummaged under her bed, grabbed her halo and sprinted down the stairs.
Sliding into the living room, where Miss Sarah and the angel choir were now waiting, Anna's tinseled halo sat in an untidy heap above her pigtails. As she took in the choir members' costumes, she realized she'd forgotten her angel wings and Miss Sarah was now glaring.
"Anna if you're going to sing in this choir, you must come to rehearsal on time and be dressed in your costume."
Before Miss Sarah could say another word, Anna mumbled, "Yes Mam," and then up the stairs she flew to retrieve her wings.
Reaching her bedroom, Anna sped to her window and peered out, but Charlie was nowhere to be seen and she was having her doubts about keeping him hidden. This secret was quickly becoming complex but the cold air was blowing in on her face so she closed her window and shook off the chill she felt around her. As she snapped the window-latch tight, Miss Sarah shouted from the living room. "Anna! Get down stairs before I come up to get you myself. It's time to rehearse." With her nerves now jangling and no time to spare, Anna found her wings by her dresser and pulled them on as she raced downstairs.
In her hurry, Anna didn't notice she was wearin' her angel's wings upside down and Miss Sarah frowned as she entered the room. Unaware of her muddled appearance, Anna fiddled with her crooked halo, and stepping quickly, she took her spot on the back row of the choir.
Chapter TwoMiss Sarah's Angels
* * *
In the far corner of the room, Miss Sarah dinged her teacher's bell as Anna and the angel choir squirmed and stood facing her. "Attention angels," she called from her place by the piano. "All eyes on me, please. Now that school's let out for the holiday break, I know you're excited but I need you to focus. This will be our last practice before the pageant because today is December 21st and we only have two more days until your performance. I thought after our rehearsal we'd walk out to the barn so you can see where we'll be singing. I think we'll have the best seats in the house because we'll be up in the hayloft, across from the manger scene. This is it, so let's have a good practice today. Are you ready to begin?"
Anna thought Miss Sarah's idea of visiting the barn was a terrible idea. She was worried and wondered if Charlie would be seen by the other angels as they walked to the barn. But the choir members were unaware of Anna's dilemma and they clapped in anticipation of the pageant. Miss Sarah rang her bell once more to settle everyone down.
"Your first song is Angels, Angels, We are Watching. How many of you remember the words?"
Everyone raised their hands and Miss Sarah said, "All right then. Good, I'm glad to see you've been practicing. Let's run through the song; and on the count of three, one, two, and three ..."
Miss Sarah played the upright piano but Anna's thoughts were preoccupied with a talking camel that had no humps. Unable to recall the words of the song, she silently began to mouth the word "watermelon" over and over again as the members of the angel choir started to sing aloud.
Meanwhile, Charlie had grown curious about Anna's choir and eager to learn more about her he decided to investigate. Leaving his new-found hiding place he made his way into the driveway and lifted his head toward the sky. Turning toward the direction of the house he could clearly hear Miss Sarah playing the piano and wishing to listen in, he trotted toward the sound of the music. As the sound of the piano grew louder, he became downright nosy, and upon reaching the front porch, he climbed the steps and approached the living room window.
From where he now stood, he could see his Anna and of all things, she was wearing her wings and halo. Ha! He'd thought she might be an angel, and now he had seen the proof with his own two eyes! Wanting to join in her rehearsal, he pressed his nose against a pane of glass and soon he was swaying to the music as Miss Sarah played the piano. It wasn't long before he was quietly hummin' with the choir as they sang.
Naturally, Anna had heard the footsteps as they clomped about and taking her eyes off Miss Sarah she looked toward the front door and then scanned the room and front porch. When she spied Charlie's nose in the corner of the window, her knees just about gave out. She certainly was filled with panic. Alarmed Miss Sarah would see him too, Anna began to cough and cough and cough.
"Good grief, Anna, what's wrong with you?" asked Miss Sarah. "I need water, lots of water," replied Anna. "All this singin' has strained my voice."
Miss Sarah, most impatient, huffed, "For heaven sakes, we've barely sung one song! There's a pitcher of water beside the cookies on the coffee table. Take a drink and then we need to return to our music." Miss Sarah then looked at the remaining singers.
"All right choir, take a five minute break and then we will begin, again."
Being an observant camel, Charlie noticed Anna's look of alarm and judging from her expression, he decided he'd best be leaving. In no time, he jumped off the porch and streaked across the side yard. He was heading back behind the barn and was in a hurry to find his spot by the bushes with no stickers. Relieved Charlie had not been noticed; Anna downed her cup of water and went straight away to the window. Not wanting Charlie to be seen as he raced across the yard, Anna yanked the heavy curtains across the picture window and acting as if it was perfectly natural to close the curtains, she started turning on table lamps around the living room.
Miss Sarah stared in disbelief.
"Anna Morgan, your actions are confounding this morning. Why did you close the curtains?"
"Well, Miss Sarah, the sun was hurtin' my eyes. I thought I'd close the curtains so I could see you better."
With no patience left, Miss Sarah snapped.
"There's no sun shining through the window this morning. It's cloudy outside, and you're disrupting practice. Clearly you've become a misfit for this choir Anna, and as of this moment, I've decided you're no longer a singing angel. Because your actions have upset our practice schedule, you are dismissed and may go to your room."
Miss Sarah was having a bad morning it seemed, and now she had shared her bad morning with Anna. But Anna was quite relieved. Charlie had gotten away, unnoticed, and even though Anna didn't break out into a big smile, she was feeling almost jubilant.
On the other hand, Mama, who had kept herself busy in the kitchen, overheard Miss Sarah's loud voice and hurtful words, and she was furious. She was certain Anna must be feelin' disheartened and like any protective mother, she simply couldn't stand for it. With that thought in her mind, her spine stiffened and she made a bee-line toward the living room.
As Mama stormed into the room, Anna thought for sure she was in trouble and without a sound she took a seat on the cold, hard floor and waited for Mama's scolding. She was happy Charlie had escaped but she wasn't looking forward to Mama's lecture. Bracing herself, she waited and thought about how she'd explain her actions. With her fists clenched, Mama's voice then cracked.
"Miss Sarah, you're being snooty to my Anna. Perhaps we should rename you, Miss Sarah Snooty, instead of Miss Sarah Tipton. The name would fit you better. Now unless you can apologize to Anna, you may consider yourself dismissed and return to your bus!"
Anna was stunned by this turn of events and she looked toward Miss Sarah as the moment grew from bad to worse.
Miss Sarah, of course, was embarrassed by Mama's outburst, and her face turned as red as her hair and redder than her reading glasses. Turning on her spiked heels to leave, she then opened the front door and whirled around.
"Well, you, Mrs. Morgan are nothing more than a patoot and there is nothing sweet about you or your little Anna. She's maddening, that child, and it was a mistake to allow her to sing in my choir!"
Looking at the members of the choir now scattered around the room, Miss Sarah bellowed.
"Come along angels, we'll finish our rehearsal on the bus. It's time to leave." By this time, there was no mistakin' it; Miss Sarah was mad as a wet hen and her bad beginning of a morning had erupted into a dreadful, horrible mess.
She slammed the front door as she left the house and marched down the steps of the front porch. With her nose in the air, she led her young singers, dressed in their wings and their halos, into the front yard and counted their heads as they boarded the angel choir bus. When the bus turned on to Rocky Ridge Road and headed back to town, Mrs. Sarah saw something standing by the bushes behind the barn, but she was much too upset to notice it was a camel with no humps.
Excerpted from Charlie, the Christmas Camel by Carol Katrana Copyright © 2012 by Carol Katrana. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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