Christmas at Eagle Pond

Christmas at Eagle Pond

4.1 28
by Donald Hall, Mary Azarian
     
 

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Donald Hall draws on his own childhood memories and gives himself the thing he most wanted but didn't get as a boy: a Christmas at Eagle Pond.

It’s the Christmas season of 1940, and twelve-year-old Donnie takes the train to visit his grandparents' place in rural New Hampshire. Once there, he quickly settles into the farm’s routines. In the barn,

Overview

Donald Hall draws on his own childhood memories and gives himself the thing he most wanted but didn't get as a boy: a Christmas at Eagle Pond.

It’s the Christmas season of 1940, and twelve-year-old Donnie takes the train to visit his grandparents' place in rural New Hampshire. Once there, he quickly settles into the farm’s routines. In the barn, Gramp milks the cows and entertains his grandson by speaking rhymed pieces, while Donnie’s eyes are drawn to an empty stall that houses a graceful, cobwebby sleigh. Now Model A's speed over the wintry roads, which must be plowed, and the beautiful sleigh has become obsolete. When the church pageant is over, the gifts are exchanged, and the remains of the Christmas feast put away, the air becomes heavy with fine snowflakes—the kind that fall at the start of a big storm—and everyone wonders, how will Donnie get back to his parents on time?

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A brief, charming tale of one boy's Christmas. The book takes place in 1940, before Christmas garnered such modern-day angst, and former poet laureate Hall (The Back Chamber, 2011, etc.) imagines a five-day holiday at his grandparents' farm at Eagle Pond, N.H. Lush descriptions of his grandmother preparing home-cooked meals on a woodstove, listening to his grandfather recite poetry while milking cows in the frigid barn and making popcorn balls to hang on the church Christmas tree mingle with scenes of family and friends gathered to celebrate the holiday. Far from home and his ill mother, little Donnie thrives in the love and warmth that radiates from his extended family members as they share tales of their own youths or listen to the radio. Although a flush toilet and bathroom are installed next to the dining room, most use the five-hole outhouse when there's company. Hot-water bottles at the end of the bed are a must to drive away the deep cold. The church Christmas pageant is full of hymns, recitations and the reenactment of the birth of Jesus in the stable. These events connect Donnie to his mother and her memories of the same experiences. Christmas morning brings hand-knitted mittens, a scarf and a prized book of poetry. And yet, even in that simpler time, Donnie longs for even older days, when horses and sleighs ruled the snow-covered roads. The time flies by, and all too soon, Donnie must board the train back to his life in Connecticut. But will a Christmas storm make traveling to the train station impossible? The sweet remembrances of a time gone by when life was a bit slower and Christmas was not so stressful.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547581507
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
11/20/2012
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
96
Sales rank:
864,007
File size:
4 MB

Read an Excerpt

SUNDAY

ON THE WINTER SOLSTICE of 1940, the darkest day, I rode a train into central New Hampshire. I was twelve and traveled for Christmas to my grandparents’ Eagle Pond Farm, where I spent summers haying with my grandfather. The Boston and Maine passenger train was a puffing steam engine followed by a coal car, a mail car, and a coach barely populated. We slowed and stopped in West Andover, at the tiny depot called Gale, and the conductor—in the summer he wore a handkerchief tucked between his collar and his neck—set down the yellow step for me to descend with my suitcase. Dimly in the darkness, I saw what I looked for: my grandfather Wesley Wells with his horse and buggy, Gramp whispering into Riley’s ear because the clatter of the train made him skittery.
   We said, “Gramp!” “Donnie!” and hugged. We stuffed my suitcase behind the buggy’s seat. My grandfather had always before picked me up in the high light of June. This Sunday it was wholly dark at six P.M., with scrappy snow on the ground. I saw that Gramp had hung oil lamps at the front and back of the buggy, and now—having snuffed them out to save kerosene as he waited for my train—he lit them again with a wooden kitchen match. We climbed into the seat and set out for the farm. There were few cars on the road, but we needed to be visible as we rattled down Route 4 with wheels in the gutter. Two Model A’s pulled around us. We passed the glacial boulder looming through the darkness at the side of the road. Riley shied at it, although he had passed it ten thousand times.
   After we spoke encouraging words about my mother’s operation, we hardly talked; we were both too excited. Ahead I watched for the lights of Eagle Pond Farm, and soon I saw not only the porch light but through the window a lighted Christmas tree.

My parents and I lived in Hamden, Connecticut, a suburb of New Haven. I was a single child, like so many during the Depression. My mother’s operation had been successful—she would recover fully—but medical habits were different in those days, and my mother remained in the hospital ten days. Soon she would be home, in bed upstairs; there would be little Christmas in Hamden on December 25. For many years I had asked my parents if we could drive north to the farm for Christmas, because I wanted to see it in winter, and because my mother had entertained me with her girlhood memories of Christmas there. This year they let me go by myself. It was my biggest present.
   My father drove me to the New Haven railroad station
—a great cathedral, high-ceilinged over rows of benches, one wall grated with ticket stalls. We bought my ticket to Boston, and my father nervously put me and my suitcase on the streamliner, its engine shaped like a bullet wearing skirts. I took a window seat as the train puffed through the railway yards past empty passenger cars and unloaded freight trains. We chugged by rows of houses beside the noisy tracks and emerged into a countryside bordered by Long Island Sound. Between the train and the water hovered the remains of a derelict trolley line that once took passengers, with many stops and transfers, from Boston down the coast to New Haven. Over the marshes, the broken line swooped on great wooden trestles, dangling tracks where a thousand seagulls perched.
   The train stopped in New London, Westerly, Kingston, Providence, Back Bay, and finally pulled into Boston’s enormous South Station. My aunt Nan, youngest of three Eagle Pond sisters, was waiting for me as I stepped off the streamliner. She was working in a Boston bookstore while her husband did a stint in the Coast Guard. My parents had been relieved that she could lead me across Boston, although I could have done it myself. I felt babied. A yellow cab took us to the smaller and older North Station, where the Boston and Maine dispatched trains north to Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. I bought my ticket and waited an hour talking with my aunt before departure. We hugged and said goodbye, and I climbed into the little train we called the Peanut. There were two passenger cars, and I boarded the front one because the second would be dropped off at the big city of Manchester, New Hampshire. The Peanut went all the way to White River Junction in Vermont, stopping at a dozen depots on the way, and returned the morning after. Now it passed through the populous area north of Boston, through Lowell and Lawrence and into farming country. For the first time I looked at snow on hayfields, and on barns that sheltered Holstein cattle. Approaching Manchester I watched as houses displaced fields. We dropped the second car and headed toward Concord, the state capital, where a railway station rose on the alluvial plain of the Merrimack River. Then the Peanut stopped every few miles—Penacook, Boscawen, past farmland into the market town of Franklin. We stopped at the East Andover depot named Halcyon, three miles later Andover, two miles later Potter Place, two miles later West Andover, where my grandfather waited at its depot called Gale. The stations were close together because, not so long in the past, farmers carted their milk by oxen to the railroad’s morning milk car, on its way to Boston and H. P. Hood. These days, a truck picked up the cans at Eagle Pond Farm.

We pulled into the U-shaped driveway, my grandmother smiling in the kitchen door wearing a cardigan over her print dress and apron. While my grandfather backed the buggy into the carriage shed, detached Riley, and led him to his stall, my grandmother Kate held me close. I followed her into the kitchen, warm from the range’s fire. Gramp had finished his chores and supper before picking me up, and now he joined us as Gram served me baked beans with brown bread. I was mopping up the last of the beans when the telephone rang twice, which on our party line meant that the call was for us. Central told Gram that it was person-to-person for Donnie Hall, which didn’t surprise anybody. Gram gave me the phone, and I heard my mother’s frail voice from the hospital bed. I told her I was fine, how was she? She was feeling stronger, she said, and handed the phone to my father. He repeated that my mother felt better. “By the time you get back,” he said, “her doctor says she’ll be home. Soon she’ll be downstairs sitting up.”
   The cows already milked, now Gramp shut up the chickens, and we sat in the living room, warmed by the Glenwood stove. My grandfather spoke vigorously of “Franklin Delano Roosevelt”—Gramp sounded like a Fourth of July orator—and his reelection last month, the first third term for an American president. Gramp was the world’s most enthusiastic Democrat; possibly he was New Hampshire’s only Democrat. His father had been a Copperhead, and brought up his children to despise Lincoln’s party, although he fought in the Civil War to march with his neighbors. Gramp’s voice quieted down as we spoke together of the war in Europe, and how we would inevitably join it—despite the crazies at America First yelling about staying out. We talked until we turned on the radio that took up a corner of the room. On weekdays in summer evenings, we listened to Gabriel Heatter’s booming dramatic voice, as plump as a pumpkin, when he gave his nine o’clock fifteen minutes of news. Today was Sunday and we heard an ordinary voice. The Luftwaffe’s incendiaries burned London; Piccadilly was in flames. When the news ended it was time for bed. My grandmother drank her cheese glass of warm Moxie; my grandfather slurped his bread and milk. Gram took the kettle from the range and filled hot-water bottles. I walked through their icy bedroom to mine, even icier, and stuffed my hot-water bottle under the sheets to warm my feet. Crawling beneath the covers I shivered a moment, but the quilts were thick, my feet almost too hot, and soon I fell asleep in my familiar goosefeather bed at the house I loved most in the world.

Meet the Author

DONALD HALL, who served as poet laureate of the United States from 2006 to 2007, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president.



Caldecott Medalist Mary Azarian is a consummate gardener and a skilled and original woodblock artist. Many of her prints are heavily influenced by her love of gardening, and her turn-of-the-century farmhouse is surrounded by gardens that reveal an artist's vision. Mary Azarian received the 1999 Caldecott Medal for SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. She lives, skis, and gardens in Vermont.

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Christmas at Eagle Pond 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Be aware this is a short story, only 43 pages.
cjva More than 1 year ago
I had read some of Donald Hall's poetry and when this became available on Nook's "Daily Find" I decided it would make a nice addition to my holiday books. The way you should read this book is with snow falling outside, a fire in the fireplace, and a mug of hot chocolate in your hand. But it's still enjoyable with no snow, fire or hot chocolate. A sweet story of a long-ago New England Christmas (1940) with loving grandparents and a 12-year-old boy. The ending was predictable, but that didn't lessen the enjoyment of the book at all. After reading the book, you must read the Author's Note. I won't say why.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A lovely short story at Christmastime. Brings to life a time when life was less complicated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A large dorm with pale brown walls and a polished wooden floor. It has two bedrooms and a single bath. It has a kitchenet.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Investigates the new clan area. "Hello? Is anybody here?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Waited for cats and kits
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and provided a nice, personal perspective on the holiday season.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
librarysusie More than 1 year ago
This is a short novella about a young man&rsquo;s/boy&rsquo;s Christmas at his grandparent&rsquo;s farm in 1940 it is literally just a slice of life, he talks about working on the farm and milking cows and talks with his grandfather it is a nice story but I guess I kept waiting for more to happen but nothing happens it is just a snippet of time that takes you back to a slower easier time. I liked the ending and could feel the snow and smell the farm, and I too wanted a ride in the sleigh. I enjoyed the postscript by the author of what this event in his life really was, make sure you read all the way to end the end to get the rest of the story. A charming nostalgic tale I would recommend for a read around Christmas. 3 &frac12; stars I received this from netgalley & the publisher for a fair and honest review
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though not from the same geographical area, I could "feel" the bitter cold, as the author and his grandparents struggled with that kind of life. But, even more so, I experienced the joys of their close family living. It is the kind of book I can read again, and enjoy it just as much!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great story!
grandma-65 More than 1 year ago
Loved this author - am ashamed that I did not know of him before! Great storyteller and to realize at the end that this was his own memory of going to his grandparents for Christmas, made it even better. Definitely will look up more of his writings and poems! Loved a little history, the train stops to N.H. and the way things were a few short years ago.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Donald Hall writes with an unerring sense of time and place. I first met Wesley and Kate Wells in "Kicking the Leaves". Through the eyes of Hall, their grandson, we see a picture of the good life: happy and useful, full of love for their family, where meaning accumulates in the repitition of humble tasks. I long to visit their Mt. Kearsarge, but that time has long past, and only a writer as gifted as Hall can bring it back to life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sure it sounds good but eleven dollars? Ouch. Expensive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it then rate it you silly goose.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You shouldnt say anything u probaly cant write a book let alone publish one if u dont have anything nice to say then just keep it to your self This is a great book you should read it !! :-)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You should never give a bad review if you haven't read the book. There have been many books I have read that I was actually very surprised that I loved them after I gave them a chance. Not very nice to judge something if you haven't given it a chance yourself. Just for that post, 5 stars!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago