Christmas Day in the Morning Pearl S. Buck
Pre-class Work I
Read the text once for the main idea. Do not refer to the notes, dictionaries or the glossary yet.
He woke suddenly and completely. It was four o'clock, the hour at which his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking. Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still! His father had been dead for thirty years, and yet he still woke at four o'clock in the morning. But this morning, because it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep again.
Yet what was the magic of Christmas now? His childhood and youth were long past, and his own children had grown up and gone.
Yesterday his wife had said, "It isn't worthwhile, perhaps— "
And he had said, "Yes, Alice, even if there are only the two of us, let's have a Christmas of our own."
Then she had said, "Let's not trim the tree until tomorrow, Robert. I'm tired."
He had agreed, and the tree was still out by the back door.
He lay in his bed in his room.
Why did he feel so awake tonight? For it was still night, a clear and starry night. No moon, of course, but the stars were extraordinary! Now that he thought of it, the stars seemed always large and clear before the dawn of Christmas Day.
He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays. He was fifteen years old and still on his father's farm. He loved his father. He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas, when he had overheard what his father was saying to his mother.
"Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings. He's growing so fast, and he needs his sleep. I wish I could manage alone."
"Well, you can't, Adam." His mother's voice was brisk, "Besides, he isn't a child any more. It's time he took his turn."
"Yes," his father said slowly, "But I sure do hate to wake him."
When he heard these words, something in him woke: his father loved him! He had never thought of it before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Now that he knew his father loved him, there would be no more loitering in the mornings and having to be called again. He got up, stumbling blind with sleep, and pulled on his clothes.
And then on the night before Christmas, he lay thinking about the next day. They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and in the mince pies his mother made. His sisters sewed presents, and his mother and father always bought something he needed, a warm jacket, maybe, or a book. And he always saved and bought them each something, too.
He wished, that Christmas he was fifteen, he had a better present for his father instead of the usual tie from the ten-cent store. He lay on his side and looked out of his attic window.
"Dad," he had once asked when he was a little boy, "What is a stable?"
"It's just a barn," his father had replied, "like ours."
Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds and the Wise Men had come, bringing their Christmas gifts!
A thought struck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift, out there in the barn? He could get up earlier, creep into the barn and get all the milking done. And then when his father went in to start the milking, he'd see it all done.
He laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars. It was what he would do, and he mustn't sleep too soundly.
He must have waked twenty times, striking a match each time to look at his old watch.
At a quarter to three, he got up and crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out. A big star hung low over the roof, a reddish gold. The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised. It was early for them, too.
But they accepted him calmly and he brought some hay for each cow and then got the milking pail and the big milk cans.
He had never milked all alone before, but it seemed almost easy. He smiled and milked steadily, two strong streams rushing into the pail, frothing and fragrant. The cows were behaving well, as though they knew it was Christmas.
The task went more easily than he had ever known it to before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was a gift to his father. He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed the milk-house door carefully, making sure of the latch. He put the stool in its place by the door and hung up the clean milk pail. Then he went out of the barn and barred the door behind him.
Back in his room he had only a minute to pull off his clothes and jump into bed, before he heard his father get up. He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing. The door opened.
"Rob! " his father called. "We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas."
"Aw-right," he said sleepily.
"I'll go on out," his father said. "I'll get things started."
The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself. In just a few minutes his father would know. His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.
The minutes were endless—ten, fifteen, he did not know how many—and he heard his father's footsteps again. The door opened.
"You son of a—" His father was laughing, a queer sobbing sort of a laugh. "Thought you'd fool me, did you?" His father was standing beside his bed, feeling for him, pulling away the cover.
He found his father and clutched him in a great hug. He felt his father's arms go around him. It was dark, and they could not see each other's faces.
"Son, I thank you. Nobody ever did a nicer thing—"
"It's for Christmas, Dad!"
He did not know what to say. His heart was bursting with love.
"Well. I guess I can go back to sleep," his father said after a moment. "No, come to think of it, son, I've never seen you children when you first saw the Christmas tree. I was always in the barn. Come on!"
He pulled on his clothes again, and they went down to the Christmas tree, and soon the sun was creeping up to where the star had been. Oh, what a Christmas morning, and how his heart had nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother about how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.
"The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I'll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning, as long as I live."
They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead he remembered it alone: that blessed Christmas dawn when, along with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love. Outside the window now the stars slowly faded. He got out of bed and put on his slippers and bathrobe and went softly downstairs. He brought in the tree, and carefully began to trim it. It was done very soon. He then went to his library and brought the little box that contained his special gift to his wife, a diamond brooch, not large, but beautiful in design. But he was not satisfied. He wanted to tell her—to tell her how much he loved her.
How fortunate that he had been able to love! Ah, that was the true joy of life, the ability to love! For he was quite sure that some people were genuinely unable to love anyone. But love was alive in him; it still was.
It occurred to him suddenly that it was alive because long ago it had been born in him when he knew his father loved him. That was it: love alone could waken love.
And this morning, this blessed Christmas morning, he would give it to his beloved wife. He could write it down in a letter for her to read and keep forever. He went to his desk and began: My dearest love.
When it was finished, he sealed it and tied it on the tree. He put out the light and went tiptoing up the stairs. The stars in the sky were gone, and the first rays of the sun were gleaming in the east, such a happy, happy Christmas!
Read the text a second time. Learn the new words and expressions listed below.
int. used to show surprise, anger, happiness, agreement etc.
n. a room at the top of a house just below the roof 阁楼
v. to put a piece of wood or metal across the door in order to prevent it from being opened 栓门
n. a large building on a farm in which animals, animal foods or crops can be kept 农仓；马厩
n. a loose-fitting coat which one wears before or after a bath 浴衣
adj. dearly loved 钟爱的
adv.quietly; not excitedly 平静地
n. sth. one has to do especially at home that is boring and unpleasant 杂活；烦人的家务事
v. to move quietly and slowly in order to get to a place without being noticed
n. a short, pointed knife used as a weapon 匕首；短剑
adj. remarkable; very unusual
v. to go slowly out of view 渐渐消失
v. to trick sb. into believing 骗人相信
n. the sound or mark that is made by sb. walking on the ground 脚步声
adj. having a pleasant or sweet smell 香气扑鼻的
v. to look at sb. or sth. steadily with interest, pleasure, curiosity or wonder 凝视
adv. really 真正地
v. to shine softly 闪烁微光
v. to take for ～ ed: 认为……理所当然
n. dried grass 干草
n. putting your arms around sb. 拥抱
v. to remain somewhere without any clear reason or purpose to move slowly 磨蹭
v. to take milk from a cow
v. to hear what people are saying when they are not talking to you and do not know you are listening 无意中听到
n. 馅饼；mince ～ : 百果馅饼
adj. unnatural or strange
v. to close sth. such as an envelope so that people can not see what's inside
v. to join pieces of cloth together 缝制
n. a person whose job is to look after sheep
n. the state of feeling shy in the presence of others 感到难为情；害羞
adj. tired and ready ot sleep
v. to go quietly and quickly without attracting attention
n. loose soft shoes 拖鞋
v. to cry in a noisy way 抽泣；呜咽
adj. full of stars in the sky 满天星斗的
v. to walk in a very unsteady way so that you nearly fall over 跌跌撞撞地走
v. to walk very quietly on your toes 用脚尖走路
v. to cut small pieces off to make sth. look neater 修剪
Swans Mate for Life Hal Torrance
The end of my sophomore year was approaching. Mom called me at the dorm one muggy evening during the last week of May. My summer break would be spent with grandma and grandpa, helping out around their farm. The arrangement made good sense to all the family. I wasn't fully convinced of that myself but figured it was just one summer. Next year would be my little brother's turn.
I packed my car after my last exam and said my good-byes until the fall. My friends would keep until then. Most of them were going home for the summer any-way.
The farm was about a three-hour drive from school. My grandparents were both in their seventies, and I knew they really needed the help around the farm. Getting in the hay would be something grandpa couldn't do by himself. He also needed help with repairs to the barns and a host of other chores.
I arrived late that afternoon. Grandma had fixed more food than the three of us could possibly eat. She doted over me entirely too much. I figured all the attention would taper off once she got used to having me around, but it didn't. Grandpa wanted to bring me up to date on literally everything. By the time I settled in for bed that night, I'd decided things would be okay. After all, it was just for one summer.
The next morning, Grandpa fixed breakfast for the two of us. He told me Grandma had tired herself out yesterday and was going to rest in bed a little longer. I made a mental note to myself to not ask her to do things for me while I was there. I was there to help, not be a burden.
Grandpa surprised me that morning. Once we were out of the house, he seemed more in his own element. The farm was his domain. Despite his age, there was confidence in the way he moved about the place. He didn't seem like the same person who had fallen asleep last night on the couch before the six o'clock news was finished. As we walked the pastures getting a close-up look at the livestock, Grandpa seemed to know each cow. And there were nearly two hundred of them!
We didn't do much real work that first day, but I gained a sense of appreciation for what Grandpa had done all those years before I was even born. He wasn't an educated man, but he had raised and provided for four children on this farm. I was impressed by that.
Weeks passed. By June we had already baled one cutting of hay and gotten it safely into the barn. I gradually settled into a routine of daily work with Grandpa. He had a mental schedule of things that needed doing, and we worked on part of it each day. In the evenings I usually read or talked with Grandma. She never grew tired of hearing about college or anything I was involved in. She told me stories about her childhood, family and the early years after she and Grandpa had married.
The last Saturday in June, Grandpa suggested we go fishing, since we were caught up on everything. The pond was in a low pasture near the woods. Years before, Grandpa had stocked it with fish. We drove the pickup to the pond that day, looking over the livestock as we went. We hadn't expected what we saw when we got to the pond that morning: One of the swans was dead. Grandpa had given the pair of swans to Grandma on their fiftieth anniversary.
"Why don't we see about buying another one," I suggested, hoping the situation could somehow be righted. Grandpa thought for a few moments before answering. He finally said, "no... it's not that easy, Bruce. You see, swans mate for life." He raised his finger to point, holding the fishing pole in his other hand. "There's nothing we can do for the one that's left. He has to work it out for himself."
We caught enough fish that morning for lunch. On the way back to the house, Grandpa asked me not to tell Grandma about the swan. She didn't get down to the pond much anymore, and there was no sense in her knowing about it right away.
A few days later, we drove by the pond while doing our morning check on the cows. We found the other swan lying near the same spot we had found the first one. It, too, was dead.
The month of July started with me and Grandpa putting up a new stretch of fence. Then July 12 came. That was the day Grandma passed away. I'd overslept that morning. Grandpa had not knocked on my door, either. It was nearly eight o'clock by the time I could hurriedly dress myself and get down to the kitchen. I saw Dr. Morgan sitting at the kitchen table. He was a neighbor of my grandparents' age, long since retired. He'd come to the house several times before on social calls. I immediately knew something was wrong. This morning, his tattered old black bag was by his feet, and my grandfather was obviously shaken.
Grandma had died suddenly that morning of a stroke. By the afternoon, my parents were there. The old house was soon crowded with relatives and Grandpa's friends.
The funeral was held the next day. Grandpa had insisted on having it as soon as possible. On the second day after the funeral, Grandpa announced at the breakfast table, "This is a working farm. We have a lot of things to do. The rest of you should get back to your own lives." Most of the family had already left, but this was Grandpa's way of telling the rest it was time for them to go home. My parents were the last to leave after lunch.
Grandpa was not a man who could outwardly express his grief around others, and we all worried about him. There had been talk of his giving up the farm. My parents thought he was too old to live out there alone. He wouldn't hear of it, though. I was proud of the way the old man had stood his ground.
The rest of the summer flowed by. We stayed busy working. I thought there was something different about Grandpa but couldn't quite put my finger on it. I started to wonder if he would be better off living with someone after all, but I knew he could not leave the farm.
September was nearing, and part of me did not want to leave. I thought of skipping the fall semester and staying around a few more months. When I mentioned it, grandpa quickly told me that my place was back at college.
The day finally came for me to pack my car and leave. I shook his hand and chanced a hug. As I drove down the driveway, I saw him in the rearview mirror. He waved to me and then walked to the pasture gate to start the morning livestock check. That's how I like to remember him.
Mom called me at school on a blustery October day to tell me Grandpa had died. A neighbor had stopped by that morning for coffee and found him in the kitchen. He died of a stroke, same as Grandma. At that moment, I understood what he'd clumsily tried to explain to me about the swan on that morning we fished together by the pond.