December 23, 1952

Katie Frayne leaned over the open oven door and pulled out a baking sheet covered with wreath-shaped Kerstkransjes, the traditional Dutch Christmas cookie her mother had always baked for the Feast of St. Nicholas.  She inhaled the hot, lemony-sweet fragrance as she carried the sheet to her kitchen table and began carefully sliding the cookies onto a cooling rack.  As she worked, she sang her favorite Christmas carol.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Once all the cookies were neatly arrayed on the rack, Katie stood back to admire her handiwork.  “They’re perfect!  Just as pretty as Mama’s used to be,” she said with satisfaction.  Pushing a blonde curl away from her face, she glanced at the clock.  Her husband would be home soon from his job at Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area.  Winthrop Frayne was a forester and wildlife management specialist for the state park system of New York State, and Katie was exceedingly proud that he held such a responsible position at his young age.

She flew back across the kitchen to the stove, where a pot of hearty vegetable soup simmered.  Taking up a long-handled cooking spoon, she stirred the soup to assure herself it hadn’t scorched.  Next, she hurried to mix a batch of Yankee cornbread and thrust the filled pan into her still-hot oven.  Katie almost danced as she skipped back and forth from the cupboards to the table, singing again as she cleared away the newspapers and mail, laying places for herself and Win, and setting out salt, pepper, and a dish of butter.

The table prepared, she stepped from the cozy kitchen into their small living room, where a gaily decorated cedar tree perfumed the air with its sharp, spicy fragrance.  From the white-clad angel blowing its trumpet at the top of the tree, to the wreaths of popcorn and cranberries, to the gold-painted and glitter-enhanced pinecones which graced its branches, it was a beautiful tree, she thought.  Our best yet. 

One ornament in particular caught her eye.  A tiny wooden cradle, no bigger than a walnut shell, drew her fingers like a magnet.  Gently, she touched the smooth wood with one hand and smoothed the apron over her flat belly with the other.  Her smile widened as she pictured herself holding an infant next Christmas. After nearly two whole years of marriage and many tears of disappointment, she had finally learned she was pregnant just the week before.  She and Win had celebrated by splurging on dinner at a steakhouse in Albany, about ten miles from their home.  Win had hardly stopped smiling since, and he had whittled the tiny cradle and its white-swaddled baby over a couple of evenings.

She was often lonely during the day, alone on the ten-acre property they called their farm, out in the middle of nowhere, west of Albany in central New York State.  Win put in long hours at his job and rarely was able to come home for lunch.  In the evenings he worked around the property, either repairing something on the house, fixing fences, or figuring in the account book he kept for the farm.  Six acres of cropland were rented to Everett “Jonesy” Jones, a farmer from outside of Albany.  Win bought the seed and owned a half-share in the tractor and other equipment, while Jonesy planted, cultivated, harvested and sold the corn, paying Win a small rent for use of the land as well as a percentage of the sale price.  The income from their tenant paid the Fraynes’ mortgage, so Win watched his expenses carefully.  Occasionally Jonesy would stop by the house for a cup of coffee when he made the trip from Albany to work in the fields, and Katie was so desperate for conversation that she looked forward to the rather rough-spoken man’s visits.  The coming baby would be welcome company for her during the day, and Win would teach him (she was certain it was going to be a boy!) to enjoy the outdoor life he loved. 

Katie was not fond of nature in the raw.  She had grown up in a small town, always living close to neighbors as well as school, stores, and her old job as a carhop at one of the new drive-in restaurants.  When her mother had died and left her without an income to stay in their home she had been only too happy to accept Win’s chivalrous proposal of marriage.  The nephew of one of Sleepyside-on-Hudson’s leading citizens seemed to have security and a bright future to offer her; he was handsome, honorable, and a perfect gentleman – unlike a few of the boys she had dated.  But old Mr. Frayne had not been happy to hear of his nephew’s impetuous marriage and his redheaded temper had exploded.  He had declared her a “fast piece” and a gold-digger.  Katie’s cheeks burned now, remembering the awful scene.  Poor little Aunt Nell had stood in the background, her eyes full of tears, while Uncle James berated the nephew he had raised – who had always been the apple of his eye, as well as his heir.

Win had taken the shouting for a few minutes, but his own redheaded temper had flared when Uncle James called her a fast piece.

“Katie is my wife, Uncle James.  If you can’t accept that, we’ll leave here and make our own way.  But I won’t stand here and listen to my wife’s name being dragged through the mud.  You can write me in care of the university if you wish to contact me again.  Good day, Uncle James.  Good day, Aunt Nell.”  With that, Win had taken her arm and turned on his heel.  They had walked to the train station, leaving the new car Uncle James had given Win for his twenty-first birthday parked in the driveway.

Katie felt a twinge as she remembered the car – it was a lovely dark green Chrysler, and having it would have made the last couple of years more convenient in many ways.

Stop it! she commanded herself.  Don’t live in the past.  We’ve made it and we’re happy together.  I could never have found a man as wonderful as Win in a million years.  

Just then, a faint scorched odor wafted into the living room, and she raced back to the kitchen to take the cornbread out of the oven.  Fortunately, it was only slightly burned on the bottom.  She ran a knife around the edge and shook out the rectangular cake to keep it from scorching further, and wrapped it in a clean tea towel.  Glancing anxiously at the clock, she wondered if Win would be in soon.  The dinner she had prepared was ready, and she hoped to eat it before it was cold.  She ran back to the living room and peered out the front window, searching for a sign of the park vehicle Win used.  Seeing no sign of it, she frowned and returned to her tree, tapping her foot with impatience.  One string of colored lights was spread as far out as possible, so as to seem larger.  She plugged in the cord and gazed at the bright blue, yellow, red and green lights.  A bright wink of reflected light attracted her and she reached out again, this time to caress a tiny pair of roller skating boots made of rhinestones, with an edging of blue faceted rhinestones along the lace edges.

Win’s first Christmas gift to me, she reflected.  Wherever did he find something like that?  It was just like her husband to find a gift that brought back the memory of their first meeting.    Katie was so engrossed in daydreaming about that meeting that she didn’t even hear the back door open and close, and a pair of feet stomping snow from boots.  When two strong arms circled her waist and a stubbly chin nuzzled the top of her head, she shrieked in surprise.

“Win!  You devil!  You scared the life out of me,” she cried, turning around and throwing her arms around her tall husband.

“You must have been on another planet,” he teased.  “I thought I was making a lot of noise out there.  For a minute I thought you must be gone.”

“Hah!  Like there’s anyplace I could go,” she said with a sniff.  “I was looking at the sweet skating ornament you gave me last Christmas, and remembering the day I first met you.”

“As long as it’s a happy memory.”  Win smiled his singularly sweet smile and bent to give her a gentle kiss.  “How’s the little mama doing today?”

“I’m fine,” she answered.  “A little tired, but the doctor said that was normal.”

“You must have been busy today.”  Win drew her towards the kitchen.  “Something smells good enough to eat.”

“I made a delicious pot of soup, and cornbread,” Katie told him, licking her lips and suddenly ravenous.  “Hurry and let’s eat – I’m starved!”

Win wiped his lips with a napkin.  “Wife of mine, that was a feast fit for a king!  Now let me show you something special I picked up today.”

“Oh!  What is it?”  Katie jumped up from her chair and pranced in excitement.  She was just like a child about surprises.

“Let’s wash up the dishes first,” he said with a teasing glint in his eye.  “Then I’ll show you.”

“You are too mean,” she retorted, pouting and sticking her tongue out at him.

“I like to see you suffer,” he responded with a grin.  But in just a few minutes the kitchen was shipshape again.  

“Wait right here,” Win said.  “It’s too cold outdoors.”  He pulled his boots back on, donned his heavy Ranger jacket and went outside to his work truck.  Katie stood at the door, trying to see what he was doing in the dark, but she couldn’t make out any details.  In a few minutes he was headed back to the house, carrying a bulky carton.  She opened the door to let him inside, and it was all she could do to keep from opening the carton while he again removed his outdoor garments.

Finally, Win dragged the carton into the living room, in front of the tree.  “Go ahead – open it now,” he invited.

He didn’t have to ask her twice.  Katie tore open the heavy corrugated cardboard flaps and saw a sturdy cradle of rich maple wood, with hand-carved accents.  Tears filled her eyes and threatened to spill over.

“Oh, Win!  Oh, Win!”  It was all she could say. 

Win smiled at her, his forest-green eyes crinkling at the corners.  “Our little one will need a place to sleep.  One of the fellows I work with has a whole woodshop at home.  He made the cradle last week and the original buyer backed out.  Otherwise I never would have been able to get something like it at such short notice.  Nice, isn’t it?” 

He stroked the satiny wood, and then lifted it out of the carton, setting it on the floor and showing her how smoothly it rocked. 

“It’s just gorgeous, Win.  Absolutely gorgeous.”  Katie was still overcome with emotion.  “I’ll have to make a little mattress and some blankets for it.  Oh, it’s just beautiful.” 

Win was still on one knee next to the cradle.  She perched on the other knee and clasped his face in both her hands.

“You’re the best husband ever.  Kiss me,” she demanded. 

“Let’s just slip into something more comfortable,” he suggested.  “Like – oh, like bed.”  He stood, holding her in his arms as if she weighed nothing.

“Bed – yes, I think so.”  Katie nuzzled her lips under Win’s chin and dropped a line of butterfly kisses down his jawline. 

Much later, Katie awakened.  She wriggled out of Win’s embrace and made her way to the bathroom, shivering with the change in temperature from the warm snug bed to the cool air of the hallway.  In the bathroom, she didn’t even turn on the light as she sat down for one of the nightly reminders of her early pregnancy.  But when she wiped and felt a warm, slippery substance on the tissue, she felt a jolt of fear.

Carefully, she stood and reached for the light switch.  The light dazzled her eyes for a moment, and it took another moment for her to gather the courage to look at the tissue.  Blood!  There was more blood in the toilet.  Katie felt like her heart was beating in her throat.  She pawed in the tiny closet for a package of sanitary pads, and with shaking hands arranged it to absorb any more – whatever.  She hurried back to the bedroom and shook Win awake.

“What is it, darling?” he mumbled, still half-asleep.  “Not time to get up yet.”

“Win!  You’ve got to wake up!  I’m – I’m bleeding.”  Katie’s terror broke out in a sob.  “I’m losing the baby!”

Win’s eyes snapped open and he sat up with a jerk.  “What?  When?  What do we need to do?”

“I don’t know!”  Panic made Katie’s voice sharp.  “Call the doctor!”

Katie was discharged from the hospital on Christmas Day.  She sat listlessly in a wheelchair, being pushed down the long hallways to the elevator by a nurse.  Christmas carols were playing softly over the intercom system.  Katie only stared straight ahead, one tear after another slipping from her eyes as the doctor’s words echoed inside her head.

“Mrs. Frayne, most often a pregnancy is lost because there was something wrong with the baby.  It’s Nature’s way – or as some folks say, God’s way of preventing children from being born with terrible birth defects.  You and your husband are young and healthy.  There’s no reason why you shouldn’t carry a pregnancy to term.  Don’t worry.”

Don’t worry!  We’ve already been married two and a half years.  What if there is something wrong with one of us … with me?  Katie’s mind ran in a tired track.  Win wants a family.  What if I can’t give him one?  

“You’re lucky to have such a fine, caring husband,” the nurse was saying.  “He’s so thoughtful, getting the car warmed up for you.  And it was so nice of him to bring us a box of candy.”

Lucky … lucky … I thought I was lucky when I married Win, but I caused him to fall out with his uncle.  What if he starts thinking about that?  What if he’s sorry he married me?

Into the elevator.  Several visitors, dressed in new Christmas outfits, chattered together.  Katie wore her robe; her hair was limp and her face pale and drawn.  She felt that the visitors were avoiding looking at her.  That’s just fine.  I don’t want them to look at me.  I’m a failure and I don’t deserve Win.

Finally, they reached the front door, where Win had pulled the truck up to a covered drive-through.  He jumped out and ran around to open her door.  When Katie stood and prepared to climb up into the cab, he swept her off her feet and lifted her onto the seat.

“There you go,” said the nurse, with a pat on her knee.  “Good luck, Mrs. Frayne.  I know you’re sad now, but this was for the best.  You’ll see.”

Katie gulped and didn’t respond.

“Thank you, nurse,” Win said.  “Thank you for taking good care of my wife.”  Katie tried to see if Win appeared to feel a fraction of the sadness she felt.  She couldn’t tell.

“I hope to see you here next year with a new baby,” the nurse persisted.

“Win, let’s go.  I can’t stand any more,” Katie begged her husband.  The nurse had turned around and was going back through the front door now.

“Thank God she’s gone.  If I had to hear one more time that it was for the best … I don’t know what I’d have done.”  Katie’s hands were clenched in her lap.  

“I don’t see why everyone has to go on and on about how it was for the best,” Win said slowly.  “Even if … if it couldn’t have lived …”  His voice cracked.  “Heck, I was already crazy about our baby – without even knowing if it was a boy or a girl.”

“It’s not fair!”  Katie’s fear made her voice sharp.  “Why, we know people who’ve been married as long as we have, who have already got two children, and another on the way.”

“Katie, sweetheart, if there’s one good thing, it’s surely that we’ll be able to provide for our children a little better because we’ll be able to save some money while we wait.  Poor old Jeff can never save anything.  For every extra dollar he takes home, he has to spend two dollars on something for one of the kids.”  He reached over and squeezed her hand.  “Don’t worry.  We’ll have our family.  I’m sure of that.” 

Katie wondered if he was right.  She tried to pray that he was, but she wasn’t sure God was listening to her these days.


Win pulled up a bit closer to the house than usual, jumped out and walked around to Katie’s side.  Once again, he lifted her out of the truck, but instead of setting her down to walk inside, he carried her into the back porch and on into the kitchen, where a hot dinner had been left by his boss’s wife.

“I can’t eat right now, Win,” Katie protested.  “You go ahead.  Just put me down and let me go to bed for awhile.”  

“You need your rest,” Win agreed.  “But I’ll just carry you to bed.  It’s not that much further.” 

As he stepped from the kitchen into the short hallway that led to their room, Katie could see the Christmas tree, still standing bright and cheerful, with its herald angel on top.  In front of the tree in the place of honor sat the beautiful cradle that now would not be used.

Katie burst into tears.  Startled, Win stopped.  “What is it, Katie darling?  What’s wrong?”

“Take it away!  I can’t bear to look at it,” she cried, burying her face in his chest.

Win was facing away from the living room, and she realized he might not know what she meant.  “The cradle.  Please, I can’t bear it,” she gasped out.  “All our dreams – gone.  It’s just a horrible reminder.”

“Let me get you to bed, and I’ll put it away,” he soothed.  “You won’t have to see it any more.”

Tucked snugly into bed, Katie sobbed until she had no tears left. 

Win put the cradle into his truck and took it to his office.  Somehow he didn’t have the heart to give it away, but it was pushed into a closet and filled with odds and ends he used at work.  He took down the Christmas tree, carefully packing away the simple ornaments on which Katie had lavished so much happy attention.  The popcorn and cranberry garlands went outside to feed the birds.  The little cedar tree was chopped into firewood and stacked to age. Somehow the act of chopping up the tree made him feel just the tiniest bit better.

Christmas was forgotten by the Fraynes.  Katie never gave Win the muffler she had spent tedious hours knitting.  Win never wrapped the pretty new robe he had bought for her to wear as her pregnancy advanced.  She moved about the house like a robot for the next few weeks.  He worked longer hours than ever. 

The old year waned and Time’s odometer turned over.  The world welcomed 1953, but January somehow slipped into June without Katie noticing.  She became convinced her husband was getting tired of her, and looking around for someone who could provide him with a family.  Haggard and thin, she stopped caring if her hair was brushed or if her clothes were neat. 

At first, Win tried to give Katie time and space to deal with her loss – their loss.  He had barely had time to assimilate the fact that she was pregnant before the miscarriage, but had already begun making plans for the time he would spend with his son or daughter.  If his grief was this sharp, how much more pain did she feel, when she had suspected for weeks that she was finally going to have a child?

When she lay in bed all day instead of cleaning, washing, and cooking, he picked up the slack.  Even when she turned away from him at night, he didn’t reproach her.  He ignored his own fatigue and reminded himself that she needed to find her own path out of mourning.

Finally, though, he had had enough.  On a beautiful Saturday morning in early June, Win packed a picnic basket and told Katie to get dressed for a hike.

“Win, why do we have to go today?”  Katie waved a hand in the air to encompass the kitchen and living room of their home.  “There’s so much to do here.”

“It’s waited this long, it will wait another day,” Win replied with a smile.  “This weather might not wait, though.”

“I don’t know.”  Katie still looked doubtful, and made no move to get dressed.

“We’re going, and that’s that.”  Win took her hand and pulled her up from her chair.  Scooping her up, he carried her to the bedroom and began to dress her.  The pedal pushers she had worn last year hung on her thin frame and he pinned the waist tighter.  A matching sleeveless shell was as loose as the slacks had been.  Luckily her sneakers and thick bobby socks still fit.  Next, he brushed her lank blonde hair, pulling it into a ponytail.

“Win, why are you doing this?”  Apparently, Katie had found the energy to feel curious.  That was good, he was sure.

“Because I want to be outdoors with my beautiful wife and enjoy this day,” he said.  “I hope you can enjoy it with me.  Because I’m lonely and I’m tired of doing everything by myself.”

“Are you saying I’m being selfish?”  Katie put her hands on her hips and glared at him.

“No.”  Win looked steadily at her.  “No.  But we’re a team, and I need you.”

“Need me?  Me?”  Katie looked surprised.  “You have lots of friends, and you could have anyone you want for a wife.  A wife who could give you children.”  A tear rolled down her cheek.

“The fact is, I chose you.  You, not any other girl.”  He sat down on the bed and pulled her into his lap.  “Katie, sweetheart!  Yes, I do want children, but if we never have any, you’re still my family and I need you.”  He nuzzled the top of her head for a moment.  “And you know, the doctor did say there’s no reason you can’t have another baby.  I’ve been sad about losing our baby, too, but why not try again?  Where there’s life, there’s hope, you know.” 

“Are you sure you’ll still love me if I can’t have a baby?”  Katie cupped his face in her hands and stared into his eyes.  “Because I know you don’t want your name to die out and I don’t want to be a millstone around your neck.”

“Yes, for the last time – I love you, Katie Vanderheiden Frayne.  You.  You’re not calling me a liar, are you?”  Win was only half-smiling as he asked the question.

“Oh, Win!”  She flung her arms around his neck and buried her face in his chest.  “Of course, I know you’d never lie.  Maybe … maybe I have been selfish, giving into my disappointment and worry.”

She pulled away and stared up at him, her lashes wet with tears and spiky around her starry eyes.  “Let’s go on that picnic.”

After the day of the picnic, Katie exerted herself to resume her activities at home, and if she seemed more subdued than she had before the miscarriage, Win never complained.  She felt she could never again take the unfettered joy in life that she had formerly done.  Her parents’ deaths, the loss of contact with her older sister, nothing had affected her as deeply as the miscarriage.  She was always holding something back; not wanting to get too involved lest she be disappointed.

In November she missed a period, but told herself her system might be out of rhythm because of the weather change.  Her breasts began to ache, and she told herself it must mean she was getting ready to start.  She was tired all the time.  No doubt she was just overdoing it a bit.   The daily vomiting – a stomach flu or food poisoning.

One morning, Win had just left for work when she was seized by a bout of nausea.  He caught her vomiting when he came back inside to get his lunch box.

“Katie, go to the doctor,” Win urged her.  “There’s no use in your suffering.”  He wet a washcloth with cool water for her as she leaned over the toilet.  “If you won’t go by yourself, I’ll take you,” he threatened.

When the retching stopped, Katie straightened up and accepted the cold cloth.  “Oh, all right,” she replied with a sigh.  “I’ll call Dr. Perkins tomorrow.”  She wiped her face.

“Call him today, and maybe he can see you tomorrow,” Win suggested.

She didn’t want to admit she had been putting off the doctor’s visit for fear of disappointment, so she went to the old crank phone in the kitchen and made the connection to the operator as Win watched.

“Dr. Perkins’ office, please.”  She nibbled at a hangnail as she waited for the connection.

“Dr. Perkins’ office.  May I help you?”  It was Wilma, the middle-aged nurse who worked for Katie’s doctor.

“Ah, well … that is, I …”  Katie faltered. 

“Yes, dear?”  the nurse’s voice was patient and kind.  Katie gathered her nerve and began again. 

“This is Mrs. Winthrop Frayne.  I’d like to make an appointment with Dr. Perkins.”  She used her hankie to wipe the perspiration that suddenly dampened her forehead.

“Are you ill?  What symptoms do you have?” the nurse asked.

“Um, not really ill.  Well, ah … I’ve been throwing up, but … um … I think I might be pregnant.”  The last few words spilled out in a torrent.

“I see.  Dr. Perkins has an opening for tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.  Shall I put you down for it?”

 Katie booked the slot, thanked Wilma, and hung up. 

“Happy now?” she asked her husband, tapping her foot.  But although her words sounded curt, she smiled as she spoke. 

“Mrs. Frayne, you are pregnant.  Congratulations!”  The doctor smiled at Katie and patted her knee.  “It looks like you should be due around the middle part of July.”

“Doctor, I had a miscarriage last year and I’m worried it’ll happen again.  I don’t think I could take it if I lost another one.”  Katie gnawed on her lower lip.

“Well, there are no guarantees.”  The doctor pulled off his glasses and polished them on the hem of his white coat.  “But so far, everything looks normal.  Here’s a prescription for vitamins, and another for something to help with morning sickness.  See me again in a month – stop at the desk and Wilma will make an appointment for you on the way out.  Get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids, and eat a healthy diet.”

Katie went home in a daze of disbelief.  She was happy to be pregnant again, but couldn’t shake the fear that something would go wrong – again.  How to cope with that worry?  She decided not to get overly prepared.  Not until very close to the end of the pregnancy.  Once she had reached the seven-month mark she would start getting things ready for the baby – not before.  Until that time she would do her best to totally ignore the pregnancy.

Win glowed with pride and happiness, and treated her like a china doll.  Despite his evident joy, he was also worried.  From the date her pregnancy was confirmed he refused to do anything more intimate than cuddling.  He remembered only too well that her miscarriage happened after they made love, although the doctor had assured them the two things were unrelated. 

“The baby is well-protected in the womb.  Intercourse can’t hurt him,” Dr. Perkins had said.  “Your miscarriage was something that couldn’t have been prevented.”

“I just don’t want to take any chances,” Win had insisted. 

She didn’t press him.  She was terrified of another miscarriage, and was certain that if anything happened, they would both blame it on the lovemaking.  The feeling would poison their whole relationship and she couldn’t bear to imagine a future with that between them.

So the weeks passed.  The morning sickness eased up.  But December came and Katie refused to put up any Christmas decorations.  “I don’t want a tree,” she insisted.  “It would bring back memories that are too painful.  We can have a tree next year when the baby is here.”

Win sighed.  “Katie, darling, can’t we see a tree as a sign of hope?” 

But Katie wouldn’t budge.  No tree, no stockings, nothing.  No tempting Fate.

Christmas Eve 1953

Win swung Katie down from the truck at the Congregational church for evening service on Christmas Eve.  As they made their way across the snow-covered parking lot, she kicked at clumps of snow with her calf-high fur-lined boots.  One hand was securely tucked into her husband’s pocket and the other was clutching her purse.  Win had shortened his long strides so she could keep up with his pace.  They mingled with the other members of the congregation and moved slowly up the middle aisle, finally taking a seat on the left side.  Directly in front of the altar was a crèche; large figurines of Mary, Joseph, a donkey, and ox, lambs and shepherds created a silent tableau representing the Nativity.  The manger was empty.

Katie found her eyes drawn to the figures of Joseph and Mary, waiting with exquisite patience for the baby who was coming.  The first notes of the organ sounded, and the choir began to sing“O Holy Night.”

O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When the Scripture reading of the birth of Jesus was complete, two small children processed up the middle aisle with the Baby Jesus figure.  Carefully, the little girl set it down in the tiny manger filled with real straw.  Once again the organ’s notes began to sound, and in a hushed tone, the choir began to sing again.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks the new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices
O night divine!  O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night,
O night divine!

Katie gazed at the inanimate figures.  Tears filled her eyes and she glanced quickly at Win, who was also looking at the Baby.  The tension that had filled her for so long loosened, and she felt as if she could take a deep, deep breath.  Did that mother knew her baby would die a terrible death? Katie wondered.  Still, she loved Him.  She gave herself to Him totally.  I can do it.  I will do it, she resolved.  The tears trembled on her lashes and she reached for Win’s had with her smaller one.  He looked down at her with such love that the last vestiges of the iron band around her heart fell away.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks the new and glorious morn. 

July 15, 1954

The ordeal of labor was over.  Katie and her son both had been cleaned up, freshly gowned, and rested.  Eight hours later, she was anxious to see him for the first time.  She kept glancing at the clock on the wall of her room, wondering if feeding time would ever come.  Win sat in an armchair next to her bed, tapping his foot and checking the clock against his watch at least every two minutes.  Finally, it was six o’clock.  They heard faint cries from the hallway, indicating that the babies were being brought to their mothers for feeding.

A white-garbed nurse lifted Baby Boy Frayne from the wagon that carried ten infants at a time from the nursery to their mothers for feeding.  Katie reached for her son with eager hands.  This was what she had waited for, suffered for, for three and a half long years. 

Placing him in her arms, the nurse arranged Katie’s pillows to support her arms and tucked a clean diaper under his chin.  As if touching the most delicate porcelain, Katie traced her son’s tiny features and smoothed her hand over the ginger fuzz on his head.

“He’s perfect, isn’t he?  Just perfect.”  She glanced at Win with eyes that sparkled.

Win only nodded without speaking.  His eyes, too, were suspiciously bright.

“Just perfect,” agreed the nurse.  “Here, try giving him some formula.”  Handing a bottle to Katie, she left the room in order to deliver another baby to its mother.

Awkwardly, Katie held the bottle to the baby’s lips.  He opened his mouth, latched on, and sucked greedily at the formula, not stopping until she pulled it from his mouth.  She held the bottle up so Win could see.  “Look, he’s already taken an ounce!”

“That’s my boy,” Win agreed.  “Strong, isn’t he?”

Katie smiled up at Win, who extended a long finger to his newborn son.  The baby, a husky nine-pounder, grasped the outstretched finger with a surprisingly tight grip.  He stared at his father from wide-open slate-blue eyes, and his rosebud mouth curved in what seemed to be a smile.  Then a trickle of formula rolled out of his mouth as he emitted a resounding burp.

Katie panicked.  “Oh, he’ll choke!” she cried.  “Do something, Win!”

Responding to Katie’s shrill cry, the infant startled.  He threw his arms out, stiffened, and let out a wail.  Katie again appealed to her husband, but Win was staring helplessly at his wife and son.

“What’s going on here?”  It was the nurse again, checking back on her charges.  “Do you know how to burp him, Mrs. Frayne?”

Katie shook her head.  “I’ve never held a baby before,” she admitted.

The nurse lifted the crying infant with practiced hands, flipped a clean diaper onto her shoulder, and patted his back firmly.  The baby stopped crying immediately and burped several more times.  Bending over Katie again, the nurse smiled and said, “There!  I think he’s ready for a little more now.”  

Katie managed to feed her son another ounce as Win watched.  When he would take no more, she somehow got him onto her shoulder and coaxed another few burps from him.  Sated, the baby closed his eyes and slept, not waking even when Katie clumsily transferred him to Win’s arms.  She watched as her husband handled him with unexpected skill, securely supporting his head and cradling him close to his own body.

“How do you do it, Win?” she asked, her brows drawn together in puzzlement.  “You’ve never held a baby, have you?”

“Not a human baby,” Win admitted.  “But I’ve held lots of baby animals before.  It’s different, but in some ways the same.”  Every few seconds he glanced down at the newborn, his face softening and his lips curving in a tender smile.  “What shall we name him, sweetheart?”

“What’s wrong with Winthrop Frayne, Junior?” Katie responded.  “I like the name Win.”

“Humph!” Win snorted.  “Speak for yourself – I’ve never been too fond of it.  And my middle name’s no better.”

“What is your middle name?  I just know it starts with an R.”  Katie wriggled into a more comfortable position in bed.  Sitting for a long time wasn’t really comfortable. 

“Rainsford.”  Win made a face.  “I was named after my father and his twin brother – Uncle James.  Uncle James’ middle name is Winthrop.”

“Your uncle James is … well, he’s pretty well-off, isn’t he?”  Katie hesitated to ask the question, but now that her baby was here, she was seized with a fierce protective instinct.  She wanted to do everything in her power to secure his future.

“I think he is,” Win admitted.   He narrowed his eyes and stared at her.  “Why?  What does Uncle James have to do with naming our son?”

“Oh, Win!”  Katie frowned at him and threw up her hands.  “I thought… that is, I thought you might like to name our baby after your uncle.  Since he raised you and all, I mean.”

“That doesn’t matter.  After what he said about our marriage, I’ll never ask him for anything.  And he’ll never bend, never apologize.”  Win didn’t raise his voice, but his posture stiffened and the hand that had been stroking his son’s scalp stilled.

“Win, he’s your only living relative, and I know it hurt you when he was so hateful about me.  But he has to leave his money to someone, one of these days.  Don’t be so stubborn!”

Win’s jaw worked for a second.  “I don’t want anything he has.  Not one dime.”

“Neither do I,” Katie insisted, although she couldn’t help thinking how much easier their lives would be if they had some of Uncle James’ money.  We could pay my doctor’s bill, maybe make some improvements on the house and farm…“We’ve got to think of our son, though.  We need to try to develop a relationship with the only family he has, besides us.”

“What are you saying, Katie?” 

“I’m just saying that someday our baby may need Uncle James’ help.  I’d rather try to get on his good side now, even if it means we have to eat humble pie.”  She felt a sharp twinge from her episiotomy and tears came to her eyes.  Squeezing the rubber bulb that activated her nurse call button, Katie hoped the bed could be cranked down.

Win saw the tears, and his face softened again.  “You’re right, darling.  James Winthrop it will be, then.  And …”  He hesitated for a moment.   “Even though I don’t care about Uncle James’ money, it’s true we don’t have other family.  We do owe it to our son to try to be on good terms with my uncle.”

“I knew you’d understand, Win darling.”  Katie gazed at her husband with a tremulous smile.  “Believe me, I don’t want to kowtow to your uncle either.  I just hope he’ll be willing to let bygones be bygones once he sees the baby.”  She reached out a hand to clasp his.  “And really, Jimmy is a sweet nickname.  I’ve always liked it.”

Just then, the nurse arrived to take Jimmy back to the nursery.  She complimented the new parents on a successful feeding and cranked Katie’s bed down while she was in the room.

July 1954… a few days later

It was late afternoon in the middle of a typical Hudson River Valley heat wave.  Long shadows stretched across the lawn of Ten Acres toward the property of Crabapple Farm, nestled in its hollow just to the east.   James Frayne and his wife sat in the summerhouse behind their home, trying to catch a breeze.   James set down his highball and cleared his throat.  “Nell, my dear, I’m going to check the mail.  Do you want to walk down to the mailbox with me?”

His dainty, white-haired wife smiled at him from her seat in the summerhouse’s glider.  “No, sweetheart, I’ll just sit here and watch the game hens in the yard.  It’s too hot to walk at this time of the day.”  She pulled a delicate embroidered handkerchief from her pocket and wiped a sheen of perspiration from her face, then flicked open a lacy ivory fan and waved it back and forth in front of herself.

“Well, I’m expecting some important letters, so I’ll head on down.”  James pushed himself out of his wicker armchair and pulled his light summer suit jacket over his sweat-stained white dress shirt.  Wiping his own face with a napkin, he descended the summerhouse steps and strode down the long driveway to the mailbox.  His thoughts veered toward his nephew, Win, whose birthday had taken place earlier in the month.  Damn the pup!  He had everything – and threw it away for that trollop, James thought, with irritation that had scarcely lessened in three and a half years. 

Once at the mailbox, he stopped to mop his brow again with a wrinkled handkerchief from his jacket.  The mail was running late today – he’d been outside once already.  Now it was nearly suppertime.  The mailbox door was warped and hard to open and close.  He gave it a yank and it popped open.  Inside was a stack of envelopes, advertising circulars, and magazines.  James pulled them out and rifled through the envelopes, looking for the important letter he was expecting.

He paused at the next-to-bottom letter.  The return address wasn’t one he knew, but he certainly recognized the handwriting.  Addressed in a familiar bold but precise script, it originated from a small village near Albany.  So that’s where those two settled, he mused.  Probably wanting some money.   Well, this well is dry.  In a spark of fury, he tore the envelope into pieces and stuffed the scraps of paper into his pocket.  Ignoring the twinge of pain in his chest, he pushed thoughts of his nephew from his mind.

The bottom envelope was the one he had been expecting, and he slit it open with his pocketknife, reading the enclosed letter as he trudged slowly back up the long driveway.

Back at the summerhouse, he handed Nell her magazine, some ads, and a couple of letters.  “Did you get the letter you’ve been waiting for?” she asked, fanning herself.

“Yes, it finally arrived.  Nothing else important, though.”  James saw no need to upset his wife.  Win was the one who turned his back on his family and cut off contact, not the other way around, he told himself.  He made his bed, now he can lie in it.    Only the tiniest niggle of curiosity about Win’s message tugged at him, and he pushed it back into the locked box in his mind where thoughts of his beloved nephew resided.   I never thought he’d turn out like his father.

Christmas 1954

Win carried baby Jimmy, bundled in a blue snowsuit and a fuzzy blue blanket.  Katie clung to his other arm.  Once more, they were making their way through the clumps of snow in the church parking lot for Christmas Eve service.

“Win, I’m so happy!” she exclaimed.  “I can’t ask for anything more out of life than I have right now.”

“We don’t get any guarantees in this life,” Win reminded her.  “So we’d better just enjoy every moment we have together.”

Little Jimmy wiggled and raised his head up, gazing around with wide green eyes at the snowy scene and the people who crowded into the little church.  He was already strong, Katie thought with pride.  A fine boy who was the image of his daddy.

Jimmy sucked contentedly on a stuffed cloth horse clutched in his chubby fist.

“Win, I’m so glad we sent that card and the picture of Jimmy to your aunt and uncle,” she said suddenly.  “It was the right thing to do, even though he never wrote back after we sent the birth announcement.”

“I don’t know if Uncle James will ever change his mind about us, sweetheart.  Even though we named our son for him, he’s awfully stiff-necked.  And I’m not sure I could forgive him for the things he said.  I still get mad when I think about it.”  A small muscle worked in Win’s jaw as he spoke.

“Well, darling, he’s your only relative, and you’re the only family he’s got.”  Katie set her chin.  “We’re giving him the chance, and if he doesn’t take it, it’s his loss.”

“You’re right, dear.”  Win squeezed her hand with his free one.  “We’re giving him the chance to see that his bloodline hasn’t died out, and to get to know the next generation of the Frayne family.  Uncle James was always full of ideas for improving people’s lives.  He’ll have another chance to change the world through little Jimmy – if he’ll take it.”

“He will, Win!  I just know – he has to do it!”  Katie bounced in excitement.  “I bet your aunt will make him write back.  We’ll drive down to Sleepyside when the weather gets warmer, and visit them.  He won’t be able to resist this little fellow.”  A proud smile lit her face as she stroked Jimmy’s round cheek. 

“He’s pretty stubborn.”  Win remained unconvinced, but he grinned at her.  “Must be where I get it from.”  

Katie gazed at her small son.  She just knew Uncle James would relent if he could only see his namesake.  He would just have to!   She and Win would do whatever it took to safeguard their son’s future – on that she was determined.

The church bell began to peal, calling the congregation to worship.  Katie sang her favorite carol as she walked.

Long lay the world
in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth!

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks the new and glorious morn!
O night
O holy night
O night divine! 


Author’s Notes

7476 words

First of all, I’d like to wish a very Merry Christmas to CathyP, for whom this story was written as a part of the 2009 Secret Santa giftfic exchange.  Cathy, I’ve enjoyed many stories from you and I hope you enjoy this one from me.

Cathy asked for a happy Christmas story.  While there was sadness here for Katie and Win, there was also a happy ending.  I hope that was OK!  I used Cathy’s favorite tree topper, an angel, as well as her favorite Christmas carol.  Dr. Perkins’ nurse is named Wilma in honor of Cathy’s mother.   

I’d like to thank my wonderful and hardworking editors, Trish, Ronda, and Steph H.  Their comments and suggestions were very helpful to me!

The Kerstkransjes Katie made are a traditional Dutch treat. Here's a recipe with a photograph.

Trish (and I) were a bit doubtful that Katie would have made cornbread, but a Google search turned up plenty of information about Yankee cornbread. Here's one article, and I decided to let her make it.  

I wondered if other Christian denominations (besides Catholics) would use a Nativity scene in the church during Christmas Eve services.  The answers I received varied.  My editors all seemed to accept the idea, and I hope no Congregationalist who may be reading will be offended at the way I imagined a moment during the service.  An online article about Christmas Eve services at a Congregational church in the North Jersey area seemed to support my idea; as the article is no longer available, I've removed the link.

 Over the summer I read the Beany Malone series, published during the 1940s, and it inspired me to make Katie Frayne a carhop prior to her marriage to Win.  One of Beany’s high school friends worked as a carhop, so I figured the job was compatible with the time frame of my universe.  I've outlined a whole backstory for Katie, and she faced a lot of challenges in life.  Like many others in the Trixie series, she is an orphan when we meet her in this story – otherwise I’m sure she would have called upon her family for help when her husband died. 

When Katie has her miscarriage, a nurse tells her “this was for the best.”  I hope this isn't a comment anyone would make today; it’s insensitive to the bereaved parents, NOT comforting to the vast majority, and not helpful in dealing with such a loss.  Sixty years ago, I believe it was a common response, but thanks to women who have spoken up about their feelings, today’s health-care workers are more sensitive.  Nurses are generally people who want to help and not cause further pain, and I thank the women who spoke up from their grief and helped the rest of society to understand it.  I haven’t had the misfortune to lose a pregnancy, and I hope I’ve shown Katie’s reaction with compassion.

You may have noticed that Win’s father’s name was Rainsford.  Yes, there is a connection between the Fraynes and the Rainsfords (Uncle James’ attorney, who appears in Mansion and Red Trailer).  More may be revealed later! 

Re: Uncle James:  Readers may think I deviated from canon by having James tear up the letter notifying him of Jim’s birth without opening it.  In my uni, it happened.  But Aunt Nell collected the mail on the day Win and Katie’s Christmas card arrived with Jimmy’s picture inside.  She prevailed upon James to acknowledge his namesake, and that’s when James sent the christening mug.  I believe the younger Fraynes visited the elder Fraynes at least once before Aunt Nell’s death, but long trips weren't easy for Win and Katie to manage and after Win was transferred to a state park near Rochester they didn’t make any more trips to Sleepyside before Win’s final illness.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Links updated and html validated January 2011.

Nativity scene from istockphoto; evergreen border is from the Microsoft Clip Art gallery; and the title font is Black Chancery, a free download from 1001

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2009 by Mary N.

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