From the Barnes and Noble collection of Christmas stories by Louisa May Alcott called Christmas Tales and Stories (edited by Laura Ciolkowsk) comes a sweet tale with a lot of fodder between the lines for those of us well-acquainted with the life of Miss Alcott.
“A Christmas Turkey, and How It Came”
The premise is familiar: a poor family trying to figure out how they can celebrate Christmas. Normally one or both of the parents have died but in this case, both parents are present. And here’s where it gets interesting.
Parallels: father to Father
The children (Kitty, Tom, Sammy, Dilly and Dot) are sad when they speak of their father
“for all knew that father’s headaches always began by his coming home stupid or cross, with only a part of his wages; and mother always cried when she thought they did not see her, and after the long sleep father looked as if he didn’t like to meet their eyes, but went off early.
They knew what it meant, but never spoke of it–only pondered over it, and mourned with mother at the change which was slowly altering their kind industrious father into a moody man, and mother into an anxious over-worked woman.”
Is Louisa hinting at a condition her own father suffered?
Granted, I am coming off of reading Madelon Bedell’s outstanding The Alcotts: Biography of a Family in which the author spends a great deal of time describing various episodes in Bronson’s life where he teetered to the point of insanity. The two most prominent incidents were just after Fruitlands and shortly after leaving Hillside for Boston. In each case the description that Louisa paints in the story of the father is not that far off course (naturally it is generalized–the father in the story didn’t suffer from hallucinations and mystic experiences). We can recognize Abba’s response in the mother.
I admit to being more sensitive than usual about spotting this kind of connection but it is quite fascinating.
The power of the story to work through difficult times
Louisa’s powers of observation are well-known but there is no direct mention of either episode in her journals, at least mentions that survive. Instead they come out as “A Christmas Turkey, and How It Came,” Transcendental Wild Oats and probably other stories as well.
Kitty, the oldest sister, is the Louisa counterpart: capable, industrious, resourceful, and intent on making enough money with her siblings to guarantee a turkey on the table for Christmas since her father could not provide. It’s a common Alcott theme but it never grows tired. It is always inspiring to see stories of young people putting their minds to hard work and creative thinking to solve problems (so long as they don’t get exploited, which of course, was a major problem in the 19th century).
There is, of course, the usual pathos, especially in Kitty’s case, going home after a long day, coming up short with her portion, and happening upon a gay children’s Christmas party in a beautiful home. Yet Louisa does not paint the wealthy as villains but rather as generous patrons, giving freely without condescension.
The feminist Louisa pops up with this declaration from Kitty: “Girls never can earn as much money as boys somehow,” only to be countered by younger brother Sammy: “I’ll give you some of my money if you don’t get a dollar; then we’ll be even, Men always take care of women, you know, and ought to.” To this reader there is more of a sense of partnership rather than deliberate domination on the part of Sammy–a very simple illustration of the type of marriage Louisa would imagine for herself if the right man existed: a marriage of equals.
Even Sammy’s charge of the babies Dilly and Dot while Kitty goes out to sell her wares (handmade wreaths) hints at a future of equality.
At least that’s what I saw. I enjoyed “A Christmas Turkey, and How It Came;” it had a natural feel about it despite the moralizing (which I happen to enjoy). Louisa’s writing did not dictate the moral lessons she sought to get across but instead illustrated how those lessons could be learned. Having recently read some of Lydia Maria Child’s didactic tales, there is a certain freshness in Louisa’s approach, especially in the dialog between the children.
Have you read “A Christmas Turkey, and How It Came”? What did you think? What did you see?
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