Flea Market Memories and a Classic Christmas Story

When I was a kid, every year there was a huge flea market in the parking lot of one of the local department stores. I loved to go wander around and look at things, though I think my mother was always worried I’d get lost (probably I did — in our family, I was famous for it). We made a couple of excellent purchases there and what an adventure it always was to wrestle them into the station wagon (or was it the Mustang?). One year my father bought a cool U.S. Army field desk rather like this one:

field desk

Another time we bought a child’s size armchair to go in my room. It needed recovering and that never got done, but I loved it anyway. It was a pretty little chair with chintz fabric kind of like this:

chintz

Both of these items are up in my attic patiently awaiting the time when someone will need them again. The poor armchair still wants re-upholstering and we had to stop using the field desk when we had children because it is so top-heavy and unstable. But one of the best flea market purchases still gets brought out every year and that is a tattered copy of Kate Douglas Wiggin’s classic story, The Birds’ Christmas Carol.

bird's christmas carol

Thinking back, I imagine my mother picked this book out for me so that I would stop pestering her and she could browse the books in peace. She was a devoted reader with very broad tastes and the book tent presented a golden opportunity to augment her collection. Yet despite her ulterior motives, she did not choose randomly. Mother knew all about this book and she chose it because she knew I would like it. From the first it was very special to me. The patina of age, the cracked binding, the previous owner’s inscriptions, the “old book smell” and the beautiful girl on the cover made it seem mysterious and magical. Even then I liked old things.

The Birds’ Christmas Carol is a short, lovely story full of humor and, yes, tears. The Birds’ youngest child and only daughter, a saintly invalid born on Christmas, brings joy to her family and helps the neighboring herd of good-natured but destitute children before succumbing to ill health. I believe it’s in print, but if you don’t feel like buying a copy, you can find it online here at Project Gutenberg. Wiggin is a delightfully witty writer, but boy does she know how to make you reach for the Kleenex — as if the storyline weren’t enough, readers are rewarded with a Scottish hymn:

“I am far frae my hame,
I am weary aften whiles
For the langed for hame-bringin
An’ my Faether’s welcome smiles.
An’ I’ll ne’er be fu’ content,
Until my e’en do see
The gowden gates o’ heaven
In my ain countree.

The earth is decked wi’ flow’rs,
Mony tinted, fresh an’ gay,
An’ the birdies warble blythely,
For my Faether made them sae;
But these sights an’ these soun’s
Will as naething be to me,
When I hear the angels singin’
In my ain countree.

Like a bairn to its mither,
A wee birdie to its nest,
I fain would be gangin’ noo
Unto my Faether’s breast;
For He gathers in His arms
Helpless, worthless lambs like me,
An’ carries them Himsel’
To His ain countree.”

Lest you think the story is nothing but a downer, it has an excellent message and plenty of humor and hope. So go read (or re-read) it and find out for yourself! It’s truly one of the best Christmas stories ever!