The log cabin lay snugged down in foothills snow. Inside “Trapper” John Norton put another log on the fire, pulled up his chair and chatted with his dog Rover, his only companion and a good listener.
Trapper John is a fictional but believable character. He, Rover and the log cabin were created by Rev. William Henry Harrison Murray back in the late 1800s. They remain believable today and nice to visit at Christmas time if you like stories about old men who sit by the fire and talk with their canine friends on how to best celebrate the festive season.
If you’ve never met Murray’s wilderness men then you should Google “How Trapper John Kept His Christmas” and “John Norton’s Vagabond” for two Christmas stories, simply told with old fashioned charm and carrying messages as strong and relevant as Dickens’ Scrooge.
Vagabond is my favourite. It tells the story of Trapper John sitting by his fire and asking Rover what they should do about the vagabonds who wander the hills, steal from legitimate traplines, are an unsavory and untrustworthy lot, generally shunned and despised by “decent” folk. Trapper John explains to Rover that while he doesn‘t have much time for the vagabonds or their way of life, they are fellow human beings and that many of them may just be down on their luck.
He says that earlier in the evening he’d been reading “the Book” where it says “give to him that lacketh and, from him that hath not, withhold not thine hand …”
“There it is Rover,” Trapper says, “we are to give to the man that lacks, vagabond or no vagabond. If he lacks food, we are to give him food; if he lacks garments we are to give him garments; if he lacks Christmas dinner, Rover, we are to give him Christmas dinner…”
So, Trapper John gouged invitations on birch-bark to a Christmas dinner at his cabin and nailed them to trees in the vicinity of remote wilderness trails inviting all who read, vagabonds and fellow trappers, to come dine with him.
And, come Christmas Day, his “table lacked not guests for nearly every chair was occupied.” Twenty men had breasted the storm that they might be at that dinner and some had traversed a 30-mile trail to be there; a motley company gathered for a remarkable event.
Trapper John thanked everyone for honouring him by sharing his table “because I hated on this day of feasting and gladness to eat my food alone. I knew that the day would be happier if we spent it together.”
And then it was time to say good night and goodbye and he asked his guests to take with them more than just the memory of a well-fed, pleasant evening: “This be the lesson I want you all to take away with you as you go – that Christmas is a day of feasting and giving and laughing, but above everything else it is the day for forgiving and forgetting. Some of you are young – and may your days be long on the earth – and some of your heads are as white as mine and your years (left) not many, but be that as it may, whether our Christmas days be many or few let us remember in good or ill fortune, alone or with many, that Christmas above all else is the day for forgiving and forgetting.”
Trapper John reflected that while it had taken a long time for him to learn the true spirit of Christmas – “I’ve learned it at last.”
And, the old man extended to his now departing guests a blessing and a request I first brought to readers in a column some 30-years ago, and have repeated a few times over the years. I do so again without apology because it remains for ever timely – and needed.
“Ah, friends, dear friends, as years go on and heads get gray – how fast the guests do go! Touch hands, touch hands with those that stay. Strong hands to weak, old hands to young, around the Christmas board, touch hands. The false forget, the foe forgive, for every guest will go and every fire burn low and cabin empty stand. Forget, forgive, for who may say that Christmas day may ever come to host or guests again. Touch hands.”
Have a wonderful, loving, giving and forgiving, Christmas.