The days are short and the coldest part of the year has arrived. Christmas, with its lights and warmth, is probably the best possible antidote to the chill and the dark.     
     There are those who argue that the true meaning of Christmas has been irretrievably lost. They say the holiday has been reduced to a tool of commerce, an instrument designed to expeditiously extract money from the masses.     
     It does not help that we are constantly bombarded by Christmas blowout sale ads and the news that Santa has hired Google to compile his naughty or nice list. Such things make it difficult to keep in mind that this holiday, occurring during a season when the ground is hard as an anvil, began with a birth that took place under the humblest of circumstances.     
     Speaking of anvils, the true meaning of Christmas was reinforced for me many years ago during a Yuletide visit with a pair of old bachelor blacksmiths.     
     The winter when I was 18, I took a full-time job with an area dairy farmer. On Christmas Eve Day, the boss and I drove to town to run errands, one of which involved the boss paying his bill at the local machine shop.
     Finding the door to the machine shop locked, we went to the house next door where its owners lived. A grease-stained grizzly bear-like man answered our knock.
     “C’mon in,” he said. “It ain’t fit for man nor beast out there, and you guys must be one or the other.”     
     We were ushered into a ramshackle kitchen. Every available surface in the house was occupied by stacks of old newspapers and random flotsam and jetsam. A path between the piles allowed passage from room to room.     
     We were offered seats at the kitchen table. The smaller brother, who reminded me of a dyspeptic wolverine, hastily cleared a small area of the tabletop while the grizzly rummaged around in a prehistoric refrigerator.
     “You got to try our eggnog,” said the grizzly as he hauled a massive stoneware pitcher from the depths of the refrigerator. “Tis the season. An’ you guys need something to take the edge off this cold.”     
     A set of grungy coffee mugs were slammed down before us and filled with nog. I picked up a mug of the gooey fluid and took a preliminary whiff. My nose hairs instantly vaporized.     
     “Smells good, don’ it?” said the grizzly. “We done it up right, with both rum and whiskey. Go on, drink up.”
       I took an experimental sip. The stuff was too thick to swallow and too thin to chew. A searing sensation filled my throat as I choked the nog down.      
     As the four of us sat chatting and sipping questionable eggnog, a slender calico cat sauntered into the kitchen from amidst the jungle of clutter.
     “There’s Bob,” said my boss.     
     “Ha,” I said, feeling inexplicably giddy. “It’s a tomcat and you named him Bob. I get it.”     
     An icy silence suddenly descended. The blacksmith brothers glared at each other across the table. It seemed that I had struck a nerve.     
     The boss turned to me and said, “Bob birthed a litter of kittens a few days ago.”
    “You’re so dumb, you can’t even tell a boy cat from a girl cat,” said the wolverine at the bear.
    “It never even dawned on you that he was pregnant,” said the grizzly. “You said, ‘Bob must be catching lots of mice, he’s really putting on weight.’ Glad you ain’t my doctor.”     
    Silence reigned once again. It was clear that this matter was a source of deep animosity. A merry Christmas seemed unlikely.     
     At length, my boss cleared his throat and said, “Maybe something else is going on. Maybe Bob was a tomcat but something, I dunno, miraculous happened. After all, it’s the season for that sort of thing.”     
     A feeble “mew” wafted up from the kitchen floor. Bob had placed one of his newborns at our feet.     
     “Aww, would you look it that,” said the grizzly. He scooped up the tiny kitty in his massive paw and petted the creature with surprising tenderness.     
     “Let me see,” said the wolverine, crowding in. “Looks sort of like you, don’t you think? Let’s see if we can find the rest. Maybe Bob had one that looks like me.”     
     We left the blacksmith brothers happily searching for the rest of Bob’s kittens. As we drove away, a warm sensation arose within me, a feeling that was due to more than just the eggnog.     
     It was the thought that a little baby had again brought peace to the earth and goodwill to men.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.