Christmas Memories

by Jan

Special Thanks: To Sherry for her help cleaning up the story and my grammar errors.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Magnificent Seven characters. They are the property of MGM and Trilogy Entertainment, darn; the original characters are mine. No money is being made from this story; it is purely for enjoyment purposes only. No infringements of these copyrights are intended, and are used here without permission. The first three of the recipes at the bottom were taken from online recipes sites and the fourth from the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook.

Chapter 1 ~ JD

JD had been running around all morning making sure the final arrangements were done for their Christmas meal and celebration this afternoon. He smiled when he thought back a few weeks to the other peacekeepers reactions when he proposed they have their joint Christmas this year for people like them, ones without families to be with.

Josiah was all for the idea, saying sagely, "'Tis the season to share our bounties."

"Bounties?" Vin asked confused and swallowing hard.

"Relax Mr. Tanner, our resident preacher is talking about sharing things we have in abundance," Ezra said.

"Like having someone to share the day with," JD added hoping they would agree. "My Ma and I used to make it a point to join up with some of the other people living at the estate. She said Christmas was a time for sharing joy with our fellow man."

JD knew he was playing his ace when he mentioned his Ma and her feelings. All of the men had a special place in their hearts for their Ma's, even Ezra despite Maude not being a typical Ma.

"Bet Inez would let us hold it in the saloon," Buck suggested.

"Be kind of nice to offer them people living alone someplace to go for Christmas," Nathan added.

"How big of a party are you talking JD?" Vin asked.

"No gifts, just a meal and some company," JD replied.

"I'm in if everyone else is," Chris said, followed by agreements from the rest of them.

"Great, I'll spread the word," JD said, his eyes bright with excitement.

Over the next few weeks JD was the leader as he coordinated the party with the others help. JD and Buck brought in the perfect tree to set up in the corner of the saloon.

JD remembered the shy smile on Vin's face when he showed up with a bag full of pine cones. Holding them out to JD the Texan said, "Thought you could use them for decorations."

Once members of the town found out about the party they joined in to help too. The easterner was thrilled when his rough counts showed they would have a couple of dozen people at their party.

JD was back in his room after a turn in the bath house. He was humming a familiar Christmas carol while he dressed. There was a locket sitting on the dresser. JD had cleaned it and was planning on keeping it in his pocket for the day.

Rachel Dunne smiled at her ten year old son when he handed her the Christmas present from him. Her eyes filled with tears when she saw the beautiful cameo locket in the box. Rachel knew it was just costume jewelry but to her it was more precious than all the diamonds in the world. She knew her beloved boy had saved for months to be able to buy it.

JD opened the locket, gazing at the pictures inside. One was his Ma and one was him, both from the year he gave her the treasured gift. "Me and the boys are having some of the towns folk for a party today Ma," JD told the picture. "You'd love the boys and they'd love you. I know it was you that guided me to 'em."

Running one finger over Rachel's picture JD said softly, "Being a part of the Seven helped take away some of the pain of losing you. I'll never stop missing you but with the boys I have a family again."

Rachel and JD didn't have much in the way of materials things but they were rich in love, laughter, and each other. One of their most favorite traditions was celebrating Christmas with their friends at the estate JD grew up at. Those were some of JD's best memories of his time at the estate. He felt like today's celebration was a tribute to his Ma, keeping that tradition alive with the people of Four Corners.

Closing the locket, JD softly kissed the outside of it before tucking it in his pocket. Having the locket with him made him feel like his Ma would be there too.

JD was humming another Christmas carol as he walked out of the boarding house to head to the saloon. This was going to be a very good day indeed.

Chapter 2 ~ Buck

Buck was in heaven. No doubt about it this Christmas party was the best idea JD ever had. Once they had decided to do it Buck jumped in with his usual gusto.

He had to admit, even though he thought JD would never decide on a tree, the one the kid had finally selected was perfect. It was tall and full enough to look good but not so full that the decorations got lost in it. Buck had enjoyed helping turn the saloon into a festive place, especially since several ladies had worked on it. They hadn't stopped with just the tree either, they said it wouldn't be much of a party if the whole room wasn't decorated.

Anytime one of the ladies needed something hung that was out of her reach Buck was there to offer his height and long reach. Ladies who wouldn't normally enter the saloon were there in the spirit of Christmas to help make the informal celebration a success.

Miss Celeste, the town seamstress, had made the ladies man a Santa hat. She said anyone with enough Christmas spirit to throw a party for the town residents who had no family, needed to have one. Buck had taken to wearing the hat with a sprig of mistletoe pinned to the front. He even managed to get Inez to give him a kiss under his mistletoe.

In his room, getting ready for the party Buck thought back to his own childhood and Christmas's with his Ma. JD wasn't the only one who had special memories. Maggie Wilmington loved Christmas. She would spend as much time with him as possible, but there were two days each year she said were special and refused to work. Those she set aside just for Buck, his birthday and Christmas.

Buck remembered the fun they had decorating his room and making gifts for the ladies Maggie worked with and the children of the nearby orphanage. Maggie told Buck they were blessed to have each other, not all children had that but they all should have a gift made with love for Christmas.

Christmas morning they would deliver their gifts. Maggie knew the people who ran the orphanage would not accept gifts from a working girl and her son so they put their tokens of Christmas in box and leave them on the porch. She would hide in the bushes while Buck ran up and knocked on the door, running back to hide with her before they could open the door.

Maggie smiled and told him, "It doesn't matter if they know who the gifts came from; it is the giving that is important part."

Buck knew she was right, watching the kids through the window and the joy on their faces when they saw what was in the box. That was the true meaning of giving, to see that delight.

After they delivered their gifts the rest of the day was just for them. They would always try to do something special, Buck didn't remember the things they did as much as that they were together.

He hadn't lied when he told JD his Ma was a Saint, to Buck she was. She taught him to be a loving and caring man, how to enjoy life to its fullest, and how to see the true person inside us all.

Buck reached in the drawer and pulled out the small carved box he had made for Maggie when he was twelve. Opening it up he took out the handkerchief that had be embroidered with love by his Ma with the initial BW. He remembered the year she gave it to him, how she showed him how to tuck it in his pocket to look like the gentleman she said he was.

Buck looked at his reflection in the mirror, carefully arranging the handkerchief just as his Ma had shown him. Once he had it perfect, he picked up his Santa hat, complete with a fresh sprig of mistletoe and placed it on his head.

Looking up toward the heavens, Buck's eyes misted over when he softly said, "Merry Christmas Ma. I been letting you down by not keeping Christmas special the last few years. After we lost Sarah and Adam it was hard to find joy. This year, JD and his party, they've been showing me what I've been missing. I promise you Ma, I won't forget again."

Taking a few minutes more to talk silently with her gave Buck the time he needed to compose himself again. He believed his Ma was always with him in his heart but at Christmas he felt closest to her memory.

A huge smile on his handsome face, the ladies man stepped into the hallway to head to the saloon. JD was also leaving his room so Buck waited for the younger man to join him.

"C'mon Kid, let's go have some fun."

Chapter 3 ~ Josiah

The little church in town was full for Christmas morning service. Josiah was both delighted and surprised, he knew some would come but didn't think there would be this many. He wondered if the party that JD was planning for that afternoon had anything to do with it.

The party had started with just the seven of them working on it. The preparations soon grew to include the whole town helping; even those families who he knew had their own Christmas celebrations to attend so wouldn't be coming. Josiah hoped his sermon today would help the Christmas spirit that started with JD's idea, continue to grow and last far past the end of the season.

Several heads nodded in agreement as Josiah talked, telling them the story of Jesus and his birth, about the hopes and dreams all parents have for their children, and the pride parents have when their children grow to be men and women of honor.

The Preacher didn't try to hide his smile and pride when he looked at the six men sitting together near the back of the church. Coming to services wasn't something any of them did on a regular basis, yet here they all were giving him their support on this holy day.

After the service was over Josiah greeted the people who had come, promising several to see them later in the saloon for the party. He spent time with his six friends last, pulling JD in for a hug saying loudly, "You've done a good thing for the people of town, your Ma would be proud. I know I am."

"Thanks Josiah," JD said his cheeks blushing red. "Don't forget you promised to say the grace before we eat so don't be late."

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Josiah replied as he reached out to ruffle JD's hair with affection making the others laugh.

A short while later the seven men all returned to their quarters, promising to met at the saloon an hour prior to the rest of the town's arrival. As he got ready Josiah thought back over his years, he had been alive longer than any of the rest of them. He had known Christmas joy and Christmas sadness. The joy he wished for the others, the sadness he hoped none of them would experience again.

Picking up a small bible that he kept by his bed, Josiah thought back to when his Ma gave it to him. He had just had another of his many fights with his father. Now Josiah knew his father was doing the best he could to raise Hannah and him but back when they were growing up they both rebelled against the iron hand Jubal Sanchez ruled his family with.

Ruth Sanchez had done her best to be the peacekeeper of the family until her death left Josiah and Hannah with no one to run interference between them and their grieving father.

Josiah and Jubal had another of their many fights the night Ruth gave her son the bible. Josiah had wanted to go riding with some friends on Christmas eve but Jubal didn't approve of the boys and refused to let him go. All the son could see was his father judging his friends unjustly.

When Ruth knocked on his door, Josiah tried to send her away but she wouldn't go. She came into his room and handed him a cool rag to press on the black eye that was forming from Jubal's fist.

"Son, whatever happens in your life I want you to know you can always depend on the father to guide you," Ruth told Josiah after she sat on the chair next to his bed.

At his snort of disbelief she added, "I'm talking about the father of us all, our father in heaven. Trust in him Josiah, he will always be with you and if you allow him, he will give you strength. This time of year is about him, his son, and the love they both have for all of us. I love you and your sister with all my heart; I would do anything to protect you. Our Lord also loves you; he loved mankind enough to give his son to us. Jesus loved enough to show us the way to his father's kingdom in heaven. Keep that love in your heart and soul."

Ruth handed Josiah a well worn bible. "My Grandfather gave me this bible for Christmas when I was your age, he told me to let it guide me. I want you to have it and know where ever the road of life brings you, the messages in this book will light your way."

Josiah wiped the tears from his eyes before he took the beloved bible from his Ma's hand; he knew how precious it was to her. "Ma, I love you too."

She kissed his cheek and asked, "Would you like to come help me bake some cookies? I could use someone to taste them for me."

Josiah smiled, "I'll like that Ma."

What had started as a bad Christmas turned into one of his best because of his Ma's love. Josiah slipped the bible in his jacket pocket; he thought she would enjoy going to JD's party with him.

Whistling a happy tune, Josiah left the church and headed to the saloon. He hoped Inez might have some cookies he could taste for her before the party started.

Chapter 4 ~ Nathan

Vin was walking out of stable Christmas eve after returning from patrol and taking care of Peso for the night, when he heard a sigh from above. Looking up he saw Nathan standing on the deck.

"Thinkin' 'bout Raine?" Vin asked when he joined Nathan on the deck.

Nathan was shocked to find Vin standing beside him. "What? Raine, no I was thinking about the story my Mama told me about the Christmas star."

"About how it guided the shepherds and wise men to the stable where baby Jesus was born?" Vin asked sensing his friend needed some company.

"You been talking to Josiah," Nathan laughed.

"Yep, I was helping him set up the stable in the church and he told me the story," Vin admitted joining Nathan in his laughter.

Nathan was quiet for awhile before saying softly, "It was our last Christmas together as a family. The master sold off some of his slaves and one of 'em was my best friend."

Vin waited patiently for Nathan to continue knowing Nathan didn't expect him to reply, just to listen.

"My Mama came into my room and told me it would be all right. I didn't see how when I would never see Luther again. That's when she told me about the Christmas star."

Nathan was looking up at the sky, his eyes misting over at the memories. "She made me go outside with her and look at the stars. She told me how sailors had been using stars to guide them across the mighty oceans."

Nathan's mind slipped back to that day when he was a seven year old boy, standing outside on a box with his Mama's arms wrapped securely around him. He remembered the look of love on her face when Fannie Jackson gazed at him.

"Mama told me, when I was lonely for someone, to look up at the stars," Nathan told Vin. "She said the same stars looking down on me were also looking down on my friend and we could be closer that way."

"Sounds like a right nice way to look at it Nathan," Vin said putting a hand on the healer's shoulder to give it a reassuring squeeze.

Nathan nodded before continuing, "I looked up at them stars all the time after the master sold Daddy and us kids away from Mama. And again when I escaped from the plantation and left Daddy behind. Every time I tried, them stars gave me some comfort."

"I reckon this time of year, I start thinking more about Mama and her stars," Nathan said looking at Vin.

"Sounds like a good memory to have Nate," Vin said. "You mind if I use it too, always did like looking at stars."

"Mama'd be proud for you to share her stars Vin," Nathan said smiling at his friend. "Thanks."

The two stood there for awhile, not talking just watching the stars and enjoying each others company in the peaceful silence.

The next day after Josiah's service Nathan was getting ready to go to JD's Christmas party. He couldn't remember the last time he looked so forward to going to a celebration.

Reaching into his drawer, Nathan pulled out a round carved item. Turning it over in his hand the healer admired the image of a star that was delicately carved into both sides of the wood. It was a Christmas gift from his parent, Obediah and Fannie Jackson, the same year Fannie told him the story of the stars. It may have been a gift for him but from the moment he opened it he always thought of it as Mama's star.

Nathan slid the star into his pocket, Mama enjoying sharing with Vin last night. He thought she would really enjoy going to JD's Christmas party with the others.

Walking out onto his deck, Nathan called out, "Josiah hold up, I'll head over to the saloon with you."

Chapter 5 ~ Vin

Vin was smiling as he walked down the boardwalk to meet Chris for a Christmas eve dinner at the restaurant. He had enjoyed his time with Nathan and was touched that the healer shared his Ma's stars with him.

Chris was waiting at their regular table when Vin entered the restaurant. The tracker didn't know if it was the season or the Christmas party that JD had organized. The easterner had invited all the town residents without a family to share the day with and that had everyone in a cheery mood. Several people had smiled at him and called out Christmas greetings as they passed.

"Thought you forgot," Chris said when Vin sat down at the table.

"Was spendin' some time with a friend," Vin answered.

"Anything I should know about?" Chris asked.

"Nope," Vin said with a smile.

"Merry Christmas gentlemen," Susan the waitress greeted them as she poured each a cup of coffee. "What can get you tonight?"

"Merry Christmas Susan," Vin replied. "Any recommendations?"

"We have some nice steaks left, they come with potatoes, green beans, and biscuits," Susan answered brightly.

Looking over at Chris, Vin saw the slight nod before he said, "We'll each take that."

"Cooked the way you each usually like them?" Susan asked smiling as they both nodded. "Want me to save you each a big piece of apple pie too?"

"That's be right nice of you Miss Susan," Vin said making her melt when he gave her one of her most charming smiles.

Chris watched her walk off before saying, "Bet your steak and pie and bigger than mine."

"Can I help it that I'm irresistible?" Vin asked his eyes twinkling with mirth.

Chris shook his head and laughed. "You know, I didn't think JD's idea for a Christmas party was a good one. It mattered to him so I thought what the heck. I was wrong; the town is really looking forward to it."

"I wasn't so sure either but now I'm glad we're doing it," Vin admitted.

"You seem to be having a good time helping get ready for it." At Vin's questioning look Chris added, "Saw you take the Potter kids to go gather pine cones."

"I don't remember more than my last Christmas with Ma, but I have good memories of the Christmas's I spent with my Grandparents after Ma passed," Vin said.

"Grandpa'd take me with him to gather pine cones and cut the tree, and then I help Grandma decorate the cabin and make some Christmas candy. I loved that molasses taffy that we made. I even remember how to make it, add some molasses, vinegar, salt, butter, and baking soda." Vin smiled lost in his memories. "Grandma would add some peppermint to a couple of batches. I wanted her to make it all the time but she always said; nope it was just for Christmas."

"I reckoned since the Potter kids didn't have a Pa to go with maybe they would like to go with me," Vin said thinking back to the day he took the two kids with him to the woods.

"From what I hear they had a good time with you, according to Billy it's all the Potters talk about since you took 'em," Chris told Vin. "Heard you've been busy, helping out Josiah with the church, Nettie at her place, and the Potter family, all while keeping up with your peacekeeper duties."

Chris saw the slight blush creep up Vin's cheeks. "My Grandma always said Christmas was for giving and my Grandpa showed me about the wilderness, guess I'm trying to live up to what they taught me."

"Neither of 'em had any formal education but they were the smartest people I ever knew, they taught me so much more than any school could have. They both died when I was fourteen, been on my own since then."

"They'd be mighty proud you Vin," Chris said sincerely. "They raised a fine man."

Vin nodded his appreciation for his words of support. "Grandma used to tell me that in giving you received too. She was right too; Gloria Potter made me some of that molasses candy like Grandma made to thank me for taking the kids with me."

"Don't remember you sharing any of that candy," Chris teased.

"That's right, don't plan on sharing any either," Vin said laughing.

The next day Vin was in his wagon getting ready to join the others at JD's Christmas party. He pulled out a box that was hidden away in a safe spot. He thought back to his last Christmas with his Ma and how she gave him the box and its contents. Beth Tanner told her young son they were keepsakes of his family and if we wanted to feel close to any of them just to pull them out.

Vin remembered the man at the orphanage trying to take the box away from him and reaching out to slap the five year old when he fought back. A voice filled with the promise to carry through with the threat rang out, "Hit that boy and it's the last thing you'll ever do."

The man was startled enough to let go of the box, giving Vin the opportunity to take the box and run behind the tall man wearing the buckskin jacket.

"Who are you?" the man from the orphanage asked trying to control his fear at the deadly stare the old man was giving him.

"Name's Daniel Tanner, I'm here to bring my grandson Vin home to live with his Grandma Becky and me."

Vin thought back on the joy that filled his heart when Daniel said those words. Inside the box were treasures that didn't have much value except to the Tracker, they were priceless to him.

There was an old pocket knife that his Grandpa gave him, telling Vin it belonged to Daniel when he was a boy. There was also a handkerchief that belonged to Grandma Becky; if Vin closed his eyes and sniffed it he could smell her still. A pocket watch that was his Pa's and a pin with a flower design on it that his Pa gave his Ma on their wedding day were also in the box. Although they died when he was a small child his Ma had also put in mementos of her parents too, a pair of cuff links that belonged to her Pa and a locket that was her Ma's.

Vin carefully wrapped the pin and locket inside of the handkerchief and put them in the new medicine bag he planned to wear under his shirt. He slipped the knife and watch into his pocket and used the cuff links on his shirt. The others would not know it was happening but he wanted his old family to meet his new and JD's party seemed like a good time for it.

There was a lightness in his step as Vin left his wagon to head to the saloon. He paused outside to wait for Chris who was coming up the boardwalk. The two friends walking in together, both ready to celebrate the day with the town they now called home.

Chapter 6- Chris

It was late by the time Chris got back to his room at the boarding house on Christmas eve. He and Vin had enjoyed their meal together and each other's company. Hanging up his hat and jacket before sitting on the bed to remove his boots, Chris smiled as he thought back on the last few weeks.

Ever since JD had talked them into holding a Christmas party at the saloon for anyone who didn’t have family to share the day with, their small town had been bustling with activity. JD, Buck, and several of the town residents made sure the saloon was decorated fitting the season. The enthusiasm of their youngest was impossible to resist, the whole town caught the Christmas spirit from him.

Ezra had found an old piano and had set it up in the corner of the saloon, cleaning and tuning it he said, “A little musical interlude would be most welcome at our soiree.”

Nathan and Josiah had been working steadily to get the little church ready for Christmas services. Vin had been helping Josiah too and so had Chris when he wasn’t helping Billy surprise his Ma with tree for their living room.

He wasn’t the only one helping out some the town's children. Chris didn’t think he’d ever seen the Potter kids look as happy as they did after Vin took them out to gather pine cones and to cut a tree for the Potter family Christmas.

Chris ran a hand through his hair as he stood to take off his shirt and unbutton his longjohns that helped keep him warm in the frigid December air. Walking over to the dresser, he poured some water in the washbasin planning to clean up before bed.

Chris shivered a little as the cool water rinsed his face, neck, and down his chest. He grabbed a towel to dry off while walking back toward his bed. Reaching down his leg, the man in black unstrapped the tie down for his gun then removed the gun belt making sure it was within easy reach from the bed.

Stripping off his pants and longjohns, he blew out the lamp and crawled between the sheets to get some well deserved sleep. Chris couldn’t hold back the chuckle when he thought of JD and how excited he was about Christmas. He hoped the kid would be able to get some sleep tonight.

Chris remembered how excited Adam always was on Christmas eve. He and Sarah usually had to resort to telling their son that Santa wouldn’t come if he was awake before the boy would finally give into sleep. Heck, when Chris thought back to his own childhood he was the same as Adam was. His parents used the same threat on Chris, his brother, and sisters that he and Sarah used on their son.

The Larabee’s weren’t a wealthy family, but they always had plenty to keep them happy. As a kid Chris thought all families had a Pa and Ma and siblings that loved each other, as he got older he realized how fortunate he was to have them.

It was Chris’s Pa that taught him to whittle and to shoot a gun. His Ma insisted he and his brother learn how to cook along with his sisters. She said a man should know how to take care of himself if he didn’t have a woman around. Those lessons came in handy on the trail and to impress Sarah. She was the only woman he'd ever wanted to cook for.

Chris still had the pocket knife that he got for Christmas when he was nine years old. He spent hours whittling with that knife to make each of his family a gift for the next Christmas. The pride in his Pa’s eyes when Chris presented his gifts to everyone was worth every cut and blister he got.

He also remembered the tears in Katie Larabee’s eyes, both when he made the Christmas announcement that he was ready to head west and tame the wild frontier, and when he kissed her goodbye for the last time a few months later. He was a little younger than JD was when the Seven first joined forces. Katie and Seth Larabee knew they would never see their son again, but they also saw the fire and passion in his eyes and knew holding him back would be wrong.

Happy memories of his childhood filled Chris's mind as he slipped off to sleep. Chris couldn't believe how good he slept that night, then again once he thought how he was as a kid, and after he finally got to sleep he always slept well on Christmas eve.

Ezra was walking down the boardwalk when Chris came out of the boarding house. Neither man said a word as they fell into step side by side, and made their way the church for Josiah's service.

After the service, Chris was back in his room pulling on the pale blue shirt he was wearing to JD's party. He paused at the dresser before pulling open the top drawer. Reaching to the back he pulled out a small bag.

Inside the bag was the pocket knife he received from his folks for Christmas when he was nine. It would have been destroyed in the fire but at the last minute Chris tucked it in his pocket to take with him to Mexico. He planned to do some whittling for a special gift for Adam on the trip and found the small knife worked well for fine detail work.

Chris slipped the knife in his pocket; he always felt a connection to his folks when he carried it. Then he pulled out the small carved horse that he had made to surprise Adam with. He almost threw it away when he got home to find his world had been destroyed. The only thing that stopped him was the thought that it was his only connection left to Adam.

"You'd like the boys, little man," Chris said softly. "Nathan would take care of your scrapes and fuss over you. Josiah would entertain you with stories of the world. JD would team up with Uncle Buck and they would keep you laughing all the time. Ezra, he'd teach you how to spot a con and show you magic, he'd also teach you poker. Your Ma always wanted you to learn from the best. And Vin, he'd teach you the ways of nature, you'd love it as much as he does."

Running his finger over the smooth surface of the horse Chris thought about it for a minute and then decided to bring Adam's horse to the party too. Adam would like that.

Chris was almost to the saloon when he saw Vin at the door. He didn't have to call out; he knew Vin knew he was there. Larabee wasn't surprised at all when the tracker stopped at the saloon door and waited for him. They shared a nod and walked in together, both looking forward to spending the day with their friends and family.

Chapter 7 ~ Ezra

Mother would be so ashamed, Ezra thought as he cleaned the piano he had found. Coughing a little from the dust he was stirring up, the gambler continued to clean his find. He still had two days to get it perfect for JD's Christmas party.

Once he had the piano sparkling clean and polished, Ezra recruited Vin and Nathan to help move it into the proper place in the saloon. He quickly made sure nothing needed cleaning again after the move, and then sat down to tune the treasured instrument.

Nathan had returned to his work at the clinic but Vin was still around. The Texan sat down in a chair next to the piano and said, “You look like you know what you’re doin’ there pard.”

“Aunt Millie taught me how to care for a piano when she taught me to play,” Ezra admitted without thinking.

“You play?” Vin asked.

“It has been awhile. I do try to keep in practice when I find the opportunity,” Ezra confessed. “Aunt Millie loved Christmas and I was always happiest when I was with her. She would have a huge party, just like our young Mr. Dunne is planning.”

Vin knew Ezra was opening up to him about something precious to the gambler. “Bet JD’s party is bring up memories for you too.”

“Yes, most pleasant memories,” Ezra said. “Aunt Millie would love JD’s celebration, I find myself joining in as a tribute to her memory as much as for JD. Are you including yourself in the memories the preparations are invoking?”

“After my Ma past on, I went to live with my grandparents. They lived in a cabin out in woods far from town. We didn’t have big party but they always had little traditions to make the season special for me.”

“Aunt Millie did too,” Ezra said, the smile on his face telling Vin that his friend was fondly remembering those times. “We would bake oatmeal cookies and buttermilk tea cakes, and then deliver them to the families that had been kind to Aunt Millie. I still remember how they tasted; melt in your mouth goodness.”

“You remember how to make them?” Vin asked.

Ezra laughed knowing their tracker had a notorious sweet tooth. “It’s been awhile but I might be able to come up with a batch or two.”

Making one last twist to the piano wire, Ezra closed the lid. Wiggling his finger, the gambler smiled at Vin asking, "Shall I put my skills to a test?"

Vin knew his friend was a man of many talents, he had just discovered that piano playing was one of them. The beautiful melody cause several people in the saloon to stop and listen. Vin cheered the loudest of them all when Ezra finished his song.

Vin was surprised to see the slight blush on Ezra's face, not much rattled the gambler. Ezra looked over at Vin, expecting some teasing or laughter only to see pride and support.

"Your Aunt Millie taught you good, Ez," Vin said softly, concerned if he said the wrong words Ezra would bolt. "She must have been a real special lady."

Ezra starred at Vin for a minute trying to find an angle, finally deciding his friend was being sincere with his words. "She was a lady who brightened my world by her presence in it. I will forever be grateful to Mother for leaving me in Aunt Millie's tender care."

Vin nodded, knowing Ezra didn't expect him to reply. Taking the bottle of brandy Inez had left, the tracker poured two glasses. Handing one to Ezra he held the other up and said, "To the special women in our lives."

Ezra smiled, holding up his own glass in reply, the two men waiting for a minute in tribute before they each finished off their drinks in one swallow.

Christmas morning Ezra dressed with care, it had been awhile since he had cared about attending a church service. He chuckled as thought about the excitement in town, all started by JD's Christmas party. A gift to the town from the heart, one Maude would never understand but Aunt Millie would be proud of.

He had to admit, he was proud also and excited. It had been too long since he had looked forward to Christmas. Brushing invisible lint from his jacket, Ezra left his room to head to the church. He was happy to see Chris leaving the boarding house as he was walking by. There was feeling of belonging as the two walked down the street and into the church together.

Ezra found himself enjoying Josiah's service and listening with interest to the preacher's sermon. He hoped Josiah was right, that Maude and Aunt Millie did feel proud of him. It was difficult when their teachings were so different from each other, he felt he carried a little of each of the ladies with him and in his actions.

After the service Ezra walked back to his room thinking about the first time he met Aunt Millie. Maude pulled the seven year old out from behind her. "Millicent," she said, "this is Ezra and I need to leave him here with you for awhile."

"Don't worry Maude, I'll take very good care of young Ezra here," Aunt Millie replied her eyes twinkling giving Ezra hope.

"Dear boy you do as your Aunt Millicent asks and I'll be back," Maude said kissing his cheek before she turned and walked back to the buggy waiting to take her back to town.

Aunt Millie stood patiently while Ezra watched Maude drive out of his life after leaving him with a stranger. She was a little annoyed that Maude would show up unannounced and leave her son with her two days before Christmas. She picked up his bag and reached for his hand to lead him into her home.

Inside she showed him around her cheery home, which was decorated and festive. "Thank you Aunt Millicent," Ezra said as he had been taught.

She pulled him tight against her in a warm hug. "Oh honey child, your Mama insists on calling me Millicent. Call me Aunt Millie; we don't have airs around this home. Besides how can we be friends if you call me that stuffy old name?"

Ezra couldn't hold back the giggle at the look on her face. Aunt Millie started to laugh too. "That's better, now we've found your smile. Come with me, I have something for you."

Ezra was surprised; no one ever gave him something as soon as he arrived. His eyes were wide saucers when Aunt Millie held out the small figurine of a knight.

"My Papa gave this to me after he read me the story of King Arthur and Camelot. Have you read it? No, well we'll start on it tonight. He told me this is a special knight, one that would protect me from harm always." She handed the figurine to Ezra. "I would like you to have it so it will always protect you when I'm not around."

Ezra took the figurine and let his finger run over it before he looked up and then threw himself into Aunt Millie's open arms. "Thank you Aunt Millie, I will take very good care of the knight."

"I know you will honey child," she replied stroking his back. "Now are you tired? Would you like to rest or would you like to help me make some buttermilk tea cakes? We'll be hosting a Christmas party in two days and we need to get our baking done."

Ezra smiled at the happiness he saw shining down at him. "I would like to help you bake please."

"Bake it is," Aunt Millie said taking Ezra's hand and leading him to the kitchen.

Ezra had a wonderful Christmas that year, Aunt Millie had kept her word and each night would read a chapter in the book about King Arthur and Camelot. He guests included him in the festivities and he discovered a love for Aunt Millie's oatmeal cookies and buttermilk tea cakes. He was sad when six months later Maude showed up again to take him with her. That was the first of many Christmas's Ezra spent with his Aunt Millie.

Ezra reached in his hidden treasures box and pulled out a worn and much loved knight. "Aunt Millie, you'd be excited about the party young Mr. Dunne has planned. I found a piano and Mr. Tanner has convinced me to play a few songs during the celebration. You would like these men and I know they would love you."

Slipping the knight into his pocket, Ezra patted it lovingly. Aunt Millie had been in his thoughts ever since JD suggested the Christmas party. It seemed only fitting that her knight should attend.

Leaving his room he hid in the shadows until all the others had arrived at the party. It wouldn't do for anyone to think he was anxious to arrive. Walking through the saloon door a sense of coming home came over the gambler, not because it was a saloon but because his friends were all there.

"Hey, Ez, Merry Christmas," Vin greeted handing Ezra a beer.

"Merry Christmas to you too Mr. Tanner," Ezra replied.

"C'mon Ez, its Christmas can't you lose the Mr. and just call me Vin."

"I'll make you a deal, if you remember my name is Ezra. I'll remember yours is Vin."

Vin held out his hand, "Deal, Ezra."

"Deal, Vin," Ezra replied shaking hands to seal their agreement.

"JD, you and Buck outdid yourself with the decorations," Nathan said.

Finishing his beer, Vin walked behind the bar to grab a box. Ezra nodded for Vin to go ahead. Looking at the others he said, "I know we said no gifts, it just didn't seem like Christmas without these." Vin handed each of his friends a brightly colored bandana holding a special treat inside. "They're from Ezra and me."

Each of the men opened the bandanas to look inside. A smile formed on Chris's face.

"Cookies," Buck said, "you and Ez made us cookies?"

"These are delicious," Josiah said eating one of the buttermilk tea cakes.

"Molasses taffy?" Chris asked with a smirk. "Is there peppermint in some of it?"

"This is great," JD said his mouth full of taffy. "Thanks. Can we make more?"

"Maybe next year, it's only for Christmas," Vin answered. Ezra and I were talking about family traditions, my Grandma always made molasses taffy and his Aunt Millie oatmeal cookies and buttermilk tea cakes."

"It didn't seem like Christmas without having them to share with you," Ezra added.

Buck was finishing up one of his oatmeal cookies, "Well I'm glad you boys decided to share."

Chris debated for a minute and then decided if Vin and Ezra could so could he. Reaching for the box he had hidden earlier Chris handed each of them one of the blue tissue wrapped gifts.

"My Ma used to make these every year for Christmas," Chris told them.

"Cake," Vin exclaimed with delight.

"You boys are in for a treat; these heart shaped cakes are great. Thanks old dog," Buck said taking a bite out of his gift.

"Buck and I have something too," Nathan said handing each of them a bag. "Both of our families used to make spiced cider for Christmas. These are the spices and we have some apple cider for us to make after the party."

"My gift is a story, each Christmas we would sit around and my father would read us the story of the birth of Jesus. I was hoping you boys would stay around and while we drink Nathan and Buck's spiced cider, I'd like to read it to you," Josiah said smiling when they all agreed.

"I'm the only one that doesn't have something to share with you," JD said his smile dropping.

"You're wrong JD," Chris said before anyone else could speak up. "You gave us this party and reminded us of Christmas memories we had forgotten. Your gift was the best of all."

Chris placed a hand on JD's shoulder, "I'm proud to call you friend, son."

"To JD," Buck called out raising his mug high.

"Hear, hear," several voices cried out as all of them raised their mugs in a toast to the man who have given a small town in the west and all of them another Christmas memory to file away.

JD was beaming with happiness. "Hey, we better hurry if we want to get the food out before everyone comes."

Using the teamwork that the Seven were famous for, they quickly put out all the food and punch. Guests started to arrive, one or two at a time until the saloon was packed with happy people sharing their Christmas spirit.

Gloria Potter and her kids stopped by for awhile, she was blushing when Vin scooped her out on the floor to dance to the lively tune Ezra was playing on the piano. Kissing his cheek she said, "Thank you Vin, you've given the Potter family a wonderful Christmas."

Nettie and Casey also stopped by, along with Mary and Billy. Josiah wasn't about to let Vin be the only one to give one of the ladies a dance. He bowed to Nettie then held out his arm, "May I have this dance?"

Nettie laughed and took his arm much to Casey's delight who was being asked to dance by JD. Chris danced with Inez, while Buck took a turn with Mary. Buck also made sure to get each of the ladies present under the mistletoe for the Christmas kiss.

Ezra knew no one was there but he still felt a hand on his shoulder. A gentle touch and the whisper of "You play beautifully honey child," told him his Aunt Millie was there just as she had been all those years ago when he was a child.

The party continued on for several hours, people coming and going. Some of the guests were standing around Ezra and the piano singing songs while others were sharing stories and laughter. Each of the other six took turns behind the bar so Inez could enjoy the party too.

Everyone who attended had a wonderful time and as each of them left they made sure to thank each of the Seven, especially JD, for including them. When the last guest had left, Ezra promised Inez they would clean and lock up for her. Each knowing if they were still together next year, there would be another Christmas party they would host.

Buck brought out the spiced cider after the room was put back in order. They all sat around the table sipping on their cider and eating their goodies from each other while they listened to Josiah's baritone voice read the story of the true reason for Christmas.


The End


Recipes from the story:

Molasses Taffy

2 cups molasses
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons butter or fat
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cook molasses and vinegar in a saucepan slowly, stirring constantly, until temperature is 270 F or until syrup becomes brittle when tested in cold water. Remove from heat and add butter or fat, salt, and soda. Stir until mixture ceases to foam. Pour into a greased pan. When cool enough to pull, draw the corners to the center. Remove from pan and pull until light in color and firm. Roll into a thin rope. Cut into pieces and wrap in waxed paper.

Molasses Peppermint Taffy

Add 7 drops of oil of peppermint to the candy before you pull the corners to the center and remove from pan. Follow directions above.

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Tea Cakes (similar to sugar cookies)



Put 5 cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Add remaining ingredients to the well of the flour. Using a spoon (or your hand) gradually stir in flour as you mix the ingredients in the well of the flour.

Continue until you make a stiff dough, adding more flour if needed. On a floured surface, roll out to about 1/8-inch thickness; cut out and bake on lightly greased baking sheets at 350° until brown around the edges.

Makes 6 to 7 dozen tea cakes.

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies



1. Combine all ingredients in order given. Refrigerate dough for several hours or overnight to get a thick consistency.

2. Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) 12-14 minutes. Let stand 1 minute before removing from baking sheet.

Heart Shaped Cakes
From Little House on the Prairie Cookbook

For six heart-shaped cakes you will need:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In the bowl mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and nutmeg. With cold fingers (dipped in cold water and dried) rub the cold lard into the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center, add buttermilk, and work with one hand into a dough that can be rolled out.

Dust rolling surface with flour. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it out into an 8-inch circle. With a table knife dipped in flour cut the circle in half, then the halves into thirds, to produce six equal wedges. Shape each wedge into a heart.

Grease baking sheet and place hearts on it so they do not touch. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the cakes are puffy and nicely browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle tops immediately with sugar (the crystals will melt slightly and stick). When cool, eat or wrap with blue tissue paper, the traditional wrapping of white sugar crystals, for gift giving.