Soledhan and Little Jaicobh were the first of the children to attack their grandfather with the fullness of their affection. They leapt at his legs, claiming one for each of them, hugging him and chiming out how glad they were to see him, though they had only been parted for one day, leavingDorrin to embrace Jaicobh about the neck, all three children flailing their legs as he swung them about. The conclamant cry of “Den Utaa!” “Grandda!” and “Great Uncle Jaicobh!” rang out as he bent to gather all the children into his arms, Jaicobh’s salutation lost under a fit of giggles tinkling over the sounds of the party drawing near the house.
“Here are my wee-uns,” Jaicobh declared with exertion, lifting the children up high and then putting them down again. “Ready for the holiday?”
“Yes!” the children sang.
“We got everythin’ waitin’ inside for you: supper, warmed chocolate, got come baked apples and cake, we got the whole house in decoration, got all the storybooks lined up next to the fire, and,” kneeling down and whispering rather audibly behind a raised hand, “…we got presents.”
The children gasped and then cried out in exultation, holding one another and leaping up and down as they hallooed and hollered and dance in a circle.
“Guess yer excited,” Jaicobh laughed. “Mon inside and warm yerselves by the fire.”
“Wait, Great Uncle Jaicobh,” said Dorrin.“We have something for you.”
Dorrin gave Soledhan a conscious look and nodded eagerly in the direction of the party.
Soledhan scurried to the cart and came back again, holding out a small wrapped parcel for his grandfather to take. “For you, Den Utaa,” said he, with musical inflection.
Jaicobh stared at the parcel, astonished at the gesture being forced on him by three smiling children. “What’s this here?”
“Present for you, Grandda,” Little Jaicobh insisted, pushing the parcel at his grandfather.
“Present? What’s all this about a present? We granddas are supposed to be givin’ the presents.”
“Open it!” Little Jaicobh sweetly demanded.
Jaicobh accepted the gift and glanced at his son and daughter, who were standing behind the children and eyeing him with sagacious glee, and when he was about to remind them of his insisting on their not bringing any presents, Sheamas said, “Don’t even try it, Da. We had nothin’ to do with this one.”
Jaicobh raised a brow and looked unconvinced.
“He is being truthful with you, father,” Boudicca persisted. “When the children were making gifts for each other, they decided on their own that their parents and grandparents should have giftsa notion probably glean from Baronous and Hathanta after they had stressed the ideas of charity and gift-giving. The idea of giving you a gift often crossed my mind when I was their age, and when carried out, you always accepted after a short struggle. Never in my life have I seen someone fuss more over wrapping paper and ribbon. If I had just given you something without wrapping it or telling you it was a gift, I should hare fared far better.”
“You were designin’ about it, darlin’,” said Jaicobh. “You’d figure out ways to make somethin’ not seem like a gift, and then put it in my hand before knew what it was. Can’t give a gift back what’s already in my hand.”
“Which is precisely why you cannot give that one back.”
Jaicobh glanced at the gift in his hand and pined that he had accepted it without being given a chance at refusal. He appreciated the warmhearted gesture of being thought of and liked receiving any token of affection from his children, but being poor for much of his life, being used to meager means and living on little, he could not but understand the tribulations of what it was to work hard for anything supernumerary. He delighted in being able to give gifts to his children, small trinkets and crafted items that bore the mark of someone else’s exertion, and while he gloried in receiving anything from his children, he would rather something made by them than something bought. He understood privation, knew what it was to accumulate his wages and secret away every copper extraordinary, and though he was the epitome of generosity and openhandedness, and taught his children to be the same, he wished they might save their earnings and allow him to squander his instead. Such was the right of a farmer and a father—Jaicobh thought so, at least—and while he had presents for all his children and grandchildren in the house, he could not think it right that three young boys were meant to give up the few coppers they had for his sake, nor did he think it just that their parents should offer money for a gift when their being there was more than gift enough for himself.
“Den Utaa, open it,” Soledhan pined.
Jaicobh glanced at the gift and sighed. “Will you let me to open it later when we open all the other gifts?”
The children shook their heads, their motions moving their whole bodies from side to side, and made mischievous smiles.
“Now, please,” Little Jaicobh chimed.
The children widened their eyes and looked insistent, and Jaicobh exhaled and resigned with an, “Aye, o’ right. I’m openin’ it, I’m openin’ it.”
He examined the parcel and turned it every which way, and the children gathered close, spying Jaicobh with unabated anticipation.
“Really want to see me open it, aye?” said he laughingly.
They nodded, their eyes sparkling with high glee.
“No!”“You had better open it father before they attack you,” the commander laughed. “And we brought you a pair of socks, so you need not look for them there.”
“Everyone’s gotta have socks on Ailineighdaeth,” said Sheamas impressively. “It’s tradition, Da,” and then, with a serious look, “Besides, Mrs Cuineill made socks for all of us.”
“Aye, well,” said Jaicobh, “we all need socks in Frewyn.”
With a glowing heart did Jaicobh carefully undo the ties and peel back the packing paper, but what was his surprise upon finding a stone slat, carved and painted with scenes of the holiday in his hands? Astonishment was his first sensation to feel, but once the thrill of revelation was over with him, elation prevailed, his heart grew full, the lurks about his mouth widened and curled, and all the sanguine reverie of receiving the first gift from his grandchildren assailed him. He paused and examined the slat: it was a likeness of their farmhouse, carved and painted into the stone, its exterior trimmed and fitted up for the holiday, with trees festooned in fine dress, stars coruscating motionless into a carved sky, symptoms of gaiety and affection everywhere, an indistinct family gathered round a small bonfire, embracing one another and gazing up at the constellations, the words Maith Ailineighdaeth etched along the bottom. Jaicobh’s lips pursed, his hand lift unconsciously, covering his mouth, and every feeling of affection and appreciation succeeded. His eyes glistened, the trials of a full heart reigned over him, and he had all the pleasure of struggling against too much happiness.
“What’s all this now?” said he, in a faltering voice, trying for composure while his heart was under the power of so much joy. He inhaled, looked up momentarily to call back his tears, and endeavoured not to cry in front of the children who were eagerly crowding him. “Is this the farmhouse?” said Jaicobh, encouraging the children to look at the slat whilst he wiped away a tear with his arm.
“Aye!” Little Jaicobh cried.
“And that’s us, Great Uncle Jaicobh,” said Dorrin, pointing to the silhouette of the family round the bonfire.
Jaicobh sniffed. “Aye, so it is. Well, guess we’ll have to make a fire outside later too so we can be warm while waitin’ for the stars.”
The children hallooed and hopped up and down in place, and Jaicobh was all smiling approbation. He drew the children against him and gave them a warm embrace.
“Mho Bheannacht, mho grathi,” said he, with doting gratulation. He kissed their heads, and then handing them the slat, he urged them to go in the house with, “Go on in and show your grandmother and great aunt Calleen what you brought us.”
They scampered in, calling out for grandma and Den Imaa Calleen to come and look at the gift they brought her, and Jaicobh smiled to himself, his heart sincerely oppressed, his sensibilities longing to express what civility told him to restrain. Family would not have minded the tearful musing of an old man, but a farmer so used to solitary inundations of emotion would not relinquish his ideas of decency now. He averted his eyes, gave a few hardy sniffs, and exhaled, his hand pressed against his heart.