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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

A Path Adorned With Snow Angels: An Inmate's First Christmas

Vintage Winter Scene    CC0
Vintage Winter Scene CC0

December 19, 1872 County Farm Ossipee, NH

I found it difficult to imagine Christmas at the Carroll County Farm. I didn’t think it possible to miss Sarah blastin’ that horn of hers, but how I longed to hear even one pitiful note. We used to spend a full week bakin’ merries and decoratin’ the house with pine boughs and red ribbons. When Papa was alive, we journeyed through the woods to cut down a tree.

After Papa’s death, Sarah and I took it upon ourselves to go into the woods and cut down our own tree. Mother waited with warm milk and sweets. It was an all-day affair to wander about in the deep snow, pick the best tree, and then cut it down with Papa’s saw. We took turns draggin’ it home, leavin’ a path adorned with snow angels and speckled green pine needles.

Before fetchin’ the tree, we spent many a night sittin’ by the fire stringin’ apples and special cranberries from Mr. Tibbetts’ cousin in Cape Cod. My favorite decoration was the abandoned bird’s nest that I found in the barn. Sarah played festive music on her cornet and even played for the special church service. Together we sang hymns and Christmas carols and planned for the annual gatherin’ of neighbors to share wassail and sweet cakes. Sarah always wanted to start a song, but Mother would not have it because she was the unmistakable leader when it came to the business of singin’.

My circumstances seemed far worse than when I first arrived and became more unbearable with each passin’ day. My first concern was that I had not heard a word from Sarah. I sent her four letters since my arrival and had yet to get a response. If it were someone else, I would understand, but it was not of her character to forget about me and not fuss about my existin’ conditions.

The mood of the folks seemed generally depressin’ without much change in the daily chores. I agreed with Patience, stretchin’ in the mornin’ did not prevent me from bein’ sore. My hands, always wet and cold, had become raw from lye. I despised doin’ the laundry most of all, but if I uttered a word in protest, I would feel Polly’s stick upon my shoulders. I swear she could sense when I was about to have an outburst. She seemed to be waitin’ behind me, so I held my tongue as Mother would have advised.

Mary worked hard to lift our spirits. She seemed to be stuck somewhere between the matrons and us inmates. She talked sweet but didn’t put up with any nonsense. She stood up to the bosses, yet she didn’t raise her voice, and she always had a plan.

After a long debate between Polly and Miss Noyes, they concluded that we would start stringin’ apples followin’ the supper chores. Patience and Bella buzzed with the notion that we would be makin’ somethin’ for ourselves. Emily simply sat with her hands pressed together lookin’ scared and continually checkin’ the door in hopes that it would fly open and her boy would return.

Abigail – December 19, 1872 Carroll County “Poor” Farm Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series Book One ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Author’s Note After many years of research and writing, I still have not found an answer to why these marginalized people were referred to as inmates and sentenced to the County Farm.

Why? In time, and as I continue along on my journey, these circumstances become more menacing and urgent. The questions are increasingly evident and critical, and the answers are consistently shrouded in mystery. May we always care about the truth. And may we not allow fear to lead the way. We have what it takes to see in the dark; we just need to remember. Mj Pettengill


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