The Cardinal was flying through the early snow, trying to keep up with his friends. They were headed to warmer climates, but the snow was thick. His wings we’re getting heavy.
Finally they were so covered, that he started going down. He landed in a big backyard, full of snow, where a green house was.
The Cardinal planned to shake his wings, and rejoin his group. Until he heard a voice in the snow. “Please, please help me.” He looked around he saw a white Mouse, barely visible in the snow.
He pulled with his beak at the little Mouse’s paw, until he was free. The Mouse was ever so grateful. He invited the Cardinal to spend the winter with him, in his home.
The Cardinal was going to say no, but he knew his friends were too far ahead to catch up. So he gladly accepted the kind offer. The Mouse hopped lightly, and quickly, as to not get stuck again. The Cardinal followed, flying low.
Soon they arrived at a small opening for a very big house. The two slipped inside, and just as quickly, said goodbye to the cold. The Cardinal could not believe his eyes.
He had expected a small crevice, not a large den. “This house has been in my family for generations. Great Great Grandpa Whiskers said the person who built the house used too many boards.”
“Apparently it was the first one he built. So Grandpa hollowed out three connected pieces of wood near the inner wall. It’s insulated very well, except for the brick that leads to the outside.”
The Mouse had a three story home that connected to the inside through a small opening in the baseboard. Grandpa Builder had fashioned a little door, made to look like the baseboard, to trick the cat. Neither the cat, nor her kittens ever figured it out.
“My name is Buttons. I was just gathering more berries for the tree when I got stuck in the snow. I guess we have enough. Do you like cheese soup?”
The Cardinal, named Chestnut, had never had cheese soup before, in fact, he had never had soup before. While Buttons fixed it, he looked at Buttons’ Christmas tree. The huge holly branch from the yard, was trimmed, with the stem in a spool of thread for a tree stand.
It was decorated with bits of shaped tin foil, popcorn, berries, and glass beads. They were from the house owner’s discarded, broken necklace. The light from Buttons’ small fireplace caused it to shine as if it had tiny electric lights on it.
“I’m Chestnut. I’ve never seen a Christmas tree in a Mouse’s house before, only a people’s. That fireplace, and your stove are the smallest I’ve ever seen.”
“Grandpa Builder made them both. They were out of some discarded pipe a plumber left behind, that he dropped in the cabinet under the sink. He ran the flue for the fireplace to the house’s chimney.”
“Mom said it took the family six months to gnaw the hole through to it, but generations of my family have been warmed by it. Dad built our furniture from some perfectly good cardboard the home owner threw out.”
“Where are all of your family?” Chestnut worried after asking the question. He was delighted to find out there was no need to worry. Buttons smiled, and pointed left.
“Mom and Dad retired to the kitchen. She wanted a smaller place, so they moved into the upper cabinet apartment. It’s too high for the home owner to reach without a stool. I think Dad just wanted to be closer to the cheese.”
His Grandparents and siblings had made homes in all areas of the large house. Buttons was happy to have his own place. “I’m wedding the Garage Mouse’s daughter in the spring. We will have plenty of room to grow.”
He handed Chestnut a huge thimble of soup, and a mouse size mug of cocoa. Chestnut loved them both. The two talked for hours.
Finally it was time for bed, but there was a problem. Buttons had mouse size beds, squirrel sized beds, and even a cot big enough for the mole that hid out, when the exterminator was visiting. What he didn’t have, was a nest for a bird.
Chestnut tried to be nice, and say he could try a bed. Buttons knew that was not being a good host, so he told Chestnut to wait there. Soon he, and fourteen cousins came back with materials from all over the house.
In no time, they had added a new guest room, with a huge bird’s nest. It also had white, flattened, paper towel roll walls. Chestnut said it was the best nest he had ever had. In a few minutes he was asleep in his new room.
The two friends loved spending the winter together. He even made some honey roasted seeds to save for Christmas Eve. They were Chestnut’s favorite.
They each shared stories of their families. Chestnut told Buttons about Great Great Grandmother’s fight with a Barn Owl. She out flew him, ducking in and out of the buildings near the old mill.
Buttons told Chestnut his dream was to fly. Chestnut determined to figure out a way to give him this for Christmas. Buttons also had an idea what to give Chestnut for Christmas too.
All of the family came to Christmas Eve dinner. Chestnut loved it. Usually it was just his parents, and two siblings for Christmas, not 105 family members. They laughed, played games, and sang carols.
The Garage Mouse’s daughter stopped by to give Buttons her gift. It was a new red vest, made from a piece of fabric, from curtains the house owner had threw away. The mice always joked about a humans trash being a rodent’s prize.
He gave her a tin foil engagement ring, with a beautiful glass bead. She said yes, and left to plan every moment of the wedding. Buttons and Chestnut watched a Christmas movie on the new “television” Grandpa gave him.
It had been the house owner’s grandson’s first smartphone. Among other things, he lost it last Christmas. Arnold had lost two so far. At ten, he was cute enough to get by with being absent minded.
When Grandpa Builder gave it to Buttons, he talked about stuff Buttons didn’t understand, like WiFi. He did listen enough to know how to search and watch things. They saw something with men named Bob and Phil who sang a lot.
They barely kept their eyes open til the end. Afterwards they were ready to turn in. Both animals had big plans for Christmas Day.
Chestnut insisted Buttons open his gift first. It was a small wire harness. “I got the wire from your Fiancé’s Dad. It’s a air harness, I’m going to take you flying!”
They didn’t open another present they were so excited. Buttons put on the harness, Chestnut grabbed the hook with his beak, and flew four trips around the yard.
Laughter flooded every second. It was a wonderful gift. Buttons wanted to share his gift for Chestnut. He hoped it would match his friend’s thoughtful present.
Chestnut opened a small round silver compass. “Grandpa helped me make it. It’s out of wire, cork, and two tiny silver buttons. This way you’ll always be able to keep up with your friends.”
On the inside of the lid was a drawing of Buttons and Chestnut. It was the most precious present he had ever received. The small red thread it was on tucked nicely, and safely in his feathers.
The two spent winter being the best of friends. Each was a little sad when the first leaves sprouted, and Chestnut heard his friends flying overhead. He had to hurry to catch them, both promised they would see each other again.
Buttons was sad as he watched his friend fly out of sight, but soon Wedding preparation occupied his mind. They had a big wedding, and were the parents of octuplets by summer.
Buttons, and Bows his wife, told them stories about their friend the Cardinal. Even the kids were a little sad when the first snowflake fell. Until that is, there was a pecking at the door.
Chestnut, Snow, and the three hatchlings, stood outside. “Do you have a room for a family of birds to spend the winter?” They welcomed the family in with open paw.
Chestnut introduced them to his bride, and to little Sky, Soar, and Buttons. His friend was honored to meet his namesake, and to spend the winter with them. In fact, the two friends and their families spent every winter together from then on.
Life can take all of us in different directions. Christmas has a way of finding friends where we least expect them. Rekindling what we thought was lost, and reminding us that love is at the very heart of Christmas.