Chapter One ~
cold wind whistled outside the cabin
door. This had been the worst blizzard
in more than fifty years. It would
soon be Christmas, and the little
town was silent. The merchants could
not open their shops for business.
Even if the store were open, the
village people could not get there
to do any Christmas shopping.
was almost five, and she wanted
more than anything to see the Christmas
lights of the small village. Her
brothers and sisters had told her
all about Santa Claus with his long
white beard and his bright red suit.
was too young to understand the
real meaning of Christmas, but she
got excited when she heard about
Santa's big snowsled that would
be loaded with presents. Now, her
heart was filled with disappointment,
because Christmas was only one week
away, and the snow was still falling.
The chances of going into the village
between now and Christmas looked
took down a story book and sat near
the fire place. All the children
gather around to listen to their
favorite stories while they strung
popcorn to drape around the Christmas
heard someone knocking at the front
continued reading and no one seemed
to notice that someone was standing
outside in the cold.
knocking," said Janna.
didn't hear anyone knocking,"
heard the knocking again and went
to open the door. There stood an
old man with a long beard, stooped
with age, who looked to be almost
I warm myself by your fire?"
took the old man by the hand and
led him into the house. He smiled
at Janna and walked over to the
told you there was no one knocking,"
teased her big brother.
waited, expecting her father to
offer the stranger a place to sit;
but no one spoke or even acknowledged
his presence. They acted as if he
were not even there.
had no way of knowing that she was
the only one who could see or hear
the old man. And Janna had never
seen her family treat anyone in
such a rude manner.
man looked tired, as he stood in
front of the fireplace, briskly
rubbing his hands together before
the open flames.
Janna stood up and said to the man,
"You may have my chair." With
that, she pushed her chair right
in front of the fireplace and sat
down on the floor right next to
you," said the old man. "That
is most kind of you. What is your
name is Janna," she replied.
looked at her. "Be quiet," said
her sister, "and listen to the story."
tried to be quiet, but the old man
smiled at her again and made her
feel all warm inside. "What's your
name?" Asked Janna.
gave Janna a stern look. "You
must be quiet while your mother
is reading," he said.
sorry," said Janna. "I
was only trying to be polite."
old man gave a slight nod of the
head and a friendly wink of the
eye. "Just call me Mr. Whiskers,"
giggled a little, and her father
gave her another stern look.
had just begun reading again, when
Janna noticed the old man was still
shaking from the cold.
you like a cup of hot tea? Asked
Janna. "Perhaps it would help to
warm you a little faster."
would be most kind of you," replied
turned and looked at Mother. "Could
Mr. Whiskers have a cup of hot tea?"
this is not a time for make believe
friends," said Mother firmly.
"This is story time for the
Mr. Whiskers is awfully cold,"
looked at Darla, who was the oldest
of the children. "Perhaps a
cup of tea would be nice for everyone,"
went into the kitchen and put the
tea kettle on the stove. When she
returned, she brought a cup of tea
for each member of the family.
you didn't bring tea for Mr. Whiskers."
Janna picked up her cup and set
it on the small table near Mr. Whiskers.
"Here," she said, "you
may have my tea. I'm sorry that
Darla didn't make a cup for you."
is quite alright," said the
man, and he smiled again at Janna.
sat wide-eyed and watched the old
man intently as he moved his feet
a little closer to the fire.
picked up the book and read the
rest of the Story. Then she announced
that it was bedtime for everyone.
looked at Mr. Whiskers. He sat very
still, gazing into the flames in
the fireplace. His mind seemed to
be on something far away.
about Mr. Whiskers?" Asked
Janna. "Where will he sleep?"
time is over for the day,"
said Mother. "It's time for
looked at Mr. Whiskers. "You
can sleep in my bed," she said.
you," replied Mr. Whiskers.
looked at her mother. "May
I sleep in your bed?" She asked.
Mother smiled and said to Janna,
"Just for tonight; then it's
back to your room."
took Mr. Whiskers by the hand and
led him upstairs to her room.
are very kind to give your room
up to a stranger," said Mr. Whiskers
with that same twinkle in his eyes.
smiled and told Mr. Whiskers good-night.
she ran into her mother's room and
snuggled into bed beside her mother.
Whiskers was very glad to come inside
and warm himself by our fire,"
said Janna. "He was very cold
when he came to our door."
sure anyone outside would be cold
tonight," said mother.
Chapter Two ~
next morning when Janna awoke, she
ran straight to her bedroom. Mr.
Whiskers was not there, and it appeared
that no one had slept in her bed.
She ran into the living room and
found him sitting in the same chair
that she had given to him the night
before. "Oh, there you are,"
said Janna. "You were not in
my room when I got up, and I thought
you had gone away."
said Mr. Whiskers. "The blizzard
is still fierce. I should like to
stay until the snow stops falling."
glad," said Janna. Then she
ran into the kitchen where Mother
was baking fresh bread. "Mr. Whiskers
said he would like to stay until
the snow stops falling. Can he stay?"
friend is still here, and he wants
to stay until the snow stops falling?"
replied Janna. "It kept snowing
all night long, and it's getting
deeper and deeper. He can't go anywhere
until it stops."
I see," said Mother. "Then
I suppose he can stay until the
storm is over."
I still sleep with you so he can
have my bed?" Asked Janna.
smiled, thinking that Janna was
using a make believe person as an
excuse so she wouldn't have to sleep
alone in her own bedroom. "Just
until the storm is over." Mother
thank you, Mother," said Janna
as she ran to hug her mother's neck.
"Everyone was so rude to Mr.
Whiskers last night, that I'm sure
he wants to leave as soon as possible.
He's really very nice."
sure he is," said Mother.
went back into the living room and
said to Mr. Whiskers, "Would you
like some breakfast?"
thank you," said Mr. Whiskers.
"If it isn't too much trouble,
I should like a glass of fresh milk."
that all?" Asked Janna.
perhaps a piece of baked bread with
a pat of butter and a little honey."
went back into the kitchen and poured
a tall glass of cold milk while
Mother cut the bread. Then she got
out the honey and butter and put
it on their best serving tray.
I carry this into the living room
so Mr. Whiskers can sit in my chair
and eat in front of the fireplace?"
course," replied Mother. "I'm
sure he will be much more comfortable
carried the tray into the living
room and set it on the small table.
"I have to go now and tell
everybody that breakfast is ready,"
the family gathered around the kitchen
table. The two boys exchanged glances,
pointed a finger at Janna, and giggled.
gave both of the boys a looked of
everyone had finished eating, and
the table had been cleared, Janna's
father called her back into the
kitchen. "Where is your friend
from?" Asked Father.
don't know," replied Janna.
is he going?"
don't know," said Janna.
long do you think he'll stay?"
the snow stops falling," replied
Janna. "But I wouldn't blame
him if he leaves before it stops.
He wasn't made to feel very welcome
sorry," said Father. "I
wouldn't want anyone to feel unwelcome
in our home."
another word, Father left the room
and went upstairs to have a talk
with Mother. "I've heard of
young children having imaginary
friends," he said, "but
Janna seems thoroughly convinced
that Mr. Whiskers is real."
get over it," said Mother.
"It's just a phase they all
don't know," said Father. "When
I got up this morning to build a
fire, I happened to notice the tea
cup, which Janna set for Mr. Whiskers
last night, was empty."
one of the boys is getting the Christmas
spirit," said Mother.
isn't the first time Janna's had
a make believe friend," said
Mother; though she too, had noticed
the empty cup.
went into the living room to talk
to Mr. Whiskers. "I see you
ate all of your breakfast,"
she said. "Did you have enough?"
thank you," said Mr. Whiskers.
you see the lights in the village?"
think the storm started before the
lights could be put up," said
too bad," said Janna. "I
guess there won't be any Christmas
that's not what Christmas is,"
said Mr. Whiskers.
isn't?" Asked Janna.
no, Christmas is not bright lights
and pretty paper with big ribbons,"
what is Christmas?" Asked Janna.
is in the heart," replied Mr.
then, Father came into the room
dressed in his big overcoat. "Are
you talking to your make believe
friend again?" He asked.
no," said Janna. "I'm
talking to Mr. Whiskers. He was
just explaining Christmas to me."
see," said Father. "Well,
ask him to excuse me while I go
out and cut some wood for the fire
tonight. I don't want anybody to
get cold." Then He wrapped
his long woolen scarf tightly around
his neck and went outside.
Whiskers smiled and winked at Janna.
Chapter Three ~
afternoon the snow stopped falling.
Father put on his overcoat and wrapped
his woolen scarf around his neck.
Then he went out and hitched the
dogs to the sled.
Father returned, he told everybody
to bundle up in their warmest clothing.
"The snow is just right for some
fun on the sled," he said as he
took off his gloves and rubbed his
hands together in front of the fireplace.
helped Janna into her warmest clothes
and wrapped a long scarf around
her head to cover her ears.
wanted to be the first to ride.
Father picked her up and sat down
on the sled. He held her close as
the dogs began to pull them forward.
Janna felt safe in her father's
arms as she pressed hard against
dogs were gaining speed on the downhill
grade. Janna squealed and laughed
as the sled jostled her up and down.
one of the dogs tumbled in the snow
and the sled skidded over a steep
Darla, and the two boys ran to the
edge of the cliff and saw Janna
lying face down in the snow. She
was not moving. Father was on his
feet, trying to get to Janna. A
stranger was bending over Janna.
"Who's that?" asked Darla.
don't know unless he's the man that
recently moved into the old farmhouse
just beyond the ridge," answered
she alright?" Mother called
to the stranger.
is unconscious and has a bad cut
on her head," the stranger
answered. "She has some broken
bones and there may be some internal
man took off his heavy coat and
wrapped it around Janna to protect
her from the cold wind. Then he
carefully lifted her in his arms
and carried her back to the house.
must get her to a Doctor,"
would not be safe," replied
the stranger. "Further exposure
to this weather could be fatal to
her. I can set the broken bones
and watch over her until she is
better. "Are you a doctor,"
man did not answer but rather turned
his attention to Janna. He cleaned
the wound on Janna's head and set
the broken bones. Then he made splints
to hold the bones in place. When
he had done all that could be done
for her, he pulled a chair up close
to her bed and sat down. "Nothing
more can be done for now,"
must be our new neighbor that moved
into the farmhouse just beyound
the ridge," Mother said. "We're
certainly blessed that you were
there when the accident happened."
man nodded his head slightly. "Glad
to be of service," he replied.
the next five days, the man watched
over Janna while she lay in a coma.
eve came, and Janna was still asleep.
No one spoke of the bright lights
in the village, for it all seemed
to have lost its meaning. Nothing
seemed more important than Janna
sat and stared at the Christmas
tree. The hand strung popcorn seemed
to mock the very branches that held
it in place. Only a few days ago
all these things had seemed to have
such great importance. Now, their
meaning was lost somewhere behind
his grief and worry.
came into the room and saw Father
staring at the christmas tree.
picked up the story book and said,
"Why don't we all go into Janna's
room for our story tonight?"
think that's a splendid idea,"
Father said as he got up and followed
her and the children upstairs to
Janna's room. Everyone gathered
around Janna's bed.
I would like to read Janna's favorite
story," said Mother.
think everyone would be willing
to hear it again," said Father.
turned the pages quickly and began
to read the familiar story. It was
not about bright lights or tinsel
on a tree. It was a story about
a little princess that Janna loved
to hear more than any other. Mother
tried to hold back her tears, but
they fell down her cheeks in an
expression of deep sorrow.
man looked at Mother and patted
her gently on the shoulder. "Don't
worry," he said, "I'm
sure Janna will wake up soon."
closed the book and sat quietly,
looking down at Janna. Then she
reached out and took Janna's hand.
"Please wake up" she said.
"Tomorrow's Christmas. If you'll
just wake up, you can tell me all
about Mr. Whiskers or any other
make believe friend you want to
talk about. I'm sorry for brushing
you aside and not sharing the things
that made you happy. Your Mr. Whiskers
sounded like a very nice person.
Please wake up and you can tell
me about him."
turned and looked at the other children.
"I know you were all looking
forward to seeing the lights in
the village," she said. "This
will be the first time that we will
have no gifts for Christmas. for
me, it would be Christmas to have
Janna wake up."
would be Christmas for me too,"
too," said Darla and the two boys.
that what Christmas is all about?"
asked the stranger? "Loving
and caring for one another. Not
one day, but every day?"
said Father. "I think that's
the greatest gift we can give or
receive for Christmas."
don't we all come and celebrate
Christmas here in Janna's room in
the morning?" asked one of
the boys. "That will be our
gift to her."
old man smiled as everyone left
the room to get ready for bed.
next morning everyone got up early.
"It's Christmas!" shouted
each of the children.
all started upstairs to celebrate
Christmas in Janna's room. But just
before they reached her door, they
saw the old man leaving her room.
A feeling of hopelessness swept
through each of them.
something wrong?" cried Mother.
the old man walked on without saying
rushed toward Janna's room. All
hope of Christmas had vanished and
their dream of celebrating was gone.
looked down at the small form on
the bed and saw a look of peace
on Janna's face.
chocked back the tears as he rushed
to Janna's bed.
then, Janna opened her eyes and
waved her hand. "Good-by Mr.
Whiskers," she said in a faint
turned to look at the old man, but
he had simply disappeared.
turned pale and leaned back against
the wall. "Mr. Whiskers?"
he mumbled in a hushed voice. "Was
that Mr. Whiskers?"
Mildred L. Music © October 27, 1992