MEG AND PEG
A CHRISTMAS STORY
In most ways Peg and Meg were completely ordinary. They were well-behaved, though they could be “difficult.” That’s what their parents said. They loved their parents, had lots of friends, and did well at school. They were, as any reasonable person who met them would have said, “very sweet.” They were honest, hard-working, and both were considered good leaders, exerting a positive influence among the children their own ages, at school and in the neighborhood. They had one imperfection, nonetheless, one flaw, that is not universal, thought not completely unheard of either, among sisters--they did not get along with each other--not one little bit. One day this would change, and that’s what this story is all about.
Peg, the older girl, was eleven. She was athletic, smart, and a good dancer. Her sister Meg was seven. She too was smart, had a talent for music and could draw a beautiful spotted horse.
But get them in the same room and watch out! They could argue about anything. They could argue about a muffin! “That’s a good muffin,” one would say, and as sure as milk is white the other would say, “Is not! That’s a bad muffin. A horrible muffin! An ugly muffin!” “Is not!” Peg would say. “Is so and what would you know?” Meg would answer. I won’t bother to tell you how they argued over toys, which television show they should watch, and who was meaner when they wanted to be, but, rest assured, it wasn’t pretty.
Their parents were quite at their wits end, after years of such behavior. They pleaded, they scolded, they even threatened--to no avail. No matter what they did, the two little ladies were determined to fight. Such stubbornness seemed impossible to overcome.
Our story begins on the night of a winter storm the day before Christmas Eve. Peg and Meg’s parents had gone out for the evening to a Christmas party, leaving them to the tender mercies of Olga, a fourteen-year-old neighbor, who baby-sat them often and who--it was one of the few things Peg and Meg agreed upon--was a very disagreeable baby-sitter indeed.
It wasn’t that Olga was mean or unpleasant. In fact, she was quite a sweet young lady herself. The problem with Olga was that she was totally fair. Fairness was something Peg and Meg just couldn’t abide. If one got one cookie, Olga would say, then the other got just one cookie, even if someone wanted two. This was intolerable. If Meg had to take her shower first, then Meg had to brush her teeth first. This was Olga’s law. “Even Steven!” Olga would say. And she was just as fair with punishment.
Now, this night, both girls behaved badly, had argued loudly, and when Peg threw a stuffed pony at Meg, and Meg threw a stuffed coyote at Peg, Olga shouted, “That’s enough. Both of you to bed!” Peg then shouted, “I won’t sleep in the same house with her!” And Meg replied, “And I won’t sleep in the same house with her.”
Quite beside herself, Olga shouted, “Then both of you, out! That’s it. Out! Or when your parents come home I’ll get you both grounded for a week!” To the astonishment of the two sisters, Olga yanked open the back door and shouted “Out, I say!”
Of course, Peg and Meg were flabbergasted. All day the cloudy skies had let fall inch after inch of heavy snow and the back yard was by now a white winter wonderland, beautiful, but cold and uninviting, especially if you’re wearing a nightdress and slippers. The sisters, without consulting each other, thought, “Okay, Miss Bossy. Let’s just see what Mom and Dad say when we tell them you sent us out into the cold!” So, without another word, Peg and Meg dutifully marched out the back door and stepped almost knee-deep into the December snow.
Now, to be fair to Olga, she had intended neither that the girls be outside for more than a moment, nor that they should run out without good warm clothes. But it all happened so quickly.
What happened next was not what anyone expected. Olga, having only turned her head for a moment to make sure that the cat hadn’t followed the girls out the door, turned back to discover that Peg and Meg were gone. The sisters, thinking better of their foolishness, turned back to reenter the house and found themselves alone in the middle of a snowy forest. Their warm, snug home was nowhere to be seen.
Luckily, whatever strange magic had caused this great change, it also protected them, for they were neither cold nor wet. This was little comfort, however, for they were lost, and very, very frightened.
Now most children might start crying right away, finding themselves in such a fix, but these two young ladies were so stubborn, that each refused to let the other see a single tear. Instead, Peg said to Meg,
“Mom and Dad won’t be happy when they hear about this.”
“No, they won’t,” Meg agreed.
“So, so, sooo,” came a loud voice from the fir tree that towered above them, “It seems you two can agree on something after all.”
“Who said that?” Meg shouted, trying to hide her terror.
“Whooo indeed!” replied the voice.
Peg and Meg looked up and saw a great black shadow fly up from the tree and cross in front of the full moon then swoop out and back and rush straight down at them. The girls grabbed and hugged each other and shrieked as the shadow pulled up short and came to rest on the sparkling, new-fallen snow. Before them stood a great white owl, with a face like the inside of two coffeecups at the bottom of which were large black eyes. The owl snapped his sharp black beak.
“You, you, yoooo can call me Owscar,” said the owl, folding up its wings. “I have come to take you to Him.”
“Take us home, you, you owl,” said Peg, somewhat at a loss for words.
“Yes, take us home this instant!” said Meg.
“I will do, do, doooo nothing of the kind,” asserted Owscar. “You find yourselves a long way from home, farther than you could walk in a year if you tried. The only way home for you two is to follow me to the Lord of this forest, for it is he that has brought you here, and only he can send you home.”
“But why?” asked Meg.
“Yes, why?” asked Peg.
“That is for Him to say,” said the owl, who then leaped into the air and flapped his wings and shouted, “Come along!” as he slowly floated off between the trees. Peg and Meg looked at each other and silently agreed that they had no other choice.
Their march was long and tiring and the two little girls thought they would drop from exhaustion when they finally saw a light glowing among the trees. They soon came into a large clearing and found a cozy little town made of log houses, all lit up with bright multi-colored lights. Colored smoke curled up from every chimney.
The owl now fluttered to the ground and began to stomp his way among the houses, still leading them on.
“What have we here, Owscar?” came a voice from the shadows. “Are those our expected guests?”
The girls jumped when they realized they were now surrounded by a herd of reindeer, each one with huge antlers and white smoke billowing from its nostrils. One had a nose like a burning clump of coal.
“Oh, oh, ooooh, yes, here they are,” growled Owscar. “A disagreeable pair, if you ask me. Haven’t said a kind word since I introduced myself. They haven’t even told me their names.”
“Let’s hope He can teach them a thing or two,” said the deer with the bright nose.
“Did you see that?” Peg whispered to her sister in awe.
“Yes, I did. Can you believe it?” Meg answered.
“They can’t be all bad,” said the deer with the glowing nose, “Look, they’re holding hands.”
Peg and Meg looked down and realized it was true and quickly dropped each other’s hands, as if embarrassed.
The reindeer laughed.
“You’ll learn, little ones,” they cried, and the laughter grew.
Owscar led them out of the herd of reindeer and toward a house that was a good deal larger than all the others. It was then the girls realized that though this house was the largest, it was not even as big as their own home. It was just that all the other little houses were very, very small.
“Who could live in such tiny houses?” Meg asked Peg.
Before Peg could answer, the front door opened and a chubby little lady stepped out on the snow. She had a red and green scarf tied around her head so that her bright little eyes beamed out. Her cheeks were like little candied apples.
“Here are our little troublemakers,” she cried happily. Then she bowed toward Owscar. “Thank you, good friend, for escorting them here. I’m sure there’ll be an extra treat or two for you come Christmas morning.”
“Oh, oh, oooh, think nothing of it, Lady Berry. It was my pleasure to be of assistance,” replied the cordial owl, who then flapped his wings and disappeared into the bright night air.
“Come, ladies,” said Berry, holding the door open for them, “There’s someone who wishes to speak to you.” She took them down a long dark hallway with a light glowing at the other end. “Let me peek in to see if he’s awake. He’s resting up, you know, gathering all his energy.”
Berry--for it was Santa’s wife, of course--left them for a moment in the hall. The little girls looked at each other wide-eyed, but both were too frightened to speak. Then they heard a soft chuckling and immediately felt better.
“Come in, young ladies,” a low voice boomed, “Come, in!”
With understandable hesitation and awe, Peg and Meg shuffled into the room and saw a most agreeable sight. The room was full of light from a roaring fireplace. Santa Claus himself sat puffing his pipe in a grand red leather chair with his feet up. He wiggled his sock-covered toes just a few inches from the blazing fire. Berry stood behind him, beaming.
Peg and Meg came a little closer, but neither had the courage to speak.
“I want to talk to you two,” growled Santa--though it was only a pretend growl. “I have something here I find most disturbing,” he added, waving a piece of paper in each of his small red hands. “Let me read this to you. ‘Dear Santa, How have you been. I’ve been a good girl this year and I have a special favor to ask. My sister is very disagreeable. She fights with me constantly and is always causing trouble. I want you to make her stop. Sometimes I wish I didn’t even have a sister.’” Santa snorted. “Imagine that,” he added. “Then the letter goes on to ask for a doll and other toys. Quite the usual letter except for that first part, don’t you think? Now let me read you the other letter. ‘Dear Santa, How have you been. How is Rudolph? I love him very much. I wish I could say the same for my sister. She is no fun at all. She never lets me play with her toys and she has all the toys that I wish I had.’ Now get this part,” Santa added, “I wish I didn’t even have a sister.’”
Santa put down the two letters and shook his head sadly. “Now, who do you suppose wrote these two letters? Any guesses.”
“I wrote the one,” answer Peg sheepishly.
“I wrote the other,” Meg admitted in her quietest voice.
“Well, at least you’re both very honest,” Santa harrumphed. “So, you both wish you were only children do you?”
Neither child had the courage to speak.
“Well, do you or not? You wrote so.”
“It’s just that . . . .” Peg started to say, when Meg interrupted and said, “It’s just that I always . . . .”
Santa interrupted them both and said, “Enough, children. You have told me what you want and I have decided to grant your wishes.”
Peg and Meg started to speak, saying, “But, but,” and “Because,” but Santa hushed them again. He stood up and walked to the closet and put on his heavy coat, his feet now in heavy black boots clunking on the hardwood floor, though neither Peg nor Meg could remember seeing him put them on. He took each little girl by the hand, said, “I’ll be back in flash, Berry,” and led them back down the hall and out into the yard. There stood Rudolph and Prancer, snorting and stamping.
“There you are, my two fastest coursers,” said Santa, as he lifted Meg up and settled her on Rudolph’s back. “I want you to return these two to their homes as fast as you can.” Santa then lifted Peg up on Prancer’s back. “And hurry back. No dawdling. There’s much left to do before Christmas Eve.”
“But, Santa?” Peg started to speak.
“Now, now, children, not another word. You think I don’t have a world’s worth of little boys and girls to think about. I’ve granted your wishes and what more can you ask?”
Before the girls could say another word, the two reindeer had leapt into the air. It would probably be nice to describe a wonderful reindeer flight across half the world--the girls oohing and aaahing as they flew through the brilliant night sky, but that was not what the girls remembered. In fact, they remembered very little of their little adventure. It would forever seem like no more than a dream. In an instant, they found themselves once again knee deep in the snow behind the familiar house, with Olga the baby-sitter outlined in the back door, scolding them.
“In the house this instant,” she shouted. “You want to catch your death of cold?”
Indeed, Peg and Meg were cold. They were so happy to be home and warm in their own house that they both grabbed Olga and hugged her before she could even close the door.
“Hush, girls,” said Olga. “I hear your parents cars in the driveway. And here I haven’t even got Meg ready to go home.”
“What do you mean, go home?” cried Meg. “I am home.”
“Now, no more of your nonsense, Meg. I’ve had enough,” said Olga, reaching for a coat. “I swear I’ll never again let myself get talked into this. Baby-sitting for two families at once. Why, you’re more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve got my own home to go home to.”
It was then that both Peg and Meg noticed that Meg’s clothes had changed. She was no longer in a nightdress, but in bluejeans and a T-shirt.
“Where did these come from?” Meg asked Peg, patting her own chest.
“Don’t be goofy, Meg?” said Olga, “You’ve been wearing them all night long. Your parents brought you here in them.”
“My parents didn’t bring me here. I live here!” Meg cried.
The backdoor opened and four grown-ups walked in. In all the confusion, Peg and Meg didn’t have a chance to say a single word to each other. But they didn’t need to, for somehow they understood what had happened. Instead of one set of parents coming home, there were two. One man and woman were Peg’s parents, and she knew them well. The other man and woman were Meg’s parents, and they were just as familiar to her.
“Thank you so much, Olga,” said Peg’s father. “You’re a darling. I hope Peg was well-behaved.”
“Yes, thank you, Olga, “ said Meg’s mother. “The four of us would never have been able to attend the company dinner together, if you hadn’t been willing to take care of our children.”
Peg’s mother handed Olga some money and said, “Now run along home, Olga, and tell your parents and your brothers and sisters Merry Christmas from all of us.”
Olga was gone and before Peg or Meg could ask a single question, Meg’s parents had bundled her into their car and were gone.
Now, you have to imagine that there are two houses. In one lives little Meg, in the other little Peg. They have a very similar experience, the same thoughts, the same fears and frustrations. Of course one child isn’t aware of what’s happening to the other, but we do, and what happens next happens to them both.
Late that night, each child lay in bed and just as each was drifting off to sleep, she happily realized that her Santa’s wish had come true. Each child was now an only child, with neither brothers nor sisters, though they each had wonderful parents for whom they felt the deepest love and affection.
Peg and Meg woke up the next morning and discovered that other things were different as well. Their rooms, they found, were full of toys, all the toys they’d ever wanted. No one was there with whom they had share. They could each decide for herself what morning TV shows to watch and choose the best seat on the couches. When each went to breakfast, they found their parents gentle and sweet, prepared to listen to their every word, though Peg and Meg both discovered they didn’t have a lot to say.
During the day, each child kept asking if they could play with a friend, but their parents said, “No, don’t you remember? It’s Christmas Eve. All your friends are having a mommy and daddy day, and we shall too.” When Peg asked if she might play with Meg, her parents replied, “Are you kidding? You always complain that Meg is so much younger that’s she’s no fun at all!” And when Meg asked a similar question, she heard, “You always complain that Peg is so much older that’s she’s no fun at all.”
In short, both girls found themselves just a little bit lonely that Christmas Eve.
Now we see them both tucked in their beds, long after a nice evening dinner, a family movie--they both watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas”--and a rousing reading by their parents of their favorite Christmas book, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Peg and Meg, it must be said, had now completely forgotten the adventures of the night before. It was part of Santa’s magic that each child must forget ever visiting his home to the north (for what tragedies might occur if his secrets were ever found out?). Owscar and Rudolph, Berry and Santa himself, as Peg and Meg had seen them, were now less than dreamlike in their minds, a fleeting image, something vague and insubstantial, like a lovely smell or a song not heard in years.
Each child lay in bed and counted their blessings, loving parents, a warm and cozy home, and everything else that they had ever wanted. But something was missing. There was a little quiet room in each child’s heart, all painted white, sweet-smelling, and bathed in a soft warm glow, as if from a little fireplace blazing in the corner. Each room had a window that looked out upon the world and the dark night air was framed in the window so that it was a good thing that the window was shut tight against the cold and the darkness. Thank goodness the window was closed.
As each child, Peg and Meg, drifted off to sleep, each seemed to hear, perhaps high above the house, a soft tinkling of bells. A vision of a little man in a red coat and cap drifted before their almost dreaming eyes, and each child made a wish. Each wish was the same. The very same wish.
The next morning, Christmas Day, Peg and Meg awoke to find a stocking full of little toy animals and games at the foot of their bed. With the sun gleaming through the window, each child burst from her bed and ran from her bedroom.
“Mommy, Daddy, it’s Christmas!” they cried and as they rushed into the hallway Peg and Meg bumped right into each other so hard that they both fell to the carpet in a heap. They grabbed each other and hugged each other and laughed and cried and said, “Merry Christmas, Peg!”, “Merry Christmas, Meg!”
And hand in hand, they bounded down the stairs and barged into their parents bedroom and jumped on their parents’ bed and laughed and shouted. And kisses were given all around.
Under the Christmas Tree, along with all the other presents, were two stuffed white owls, one for each child. Beside them, were two reindeer, one with a red nose and one with a black nose, and they were tied together by a little red and green ribbon. The girls pointed at the reindeer and asked, “Whose present is this?”
The girls’ parents, totally confused, had to admit that they weren’t sure.
Peg and Meg held the two reindeer in their arms, their cheeks almost touching, and said, “It’s both of ours. We’ll share it.”
And when the day was over, when all the celebration and food and playing with toys, the games and excitement was at an end, each child begged the other to take the two reindeer to bed with her, and it not being possible for both to do so, they decided that forevermore, the two reindeer should alternate between their beds from night to night. But where did it spend the first night? Under the Christmas Tree, where someone very special had put them.