PEEP - A Christmas Story
My paternal grandmother wrote this charming children’s story and published it with the Country Guide in 1968. I hope you enjoy P.E.E.P. by Dorothy M. Powell.
This is not the story of a chicken. It is the story of a very small gnome with a very large name who lived in a warm, green swamp. His name was POMEROY – EDWARD – ENDERBY – PERSIMMON. But, his initials spelled PEEP and to tell the truth the name suited him better. PEEP was a curious, little fellow; always poking into thing, always wondering why.
Everyone has heard the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat”. Well, one moonlit Christmas Eve, curiosity nearly did the same for PEEP. It happened when every stocking was hanging ready and good, little folk were fast asleep. Some of the stockings hung on the mantels and others on bedposts. Or, wherever Mother said a tack hole wouldn’t matter. But, usually, gnomes don’t have any mothers nor do they stay in one place for very long. So, PEEP simply hung his stocking on the twiggy branch of a hollow tree.
Now, PEEP was well aware of the RULE about being fast asleep before Santa’s arrival. But, this Christmas Eve, he broke the RULE. All day long he had been watching crocodiles in the mud-brown river of the swamp. All day long he had wondered if crocodiles ever wakened up. And, if a crocodile did wake up – what would it do? If crocodiles slept all day, PEEP decided, then they must wake up at night. So, this Christmas Eve, PEEP was lying very flat and very still, just inches above the water on a leafy limb.
If Santa’s route had not passed over PEEP’s swamp, all would have gone well. His sleigh, though, shadowed the moon and the noise of rushing hooves was so loud that PEEP nearly fell from his perch. Nearly, but not quite. Hanging head down with one food caught in a loop of Spanish moss, he watched two beady eyes and a nubby snout rise slowly – slowly – in a widening circle of ripples. And now, PEEP knew what crocodiles did at night!
The monster’s mouth opened – and, so did PEEP’s. PEEP’s mouth was not as big but the noise he made filled every corner of the swamp. Far above, Santa heard it, too, and turning his sleigh on the point of a star, he scooped PEEP up and away from the hungry, waiting jaws. Still hungry, the crocodile sank beneath the water forgetting to close his mouth. He swallowed so much of the river, he has been hiccupping ever since.
“Oh, Mr. Clause, sir!” PEEP gasped. “How can I ever thank you?”
The little man laughed and cracked his whip in the clear night sky. “You can help, that’s how. On account of you, I’ve just lost some time.”
So, PEEP was busy all of that night, shinnying up and down chimneys, finding misplaced parcels and being very useful. Finally, when the stars began to fade, Santa asked, “PEEP? How would you like to visit the POLE?”
“Yes,” said PEEP, “I’d like that.”
That is how PEEP happened to become one of Santa’s helpers. In PEEP’s case, the word “helper” was not a very good description. It is hardly fair, though, to blame him because he couldn’t stand the weather. The sight of toothy icicles on the Toyshop eaves was enough to turn PEEP blue. The sound of the wind screeching about the Pole would always start him shivering. The white expanse of drifting snow frightened him half to death. Unless Santa ordered it, PEEP refused to step one foot outside the workshop door.
Mrs. Claus tried to help. She knitted PEEP mittens and sweaters. Even Santa kept the fires roaring. Sometimes, the Toyshop was so warm, the paint would blister on the toys. This, of course, was a sorry state of affairs! PEEP was only happy when bundled in the longest coat, the heaviest pair of boots and the biggest hat he could find. These, he wore all day and all night – indoors and out!
In the meantime, Santa was finding it very difficult to be patient with his new helper. When a helper wears heavy mitts, is blinded by a floppy hat, it is easy to understand the mistakes PEEP made.
When Santa said, “Eyelashes on the dolls, today.” and found them stuck to tennis balls, he laughed. When Santa ordered, “Tails on the hobby horses, today.” and found each one with a long, black beard, he frowned. But, the day there were propellers on every electric train, Santa began muttering into his beard. That was the day PEEP found himself in charge of the stables. “I’ll take good care of the deer,” he promised Santa. “You’ll see.”
In the stables, the sweet smell of hay made PEEP dream of the warm, green swamp. If only he wasn’t so cold, he would have been happy. He did keep his promise to Santa, though. He fed the deer, he polished their antlers, he brushed their coats.
For awhile, everything went along very smoothly. Not until Christmas Eve did things begin to go wrong. To be perfectly truthful, they were not all PEEP’s fault.
In the first place, Donner got
a tail-ache. This was not PEEP’s fault because Donner always got a tail-ache, especially when the weather was bad. Making Donner comfortable was easy. PEEP had only to get a bag of hot linseed from Mrs. Clause. Then, tie it to Donner’s tail.
But the weather was a different matter. Santa began to peer anxiously through the Toyshop window at the darkening sky when he should have been resting with his feet up in front of the fire. Everything was ready for the long night ahead; even to the new hat Mrs. Clause had made. At that very moment, it lay on the kitchen table waiting for Santa to put it on.
The mistake was made when PEEP came in from the stable for Donner’s linseed bag. “It’s on the table,” Mrs. Clause told him. And, PEEP, without lifting the brim of his hat, took the first thing at hand. You must understand that when PEEP was cold he always hurried.
So, that is how Santa’s hat happened to be tied to Donner’s tail. Donner couldn’t see the hat because it was at his other end. PEEP couldn’t see it because he was too cold to be careful. In all the rush of sleigh-loading and deer-harnessing – well, no one noticed that hat at all!
At the last minute, Santa began looking for his new hat. When it couldn’t be found, Mrs. Clause simply got out his old one. It sat on Santa’s head like a pea on a pumpkin and everyone stopped their work to laugh.
“It must have shrunk in the wash.” Mrs. Clause said. But, Santa didn’t think it was funny.
“It sure as plum pudding did!” he shouted. And, his eye fell on PEEP who, somehow, looked guilty.
“PEEP,” he ordered. “You’ll have to hold it in place.”
“Me?” PEEP squeaked, “It’s cold up there!”
“Yes”, Santa said. “You.”
So, climbing aboard the sleigh, PEEP scrambled to Santa’s shoulders and held the hat firmly with both hands. No sooner had he settled, than the whip cracked, the bells jingled and they sailed aloft.
PEEP couldn’t remember when he had ever been so cold. On Santa’s shoulders he faced the full force of the wind and they seemed to fly forever in a whirling cloud of snow. Finally, they reached a clear, night sky; the wind gave a last, hard howl and whipped the cap from PEEP’s head. And, there in front of his eyes, was Santa’s new hat – on Donner’s tail!
“POMERY – EDWARD – ENDERBY – PERSIMMON!” Santa shouted. “IS THAT MY NEW HAT?”
PEEP did not really have to answer. Anyone could see it was Santa’s new hat! It was the worst thing that PEEP had ever done. And, he knew now what he must do. He had to get Santa’s hat.
The reindeer’s backs were slippery with snow. The harness straps were caked with ice. But, PEEP slithered and slipped, clung and crawled, hanging desperately with all his small strength. On he went from one broad back to the next, not stopping till he reached the hat on Donner’s tail. Then, throwing his mittens into the sky, PEEP untied the hat and started the long crawl back.
Reaching the sleigh, he handed the hat to Santa. “I’m sorry, Mr. Clause.” He gasped. “I’m so-oo sorry!”
“PEEP”, Santa said, “That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.” Then, he tucked the little fellow beneath the great fur rug.
Too tired to answer, PEEP’s eyes closed and when he wakened, the reindeer, the sleigh and Santa were gone.
Although it was still very dark, PEEP could smell a wonderful smell. And, he knew where he must be -- home again in the warm, green swamp. “Thank you Mr. Clause,” he called. “Thank you.”
There was no answer. No other sound except the slow ripple of the mud-brown river. And, a strange, hiccupping noise.
I wonder, PEEP thought, what on earth it can be?