Etta Jo lives on a Caribbean island that was devastated a few months ago when the high winds and torrential rains caused by Hurricane Maria swept across the landscape. Etta Jo’s home, where she lived with her mother, and the school, where she attended second grade, were destroyed.
A family in Laconia, who annually vacationed on the island and knew her mother, offered to provide a home for Etta Jo for a few months while the community is being rebuilt.
Etta Jo is 8 years old and has never traveled off the island or experienced snow or the New England traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is the next-to-last in the series featuring the adventures of Etta Jo that will allow children to understand how a child views their world and culture through a different lens.
These stories, fictionalized and based on an imagined situation, can be read to children ages 5 to 9 years old or read by children.
Children can write letters to Etta Jo c/o The Laconia Daily Sun, 1127 Union Ave. #1, Laconia, NH 03246 and their letters will be answered.
By ELIZABETH HOWARD
On Sunday morning when they got home from church, Etta Jo noticed the boxes of decorations covering the living room floor. They had lunch and then Mr. Chase began stringing the lights around the tree. Mrs. Chase came in with a big bowl of popcorn, a bowl of cranberries and three needles, laced with long string. “Helen, Etta Jo and Mark, come and sit down so you can string the popcorn and cranberry to decorate the tree. This is a tradition that goes back many years in our family.”
When they were finished, Mrs. Chase helped each of the children put their garland around the tree. Then they stood back and looked at the tree, now covered with sparkling lights and their popcorn garlands.
Mrs. Chase put on some Christmas music, brought mugs of hot chocolate into the living room and the family decorated the large tree. There was, it seems, a story for each decoration and Etta Jo was trying to listen to all the stories.
When the tree was decorated, Mark put his train around the base of the tree and Helen had dressed a few of her dolls into their prettiest dresses so they could sit under the tree. Etta Jo closed her eyes and thought about Charlotte. Her doll would have loved being under the tree too.
Etta Jo had had so many new experiences since she moved in with the Chases. Now she knew what roasted turkey and cranberries tasted like. She had made a snowman on the lawn and watched as it melted away and disappeared the next day. Mrs. Chase had taught her how to make cookies and decorate them with colorful frosting and gold and silver sprinkles.
Where Etta Jo lived, the Christmas and the New Year were often celebrated with a Junkanoo. This was a parade around the island with dance groups performing routines and musicians playing drums, horns and whistles. Most of the participants in the Junkanoo would dress up in festive costumes and some even walk on stilts. This was an old tradition.
Mrs. Chase explained to Etta Jo that Santa Claus had probably originated as Saint Nicholas, or Father Christmas and from the Scandinavian countries. Later the tradition migrated to the United States in the early nineteenth century and Santa Claus began delivering presents to children on Christmas Eve.
Etta Jo didn’t know what to think about the gifts. There was only one thing in the world she wanted and that was her doll, Charlotte. But that was impossible, because Charlotte was lost during the hurricane.
Then she thought about how friends at home still living in a shelter. Perhaps she should ask for gifts for them, toys and books, that she could take home with her.
Mrs. Chase walked into the living room and noticed Etta Jo sitting next to the tree.
“Is everything OK, Etta Jo?”
“Mrs. Chase, there are so many things here. I don’t want more toys and books, I want to bring things home that I can share with my friends. We don’t have as many things where I live.”
Mrs. Chase reached out and hugged her. “Etta Jo you are a brave and special young girl. I think we should ask the children in your class at school and your friends at church for presents that you can take home. That is the true spirit of Christmas.”