Skip Navigation

Christmas Eve in the Manger of the Little Barn

By Jack Furbee

Jack in front of the Little Barn about the time he spent Christmas Eve in the barn’s manger.

On Christmas Eve 1938, my family had just finished eating supper on Bernan Hill in Van Camp. It’s located about three miles south of New Martinsville in Wetzel County. Grandma Euna Van Camp Long, matriarch of the hill, scrubbed her favorite feed-sack tablecloth, which had been soiled by a blackberry spill—caused by a careless person who shall remain nameless at this point. To avoid Grandma Eunie’s mounting displeasure, my father lit his lantern and went to care for his sheep in the Big Barn on the ridge.

Thanks to his West Virginia ingenuity, my dad had installed a wind charger and batteries, allowing us to listen to radio stations WWVA in Wheeling and WMMN in Fairmont, among others. To offset the tense atmosphere, Grandpa Ferd rocked briskly while listening to the radio comedy Lum and Abner.

Relying on the glow from an oil lamp, Mother sheltered me from Grandma’s wrath by making the story of the first Christmas come alive. Even as I listened intently, I was planning my escape from a possible scolding. The story of Jesus’ birth in a manger gave me an idea: maybe I should sleep in a stable on Christmas Eve?

Although I often visited the milk cows and their calves in the Little Barn, this nocturnal visit surprised everyone. With a blanket and pillow in hand, I exited the back door and side gate. Snow and moonlight lit my way under the frosted pear trees, through the barn door, and to the manger, located in the center of a stone-walled basement where the cows rested. My bovine friends, having been milked for the night, must have been taken aback to see me show up after dark. They arose from their winter’s nap to see me prepare the manger for bed. Having no fear of the cows, I spread my blanket, fixed my pillow, and took my place beside my barnyard friends. The cows soon resumed their own sleep. The barn was completely still, except for the sounds of the cows belching their cuds and chewing multiple times in anticipation of the morning milking. Grandma’s displeasure was the farthest thing from my thoughts.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.