The Gifts of Christmas Present

     On Christmas Eve, Leola and Auntie shopped at Laird’s, buying plump oranges and hair ribbons for both girls…Leola also spied a pair of enamel collar buttons that would suit Joe perfectly—except they cost fifty cents and she only had a nickel left of spending money.

     “Go on, child.” Auntie pressed the additional coins into Leola’s palm. “There’s nothin’ would bring me more pleasure than imagining that handsome young man spiffing up for a visit to Waxahachie and these baubles as the finishing touch.”

                                                   From ‘TIL ALL THESE THINGS BE DONE


The famous Jefferson General Store in Jefferson, Texas.

Several important scenes from my novel take place at Laird’s Dry Goods Store in fictional Bronway, Texas.  I found inspiration for this setting in several places, including on a research jaunt to East Texas in 2019, where I visited the quaint town of Jefferson and its famed general store.  Today the venue is a tourist mecca crammed with  pickled vegetables, unique souvenirs, home goods, and every type of candy under the sun but, a century ago, it would’ve offered mostly practical items: saddles, canned goods, sewing supplies, tools. Oh, and candy too, just maybe not 100 varieties.

The interior of Barr’s General Store in Texas, early 20th century.

In 1919, when my story begins, these businesses were also important public meeting spaces where people could trade news and gossip–and where human dramas, large and small, played out on a daily basis. The excerpt above depicts a quieter moment, one marking a brief reprieve for my protagonist, Leola, and her beloved great-aunt. In spite of their many recent setbacks, the two women are determined to make the most of the holiday, creating memories that will sustain them in the unpredictable days ahead. Which is something that feels particularly poignant to me at the moment.

The past year has been one of the most challenging of my life, marked by the publication of my first novel (woo hoo!!) but also the unrelenting health crises of people I care about. On top of that, I turned 60, my youngest child flew the nest, and, hard on the heels of  pandemic and political upheaval, I–like so many others–have found myself reckoning as never before with where I’ve been and what my future might hold.

This vintage collar button/cufflink reminds me of the ones Leola gives Joe at Christmas.

Our 2022 Christmas tree says it all.

I’ve always been a sucker for the winter holidays.  I love giving gifts, decorating, listening to jingly music, eating good food.  This year however it’s been all I could manage to buy a small Charlie Brown-style tree and throw some lights on it.  Yet I’ve also felt joy in the warm hug of a friend, an offer of help from a neighbor, personal messages from readers who have found special
meaning in my novel.

Christmas for Malvina and Leola marks a literal milestone in their lives, and the uncertainty they face seems daunting.  But as for all of us, the present is their present,  the only thing they can count on for sure, a miracle in spite of its hardship.  And the compassion they bring to others and themselves is the brightest bauble of all.   I hope your holiday season brings many such gifts, whatever your circumstance.







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