Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 2)

It’s time to head back to Lupine Valley for Part 2 of this year’s story. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

  Henry’s heart pounded as he made his way down the path to the edge of the woods. The creek, splashing over and through the rocks, along with the wind swishing through the trees, helped to cover the sound of his footsteps. He followed the light which seemed to be on his side of the creek, up near the giant oak that spread its branches out over the water. The memory of the kids swinging off of that tree into the water many a hot summer day brought a quick, unbidden smile. In fact, it had come to be known as the “Swinging Tree”.
  As he crept closer he realized that the light was made by a fire. He carefully approached and stood behind the big oak. His eyes first spotted a small traveling bag and lantern on the ground nearby. The lantern would explain the moving light. Its owner probably had been using it earlier when Grace looked out the window. As his eyes lifted and focused in on the fire and the lone person who sat beside it, they grew wide with surprise.
  A young woman–why she looked younger than his own Jane–sat on a log with her hands and feet towards the fire, looking both hopeless and exhausted. As he was deciding how to handle this odd situation, he saw her shift her weight in an ungainly manner and suddenly realized that she was very pregnant. He stood there helplessly for a moment and then realized: His wife would know what to do. He’d see if he could convince the girl to go up to the house to see Grace.
  He didn’t want to scare her, so he moved a bit closer and then cleared his throat. She startled and fear crept into her eyes. He stepped out of the shadows.
  “Ummm, ma’am, hello there. My name is Henry and my wife and I live in the cabin up on the hill,” he pointed towards the speck of friendly light that could just barely be made out through the woods, “Are you okay, ma’am?”
  His words, spoken so kindly, made the girl feel safe. And then the tears started to flow. She seemed unable to stop them. Henry stood awkwardly by, unsure of what to do. He wished now that he would have brought Grace along. But, of course, he never expected to find a pregnant girl by herself when he had set out a few minutes ago.
  “Are you alone?” He asked gently.
  She nodded her head, as a new wave of tears took over. He sat down on a nearby tree trunk and waited patiently. Being married for over 40 years and having daughters to boot, he knew womenfolk sometimes just had to have a good cry.
  When she started to settle down he asked her if she would like to come up to the cabin to get warm. His wife always had a ready pot of tea in the evening and she looked like she could use a cup.
  She hesitantly nodded her head, pulled her shawl on more tightly, and then picked up the small bag and lantern that Henry had spotted earlier. By the looks of things, that baby could come any day. Henry couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing out here all alone by his creek.
  He offered to take her bag, which she gave him, and then held his lamp up nice and high to give plenty of light as they walked up the dark path through the woods and out into the meadow. There the moon shone brightly and it was easier to see. Soon they were at the little cabin and opened the door.
  Grace’s heavy heart lifted as she saw her husband come through the door. But what a surprise to see a very pregnant girl follow him in. Why, she looked to be no more than sixteen!
  “Well, my dear, you weren’t seeing things. I found this young woman down at the Swinging Tree, warming herself by a fire.”
  “Oh, my goodness! Oh, dearie, come and sit by the fire,” Grace drew her towards the rocking chair by the cozy fire.
  The girl lowered herself carefully onto the plump cushion that Grace had handmade for the hard wooden seat. It felt heavenly after what she had been through for the past couple of days.
  Grace busied herself in getting the girl a cup of hot tea. She swirled a bit of honey in it before handing it to her.
  The girl put her hands around it and sighed deeply. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes shining with unshed tears, as she took a sip of the hot liquid. She didn’t say any more and, after just a few moments, set the tea down on the hearth, leaned back in the chair, and closed her eyes.
  Grace pulled back and whispered to Henry, “the poor thing is exhausted. Let’s just make a bed up her for tonight. We can find out more tomorrow.”
  Henry agreed and so Grace went into the girls’ bedroom to prepare it for their guest.
  Soon, the girl was sleeping peacefully in the comfortable bed in the cozy cabin.
  As Grace peeped in on her for the umpteenth time, Henry laughed.
  “She’s not going to disappear.”
  Grace gave a wry smile, “She’s just so young. I wonder what her story is.”
  “I am sure we will find out in the morning.”
  And with that they blew out the candle on the table and went to bed, too.

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 1)

It’s time for the annual Growing4Life Christmas story! This year’s story is from a simpler place in a little valley far, far away from where you are. I hope it is a welcome and pleasant respite from the strange and chaotic happenings of this present world.

  It was getting dark and Henry still wasn’t in from chores. Grace grabbed a wooden spoon and leaned over the big pot of stew that hung over the fire. A delicious fragrance wafted up from the pot as she stirred. Smiling, she reflected on the many meals she had made for her family at this hearth.
  Henry and Grace had come to this valley forty years ago now. She recalled that first view as they had come through the forest and looked down into this little valley. There, before them, was a meadow covered with shades of deep purple, lavender, and purply-pink. Wild lupines were blooming in all of their glory.
  Henry had declared it the perfect place to build their new home, with the creek just a ways yonder and the large oak and maple trees that were scattered throughout the valley. Agreeing, Grace’s eyes had sparkled as she told Henry that they would call their new home “Lupine Valley”.
  Lupine Valley had seen many changes over the years. Five children had been birthed there but only three lived to adulthood. Henry, jr. had been stillborn and her precious Sarah had died from Scarlet Fever when she was five years old. Even now, memories of this happy little girl brought tears to Grace’s eyes. She brushed them away with her arm as she continued to stir.
  The three remaining children were all grown now, living their own lives. Martha was married to the village’s blacksmith and they were the parents to a large, lively brood. Jack had taken his young family and moved further west. They received only an occasional letter from him. Jane had gone east to live with her wealthy great aunt Ida for a time. They heard from her more often than they heard from Jack but it wasn’t as often as Grace would have liked. Oh, how she missed her children and those busy days of motherhood. It was always worse around Christmastime.
  “Enough of this!” she scolded herself and stood up and stretched. Reminding herself that Martha’s family would be here for Christmas dinner, she smiled as she put her freshly made biscuits in a little basket on the table and then peered out into the darkness through the pane of glass at the front of the house. Henry’s lantern swayed back and forth as he came in from the barn.
  Suddenly, something else caught her eye way down towards the wood’s edge. It looked to be beside the crick. It was a light of some sort. It disappeared. And then there it was again. What was that?
  By this time, Henry had reached the small cabin and was stomping the dirt and debris from his boots. He opened the door and started talking about an infection on the leg of Star, their new mare.
  “…should probably have Doc Hayfield take a look at it. Or do you know of some other remedy to try first? Not quite sure what to do.”
  Grace was still staring out the window and only heard the end of his sentence. With one final glance towards the woods, she sat down and put her mind to answering her husband’s question about the horse and to serving him a well-deserved supper.
  A half hour later, Henry leaned back and patted his stomach, “Oh, Grace, you sure do know how to cook. That was very, very good,” he said the words heartily.
  He pulled back from the table and went into the bedroom for his Bible so that they could have their evening readaloud of the scriptures together. Grace took this opportunity to look out the window and see if the light was still there. She stood there for a few moments, her eyes searching the darkness. Yes. There. There it was.
  By this time he was seated with the open Bible, “What do you see so fascinating out that window, my dear?” he teased.
  “Come look at this,” she beckoned him to the window, “I see a light down by the crick. Am I imagining it?”
  Henry pulled his spectacles off and put them on the table and then joined his wife at the window.
  “There,” she pointed towards the creek, “do you see it?”
  “Hmmm, how strange,” he said in his typical deliberate manner, “Maybe I’ll go outside and see if I can figure out what it is,” Henry was already pulling on his old brown coat.
  Grace hurried after him, wrapped in a thin shawl that wasn’t very helpful in such cold weather. She stood there with her teeth chattering while Henry stared into the distance.
  He face was sober as he said, “Go on inside, Grace. I am going to take a quick walk to the crick just to make sure all is well.”
  Grace looked at him. He looked worried and that made her worried. She had heard of bandits out this way but she never thought they’d come to Lupine Valley. They had always felt so safe and secure here.
  They both went inside and Henry loaded his gun and then grabbed the lantern. He kissed Grace good-bye and gave her a squeeze, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll be okay,” and, with that, he headed out the door.
  Grace went to the window and watched him move quickly and stealthily towards the creek. When he was out of sight she sat down in the rocking chair by the hearth and prayed.

(You can find Part 2 here)

The Candle in the Window (Part 1)


This Christmas season I have decided to do something a bit different here on the blog. I have written a five-part Christmas story and will share one part of it each Friday, starting today. The final part will be shared on Friday, December 23rd. I know this is way outside my usual style of writing, and, honestly, it is a bit outside of my comfort zone. But sometimes it is nice to mix things up a bit! I hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, I present to you Part 1 of The Candle in the Window

     Helen’s uncooperative hands shook as she struck the match against its box. It took three tries before the match and the box finally connected. The warm flame wobbled as her hand stretched towards the simple red pillar candle that sat surrounded by a fake holly candle ring in the deep sill of the front window. As the match brought the wick of the candle to life, Helen’s heart was filled with an odd and comfortable nostalgia. She hobbled to her recliner and sat down with a deep sigh.
     Alone. Always alone. The loneliness was especially painful at Christmastime. It had been five years now. Thoughts of Roy, her husband of fifty-five years, brought a smile. They had been through so much together. Until a massive heart attack had ended his life one cold, blustery day in January. Oh, how Helen wished she had died first. Instead, she was left to roam this house and find something to do, day after day, month after month, year after lonely year. The past year had been especially lonely as her worsening arthritis limited her activities severely.
     Her friend, Marge, wasn’t lonely. Oh, how she envied her! Her children and grandchildren visited regularly, taking her to special restaurants and beautiful gardens and church concerts. Great-grandchildren danced and played around her feet, calling her “Granny”. Helen couldn’t help but compare it to her too-quiet life. Once in awhile, Marge invited her to a family outing. But this inevitably reminded Helen of all that she was missing and so she generally refused Marge’s offers.
     Unbidden, thoughts of Kenneth filled her mind. Her precious boy. What would her life have been like if Kenneth had come home from Canada? Would she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or would his teen-aged rebellion have led him to completely sever ties with his parents forever?
     She would never know. That is probably what ate at her soul the most. She would never know.
     Kenneth would be close to 70 now if he were alive. Her heart would still fill with shame, even after all of these years, when she remembered the circumstances of her pregnancy. She remembered the dismay of being unwed and pregnant at 16, the love that she and Roy had shared even as teenagers, and the hurried wedding they were forced into at an all-too-young age. It had all worked out, although her father had never really forgiven her for bringing such dishonor to the family name.
     After they were married, Helen fully expected her home to be filled with happy children. She waited excitedly for the siblings that would join Kenneth. But as the years came and went, her hopes for a large family started to dwindle. When Kenneth was six years old, there was the excitement of a pregnancy, but hopes were dashed almost before they took root when she miscarried at twelve weeks. Helen never got pregnant again.
     From that time on, all of her mother’s love and energy were poured into the little boy that had resulted from an unwanted pregnancy. The happy little youngster had been so kind and thoughtful, always thinking of others. And smart! He was smart as a whip! Helen remembered proudly. But in the turmoil of the sixties, dear Kenny had taken up with some friends who were not a very good influence. He started growing his hair, using marijuana, and became an outspoken protester of the Vietnam War. As Helen struggled to communicate and discuss the issues with their son, Roy, on the other hand, was just furious. One crisp autumn day, he had finally told Kenny that if he was going to turn his back on his country, then he was turning his back on his family and was no longer welcome to stay in their home.
     Helen could still remember Kenny angrily packing his things and carrying them out to his beat-up VW van. As he shoved and stuffed it full of all of his earthly belongings, she had pleaded with him to stay. When he had brusquely told her to get out of his way, she had gone to find Roy, who was sitting in stone silence in his recliner, staring blankly at the evening news on the black and white TV. Roy, too, had ignored her pleas and within an hour, Kenneth had driven off towards the sun that was setting on the horizon.
     Helen had spent the next weeks in despair. Where was their boy? And how would she ever be able to forgive Roy for driving their son away? Even now, all these years later, Helen wondered if she had ever truly forgiven him. The pain, buried under other memories now, still plagued her sometimes. Somehow the couple had learned to live with their new normal. Each new day was just a tad bit easier than the one before and within a year of Kenny’s departure Helen and Roy had reached a truce of sorts. They were fine– as long as the subject of Kenneth wasn’t raised. During that time, Helen longed to hear something—anything— from her son, but nary a word came. Until that fateful day.
     Oh, how she hated that day.
     Eddy, Kenneth’s best friend during that tumultuous time, had knocked on their door about two years after the departure. Roy was at work at the time. As Eddy stood at the door, nervously pulling at his scruffy beard, Helen could see that he was visibly upset. She invited him in and offered him a cup of coffee. He said no thanks and without even sitting down, proceeded to tell her that Kenneth had been killed in a car accident a month ago. He and Eddy had moved to Canada to avoid the draft and one snowy evening, the boys were on their way back from the grocery store when they had hit a slick spot and slid off the road and into a tree. Eddy had escaped with just a few bruises but Kenneth had been killed on impact.
     Helen had stood there shocked. So this was how it was all to end? Her beloved son was gone from this earth for forever?
     Even now, all these years later, Helen’s eyes filled with tears. They started to trickle down her weathered face. She drew comfort from the red candle, one of Kenneth’s favorite boyhood traditions of Christmas. They would light a red candle in the window each holiday season to symbolize the light Jesus had brought to the world at Christmastime.
     Reminiscing always tired Helen and after an hour she pulled her old body up out of her chair, blew out the candle, and went to bed.

Continue Reading Part 2 here

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