Antoinette Stockenberg's 2014 Christmas Display


My little Brigadoon village has magically reappeared for the ninth time, with yet another chapter added to the story accompanying it. I began my Christmas tale all those years ago as a bit of whimsy to make the vintage houses in the village seem more real, but -- any novelist can tell you this -- by now the characters and their animals have taken on a life of their own. So come with me and we'll wander unseen through the village (didn't I say it was magic?), and we'll peek in windows, and we'll eavesdrop on conversations ....

'Twas Two Nights Before Christmas
The 2014 Christmas mantel.
   For closeups, click on the Church and each of the twelve houses.

Antique Christmas cardboard house putz (village) on fireplace mantel at night (200K)

'Twas two nights before Christmas, and all through the house, more than one creature was stirring; there was too much to do!

Snow(50K) horse(3K) horse(3K) Earlier in the season, a wave of influenza had washed over the little village, playing havoc with everyone's schedule. Lucky for the village -- a miracle, some said -- no one had been carried away by the disease. But still. Warm wooly caps had not been knit, and newly built toboggans had not been varnished. Wagons were waiting for axles and wheels. Dolls with glass eyes lay hidden in drawers, hoping and praying for their clothes to be sewn. And saddest of all, a beautiful dollhouse sat alone in a barn, alarmed that it still, with only two days to go, had no roof. And that's why Mothers and fathers -- Santa's grown-up elves -- were all inside and at home, working hard. Not for them the fun of skating on ice or the joy of leisurely strolls through the village. Christmas was nearly upon them.

The Mansion Scene (Houses 1, 2 and 3):

Snow(50K) The wealthy villagers didn't need to make toys for their little ones. What they did best, besides spend money, was raise it. And that's what Mayor Albert Pittman and his philanthropist wife Lavinia are doing just now: hosting the Second Annual Christmas Ball fundraiser for the recently renovated hospital. The last of their guests are arriving, by newfangled motorcar of course, at a more than fashionably late hour. Most of the men have pledged satisfying amounts to the fundraising effort -- nearly as much as the cost of their wives' gowns from Paris. The wives know one another well, and their lively greetings are a blend of compliments and jealous glances. If only I had that gown is the thought that crosses more than one mind. I would wear it to greater advantage.

train(14K) Despite the gaiety of the scene, the mayor is embarrassed. His wife has flounced off without so much as a by-your-leave, ordering her carriage to be brought 'round over an hour and a half ago. Where on earth has she gone? What could have been so important that she was not available to greet the stragglers? Ah, he suddenly realizes. Lavinia Pittman has never tolerated late arrivals; it suggests that they have someplace else to see and be seen. The mayor realizes that his wife herself intends to make the last and grandest entrance. He lets out an exasperated sigh. He has never cared for the games that society plays. Or understood them, for that matter. Albert Pittman is a self-made man, raised in humble circumstances and advancing in life through drive and vision alone. (That, and an advantageous marriage.) Does he really need to be dealing with divas all the day long?

At the foot of the Pittman's vast estate is an elegant little gatehouse. Inside the gatehouse dwell a young couple, recently wed, who are new to the Mayor's employ. Now that the last of the guests have finally arrived, Fred and Dahlia are free for the evening. Fred definitely has plans -- but Dahlia isn't keen on them. The trouble seems to be that Fred and Dahlia married too young. Fred likes his freedom and he likes his friends. Why, one of them is waiting for him right now, as arranged, at the village gazebo. They plan to enjoy a smoke and just talk about whatever enters their heads: horse racing, baseball, the parlormaid that Fred's pal has been walking out with. Fred is half way out the door when Dahlia appears out of nowhere. She has just one thing to say to her new husband: "Where do you think you're going?"

The Quiet Village Center Scene (Houses 4, 5, and 6):

Normally at Christmastime, the village center is abuzz with children and their parents. But many events have been cancelled this year because of the influenza epidemic, which really is too bad. The skating rink has not been set up because Sam Rickens was one of the many to come down sick, and he knew better than anyone how to compact the snow and fill in the rough spots and then, using the fire truck hand pump, flood the rink to make good ice. Plus he kept the ice groomed, sweeping it diligently after it was formed.

train(14K) Worse than Sam, Santa himself has caught influenza! He will not visit City Hall to look over the children's lists and to pass out hard candy. The children are disappointed and some of them are almost distraught, until they are reassured that Santa is in bed, recovering nicely, and will surely be up and about to deliver their presents. And besides, his elves do all of the actual work, don't they? So there is nothing to fear.

But not every child has got the word about Santa's cancelled visit to City Hall. A group of children shows up there, expecting to go home with their pockets full of bright-colored penny candies in the shapes of boats and shoes and hats, and root beer barrels and cinnamon fireballs. But ... nothing? Nothing at all? It's beyond tragic. And even though there is a posted letter signed by Santa himself promising extra candies -- not to mention even oranges -- in everyone's stocking this Christmas, the children are crushed. Some of them try to make the best of a completely terrible situation by building a snowman or two, while others look on morosely and wonder how anyone could possibly make the best of a completely terrible situation.

train(14K) Jimmy and Jeffrey have the right attitude. "We're here. Snow is here. Why should we waste it." And off they roll, losing themselves in the simple act of arranging a small ball of snow upon a medium ball of snow upon a large ball of snow. Big Billy watches them from a discreet distance, still aware of the wonderful day a year ago when Jimmy and Jeffrey invited him to tag along with them to watch elite skiers practically kill themselves on dangerous mountain passes. But that was then. Now Billy doesn't know which is worse: not being invited to help them build a snowman, or not being able to eat candy while he watches them build a snowman.

In the shelter of the village gazebo, Russell takes a long drag on his long cigar and jingles the change in his pocket contentedly. Any minute now his best pal Fred is going to show up, and Russell will offer him a companion cigar. Probably Russell should have waited to light up his own stogie, but he needs to practice making a perfectly round smoke ring, because Fred has always been better at that. Fred is better at most things than Russell, but that's all right; Russell knows that he himself is better looking. Between them, they've got all the bases covered. Yessir, they've always been a force to be reckoned with. Too bad Fred upped and got married. And about to be a father at that. It won't ever be the same now.

Behind Russell, two gayly dressed young girls carefully sneak up to the gazebo. "Oh!" they exclaim together, gasping, when they see Russell.

"Bessy was right. He's the handsomest man that ever there was! How did she land him?" asks the more comely of the two.

Her friend answers a little slyly, "To be fair, Bessy is without a doubt the prettiest girl we know. That's just a fact."

"It is not fair," says the first, "it really is not."

While the girls weigh the odds of someone so pretty finding someone so handsome, a woman behind them, older and wiser and kinder, has taken it upon herself to bring just a little joy to the children whose visions of sugarplums have, for the moment, been dashed. Martha carries with her a bucket filled to the brim with home-made peppermint balls. She is determined to give them to every child she sees, because she really would like life to be fair. Spying a group of children across the way building snowmen while their friends watch nearby, her eyes light up with anticipation. How lovely it will be to bring smiles to their pink-cheeked faces.

train(14K) With not a glance at Martha or anyone else, Mrs. Lavinia Pittman, seated in her carriage, stares straight ahead, a stony expression on her face. She has just been to the hospital and has asked the chief administrator there whether any last-minute pledges or donations have been made. She now knows exactly who has given what so far, and she knows to the penny that the stingiest donors are the group arriving late. Well! We'll see about them! she thinks. She will cut the party people down a peg -- not enough to make them withdraw their support altogether, but enough to loosen their purse strings. And next year, there will be a minimum pledge required to attend her fundraising ball.

The Door-to-Door Scene (Houses 7, 8 and 9):

train(14K) Martha's peppermint balls are a hit. The children in front of City Hall are thrilled to have them -- candy is candy! -- and afterward, Martha continues on her way, determined to bring a smile to every household. Her next stop is to a house where a woman named Angeline lives. Martha does not know Angeline but does know that she has many children; she has seen them playing in front of the house. The peppermint balls are well received by their grateful, if harried, mother. Next: the Pettifore house. Mrs. Pettifore is on the front stoop, just leaving the house with her daughter Eloise. Eloise thinks the peppermint balls are a wonderful idea. Her mother does not. Mrs. Pettifore has no use for balls, either Christmas or peppermint, and has chosen not to attend the fundraiser rather than risk her child catching influenza from someone brought in to sit for her. (Mrs. Pettifore is not really the ball-going type, anyway.) She declines the candy version, too, but Eloise cries "Oh, mommy!" in frustration. "Not even one?"

train(14K) So, yes. One. One only. Mission accomplished, Martha goes off to the next house, where a little girl sits rather forlornly in front of it. "Hello, dear," Martha says, wondering why the child is outside with no mittens. "Is your mother home?" The girl frowns and says, "She is, but Daddy's in bed and she's taking care of him. And now Tig has run off and I'm not to go look for him, but I have to look for him! Tig is my cat," she adds. Martha has a solution, part of which depends on the child savoring a peppermint ball. "And while you do, I shall look for your cat," she promises. Five minutes later, the cat is found, crouching under a neighbor's porch and not at all happy with the snow and cold. He willingly answers Martha's cajoling call, and the cat is returned to his shivering but relieved young owner, who is awarded an extra peppermint ball for her concern.

Between the houses, Mrs. Jack Jones wends her way home from the butcher's shop. She has her fresh sausage for her holiday meal, but her thoughts are of Rusty, the beloved dog who is no longer with her. Mrs. Jones used to buy an extra link for Rusty for Christmas (though she was usually too embarrassed to admit that to the butcher); her heart is heavy now with remembrance. "Your grief will lessen with time," she has been told. And it has, to some extent. But when she sits by the fire with Jack Jones and no dog lying between them ... when she opens the front door and no elderly dog ambles out to greet her, tail wagging slowly from side to side ... when she feels not the weight of his chin on her lap as she sits at her table with a tender cut on her plate ... that's when she knows that true grief defies time. If only she could bring Rusty back.

The Happy Couples Scene (Houses 10, 11, and the church):

train(14K) Will and Harmony Jenkins have every reason to be overjoyed. Their daughter Felicity has turned the corner and is well on her way to recovery from the wave of influenza that has rolled over the village with no respect for gender or age. While her parents remained in good health and were vigilant in their efforts to keep their two children from harm, Felicity did become ill, very ill, and for a week her parents went without sleep. But now her fever is gone, her appetite back, and Midwife Grace Newcomb could not be happier for the family. In addition to visits by Doctor Greene, Grace has stopped by twice a day for the past week to check on Felicity, fearing the worst and hoping for the best, because when you came right down to it, hope and prayer were all you had at times like these. "She has a vigorous constitution," Grace tells the child's parents as she prepares to leave. "Young Will as well. You are truly blessed."

Grace has long ago decided that Will and Harmony are the most deeply in love couple and the best parents she knows. There is just something about them that has her hoping that her own impending marriage to Nicholas Greene will be as wonderful. As she makes her way quickly through the snow to return to the hospital, Grace's thoughts drift, as they always do, to the man she is soon to marry. She smiles to herself, remembering the night a year ago on Christmas Eve that Nicholas proposed and she accepted, not long after together they delivered baby Noelle. It was a clear, still night, and as they stood at the threshold of Grace's modest home, it was obvious to both that they didn't want to part. Somehow the doctor's words tumbled out in an unexpected stammer, and Grace said, "Oh, yes!" and it wasn't until months later that the good doctor confessed that he'd had an elaborate and very romantic proposal all planned for Valentine's Day. train(14K) But seeing the newborn babe, seeing Grace so tender and caring, seeing what their own lives could be together ... well, the plan went by the boards, that's all. What a wonderful man, Grace thinks. She will be so glad to see him later at the hospital, once he's made his escape from the Christmas ball. That ball. Grace had no gown nearly good enough to attend it, despite the physician's entreaty. Nor did she have any desire to own such apparel. She sighs, wondering whether that might not present a problem in the future. Maybe if she bought just one new gown and then changed out the lace if need be ....

car(3K) Not far away, Clyde and Margaret, another happy couple, are as untroubled and content as ever. Somehow the scourge of influenza has passed right over them. Their two children are well (though bored with playing only with one another and their nanny for weeks now). Clyde and Margaret are well. Their car runs like a top. Their finances are secure. The only thing is, their recently acquired house seems a bit small for a family of four. Margaret would like a house with separate quarters for the nanny, and Clyde would like a carriage house because he'd like to have a second car. Just in case the first one ever developed problems. As soon as the holidays are over, Clyde and Margaret plan to go house hunting.

train(14K) Nearby at the church, the meeting with Father Andrew is one of the happiest of Johnny Hooks' life. He is there with his betrothed -- his wonderful, beloved, beautiful Sonja. After all these years: the love of his youth, lost and now won again. It doesn't seem possible. Holding her hand as they announce the news to the aging priest, Johnny breathes in Sonja's scent, as fresh and invigorating as the deep blue sea. He has sailed the world and has decided that it's true what they say: there's no place like home.

"Where will your home be, exactly?" the kindly priest asks them. He knows that Johnny once had a bad case of wanderlust, and he wonders whether the younger Hooks won't spirit Sonja off to a faraway land.

"We'll live on my pop's farm," Johnny says with not a trace of regret or shame.

"And when did you arrive at this happy decision?" asks the priest, more than a little surprised. Johnny had tried to run away many times as a boy, and when he found a ship that would take him, off he went.

"Pop's getting on, you know. He can't handle the hay, the plow. Lots of things. But he loves the farm, and I'm turnin' it all around nowadays. With me and Sonja there ... well, I have big plans for the place, that's all there is to it. Ain't that right, Sonja?"

The young woman nods shyly. "There are lots of ways I can help, Father. I know how to keep house and to put food by. I can help in the fields. I'm strong."

"I know you are, dear. I have seen you skate," says Father Andrews. He wonders about that -- about whether she can give up her dream of becoming a champion skater and go to live on a farm.

car(3K) Sonja, a slip of a thing who looks much younger than her years, seems to read his mind. "I skate for my own pleasure now," she says simply.

And she means it. Her dream of becoming a sensation on ice suffered a blow when the Winter Games came to the village the year before. She saw many female skaters who were better than she! Johnny insisted that she outshined them all, but Sonja was willing to face the truth: she would never be a champion. She would never even be third place. But that was all right. She had tried her best. All she had ever wanted was the chance to compete, and she learned after the meet from a kindly judge that it was Johnny Hooks and not attorney Pettifore who had paid the fee that gave her that chance. She was more than grateful to Johnny; she was deeply moved by his completely unselfish gesture. After all, he might have lost her forever if she had won and gone on to compete further. She steals a glance at the big, strapping farmer-sailor towering over her. She had loved him once; she cared for him still.

car(3K) Among all the happy couples, one lively and friendly girl on her way through the village goes almost unnoticed ... except by an equally friendly dog. He's a sheep dog and has committed the cardinal sin of leaving his flock to trot over to the girl and say hello. She removes her white muff to give him a pat on his head, which prompts a wag of his tail. He drops to his side and rolls over, ready for more. Lucas the shepherd is more annoyed than surprised; the dog has been off his game lately. "Boots!" he calls out with a whistle. "Over here, boy!" Boots comes, but with reluctance; it's clear that he'd much rather have a good belly rub. The friendly girl follows the dog to his master.

"He's so sweet," she says, rubbing behind his ear. "But what's wrong with his eye?"

"Shot out by some tomfool hooligans," Lucas answers. "He's all right, but he don't see straight no more. Ain't much good for herding sheep." He sighs. "Don't know exactly what I'm going to do with him."

"Oh, that's too bad," the girl answers. "What an awful thing to happen!"

She means the eye, but Lucas thinks she is talking about his loss of a herding helper. "I kept back the smartest one of his litter," he explains. "I'll be all right. What's your name?"

"Alice," the girl answers, but her mind is somewhere else. "I have an idea! I know someone who has lost her own dear dog to age and infirmity. What if she were willing to adopt Boots?"

"Well, then, that could work out for everyone," says Lucas. "Is she a good person, do you know?"

"Oh, yes. She's quiet and keeps to herself, but she loved her dog Rusty very much."

"And her name?"

"-- is Mrs. Jack Jones. She used to be Miss Bates. Perhaps you know of her?"

"I do not. But I'll tell you what. I have to get my sheep back, but suppose you take Boots along to meet this Mrs. Jack Jones. If they take to one another, then all well and good. If not, you bring him back to me at the Hooks farm where I'm a tenant. I'd rather the dog earned his keep, but if not, well, what's one more mouth to feed."

He hands Alice a short length of light rope from his pocket to use as a leash, and the girl marches off with her new charge, convinced that her plan will be a huge success.

The Farm Scene (House 13):

car(3K) The Hooks farm has seen better times, but it's also seen worse. After a century of good harvests and bad; after the heir to the farm ran away to sea; after a lucrative offer to buy the farm was impulsively spurned; after a fire; after a mysterious disease carried away half the dairy herd; after all of those events, the Hooks Farm was still standing. What it needed was a shot of youth and energy and plain old love of the land. And now that Johnny Hooks has come home for good, the farm has it at last.

car(3K) It's now a scene of bustle and activity. The key to success, Johnny soon realized, was to create a cooperative: share the fields and paddocks and barns with other farmers who needed more, or needed less, than what they already owned. It didn't take long before Johnny Hooks rented the old coop to a chicken farmer, the big field to a cattleman, the small one to a sheep farmer, and the new barn to a dairyman. Johnny even carved a space for a pig farmer. He kept the necessary acreage for hay and corn and winter wheat, but all else was rented out. The Hooks were now landlords, and Johnny was fine with that. He was far more outgoing than his cranky father -- you have to be, when you're aboard a ship that sails into new ports with new people all the time -- and he got along well with the tenant farmers. Better times were surely ahead.

car(3K) car(3K) And so it was that on a certain starry night on a certain Christmas Eve, old Farmer Hooks, in nightcap and gown, pulled back his quilt and a coverlet of down. Easing himself in his bed with a sigh, he soon was aware that St. Nicholas was nigh. He heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

For earlier chapters of this Christmas tale, click on the links to previous mantels:

2023 Christmas Putz

Xmas Candle(102K)

2021 Christmas Putz

2020 Christmas Putz

2019 Christmas Putz

2018 Christmas Putz

2017 Christmas Putz

2016 Christmas Putz

2015 Christmas Putz

2013 Christmas Putz

2012 Christmas Putz

2011 Christmas Putz

2010 Christmas Putz

2009 Christmas Putz

2008 Christmas Putz

2007 Christmas Putz

2006 Christmas Putz

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