Antoinette Stockenberg's 2016 Christmas Display


It's been an emotionally draining year for this country. This year of all years, the need to be kind and generous and tolerant seems more urgent than ever, and that need was very much on my mind as I arranged my Christmas mantel village and imagined the story that would accompany it. When I was finished, I had to ask myself: is this really a Christmas story? And the answer is that -- in the truest spirit of this season of love and hope -- it is.

A Fire in the Village
The 2016 Christmas mantel.
   For closeups, click on the Church and each of the fourteen houses.

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

A year has passed, and Mayor Pittman remains ... a mayor. Despite a hard-fought campaign, Albert Pittman has lost his bid to become a United States senator. His chances of winning against Senator Halfort, a popular incumbent, were always slim. His mother knew it, his wife suspected it, and many in the village were glad of it. (After all, the villagers reasoned, better to be a big fish in a small pond than a minnow in the ocean of Washington, D.C.) Now that the election signs and buttons and leaflets have all been put away, the villagers have but one question: What next?

It's the same question that has kept the mayor up nights for the past month or more. Run for state office? U.S. Congress? Mayor again? Where is he most likely to make things happen? Because that's all that Albert Pittman has ever wanted: to make things happen. For the past few days he has been consulting with his advisors about the next step. Suddenly, in the thick of all of the conflicting advice comes a call for the most urgent form of action: there has been a fire in the village.

The Sleepy End of the Village (Houses 1, 2 and 3):

Far from the fire and its dire consequences, the houses lie quiet and undisturbed. Its occupants are within, preparing meals, baking cookies and mince pies, sewing and knitting and sawing last-minutes gifts for the holiday so near. But as word spreads of the fire, those who are able to leave their stoves and ovens bundle up and rush across town to the scene. A fire! In the middle of their cozy village! And at Christmastime! What an awful thing to happen!

Snow(50K) Snow(50K) deer(14K) deer(14K) Not all of God's creatures are drawn to the site. Crouched among the scattered pines at the quiet end of the village, bucks and does and one nearly grown fawn tremble in fear, having fled the flames in wild panic. Not for them, the noise and smells and surge of water from the horse-drawn steam pumper. Not for them, the shouts of the firemen as they jump from the pumper's running boards and bark out orders. The woods behind the burning house are no longer a familiar, safe refuge for the deer, but a place of danger. For now, they will hide at the far end of town and out of harm's way.

The Midwife is Called (Houses 4 and 5):

train(14K) Grace Newcomb Greene has been called to deliver a baby. The woman about to give birth is married to a sailor, and he is at sea; she has no one to be there for her. Danielle is French and her English is halting. Grace is bilingual and her French is fluent. Perhaps that's the reason that Danielle has begged Grace, rather than Doctor Greene, to be the one who brings her baby into the world. It should be an easy delivery, Grace reassures herself as she waits at the door for the charwoman to admit her. But right now Grace is filled with unease, shaken to her core by the news of the fire and its tragic toll, and she would like her husband to be there with her ... just because.

Luckily, she spies Mrs. Jack Jones walking by the house, her dog Boots at her side and her umbrella in hand (Mrs. Jones always took an umbrella with her wherever she went, because you never knew). "Mrs. Jones!" Grace calls out. "Will you be going past City Hall?"

The elderly woman looks up and says, "Did you know there's been a fire not far from there? A terrible thing!"

"Yes, oh, yes," Grace agrees, distressed. "Doctor Green is at a meeting at City Hall," she explains, "unless he's still at the hospital. If you see him, can you give him a message for me?"

Mrs. Jones agrees to deliver the message and continues on her way, bending her umbrella into the harsh winter wind. It seems to her -- but surely she's just imagining it -- that she can already smell acrid smoke. Sulfur, she realizes: the work of the devil. "Boots, dear Boots," she murmurs to her recently adopted dog, "stay close."

Santa Visits the Town Center (Houses 6, 7 and 8):

train(14K) train(14K) It's nearly Christmas, which means Santa, presents, and children are gathered together in the town center. There is excitement all around, the kind of hushed giggles that children the world over feel in the presence of Jolly Old Saint Nick. Their parents would normally be there to share in their joy, but today the adults feel compelled to be at the scene of the fire.

train(14K) train(14K) Not all the grown-ups have left. Mr. and Mrs. Woodcut, childless themselves, have agreed to chaperone the charming event. Seated on their favorite bench and sipping their favorite brew, they smile their encouragement to the shy ones as Santa reaches into his huge sack for a spinning top, a doll, a teddy bear. They nod approvingly at the older children, watching from the fence, who cheer the younger ones as they skitter happily away with their new treasures.

It's all going so well. Why, it could be -- it should be -- a perfect Christmas! And yet somehow they so rarely are. The Woodcuts, as always, have something to say about the state of events, past and present.

"You remember the year there weren't no snow?" Mr. Woodcut reminds his wife. "That were a disaster, sure as can be. And then two years ago, when it seemed the whole village were down with influenza. Not much was going on here, fer certain. Even Santa failed to show."

train(14K) Nodding, Mrs. Woodcut sighs deeply. "And don't forget the year Papa Ted passed away ...."

"An awful time, that was. Everyone felt it."

"And now this. A fire. It's always something. Ah, those poor, poor Slaussens. Seven children, and all displaced. One of them in the hospital. Whatever will the family do?" Mrs. Woodcut sets her stein down and sighs again.

"Someone must do something," her husband says stoutly. "In life, you got to take the good with the bad, but this! It's a grievous wrong waiting to be made right. Someone," he insists, "must do something."

Behind them, they scarcely notice Dorothea Sparks passing in her carriage, frustrated by its slow speed. Normally, Dorothea Sparks didn't care how fast they went; they would get there when they got there. Normally, the widow was too content and happy with her lot in life to fuss over other people's problems. But this was different. When she heard of the tragedy that had befallen one of the poorest families in town, she felt deeply moved.

And I know why, she tells herself. It's because they have absolutely nothing now, not even the food in their cupboard. Dorothea herself had once been reduced to a similar, penniless situation. But she had managed to marry well and had managed to forget the bad times. For a while, that took an effort. Before long, it was easy. When her husband died of a heart attack, that again was a blow. But she recovered from it, and soon she became known as the Merry Widow, gay and lively and carefree.

train(14K) Until now. "Cory, can't you go any faster?" she pleads over her shoulder. Her driver pulls his red Christmas cap more tightly over his head and answers, "Yes, m'am, I sure can!" Being in the employ of Dorothea Sparks was the best job he'd ever had. "Hey now, hey now!" he cries, cracking his whip in the air above the chestnut mare. Yep. Best job ever.

Big Billy can see the children gathered around Santa Claus, but he thinks possibly he's too old now to get in line. But possibly not. He can't decide. His mother had warned him not to be pushy, but she left the final decision with him. "I'm treating you like an adult now, Billy. So you behave like one."

Which was no fun at all. On the whole, though, the children getting presents are much younger than he is, so ... I guess not. Disappointed in his own good judgment, Billy wanders over to his cousin Terry Sullivan, who's busy making three identical snowmen nearby. "How's Mickey?" he asks. Mickey Sullivan has turned out to be a hero, rushing into the burning house and carrying out the youngest of the Slaussen children in his arms. But both Mickey and the child are in the hospital.

"He's singed his hands pretty good, ma says. Won't be making any snowmen for a bit."

"Maybe the snow would feel good on his hands," says Billy, trying to look on the bright side. "What about the little girl?"

"Ma says the doc says she should be okay. She has to stay overnight, though, just to be sure."

"Mickey Sullivan, a hero," Billy muses aloud. His cousin, rough around the edges, has always been Billy's protector and a leader (even if it was of a gang), so it's not surprising. "Why are you making three of the same snowman?" he adds, finally noticing the fact.

train(14K) train(14K) train(14K) "One's for Mickey, one's for Millie -- that's the little girl he saved -- and one's for me. It's a show of support. And they're not the same. This one's gonna have a pink hat. That's for the girl." Terry had it all figured out.

Lavinia Pittman is seated behind her dapple grey horse and looking more regal than ever. She has to. Her husband has lost an election, and appearances must be kept up. So she stiffens her spine -- and lifts her chin just a little bit higher when she sees Dorothea Sparks approaching in her carriage from the opposite direction. Presumably she will have to invite Dorothea to the exclusive fundraiser she's thinking of having for the Slaussen family (Lavinia must go where the money is, after all, and Dorothea has lots of it).

money(14K) It's also true that a fundraiser will lift her husband's spirits, and probably the villagers', too, if she decided to open the fundraiser to everyone. Of course, that would mean villagers dragging mud and snow all over her Oriental carpets. A pity that the fire happened in the winter -- was no one watching the candles on their tree? -- because if it had happened in the summertime, Lavinia could have had a tent pitched on the grounds, and the hoi polloi could then have been invited. Unless ... perhaps we could hold it at City Hall; then anyone could come. Hmm, she muses. It's a thought. "Driver, I've changed my mind. Pull over; I believe the mayor is at City hall, and I need to speak with him."

Lavinia's husband the mayor is winding up a conversation with Doctor Nicholas Greene. Some of it involves village business, but some of it involves Albert Pittman himself. "I've decided to stay on and run again for mayor," Pittman confides to his old friend. "Why not? I'm young. I'll have time to run again for senate. Right now, however, I am in the process of putting this village on the map -- the winter games were, if I say so myself, a wild success -- and there is much more that can be done."

money(14K) "Another parade, perhaps?" the doctor teases. The parade was not a financial success, and Nick Greene enjoys pulling the mayor's chain about it.

"I will have another parade, and I will make it work. Period," the mayor says defensively. "In the meantime, how's the little Slaussen girl?"

"I'm concerned, but I believe she'll be fine. We'll know for certain tomorrow."

Relieved, the mayor says, "Meanwhile, we need to do something for them all, and fast. The children are distributed all around the village; that can't go on. But the house is a near total loss, as far as I can tell. You know better than anyone that Leonard Slaussen will never work again, not with his bad back, and I've heard that his wife makes a mere pittance helping Mrs. Appleby with her laundering business."

Doctor Greene says ironically, "On the bright side, Mrs. Appleby plans to retire soon and has asked Ginny Slaussen if she would like to take over the business -- brutal as it is."

"Exactly. With seven children, Ginny Slaussen can barely keep up with her own laundry. This is a hard situation," the mayor adds, shaking his head.

money(14K) "We won't be charging for the child's stay in hospital," says the doctor. "And I will put it before the board that none of the Slaussen clan shall have to pay for medical attention. I feel sure they'll agree."

"Good. Well, for now, crisis averted. I'll meet with some people and put together a plan. By the way, I've offered Mickey Sullivan a job. His writing skills are none too good, but he has a real head for figures. Also, we should have a formal ceremony acknowledging his brave act. For a young lad to rush into a burning building -- well, it's no small thing. My word, here's Lavinia!" Having just finished being lectured by his mother, he isn't in the mood for another by his wife. "What brings her climbing down from her carriage on a cold winter's day?"

The Mayor's Mother Has Offered Her Two Cents (House 9):

Eunice Pittman has visited her son not to express her condolences at his loss but to say to him, "I told you so." She was pleased to hear that he has, for the moment, shelved his plan to rule the world and to settle instead for ruling a village. "Some people are natural politicians, Albert. You are not. Regard your older brother: he knows when to be ruthless, when to promise the moon, and when to lie. He will stop at nothing to win. You? You are far too much an idealist for the rough and tumble of politics. Heed me on this." Leaving her son blinking in the withering heat of her censure, she has taken to her sleigh and is headed back to the train station.

Someday he will thank me for my hard words, Eunice thinks to herself. She should have said them long ago. Growing up, why could he not have taken the hint every time she compared him unfavorably to his older brother? Why did she have to be put in the awkward position of being so blunt today? She sighs in exasperation, then notices a young boy hitchhiking on the back of her sleigh. "You, boy!" she calls over her shoulder. "Leave off! Right now!" How had her driver not noticed him? She sighs again. So typical. I have to do everything myself.

Martha Has a Serious Talk with the Banker (House 10):

Miss Martha, the peppermint candy lady, has paused in passing out her candy treats to the village children, shocked at the sight of the burned-out shell of the Slaussens' house. The fire has been put out, although she can still see smoldering wisps rising from its roof. It is such a sad sight to see -- a house that had been in Mrs. Slaussen's family for generations! Although its exterior walls still stand, Miss Martha learns that the roof in back is gone and the interior pretty much destroyed. What will the family do? Where will they live?

She is quickly assured that all have survived the blaze but that their situation is even more dire than before. Just after getting that news, she spies her cousin, Max Schurster, in the crowd and pulls him aside. "Max!" she says urgently. "What do you know about their circumstance?"

money(14K) money(14K) The burly banker and ex-campaign manager for the mayor chomps down on his cigar and shakes his head. "It's not good. No insurance, of course. They applied for a loan not long ago, but with no insurance ... well, the bank had to turn them down."

"The 'bank'? You're the bank!"

"Martha, don't start. You know I have shareholders to answer to."

"No, Max. I don't know. All I know is that this family is hurting, and those of us who are more blessed than they are have some obligation to them. Surely you can do something!"

"My hands are tied."

"No they're not! Hark back to your cousin's widow! You could have foreclosed on Alice, and yet you did not."

Max Schurster frowns. "If you're going to hold that good deed against me --"

"I will! Because I know you have it in your heart to be generous. Please, Max."

People were beginning to hear. The banker looks around and then says quickly, "Oh, all right. I'll see what I can do."

Beaming, Martha gives him a quick hug. "Because you are a good man, Max."

"Because you are a trial, Martha." Sighing, the banker shakes his head. He and his cousin shared the same household for years when they were children. They are like brother and sister.

The Fire (House 11):

train(14K) Old wooden houses in old New England villages are dry and fragile things. One knocked-over lamp, one flyaway hearth ember, and all can go up in smoke: dreams and hard work and hope, and so many memories.

train(14K) This year, Leonard Slaussen had managed to barter an unused work bench for a box of freshly made beeswax tapers for the family Christmas tree. The children were so excited; it had been years since they could afford the luxury of lit candles. Together, brothers and sisters had decorated the tree with homemade ornaments and strings of cranberries, then carefully placed the slender tapers in the candle holders clipped to the tree's branches. Christmas Eve would surely be their most wonderful ever! Leonard and Ginny had looked on at their excited brood with affection. "We don't have much," Ginny had whispered in her husband's ear as their children re-positioned a couple of the candle clips, "but we have all this."

train(14K) train(14K) Until the next afternoon, when the youngest boy, a stripling of seven years, decided to test a candle's partly buried wick ahead of time, just to be sure it didn't hold up the show on Christmas Eve. He lifted just one little match from the match safe and struck it on a piece of sandpaper, then managed to light just the one little candle with it. Just the one. That's all it took to set the tree ablaze that set the curtains ablaze that set the couch ablaze that set the table ablaze that set the floor ablaze. By the time the child's mother rushed in from the kitchen, there was no stopping the flames. She rushed the young arsonist outside and ran back upstairs to save the rest of her children.

Her husband had been napping; he appeared at the head of the stairs, a twin boy in each arm, and began carrying them down as fast as his bad back could manage, his face creased with pain from the effort. Four more! The oldest and next-oldest emerged from the billowing smoke, coughing and choking and stumbling behind their father. The nursery! Ginny made her way to it and scooped up her months-old infant from his crib, hacking uncontrollably now but somehow managing to make her way outside before fainting dead away. Her husband, his back crippled in a spasm, lay on the ground nearby.

train(14K) Just then, Mickey Sullivan was in the neighborhood, delivering gifts and cards in a seasonal job he had taken with the United States Postal Service. He was the first to see the flames. Throwing his heavy mail satchel to the ground, he rushed straight to Leonard Slaussen, who was still breathless with pain. "Is everyone out?" Mickey cried. "Tell me!"

Leonard counted heads. "Oh, no, oh, no -- one more! But not upstairs!"

Mickey leapfrogged over the prostrate father, then past the mother being attended by a passer-by and ran straight into the burning house. Through black smoke and leaping flames, he made his way to the kitchen at the back of the house, and that's where he found little Millie slumped over in her high chair. Snatching her up with sorely burned hands, he blasted with his charge through the back door and handed -- nearly dropped -- the toddler into the arms of a bystander.

"You're hurt, boy," said the stranger to the coughing, retching teen-aged lad.

Mickey looked at his hands, stunned. "No. I'm fine. I'm --"

And then he, too, fell to the ground.

A Crowd Has Gathered (House 11 and the Church ):

Hours after the firemen have left with their steam pump, many villagers remain, saddened by the scene and yet riveted by the sheer destruction before them. No one is more horrified than Mrs. Pettifore. The burned-out house is situated so close to one she had owned. What if she and Eloise had still lived in that house, what if the fire had spread to it, what if they couldn't have found their own front door? If, if, if. Mrs. Pettifore lives and acts solely on her "if"s; they are always on her mind. As it happens, she has had her eye on a stone house outside of town -- which would surely be fireproof -- but her husband, Attorney Pettifore, would prefer to stay close to his offices in the town center. Now she thinks she may be able to persuade him to move, after all.

Standing back from the ruin and holding her daughter's hand tightly (there is broken glass all about), Mrs. Pettifore says, "You must never, ever play with matches, Eloise. Promise me that."

Little Eloise, pretty in pink, nods her head solemnly. "But, Mama, whatever will become of Ruthie? She is my very best friend."

And poor Eloise's only friend. For a very brief time Mrs. Pettifore had allowed her daughter to play with Ruthie Slaussen, but eventually she discouraged the friendship, aware that the Slaussens were hardly their kind. "Ruthie will be fine, dear. She's with Father Andrew's housekeeper for now."

train(14K) "But ... why can't she stay with us?" pleads Eloise. "We have so much room. She can sleep in my bed and I'll even let her play with my dolls. I'll even let her have one of my dolls. Because she must have nothing now," the child adds sadly. Tears roll out in sympathy.

It is her daughter's tears, more than her logic, that touches Mrs. Pettifore. For one illuminating moment she is able to imagine her adored Eloise bereft and alone and wanting her mama, and the thought pierced her heart. "Well! We're not far from the church," she says, a little brusquely. "Suppose we go ask Father Andrew what he thinks about that. Ah, and there's your father, right on the way. We will let him know he may have another mouth to feed," she adds with gentle humor.

train(14K) "Oh, yes!" Eloise is beside herself with happiness. "But I wonder," she can't help adding, "what has become of their dog?"

"No dog," Mrs. Pettifore says firmly, nipping that idea in the bud. "Dogs have germs."

Jeremy Pettifore, attorney at law, is also moved by the sight. "This is a bad business," he tells his colleague, poking his walking stick absently in the iced-over snow. "They will need help, of course, with the inevitable legalities."

"A little pro bono work for you this holiday season?" his colleague ventures. He's surprised by the attorney's generosity. Say the words "pro bono," and the words "Jeremy Pettifore" did not necessarily rush to mind.

The attorney shrugs. "I'll have one of my clerks see what needs to be done. It won't be a burden."

train(14K) train(14K) Will and Harmony are there, having just left their own two children and the Slaussen twins back home in the care of Will's Aunt Agatha. Will is feeling a fire of his own: an urgent wish to rebuild the Slaussen home. The moment he heard of the fire, he knew: he would be the one to take charge of the work. Whatever the damage, no matter the cost, however long the hours, he would be there from start to finish. He was filled with confidence that he could finagle supplies, coerce volunteers, and barter with the more skilled workmen; he would have the Slaussens back in their home by spring.

train(14K) The house would be plain, but it would be strong -- home and hearth to the Slaussen clan, together again. Will had walked around the house twice, eager to get inside but unable to do it until things cooled down. But the shell was intact. It needed a roof and an interior, that's all.

"That's all?" Harmony cocks her head at her husband and smiles. From anyone else, she would consider it just idle speculation. From Will -- written in stone. Still, she feels obliged to ask: "Can you really take this on, dear?"

"The whole village will take this on," Will predicts. "I have no doubt. Ah, there's Russell, next to Fred. Just the man I want to see. His father owes me; I've helped him out of a spot more than once."

"Oh? I suppose you think you can sweet-talk Russell's father into letting you run wild through his building supply shop?"

"I do," Will says, flashing the grin that made Harmony fall helplessly in love with him. "Watch me work." Off he goes to corral the wealthy young heir.

Three young ladies, for the most part inseparable, have rushed to the scene for different reasons. One, because Ginny Slaussen is her aunt. The second, because she thinks there might be some way she can help (perhaps she could ask that nice Sam Ricketts, who's sweeping away debris?). And the third, because Russell is there, and they're betrothed. Or almost, anyway. Or could be, eventually. She feels more or less certain of that.

car(3K) Johnny Hooks and his petite wife Sonja have also come to see what they can do to help. They look around, wondering if anyone is in charge of the scene. They have spare room on their farm and the blessing of old, cranky Farmer Hooks, who knows all too well what it means to suffer loss from a fire. For him it was only a barn, and a good many of his herd had already perished from a mysterious ailment, so someone could argue it wasn't the end of his world, but, with foreclosure imminent, the fire was part and parcel of a low point in Farmer Hooks's life.

"Let 'em know they kin all come out here for the time bein'," he tells his son. "We'll fit 'em somewhere or other."

But Johnny and Sonja soon learn that the family has already been spread out and taken in by the village. Well, of course they had to be; it's freezing cold and they have no home! Still, the couple begins quietly spreading the word that the Slaussens are welcome out on the farm if that's where they'd like to be. "Let's go find Leonard and ask him ourselves," Sonja suggests quietly. "Let's go now, please. This is so painful to see."

Father Andrew Surveys the Scene (Houses 12, The Church):

The elderly priest is filled with sorrow. His very neighbors, in a fire. All of them at home, in a fire. It is surely a miracle that all have escaped. Father Andrew does credit it a miracle, because he himself could do nothing to help anyone out of the burning house. He has become old and arthritic, barely able to genuflect nowadays. By the time he crossed from the church grounds to theirs, Mickey Sullivan had rescued Millie and was passed out. Father Andrew had stumbled from one to another of the traumatized survivors, fearing a need to administer last rites. But no; all had survived. Standing in front of his modest church, he makes the sign of the cross, probably for the tenth time, and says a silent prayer, also not his first, for the stricken family. As for brave Mickey Sullivan -- never again will Father Andrew scold him for playing tag in the graveyard behind the church.

"Hey, Padre! Whaddya think? We almost can reach!"

The priest swings around and sees young Jeffrey perched on his brother's shoulders and reaching up toward the heavy bronze bell above the doorway to the church. The bell's aging manila lanyard has frayed half way up and was to have been replaced that day, but then ... the fire. Jimmy, holding on to his brother's legs, calls out to the priest, "I think we should ring the bell, 'cuz this is an emergency."

"If anything, it should have been rung during the fire, Jimmy, and not after," the priest says dryly. The boys were desperate to ring that bell, and any excuse would do.

"But what about ... just one time, Padre?"

Sighing, the priest remembers that he, too, was young once. "All right, then. One time. Only."

bell(3K) Jeffrey reaches up and pulls on the lanyard with all of his strength, sending off a loud, sonorous tone before slipping from his brother's shoulders and hanging on the lanyard for a very long second, before letting go and dropping to the ground and landing on both feet, before falling to his knees and springing right back up. "That was bodacious!" he cries. His grin went from ear to ear.

If that had been me, I'd have two cracked kneecaps and a broken ankle, the priest acknowledges to himself. "All right, boys, move along now. I see your pals over there. Why don't you all get together and see what you can do for your fellow altar boy? Anthony could use some new clothes right now. Between the bunch of you, you must have some things he can wear."

Jeffrey has a thought. "I have a cap I don't like; my granny knitted it!"

"Them green corduroy pants of mine might do. I never did like green," his brother admits.

"There you go, then. Make yourself useful." Jimmy and Jeffrey scamper off to shake down their friends, and Father Andrew is left alone with his somewhat melancholy thoughts. Why, he wonders, are God's gifts so unevenly passed out? Why do some have so much, and others so little? And what a cruel fate, to have one poorly made candle displace an entire family at Christmastime.

car(3K) Father Andrew gazes with some curiosity at the gathering in front of the remnants of what was once a house filled with love if not riches. It seems to him -- perhaps he is merely willing it -- that the shocked silence of the onlookers is being supplanted by a kind of buzzing energy; his thoughts are suddenly of bees flitting from flower to flower, gathering nectar, each with a purpose. It's an odd image to pop into his head on this cold winter's day. After all, it's not the fragrance of honeysuckle that's tickling his nose, but the acrid smell of burned-out possessions -- and yet, there it is: a village is stirring, coming to life, putting aside its own personal pursuits for a greater need.

Clyde and Margaret Have a Plan (Houses 13, 14 and 15):

Father Andrew is not yet aware of the most amazing miracle of all: Clyde and Margaret, the unbelievably fortunate couple with a bent for moving up to grander residences every year or two, have come up with a way for the Slaussens to live together until something more permanent can be arranged.

Clyde and Margaret's last house, a lovely place that is being rented while it's on the market for sale, has a small guest house on the property. The little red house has remained closed up while it awaits eventual refurbishing, but in the meantime -- why not? It has only two bedrooms and a small sitting area, but a family of nine could more or less fit in it.

"At least for a while," says Clyde.

"At least until the house is sold," says Margaret.

Feeling pleased with themselves, Clyde and Margaret agree that it is surprisingly satisfying to be able to do something for those in need. It has never really occurred to them that there actually are people in need. No one in their circle was. It took the sight of a burned-out house and wailing children to bring home the obvious: there are some who, through no fault of their own, are not blessed with health and wealth and nice-fitting shoes.

train(14K) It's such a good plan, and yet: "What if the main house gets sold right after the Slaussens should move into the guest house?"

"I don't know," Clyde confesses. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." He adds, "I'll talk to Pettifore about it. I suspect there's a way to phrase any Bill of Sale."

Margaret looks wistfully at the simple facade with its two tiny windows. "It really is a sweet little house," she says, taking her husband's hands in hers. "I hope they can fit."

"Better to be together here than scattered around the village," says Clyde. He's always been the realist in their marriage.

Not far from the couple, Father Andrew finds his spirits lifting immeasurably as he watches what's happening before him. In his own way, every Sunday he tries to give the villagers hope. Now he draws strength from the hope that they are giving him back. It's true what say: it does take a village. He bows his head and gives thanks to be part of this very special one.

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

2023 Christmas Putz

Xmas Angel(102K)

Xmas Angel(102K)

2021 Christmas Putz

2020 Christmas Putz

2019 Christmas Putz

2018 Christmas Putz

2017 Christmas Putz

2015 Christmas Putz

2014 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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