Since he was a boy growing up in Mississippi, Father Tim has lived what he calls "the life of the mind." Except for cooking and gardening and washing his dog, he never learned to savor the work of his hands. And then he finds a derelict nativity scene--twenty figures, including a flock of sheep, that have suffered the indignities of time and neglect.
Could he give the small company new life? Restore the camel's ear, repaint every piece, replace a missing nose on a wise man? "You can't teach an old dog new tricks!" he reminds himself. It's when he imagines the excitement in Cynthia's eyes that he steps up to the plate--and begins a small journey of faith that touches everyone around him.
The eight novel in the bestselling Mitford Years series is a mediation on the best of all presents--the gift of one's heart. Lovingly written and beautifully illustrated, it seeks to restore the true Christmas spirit and give everyone a seat at Mitford's holiday table.
From the Hardcover edition.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
JAN KARON is the author of seven Mitford novels: At Home in Mitford; A Light in the Window; These High, Green Hills; Out to Cannon; A New Song; A Common Life and the most recent, In This Mountain, a #1 New York Times bestseller. Her children's books include Miss Fannie's Hat and Jeremy: The Tale of an Honest Bunny.
From the Hardcover edition.
The rain began punctually at five oíclock, though few were awake to hear it. It was a gentle rain, rather like a summer shower that had escaped the grip of time or season and wandered into Mitford several months late.
By six oíclock, when much of the population of 1,074 was leaving for work in Wesley or Holding or across the Tennessee line, the drops had grown large and heavy, as if weighted with mercury, and those running to their cars or trucks without umbrellas could feel the distinct smack of each drop.
Dashing to a truck outfitted with painterís ladders, someone on Lilac Road shouted ìYeehaw!,î an act that precipitated a spree of barking among the neighborhood dogs.
Here and there, as seemingly random as the appearance of stars at twilight, lamps came on in houses throughout the village, and radio and television voices prophesied that the front passing over the East Coast would be firmly lodged there for two days.
More than a few were fortunate to lie in bed and listen to the rain drumming on the roof, relieved to have no reason to get up until they were plenty good and ready.
Others thanked God for the time that remained to lie in a warm, safe place unmolested by worldly cares, while some began at once to fret about what the day might bring.
Father Timothy Kavanagh, one of the earliest risers in Mitford, did not rise so early this morning. Instead, he lay in his bed in the yellow house on Wisteria Lane and listened to the aria of his wifeís whiffling snore, mingled with the sound of rain churning through the gutters.
Had he exchanged wedding vows before the age of sixty-two, he might have taken the marriage bed for granted after these seven years. Instead, he seldom awakened next to the warm sentience of his wife without being mildly astonished by her presence, and boundlessly grateful. Cynthia was his best friend and boon companion, dropped from the very heavens into his life, which, forthwith, she had changed utterly.
He would get up soon enough and go about his day, first hying with his good dog, Barnabas, into the pouring rain, and then, while the coffee brewed, reading the Morning Office, as heíd done for more than four decades as both a working and a now-retired priest.
Feeling a light chill in the room, he scooted over to his sleeping wife and put his arm around her and held her close, comforted, as ever, by the faint and familiar scent of wisteria.
Lew Boyd, who liked to rise with the sun every morning, and who always wore his watch to bed, gazed at the luminous face of his Timex and saw that it was the first day of October.
October! He had no idea at all where the time had gone. Yesterday was July, today was October. As a matter of fact, where had his life gone?
He stared at the bedroom ceiling and pondered a question that heíd never been fond of messing with, though now seemed a good time to do it and get it over with.
One day, heíd been a green kid without a care in the world. Then, before you could say Jack Robinson, heíd looked up and found he was an old codger with a new and secret wife living way off in Tennessee with her mama, and him lying here in this cold, lonesome bed just as heíd been doing all those years as a widower.
He tried to recall what, exactly, had happened between his youth and old age, but without a cup of coffee at the very least, he was drawing a blank.
Though heíd worked hard and saved his money and honored his dead wifeís memory by looking at her picture on Sunday and paying to have her grave weed-eated, he didnít know whether heíd made a go of it with the Good Lord or not.
For the few times heíd cheated somebody down at his Exxon station, heíd asked forgiveness, even though heíd cheated them only a few bucks. Heíd also asked forgiveness for the times heíd bitten Juanitaís head off without good reason, and for a few other things he didnít want to think about ever again.
To top that off, heíd quit smoking twelve years ago, cut out the peach brandy heíd fooled with after Juanita passed, and increased what he put in the plate on the occasional Sundays he showed up at First Baptist.
But the thing was, it seemed like all of itógood and bad, up and down, sweet and souróhad blown by him like Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega.
He sighed deeply, hauled himself out of bed, and slid his cold feet into the unlaced, brown and white spectators he wore around the house. If Juanita was alive, or if Earlene was here, heíd probably turn on the furnace out of common decency. But as long as he was boss of the thermostat, heíd operate on the fact that an oil furnace was money down the drain and wait ítil the first hard freeze to make himself toasty.
Sitting on the side of the bed and covering his bare legs with the blanket, he scratched his head and yawned, then reached for the cordless and punched redial.
When his wife, living with her dying mama in a frame house on the southern edge of Knoxville, answered the phone, he said, ìGood morniní, dumplin.íî
ìGood morniní yourself, baby. Howíre you feeliní this morniní?î
ìGreat!î he said. ìJust great!î
He thought for a split second he was telling a bald-faced lie, then realized he was telling the lawful truth. It was the sound of Earleneís cheerful voice that had changed him from an old man waking up in a cold bed to a young buck who just remembered he was driving to Tennessee in his new Dodge truck, tonight.
At six-thirty, Hope Winchester dashed along Main Street under a red umbrella. Rain gurgled from the downspouts of the buildings she fled past and flowed along the curb in a bold and lively stream.
To the driver of a station wagon heading down the mountain, the figure hurrying past the Main Street Grill was but a splash of red on the canvas of a sullen, gray morning. Nonetheless, it was a splash that momentarily cheered the driver.
Hope dodged a billow of water from the wheels of the station wagon and clutched even tighter the pocketbook containing three envelopes whose contents could change her life forever. She would line them up on her desk in the back room of the bookstore and prayerfully examine each of these wonders again and again. Then she would put them in her purse at the end of the day and take them home and line them up on her kitchen table so she might do the same thing once more.
UPS had come hours late yesterday with the books to be used in this monthís promotion, which meant sheíd lost precious time finishing the front window and must get at it this morning before the bookstore opened at ten. It was, after all, October firstótime for a whole new window display, and the annual Big O sale.
All titles beginning with the letter O would be twenty percent off, which would get Wesleyís students and faculty hopping! Indeed, Septemberís Big S sale had increased their bottom line by twelve percent over last year, and all because she, the usually reticent Hope Winchester, had urged the owner to give a percentage off that really ìcounted for something.î It was a Books-A-Million, B&N, Samís Club kind of world, Hope insisted, and a five-percent dribble here and there wouldnít work anymore, not even in Mitford, which wasnít as sleepy and innocuous as some people liked to think.
She dashed under the awning, set her streaming umbrella down, and jiggled the key in the door of Willard Porterís old pharmacy, now known as Happy Endings Books.
The lock had the cunning possessed only by a lock manufactured in 1927. Helen, the owner, had refused to replace it, insisting that a burglar couldnít possibly outwit its boundless vagaries.
Jiggling diligently, Hope realized that her feet were cold and soaking wet. She supposed thatís what she deserved by wearing sandals past Labor Day, something her mother had often scolded her for doing.
Once inside, and against the heartfelt wishes of Helen, who lived in Florida and preferred to delay heating the shop until the first snow, Hope squished to the thermostat and looked at the temperature: fifty degrees. Who would read a book, much less buy one, at fifty degrees?
As Margaret Ann, the bookstore cat, wound around her ankles, Hope turned the dial to ìon.î
The worn hardwood floor trembled slightly, and she heard at once the great boiler in the basement give its thunderous annual greeting to autumn in Mitford.
Uncle Billy Watson lay with his eyes squeezed shut and listened to the rain pounding the roof of the Mitford town museum, the rear portion of which he and Rose called home.
He was glad it was raining, for two reasons.
One, he figured it would make the ground nice and soft to plant thí three daffodil bulbs Dora Pugh had trotted to íis door. Thí bulbs, if they was like her seeds, wouldnít be fit to plant, but heíd give íer one more chance to do thí honorable thing aní stand by what she sold.
When he was feeliní stronger aní the doc would let him poke around outside, he knowed right where heíd plant to make the finest showóat the bottom of thí back steps, over to thí left where the mailman wouldnít tear up jack when he made íis deliveries.
Feeling the gooseflesh rise along his arms and legs, he pulled the covers to his chin.
Thí other good thing about the rain, if hit lasted, was when Betty Craig come to nurse íim tíday, sheíd be cookiní all manner of rations to make a manís jaws water. If they was anything betterín heariní rain on thí roof aní smelliní good cookiní at the same time, he didnít know what hitíd be.
He lay perfectly still, listening now to the beating of his heart.
His heart wasnít floppiní around thisaway and thataway ní more, he reckoned the pills was workiní.
In a little bit, he rolled over and covered his ears to shut out the sound of his wifeís snoring in the next bed.
He mightíve lost a good deal of eyesight aní some control of íis bladder, donít you know, but by jing, íis heariní could still pick up a cricket in thí grass, thank thí ...
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