Friday, December 21, 2012

Moment for Sandy Hook

Moment of Silence for Sandy Hook Victims on Dec. 21


O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.
O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Psalm 139 (NASB)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas, Hawaiian Style


Since many of our authors are participating in The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt and we're sharing their favorite Christmas memories and recipes over on the Write Integrity blog, I asked those who couldn't participate if they'd like to share their memories anyway. Here's one from Pix-N-Pens author Renee Gray-Wilburn.


Christmas, Hawaiian Style
by Renee Gray-Wilburn


When I was nineteen and at college at the University of Cincinnati, my good friend Maria invited me to go with her to Hawaii for Christmas. Her brother and sister-in-law were “suffering” in Oahu for the army, and they had invited her to come visit. I gladly jumped at the chance to escape the Midwest cold and see palm trees and the ocean once again.
            
As a youngster in elementary school, our family lived in south Florida for several years. Although my mother always got homesick at Christmastime because of the lack of evergreens and snow in Ft. Lauderdale, I didn’t miss any of it one bit. If I never saw another snowflake—ever—that would be fine with me! But, eventually we moved back to southwest Ohio, and once again, I had to endure months of snow, ice, and slush.
            
I’m not exactly sure what made Christmas in Hawaii so special, aside from the warm, sunny days. Perhaps it was being away from home for what had always been a “family-only” holiday, or maybe because it was such an untraditional experience. Whatever it was, everything came together just right to make this particular Christmas perhaps my favorite ever.
            
While I missed being with my parents over Christmas, I loved being out of the routine that had defined our family’s Christmases for as long as I could remember: going to church late Christmas Eve night, opening presents with my brother on Christmas morning, then heading to my grandparents’ for a Christmas Day meal.

In Hawaii, Maria’s brother and his wife filled their tiny home with friends on Christmas Eve. We played games, ate, exchanged gifts, and even learned some Hawaiian dances. Christmas morning we went to church, then to a Christmas luau on the beach, then back home for more present opening. More friends came over later that evening, and the party started back up again!

I vividly remember walking the beach after the luau on Christmas Day—in shorts and sandals—thinking of how much I did not miss a white Christmas! Trunks of palm trees that lined downtown streets and dotted neighborhoods were strung with lights, while traditional Christmas decorations brightened homes and businesses.

Walking on the beach that day brought back many memories of living in Florida, when we went to the beach quite often on Christmas—just because we could. I now live in Colorado, where our Christmases are usually mild and seldom white. My kids always get disappointed when there’s no snow on Christmas, but not me. 

My disappointment lies in not having a luau to go to!

About Renee:

Renee Gray-Wilburn is the author of nearly 200 published pieces, including dozens of magazine articles, two children’s books (Volcanoes and Earthquakes, Capstone Press), contributions to several compilation books, including the Cup of Comfort series and Life Savors for Women, and over a dozen children’s curriculum books. Renee has a passion for instilling biblical truths into the hearts of children and loves helping others through her writing to do the same. She makes her home in Colorado Springs with her husband, Derrick, and their three children, Conner, Cayla, and Chandler.

Dianne E. Butts and Renee Gray-Wilburn co-authored the book Grandparenting through Obstacles: Overcoming Family Challenges to Reach Your Grandchildren for Christ released by Pix-N-Pens in August.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt


Read Chapter Six Part One here. 

Chapter Six Part Two
By Sheryl Holmes

As I handed my ticket to the well-dressed usher, I heard the familiar overture of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker music. Rum, pum de –pum de-ata … I could hum that music any day! Though the curtains were still drawn, I envisioned the set of the living room and the gaily Victorian dressed dancers ready to enter the party on stage. Apologizing all the way past five or six already seated patrons, I found my seat and settled back, my face aching from smiling so big. The rush of the day ended and I revelled in the beauty of the dancers performing my most treasured ballet.

Elegantly dressed adult dancers enacted the party scene. Herr Drosselmeyer, the mystical uncle, gifts dear sweet Clara with a Nutcracker doll and she’s overjoyed, as I would have been too. In a jealous fit, her brother, Fritz, stole the doll and smashed its cracker lever. Devastated and inconsolable, Clara wept in despair even as Herr Drosselmeyer tried to fix poor Nutcracker. Oh how I love this story! This envelope destination is a natural fit, Grammie.”

Despite my old age of twenty-one, I found myself giddy as an eight-year-old, completely enamored with this tradition. I was once again mesmerized as the chiming of the grandfather clock began the count to twelve. Time stood still and my anticipation rose. The stage lights dimmed, and the magic began as the wee six foot decorative Christmas tree grew and grew and grew. My back straightened as the tree grew taller and taller. Practically forty feet tall, the lights shimmered and this glorious tree captured the attention of the entire opera house! Pure enchantment filled the air. Clara’s dream began.

Suddenly, I remembered Grammie’s words as plain as day.

“Now, girls,” she would whisper every year, “as awesome as this tree is, I want you to know that God is even awesome-er! He is sooooo big and yet He cares for each of you and even for your old Grammie, too. When you ask for His love, He will fill you right up with it and you will shimmer and light up just like this tree!”
Lauren and I had never given her our full attention since our eyes had been glued to the enormous tree. Yet I remembered the lesson Grammie taught us so poignantly, year after year. Tradition is good. No, it is excellent.

The soldier and mouse battle scene blurred by and the house lights came up. Act One was over and my bladder was just about to burst. Good tea. Yep – really good tea! I excused myself all the way down the aisle of seats and found my way to the ladies’ room.

Just as expected, there was a line. Always a line. The awkward line where everyone stands trying not to make too much eye contact with anyone. Polite smiles and minor comments abound, “Are you in line?” Do people really have to ask?
Only three people were ahead of me now, and a little hand poked out from underneath one of the stall doors.

“Mommy, I want to go out,” a child voice pleaded. “Out there, Mommy.”

“No, just wait a minute, Sweetie.”

I chuckled with the rest of the ladies waiting in line. Cuteness is an easy icebreaker.

“But Mommy …” the child persisted. Silence. For just a minute. Then, as quick as could be, that little girl-child attached to the child-voice pleas scooted out from under the stall door with ease and agility.

“Clara Grace!”

The name filled the room with a tension only kids truly know. The hair on my neck stood straight up. When a mom used the first name accompanied by the middle name … Oh dear little girl, this can’t be good for you.

An empty stall opened up, and I moved to it. As I passed by the little girl, I noticed a well-loved stuffed animal held fast in her arms.

The little girl and her Mom were gone by the time I exited the restroom. The lights flickered that intermission was almost over, and I rushed to reclaim my seat.

Glad for my agility, I again made my way past the several sets of knees to reach my seat. The glitter of a gold bow caught my eye. How odd. I raised eyebrows toward my seat neighbors, silently asking if this box belonged to either of them. Each shook their heads denying any claim to the small package. I picked it up, then settled in my seat, totally piqued with curiosity. Ever so gingerly, I untied the sparkling gold bow and it fell gracefully into my lap. Lifting the cover, I knew in an instant that this was another ornament carefully selected for me by Grammie; simple, yet exquisite, the hand blown glass formed a tiny replica of the massive Christmas tree on stage. I could hear Grammie’s voice in my head again, “As awesome as this tree is … God’s is even awesome-er ...” As the house lights dimmed and the music began, I pondered only one thing: who put this box on my seat anyway?

My eyes returned to the stage just as Clara was ushered into the Land of Sweets, and I mused about the little escape artist, Clara. I remembered how much Lauren and I had loved the character of Clara in this ballet. We had gone home after each performance and pranced around in our nighties, envisioning ourselves as graceful ballerinas dancing with our Nutcracker. We had even made a pact that the first baby girl born from one of us, hers or mine, would be named Clara. Pinky sworn and sealed with spit! This was for real.

The rest of the ballet enthralled me, but before I knew it I was again out in the cold hailing a taxi. I never liked this part of city life. Walk and freeze or stand halfway in the middle of the street, risking life and limb, waving like a nut to ride in an ugly yellow car. Winter in Boston was, and always will be, unforgiving. Taxi secured, I whipped the side door open.“Copley Square Hotel, please.”

Contentment filled me as the heat blasted in the car and I recalled my evening. “Thank you, Grammie, for this wonderful night.” Visions of prancing around in my nightie re-entered my mind. I could hear my mother and Grammie laughing with joy as they watched Lauren and me flit gracefully around our room. “Ballerinas? You think so?” they teased. “You’re just two little monkeys dancing on the bed!” Monkeys … oh yeah, the monkeys Grammie made us for Christmas became our shining Nutcrackers as we danced! Sock monkeys. Memories rushed forward from the recesses of my mind.

The warmth and rocking motion of the cab lulled me into a light sleep. It had been a long day. Suddenly I bolted upright, all sleepiness vanished. “Monkeys!” I spoke aloud and caught sight of the taxi driver’s surprised glance in the rear view mirror. A nut. Yup, he’s thinking I’m a nut! No matter. Thoughts took command. The old-fashioned sock monkey, just like the ones Lauren and I used as stand-in Nutcrackers, had hung limply in the arms of that little escape artist named Clara. I smiled, thinking about her again – the rambunctious child who entertained me in the restroom tonight.

But then … Clara Grace!

Clara Grace? Could it be …? No. Just a strange coincidence! But hadn’t Grammie always said “there’s no such thing as a coincidence”?

Time stood still once again, and breathing seemed impossible. Certifiable. I am sure the poor taxi driver thought I’d lost it.

Like an angel coming to minister, the words of Grammie echoed in my head, “Find the love again, Grace. Find the love.”



The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt

Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.


Read More:



Learn more about this fun project at Write Integrity Press.

Fay Lamb is the Featured Author today at WIP, so drop by to read her Favorite Christmas Memory and Recipe.

Come on over to Magnificent Hope’s Christmas Party and join all the fun!




Monday, December 10, 2012

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt


Read: 



Chapter Six Part One
By Sheryl Holmes

Boston, Massachusetts evoked a myriad of memories for me. It seemed natural for Grammie to send me here. Having lived here from the age of eight, I looked forward to the familiarity of the city.

The gusty wind took me by surprise. I had forgotten how voracious the wind could be in the city as it rushed between the tall buildings, turning unbuttoned coat flaps and anything not tied down inside out in its fury. I made my way to the curb and hailed a taxi while mustering up every ounce of energy to keep my balance as the winter weather encircled me.

“Where to, ma’am?” inquired the aging taxi driver.

I searched my memory for a place to grab a quick bite to eat. “Take me to the corner of West Street closest to the Boston Common please.”

Surely I could find a cheap place to eat on West Street. It was hard to know exactly what restaurants would have endured the recession over these last few years.

As we approached the Boston Common, camera shots flashed through my memory with vivid color, recalling the different seasons of walking through the park. Delicious green grass in the midst of the stark glass and concrete of the city rambled and beckoned to all who desired to frolic in the warmer months. The sweet memories of romping with Lauren flooded my mind, but I shook them away. Stop! Grace, just stop it!

Thankfully the cabby’s voice broke through my inner turmoil. “Here we are, West Street by way of Boston Common. That’ll be eight fifty, ma’am.”

I stepped out into the winter whip of weather in search of an affordable eatery. I plunged my hands into my pockets to keep the wind from turning my coat inside out, my hand securing the envelope inside. The signage for Max & Dylan’s Kitchen caught my eye, and I seated myself at a table by the window as I perused the menu.
“What’ll it be, sweet lady?”

Was this Max or was this Dylan? Good looking either way. “Just a flatbread sandwich with extra sprouts and avocado, please. Oh, and a hot cup of chamomile tea, too! Thanks.”

The smell of garlic and warm yeasty bread filled the air. The place was small and trendy and the warmth from the ovens caressed my face. As I stared out the window, I was invited into a moment of remembering. Oh, Grammie. Why did you have to die on me?

Not too far away, Boston’s hospital district stood tall and proud. It was almost a city unto itself. She had the best doctors but there was not much left to do but keep her comfortable as the cancer continued to ravage her body. The day she left me was grafted into my memory as a haunt.

Grammie, so frail and weak. Her soft skin hanging like drapes on her bones. The cancer had metastasized and flowed like a savage victor through her body. Even though her eyes were sunk into the bone structure of her face, they danced and sparkled with expectation. I sat close on the edge of her bed as Grammie held my hand and reminded me of her final destination. “The Good Lord is preparing me a place Grace, and I don’t want you to worry.” Moments later her eyes closed, and she rested in waiting. I watched over her as if in my presence I could slow down the inevitable. Her breath was so shallow as I listened and waited to see the blankets rise and fall like the gentle ripples on a still lake. Quiet. Oh so quiet. Aching in my heart, I stood to stretch and then repositioned myself on the chair next to her bed. I drew my legs up and wrapped my arms about me in an attempt to feel a hug. Chin on my knees, I drifted off to sleep.

With a start, I woke to the raspy sound of Grammie asking for water. “I am so thirsty, Grace.” As I handed her the tepid water, she thanked me for staying close by. “Grace, promise me you will reach deep into your heart and reconcile with your sister one day. If you don’t, your anger will eat at you more aggressively than my cancer. Find the love again, Grace. Find the love.”

Grammie, how could you ask it? I fought back the tears and tried desperately to swallow the lump in my throat. To no avail, a single drop trickled down my cheek, and I swiped it away as if it were poison on my skin.

Suddenly Grammie’s breath suspended as if caught up in the air itself. A rise, but no fall. I knew right then that she was gone. Wishing to speak to her just one more time, I leaned down and pressed my cheek against hers and whispered into the stillness of the room, “I love you, Grammie!”

Totally unaware that I had drifted so far from reality, I startled as Max, or Dylan, placed my plate of food and tea upon the table in front of me with a cheery, “Enjoy!” I wriggled out of my coat and emptied my pockets onto the table: cell phone, gloves, and the envelope.

This was the fifth envelope. What a pleasant surprise it was to find the ticket when I opened the envelope two days ago. One choice seat. Front row balcony, center seat. My favorite view within the Boston Opera House. “Thank you, Grammie.” This had been one of our special traditions: Grammie accompanying us to The Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker at the opera house. Oh, too many years had passed since I was allotted this luxury.

I savored the last delectable bite of my sandwich and tea. Haphazardly checking my phone, I realized I had lingered too long. Now I risked being late! Slapping a twenty on the table, I more than covered the cost of my food and left a ridiculously sizeable tip for Max, or Dylan, to save myself time.

I ran toward the theatre district. When I rounded the corner onto Washington Street, the dropping temperatures smarted my eyes and made them tear. Through blurry vision, I saw the familiar old grandeur of the opera house just a hundred feet further ahead. Majestic it stood; the buildings on either side paled in comparison. As a child, I felt like a princess entering a palace with all its ornate gold filigree designs.

Click here to read Chapter Six Part Two.

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt

Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.

Read More:



Learn more about this fun project at Write Integrity Press.

Sheryl Holmes is the Featured Author today at WIP, so drop by to read her Favorite Christmas Memory and Recipe.

She’s also the Featured Guest at Magnificent Hope’s Christmas Party so come over and join all the fun!







Friday, December 7, 2012

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt





Chapter Four Part Two
By Deanna Klingel

“And then Eric went to Vietnam.” She swallowed. “He didn’t come back.”

“Oh … I’m sorry … real sorry,” I mumbled, suddenly ashamed at my hasty, harsh words.

“Bea was heartbroken. We all were. But instead of drawing together to comfort each other, we pulled even further apart.”

There was a long silence. Maddie stared blindly out of the window, lost in the past, and I fidgeted with the tassles on my handbag.

“So when did you and my grandmother meet up again?” I asked, just to break the jagged silence.

“About ten years ago.” The light was back in Maddie’s eyes. “I heard a knock on the door, and there she was.”

“Wow.”

“She’d tracked me down across three states. And in some ways it was as if we’d never been apart.”

Maddie’s chair leg scraped the floor. Her slippers made kissy sounds on the floor. She put her cup in the sink and left the room. Just like that, she left me sitting there. 
“I’ll be back,” she called from another room. “Make yourself comfortable.” I replayed her words as the cat jumped into my lap and curled up. I stroked him, and he purred.

Outside the window, the sky was dimming. I imagined evening would come early up here. I could already see the first star surrounded by twilight. The kissy noises of Maddie’s slippers snagged my attention.

“Well. Here I am. How about I fix us some soup for supper? It’s good weather for soup, don’t you think? You gather your overnight things while I lock up the shop. We’ll go upstairs.”

“Oh, Maddie, that’s kind of you, but I don’t mean to impose. I’d planned to get a room.”

“Nonsense! You have a room right here. Now go fetch your things.”

How much she sounded like my Gram. “…go fetch your things.” Just like something Gram would say. So, of course, I did. She and the cat were waiting at the door when I returned. She locked up, and we went back through the beaded curtain and climbed a narrow stairway. At the top of the stairs, we walked into an open room softened by the natural light of early dusk.

“Like it?” she asked brightly. “Just had it renovated. Skylights. It’s just right for me.”

“It’s wonderful,” I said, and I meant it.

I looked around the small kitchen. Tilted on the top cupboard, photographs in dusty frames caught my attention. Old hairdos, old style bikes, saddle shoes, heavy coats with big buttons. Old photos. A group picture. There was Maddie with Grammie. So young looking. And one of Grammie with a handsome man at her side. Eric.

Maddie didn’t chat much during dinner, and I was grateful. The soup was delicious, and I told her so, but my eyes kept returning to the cupboard. So much loss: Eric, Mom, Dad, Grammie, Lauren, even Lauren’s baby. I thought about the numbered letters yet unopened in my front seat. Was the future in any of them? 

Overwhelmed with sadness, I put down my spoon and wiped away the unwanted tears. Maddie pulled me to my feet, wrapped me in a hug, then led me down the hall.

“Here’s your room,” Maddie directed. “It’s a pull-out bed; I’ve made it up for you. There’s not much space in here with the bed out. All this stuff is my hobby. Don’t mind it. Just push it aside, and put your things wherever you like.”

Spread across the top of the chest was an array of glass balls, tiny paint brushes, and small bottles of paint. Partially finished projects seemed to abound. I picked up a ball and discovered it was a tree ornament, missing its gold cap. A rabbit and trees were painted on the ball. Actually, as I looked more closely, the rabbit and trees were painted inside the ball.

“Like that one?” Maddie asked. “It’s not quite finished yet. I’m not sure I like it very much.”

“It’s lovely,” I said. “How do you do that?”

“I put that tiny little brush into the opening and paint. Just like that!” She snapped her fingers, nothing to it. “The surprise, dear, is that it has to be painted backward. It’s just reversed from normal painting, you see. Instead of painting a background, then the subjects, the subject has to be painted first with the background painted over it.”

I followed that, but how complicated; not a snap of the fingers at all. I fell asleep thinking about her craft, painting from the inside. When you start from the inside, the subjects are the most important feature. You have to complete them first. Everything else is secondary. Start from inside, I dreamed. The subjects ... complete the subjects ...

I woke to the sounds of a quiet house. I smelled coffee, so I got dressed and hauled my overnight bag into the kitchen, ready for departure. The table was set with bagels, pastries, and juice. Coffee cups sat on the counter next to the Keurig. On one of the plates was an envelope with Grammie’s familiar scrawl. I set it aside, not ready to deal with more surprises, and made myself some coffee. Where could Maddie be?

I smeared some cream cheese on a toasted bagel half and opened the envelope, its instructions directing me back to the Welcome Center to find an ornament. I quickly scribbled a note to Maddie, promising to write her soon, then cleaned up and hit the road once more. This time, curiosity spurred me on.

The Welcome Center was less busy this morning as I pulled back into the parking lot. No one stood around the tree as I hurried over to it. The twin book cover was not in the same place, so I had to look for it. I circled the tree and finally spotted it on the back side, a bit higher than it had been before. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, and seeing no one, I reached for the cover. Just behind it, a glass ornament hung, and I took it down and hurried to the car. A clear glass ball. Painted from the inside, a copy of a photo Grammie had taken one Christmas at her house. Lauren and me. Me and Lauren. Matching plaid ribbon headbands. Braces on our teeth. We were fifteen.

The round ornament twirled in my fingers. Lauren and Gracie. Gracie and Lauren. An everlasting circle. Side by side. Grace and Lauren. The subjects, the most important part of the circle, completed first, fill in the rest later.

I glanced out the car window as a doe and two fawns came out of the woods behind the center, walked the edge of the parking lot, then disappeared into more woods farther away. One fawn hesitated and looked at me then dashed after its twin. Snow began to fall and I burst into tears.



The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt
Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.

Read More:

Learn more about this fun project at Write Integrity Press.

Marji Laine is the Featured Author today at WIP, so drop by to read her Favorite Christmas Memory and Recipe.

Come on over to Magnificent Hope’s Christmas Party and celebrate with us!




Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt


The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt


Chapter Four Part One
By Deanna Klingel

North Carolina? I’d never even been to North Carolina. Had she? What could possibly be here for me? I felt like I was spending my life packing and unpacking. I really wanted to just walk away, but I’d only just started. Grammie, you knew I couldn’t walk away from the Christmas tree treasure hunt, didn’t you? You knew me too well.

Welcome to North Carolina. The Great Smoky Mountains were nothing like the Rockies. The Smokies were greener, rounder, and softer looking, the vistas green and blue, more horizontal than vertical; more worn down, older, cozier. I pulled into the Visitors’ Center at mile marker number 5, just where Gram’s instructions said I should stop before heading into the nearby town of Rowland. As I drove toward the main building, I saw the strangest looking Christmas tree I’d ever seen. I parked and went to examine it up close. Beside me, a visitor studied the fragrant pine tree decorated with book covers as ornaments.

“Apparently all the writers from North Carolina decorate this tree every year,” the stranger told me. “These are covers of their books. Interesting idea, isn’t it?”
“Hmm. I guess,” I answered indifferently.

He walked away, apparently having read all the book covers. Maybe I’ll find a good read. I read the title on the cover dangling in front of me: With or Without Her: A Memoir of Losing and Being a Twin, by Dorothy Folz-Gray. My spit stuck in my throat, strangling me. Gram again? But, she couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with this. Could she?

I walked away from the tree to look at the maps on the wall, studying the area. The remoteness of the mountains and the chill in the air caused me to shudder. I helped myself to the free hot cider, another North Carolina gift to strangers. After gulping it down, I headed into town, eager to get this journey completed.

Finding a parking spot proved easier than it first appeared. For Rowland to be a small town, there sure was a lot of hustle and bustle. I turned off the ignition and stared up and down the main street of the quaint little village. Hearts-a-Bustin’ vines tangled and twisted around the wobbly wooden fences enclosing small gardens in front of the shops. Bittersweet leaned against the shutters. Inside the fences, I saw the winter remnants of roses and herbs and the flopping heads of dried hydrangeas. I stepped outside the car and felt something bump against my leg. I quickly pulled back into the car then breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the meow of a domestic cat.

“Go away, kitty. Go home.” I got out of the car, put the envelope in my purse, which I tossed over my shoulder, and tripped down the sidewalk. Up and down the street, the concrete bubbled and crumbled over the tree roots, which seemed to be winning the contest for property rights.

Something in each unique shop window caught my imagination. Under different circumstances I’d probably find the place delightful. At last I spied the sign: “Bide Awhile Books.”

When I opened the door, the tinkling of bells played an actual tune: If I knew you were comin’ I’d have baked a cake. The old hardwood floor creaked with every step I took. The cat that had followed me down the street streaked in ahead of me and jumped up onto the counter. In a beam of sunlight the dust motes danced, and the kitty washed his face. A curtain of bamboo beads rattled. A plump African American woman in a velour tracksuit stepped through the curtain, smiled widely, showing Betty White dimples. The tracksuit was Partridge Family vintage stock.
“Oh, you’re Bea’s Grace, aren’t you? Just as beautiful as your Gram said you were. I’m Maddie. Let’s go put on some tea.” I followed her through the beads into a cozy reading room.

“I guess you’re another friend of my grandmother?” I finally got around to the question after the friendly formalities and the tea was served. It was chamomile – my favorite. Had she known?

“Honey, your Gram and I go way back. I mean waay back.

“How did the two of you meet?”

“Where do I begin?” Maddie took a sip of her tea as she considered her own question. “Our parents were friends before we were even born and—living on the same street—Bea and I grew up more like sisters than friends. You know your Gram was an only child, right?”

I nodded.

“Well, I was one of five children, and your Gram was drawn to our large, loud brood. So different from her own quiet house, I suppose. My mama used to say: you and Bea are double the trouble of all my other children combined. Oh, the mischief the two of us would concoct!” Maddie laughed. I wanted to ask her what kind of mischief, but she was already talking. “Bea would get that sparkle in her eye that meant she was thinking up a prank or two. She was incorrigible, she was.”

There was a long pause as Maddie took another sip of tea and carefully replaced the cup on the saucer.

“She was a beauty, too. Like you. By the time she was sixteen, the boys were already flocking around her. I was a real plain-Jane and might have been jealous except that she just used to laugh at all the attention. It was her and me. Bea and Maddie. Best friends forever.” Maddie shifted in her seat, the laughter on her face suddenly replaced by something more sombre. “But then Eric changed everything.”
“Eric?” I leaned forward. I’d never heard Grammie talking about an Eric before.
“Eric was my brother,” Maddie continued. “Two years older than us girls. Suddenly Bea wasn’t coming to my house just to see me anymore. She started to change. Wearing a little bit of rouge on her cheeks, pretty dresses instead of torn jeans. She wanted to sit and talk with the older boys rather than play pranks on them.” Maddie smiled, but there was sorrow in the smile. “I resented it. Jealousy, of course. I said things intended to hurt her, started to ignore her at school. It’s hard to believe, but I cut my very best friend out of my life.”

Until then I had been completely absorbed by Maddie’s story, but at those last words, I stiffened as understanding dawned.

“Are you saying you and Grammie were like me and Lauren?”

“No, Grace. I just …”

“’Cause it’s not, you know,” I interrupted. “Lauren had a child with my boyfriend.” Date rape – Flo’s words rose up in my mind. Still, what was my sister doing on a date with my boyfriend?

“I know it’s not the same, Grace.” Maddie’s voice took on a placatory tone.

“Your bout of teenage jealousy is a bit different from that kind of betrayal.”

“Yes. Except we both lost our best friend.”

“Anyway, so what happened?” I tried to cover up my embarrassing outburst. 

“Obviously Grammie must have dumped him since my grandfather’s name wasn’t Eric.” I laughed at my weak joke.

“They dated for four years before getting engaged.” She swiped at a single tear streaking down her face. “And then Eric …”

Come back tomorrow to read Chapter Four Part Two.

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt
Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.

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