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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Valley Rise Christmas--Day Twelve

Twelve posts, twelve holiday scenes--the last from Christmas at Valley Rise.  When Carter and Staci spend their Christmas Day delivering meals to shut-ins, they experience the age-old truth that blessings come through giving rather than receiving, and wisdom is often found in unlikely places.  Their visit with an elderly man proves to be one of the high points of their first Christmas together.

It took two hours to make the final six stops.  These homes, isolated on the winding back road that circled the sulfur springs, were more difficult to reach from the SUV.  In some cases, the driveways were long and the snow too deep for Staci to maneuver close to the house.  By the time they had waded through the nearly foot-deep snow to make several of the deliveries, both she and Carter were admittedly cold and tired. 
At the last stop, no one seemed to be at home.  After banging on the front door, Staci walked to the rear of the house, calling in the back door in an attempt to rouse the homeowner.  “I know he has to be here.  Maybe he’s deaf.  Carter, look under the door mat and see if there’s a key.  A lot of folks out here leave a key handy in case of an emergency.”  Back at the front of the house, Staci remained on the ground, rather than attempt to navigate the steps to the porch again.
“Are you sure?  That sounds like an invitation to be robbed.”  He bent down to lift the snow-covered mat.  “No key here.”
Staci looked around for another hiding place.  Propped against the porch was an old iron wagon wheel.  On a hunch, she put a finger into the hub and felt the little metal box that held the key.  “Here.  Try this.”
Carter shot her a skeptical glare as he put the key into the lock.  “I just hope he doesn’t keep a loaded shotgun handy to greet unexpected visitors.  I thought everyone knew we were bringing them dinner today.”
Staci joined him on the porch.  “They did.  That’s what has me worried.  Maybe he’s just asleep.  Napping by the fire, or something.”
The penetrating chill that met them on entry ruled out that scenario.  “Mr. Dawson?” she called into the dimness.  There was no sign of a light and most of the window shades seemed to have been drawn.  None of the rooms showed much sign of recent occupancy.  “We brought your Christmas dinner from the church, Mr. Dawson.”
With growing apprehension, they went from room to room, peering together into each doorway.  “I don’t like this, Staci.  We should call somebody.  What if he’s. . .not alive?”
In the kitchen, on a cot next to the cold wood stove, they finally located Mr. Dawson.  He was lying on his back beneath a mound of worn quilts and blankets, his eyes closed and his mouth open.  With a lump in her throat and her heart pounding, Staci gently touched the mound in the vicinity of his shoulder.  “Mr. Dawson?  Are you okay?”
With a sputtering snort, the old man opened his eyes and blinked.  “Are you a nurse?” he asked hoarsely.
“No sir.  We brought your dinner from the church, Mr. Dawson.  Are you sick?”
He seemed to think about it for moment.  “No.  Just ran out of my arthritis medicine and thought you might have some on you.  Sorry it’s so cold in here, but I couldn’t get out to the woodshed for the snow.”  He made a feeble attempt to push away the covers.
“Just stay there, sir.  I’ll get some wood and see if I can start a fire for you.”  Carter looked around for a place to set the Styrofoam tray.  Every surface seemed to be occupied with stacks of dishes, folded newspapers and rows of tin cans.  He finally chose a pile of ancient magazines as a suitably stable resting place for the dinner. 
As he headed for the back door, Staci flashed him an approving smile that made his heart thump against his ribs.  “Thank you, Carter.  That would be great.”
“No problem.”  Why, he wondered as he plowed toward the sadly leaning woodshed, did he suddenly feel like a hero?
When the fire was finally blazing in the stove, and a substantial supply of wood stacked in the kitchen near the backdoor, Staci cleared a space on the table and set out Mr. Dawson’s dinner.  “I’m afraid it’s not very warm anymore.  Would you like for me to put it in the oven for a few minutes?”
But Mr. Dawson, with surprising agility, had taken his place at the table and was already tucking into the meal.  “No ma’am, this is fine.  I didn’t eat breakfast this morning.  It was too cold to get up.  This is mighty fine fixings, mighty fine.  Did you cook this yourself, young lady?”
“No sir.  The ladies at the church did.  Now is there anything else we can do for you?  I’m afraid your pipes are frozen.  You’ll need to get someone out here to take care of that for you.  I can call someone, if you’d like.”
“That’s all right.  Some of the neighbors usually come around every few days.  There’s a jug of water there in the refrigerator.  I’ll be fine.  You young folks have better things to do on Christmas than see to an old man.  But I sure do appreciate this meal.  And that’s a good blaze you got started there, son.  I can keep that going now.”  When he looked up, his eyes were shining with gratitude.
While Staci seemed to hesitate, hovering over the old man, Carter looked around the shabby kitchen, taking in the clutter and the sad state of disrepair, the cardboard filling a shattered window pane and duct tape mending a torn place in the worn linoleum.  His eyes came to rest on the mantle above the closed fireplace, where the wood stove now radiated warmth.  There a little wooden stable held a place of prominence in the midst of an assortment of faded photographs.  The porcelain figures of the crèche were carefully arranged, obviously placed by a loving hand.  Drawn to take a closer look, Carter stepped toward the mantle.\
“That’s a nice crèche, Mr. Dawson.  I’ve never seen one quite like it.”
Turning to watch as Carter picked up the figure of one of the wise men, the old man smiled.  “I brought that back from Germany, son, over sixty years ago.  A present for my bride-to-be.”
He examined the finely painted figures.  “It’s beautiful."
“I don’t bother with a tree anymore, but I always put that on the mantle, just the way my wife did for fifty-two years.  I figure that’s the only kind of decoration I need.  Now you two run along, before it gets any worse out there.  I appreciate all you’ve done, but I’m fine here.  I’ve got fifty-two years of memories to keep me company.  Two young people in love like you need to have some fun on Christmas.  Make some memories for yourselves.”

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