Friday, March 16, 2012
It was the week of Christmas and the town of Camden Corners was a bustle of activity. The sun had come out a few days after the early December blizzard and the snowdrifts were disappearing each day although there was a fresh coating of snow covering the ground.
School was out for the holiday and the children were taking full advantage of the snow. Billy and Butch Duesenberry were looking forward to their first Christmas in Camden Corners. They had always been aware of the holiday. People were always a bit more generous at that time of year and the boys had found panhandling to be very profitable in December. They were very happy they didn't have to rely on strangers' generosity anymore. Kate and Will were delighted their home was filled with laughter and activity that the two growing boys provided. Will believed he was the luckiest man in the world. Kate was everything he had ever dreamed of. In less than a year's time he was a married man with two sons and a baby on the way. He had to pinch himself every once in awhile to make sure it was true.
Will was looking forward to the annual Christmas pageant. The Ladies Auxiliary had always taken charge of the event in the past with Will's blessing. It was an event everyone in town looked forward to every year. The tradition had gone on for so many years that some of the early Marys and Josephs were watching their grandchildren in those roles now.
This evening is their last rehearsal before the Christmas Eve presentation. Cassandra Rossi is Mary this year. Kenny Bentley is playing Joseph. Becky Bentley is a singing angel. This is a variation of the usual performance because Becky's sweet voice is so heavenly. Will's son, Butch also is playing a solo on his clarinet. He is a natural with a musical instrument.
Iris Taylor is one of the wisemen. She had been practicing the word frankincense all morning. She thought it would be easier if she had been the wiseman carrying the gift of gold to the baby Jesus but she accepted her part and her lines without complaint. Iris was rehearsing while her new baby sister was watching from her cradle. Little Jennie Taylor had been born in September. She will be playing the part of the baby Jesus in the Pageant. Joey was running around being a boy but Iris didn't seem to mind.
Diana and Joe Taylor were watching their children from the doorway. The day Iris came into town less than two years ago changed their lives completely. They had been married for five years and were afraid they were not going to ever have a baby. Shortly after they became parents to Iris, little Joey was on the way and before too long Diana discovered she was expecting another and Jennie was the result. Diana and Joe had so much to be grateful for this year.
Kenny Bentley wasn't sure he liked the idea of wearing a beard in the pageant tomorrow night.
“This thing itches. Couldn't we pretend Joseph went to the barber shop that day?”
Caroline Bentley laughed. “Have you ever seen a barber's pole in a picture of the desert Kenny?”
Caroline was reflecting on the previous year too. She was all by herself in this big house just a few months ago when her daughter, Grace married her long time beau, Ted Evans. Shortly after Lucinda and Cassandra came to live in the boarding house she was reunited with Jamison Bentley. Caroline and Jamison knew they were meant to be together and planned a future. Suddenly two young orphans were in their lives and they became a family. The surprises weren't over when soon after their marriage, Caroline discovered she was expecting a baby. She didn't believe it was possible since her daughter, Grace was making her a grandmother for the first time.
“Grandmother's don't have babies” she insisted to Doc McMillan.
Once the shock wore off, she and Jamison were delighted at the prospect of a new baby of their own.
Lucinda and Cassandra moved out of the boarding house after Lucinda's marriage to Nick Rossi but the house was still full especially when Jamison's two sons came for a visit.
Caroline knew Kenny would be wearing the beard whether it itched or not. He was a pleasant child who had faced more tragedy than any young boy should have to. His mother died after a long illness and his father eventually drank himself to death after he lost his wife. Kenny took full responsibility for his young sister, Becky. Becky was mute because of fear her father had instilled in her. After a few months of living around people who loved and cared for her she came out of her shell and began speaking again. That was when it was discovered that she had such a lovely singing voice.
Caroline didn't think she could ever be happier than she was right now and then felt Jamison's strong arms wrapped around her waist.
Cassandra Rossi picked up the necklace her papa, Paul McCoy, had given her shortly before he was gunned down on the streets of New York City. Cassandra was only 2 years old when her Papa was taken away so suddenly. She was having a hard time remembering him. Her life had changed dramatically in the last year. As it turned out, Mr. Howard who lived next door to Cassandra's Mama and her in New York was her great grandfather. He left her Mama a lot of money when he died. She and Mama moved here to Camden Corners and met her new Papa, Nick Rossi. Cassandra loved Papa Nick with all her heart but cherished the necklace with the pink heart. She only wore it for special occasions but she liked to put it around her neck. She wanted Papa Paul to know she loved him and would never forget him and the necklace had become a symbol of that love to her.
“Cassandra” her mother called from the stairwell. “Kenny and Becky are here for you. They want you to come with them to the park to build a snowman.”
Cassandra, forgetting she was wearing her necklace, raced down the stairs to get her coat and boots on and took off with her friends where they met other children in the park.
After an hour or so of being out in the cold, Cassandra and her friends were back inside the house sipping hot chocolate and nibbling Christmas cookies.
Lucinda noticed her daughter had a chain around her neck. “Cassandra where did you get that chain, is it from your necklace?”
Cassandra put her hands to her throat. She felt for the pink heart and it wasn't there.
“Oh Mama, I forgot I had my necklace on and the heart is gone” she couldn't hold the tears back. The only remembrance of her Papa was the necklace and now she had lost it.
Nick had just arrived home and said he would help her look for it. The children put their coats and boots back on and they all went out the door to the park.
Nick and Lucinda knew it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. The snow had been falling since the children had come in from the cold. The heart would most likely be covered with snow by now. They searched until the children were almost stiff with the cold. Lucinda took them home but Nick kept looking until the daylight disappeared. Nick knew how much that necklace meant to Cassandra. He knew losing the heart was like losing her father all over again. He came back home and told Cassandra they would look for it every day and when spring came and all the snow disappeared they would surely find it. Nick knew the chances of finding it were slim but he couldn't let his daughter know that.
Nick spent the better part of the following morning in the park looking for the heart. Lucinda and Cassandra looked with him. It was too cold for a little girl to be out for too long at one time. It was Christmas Eve and Cassandra had to get ready to go to the church for the Christmas Eve service and pageant.
All the children did a wonderful job with their performances. Becky Bentley sang her little heart out. Nick noticed Cassandra touching her neck a time or two. She had planned to wear her precious necklace under her costume while playing her part as Mary that evening.
After the ceremony ended, the parishioners gathered in the basement meeting room for coffee and sweet treats provided by the ladies auxiliary.
Everyone wished their friends and neighbors a Merry Christmas and bid good evening as they all went to their homes. The children were anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus and wanted to be sure they were in bed and asleep so that he wouldn't pass them by.
Butch and Billy were a little old to be waiting for Santa but this was the first time in their young lives that they were part of the celebration and joined in and enjoyed the fantasy.
Caroline and Jamison encouraged Kenny and Becky to talk about their Mama and Papa. Caroline knew the children loved their new parents but wanted to keep the few memories they had of their birth parents alive. They would always miss their Mama and even with his faults, their Papa too but they were so happy in Camden Corners with Caroline and Jamison and knew their Mama would be happy for them too.
Iris' life was filled with love and laughter. Her little brother and sister adored her and she felt the same way about them. She also loved her Mama Mavis' friend, Cody. He was very special to her. Not only because he knew her Mama but he saved her life at the Founder's Day picnic last summer. Iris rarely thought about her father, Earl Short anymore. She felt as though she had lived with Joe and Diana Taylor forever. She liked it that way and she knew she was loved.
Cassandra walked home with her parents. She decided she wasn't going to be sad anymore because of losing the heart. Papa Nick told her she would always have her Papa Paul in her own heart. His love could never be lost. She was deep in thought about how much she loved Papa Nick when she heard him shout.
She glanced at the snow pile where Nick was standing and saw a sparkle that made her want to cover her eyes. She walked over to it and and saw her pink heart resting on top of the snow. Her heart had been there all along. Or had it? Through her excitement, Cassandra thought she heard the sound of jingle bells as she reached down and touched her pink heart. She looked up at Nick who was beaming and her own heart felt like it was going to pop out of her chest. Cassandra knew she was a very lucky girl to have two Papas who loved her.
After they got home Cassandra said her prayers, Mama and Papa tucked her into bed.
“Merry Christmas Cassandra” said her mother
“Merry Christmas Mama and Papa.”
They left the room arm in arm as Cassandra closed her eyes.
“Merry Christmas Papa, thank you for my pink heart and thank you for my Papa Nick.”