Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Christmas Show

Maybelle Witherspoon was in a tizzy. Christmas was four months away but she just received a letter from her niece in Greensboro. Katrina was in the family way and Maybelle would be needed to tend to her during her infirmity and the birth of her child. Maybelle was happy about the baby but the timing couldn't have been worse. How in the world would she be able to plan for and present the annual Camden Corners Christmas Pageant from Greensboro?
Molly Edwards had been her assistant for the last few years. Molly was the second grade teacher. She dreaded the Christmas Program planning. Oh she loved everything about Christmas especially the excitement of the children but helping Maybelle Witherspoon was a challenge she wasn't looking forward to.
Maybelle fancied herself a talented singer. Not a soul in Camden Corners would ever want to hurt Maybelle's feelings with the truth that her singing was worse than a slew of caterwauling cats. Maybelle broke the news to the planning committee that she would not be involved in the Christmas program this year. The group feigned regret and congratulated Maybelle on the upcoming blessed event.
Molly saw Maybelle off at the train station as Maybelle boarded the train she was issuing orders concerning the program. Molly tried to hide her glee as she stopped for a cup of tea at Looking Back Antiques.
Nettie Dawson who had moved to Camden Corners just a few months ago wanted to know what the program was all about. Molly explained that it was the same year after year. The school children would gather on stage while Maybelle Witherspoon recited The Night Before Christmas and then sang several Christmas carols always ending with Silent Night when the children would join her in humming along.
Luke Shannon happened to be passing by the ladies on his way to chat with Jonas about a fishing date for that afternoon.
“Oh! The dreaded Christmas Program” Luke exclaimed. “Just when I was planning an enjoyable afternoon with a fishing pole in my hand, you have to remind me of that debacle.”
Luke was the sole proprietor of the Village Toy Shop. He and Molly had been courting for quite a while but marriage didn't seem to be on the horizon. Molly loved Luke but couldn't imagine being married to a grown man who played with toys for a living. Luke loved Molly too but shied away from proposing since he wasn't sure he would be able to provide for her and the family they would have. He worked diligently in the toy shop trying to make ends meet. He had a bit of a cash flow problem because his generosity interfered with his profits.
Luke grew up in nearby Chesterton. His mother was widowed when Luke was only 7. He had three younger brothers and money was scarce. His mama had barely enough money to put food on the table for four hungry boys let alone buy toys for any of them. Luke didn't mind so much for himself but he wanted his brothers to have games and teddy bears and all the things little boys liked to play with.
Mr. Peabody, owner of the general store in town, taught Luke how to whittle and gave him leftover pieces of wood to carve toys for his brothers. Luke and his brothers all developed overactive imaginations playing with little wood carvings. Luke's mother eventually remarried and Luke's stepfather was able to provide well for the family. When Luke turned 10 years old, Mr. Peabody hired him to sweep the floor of the store and tidy up after school. Luke continued to work in the store even though extra money wasn't needed at home anymore. He graduated from high school and went to business school to learn the ins and outs of accounting. Mr. Peabody had heard that the Village Toy Store in Camden Corners was available for sale. He knew Luke would be a perfect match for the toy shop and he was right. Luke had saved enough money for a large down payment and was ready to fulfill his wish to provide toys for every boy and girl in Camden Corners.
Molly giggled at Luke in spite of herself. She had to agree with his assessment of the usual program. Luke was happy to hear that Maybelle would be out of town and unable to entertain this December. Molly informed him that she was now in charge and she was appointing him as producer of the program.
She thought he would balk at the suggestion, but he tilted his head and said, “You're on!”.
Nettie, who was aware of Luke's quest to provide toys for every boy and girl, told Molly not to worry, Luke was a good man and would make her proud. Nettie wanted to shake Molly and make her see what a catch Luke Shannon was. She knew they were in love with each other and didn't want them to waste another day denying their love. Nettie knew first hand that the opportunity might not come again for a long time. She smiled as she thought of how love had come into her life again in the form of Mr. Oscar Crowley.
Later that afternoon, Luke stopped by Molly's house. He had an idea for the program. Molly listened as Luke reminded her of the fictional story of how the famous Christmas hymn, Silent Night was written. Luke's excitement was catching. Although there were only two main characters, with a little imagination they would be able to involve most of the children in the school in the skit and the others would be responsible for creating beautiful scenery that would lead to the inspiration for the song. Molly fretted about how Maybelle would react when she discovered the program would be entirely different than it had been under Maybelle's direction. Luke insisted it was time for a change and they could make this work. The children would be the stars of the show. Molly finally agreed with Luke and eagerly began jotting down notes.
The next day Molly called a meeting of the ladies auxiliary to discuss the plans for the program. All the ladies were overjoyed with the idea. They all offered their services in helping the children learn their lines and design the scenery. Molly made sure all the children would be participating. Some were anxious to be on stage and others were just as happy painting scenery.
Luke was busy writing the script with the help of Sarah and Max Harcourt. There were plenty of embellishments to the original story making it truly an original play.
Mr. Lane gathered the high school children asking if any of them would be willing to sing in the Christmas program that year. The moans were deafening as the students remembered the agony of sitting through Miss Merryweather's Christmas Programs of the past. Mr. Lane explained that unfortunately, Miss Merryweather would be out of town and a new and different program would be performed. Mr. Lane had no trouble recruiting after that announcement.
December was fast approaching and the Christmas program was the talk of the town. The children were busy learning their lines and painting the beautiful Christmas Eve scenery on backdrops. The skit was clever and funny, something the children and their parents could both enjoy. Mr. Lane's students were practicing Silent Night and some of them had beautiful voices. He knew the program would be a success.
Luke, however was worried that he wouldn't be able to provide every child with a toy for Christmas. His supply had been getting low and he wasn't sure how he was going to pay for the order he received that morning. Luke didn't think anyone should make a large profit on the sale of toys to children so the prices in his shop were much lower than most. He didn't have to be concerned with making a large profit because he wasn't making any profit at all.
Nettie Dawson stopped in his shop and saw Luke going over his books again. Nettie knew something had to be done to help Luke with his dilemma. She took it upon herself to go from shop to shop and business to business collecting money for a toy drive for the children. She explained Luke's problem and everyone generously contributed. Molly had stopped at Tempting Treats Candy Shop on her way home from school. She knew Luke liked Maddie's peppermint fudge and was picking up a pound to surprise him.
Nettie was there with her collection jar. Molly heard Nettie telling Maddie of Luke's plan and how he was coming up short on funds. She had no idea Luke was doing this. As it turned out, he did it every year but Molly didn't know. She suddenly realized she had underestimated Luke. He had taken over the Christmas Pageant and worked hard making sure every child had a part in the program. She remembered little Susie White was limping last week because her shoes hurt. That evening she saw Luke through the window of the shoe store and the next day Susie was wearing a brand new pair of Mary Janes. Molly looked at Nettie and her eyes filled with tears. How could she have thought so little of Luke when all along he had been a generous and loving man.
A few hours later, Nettie walked into Luke's store with a list she had gotten from the parents of the Camden Corners children. She handed the list to Luke and said if he would kindly gather up all the toys on the list she and the ladies auxiliary would be back in an hour with pretty paper and ribbons to wrap each gift.
Luke was overwhelmed with the generosity of the folks of Camden Corners. As he was about to pick a pretty little doll off the top shelf behind the counter, Molly walked in and offered to help. Together they collected each toy on the list just as the ladies were entering the shop laden with gift wrap and ribbon. When they were finished with their wrapping, Luke and Molly helped carry the beautiful packages to Len Branson's waiting buckboard.
The ladies left and Luke and Molly were alone. Luke's heart was full knowing all the children would have a Christmas present this year. He took Molly in his arms and asked her to make this his happiest Christmas ever by agreeing to be his wife. Molly didn't hesitate for an instant before saying yes.
Finally the day of the pageant arrived. The scenery was all in place in the Royal Theater. High school students escorted the patrons to their seats. April Hawthorne played the organ as the program began. Laughter filled the theater as the children performed their parts to perfection. The story written with the combined efforts of Luke, Max and Sarah was funny and tender at the same time. Everyone was so mesmerized by what was happening on stage no one noticed the door opening and a lone figure finding a seat at the back of the theater.
The finale was the singing of Silent Night as the high school children joined the younger ones on stage. The audience demanded an encore with their clapping and shouting bravo.
The children sang until a stout gentleman in a red fur trimmed suit came marching down the aisle shouting “Ho Ho Ho.”
The children were too excited to continue singing as Santa Claus, who looked a lot like Mr. Christopher Pringle, called out the names of the children and handed each a package to take home and put under their Christmas tree.
When all the packages were handed out, Luke and Molly came on stage to thank everyone for their participation in the program.
From the back of the room came the unmistakeable voice of Maybelle Witherspoon. The room was silent as Maybelle made her way to the stage. Luke stood in front of Molly protecting her from Maybelle's wrath when Maybelle turned to the audience and exclaimed, “As you know, I was forced to leave Camden Corners to care for my niece a few months ago. As director of the annual Christmas show for the last 25 years, I left Miss Molly Edwards in charge of this year's program with explicit instructions to proceed with the established program. Now I say to you, citizens of Camden Corners, aren't you glad she and the toy shop fellow here didn't listen to me? Let's congratulate Molly and Luke on the wonderful presentation this evening and ask them to be in charge of next year's production too. My only request is that they allow me to take part. I would like to paint some of the scenery and I assure you, I am a much better artist than I am a singer.”
The audience stood and clapped for Maybelle as she left the theater. She was in a hurry to board the train back to Greensboro to be with her niece who was due to give birth any day now.
As the train left the station, Maybelle recalled the words to The Night Before Christmas. She was sure her new little niece or nephew would enjoy hearing their Auntie Maybelle recite the poem to them for many years to come.

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