Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Christmas was only a few weeks away. The Merryweather was decorated for the holidays. Along with the treasured journals in the attic, Tracy and Holly uncovered several large boxes. They opened them and found wooden replicas of many of the buildings in Camden Corners including the general store, the bakery, the toy store, the candy shop, the church and dozens of other homes and businesses. The dates and the artist's name, Luke Shannon, were etched on the bottom of each building. After doing research, the girls discovered Luke was the owner of the village toy store. He learned the art of whittling from an elderly neighbor when he was a young boy. The family had run into hard times and he wanted to make sure his younger brothers had something from Santa under the tree that year. Through the years, Luke perfected his skill. Luke's wife, Molly painted the detail on the buildings. After a few years, the toy store's display window wasn't big enough to hold all the buildings. There was plenty of room on the first floor of the Merryweather antique shop and the village was displayed there until it closed its doors for the last time. Luke and Molly's descendents thought the village should be exhibited where everyone could see and appreciate it. Tracy and Holly displayed the village in the lobby of The Merryweather the first Christmas it opened and every Christmas after that.
Tracy was humming a Christmas carol as she walked through the doors of the Merryweather. She was remembering her wedding to Jack just a week ago. The sight of the lit Christmas tree with the wonderful wood carved village around it gave her goosebumps. “Holly, I can't believe we actually own this beautiful resort. Just one year ago, everyone thought we had lost our minds when we talked about buying it and restoring it. I'm so happy we took the chance.
“What's wrong, Holly? Why are you crying?”
“Tracy do you remember Sally and Ted Cummings? Ted is a distant cousin of Steve's. Sally taught Sunday school when we were about 10 years old. We thought she was the prettiest girl in all of Camden Corners.”
“Yes, I remember them both. Ted delivered our newspaper. I used to wait for him to ride by on his Schwinn Speedster two speed bicycle every afternoon. He was the first boy I ever loved if only from afar.
“Why do you ask, did something happen to them?”
“Steve gave me an advanced copy of today's paper. They own the mountain grocery store in the middle of the resorts up there. Apparently, a fire started in the store and made its way upstairs to the living quarters. Steve was hit by a falling beam as he carried their youngest child out of the burning building. He's in a coma at Memorial. The family has nothing left, the store and their home burned to the ground. This would be a tragedy anytime but Christmas is just a week away.”
“If I remember correctly, both of their families have moved away.”
“Yes, Sally's folks moved to Florida. Her dad couldn't take the cold winters because of his health. Seems to me, Ted's family moved out west several years ago. If I remember correctly, he stayed behind because of Sally.”
“I wonder what the family will do? I'm sure they have friends that would put them up but that would be an awful trip up and down the mountain every day. Holly, what would you think about..”
“I know what you are about to say and I agree. We have vacant adjoining suites. There would be plenty of room for Sally and the children. Let's go to the hospital and ask Sally to be our guests for as long as she needs the rooms.”
“Good idea. Donna, Holly and I will be back shortly, would you ask housekeeping to be sure The McMillan and The Blackburn suites are in good order.”
“Certainly boss,” Donna said with a tear in her eye. “It's so nice of you two girls to help out a family in need.”
“Tracy, that woman hears every word that we say. Do you think she has our offices bugged?”
Holly and Tracy made their way to the intensive care unit. They saw four somber faced children and a very distraught Sally sitting in the waiting room. Sally looked up and smiled. “Hello, girls. My goodness, it's been a long time since I've seen you two. I hear wonderful things about what you have done with The Merryweather.”
“Sally, we are so sorry about the fire and Ted. Is there any improvement?” Holly asked.
“Not yet, that beam did a job on him. Joe Mackenzie says he should come around in the next 24 hours. He looks so helpless lying there.”
“Have you thought what you will do and where you will stay while Ted is recuperating?”
“Luckily the station wagon escaped the fire. Our neighbors have offered to take the children in. The houses up there are very small and we won't be able to be together every night, but at least we will have beds to sleep in.”
Sabrina, the youngest girl, sat holding her doll tightly. Tracy thought she had the saddest eyes she had ever seen. “The fire burned down our Christmas tree. Daddy let me pick out the best one from the woods behind our house and now it's all burned up.”
“Sally, we want you and the children to stay at The Merryweather. We have adjoining suites that we think you will find comfortable. That way you won't have to travel back and forth from the mountains or worry about the children missing any meals.”
“Thank you so much, Tracy. That is very generous but I could never repay you. I am waiting to hear from the insurance company to see where we stand.”
“Sally,” said Holly, “we have empty suites with plenty of beds. You need a place to stay and we like to keep the staff busy. Please accept our offer. It's Christmas and families need to be together at this time of year.”
“Please, Mom,” said the oldest boy, Lonnie, “we want to be together. Dad would want you to say yes.”
The other children joined in until Sally agreed. She was touched by her former Sunday school student's generosity. “Everyone has been so kind to us. I wish Ted could know what what good friends we have.”
Doctor Joe overheard Tracy and Holly's offer. “Why don't you and the children go to The Merryweather and get settled in. I will call you if there is any change in Ted's condition. Sally, you could use some rest yourself. You have been through a lot in the last 12 hours. Ted would never forgive me if I didn't chase you out of here.”
“Did you hear that Sally? The doctor has given his orders. You are coming with us. Sabrina, wait until you see the canopy bed in your room, you will feel like a princess,” said Holly.
Lonnie and Matt looked at Holly. “Do we have to have a canopy bed? I'd rather sleep on the couch,” said Matt.
“Matthew James, you will sleep wherever you are told and be grateful to Holly and Tracy. They are doing us a tremendous favor,” said their mother.
“I'm sorry, Holly.”
“No apologies necessary. I would never make you fellows sleep in a canopy bed. I hope you boys are baseball fans, one of the rooms in the Blackburn suite is filled with Yankee mementos. My husband, Steve, helped to decorate that room.”
“Far out,” said Lonnie.
“Cool,” said Matt.
“I think they approve,” said Tracy.
“They'd better,” said Sally glaring at her sons.
When the Cummings family got to their rooms, a hot lunch was waiting for them. The children devoured the food and even Sally ate a good helping. After the empty dishes were taken away, the entire family fell asleep in front watching a rerun of I Love Lucy.
While they were sleeping, Melanie and Aggie were busy gathering clothing from all the residents of Camden Corners. Everyone in town wanted to help the family who lost everything. New clothing as well as slightly used items were donated. Hap went to the drug store and bought everything from toothbrushes to nail polish the clerk told him was the most popular color they sold. He picked up a few packages of Christmas candy and although he was tempted, didn't help himself to even one piece.
“Aggie dear, what about a Christmas tree and presents?”
“It's all taken care of. Ben Murphy and his deputy are in the woods looking for the perfect Christmas tree to cut down. Ben's wife, Vanessa is at the Christmas shop buying ornaments for the tree and stockings for each one of the children to hang on the fireplace. Tracy and Holly made sure each room had Christmas decorations for the month of December so it already looks quite festive. Susie and Maddie have taken a load of children into Greensboro to pick out bicycles to replace the ones they lost in the fire. Mike Rossi and Dick Marino are following behind in their pickup to carry the bicycles home. You and I, my darling will be taking some of the children to the toy store to pick out presents for all the youngsters. Hap, I feel like a kid myself. I don't remember when I have had this much fun. I'm just sorry the Cummings family has had to suffer.”
“Where did this money come from?” said Hap as he looked into the basket on the counter.
“People have been stopping by with donations. Those that didn't have anything to give, gave money. Hap, there is more money there than we will need to give those children a Merry Christmas. I just hope they have something to be joyful about and Ted gets well before Christmas day.”
Sally awoke with a start. She had been sleeping soundly when the telephone began to ring. The children gathered around her as she picked up the receiver. “Hello, this is Sally Cummings.” Joe Mackenzie could hear the fear in her voice.
“Sally, I have someone here who would like to say hello to you.”
“Sally!” came the voice of her husband. It was weak and hoarse but she recognized him immediately. “I hear you are living it up at The Merryweather while I'm fighting for my life,” he teased her.
“Ted! Oh darling, it's so good to hear your voice.”
Ted could hear crying in the background. “What's all the blubbering about? Doctor Joe says you should hurry on over to the hospital and bring me a cheeseburger.”
Joe gently lifted the receiver from his patient's hand. “Doctor Joe said no such thing. As you can hear, Ted back to his old self again. He is allowed to see you but absolutely no cheeseburgers.”
“We'll be there as soon as we can make it out the door.”
As soon as the Cummings left for the hospital, the tree was placed in its holder and decorated with the new ornaments. The stockings were hung on the mantle. The toiletries and clothing were laid out on the beds. The elves of Camden Corners closed the door behind them. The toys and bicycles were hidden in the basement until Christmas Eve.
Word spread quickly that Ted Cummings was going to be alright. He would be staying in the hospital for a few days to make sure he had recovered enough to be with his family.
Ted was worried. “Joe, I don't want Sally to know this, but I don't know if I have enough insurance. Stan Hollister has been after me to increase my coverage and I just haven't done it. To be honest, I'm not sure I want to rebuild. When Sally and I were first married, living in the mountains seemed ideal. We both loved to ski and the store would give us an sufficient income. At the time, I never thought we would have four kids. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade them for anything. It's just that we don't ski very often because we are always busy in the store. I spend most of my time repairing the freezer or patching the roof. The kids travel an hour each day to go to school and Sally has to drive them when the bus can't get through after a blizzard. I don't know how Sally feels about it but I would like to move back to Camden Corners.”
“We'd certainly like to have you here. You were the best mechanic this town ever had. Now is not the time for you to be making any life altering decisions though. I want you to concentrate on getting well. You had a very serious injury. I don't believe you will have any repercussions, but your full recovery will take some time. Enjoy some leisure time with Sally and the kids. Tracy and Holly are happy they are able to help you out. Who ever thought those two little girls would grow up to be such fine women?”
“Daddy!” Sally had to hold them back from jumping on the bed. Everyone kissed and hugged. Tears flowed but they were tears of happiness this time.
“Why can't Daddy come home with us?” asked Marcie.
“You mean the resort, Marcie. We don't have a home anymore,” said Lonnie. “Dad, I'm afraid the fire was my fault. There was a spark in the toaster when I plugged it in that morning and I forgot to tell you about it.”
“Lonnie, the fire wasn't your fault, son. The wiring in that old building was obsolete. It was a disaster just waiting to happen. If it was anyone's fault, it was mine for not tearing it down years ago. Now everything we own is destroyed.”
“Not everything, Ted. Remember how you laughed at me when I bought that old safe that weighed a ton? You made me put it in the basement instead of our bedroom because you didn't want it falling on your head when it broke through the floorboards. I have kept all of our important papers and photo albums, even my journals in there. Jasper Clements rescued that safe from the fire. He is keeping it for us until we have a permanent home.”
“That is good news. I'm sorry I gave you a hard time about the safe. Children, your mother is always right and don't ever forget that,” he said with a smile.
“It's Christmas Eve, Joe. When are you going to spring me?”
“If it was any other time of the year, we would keep you at least three more days but it is Christmas and I think the best medicine is being with your family. If you have any headaches or dizziness, I want you to call me or come directly to the ER. Now get your clothes on, your wife will be here shortly.”
“I have no clothes. I never thought of that. Will you lend me one of your white coats?”
“You will look more presentable in these. You're lucky Melanie picked them out for you, I think you will appreciate her taste more than you would mine.”
“Thanks Joe, Sally is getting some money from our savings account. As soon as she gets here I'll settle up with you.”
“Consider us settled. Don't worry, my bill is on the way to your insurance company, your little mishap will buy me that new Mercedes I've been eying,” Joe said with a laugh.
Sally arrived as Joe was leaving. “Look at the movie star. We should let Melanie pick out all your clothes. You do look very handsome even with your head bandaged. You are all set to go. Let's get to our suite, my dear. For a couple of homeless folk, we certainly are living well.”
“You are looking well too, my love. Is Melanie picking out your clothes too?
“Yes, and you should see what's underneath. I think they are silk. I feel positively wicked.”
“Hmm, is it too cold for the kids to go in the pool this afternoon?”
“Too cold for the pool, but they have been invited to a Christmas party at the church, in fact they are on their way there now. They wanted to be at The Merryweather when you arrived, but I told them you would need to rest for awhile.”
“Good call, let's hurry home so we can rest,”
“I thought there was no rest for the wicked.”
“Believe me, nobody will be resting.”