There are two tales to this post, one leading into the other. This is what literature enthusiasts would call a “frame tale” structure, but let’s not clutter this post, intended to be sweet and heartwarming, with literary devices. Instead, let’s begin with the first story…
It was nearly midnight, but my eyes, as usual, would not rest without being lulled to sleep by the words of books. So, stealing across to my bookshelf, I skimmed its neat rows in the dim light for something to read. But I did not want just anything; it needed to be something special… Tolkien? Too heavy. Austen? Too flowery. Poe? Too dark. Even these, among my favorite authors, were not the companions that I sought. Disappointed, I sat back on my bed and then, in a flash of inspiration, remembered the slender green volume that I had never gotten around to reading, waiting patiently under my nightstand.
Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
By L.M. Montgomery
It was cute and light and adorable, so I read several of its stories before falling asleep. Reading this book was like receiving a Christmas present and I am so glad I waited until now to read it. (Actually, I just forgot that I owned it, but shhh…) In this story collection, Montgomery writes of a woman sharing the bounty of her picnic basket with suffering strangers, a girl sacrificing her only valuable possession for the happiness of her cousins, and forgiveness restoring friendships. On the surface, these are just good “chicken soup” tales, but I realize that they are also tales of miracles.
When I say “miracles”, I do not mean huge displays of splendor, but tiny instances of service and joy that often get overlooked, but that Montgomery had a special talent for finding and recognizing in her writing. I seek to do the same in my own writing and it is here where the frame story comes into play. You see, the reason I find these stories so touching and lovable is that they are so clearly real. I do not know if they all happened exactly as L.M. Montgomery penned them, but they are distinctly believable in their displays of everyday Christmas miracles. (I know that sounds like a Hallmark card, but it is true!)
Today, I stumbled upon a Montgomery-esque Christmas tale myself…
My great-grandparents, both in their mid-nineties, live in an assisted living facility. My grandparents (who are pretty great, but not old enough to have the official title) heard that many of the residents of the care center do not have any family left and would be spending the holidays alone. Being the generous-hearted people that they are, they spent their day at the facility handing out gifts to these lonely people and invited me to come along.
As an introvert, I was uncomfortable speaking to and giving gifts to strangers, but, as a musician, I was in my element performing for them. So, forming a rather eclectic quartet of two basses and two sopranos, three friends and I set off to sing, praying that we would successfully sight-read our carols and – I’ll admit- hoping that the elderly residents would be either so tickled or so hard-of-hearing that they would not mind our lack of practice.
They did not.
Well, at least the ones who let us sing for them did not. There was the occasional woman who, upon being asked if she would let us sing for her, replied “I don’t think so,” and shut the door before we could sing the pickup note, but on the whole everyone was gracious. We were offered donations, candies (probably those little strawberry hard candies that everybody has yet nobody buys…), and, by one insistent man, cupcakes.
“No, thank you!” we replied to every offer. “We just wanted to spread some Christmas cheer!” Our listeners would look at us in surprise when we did not ask for anything in return and we would bow and “Merry Christmas” our way down the halls.
None of this really resembles Montgomery’s stories yet, but I suspect that if I had stuck around to hear what happened between the residents after we left, tiny Christmas miracles might have revealed themselves. Even from what little I saw, there were hints of miracles that made my heart happy.
For instance, there was the man in the wheel chair who beamed through our carols, cradling his Christmas gift in his arms. Then there was the woman who declared “This is the best way to wake up from a nap!” and proceeded to hug her friend, who wiped her eyes and wished us all of God’s blessings. And of course, how could I forget the single woman, perhaps a widow, who stood in the doorway with an expression of pure surprise and delight as we sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”? Even a husband and wife, who were said to be deaf by a man I assumed to be their son, smiled at us and clapped enthusiastically when we finished our song. And then there was the woman who asked us how much we had to practice to sound so beautiful (we quickly offered to sing another carol to avoid admitting that we had not practiced at all) and after her came the table of friends who applauded even after our truly horrible reading of “Silent Night.” Most poignant to me, however, was when my ninety-six-year-old great-grandfather, who has been more quiet and tired than before lately, laughed aloud, pretended to conduct us as we sang for him and my great-grandmother, and then bragged about us for the remainder of the afternoon to anyone who would listen.
Yes, joy resounded louder than our four voices in the halls of the senior living center. You might not think so to look at the dim rooms and quiet common areas, but behind the doors hung with wreaths and decked with an odd assortment of stuffed animals, holly, and stockings, lived men and women who, by hearing a simple carol, were able to remember Christmases past. As one tearful woman said, “Oh, this brings back so many memories. It’s simply beautiful.”
And it was simply beautiful. We certainly were not the Cambridge singers, being just four teenagers, but even our humble songs stirred memories long forgotten and warmed hearts that might not have been expecting visitors. So really, there were miracles today, and, though on perhaps a smaller scale, they were miracles yet.
Back to the frame of my story and reading Christmas with Anne and other Holiday Stories. The characters continue to be delightful, generous, souls and their stories equally lovable. It makes me want to go back and hug those who we sang for today, especially those who gave my friends and me a bad case of “the feels” with their shows of emotion. It also reminds me to be grateful for those who came with me and helped to make today special for so many, so I must post a brief shout-out here to my loving grandparents and great-grandparents, and especially my fellow carolers, who braved sight-reading and high notes in order to spread Christmas cheer.