The Christmas lights seemed out of place in the morning chill and drizzle, the landscape was brown and gray, not white and fresh like it should at this time of year. She drove past"The dairy" as everyone had always called it, this was where the town was founded. The new owners had cut down the ancient maples that had according to the stories been the fence posts of the cow pasture. The old house was gone now, it was a simple building designed to house not only the family but boarders, there were only 5 bedrooms and in a family with 9 children, the boarders must have been stacked up like cord wood in the two tiny attic bedrooms, all that remained of the out buildings were a few foundation stones and cellar holes, the main barn had collapsed, leaving mostly weeds and a few huge, rotting timbers propped up against the earthen ramp. Ivy and her siblings had played there, finding horse shoes, and other rusty golden treasures of child hood.
It just seemed like a good morning to take the long way around town to the Post Office and mail Christmas Cards, and the parcels for her Grandchildren. Thad was busy putting refills in the pens, he took his job very seriously, his Mom was the postmaster, and he was a proud as any first grade kid could be of that. Ivy didn't know the young woman who waited on her, but there was a line of people that was getting ever longer behind her. suddenly the lobby was full of people. if there was an echo to Ivy's steps like there was when she came in, it was inaudible over the sound of people shuffling along with their packages.
It seemed that everywhere she went there was someone she hadn't seen in a very long time, and by the time ivy got back to her car she was exhausted, but at least all of her errands were done and she could stay home for a few days, especially since there was a storm coming.
Skye greeted her at the door, and then ran to the window, he struggled to see over the windowsill. "What do you see?" he was wagging his tail so hard it thumped on the floor, and making tiny little yips he had never heard him make before. Ivy had never seen him so excited, she thought Cam might be outside and Skye wanted to play, but she couldn't see him and Skye wasn't pawing at the door. Even Mr chips was singing. Ivy had promised to bake some bread for the St. Lucia Pageant. For so many, many years this was the way the Christmas season started, the first memories she had of it were with her flamboyant great=grandmother,then her grandmother,her mother and now she was carrying on the tradition. The house would always smelled wonderful with the rich smells of spices and dried fruits.
Ivy put on Mr chips favorite Christmas music, and he chirped along merrily. Ivy busied herself, and Skye paced from his blanket to the window and back again.
By the next day temperature was dropping fast, and Ivy was determined to hang Christmas lights before it got too cold, before she put the coffee on to perk and carried the wreath and garland down from the attic and arranged them on the the front door. The school bus went by, but she didn't see Skye streaking across the lawn. There he was over at the empty house where the Benners had lived, he seemed to be looking or sniffing around for something, and that was unusual for him.
It began to snow, great, huge fluffy, SuzySnowflake flakes. Afternoon changed to early evening as the flakes began to pile up.
Skye left early today, he bounded across the yard, disappearing into the swirling snow. As she began to kneading the bread, and she wondered if she would ever find out where he went. She had thought about following him, but knew she could never keep up. The bread was set to rise. Now her house smelled like Christmas, she joined Mr Chips in whistling "Silent night", as she climbed the steps up to the attic, carrying her mug, she sang the whole way. Settling into her chair she looked around in, so many reminders of the good and the bad that this house and her little family had seen, but almost all of the memories were good. She hadn't turned the lantern on, and instead was waiting for the sun to go down, wanting to enjoy it in silence. The deep reds and mauve's, streaked with golds and rust, it was at once sad, and beautiful. i made Ivy long for Spring. It made Ivy miss Will. She thought of the December afternoons when she walked home from school and when she would take the long shortcut down Main St. to look at the Christmas displays in the Store windows, and then turn on to Water Street so that she watch the model trains in Haggarety's Hardware. Nearer to Christmas there would be a 6 foot stocking filled with toys, and on Christmas Eve they drew the name from the fishbowl placed next to it. Ivy turned on the lantern, and watched as the house lights came on and people came to the window and waved, Ivy waved back. There was a light in the Benner's house, then it went out, and a tallish man carrying something in his arms walked out and got into a truck and drove away.
They old green Subaru pulled into the Bethlehem Lutheran parking lot.
people were already there busily preparing for the Lucia Pageant tomorrow, much hustle and bustle , nervous children practicing their speeches and songs. the table were covered with white paper and each decorated with a centerpiece of fresh pine boughs, cinnamon sticks, scented pinrcones, and a handmade white candle, paper stars and snowflakes made by the Sunday school children where everywhere. Everyone talking at once about their Christmas plans. asking and answering questions, singing and laughing, and generally leaving ivy wanting a few moment of peace and quiet. She poured herself a glass of fruit punch and walked out into the hallway that lead to the chapel, it was cool and quiet. A young couple came through the back door with armloads of greenery, "Hi, Mrs. C. got your tree up yet?". Dhe knew him, he looked so familiar, but who was he? "No, no not yet."
Ivy wasn't sure if she was going to put up a tree, after all she was going to Paulenes'. all of the family now descended on poor Pauline every Holiday and Pauline loved it, always playing Martha Stewart. Her bags were already packed, and she was looking forward to the train ride. Ivy had also been invited to Mrs Mappes house, she found the romance blooming between Gus and Mrs Mappes to be a beautiful,tender and hope-filled love.
On her way home Ivy stopped to buy a tree, and the next day set it up in the living room. each ornament held a story , and most a memory. Home made and hand me down, the handmade she had bought sometimes because she felt sorry for the person who was trying to sell them. the most precious by far were the ones made by her children.
For the next few days, Ivy kept busy. She made a list of what needed doing before she left for her daughters, Ivy did want to stay long she would miss the peace of her home. Yet she was very excited. Skye seemed to know something was going on, but he also seemed to be very interested in the new neighbor or neighbors. On the afternoon before she left Ivy decided that she would walk around the neighborhood and look at the Christmas lights, she and Will had always taken their children on walks around the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. A still night , with a few snowflakes, the air was crisp and refreshing...and the street was aglow with with light and color. Ivy took her time, and admired each lighted house, enjoyed the crisp air, Ivy had walked as far as Haggarety Hardware, the same model trains were still in the window, Pvy paused for awhile, and began to walk home, the houses were spaced farther apart the closer she got to her home,as she saw the lights of her house, she also saw a small black dog rocketing towards her, followed by a tallish man yelling "Millie! Millie!". He scooped up the little dog, who looked very much like a bear cub. he said "Hi, I'm Mike Benjamin and this is my dog Thoroughly Modern Millie, Millie for short."