Antoinette Stockenberg's 2019 Christmas Display

Angel(6K)

It's not every year that a village acquires a new village, but that's what's happened this Christmas on my mantel.  No village remains frozen in time; my mantel village is no exception.  This year, a mystery is solved and a new mystery introduced.  The fate of Johnny Hooks, missing at sea two years earlier, is finally known, and a new and very important gentleman with a completely mysterious past has taken up residence in the village.  I hope you enjoy this latest chapter in my ongoing tale.

A New Village in the Village
The 2020 Christmas mantel.
   For closeups, click on the Church and each of the eleven houses.

Antique Christmas cardboard house putz (village) on fireplace mantel at night (280K)



There are two more weeks to go before Christmas, and Santa is still at the North Pole, overseeing his vast toy making enterprise.  Nonetheless, the children in the village have decided that it's time to get on their very best behavior.  No more snowball fights (unless the snow happens to be perfect for packing).  No more teasing the cat.  No more stealing baby sister's cookies.  And definitely no more tantrums — for any reason in the world whatsoever.   Which means that their parents, nearly as busy as Santa, all are breathing sighs of relief.

Snow(50K) Snow(50K) Mayor Albert Pittman has more reason than most to breathe easily:  the old granary has been converted into a new and striking  hotel, and right on time, though not on budget.  Appropriately named The Grand Hotel, it stands ready to welcome its first guests.  Another reason for the village to celebrate?  It has welcomed a seasoned veterinarian, Dr. Connor Allen, to live and work there.  Dr. Allen will be able to care for all creatures, great and small.

Harmony likes the house and Will loves the barn (House 2):

Snow(50K) Snow(50K) A year ago, Will Jenkins and his wife made an offer on a house that once had served as home and office for Dr. Nicholas Greene.  The house was lovely, but, oh, the barn that came with it!  The barn was a carpenter's dream come true.  So Will and Harmony bought the house.  Will now had more than enough room for all of his tools, buckets of paint, racks of lumber, and all the odd bits and pieces of metal and mismatched hardware that somehow he could never bear to throw out.  (Because you never knew, did you?)

Although initially reluctant to move, Harmony has grown fond of the house.  She loves the floor-to-ceiling windows that let in so much light; loves the spacious bedroom that the children share,  and the sweet little dormered room that was going to make a charming nursery ... whenever.  And she loved the wildly productive vegetable garden that she had planted first thing.  Most of all, Harmony loves her husband for having not only a generous heart but a pretty good business head:  he sold off some of their unneeded land to a veterinarian friend of Dr. Greene with the provision that Will and his crew would do the construction when the vet was ready to build.

A brand new house in the village (House 1):

Dr. Connor Allen, eager to establish a practice in the village, knew exactly what he wanted his  house, which would include an animal clinic, to look like.  No architect necessary, no need for any delay.  He and Will worked together, polishing his plans, and then Will set to work, laboring long hours with his crew to make the house a reality.  When it was done, Dr. Allen threw a big housewarming party and raised his glass to Will and his crew.

train(14K) "A toast!  To a man who is a genius with brick and wood and has created a masterpiece.  A man who works harder than anyone I've ever known.  And, by the way, is a wonderful neighbor.  A man I now call my friend."  The guests burst into a spontaneous hip-hip-hooray!  Will nodded in awkward acknowledgment.  Harmony beamed.  She knew the villagers were devoted to Will, but she didn't know if Will knew.  Now he did.

horn(8K) Months later,  the veterinarian is well established and the toast of the town.  Dr. Allen has such a way with animals!   Word has spread quickly that creatures from cats to cows respond well to him.  Plus, he trained in Lyon — the best veterinarian college in the world!  Everyone is so impressed, even though they don't know where Lyon is.   To think that a man of such eminence would settle in their modest village.  It surely is a feather in the mayor's cap.

The good doctor is in his clinic and performing a delicate procedure when suddenly a young boy's cry rings out.  There is a crisis!  Dr. Allen's wife and all four of their children rush out to the front of their brand-new house to see what the matter can be.

What they see is a cat in the tree (Houses 1 and 2):

train(14K) "It's Old Man McLaughlin's cat!  She's stuck in the tree!"

Little Jasper Slaussen, the boy who managed to set his family's house on fire, is beside himself with alarm.  "Look!  How high!  She'll never be able to get back down.  Look how high!" he keeps repeating, throwing his arms out helplessly.

Two sailors who have happened upon the scene also are assessing the height of the cat above ground.  "Ayeh.  It's a goodly fall from where she be.  What's she doin' up there, anyway?"

train(14K) Nearby, another boy is holding a dog back by the collar.  "It's Shepherd Lucas's dog," he explains.  "He took one look at the cat and took off after her."  Stooping to peer into the dog's face, the boy says, "Bad dog.  How could you do that?  Does that cat look like a sheep to you?  Bad dog!"

Will Jenkins has already dragged out a ladder from his beloved barn and has set it against the tree.  He's aware that the cat isn't young. How many years since Old Man McLaughlin adopted her?  Eight?  Nine?  How the heck did she manage to climb that high?  With a sigh he says to his son, "Steady the ladder for me, would you, William?  There's a good lad."  Hoping that his gimpy ankle (construction mishap) holds steady, he begins his rescue of Old Man McLaughlin's frightened cat.

Grace Greene, midwife, is friendly not only with Harmony Jenkins, who now lives in her old house, but also with Dr. Allen's wife Evelyn.  The three women often have tea together, and today was to be one of those afternoons.  Grace did not expect to walk into a situation.  She waves to Harmony, standing in front of her house and warily watching her husband's rescue attempt, and then turns to see Big Billy standing beside her and looking even more anxious than usual.

"I saw the whole thing, I did, Miz Greene.  She just run up that tree like it were flat as a kitchen floor.  And now what?"  He was wringing his hands.

"Why, Mr. Jenkins will just take hold of her and carry her down in his arms — arm.  He can easily do that."

"I know he can, but what if he can't?  It will be ever so sad."

"The cat will be fine, Billy," Grace says, rubbing his back reassuringly.  "Believe me."

At a safe distance from all the ruckus, Mrs. Pettifore watches with daughter Eloise.  "You see?  This is why you can't have a cat.  They just will not stay put, no matter what.  Look where your cat could end up!  In a tree!"

"Not if we kept my cat inside, Mama!  Which we would.  I promise."

"Cats do not stay put.  That's all I'll have to say about that. "horn(8K)

Lavinia Pittman is late again (House 3):

horn(8K) horn(8K) Mayor Albert Pittman is fuming over his wife's tardiness.  Everyone knows that Lavinia Pittman likes to make an entrance, and today is no exception.  But what terrible timing!  The mayor and Silas Tempkins, the developer of what is now The Grand Hotel, find themselves cooling their heels at an agreed-upon meeting place, waiting for Lavinia to appear.  Meanwhile, the hotel is celebrating its grand opening right about ... now.  The men have heard the train's whistle and the faint sounds of welcoming trumpets.  They realize that the passengers are disembarking from the train and will expect to be greeted at the front desk of the hotel.  By the mayor.  Who is supposed to give a short speech about how the developer, working with the town council, spared no expense in creating an elegant and comfortable place to stay while visiting their lovely village.  But he can't.  Because he's not there.

"That does it!  This time she goes too far," the mayor says.

Silas Tempkins isn't happy, either, but he has learned the art of diplomacy in his career.  "Mrs. Pittman was so very involved in all of the planning; I'm sure she must have been held up," he offers mildly.  (Because of her meddling, Tempkins had to install a multitude of windows to overlook the now elaborately landscaped grounds at the back of the hotel.  She has cost him a pretty penny.)

"No, she has not been held up.  This is what my wife does.  She cannot abide arriving before anyone — anyone — else.  Well, we won't wait any longer.  We can easily walk."  The mayor calls over to Max Schurster, who is about to drop off some documents for the owner within the house he's at.  "Max!  We're walking.  You can catch up with us, but hurry!"

horn(8K) Hurry?  The banker doesn't see how.  He doesn't even see how he can manage the front stairs.  Lately, any effort seems to leave him exhausted.  I'm getting lazy, he tells himself.  And I need to stop smoking these infernal cigars.  My lungs are not what they used to be, he admits, coughing.

Dorothea Sparks would have liked to attend the grand opening of The Grand Hotel, but she is on a mission:  she needs to find Shepherd Lucas, who is somewhere on his way to Dr. Connor Allen's clinic with a prized sheep who is suffering from lumpy wool.   What Lucas does not know is that his wife has slipped on an icy patch alongside the road Dorothea was traveling.  Dorothea was able to transport the woman back to her farm, where she is resting comfortably.  But she is anxious for her husband to return home quickly, and Dorothea has promised to return him.  And there he is!  She calls out to him, happy to be of service.

The Spinster has a new beau (House 4):

money(62K) Olive Mercer lives alone in the house of her dearly departed parents.  It's a small house, so it's just as well that Olive is unmarried, because where would she put any children?  "I would be like the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe; I truly would not know what to do," she likes to tell her married friends.  (Olive has been very plucky about her unmarried situation, refusing to consider it a failure in life.)   So no one is more surprised than Olive that she seems to have acquired a gentleman caller.  He has lived in the village for several years, keeping mostly to himself.  There are rumors that his heart was broken, rumors that he is working on a book, rumors that he is an outlaw on the run.  No one really knows.  But his many visits to the library where Olive works have not gone unnoticed.  And lately he has begun walking Olive home.  She doesn't mind.

money(62K) Johnny and Sonja Hooks, blissfully reunited after Johnny's misadventure at sea and more in love than ever, are on their way to the largest church in the village to see Father Andrew, pinch-hitting for the pastor there who is recovering from a bad case of pneumonia.  Sonja and Johnny have news, wonderful news, and they want the priest to be among the first to hear.  Tiny Sonja, no taller than a child herself, is going to have a baby.  She is so happy, and Johnny is over the moon.  Even old Farmer Hooks, who is spending more time by the fire nowadays, was unusually pleased to learn the news.  "That'll be another hand on the farm," he said, nodding and taking a deep draw on his pipe.  "Let's hope he be a boy."  A thought immediately occurs to him.  "He'll be needing a godfather, more's like."

"And we know who," Sonja tells her father-in-law.  "The fisherman who saved Johnny's life.  We're so glad we learned who he is."

"What?  And him sailing out of Gloucester?  He'll never be around."

"Honorary godfather, then," says Johnny.  "One way or another, we want him to be part of our lives.  The man is a hero, and no mistake."

A Christmas recital is in the works (House 5 — the Church):

car(7K) Mildred and Joanna are not only best friends but also have the best voices in the choir.  Everyone knows that, especially Clyde and Margaret, who always seek the best, the brightest, and the most expensive.  They have decided to have a Christmas recital at their home, and have approached Mildred and Joanna with a list of songs, hymns and ditties for their tryout.  The two young women are much more experienced than when they first joined the choir years ago, and they run through the selections with ease.

Clyde and Margaret are dazzled — and they don't dazzle easily.  "This will be the event of the season," Clyde tells his wife as they take in the melodies wafting  beside them.  "I just hope Mrs. McGillicutty is as good at turning out sweets and savories as these girls are at turning out tunes."

"She will be.  Look how much in demand her new catering service is.  I'm glad she went that route instead of opening an inn."

Clyde nodded.  "She would have had to compete with The Grand Hotel.  The demand is not yet there; we are not New York."

Impressed with her husband's business tone, Margaret smiles and takes hold of his hands, as self-satisfied as ever.   Yes.  The event of the season.  Even Lavinia Pittman will have to admit it.

The Grand Opening of the Grand Hotel (House 6 ):

The hotel is sold out.  That's the long and the short of it.  Mayor Pittman, working with the developer, has done a remarkable job in marketing the newly opened establishment, so much so that the hotel has reservations right through the New Year.

"Good job.  Darn good job," says one of two businessmen standing back from the crowd.  "The travelers seem to like what they see.  I wonder how many investors are involved?"

"The mayor's wife is one — all business, she is," the second businessman says.  "Not like the mayor, with his ... pie in the sky.  For pity's sake.  Parades!  Olympics!  Fests!  Not a one of 'em was a real moneymaker."

"Yes, but all had merit.  The village is more known every year.  Why else would someone of Doctor Allen's stature decide to put down roots here?"

car(7K) Not far from the businessmen, Father Joseph, rucksack slung over his shoulder, is on his way to visit Father Andrew.   The monk stops to buy a newspaper for his old friend, since it's fresh off the press.  And after supper they'll enjoy a game of chess before a crackling fire.  With with any luck, Father Joseph will beat Father Andrew like a cheap rug.  Ah.  Old friends.

car(7K) The impressively tall Christmas tree that flanks the hotel has been beautifully decorated for the occasion.  It is perfection — except for the golden garland that has slid in the wind from its upper branch down to a lower.

Thank goodness, Jeffrey and Jimmy are there for the rescue!  The boys and Mickey Sullivan have grabbed the bench to be close to the action, enjoying the horns and the drama, when the brothers spy the wandering garland.  Off they go, with Jeffrey practically walking up his brother's back (they do this kind of thing often).  "I have it, I have it," Jeffrey says excitedly.  "Boost me up some more."

"Well, unless I grow a foot, this is all you get," says Jimmy.  "I can't stand up with you still still standing on me.  And, your shoe is on my neck!"

Not far from them, Sam Rickens has been sweeping away some stray leaves blowing around.  He doesn't see the point — they'll just blow back again — but this is what the mayor wants, and Sam, as ever, is glad of the work.

The hospital is treated to caroling (House 7):

money(12K) money(12K) The trumpet players at The Grand Hotel almost drown out the group of young carolers who at the spur of the moment have assembled in front of the hospital to sing some cheery Christmas songs.  It all started when a boy in their group slid off his family's roof (he was making sure the chimney was clear for Santa) and broke his ankle and did something bad to his shoulder, the doctors weren't sure what.  So now Harry was going to be on crutches for Christmas!  It was a terrible thing.  When someone in the group joked that it would have been funny if Harry's name was Tiny Tim, the rest of the carolers said it wasn't funny at all.

That's when the choirmaster said, "Why don't we practice in front of the hospital instead of indoors?  Harry would probably like that."

So off they went, a merry band with a plan.

"How many songs should we sing?  I bet we know at least a hundred!" said the youngest one of them.

"I know!  We'll start with I heard the bells," said his cousin.

"How about one horse open sleigh?  That's a cheerful one!" said the oldest.

"We three kings!  Let's do we three kings!"

"Midnight clear!"

"Away in a manger!"

"Merry gentlemen!"

The choirmaster reined them in like a bunch of runaway deer.  "Boys, boys!  We would be there until way past supper.  I say we pick eight —"

"Ten!"

"— all right, ten.  Ten songs, and I will do the choosing."  He was the choirmaster, after all.

City Hall is at least partially open for business (House 8):

bbq(12K) A very small, very odd skating rink has appeared as if by magic in front of City Hall.  For some reason,  the ground under the ice recently sank a good half a foot, and then it rained torrents before turning bitter cold and having the village's biggest puddle suddenly freeze over.  It probably wouldn't last, but in the meantime, a few determined children and even a grown-up or two are taking advantage. 

Eddy is there, re-tying the lace of his skate (he will never master the art of tying anything).  His sister Alice, hands tucked in her white fur muff, is relating the story of  her ongoing struggle to win over the heart of Steven, the hopelessly awkward skater who spends more time on his — well, not on his feet, anyway.

Alice is going on and on.  "Do you know how many words Steven has spoken to me in the past year?  Twenty-four, if you don't count 'hello' and 'goodbye.'  And here are those words, in total:  'Your brother said that you liked my poems, if that's who you think wrote them, but I don't know why you could think that'." 

Alice's friend had heard the story before.  Many times.  Like Alice, she was sure Steven had written the poems.  "It's too bad that you didn't get a chance to ask him any questions."

"How could I?  Right after he spilled out his soul, all twenty-four words of it, he turned on his heel and left.  It's just so ... exasperating."

(Don't give up, Alice.)

And then there are the Woodcuts.  If there is any excuse at all to observe a crowd, the Woodcuts are on it.  All they need is a bench and a vacuum flask, and today they have both.  Warming her hand on the mug of hot toddy, Mrs. Woodcut says to her husband, "I wish they'd set this bench up nearer the hotel.  So much coming and going, so many new dresses to admire, but I can't see them from here."

Her husband agrees.  "If Mickey Sullivan hadn't grabbed the big green bench, we could've sat there.  Right in front of the hotel.  It would have made for excellent people watching."

"Well, I couldn't possibly just stand over there; my lumbago is fierce today."

Mr. Woodcut nods sympathetically and points to Steven, sprawled out on the ice nearby.  "There's someone who's going to be plagued by lumbago in a few years, he keeps fallin' like that.  Why do the boy even try?"      

"Why do you think?  For a girl."

A cat, a dog, and four young children (House 9):

The children and their pets live in the handsome house next to City Hall.  Once a shop offering fine fabrics, it has been converted to a residence with a private office for the town's tax collector, who likes the convenient access to his place of employment.  His children don't mind, especially after the ground collapsed and created a skating rink right in the very front of their house.

train(14K) But one of the children isn't happy with the current situation.  Clinging to his hockey stick, he mutters, "I wish everyone would go home so I could get on the ice for a change.  Someone is always there, hogging the whole thing.  It's our ice, in front of our house."

Stroking the big gray cat who's curled on her lap, his sister laughs and says over her shoulder, "Now who's being the selfish one?"

Miss Martha just wants to make sure about the Christmas tree (House 10):

Miss Martha has taken time out from running her candy-making facility specifically to check on the Slaussens in their newly rebuilt house, so ravaged by fire two years earlier.  More specifically, she wants to be certain that little Jasper is staying away from the match safe.  Standing before the once-charred house, she's amazed at the quality of work that Will Jenkins and his band of village volunteers have done.  The house looks wonderful, absolutely wonderful!  Still, idle hands are the devil's tool, so she plans to ask whether Jasper would like to help her pass out candy  to the patients in the hospital, where poor young Harry, among others, will be spending Christmas.

She has no doubt that Jasper's answer will be an enthusiastic "Yes!"train(14K)

Nearby, Boots, the one-eyed dog who no longer shepherds flocks, is pulling his new master and mistress along.  He cannot understand how they can be so slow when there are all sorts of things to smell and chipmunks to chase.  Mrs. Jack Jones — we all still call her Miss Bates — begs the dog to please slow down, for goodness sake!  "How can you see well enough to go that fast?"  It's at times like these that she misses old, slow Rusty, who always seemed just as bone-weary as his mistress.

The Joneses cross paths with Mrs. Appleby, and she and Miss Bates stop for a moment to compare aches and pains.  After they part ways, Miss Bates says to her husband, "I believe I have the edge:  two hips and a knee versus only her back."

Jack Jones isn't having it.  "No, missus, there ain't no 'only' when it comes to the back.  The back takes all, every time, hands down."

"Easy for you to say, dear," she answers a little cooly.  "You're not the one hobbling."

"Because I use a cane," says Jack.  "Wouldn't that make sense for you also?"

"No.  It would not.  I do not like the look of it."

"Oh, I see.  The look.  Can't have the look, now, can we?"

"Oh, be quiet."

Abby and Annie are suddenly finding meaning in life (House 11):

train(14K) On their way to the Slaussen house are Abby and Annie.  Like many in the village, they have been keeping a watchful eye on the family, making sure that their needs are met.  Abby sometimes babysits, and Annie is tutoring the oldest Slaussen boy, who's been having trouble with math.  It turns out that the girls feel good doing good deeds.  It's a revelation to them!

"To think how we used to be bored sometimes on Saturday.  Now here we are, busy as can be," says Annie, whose idea it was.  (Most of the good ideas are Annie's.  She is much more organized than Abby, although Abby is better with young children.)

Up ahead, Annie spies a snowball fight in progress.  "Uh-oh.  Maybe we should duck around to the back.  Quick, before they see us!"

horn(8K) Lucky for them, the fat new snowmen give them temporary cover.  Otherwise, without a doubt, their hats would be knocked right off their heads.  The Slaussen boys really do appreciate what Abby and Annie are doing for their family, but ... all's fair in love and snowball war.

Russell has met his match (House 12):

Two years ago, Russell was doing his best to impress a young woman who lived with her hard-working parents and younger siblings in a small cottage on the harbor.  After much hard work and devotion, Russell has more or less succeeded:  Ruth is more or less impressed.  She likes his gallantry, his sense of humor, and (sometimes) his devil-may-care attitude to life.  He's fun.  He's cute.  He knows all the words to a lot of songs.  But what Russell is not, is serious.  About anything.  He doesn't seem to have any particular goal in life, and that's probably because he doesn't need money in life.

Ruth is very aware of the differences in their status.  Her father is a stevedore; no one works harder than that.  Her mother is a fish-monger, and no one works harder than that.  Ruth has of course introduced Russell to her parents.  Her mother likes Russell because he's charming, her father does not, because he's charming.

"Ruthie," the stevedore has said to his daughter, "if that feller gets any ideas about you, let him know that I will snap him like a twig."

"Like a twig?"  Russell and Ruth are having a lighthearted chat in front of the house of his friend when suddenly Russell is moved to put out his cigar and ask Ruth for a kiss.  That's when the business about the twig comes up.  Russell says nervously, "Your father really said that?"

"His exact words.  He's very strong, you know," Ruth adds, smiling.  "He could probably do it."

"But you are joking, are you not?"

Ruth throws him a flirty glance.  "Well ... are you getting ideas about me?"  It was as bold a question as ever she'd asked.  Blushing, she looks away and waits for his answer.

There was a pause.  A long pause.  And finally, clearing his throat before clearing it again, Russell hears himself saying, "I am getting ideas about you — about us.  Would you mind if I did?"

Still in a teasing tone, Ruth says, "I guess it depends on what those ideas are."

The ideas up until now have been pretty much what they would be in any young man's head.  But suddenly a new idea springs up:  of a house with a picket fence and a child's swing hanging from an oak tree out back.   The image is so vivid, so real, that Russell blurts out, "Ruth, marry me!  Please!"

Ruth blinks.  "I didn't expect that idea."  More serious now, she says softly, "You're not ready to marry, Russell.  You're too ... unfocused."

"I can focus!  Tell me what to focus on.  I can focus on anything.  I'll focus on you!"

horn(8K) "Thank you.  That would be lovely.  But —"

"Will you at least think about it?" he asks, in a more serious, more tender voice than she's yet heard from him.

"I will think about it," Ruth promises, moved by his tone.  "If you think about it, too."

The moment passes, but not without a wistful kiss that both will be thinking about as they climb into their separate beds that night.

And so it is that another year has passed in a village that's a lot less sleepy than before, but is still just as safe and secure and welcoming as ever, offering comfort and joy to those who seek it.

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