Update: We did it! See note at bottom.
Once upon a time, there was a town.
It wasn’t a city, large and anonymous and impersonal. It wasn’t a tiny village, either, with only a few households of families local for generations. No, this was a town, of exactly the size you’d think of in a heart-warming holiday tale, and populated entirely by middle-class folk with harmless quirks and mildly interesting jobs.
Henry (he sponsored lighted wreaths for two lamp posts on the town square) noticed it first. He watched for a moment, and when it was time for his coffee break he went next door to the post office (garland on the counter, with some fairy lights twisted in) and pointed it out to Tanya. She was intrigued, and she thought to take a photo and text Miranda (who saw to the lighted and animated Grinch figure in front of the library). Miranda knew Todd (lighted candy canes for the courthouse lawn) would have a good view, so she asked him to walk by and report.
About ten minutes later, Todd confirmed it: the U-Haul was unloading a family into the neighborhood. Four children, one mother, and a cat which looked as if it had left most of its fur at the last house. Two children had cried the entire time he’d talked to the mother, and he’d been able to determine they were two and four years of age. The other two were older, but he didn’t know their ages. The cat was eight but looked much older with such scant covering. The mother was probably near thirty, give or take.
The fruits of Todd’s reconnaissance were relayed back through the network, which had grown larger in the meantime. Responses were mixed.
“Isn’t that the old Sadler house?”
“He didn’t see a father?”
“It will be nice to have someone new, won’t it?”
“That house has been empty for too long.”
“It’s only been a couple of years, I think.”
“Was she wearing a ring?”
Angela (globes of blue and white lights hanging from one of the square’s two trees directly in front of her It’s A Grind coffee shop, which opened conveniently onto the square) put out a chalkboard with a holiday special and fueled the chatter with peppermint lattes.
“Not everyone wears a ring these days, so that doesn’t mean anything.”
“Four children! Can you imagine.”
“It sounds like a challenge, for sure.”
“Do you know, my cousin had five. But she had someone to help.”
Monique (she had a simply beautiful old-fashioned tree in her bed and breakfast, decorated with vintage ornaments and strings of vintage lights) came into the coffee shop with a report that the new resident was over at the library, posting on the community board.
“That’s awfully fast! I guess she settled in already?”
“The U-Haul’s gone, at least.”
“What was she posting? I think that would be good to know.” This was from Candi.
All quieted. Candi was responsible for the large Christmas tree on the town square, lighted wreaths on three lamp posts, and the strands of lights that zig-zagged over the street just outside the coffee shop. Her rule was nearly undisputed.
Monique squared up and answered promptly, “I didn’t see. I was leaving when she went in; I just saw her go to the community board with papers and pins. I didn’t want to go back to watch; that would be awkward.”
“Well, now we’re all in the awkward position of not knowing exactly who we’re dealing with,” Candi said. “Was she putting up a advertisement for child care or a request for one? An offer to clean houses? An advertisement for reiki or for essential oils? Is she a real estate agent?”
Monique shifted her weight. “I can go back to the library to look, I suppose.”
“I just think it would be good to know if she’s a doctor offering valuable new services to this town, or if she’s the kind of person who immediately offloads her crying children onto someone else so she—”
“So she can look for a job?”
Heads swiveled as at a tennis match to the new speaker. This was Clara, sponsor of the glittering angel atop the town square tree, and thus the only person able to gainsay Candi.
“What we know about this person is that she is new to our town and has four children, and moving is a challenge to even the best-adjusted of children. None of us have hired her, so we know she is either looking for a job or preparing to launch a new business, and both can be precarious financial situations. If she is struggling, wouldn’t it benefit all of us if she was made welcome as a stable resident, able to participate fully in our community and shop with us?”
There was a moment of potent silence, and then Angela picked up a cardboard box once used for flavor syrups and set it on the counter. “I can donate some coffee beans. Ground, in case she doesn’t have a grinder in her new place.”
“I’m going to the grocery after this,” said Don (battery-powered lights on his sedan). “I can pick up some extra canned goods.”
“I can donate some canned cat food.” Jenny (luminaria) offered. “She sounds like she could use it, and moving is stressful for pets.”
“We should have some gift cards for local delivery,” Shaunda (a twinkling tunnel of lights along her neighborhood sidewalk) suggested. “Some nights, you just don’t want to cook, and it might be nice to have something easy for the kids.”
Candi, outdone, nodded. “I have a bone-in ham in my freezer. That will be good for the season, I think.”
About an hour and a half later, the group left the coffee shop bearing several cardboard boxes and baskets. They laughed and chatted up the sidewalks, past all the glittering lights, to the old Sadler place. Todd rang the bell, and someone began singing “Deck the Halls” which was eagerly joined as they waited for an answer.
The door opened to reveal a boy of about eight. “Mom! It’s some people!”
A woman came rushing to the door, skidding a little in her slippers. “Hello, I’m—” She stopped, her eyes wide in jubilant surprise. Her hands flew to her mouth. “Oh! Oh, wow!”
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Candi began.
But she didn’t get far. “Oh! I didn’t—I put up the sign only an hour or two ago, and I never expected—you’re all so amazing!”
“We thought you might find these useful,” Shaunda began.
“It’s great!” she said. “The pantry will be stocked for tomorrow. And pet food, too! Oh, wow. You all really came through. I can’t thank you enough!” She stopped herself with an embarrassed grin. “Oh, I’m Marcie, by the way. It’s so nice to meet you, although I’ll need some grace if we do this many names at once.”
“The…pantry?” Candi repeated.
Marcie nodded. “I’m still managing for another two weeks after the move, while the new director gets settled. But we got hit so hard last week, between the holiday season and the plant layoffs, and we were down to almost bare shelves. I told two families to come back this week and I’d try to have something for them, but…I never thought anyone would respond to my sign so quickly. That community board must be magic!”
There was a bit of shuffling. “Um, I’m so glad this will help,” Tanya said with a smile. “Anything else?”
“I can’t ask for more, and especially not on my first day here,” Marcie said with an embarrassed laugh. “But if you should want to donate in the future, money is even more useful than dry goods. With partnerships and waste reduction programs, we can leverage for a lot more food than the average person can get retail.”
“That’s good to know,” Henry agreed. He looked at the others. “Well, welcome to the neighborhood! Do you need any help getting your lights up?”
So I wrote this little doodle of a story and immediately posted it, because I was a latecomer to Giftmas 2023 but I wasn’t going to miss it. I apologize for anything that’s rough or any typos that made it in. I was in a hurry!
Our Giftmas theme this year is “Winter Light.” I considered posting about how I love the slanting light of winter, or about how the long nights make the day more precious. But I was inspired by the idea of holiday light displays determining one’s social status, so this was a quick literary riff on that and our theme of food bank donations.
Every year I join Rhonda Parrish (catch her mysterious short story here!) and a group of fabulous authors to raise funds for the Edmonton Food Bank. You might be thinking that I just mentioned a food bank a few days ago, and you’d be right — but this is a different event, one to which you can directly donate, and a different food bank!
Our goal is $1000. That’s Canadian, so my American friends can flex their currency powers for good here! And look, I’m no slave to tradition, but we usually beat our Giftmas goal, and I’d love to see that happen again this year.
Please click through to donate even a small amount, and if you truly cannot afford to donate this year, please share our link on social media to help us do good. Thank you all! And when you’ve finished donating and sharing, hop over to enter a giveaway this week as well.
Marcie’s cat is experiencing an allergic reaction, but she is receiving treatment and will be absolutely fine. ;-)
Here are other Giftmas 2023 posts to enjoy!
And we did it! We surpassed our fundraising goal, as you can see in Rhonda’s wrap-up post: