Violet drove home on automatic, her thoughts everywhere but on the road in front of her. A small stack of gifts, all from her many thoughtful friends and co-workers, sat in the seat beside her making her smile slightly. She had just come from the employee and volunteer Christmas party at Weston Botanical Gardens. It had been lovely to see everyone and their families having a great time and enjoying the fruits of their labors. All the elaborate decorating, massive planning and hard work implementing it all was not just for the thousands of holiday visitors to the decked-out conservatory plus the festive outdoor light displays.
Violet had dutifully handed out carefully crocheted and knitted scarves, shawls, mittens and hats, plus dozens of colorful tins filled with tasty home baked treats and everyone seemed happy. The mood at the party was jolly, the music joyful, the food and drink good and plentiful, the entertainment spirited and the hearts warm and gracious. In a word everything was Christmassy.
So why was Violet feeling so melancholy?
It could be she was practically the only one there who came alone. She had been told she should bring her family, but Sophie had old school friends to meet with to exchange gifts and warm wishes as did Kenny and Janice, so she went alone...and boy had she felt alone to an extent. Still, she had fun and enjoyed herself. What saved the evening for her, oddly enough, was that she spent most of the time keeping her supervisor Garrett, another loner, from jumping out of his skin. The poor man, as brilliant as he was with botanicals, he simply could not handle too many people at once and it was a madhouse of people at the party, very loud, boisterous people, too—Garrett's least favorite of all types!
Violet laughed at the memory—Garrett shrinking away and hiding behind the huge poinsettia pyramid at the moment of entrance of Santa Claus and the exuberant children who very nearly knocked him into the pond as they rushed past trying to be first to Santa's sleigh for a private chat and a small gift. Violet had eased his frazzled nerves by asking him about the Madagascar Lilies of the Gloriosa genus and when they would be ready to display. That instantly helped and for the next half hour she learned all anyone could possibly want to know about Madagascar Lilies.
After all the children had their time with old St. Nick—aka Weston's director Walter Bettencort--it was time for Santa to give out gifts to each and every employee and volunteer. What fun! Everyone feels like a kid at Christmas when St. Nick hands them a gift no matter how small.
Violet had expected everyone would get a small trinket, nothing too elaborate, and some of them did, but when she was handed a bright red envelope decorated with a sole glittering gold-edged white poinsettia flower she was thoroughly perplexed. She flipped it over a few times then opened the envelope. She blinked several times, counting and recounting all those zeros. Surely there was a mistake...a huge one! She couldn't possibly be given this amount of bonus just for doing her job.
“Just for doing your job?” Walter Bettencort roared with laughter, his belly jiggling in his velvet Santa suit. Really, Kris Kringle never looked so real nor so jolly.
“My dear woman, you single-handedly reestablished Weston Botanical as a major tourist destination, a place for the entire family to frequent, and for students to learn so much about the floral world around them and basically making us an important part of the community!”
Violet gaped, open mouthed. “I did that???” she squeaked.
Walter Bettencort threw back his head and had himself another belly laugh. “You are darling, Violet, and much too modest. What you did for the children's outdoor garden alone is...”
“But that's not done yet,” she interjected hurriedly.
He shook his head and sighed. “More to the point. No, it's not even done yet, but the plans are well on their way to completion, your plans, Violet! Your ideas were amazingly imaginative. Kids and parents loved them and what has already been done drew in so many new visitors and membership are so much higher now that our coffers are quite full and that will fund much needed future improvements. By this time next year...my goodness, I can't imagine how much more traffic we'll get. And the indoor children's place is all because of you and your storybook ideas. Love 'em! Everyone does, so, you deserve every penny of that bonus and so much more...all our gratitude for one thing. You are the best thing to happen to Weston Botanical in a very long time, and don't you forget it!”
He then kissed both her hands, bid her a Merry Christmas, smiled widely and strolled off to play with the kids.
While it is wonderful to be so appreciated, Violet was overwhelmed by it all. The thought of the check with that many zeros tucked into her purse felt like a feather tickling her all over. She'd never seen so much money all in one place. She might be able to pay off her car and have money left over. Or she could tuck it away and use it for when she's old and gray and can no longer earn a living. She could pay off the mortgage! That would be awesome if she did that. She'd have to ask Freddy about that as she didn't really know how much was left on it.
That was when she frowned.
Kenny wanted her house for his own growing family. He could pay off the mortgage himself, which was fine except.... it wasn't exactly fine at all. Violet could see her future grandchild playing in the backyard just as Kenny and Sophie had done; sitting on the old tire swing hanging from the old red oak tree, climbing up into the tree-house Richard built with Kenny's help in a wide-branched Catalpa tree, doing cartwheels and somersaults on the smooth, thick green, dandelion-speckled lawn, and picking flowers in the garden and then giving them to Mommy as a special gift from the heart.
That made her genuinely smile, but... there would be no place for her in that house if...if she gave it to them. Her home...her home for her entire adult life.
“It's too big for you now, Honey,” Richard whispered to her. “Has been for quite a while...since the kids moved on. You have to see that.”
Funny, she never had thought so before. She now had the craft room of her dreams, the kitchen was just the right size, her bedroom exactly as she liked it and the living room was comfy and lived-in. Okay, Sophie's room was extra now that she would be gone to school in the city and may never need it again and Violet hadn't used the dining room for anything more than sorting and starting vegetable and flower seeds in late winter for her spring garden-- the chandelier came in handy for hanging grow lights, but it was being used just the same... just not for family eating. She supposed the house may be a tad too big, although to admit it caused her more than a bit of grief.
“I love that house. I don't want to move out. It's my home,” she whined.
“You can get a another one you love just as much, maybe even more!” Richard said. “A smaller house is less to take care of, you know. Less things to go wrong in it and needing repairs, less cleaning, less yard work, less...”
“Less space for my garden. Oh!” she said, suddenly realizing something tragic. “I'll have to leave behind my beautiful garden!”
“You can easily recreate it, or better yet, design a whole new, improved garden. You now have access to loads of plants, expensive ones you never were able to buy before now,” he said. “Anyway, do you really want to deprive your first grandchild with the perfect place to grow up just for a bunch of flowers?”
That struck a cord. She shook her head and sighed. “No, I couldn't do that. I guess I gotta move...which means finding a smaller but decent house in Catalpa Valley, one I can afford.”
“Prices in Catalpa Valley have gone up in recent years,” Richard said. “Houses are much more reasonable and nicer for the money in...”
“I am NOT leaving Catalpa Valley!” she said fiercely. “I was born here, I've lived my whole life here and by-gosh-by-golly I'm gonna die here, come hell or high water!”
“Okay, okay!” Richard said. “In that case... you might wanna take a different route home...say down Beaver Dam Lane.”
“What for?” Violet said. “ I'll be late for the Christmas party if I...”
“ Nice Christmas decorations on that road, remember? We used to love that road with all the nice Christmas displays,” Richard said. “It's not gonna take any more time than your regular route and you'll love the lights...you always do.”
That was definitely true. She did love to see nicely decorated homes and after all, she had plenty of time to get ready for Victor's party, being she didn't have to do anything more than just show up. She took the next right onto Beaver Dam Lane and within a few minutes she saw several homes with tons of lights, a Santa and his reindeer sleigh, Snow-people in all sizes wearing scarves and hats, a Baby Jesus and his saintly mom and dad, and many live blue spruces and Douglas firs in the landscape turned into Christmas trees plus wreaths on every door and electric candles at every window. Oh, but it certainly was worth the drive!
Then she saw it and she slowed to a stop in front of the cutest little house she'd ever seen, a cape cod with a sign reading for sale by owner --all offers considered no matter how small taped on the large picture window—or rather on the tiny corner of it which was not covered by the enormous rhododendron growing wild and crazy in front of the house. In the snow the house looked perfectly fine except for the obviously overgrown shrubs, weedy flower beds and neglected trees with broken limbs hanging by a thread, ready to drop on the next unaware person to walk beneath it.
“Yikes,” she muttered, looking intently at the house again. “This house looks familiar... somehow. I've been here before, haven't I?”
“It should look familiar,” Richard said. “This was the most elaborately decorated house in all of Catalpa Valley.”
“What! This house?” Violet gasped, putting her car in park and staring at the house. “Oh, that's right, but...What happened to the lights and trees and baby Jesus in his manger with Mary and Joseph and the three kings and even the little drummer boy and all the animals around and the elf village and Santa and Mrs. Claus and...and everything?”
“You should go see for yourself,” he said.
“Um... but I don't think anyone's home...it's all dark.”
“No, there's a light on inside. See? In the small kitchen window? Go on and see them,” Richard said.
She bit her bottom lip nervously. “But... who are they? I don't even remember their name...the Beckems... Brookman... Buck...?”
“Beckel,” he said. “Henry and Bonnie Beckel.”
“Oh...” she said remembering the happy elderly couple who celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary a few years back. She had seen it in the church bulletin and mentioned it to Richard and he had taken her hand and said, “That'll be you and me one day,” and he had kissed her.
Another bittersweet memory tearing a whole in her heart.
“I wonder if they'd mind...” she mumbled.
“Go on,” Richard urged. “I'm sure they'll be thrilled you stopped by to wish them a merry Christmas.”
Without a moment's hesitation, Violet was out of her car, and scooting far away from the dangerously dangling dead tree branch, she walked up to the door and knocked. She waited and waited and was just about to give up and leave when the door at long last opened slowly and a pale green eye peeked out at Violet.
“Yes?” Mrs. Beckel said. “Oh, hello. Aren't you... yes, you are... you're Richie's young wife...oh, pardon me. I mean his young widow, of course. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Uh... hello, Mrs. Beckel. Um, I didn't know you knew Richard,” Violet said.
“Oh, my, yes, he was the son we never had,” Mrs. Beckel said, sighing deeply.
“He was?” Violet said, shocked.
“Oh, yes, he used to...oh, where are my manners? Come in, Dear, although, I wasn't expecting company,” Mrs. Beckel said, opening the door wide to allow Violet to come inside. There were labeled boxes along both sides of the small entry and filling the living room and kitchen, both of which were nearly bare of furniture.
“Are you and Mr. Beckel moving out...I mean even before you sell the house?” Violet asked, following slowly behind her hostess.
Mrs. Beckel who was hard of hearing and therefore heard none of this, continued to the sole piece of furniture and sat her weary bones on an ancient flower patterned sofa which sagged terribly and smelled slightly of stale mushrooms. She patted the seat next to her for Violet to join her.
Violet, who checked her watch for fear she'd be late to Victor's party and that he'd take it as a slight, had no choice but to sit and hear about Richard's odd connection to Mr. and Mrs. Beckel and why had he never mentioned it to her before this.
“It'll be worth it,” Richard said. “Besides, it's better to be fashionably late instead of annoying everybody by being the first one to show up.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Violet mumbled as she settled beside the old lady, her curiosity growing within.
©2016 Glory Lennon All Rights Reserved