This week for Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m temporarily jumping ahead a bit in Adicia’s story, to Chapter 56, “Finally a Real Thanksgiving and Christmas.” (Even if I don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s nice to have a blog post related to the holiday for my Christian readers to enjoy, and it’s nice to help other people celebrate their holidays instead of pretending they don’t exist or aren’t important for them.) It’s now 1972, and in spite of losing her dream come true husband to the draft only a week into their arranged marriage of sorts, Adicia has been living a dream come true since coming to Hudson Falls in the summer. Growing up, she and her siblings never got to enjoy real holidays, so this Christmas is very special to her and her little sister Justine. Christmas also comes as a welcome relief, since her husband was drafted into the Air Force and she’s been worried sick about him since Operation Linebacker II began last week. Now she has a day where she doesn’t have to think about anything else.
Adicia is now 18, and Justine is 13. David is the former Boy Ryan, who along with his three sisters finally took a real name in 1970, when they moved from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie, where Ernestine, their close friend Betsy, and Deirdre, the former Girl, are students at Vassar. George is Emeline’s cat, whom she named after her favorite Beatle.
Adicia wakes up at 7:00 on Christmas Day to George’s soft paws on her face. She sits up in surprise and sees Emeline sitting on the foot of the bed.
“Merry Christmas, my darling little sisters! How’d you like to go downstairs and open presents with the whole family?”
“How did you get here?” Justine asks.
“Zachary went over to get me, and then we went back to his house to get Lucine and Simone and drove the rest of the way over here. We thought it’d be a sweet surprise for you.”
“Of course I’m happy about it!” Adicia says. “I can’t wait to start opening presents!”
She, Justine, and Emeline go down the hall to wake Ernestine and the Ryan girls, and then they go downstairs together, Emeline carrying George so he won’t get trampled underfoot since he’s still a little on the runt side. When they get to the bottom of the stairs, Justine and Adicia’s eyes light up when they see Allen and Lenore’s family, Lucine’s family, and Gemma and Tyrone. An army of presents wrapped in brightly-colored paper and tied with shiny bows awaits them under the tree, with such an ample supply they’re spilling out in all directions. There are also stuffed stockings hanging all along the mantle.
“This is awesome!” Justine breathes.
“This is just like we always useta dream of growing up!” Adicia says.
“We decided to come over from next door ahead of your waking up so we could all celebrate together,” Allen says. “I hope you forgive me for picking your lock with a safety pin. I still remember how to do that from my teenage days of bad behavior.”
“You picked our lock?” Adicia asks.
“I forgive you,” Justine says. “It’s not like you’re a burglar.”
Gemma stares at Adicia. “When did that happen! You don’t look much further behind me!”
“I got pregnant in July. I guess I’m due in late April or early May.”
“It’s Ricky’s,” Ernestine hastens to tell her. “Adicia didn’t tell him yet.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Gemma asks. “Allen, you’re the aspiring photographer. You oughta bring Adicia over to your attic studio and take some pregnancy pictures of her so she can send to her husband in her next letter! Boy, I never woulda dreamt in a million years that I’d be pregnant at the same time as my next-youngest sister, since we’re twelve years apart.”
“I made you some hot chocolate with my crème Chantilly,” Lenore says. “I’ll bring it out on trays so we can all drink some while we’re opening presents.”
Adicia and Justine descend on the presents like vultures while Ernestine and Emeline show more restraint, helping to distribute presents and stockings. There are even presents shipped by the van Niftriks, Julie and the Doyles, the Washingtons, the Strausslers, and Sarah’s family. This is definitely better than what would’ve been in store for them back home, Adicia thinks. Right about now Tommy must be unwrapping a bunch of toys Mrs. Troy used Mr. Troy’s paychecks to pay for, with a stocking stuffed full of candies, chocolates, and oranges also paid for through Mr. Troy’s paychecks, no Christmas tree in sight. Tommy and their parents probably went to the usual random church last night, and will be having the usual garbage for breakfast, maybe bacon grease on toast with lumpy gray porridge.
Part of her wonders if she’s been dreaming the past five months and any minute now she and Justine will wake up, still living above the Strausslers’ bakery, with Ricky still safely up the street in his parents’ house and no child growing inside of herself. Then she remembers that if she really had stayed, she would’ve been married to that vile criminal Seth by now, and might be expecting the child of a brute instead of the child of the man she grew to love and to hold as her most dear husband.
“Can we reuse the wrapping paper?” Emeline asks when they’re finally all finished with unwrapping presents several hours later. “It seems so wasteful to just use it and pay money for it and then toss it all out in the trash just like that. Maybe it can be used in art projects too.”
“Boy, what fad won’t you embrace?” Allen chuckles. “Environmentalism, vegetarianism, the hippie lifestyle, Eastern religions, Yoga, meditation, what’s next?”
“I’m genuinely interested in these causes and things. I’d remain interested even if they weren’t trendy at the moment.”
“Can we go sledding on our new sled after breakfast?” Justine asks. “I’m sure it beats going down a hill on a garbage can lid.”
“Sure, we’ll all go sledding somewhere and take turns,” Allen promises. “We’ll have our pick of a nice snowy hill here, not like in that run-down East River Park. It probably won’t be as crowded as the hills in Central Park either.”
“What’s for breakfast?” Adicia asks. “Can I help with cooking?”
“You just keep enjoying your first real Christmas,” Lucine says. “For breakfast we’ll have Belgian waffles made with walnut batter and topped with strawberries, blueberries, whipped cream, thick maple syrup, and peaches, French toast made with almond batter, bacon, and omelettes of your choice.”
“I’ll make the omelettes,” David says.
“Can you make mine with mushrooms, green peppers, extra eggs, tomatoes, and spinach?” Justine asks, noticing how dreamy he looks with his longer hair.
“You bet, kiddo. You want orange juice, grape juice, or milk with that?”
“Orange juice with no pulp.”
“Yeah, pulp is nasty. I’ll have it whipped up for you in a jiffy.”
Everyone notices Justine staring at him with moony eyes as he disappears into the kitchen. Lenore glares at Allen when she sees him starting to get up.
“Lighten up. She’s only thirteen,” she whispers. “Most girls her age have crushes on guys they know they’ll never have a chance with. Even if he somehow liked her back, he knows they’re not at the same place in life at thirteen and eighteen. He’d be a gentleman and wait till she’s old enough, just like you did with me.”
“This is the best Christmas ever!” Adicia says. “And next year will be even better if Ricky is home!”
“Yes, next year will be even better,” Allen manages to say. “The entire family will be together again, and there will be two new members celebrating their first Christmas. Your baby’s only gonna be a month younger than Gemma’s. And who knows, maybe even Emeline will have herself a husband by then.”
“Don’t hedge any bets,” Emeline says, petting George under the chin.
Adicia puts her hands on her bulge. “I can feel it kicking. I guess the baby is having a nice Christmas too.”
“He sure must be, especially now that he knows he’s not being kept a secret anymore,” Allen says. “Now why don’t we all pose for some family pictures?”