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Authors: Dan Walsh

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Remembering Christmas

BOOK: Remembering Christmas
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© 2011 by Dan Walsh

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www.revellbooks.com

Ebook edition created 2011

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-3415-5

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The internet addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers in this book are accurate at the time of publication. They are provided as a resource. Baker Publishing Group does not endorse them or vouch for their content or permanence.

To Chuck and Phyllis Hamlin, my in-laws. For almost three-and-a-half decades now you have supplied me with a wealth of family memories. Thanks for your love and care through all these years.

1
 

The Present

 

It wasn’t there anymore. But he knew that coming here.

He’d driven by this intersection hundreds of times over the years, never paying much attention. But he had to now; it was about to be replaced. He wished he’d taken pictures of it, back in the day. Of course, back then there wasn’t any reason to. It would always be there.

He sat on a bench across the street, finishing his fries, eyeing the empty corner lot where it used to be. The Bahia grass was knee deep, a smattering of wildflowers sticking out here and there. No trees—those were long gone. But in his mind, it wasn’t hard to imagine St. Luke’s still standing there. For over fifty years, its majestic spire was the highest point downtown. He looked up at the empty spot in the sky it used to own, shielded his eyes from the sun. He looked down the street two blocks north. That honor now belonged to a most unworthy successor: a cell tower.

A blinking gray stick.

Every day this week he’d come to this same bench on his lunch hour, to sit and remember. Last Saturday, he’d read that the lot had just been sold. A few months from now he’d be looking at a CVS drugstore. In one sense, it was a good thing. One more sign the downtown area was making a comeback.

The church had been gone for over two decades. The whole building had burned to the ground. A senseless accident. Something about a day laborer storing a pile of rags on some cans of linseed oil. A church committee had voted, and a plan to give the pews a new shine had led to the destruction of this beautiful landmark.

The memories he’d been digging for had all happened ten years before that, in the fall of 1980. A simpler time. Not nearly as hectic and nowhere near the level of distraction. You could count on having whole conversations with people. No cell phones, laptops, netbooks, or iPads. No internet. Just a handful of channels on TV. Only the folks in Arkansas had ever heard of Walmart. And only one cast of
Star Trek
to keep track of.

He looked across the street again, at the space that would have been the rear corner of the church building. The picture in his mind was so strong. He could still see the leaky roof. The old sofa in the back. Hear the cash register bell clanging. And then, of course, the peculiar cast of characters coming in and out.

He looked at his watch. Time to head back to the office. But he wanted to get closer, to strengthen the feeling. He stood, waited for the traffic to clear, and walked across the street. The old sidewalk was still there. And for some reason, they had left the little stairwell all these years. Six uneven steps that led down to the door.

If he closed his eyes, he could see it all so clearly.

The Book Nook.

The place where his life had changed forever.

2
 

November 1980

 

JD was getting nervous. It was past Egg McMuffin time. Way past. One thing JD could always count on: Art was never late. A dense fog hovered about the downtown area. A fairly rare occurrence, which only deepened the sense of mystery.

JD was hungry, but, even more than that, he knew soon as he woke up he was going to need the heat from Art’s coffee to take the chill out of his bones. He looked over his shoulder to the spot he called home, shrouded in mist. It was right behind the old church, under a fiberglass awning put up last year to keep the rain from pouring into the trash cans. It did that all right but did nothing to ward off the cold night air. He rubbed his lower back, but the pain returned soon as he stopped rubbing. After breakfast, he’d have to make his way over to McAlister’s, the last appliance store downtown, see about getting a new carton, some fresh packing material.

JD peeked out from behind the corner of the church, eyeing the stairwell leading down to the Book Nook. The little store occupied the southeast corner of the building, in something like a basement. Folks in Florida didn’t have basements, of course. Pick any spot, dig a few feet, and you hit water. The church had been built up on stone pilings back in the early 1900s, allowing for a ground floor underneath.

That’s where Art and Leanne had opened up the Book Nook some twelve years ago. But the stairwell was the only thing that mattered to JD, because that was the deal. He’d stopped sleeping in the stairwell and Art brought him an Egg McMuffin every morning. Except Sunday. The Book Nook was closed on Sunday. JD got scrambled eggs and home fries on Sundays at an outreach ministry over on Walker, three blocks away.

Well, come to think of it, he didn’t get his Egg McMuffin yesterday, either, but that was to be expected. Thanksgiving Day. All the downtown stores were closed. But you could always count on one or two churches sending folks downtown to serve turkey suppers.

Yesterday JD ate pretty well. Two turkey suppers with all the fixings in the span of four hours. Started to sleep it off just after sundown. Got up just that once before 2:00 a.m. to get a bottle of Jack Daniel’s before the liquor store closed.

That’s how JD knew something was off, looking at the Book Nook now. The lights were on inside. He could see that plainly through the curtains. And somebody had turned on that garland of Christmas lights around the doorway. They weren’t on last night. He’d have seen them when he’d walked right by here after getting that whiskey bottle. The Book Nook had been black as night, the stairwell hidden in shadows.

Why he used to like it so much.

He rummaged through his raincoat pocket, past some rubber bands and paper clips till he felt his new watch. Second hand didn’t work, but who counted seconds? And the leather wristband didn’t latch, but it worked just fine in his pocket.

8:50 it said, or thereabouts.

He peeked around the corner again. Where was Art with his breakfast? Store opened at 9:00. This was their routine, going back almost a year now. Art would greet JD with that nice smile he always wore, unlock the front door, and hand him a white paper bag with that delicious sandwich inside. You’d think JD would be sick of eating the same thing every day. But the stupid thing was just that good. Then Art would go inside to make a fresh pot of coffee. JD would wait right here at this same corner till Art came out with a fresh hot cup.

BOOK: Remembering Christmas
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