Congratulations to Latisha B, Kris Bock, and Dani Fleming–you each will receive an ebook copy of an ebook of A Cowboy’s Secret from Anne. And congrats to Kim Matlock, who is the winner of a $10 Amazon gift card. Anne will be in touch with all of you. Thanks for stopping by and thanks to everyone for your support!
Hey, my lovelies, I’m so pleased to welcome Anne McAllister back to the blog with her newest release and a fun, fun giveaway for y’all.
First, I’d like to say thank you so much to Nan for inviting me to be here today. Because I’m usually bad at getting everything together, I began putting things she needed into a draft email almost two weeks ago. I had it all there but this letter over a week ago – and I was feeling very pleased – only to get up on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and have my computer screen say, “There is no hard drive installed.”
Well, there was a hard drive, but the computer couldn’t find it – and never did find it. Suffice to say, the following days were a bit fraught. But a week later I have a computer again, I have all my files back (thank you, techie guys at Staples) and life will go on.
Life does that. You start out with a plan, and then the unexpected happens, and you adjust. Or you don’t – which is worse.
Whatever I was going to write last week went right out of my head. My brain was like an ice dam. Stuck. But I didn’t celebrate the holidays alone, so I called each of my four kids and asked them what they remembered about Christmases growing up so I could share some McAllister family memories with you.
Let me set the scene: we moved into the big old white two-story house that our kids grew up in when the oldest was three and the youngest was one. There was a middle child, too. He was also three, but just barely. Another son came along later. We lived in that house for forty-three years so there were a lot of memories. After the kids grew up and moved away, they often reappeared at Christmas. They brought their own kids. We made more memories. There were dogs. Lots of dogs. And one bionic cat who spanned the 20th to 21st centuries (well, not the whole century, obviously, but a surprising number of years). It was always a full house.
So, what do the McAllisters remember about the Christmas season? Interestingly, to me, they all had quite different memories. Our daughter remembers that we always walked to the YMCA where they had a Christmas tree lot on the tennis court. There we would try to agree on the ‘perfect tree.’ Then we would carry it home and decorate it with homemade cut-out Christmas cookies and strings of popcorn and cranberries. We stopped with the homemade cookies on the tree with the arrival of the first dog. Guess why! In those years the tree was almost always a smallish one that we set on a sturdy old desk from a 19th century rural Iowa school, and we hung their stockings on hooks beneath the tree.
The original stockings figured in everyone’s memories. They were made by a dear friend out of heavy white boot-socks with red tops (the kind you buy at the local farm supply store), and each kid’s name was chain-stitched down the length of the stocking. When Kid # 4 came along, I got a sock like the others and made him one. The two oldest grandkids each got a sock, too. Then the third grandkid came along, She had such a long first name that I gave up.
When the ninth grandchild arrived, though, his mother wanted both their boys to have Christmas stockings. Can’t do the last two and skip the middle five. So I made seven that year. The hardest part was finding white boot-socks with red tops. They were no longer “fashionable.” Were they ever? Anyway, by 2012 there were brown socks, orange socks, grey socks. No white ones with red tops. Not in Iowa. Eventually someone discovered a pair — in Texas, I think — and I spent evenings watching an entire set of DVDs on medieval English history – early, middle and late – while I chain-stitched those names down the sides of socks. Last March our first great-grandchild was born. He’s on his own. I have run out of socks!
What do the boys remember? The oldest said he remembered sledding down the back hill on those round metal saucers, building forts with blocks of snow that had been packed into molds, and having snowball fights with his brothers. He also remembered every year getting a Matchbox car in his Christmas stocking and sitting with his back against the heat register to get warm.
I reminded him that he also always used to duck into the kitchen and steal bits of crisp skin off the turkey that his dad was carving. He said, “Yeah, but that wasn’t just Christmas. I did that every holiday!”
Middle son said he remembered that every Christmas there would be ice and slush and dirty snow on all the roadsides and while it seems now like something you wouldn’t think was a great memory, it was, because it was Iowa at Christmas! And he remembered taking the bus to the mall to go Christmas shopping and how cool it was to be doing that on his own. He talked about walking to church at night and the snow underfoot and seeing wreaths and Christmas lights in the dark and how magical it was. He mentioned getting up in the morning and going to sit against the heat register (do you notice a theme, here?) where it was warm. He remembered one dinner when we were all in the kitchen and the front door opened and someone yelled, “Ho, ho. Ho!” and Santa came into the kitchen wishing us all a Merry Christmas – and then figuring out that it was actually the mailman. (Yes, that really did happen, and yes, we were as surprised as the kids were!). And he remembered candles. We used to light candles every night during Advent and sit by candlelight and talk about what he described as “the important stuff in life.”
Youngest son remembered the Sears catalogue. He remembers having found the perfect remote-control car which he never got. But he also remembered his favorite-ever, totally unexpected gift of a scooter. It was the anticipation, he says, that he remembers about Christmas – about not knowing, but hoping, about possibility. He also reminded me that we used to make the kids all wait at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning until his dad or I went down to light the tree, and that he would be waiting and waiting and waiting – not for us or for the tree to be lit – but for his oldest brother to get up! “He never woke up!” he said. “I mean, I know he was older, but still . . . “
Talking with the four of them last night was a trip down memory lane. It reminded me of so many things I’d forgotten but which made me smile when they reminded me. It made me see each of them reflected in the things they remembered. It made me think about my own childhood memories – a couple of which found their way into A Cowboy’s Gift.
The Elmer Christmas pageant that Gus and Mary both had a part in reflected Christmas pageants I remember so well as a child. It also reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, which I regularly read to my kids, to the CCD class I taught, and to my grandkids. It reminds me every year of the value of community and togetherness and celebration. It sparks a sense of wonder, of hope, of potential, of possibility. It reminds me of “the important stuff in life,” that really matters. And just like in the Elmer Christmas pageant – and life – things always happen that are unexpected!
A Cowboy’s Gift
He’s ready to settle down this Christmas…
Montana rodeo bronc rider Gus Holt has made a career out of eight-second commitments. He’s intuitive, instinctive, and impulsive. And then he moves on. He’s never done forever, and a dozen years ago, he even backed out of his own wedding! But Gus isn’t nineteen anymore, and when Mary McLean, the bride he left behind, turns up pregnant, on her own, and as lovely as ever, Gus knows he wants a second chance. He won’t squander it this time.
Trust Gus Holt? Not likely. Mary’s been there, done that—and has the failed wedding to prove it. Now she’s the surrogate mother to her sister’s child—as close as she’ll get to a family of her own. This time Mary’s determined to resist Gus’s advances.
But Gus isn’t giving up. He believes they have a future, that they can have forever. After all, Christmas is a time of hope and new beginnings. But can he convince Mary to give their love another shot?