Everyone wondered, and no one knew. Knew just who Mr. Pemberton was, that is. Oh, they all knew of the Pemberton family. The older residents did, at least. The crotchety old man who used to throw things at them as kids. And just for passing his house! Not because they’d stolen his apples or anything. They would have never dared!
And so the talk circled, filtering down from old to young, and back to the old folks again. They all longed to know who had come to live in The Manor. At least that’s what the townspeople called it.
Not that the kids cared about the house. They were only thinking of the boulevard. That quarter-mile driveway made an ideal racetrack for bikes and roller blades. Or sledding. Why there just wasn’t a better hill for sliding anywhere about.
Kansas towns weren’t exactly known for hills, and Quibley stretched out even flatter than most. And that had them worried. If Mr. Pemberton was like his crabby ancestor, their fun could be over. The village police were pretty strict about racing in the streets, for whatever reason. I mean, it’s not like Quibley had tons of traffic. But then, grown ups could be so dumb. And so, fingers crossed, they listened to their elders discussing Mr. Pemberton. And with the optimism of children, readied their sleds for the first snowfall.
But there was one odd thing, they noticed, about this Pemberton affair.
Angela Brimm, they noted, wasn’t saying anything at all. And she’d never kept quiet about anything. Never, for as far back as they remembered! Kids are observant of such things, you know. And they were pretty sure that even stricken with laryngitis Angela Brimm would manage to talk! And strangely enough, most of what she said made sense. She talked too much, ’tis true, but that was probably good, since she was sometimes the only one around with any sense. But while the town speculated on Mr. Pemberton, Angela Brimm just went about her business as usual.
Miss Parker, the old postmistress, who’d been at her post since the days of Abraham Lincoln, or so it seemed to the kids, had the most to say. “I remember old Mr. Pemberton. We used to call him The Crow. Had a drinking problem, he did. He’d wander about town for hours sometimes, before finding his way home. I was just a girl then, but I remember that raucous singing, and the clanging of trash cans. Maybe that’s why he smelled so bad, from rolling in the trash he tripped over.”
“I remember that too,” Mr. Crawford piped up. “Happy as a lark, he was, stumbling about after an evening at the bar. But a mean old snake the rest of the time, shaking his cane, and squawking at everyone!”
“And then, he just upped and disappeared,” added Henry Bates. “But where and why, I never did hear. And they say no one, except the banker, ever heard from him again! Seemed mighty fishy to me.”
“Good riddance, that’s what I said,” and Mr. Crawford shook his head.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” reasoned Miss Parker, the oldest among them. “Seems I remember he started drinking like that after his wife died. Just drove him to it, I guess. I remember my mother saying she’d never seen anyone suffer as much as Mrs. Pemberton had. Probably just broke the old man.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Mr. Crawford grumbled. “But I’m none too happy about having any of them Pembertons back in town. What kind of man can he be, with a father like that? And it’s two weeks since he moved in here, and no sight or sound of him. Now tell me there isn’t something fishy about that!”
But no one had an answer for that. Not even Angela Brimm, who always had an answer for everything. And that’s what had the kids worried. What kind of man could he be? And how would he treat them? Did he drink too? But they mostly worried because their folks had strictly forbidden them to go near the Pemberton place. It seemed they’d judged the man, sight unseen.
But even the kids hadn’t noticed that Stella, as silent as her sister was vociferous, was even quieter than usual.
At least that’s how they would have put it. “Quieter than ever! But with a sister like Angela, she probably didn’t get a chance to talk much, even as a kid,” they thought. But even they failed to see that Stella, usually happy and care-free, seemed downright uncomfortable about it.
I was the only to notice. But then as their niece, I knew The Sisters, as everyone called them, better than most. Just as I knew that their names fit them well. Folks said Angela talked too much, and she did. But they also admitted that she never spoke a bad word about anyone, but always saw the good and tried to help. And oddly enough, in spite of such profusion of speech, her words were gems of wisdom. Angelic, she was, and no mistake about it!
Light-hearted and full of joy, that’s how I thought of Stella, at least before her trip to the city. But something must had happened. For though outwardly unchanged, I sensed a sadness lurking beneath the surface. But Stella didn’t talk about it, not even at home.
So worried over Stella, I retreated to the kitchen and my Christmas preparations.
Not that we really did much. Just a special dinner with whatever needy or lonely souls we could find to join us. But cooking and sewing are my therapies. Solace in times of trouble, and outlets of joy in times of happiness. Which is only natural, seeing as how I’m named Taylor. I place great stock in names. They’re more than just words attached to faces to me. They define the person.
Everyone, even Angela, says that’s crazy a notion. But they’ll never convince me! My aunts embody their names! Why else are people drawn to them, as they are to angels and stars? And why else would I, though 10 years younger, do most of the cooking and crafty things? Nope, no one will ever convince me!
There really wasn’t a lot to do. The toys, hats, and mittens we make each year for the poor city children were ready, and under the tree. We never bother with gifts among ourselves. We prefer keeping things simple, and don’t like a bunch of clutter around. But this year, I decided to bake a little more, and plan an extra special dinner. Maybe it would cheer Stella up. Snap her out of this lull, or whatever she was in.
Good thing only one guest was coming this year. Perhaps a crowd would overwhelm Stella. Maybe she just needs time alone after the hectic city. She’s never really liked crowds. “Yep, that’s it,” I decided, “and here I was imagining depression over her best friend’s wedding. I mean, it can’t have been easy, what with her never having had a beau, or anything.”
But things did not go according to plan. They have a way of doing that, much to my consternation. I like things neat, orderly, and well planned. Tailor made days, to fit my tailor-made life. But I’m glad God stepped in and messed up my plans, to give us the best Christmas ever! And not just us, but all the town!
You see, we never planned anything for Christmas Eve. But kept it for the candle light service at church, which we wouldn’t have missed for the world. It was the highlight of our year! We don’t have many special events in Quibbley. Which is probably why the kids fretted so over their sledding hill.
I never expected the evening to end as it did.
But it’s a good thing I did extra baking and cooking, seeing as how an extra guest showed up. And I must admit it all turned out well! Stella now is truly more radiant than any star in the sky. Her name means Star, you know. But I’d like to know why such true love was so long separated. I probably never will though, because Stella’s still not talking much more than she ever did.
But I did learn one thing. And that is that when Angela Brimm’s not talking, it’s probably because she knows even more than she usually does. And when that’s the case, don’t ever expect her to spill the beans. Like I told you, she’s angelic, the soul of discretion. And John Pemberton? Well, I’m sure he’s a pretty likable chap. But I think I’ll probably like him a lot more once he wipes that silly grin, which he wore all through the meal, off his face!
And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
But as I said, all’s well that end’s well. And the kids can stop fretting over their hill. All they need now is a good strong snowstorm!
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional work. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or used in a fictitious manner. The image used is purely for illustrative purposes.
[Image: villa in Abruzzo ©TheScorziellos-Sheila]