27 December 2014

Homespun Christmas

Christmas Through the Years, Gladys Hasty Carroll
I remember seeing this author's books in the library as a child; they were what today we would call "chick lit," or more likely "domestic dramas." However, they were a cut above the usual; apparently one of Ms. Carroll's books lost out on a Pulitzer Prize to The Good Earth. But I found this book in the Christmas rack of the Friends of the Library book sale, and the price was right...

...and I loved it. This isn't the kind of rubbish they write today about divorce and adultery and affairs; oh, the families in these short stories have problems, but they're homelike problems of growing up, losing a family member, growing older, trusting one's child's spouse to do the correct thing, etc. The first four pieces are charming examples of how farm- and middle-class folk celebrated the Christmas season before and during World War I. "Christmas 1922" is notable because it is taken from the author's own diary and talks about Christmas in her home, with much nostalgia about telephone party lines.

"Christmas 1946" is a reprint of one of her most famous stories, a Christmas novella called While the Angels Sing, about a widowed mother who is staying with her daughter and her family for Christmas and learning many things about her son-in-law and her grandchildren, still thinking about her son, who survived World War II, but never came home. I couldn't wait to turn the pages to see what had happened with the daughter and her best friend, the older brother who had a crush on the snobby daughter of a neighbor, the younger brother who was so independent, yet so caring of his little sister, or if the janitor would really turn on the heat in the church for the Christmas pageant!

"Christmas 1949" is yet another novella, Christmas With Johnny, the sweet story of a nine-year-old boy who feels left out at home, at church, at school. His parents give up his beloved farm, so that he has to move away from his only friend, a little girl (a fact he is teased about in school and by his father), and when it looks as if he may have found a secure place in Sunday School, he's teased about that as well, and bullied at school. It takes a crisis for his parents and his teachers to discover how alone he actually feels.

The other stories were lovely as well, but I liked the two novellas the best. If you enjoy stories about families at Christmas, with strong family values and Christmas cheer, you would do well to look up this book.

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