ABOUT THE AUTHOR 4
CHAPTER ONE 9
CHAPTER TWO 12
CHAPTER THREE 15
CHAPTER FOUR 18
CHAPTER FIVE 21
CHAPTER SIX 24
CHAPTER EIGHT 30
CHAPTER NINE 34
CHAPTER TEN 37
CHAPTER ELEVEN 40
EXCERPT FROM “FINDING FAITH” 45
EXCERPT FROM “DISCOVERING HOPE” 47
EXCERPT FROM “ACCEPTING CHANGE” 49
ABOUT RACHEL 52
A Woodsmall Christmas Novella
Rachel E Rittenhouse
Author of Finding Faith, Discovering Hope, & Accepting Change, Rachel Rittenhouse has been writing for as long as she can remember. At the age of 17, she published her first book Finding Faith and her dream of becoming a published writer finally came true. Since she grew up loving to read, Rachel remembers the struggle to find wholesome books worth reading for young girls growing in their faith. She strives to write that type of book and because she loves historical fiction, most of her books are set in a past time period. In addition to reading and writing, she enjoys playing clarinet, spending time with her family, going to her church youth group, and babysitting some pretty adorable kids! Rachel is working at her writing, while taking online courses through Liberty University.
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Copyright © 2015 Rachel E Rittenhouse
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means — for example, electronic, photocopy, recording — without prior consent of the author. The only exception is brief quotations for reviews.
This book is a work of historical reconstruction; the appearances of certain historical figures are therefore inevitable. All other characters, however, are the products o the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
My family — for our love of Christmas traditions
Prologue – April 16, 1865
It should have been a day of rejoicing and I guess in a sense, it was. The war between the states is finally over. Poppa is home, and what a relief to see him safe.
My sister is reunited with her husband. Carolyn and Scott were married only a week before Scott left for the war. Watching them together brings tears to my eyes knowing how much my sister missed him.
But this is where it stings. Albert didn’t come home to me.
When he broke off our courtship before he left, I assumed that as soon as the war ended he would be back. I never quit writing to him. In fact that was what kept me going most days. Albert said he didn’t want to die and hold me back.
What stings is that he didn’t die. Nettie would have told me if that were true. Perhaps he realized that he only had a childhood fascination with me. Maybe I am just not important to him.
Or maybe I should keep writing him and wait for him to come to me.
Poppa’s voice broke through Bethany’s writing. “Now, where’s my Bethy?”
Pushing the mournful thoughts from her mind, Bethany hurried down from the loft, determined to put on a cheerful front. “Oh Poppa, I’m so glad you’re home.” In an instant, she was pulled in a hug that threatened to cut of all air flow. Not that she cared. Breathing in his woody smell, Bethany was sure she would be happy to stay right in his arms.
When her older brother Jesse came home early from the war with his leg amputated, Bethany began to imagine all sorts of things that might have happened to Poppa and Albert. It was bad enough to hear when Henry was killed.
As the rest of the family went inside, Bethany sat out on the porch step to wonder and think by herself. She wasn’t left out there long before Jesse was by her side.
“Penny for your thoughts, sister, though I can already guess they are miles away.”
How was it possible to have a brother who knew you so well? “I am so happy that Poppa and Scott have come home safe, truly I am, Jesse. But I am concerned for Albert. If it is true that the war ended, why hasn’t he come to see me?”
“I’m afraid I have no answer for you, Bethy. You could always go into town and see if he went to see his family first. That is always a strong possibility.”
“I can’t leave Poppa when he’s just returned.”
“Then why are you out here?”
Bethany thought about what Jesse said and then she stood. “How right you are, Jesse. Here I am, worrying for nothing, when I should be inside with Poppa. Albert will come and see me soon enough, of that I am sure.”
Jesse’s face relaxed some, but Bethany doubted the words that she uttered. Would Albert really come? If he didn’t come right away, did he not care for her after being away almost two years?
Into the evening, Bethany continued to look out the window, but still no sign of Albert. Would he ever come?
The November snow was beginning to fall lightly as Bethany hurried into the main part of town. Of course, the one day when she decided to walk instead of ride, it would begin to snow.
Hurrying into the post office, Bethany shook off the bits of snow that clung to her bonnet. Upon seeing her, Mr. McCrutchen greeted her with a loud hello. “Hoping the snow doesn’t continue on, ey, Miss Bethany? Though we’ve had storms blow in at times earlier than this.”
Bethany couldn’t help but smile at the friendliness of the Irish postman. “That it is, sir. By any chance would you have a letter for me?”
The man’s eyes dimmed, “Sorry, lass, there still be nothing. I wish I could bring you better news one of these days.”
Despite the disappointment looming, Bethany tried to put on a cheery face. “Thank you anyways.” She handed the letter Momma asked her to mail and departed the post office.
Tears stung Bethany’s eyes as she hurried down town. Eight months since the war ended and seven months had passed since Albert wrote her saying that he was to stay in Washington D.C. a while longer. But even that letter came after weeks of waiting for him to show up at her door. A heavy weight settled on her heart. What was she to even think or feel? Perhaps she should have gone to look for him the next day. Beg him for answers – to love her again. But what would that matter now. He was all the way on the coast and he hadn’t written her since.
Something hard in front of her caused Bethany to begin a downward descent but two hands reached out to grab her. Bethany looked up to see who it was that saved her.
His gray eyes lit up when he saw her and the beginnings of a smile quirked at his mouth. “Bethany. I wasn’t planning on running into you today.”
She straightened, vaguely aware of the realization that she was still in Jeremy’s grasp. “I’m sorry, Jeremy, truly. My thoughts were elsewhere.”
“It’s of no matter.” They continued walking as the snow continued to grow thicker and thicker.
“Well, thank you for catching me. I had no desire to land on the ground. I really should be going though before the snow gets much worse.”
“Let me drive you, Beth – please?” The way his eyes brightened, Bethany found that she couldn’t refuse. Pretty soon, they were in his buggy heading back to her place.
Bethany struggled to come up with something to say as she could very well just sit in silence. “It appears I am indebted to you twice in a day, Jeremy. The snow seems to be getting much heavier and it would no doubt have been a long walk.”
“I’m just glad to be of assistance.”
The way he said it caused tingles to travel down Bethany’s arms and she pulled the blanket tighter around her lap.
“Actually, Bethany, I wanted a chance to talk to you.”
“Oh?” Hearing the words surprised her and she wondered what Jeremy would possibly want to talk about with her.
“I know you probably consider us just friends, at least, I would hope I’m a friend…”
“Of course I consider you a friend. Don’t ever not think such a thing.” She clamped her mouth shut then, realizing that she just succeeded in interrupting Jeremy.
“I’m glad to hear that. I don’t know what happened between you and Albert, well actually, I know some of it. I also know you’ve had a long time to get past that, I hope.” Jeremy paused and Bethany noticed that he regarded her quietly, probably to gauge her reaction.
Not sure what to say, Bethany waited. “Yes?”
Jeremy stopped the buggy then and turned to Bethany. He grasped her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. “I was wondering if we could learn to be more than friends, Bethany. I’ve cared for you for the longest time and I was hoping – praying – that perhaps you might have some feelings for me.”
Bethany felt her head was going to spin off with this new-found revelation. Eight months could hardly be considered a long to time move on from someone whom she had loved. Besides, she had only ever thought of Jeremy as a dear friend. “I hardly know what to say. This is all rather sudden.”
“Not entirely so. I’ve always tried to show you that I care—”
“As a friend.”
“But I also gave you space when you seemed to prefer Albert.”
“Yes, you did, which brings up the point that he still may come home.”
“He hasn’t written you in seven months!”
Bethany felt her mouth gap open, “How did you know?”
“Please, Beth,” Jeremy leaned to and placed a light kiss on her hand, “Say you’ll consider being my girl?”
Bethany felt tears begin to pool in her eyes. “I…I need time to…think about this.”
“I can wait for you.”
His words touched her heart as he drove her the rest of the way home. When he pulled up to the porch, he walked around to help her down. Before letting her go though, he added, “I’m serious in what I’ve said, Bethany. I do care for you.”
Bethany found a slight smile, “I know.” Then she hurried in the house. Before she even shut the door, Laura was standing before her, a sneaky smile on her face.
“Why, sister, who exactly was bringing you home?”
Bethany forced a chipper sound in her voice instead of the tears she wanted to shed. “Only Jeremy. He saw me walking home and offered a ride because of the snow.”
“How generous of him.” Laura looped her arm through Bethany’s. “Come, Momma has made cookies. Chocolate-strawberry mint. How does that sound?”
“Exactly what I thought when I came up with the recipe.”
“You created it?” A warning bell sounded through Bethany’s head as she came to from dwelling on Jeremy and Albert.
“Why of course! What is so surprising about that?”
“You hate the kitchen.”
“Not any more!” Laura pulled Bethany by the arm and she had no choice but to follow her sister. Thoughts of what Jeremy had said would just have to wait.
Thanksgiving was always a wonderful time for Bethany and her family. Momma, Carolyn, and Heather made quite the selection of wonderful food. So much so, a person hardly knew what to begin eating first!
After Poppa offered a blessing, Bethany couldn’t help but look around the table at the family she had been blessed with. Indeed, there was so much to be thankful for especially this year. Poppa and Momma sat at one end of the table, looking so happy. Next to them, Rosie sat trying to convince Adam that he should try his green beans. Heather had gone to gather something that was forgotten in the kitchen, while Jesse and Scott were having quite the discussion about the food their wives made. Carolyn was looking adoringly at her husband, though Bethany noticed, she seemed a little more peeked than usual. Jake was looking at the food that Momma was piling on his plate, while Laura talked about her experiences at the doctor’s office with her.
Bethany suddenly came to attention when she realized that Laura was looking at her expectedly. “I’m sorry, dear. My mind had wandered. What did you say?”
Laura gave her a strange look. “Busy thinking about Jeremy, are we Bethy?”
“Shh, Laura. Not now. We’ll talk later, I promise.”
Jake, though, had turned his attention from his food. “What was that about Jeremy, Laura? Something to do with our Bethy?”
Laura looked like she was about to say something, but Bethany beat her to it. “Only that Laura saw Jeremy when she was in town. Isn’t that right?” Bethany placed on a demur smile while her eyes appealed to Laura that she better not say anything. There was no way she wanted Jeremy’s offer discussed with her family. Yet.
Laura appeared conflicted, but in the end, she only agreed with what Bethany had said.
Poppa cleared his throat and the conversation miraculously turned from Bethany. “As we are now entering into the Christmas season, we should begin discussing what we would like to do as far as gathering the tree and other activities planned.”
“Christmas!” Adam clapped his hands together and everyone burst out laughing. This would be Adam’s first Christmas with all his family members. Bethany thought that it would most likely be the best one they had ever had.
Carolyn’s voice broke through the laughter echoing the very words Bethany had thought. “It shall be one of the best, for we are all together again.” There were tears in Carolyn’s eyes, but that was just because Carolyn tended to be the most emotional of the siblings, and Bethany knew that she was just truly happy. “We shall all go out and pick out a Christmas tree and then decorate it. Of course, our St. Lucia traditions. Perhaps we could all spend the night at Momma and Poppa’s. Sister baking time to make pies and cookies galore.”
“We should host a Christmas ball as well. Oh we haven’t had any dancing since the war began…” Heather piped up in Carolyn’s ramblings.
“Or…we could start some new traditions.” Laura’s matter-of-fact voice broke through. “Don’t you think it would be nice to have a bit of a change? Perhaps we would enjoy something different.”
The room got eerily quiet. No one quite knew what to say. Laura was known for her opinions, but one didn’t usually argue with Carolyn.
Carolyn looked at Laura, “But dear, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a Christmas like we had before the war. Traditions are not a bad thing. And besides, we are all together again.”
Bethany sighed inwardly. They weren’t all together.
“They are when you over use them.”
“We haven’t used them for five years!”
It was one thing for Laura to get mad, but to see Carolyn, the tears from her eyes replaced with determination, Bethany hadn’t seen that before. Someone needed to get between these sisters before things got too out of control. Bethany began slowly, “Perhaps…”
“Bethy, please,” Carolyn’s voice held a no nonsense tone. She didn’t even stop when Scott placed a hand on her shoulder. “Fine, Laura, what are your ideas?”
Laura crossed her arms, “I haven’t thought that far…”
“So then why change it all?”
“But—we could try some new recipes and maybe decorate the tree a little differently. And maybe forgo St. Lucia’s day. I think you’ve been St. Lucia enough in one lifetime, Carolyn.”
“I was planning on teaching Rosie. I figure it’s time to teach the younger children the traditions that have been taught to us.” Carolyn glanced at Jesse and Heather. No one looked too sure about this display between Carolyn and Laura. It was out of character which told Bethany that something else was at the root of the problem.
“Oh is that a fact? So it can suddenly go from you to Rosie but manage to skip over Bethy and me?”
Carolyn looked to Bethany then back to Laura, “Well if you wanted to be St. Lucia, why didn’t you say anything?”
Laura was standing now, “Because it would’ve gone against tradition!”
“Laura, I had no idea…”
“Laura, sit down, there is no need for this.” Momma’s voice had a no nonsense tone and though Laura hesitated, she did end up taking her seat. “Now, how about we talk about this like adults. Carolyn and Laura both expressed their opinions about Christmas. Does anyone else have anything to say?”
It seemed as though no one wanted to get in the middle of things and Bethany truly had no desire to side with one sister over the other. Even though…
Jake appeared to be the brave one, “I’m all for doing something new. It could be like a new start, especially with Henry not here. It would be hard to go back.”
Laura appeared to perk up, “Exactly what I was trying to say!”
“Laura.” Momma shook her head and Laura instantly quieted.
Heather looked to Jesse, “I know Jesse and I talked about how we want to combine how we both celebrated Christmas when we were younger, especially since it will be Adam’s first Christmas. We want him to know the traditions we both grew up with as well as begin our own.”
Jesse nodded, “I know that this Swedish tradition pull is probably stronger for Carolyn and me because we remember celebrating it in Sweden, whereas Laura was so young. But I don’t think we need to forgo that because that is who we are.” Poppa nodded his approval and Bethany wished her thoughts could formulate as wisely as her brother’s.
All eyes turned to Bethany now and she desperately wished she could hide under the table instead of being the tie-breaker. “Couldn’t we possible do some of both? I love our traditions, but this year is different. We can’t possibly go back to how it was before.”
Laura stood, “No! Jesse and Carolyn, if you want to celebrate the traditions, do it with your own family. We don’t always have to do the same thing year after year.” Laura stood then and ran from the table.
Feeling terrible, Bethany stood to follow her, but Heather placed a hand on her arm. “Let her go, Bethy. Just give her some time.”
Poppa sighed, “I believe it’s time for pie. We can figure out what happens next later.”
As Momma and Carolyn rose to get the desserts, Adam’s chatter was a happy divergence, but Bethany worried over Laura and Carolyn. Would the whole Christmas season be ruined if the two couldn’t figure out a compromise?
Suddenly, Bethany had two Christmas options before her as well as two guys. Somehow she was going to have to decide on both instances.
“Well that was…interesting. I bet Poppa wasn’t expecting that when he asked such a simple question.” Heather looked up from her dish washing at Bethany and Momma. It was just the three of them in the kitchen since Carolyn took Rosie and Adam out and the guys were doing the barn chores. Laura was still gone, though someone would probably go searching for her soon.
Momma nodded, “I just don’t understand what got into Carolyn and Laura. I know they are both so different, but I’ve never seen Carolyn get as defensive as she did tonight.”
Knowing her sisters the best, Bethany said, “I think that there is something deeper going on with Carolyn. She just wants everything to go back to the way it was and since she’s knows that can’t happen, the easiest way is to do everything the same.”
Heather sighed, “But how does that explain Laura? She’s gotten more opinionated with age, but she has never spoken to Carolyn that way.”
Momma placed the last dish in the cupboard and turned, “Laura and Carolyn have different ways of dealing with hurt. Laura, I believe, still misses Henry. I know I do, but Laura’s way of dealing with that is making things different. I can see her logic, but I tend to side with Carolyn in this matter. Sometimes those you love feel closer when you do things as you have always done them.”
“The war has been hard on everyone and we all have different ways of coping. Perhaps the strain of it all has taken its toll on Carolyn.” Heather looked to Bethany, giving her a sad smile. “You seemed to be leaning towards Laura’s way. Does it have to do with missing someone still?”
Bethany shrugged, “Perhaps Laura’s logic would make the pain not go as deep. I couldn’t hurt Carolyn though. Christmas and traditions are important to her.” For a time, her family members realized she was grieving her loss of Albert. Once the letter arrived though, they all appeared to think that Bethany moved on from him. Perhaps Heather still saw the grief that Bethany was going through.
Or maybe she was thinking it is long time that Bethany moved on. Maybe this change in traditions would be just what Bethany needed to move on.
Pulling Bethany out of her muddled thoughts, Momma squeezed Heather and her hand. “We can’t take sides, that’s for sure. I believe that it’s up to us girls to make sure this Christmas is the happiest one we’ve had in a long time.” And Bethany could only agree.
<> <> <> <>
Later that evening, Bethany found Carolyn sitting out under a pine tree. Going over to join her, Carolyn almost didn’t seem to realize her presence and Bethany suddenly wasn’t sure if she wanted to interrupt.
Then Carolyn reached over and grasped her hand, “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you, dear. I don’t know what came over me.”
“It is alright. I know you didn’t mean it.”
“But I did.” Carolyn turned and looked at Bethany. “Well, I meant what I said just not how I said it. Why is Laura so intent on doing this to me? I thought she’d understand?”
Bethany hardly knew how to respond, “Understand what? I know you love your traditions, but is there something more going on here? Maybe you should try listening to Laura’s reasons too.”
“I tried! Laura just wasn’t reasonable.” Carolyn stood, ignoring Bethany’s questions. For a moment, Bethany thought she would walk away.
Quickly she reached up and grabbed her hand, “Please don’t go. I didn’t come out to fight with you. Actually, I needed your advice.”
Carolyn sat back down, “Of course, Bethy. I should have been thinking of you. What can I do?”
Now that the attention was back on her, Bethany wasn’t quite sure she wanted to talk about it. “It’s really not that important…”
“Out with it, Bethany Woodsmall. You have something on your mind and it is important.”
Bethany sighed, “Very well. I ran into Jeremy, literally, while I was in town today.”
“I was checking for a letter…” Her voice trailed off and Bethany really didn’t want to break down in tears.
“From Albert? Oh Bethy, I wish…”
“Don’t. It hurts worse, you know, than actually losing him in battle. I lost him to a city, a job. Not that he was really mine though.”
Carolyn grabbed Bethany’s arms and forced her to look up, “He was yours if you were courting and I can’t tell you how sorry I am that it didn’t work out. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“And if Scott didn’t come back, was I supposed to tell that to you? It wasn’t meant to be?” Carolyn looked horrified and Bethany regretted saying that, but she plunged on ahead. “Anyways, I didn’t come out here to say all that. I came to say — ask you — Jeremy asked to court me.”
Carolyn’s eyes lit up, “What? This was not what I was expecting. The two topics have nothing to do with each other.”
“They have everything to do with each other! I still care about Albert, but I consider Jeremy a friend. Albert…is not…here, but Jeremy is.”
“Well it sounds as if you’ve made up your mind.”
“No, I haven’t and that’s why I wanted to talk to you. What should I do?” Her attempt to not get emotional was fruitless as she swiped away some tears that had already begun to slip down.
“Well, if you promise to listen without shouting at me, I’ll do my best.”
“Carolyn, please, I didn’t mean what I said about you and Scott. Honestly. I love Scott like a brother and can’t image anyone else for you. But you have to understand, that’s what I thought about Albert too.”
“Okay, Bethy, I know you were upset. Now, all that to say, I agree with you.”
Bethany could hardly believe what she was hearing. “But I told you that I didn’t know! You’re supposed to help me decide.”
“Calm down. It had seemed to me that you were right when you said that Albert is gone, but Jeremy is here. I think you should give Jeremy a chance. Albert has had plenty of time to come back, let alone write! I’ve been a foolish sister not to see how sad you’ve been all these months since his last letter.”
“You didn’t know, plus you were happy Scott was back.”
“But I should have. It’s time for you to move on, Bethy.”
“What if I can’t?”
Carolyn wrapped Bethany in a hug, “You will. You pulled me through my heartache during the war and now I can pull you through after. But you also have to rely on God though.”
“But what if he does come back? How will I decide then?”
“Bethany, you don’t have to think about that now. Albert hasn’t contacted you since the war ended in April. What if that’s God’s sign for you to move on?”
Bethany took a deep breath, “Okay, I guess so. I’m still going to pray about it before I decide for sure.”
“I wouldn’t want you to do anything else.”
Scott sat down beside them and Bethany suddenly realized how dark it had become. “If you girls don’t mind, I believe it’s time to be getting my wife home.”
Carolyn laughed and swatted his arm, “Scott! Very well. You good, Bethy?”
Bethany smiled and gave Carolyn a quick kiss, “Of course. Thank you.”
Carolyn nodded and Bethany watched the two of them walk away. How much things had already changed since the war! Was it really only three months since she had been living with all her family? Now Carolyn and Scott had their own house and Jesse and Heather got their own house back too. Those changes were good, maybe Christmas traditions could change a bit too.
But before she could even contemplate Christmas, Bethany had a more pressing matter on her mind to deal with.
Waking up was supposed to be a pleasant thing, instead Bethany found herself with the feeling that she had slept on nails. Laura had come home late last night and didn’t want to talk to Bethany about anything that had gone on the night before.
Not that Bethany could blame her. In truth, she probably wouldn’t have been a very good listener since she kept going back and forth between Jeremy and Albert in her mind. Part of her wanted to court Jeremy and the other wanted to go find Albert.
Seeing no way of solving this on her own, she decided to take Carolyn’s advice and read the Bible. Climbing down from the loft as quietly as she could, Bethany held the big Bible atop the fire place. How was she possibly to know where to read from?
Bethany opened and found herself in Proverbs. Chapter 3 verses 5-6 seemed to practically pop off the page to her: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. If God wasn’t speaking to her through that, she surely didn’t know what to expect.
Instead of spending half the night up, worrying about what she should do, she should have just trusted that God would take care of her like he always had. Maybe Carolyn was right. Perhaps God was telling her to accept Jeremy’s courtship since she hadn’t heard from Albert.
And it wasn’t like Albert was injured. He had been writing his family almost regularly and Nettie would often tell Bethany how he was. Albert was prospering and he seemed to have forgotten about his small town sweetheart.
Perhaps just like Laura proposed a change in traditions, Bethany should give Jeremy a chance.
Hearing that her family was beginning to wake up, Bethany put the Bible away, just as Rosie tumbled down the ladder. Seeing Bethany, she ran into her arms. “It’s new day, Bethy! Momma always says that this is a new day from the Lord and we should make the most of it.”
“How true, Rosie. Would you like to help me start breakfast?”
As Rosie hurried ahead, Bethany stopped to thank God for his sense of clarity in Proverbs and also through her little sister. Every day was a new day and Bethany should learn to make the most of it, whatever may come her way.
<> <> <> <>
With the weather as finicky as ever, Bethany drove into town to pick up Laura at the doctor’s office. Laura was helping Dr. Luke and his wife, Nurse Katie, more than ever and she was indeed thriving. Never would Bethany have thought that her younger “farm-loving” sister would grow up to become a nurse and work in town of all places.
As she began to reach the edge of town, Bethany caught sight of Jeremy walking toward her. Well, he wasn’t originally, but now that he saw her, a smile lit up his face. Bethany had come to peace with her decision, but she wasn’t quite sure if she was ready to tell Jeremy her answer yet.
“Bethany, hello! It’s nice to see you again.” Jeremy had stopped by the wagon and was looking up at her. It seemed he wanted to say so much more, but began with pleasantries all the same.
“And you as well, Jeremy.” The words couldn’t formulate at what else she wanted to say.
Thankfully though, Jeremy didn’t let the silence prolong. “Might I talk to you for a bit? Perhaps we could walk around town?”
“Very well.” Jeremy helped Bethany down from the wagon, and after the wagon was secured, they began their walk. While Bethany began to work up her courage, Jeremy was talking small talk with her about the weather and the upcoming Christmas season. Bethany could hardly make sense of what he was saying and she could only hope that her responses were coming out clean and formulated.
“You see, Beth, I was actually planning on coming out to your place today.”
That stopped her rambling thoughts, “You were?”
“I’ve been waiting in pure agony these past few days wondering what your answer to my question could possibly be. I didn’t see you in town, so I thought I might as well go and ask you again.”
“I see…actually, Jeremy, I’m glad I met up with you today.” Jeremy stopped, forcing Bethany to do the same. He turned her to him then and waited for her to continue. “And I well, I’ve been thinking long and hard about what you said to me. You know I consider you a dear friend and these past couple years have been rather difficult on me, and I’m sure on you as well coming back from the war and all. I can only imagine what you saw…”
Jeremy grasped her hands, “Beth, please, don’t keep rambling. If your answer is no…”
“No, it’s yes. How did you say it? I’d love to be your girl.”
Bethany wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but she was beyond pleased when Jeremy pulled her into a crushing hug. All, well most, of Bethany’s doubts began to fade away then because suddenly, it felt so right being in Jeremy’s arms.
“I hardly know what to think, Beth. I mean, I wanted this, but I wasn’t sure if you were ready.” Jeremy pulled away from her and began to study her face.
Bethany gave a slight smile, “As you and my sister kindly pointed out, it has been eight months. I can’t spend the rest of my life mourning and unhappy.”
Jeremy could only smile because at the next moment Laura was bounding toward them. “Bethany! Oh how glad I am to see you.”
Bethany exchanged a look with Jeremy, “And when she says that, I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing.”
Laura was soon beside them, “Listen to this? Dr. Luke just hired another assistant doctor! And here I thought that I was going to be trained as his assistant doctor, but no, I’m a girl.” Her eyes suddenly turned to Jeremy, “Oh Jeremy, I didn’t see you here with…Bethy?” Laura looked from Bethany and back to Jeremy, “I see you have much to tell me as well.”
Jeremy chuckled while Bethany grasped Laura’s arm, “Not until you tell more about this new doctor. Did he arrive?”
Laura crossed her arms, “Not going to work, Bethany Woodsmall. Older sister privileges for secret-spilling.”
Jeremy was the one who finally spoke up, “Since you both are obviously too stubborn and we will get nowhere with this. Laura, I asked your sister to court me, and she said yes.”
“Oh! How wonderful!” Laura grabbed them both in a hug. “Everyone will be positively thrilled, I’m sure.”
Jeremy squeezed Bethany’s hand, “I’m glad you think so, Laura, now please, don’t spread it through town quite yet. You are the first person to know.”
“And I am oh-so-thrilled by that…”
“Laura, shh. Everyone can hear you and look, some are starting to stare.” Bethany stepped away from Jeremy and closer to Laura. “Now, are you ready to go?”
“Certainly, but the better question is, are you?”
Bethany offered a small smile to Jeremy, “I’m afraid I must. Carolyn and Heather are expecting us back to figure out some Christmas decorating…”
“What?” Laura took a step away from Bethany and suddenly her light-hearted mood vanished. “You all started planning Christmas without me and are doing Carolyn’s ideas?”
“You weren’t home, dear, and that’s why we were waiting for you. We wanted to ask you what your ideas were so we could begin to incorporate them.”
“I can’t believe this. That you would go behind my back! You of all people, Bethany?” Laura turned and began walking away.
Bethany could hardly believe how fast this was spiraling down, “It wasn’t like that. Laura, wait. Where are you going?”
“I’m walking home” and as if to prove her point, Laura picked up her pace.
Bethany watched Laura and then turned to look at Jeremy, “I’m sorry, Jeremy, truly. We’ve been having some arguments at home between us girls about Christmas and Laura seems more determined than ever not to budge.”
Jeremy took Bethany’s hand and squeezed it again, “Hurry and catch up to her. It might snow soon and I don’t want you caught out in it.”
Bethany smiled, “Very well. I’ll see you later?”
“You can count on it.”
With a smile on her face, Bethany hurried to her wagon to see if she could catch up to Laura and manage to convince her sister to ride with her.
It didn’t take long for Bethany to catch up with Laura, because even though Laura walked fast, Bethany had horse power on her side. Pulling up beside her, Bethany decided her best course of action wasn’t to talk about Christmas. “Please, Laura, it’s supposed to snow and I wouldn’t want to you get caught in the storm. Besides, you have yet to tell me about the new doctor.”
That got Laura to pause. “I’d rather not talk about that right now.”
“But you promised, Laura, remember. I told you about Jeremy.”
Laura burst out laughing, “Fine, but just remember, Jeremy told me, not you.” Bethany moved over as Laura climbed up. When neither spoke right away, Bethany found she had to prompt Laura into talking about the new doctor.
Laura sighed, “I just can’t believe Dr. Luke would do something like that to me. I’m sure I told him that I wanted to be a doctor, or at least Katie did. I love Katie and admire her as a nurse. Really, she was the one who inspired me. But Bethy, being a doctor is like proving to myself that a girl can do anything a man can do. Why do guys and girls have to have different occupations?”
“I can’t say that I know for sure what you are getting at, but I have heard it before.”
“Well, I couldn’t be a farmer because I was a girl and now that I found something that I love doing, I can’t do it because a man will do a better job! But what irks me most is that Dr. Luke would think of me as less than I can be.”
“Now, now, Laura. Perhaps he doesn’t think that at all. Maybe he is planning on training both of you or perhaps he thinks you need some more time until you take over a doctor role.”
“I would get schooling, but the school where Katie got her training as a nurse only does nurse training. Girls can’t be doctors, plain and simple.”
Bethany thought about what Laura had said and it did seem to be unfair that Laura couldn’t pursue what she wanted to do. Bethany never thought of those things simply because she never had a desire to go out and work. All she would ever think about is when she began keeping her own house with Albert—or now, she supposed it would most likely be Jeremy.
But did she really side as Laura did for women’s equality? The topic never seemed a big deal before, but Laura was always the independent one. No doubt she’d be joining in suffrages and go fight her way into a man’s college just so that she could become a doctor. Laura had that way about her.
Turning to study her sister, Bethany had another thought of why Laura would be so concerned about this new doctor. “You have yet to tell me, Laura. This new doctor, is he young?”
Laura’s eyes narrowed, “I suppose so, though I have trouble determining people’s ages.”
“Young as in, your age?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, I think it does. I believe you are so out to get this doctor, what’s his name?”
Laura sighed, “Isaac Bradley.”
“I believe you are so set against Isaac Bradley because you think perhaps with time, you may come to care for him and then you will not go off to college, but instead will be happy with your nurse title. Am I right?”
“Of course not!”
Her defensive manner told Bethany otherwise, “Come, Laura, I know when you are lying. Besides, I can see right through you.”
“Oh very well! Yes, he is rather good looking in that respect. And well, I suppose he did ask me to dine with him at the hotel restaurant.”
Bethany stopped the wagon, “He what? Oh Laura…”
“I told him no of course. I said I had no interest in keeping company with any man and that I was content with my life as it was.”
“Of course I did. Dr. Luke and Katie heard the entire thing too, so if you don’t believe me, go ask them. I will not have any man stand in the way of me following my dreams. I will go off to college and I will be a woman doctor, just you wait and see, Bethany Woodsmall.”
Bethany gave a slight laugh, “I believe you will, Laura. I’m sure God has a great many plans for your life. I suppose this is where you get all your independent ideas for Christmas this year.”
Instead of getting angry, Laura turned to Bethany, “Please, Bethy, take my side. Doing something new isn’t bad. Perhaps we can start new traditions?”
“I see where you are coming from, but I think we all need more time. Why is this so important to you?”
Laura seemed to look off somewhere and Bethany almost thought she wouldn’t answer her. “Do you remember when we were home and all the guys were away at war? We were trying to move forward as well as possible. We didn’t want to do any of our Christmas traditions because it just wouldn’t be the same without them. And now with Henry gone, it still won’t be the same. Don’t you think that changing up our traditions might help us forget the horrors of war?”
When she put it like that, Bethany knew that Laura was right. Celebrating Christmas like they always had would bring with it memories of those who were missing. Henry, Cousin Luke, and even Albert. Nothing was the same as it used to be. “But Laura, this is almost like what happened when Momma died. We didn’t stop celebrating, we did it to help us remember what the times were like.”
“Please, Bethy, say you’ll try to convince Carolyn, Heather, and Momma? You may not think I suffered during the war, but I did! I had to watch you all mourn and wait for letters. I waited too for all of you. I need to move forward not backward. Remembering is fine, but not now. Please, not at Christmas.”
Bethany hardly knew how to respond to Laura. Never before had she heard Laura’s struggles for she usually kept it bottled inside. Instead she could only manage to grasp Laura’s hand. “Very well. I will see what I can do.”
Laura didn’t cry, but as she looked out across the prairie, Bethany thought she could see unshed tears glistening in Laura’s eyes. And Laura never cried.
The sister meeting never did occur then. By the time Bethany and Laura returned from town, Carolyn had gone home feeling sick and Heather was tending to Adam who was screaming after being chased in the yard by a chicken. To Bethany, it was somewhat of a relief because she was not sure how she was going to get through that meeting. Laura’s revelation had Bethany’s mind whirling and she wasn’t sure what to suggest. Now though, she was out in the woods with Jeremy collecting pine branches for St. Lucia’s day. Apparently Carolyn went on planning St. Lucia’s day without Laura realizing it. Bethany knew this wouldn’t end well, but she really didn’t want to bring it up with Laura.
“Exactly how many branches are we collecting, Beth? I think you have enough to cover the house.” Jeremy motioned to the pile they had already collected and Bethany found that it was beginning to get rather chilly.
“Is this really so boring, Jeremy? We are making wreaths to decorate the house for St. Lucia’s day. Plus, we must gather some for Carolyn and Heather’s houses.”
“I think you have enough for all the houses in town if you wanted.”
Bethany laughed, “Have you never made a wreath? I see I shall have to instruct you in that. And you’re right, we may have an excess, but that is because Carolyn can be ever so picky about her pine branches.”
“Picky? Is that what you would call it?”
“Is excessively opinionated better?”
“Much,” Jeremy pulled a branch out and added it to the pile. “And as I mentioned, let’s call it quits. I’m not sure we will even be able to bring these all back in one trip.”
Bethany regarded the pile as well, “You may be right. I should have thought to bring Jesse’s cart.”
“You know I’m always right, especially about you. But indeed, this cart sounds marvelous. Is it at Jesse’s place?”
“No, it’s at mine. We only call it Jesse’s because he had it made when he was courting Heather. It’s a small little cart and we always called it that because he would use it and sneak out so we never knew where he was going.”
Jeremy came over and pulled Bethany’s shawl around her shoulder, “I suppose I’ll have to try out this cart with my girl since it seems like a Woodsmall novelty item.”
“Indeed it is, though you may want to wait and take your girl in the spring or you might get her stuck in the snow drifts.”
“So we should have brought the sleigh out today, not the cart.”
Laughter bubbled from Bethany, “Right again! For sleigh rides and wreath making are just two Woodsmall traditions!” Even as she said it, she began to feel a pang of sadness knowing that Laura didn’t seem to want any of these traditions now.
Deciding to carry what they could, Jeremy and Bethany made their way back to Carolyn’s place where Carolyn and Heather were all ready to begin assembling the wreaths together.
Carolyn rushed to greet them at the door, “There you two are! I was beginning to wonder what kept you. Jesse and Scott were in here just minutes ago but they were antsy.”
Bethany deposited her load by the fire place, “There are still more branches left, but even with piling Jeremy’s arms full we couldn’t carry them back.”
Heather’s eyes grew wide, “There’s more?”
Carolyn shooed Heather’s remark away, “Why of course, you never know if a branch will have a flaw. Best to have lots to choose from.”
Bethany raised her eyes at Jeremy as if to say ‘I told you so’ and Jeremy seemed to be doing his best at keeping the laughter inside. Jeremy squeezed Bethany’s arm, “You stay here, Beth. I’ll go grab Scott and see if he’ll get the rest of them with me.”
Bethany nodded her consent as Carolyn exclaimed, “Oh! Do send Jesse in when you see him. I need him to begin smoothing the branches.”
Jeremy chanced a glance at Bethany before looking back at Carolyn, “Smoothing?”
“Why of course. Pine branches can be quite rough in some areas and must be smoothed down. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Jeremy smiled, “If you say so, I’ll agree.” Then he hurried out before Carolyn grabbed him for any other tasks.
<> <> <> <>
Bethany loved the cozy atmosphere that wreath making and Christmas decorations brought. Here she was with her brother, sister, and her guy drinking spiced cider, sitting by the fire. Jesse, Scott, and Jeremy seemed to get along so well which confirmed in Bethany’s mind that she had made the right decision. The jokes those guys made brought laughter to the group throughout the afternoon. Momma was watching Adam so he wouldn’t be in all the branches while they were busy.
The door flew open and Laura was there, bringing a blast of chilly wind in that threatened their fire. “So I see you just decided to go behind my back for your traditions. I should have known you wouldn’t talk them over with me.”
Bethany wasn’t sure what to say to that remark and her first instinct was to go and wrap her arms around her sister. Only she knew what was really going on with Laura. Jesse chimed in first though, “Laura, do come in and shut the door. Of course you are welcome, but you were in town.”
Not budging, Laura crossed her arms, “Well I couldn’t do much since I was in town and it’s not like I wanted to be included in your wreath making. I just wanted to make some suggestions on what we were doing this year. I thought we were going to do that.”
Getting too cold for comfort, Bethany went and pulled Laura out of the doorway and proceeded to shut the door, barring the cold outside. Then she wrapped her arms around her sister, “I’m sorry, dear. But wreaths can be used anytime for any tradition. We’ve always used them to decorate the house.”
“Except that they are St. Lucia wreaths. Carolyn wouldn’t make any other.” Laura humphed, “Besides, I thought there wasn’t going to be a St. Lucia this year.”
Carolyn almost laughed, “Oh there is, my dear Laura, I think you should come to terms with at least that tradition. There is no way we are spoiling it for Rosie and Adam. Think how disappointed they would be.”
“This isn’t Rosie and Adam’s problem, it’s yours, Carolyn! Can’t you just take that responsibility instead of passing it on to your siblings for once?”
“Laura!” Jesse rose then, grabbing his crutch for support, and made his way over to where Laura was standing. Placing his hand on her shoulder, he said, “Come now, this isn’t like you. You are being childish and far too stubborn.”
“What?” Laura took a step back from Jesse.
“Yes, and you need to stop always placing your anger on Carolyn. For the record, we are not going behind your back, you are just always away. Why don’t you just let Christmas be Christmas this year as it always has been?”
For an instant, everyone held their breath, waiting to hear Laura’s response. Standing on the one side of her, Bethany could see tears begin to pool in her eyes. They were quickly blinked away though before anyone else noticed them. “I just can’t,” and she turned to Bethany as if pleading with her to see her reason why.
Bethany ached for her sister and wished she could do something to ease the tension. “I think we all need to sit down and talk peaceably. We must be able to come to some agreement that will make Christmas pleasurable for all of us?” Bethany tried to reach out and give Laura a hug, but Laura turned away.
“I need to go. Besides, you already know, Bethany. I don’t need to be here.”
“Yes you do.” But Laura already swept out the door before anyone could say anything else.
Jesse placed his hand on Bethany’s arm and gave her a hug. “We have to let her go, but Bethany, if you know what’s wrong…” Jesse’s voice trailed off, waiting for Bethany to continue.
Bethany sighed, “I don’t think it’s my place. Laura needs to be the one to explain why this is hard for her. But I will say this. We are all hurting and the disagreement is making it worse. We should be pulling together, not apart.”
And though she said the words, Bethany didn’t know what she could do to fix that problem.
I hardly know what to think. All I want is for everyone to be happy and remember the Christmases that we had. Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time as we celebrate God sending His Son to earth as payment for our sins. Why is it so hard to remember that?
Dear Laura is struggling so much and I hardly know how to reach her. I’ve never seen Laura so hard. I suppose none of us know how hard the war has been on her. Not that we were trying to discredit her, but I suppose we all thought it was easier for her because she didn’t have a spouse at war. But Laura held us up. She was always trying to be joyful during the rough times and I knew that I could always talk with her about missing Albert. Henry and Luke’s death also hit her hard but she always seemed to make sure Momma was okay.
Meanwhile Carolyn is at the opposite end. Carolyn and Heather (and I suppose myself as well) were a mess. Now that Jesse, Scott, and Poppa are back safe and sound, they want to celebrate as though nothing has changed. In some ways it hasn’t, but in other ways, everything has changed and we can’t go back to what we had before.
Traditions have a way of binding a family together. We are joined together each year by decorating the tree, making wreaths, baking pies and cookies, and celebrating Christ’s birth. But at one point, those traditions were new. Maybe now is a good time to begin some new customs while somehow keeping the old.
Maybe there’s a way to intertwine old traditions with new ones.
The following day, Bethany found herself walking through the woods. She found that throughout all the bustle going on at home, time to think was rare. Laura returned home later than expected, but she was still long past dinner. Bethany didn’t even get a moment to question her where she had gone because Laura went right to bed. Though Bethany was usually willing to let her sisters alone when they wanted it, tonight she couldn’t help but pester her just a bit.
Laura was quick to retort that she had no intention of discussing Christmas any further and claimed that Bethany already choose what side she was on.
Kicking a mound of snow, Bethany sighed, “I don’t see how she can even see that there are sides. Oh what a Christmas this will be!”
“My Beth kicking snow. Now that is a sight indeed.” Bethany turned at the voice and spotted Jeremy walking towards her, his sleigh parked not far away. “Your momma told me where to find you and she appears as worn out as you look.”
“Oh Jeremy, everything is a mess!” Bethany sat down in the snow, not carrying that it would make her skirt cold and wet.
Jeremy came down next to her, “Tell me about it.”
Not sure if she wanted to divulge into the whole saga, she decided to simplify it. Besides, Jeremy knew most of the story anyway. “Why can’t there be a way to combine Carolyn’s ideas of traditions with Laura’s new ones? And it’s not as if Laura even has ideas, she just wants a change.”
Jeremy took her hand and squeezed it, “I’m sorry, Beth, I’m not sure what to say to make it better.”
“I wish there was a way to get us all to sit down and just talk about everything reasonably. But Laura wants me to be the go-between. I think though that Carolyn would take it better coming straight from her. Oh I hope our Christmas won’t be ruined.”
“It won’t. By Christmas Day, everyone will forget their disagreements and be able to just focus on the happiness of the occasion.”
“Well I hope it happens sooner than that.” Bethany could hardly imagine putting up with Laura’s moodiness until Christmas. They sat in companionable silence for a bit, until Bethany broke the silence. “I was thinking about us too. I’m still unsure, Jeremy. I believe I still care for you as a friend.”
“It’s only been a couple days. Besides, friendship can always grow into something more.”
“But I thought it would be more confirming! I just don’t know what to think…” her voice trailed off causing an uncomfortable silence between them.
“Where is this coming from, Bethany?” Jeremy’s voice sounded far away and from the sound of it, Bethany knew that she hurt him.
“I don’t know. I guess I just wanted to tell you how I was feeling so you don’t begin to get ideas about things that aren’t existing. And…well…Christmastime was always special with Albert and me.”
Jeremy turned and grasped Bethany’s hands, forcing her to make eye contact with him. “You can’t keep comparing me with Albert, Bethany. I know you went through a hard time, but I’m here now. Why can’t you see that?”
Bethany eyes pooled with tears, “Jeremy, I…”
“I’ve always loved you, Bethany Woodsmall, ever since you first walked through the school house doors. Then when your family moved back here, I couldn’t wait for you to visit town so I could see you. When you started seeing Albert, I thought my heart would break in two, but somewhere deep inside, I was able to keep going. The time I spent in war, Albert and I were in the same regiment. I tried to be friendly to him for your sake and knew that I was going to look after him to make sure he made it back to you. How was I to know he would leave for Washington D.C.? I gave you time and space as you tried to move on. And I’m not planning on pushing you or forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do, Bethany.” Jeremy made motion to stand, but Bethany clung to his hand.
“Wait, Jeremy, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Don’t go yet.”
“You need time to think, Beth, and I’ll give it to you. But don’t think I’m giving up on you.” He planted a kiss on her forehead before moving back to his sleigh. Before he left though, he came back with a box in his hands. “I wrote these for you. Perhaps if you read them, you’ll see how much I care. How I’ve always cared.” Then he was gone.
Bethany watched until he was out of sight and then she just broke down. How could everything be so messed up? This was not how Christmas was supposed to be. Christmas was supposed to be a happy time with family. Christmas was about celebrating the Savior’s birth.
This Christmas was supposed to be celebrated with Albert. Perhaps he would have proposed. But he didn’t love her, not anymore.
“This isn’t fair, God! Why is my life all jumbled up?” No one answered her, not that she was expecting anything. She, who was always content, now found herself questioning God’s plan.
The box grew awkward in her lap and after blinking her tears away to clear her vision, Bethany took the lid off. Inside were letters. Letters written to her. As she leafed through them, Bethany saw that they were dated before the Civil War even began. Jeremy began writing her before she even began going out with Albert.
Even though she was aching to read the letters, Bethany decided to read them later. She had a guess at what they contained and her mind was already so muddled to add more information.
Despite the situation brewing between the sisters, everyone still came over the night before St. Lucia. Momma, Heather, and Bethany were busy in the kitchen while Carolyn had Rosie standing on the table to get her St. Lucia dress trimmed. The aroma of sweet buns filled the kitchen along with an assortment of pies. Surely they had enough for an army, but right now, no one really cared. The happiness that filled the room was enough, but Bethany wondered what would happen when Laura came back from town. Jake was supposed to go to reason with her and prepare her when he picked her up. She could only pray it would be enough.
“Rosie, stop fidgeting,” Carolyn muttered with her mouth full of pins.
“But I’ve been standing foreeeevvvverrr!”
The pins out of her mouth now, Carolyn gave Rosie a quick kiss on her head. “Now, now, it’s barely been ten minutes and I’m almost done. What an angel you look like in this dress!”
“Exactly what am I supposed to do again?”
“On St. Lucia day, usually the oldest girl in the family carries coffee and buns to her family in bed. It’s a tradition that was celebrated in Sweden and has been in our family for years.” Carolyn had a faraway look in her eyes. “If only I still had my first St. Lucia gown. Alas, it must still be in Sweden.”
Rosie crossed her arms and twisted, earning a look of disapproval from Carolyn. “So who is St. Lucia? And why am I playing her?”
“St. Lucia is…oh, Bethy! Do you remember that letter Mormor sent to us years ago explaining St. Lucia and her story?”
Bethany turned from her position of rolling out more buns and thought, “I supposed it would be upstairs somewhere with our things. No wait, I placed it in my diary!” Bethany flew from the room and hurried up to the loft. It must be somewhere. She, Carolyn, and Laura saved all of Mormor’s letters from Sweden and this one would be no exception. When they were younger, Bethany’s first Momma would always read them this story to remind them why they were celebrating St. Lucia’s day.
Why…that was it! Perhaps if Laura remembered why St. Lucia’s day was celebrated, she wouldn’t be so against the idea. But Laura was seldom at home and when she was, she made it clear she didn’t want to talk with Bethany.
The same was with Jeremy. It had been three days since she had seen him last and Bethany wondered if she had made a huge mistake. Of course, she should be the one to go and see him, and deep down, she knew what she wanted to say. Or did she?
“Bethy! Any luck?” Carolyn’s voice carried up the loft and Bethany knew she shouldn’t dally any long. Opening the box of letters from Mormor, Bethany found what she was searching for right on the bottom of the pile.
Clasping the letter which still smelled like Mormor, she hurried back to the kitchen. All eyes were on her with anticipation as she held up the letter. Bethany held out the letter for Momma or Carolyn to read, but Momma smiled. “You do us the honor, Bethany. You always had a gift of story telling.”
“Very well,” Bethany sat down at the table across from Rosie and Carolyn. “Here, Rosie, I’m going to tell you about St. Lucia. Now this is in letter form, so it will be as if Mormor is talking to you. You remember Mormor?” Though Mormor only passed away a year ago, Rosie didn’t seem certain. But Bethany proceeded with her letter.
“It was a dark morning on December 13 when the story begins. St. Lucia, or Lucy as she was called, lived in the Roman Empire when persecution of Christians was quite popular. As a young girl, Lucy led a life devoted to God. She loved her faith and she loved the poor – willing to do all that she could to help them.
“Life was dangerous for Lucy, especially now that she was a Christian. But Lucy was not deterred. In fact, the danger spurred her on even more.
The night was falling fast and Lucy knew that she must act now or risk being caught. Without a second thought, she slipped into the underground catacombs. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the tunnel. Would she ever get used to such pitch darkness? Thank goodness for the candles upon her wreath.
A deep breath calmed her nerves. Lucy gathered up her basket of buns and drink, she made her way through the dark catacombs. A noise of shuffling feet startled her, but as she believed the presence of God about her, she knew she had nothing to fear.
“Hello? It is only me, Lucy, come to you bearing food and drink.”
The shuffling sound appeared then to be the Christians whom she sought. As Lucy watched them pray over the food she brought, thankfulness filled her heart. How wonderful to serve God in this way.
“Unfortunately, her mother didn’t understand Lucy’s Christian faith. When Lucy asked to give all of her dowry to the poor, her mother declined. She wanted Lucy to be protected and cared for. So in doing that, she arranged for Lucy to be married to a wealthy heathen.
“Lucy, I will not have you give your life away like that. I must live out the rest of my days knowing that you will be all right.”
“Momma, I will. God will see to my protection and provision. He always has. Nothing will change that fact.”
Momma’s eyes took on a steely look as she leveled her view at Lucy. “A Christian will suffer. If you are found out, who knows what the Romans will do to you.”
“Is that why you want me to marry one of them? So I’ll be forced to deny Christ? Well it won’t work. I will never deny my Savior.”
“Lucy was in utter distress and though she vowed to stay true to her Savior, her mother was going through some serious health issues. No matter the treatment, the cure was not found. Finally, Lucy took her mother to St. Agatha where she prayed for her mother’s healing.
“Lucy. Lucy. God has heard your intercession. Your mother will be healed and you will be the glory of Syracuse.”
Lucy awoke with a start, realizing the voice she heard in her dream could be none other than St. Agatha herself. “Bless you, St. Agatha.” Turning to her mother, she shook her awake. “Momma. Momma! How are you feeling?”
Momma stirred ever so slightly, than opened her eyes. “Dotter, it was a miracle!”
“Because of the miracle that took place, Lucy’s mother gave Lucy permission to give her wealth to the poor. This didn’t sit well with everyone though. Lucy’s betrothed was enraged. He went to the Governor of Syracuse and told the Governor of Lucy’s Christian faith. This didn’t sit well with the Governor and he sent soldiers to arrest her.
The pounding at the door startled Lucy and her mother. They at once knew it was the soldiers. As Lucy calmly rose to open the door, Momma began to panic. “I knew this would happen. They’ve come to take you away! Oh Lucy, why didn’t you listen to me?”
Momma’s worrying couldn’t faze Lucy. She opened the door and a group of soldiers met her.
“Lucy of Syracuse?”
“The governor has requested your presence.”
“You may take me then if you can.”
The soldiers tried but they could not budge Lucy from her position. “Why don’t you move, girl? This won’t make the governor pleased.”
“Well then the governor didn’t expect he’d be dealing with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Even in the face of death, Lucy wouldn’t deny her faith. Lucy is an example to all which is why we remember her as we celebrate St. Lucia’s day.”
There was silence in the kitchen as Bethany finished the letter and she slowly lowered the letter to the table. Carolyn was holding Rosie in her lap, the hemming brought to a pause. Heather and Momma were both watching her as well, and tears were streaming down Heather’s face.
“Jesse told me her story before, but never like that. What a life to live! The abandon Lucy had for Christ is something to be admired.” Heather reached for a cloth, dabbing the tears from her face. “I can see now why Jesse wants to begin that tradition with our children.”
Momma reached out and clasped Heather’s hand, “It is an act of serving, Rosie. Tomorrow morning when you go about delivering buns and coffee, you can imagine what Lucy might have felt as she visited the Christians hiding in the catacombs.”
Rosie’s mouth dropped, “I must carry all this upstairs to everyone? I need more hands.”
The innocence in her words caused them all to burst out laughing. Carolyn squeezed Rosie’s hands, “Well, I was thinking that perhaps Bethany or Laura wanted to go with you.” Carolyn met Bethany’s eyes, and right then, Bethany could see that she wanted Laura to feel a part of it.
Bethany nodded, “I shall see what Laura wants to do. Something tells me that she would love to play the part with Rosie.” At least, Bethany hoped. Though she had before, Bethany had no idea what her sister was thinking these days. With only fourteen days till Christmas, there wasn’t much time left to find out.
And so, diary, with only five days till Christmas, I am worrying even more that things will still not be resolved with Carolyn and Laura. St. Lucia’s day went okay, but Laura passed on the role to me and so I assisted Rosie and Adam with the rounds. Not that I minded, but I wished Laura had seen Carolyn’s gesture as an opportunity to mend some bridges. As we moved forward in preparing for Christmas, Laura seemed to withdraw more and more. I only wish I could get her to see that we are all hurting and that the only way to make it better is to be together. We all went to cut down a tree and tomorrow night we shall all gather together, including Jesse and Carolyn’s families, to decorate it. It was decided to make popcorn garlands and display white candles as we always have. I know Laura had some ideas on decorating, but so far she has made no mention. I pray that she will come tomorrow night and we will all have an open mind and be willing to accept whatever Laura’s ideas are. In all us Woodsmalls, someone is sure to have an idea on how to create some new-fangled traditions.
A horse’s whinny came from outside bringing Bethany from her diary writing. Poppa, Momma, and Rosie had gone to Aunt Maria’s and said they wouldn’t be back till late. Jake and Laura were supposedly in town visiting the post office and going on other errands for Momma, so Bethany had no idea who to expect.
Something strange resounded in her and Bethany hoped that it might be Jeremy. Though they had mended their relationship, it was still not quite the same and Bethany knew that it had to do with her. She should really stop comparing Jeremy to Albert. It’s not as though she tried. Sometimes it’s just her way of processing everything. Just yesterday, Jeremy had suggested ice-skating. Bethany claimed she couldn’t go, especially this close to Christmas, because that was what she first did when she began courting Albert.
“So I can’t do anything that you may have done with Albert? Bethany, you are being entirely unreasonable!” Jeremy left in a huff and maybe he was right though. She was being slightly unreasonable. If only her mind could move past him like her heart has.
A knock sounded on the door. So it must not be family or Jeremy. They all walked in without knocking. Bethany opened the door slowly and discovered a tall young man with his back to the door. His wavy brown hair made her heart stop and when he turned around, the hazel eyes that were so familiar— “Albert.” She didn’t quite know what to say and didn’t even know what to do.
Albert stood there, silently watching her. His eyes seemed to be attempting to answer all her questions. In the next instant, he pulled her into a crushing hug. “Oh Bethy, I’ve missed you so.”
It seemed as if all Bethany could do was to remain in his embrace. What could she possibly think of doing otherwise? She had waited months to see him, smell him, and touch his wavy hair. In his embrace, all seemed as it should. Albert was back. Her heart began sending off warning signals though and she pulled back. “Albert, I hardly expected to see you here. What brings you back from the city?” Now that she had a chance to regard him, she noticed his fine clothes and the way he held himself. Without having to hear it from him, Bethany knew that he was doing well in Washington.
Albert reached up to touch her cheek. “Can we talk, Bethany? I have a lot to tell you.”
“I should think so. I mean the war did end eight months ago.” Over her shock, the hurt began to settle in. Bethany hoped her heart would not let Albert in so soon.
Sorrow flashed through Albert’s eyes. “I can’t possibly begin to say how sorry I am, Bethy, and I pray you will give me a chance to explain it all to you. Come for a ride, please?”
Looking into his eyes, Bethany knew that deep down, she needed this as much as he did. “Very well,” she grabbed her shawl and followed him outside. Albert’s sleigh was waiting for them, and as she climbed in old memories began to surface, but Bethany quickly stuffed them away. Reminiscing would do her no good right now. It had already caused her enough trouble with Jeremy.
Jeremy. Whatever would he think of her now that Albert was back? She could only pray that he would let her explain herself before he saw Albert.
The ride began with silence, much like it had with Jeremy. Oh, she must stop comparing the two all the time!
“So how have you been doing, Bethany?”
So he wanted to begin with pleasantries. “As well as one might expect. A lot has happened, Albert.”
“I’m sure. Your family doing well?”
“Please, Albert, tell me what you are doing here and why you didn’t come home to me earlier?” She wanted to remain strong, but the tears began to fall regardless of her resolve.
Albert stopped the sleigh and turned to grasp her hands, “When I left, there was no understanding between us…”
“But I cared for you! I wrote you all the time!”
“I know, me too. You don’t understand, Bethy, I did it for you.”
“No, you did it for you.”
“Would you stop interrupting me? I’m trying to explain it to you.”
Biting back her retort, Bethany settled for a nod and allowed Albert to continue on with his explanation.
“I broke off our courtship when I left because I didn’t want you to feel attached to me if something had happened if…I was killed. But that didn’t mean that I stopped caring for you. You were what kept me going through all the fighting, poor rations, and sleeping on a cold ground. Before the war ended, my general offered me a job working under him in Washington. Though I agonized over it, I decided to take it. I wrote to you, Bethy, honest. I told you all about the job and asked you to wait for me and told you that I still loved you and would come back for you. I take it you never received that letter.”
“I didn’t know. The last letter I received was in December.”
“I only meant to stay a bit and try it out, but when I didn’t hear from you, I assumed you decided to move on without me. And right you should, even though I didn’t want you too.”
“Didn’t Nettie tell you how much I wanted you to come? I told her everything!”
“Don’t blame her. She didn’t tell me all that exactly, just that she couldn’t believe I would desert you all. I didn’t know she meant you.”
Bethany lowered her head, trying to process all that he was telling her. Could Albert still love her? “So why didn’t you come back sooner?”
“I told myself that I was building a life for me — for you. When you never wrote, I decided that I would get settled there and then come back to win you back.”
Bethany felt her heart drop. “Win me back?”
Albert looked at her a long moment, before leaping out of the sleigh. Grasping Bethany’s hand, he got down to one knee in the snow. “Marry me, Bethany Woodsmall. I love you so and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Come back to Washington with me — as my wife. I promise I will never hurt you so again.”
The tears began to course down her cheeks. Albert was proposing. Here. Now. Oh what was she to think or even say. Her mind, let alone her heart, could hardly make sense of it. “Albert, I’m touched, truly. Give me some time to think and pray. Please?”
Albert stood and grasped both of her shoulders, “I’ll wait for you, Bethy, I will. I know I hurt you terribly and I can only pray that you’ll forgive me and love me in spite of all that I’ve done.”
Bethany closed her eyes and let herself rest against Albert. Oh God! Now what am I to do?
After Albert dropped Bethany off at home with a kiss to her forehead, Bethany could only stand there in shock at what had just occurred. With no one home yet, Bethany took off to see Carolyn. Surely her older sister could help her make sense of her muddled heart.
Here Albert was offering what Bethany had always dreamed he would. He came back—finally—wanting to marry her. At some point, Bethany thought her answer would be easy. She had always thought she would say yes, but now things were different.
Now Jeremy was in her heart as well. Jeremy who was so tender with Bethany’s feelings. He had waited so long and pursued her so faithfully. Jeremy loved her, maybe longer than Albert had.
And Jeremy had come back to her.
Reaching Carolyn’s house, Bethany flew through the door. “Oh Carolyn, you shall never believe what has happened…” Bethany let her voice trail off at the sight of Laura and Heather sitting with Carolyn at the kitchen table. “What is going on here?”
Carolyn stood and wrapped her arm around Bethany. “I sent Scott to find you, but you weren’t home. We’ve been talking long already.”
“Talking, not arguing?” And now they threw this at her. Could anything else possibly happen today?
Laura ran over as well and took both Carolyn and her hand. “Bethy, I am so, so sorry for the way I’ve been acting. It was Jake who finally made me see reason. I admit, I did get stubborn and refused to see reason. But now, all I want is for us to be happy again.”
Bethany tried to hold down a sob, but her emotions were already out of sync, “Oh Laura.” She wrapped her arms around both sisters, so very glad that this breach was mended.
Heather cleared her throat, “Come now, we must fill Bethany in of all that’s she missed. And don’t forget, we have only five days to finish preparing the Christmas dinner menu and decorating.”
Laura tugged Carolyn and Bethany back to the table. “Where were you, Bethy? I thought you were home this afternoon.”
The words wouldn’t form in Bethany’s mind and instead she looked to Carolyn, praying that she could read what she couldn’t explain.
Carolyn just looked at her with a question, “I don’t understand, Bethany. What did you come here to see me about?”
Looking at her sisters around the table, Bethany debated between telling and keeping it to herself for a bit longer. “Nothing that can’t wait. Like Heather said…”
“Out with it, Bethy.” Carolyn’s voice held no nonsense and the three of them were looking at her, knowing something was amiss, yet not sure what.
Taking a deep breath, she decided to make it as simple as possible. “Albert’s back.”
Laura’s mouth dropped open, “Wha….”
“And he asked me to marry him.” There was silence and Carolyn, Laura, and Heather stared at Bethany not quite believing what she had just said. “And now can we please move on to Christmas? I can’t process this right now.”
Carolyn was not about to be budged, “Bethy, I’m sorry. How will you ever decide?”
“I thought I came to you for advice, and all you say is ‘good luck deciding’?”
Carolyn came over and wrapped her arms around Bethany, “As much as I wish I could help you, this is a decision you must make on your own. Do you love Albert or do you love Jeremy? It doesn’t get much simpler than that.”
“But what if I don’t know?”
Heather now grasped Bethany’s hands, “Trust me, you’ll know. When you decide, deep down, you will feel a sense of peace and contentment with your decision.”
But how did she reach that decision?
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The girls spent the rest of the morning planning their new Christmas traditions. It was decided that they would decorate the tree with new ornaments rather than the traditional popcorn garland and candles. Those would still be in place, but with less, and Laura was going to assist Rosie and Adam in making some paper stars as well as making some balls.
Momma came over later, thrilled that the girls were now agreeing again. They then decided on what to make for the Christmas meal — turkey, stuffing, creamed potatoes, vegetables, and different desserts. Laura decided to put on a Christmas skit with the help of the others. Everyone was delighted with the idea of acting it out, especially since it would help Rosie and especially Adam understand Jesus’ birth in a different way.
And so began the start of the Woodsmall family’s new-fangled traditions. As Bethany walked home with Laura, she was amazed at how things could develop so quickly and into something so wonderful indeed. She tried though to process her decision — DC with Albert or home with Jeremy. It should be relatively simple. At least, so Bethany would think.
Laura interrupted her thoughts though, “I’m glad Momma decided to go back with Heather. I wanted you to myself.”
Forcing her mind to focus now on Laura and her needs, she turned to her sister, “Oh? Is something bothering you?”
“Well not exactly, but I just wanted to tell you that you were right.”
This was new coming from Laura. “About what?”
“I was so set against Isaac because I thought I would care for him and now, I think I have.”
Bethany stopped, pulling Laura to a halt beside her. “Isaac as in Isaac Bradley, the new doctor assistant?”
Laura laughed, “Yes, and you needn’t act so shocked. I should have thought you would have seen it coming.”
“I confess, Laura, I have been quite preoccupied. But is that what has been keeping you in town so often?”
“I suppose so. He asked me to dinner tomorrow night. Can you believe it? Again! Even after I so rudely refused the first time.”
“And you said…”
“Yes? I told him it would just be as friends and he said that is what he wanted.”
“I’m happy for you truly. Just don’t play the friend card too much or you may come to regret pushing that level.” Her thoughts suddenly wandered to Jeremy who had been her friend for years now. Albert had been too, but Jeremy had always been there.
“Thank you, Bethany. I am ever so glad I have you to talk to. What would I do without you here?” Laura leaned over to kiss Bethany on her cheek.
“Don’t be silly, where would I go?” But as soon as the words left her mouth, Bethany knew her answer. She could have been in DC with Albert. What if he had come for her right when the war ended? Would she be there in DC? Would she have missed this time with her sisters? Carolyn and Laura’s Christmas fight. Adam and Rosie’s first St. Lucia’s celebration. Laura discovering a beau, well just a friend.
Suddenly Bethany’s decision became clear as ever.
Unfortunately, Bethany didn’t make it to town right away. When she returned home from Carolyn’s, she ran into Poppa and proceeded to tell him all that had occurred. Being the wise Poppa that he was, Poppa advised Bethany to wait before rushing off.
“It is always best to consult God first before you rush head long into a decision that you may come to regret.”
Bethany agreed and as the days passed, she began to feel even more content with her decision. But she couldn’t quite act on it yet. Between Carolyn and Laura, she was kept busy with getting ready for Christmas. The making of new traditions seemed to pull them all closer together than ever before. They had a lot to be thankful for and a lot to celebrate. Why, this was the first Christmas that they were all together since the Civil War! It was a time to rejoice and Bethany was glad that they were finally able to do that.
The day before Christmas Eve, Bethany decided to go in to town. She just had to see Jeremy before he came to a conclusion on his own and hated her for it. Besides, in order to make Christmas perfect, she had to settle some things first.
As she tied her horse in front of the church in town, she wondered where she would possibly find Jeremy. Just as she was gathering up her courage to go to his house, Albert came toward her. Well, she might as well tell him first.
“Bethany, what a surprise! I was hoping to see you soon.” Albert reached down as if to hug her, but Bethany placed her hands on his arms to stop him.
“Albert, there’s something I must say.” Albert looked into her eyes and Bethany knew that he saw all that she had to say in her eyes. “I care for you, very much, as a friend. But I can’t marry you and move to DC.”
“What if I came back right away or if you got my letter? Would your answer be different?”
The way his eyes pleaded with her, hurt her, but she knew she was making the right decision. “It’s hard to know if things would’ve been different. But this remains the same, I can’t leave all those I love behind.” Including Jeremy, she now realized.
As if Albert could read her thoughts, he said, “It’s because of Jeremy, isn’t it? Nettie told me the two of you were courting.”
The need to defend herself appeared, “I promise, Albert, we didn’t begin courting till a few weeks ago. I was trying my hardest to wait for you, I was. But then he asked me, and it felt right. Oh it was quite rocky with my need to constantly be unsure, but then you came back. And…and I realized, I think I love him.” She looked up at Albert, praying that she hadn’t hurt him so.
He appeared wounded, but then quickly recovered himself. “He’ll make you happy, Bethy, I know he will. But please tell me that we can part as friends?”
She smiled then, “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Albert hugged her then, though Bethany couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t the same as when Jeremy hugged her. When he pulled back, there was a twinkle in his eye. “You best go tell him then, before he gets to feeling that he’s been rejected.”
Bethany followed his gaze to where Jeremy was sitting on the school steps. The need to go over to him was so strong, but she had to say good bye to Albert.
He beat her to it though, “Good bye, Bethany Woodsmall. I wish you all the best.”
Bethany touched his arm lightly, “Good luck in DC, Albert. You better be back to visit.”
<> <> <> <>
Jeremy sat on the school steps and tried not to watch his Beth talk with Albert. Well, not his Beth any long. Not after the way she smiled when she embraced him. The rumor he heard that Albert Graber returned to bring Bethany back to the city must be true and Jeremy could do no more. All his years of loving her but her heart would never be his and he must resign himself to the fact.
“Do you remember when I first walked into this schoolhouse?” Her angelic voice greeted him and when Jeremy looked up, he could hardly believe that it was Bethany standing there. She sat down next to him, “Why, it was only about five years ago and then I met you for the first time.”
He was in no mood for her reminiscing, “What are you doing here, Bethany?”
She almost seemed surprised when he didn’t call her Beth, but he was sure he was imagining it. “I needed to talk to you. Is now a good time?”
He shrugged, “If you’d like, but I can save you from speaking as I already know what you are going to say.”
Her eyes lit up and she grasped his arm, “Really? And what do you think?”
“I think I saw it coming. All your talk about Albert and now he’s here. Congratulations.” It was hard not to keep the bitterness out of his tone. But it was that, or he’d break down and he really didn’t want to do that. Since there was nothing more to say, he tried to stand but Bethany held him down. Her mouth was slightly agape and wonder filled her eyes.
“Jeremy, I believe you are entirely misunderstood. Yes, Albert’s back and yes, he proposed…”
Could this hurt any worse? “There’s nothing more to say, Bethany.”
“But there is! I thought you said you’d wait for me?”
“I can’t keep waiting to get jerked around. Besides, why wait when you made your choice?”
“Because I need you to. When Albert came back, I confess I wasn’t sure what I’d do. But it made me realize something. I couldn’t leave all the people I love to go to DC. I believe I’m falling in love with you, Jeremy, and I’m asking if you’d come back to me — again. I won’t make the same mistake twice…” She couldn’t explain any more before Jeremy was pulling her to him. Closing her eyes, he felt her lean into him, reveling in the way having her in his arms made him feel.
“Are you for real this time? Because I don’t think I can bear to lose you again?” His words whispered against her ear and Bethany could only nod and smile. “I love you so much, my Beth, and you better not think of going anywhere.”
“I don’t want to, because now I’ve finally found who holds my heart.”
And so diary, it seems as though this Christmas has been the best one so far! Though we are missing our Henry, nothing could possibly be better. Seated around the table, I realize how blessed I truly am. Everyone is laughing and the dinner has proved much different than our one at Thanksgiving. Carolyn and Scott even announced that they are expecting a baby sometime in early spring. What absolute wonderfulness! Laura is in much brighter spirits and I believe that deep down she is falling for her doctor. She says that he, Dr. Luke, and Katie are stopping by later this evening and she couldn’t be happier.
Adam and Rosie are running around and Adam is reveling in all the presents that he has received. This Christmas is a big deal for a little boy born during the war. How I wish that situation could have been exchanged for him.
And now I have my Jeremy beside me. He enjoyed a Christmas dinner with us and was even a part of Laura’s skit. I feel as though everyone is glad to see him here and I feel as though he has fit in wonderfully. Jeremy left for his family’s dinner for a bit, but now he is back to take me on a sleigh ride. I shall have to write more later. But I feel as though I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.
“Bethany! Jeremy’s back!” Laura’s voice carried up to the loft and she quickly put her diary away before hurrying down.
Bethany couldn’t contain the smile that spread across her face as she spotted Jeremy at the door.
His appeared to match hers. “Ready to go, Beth?”
“Always,” she grabbed her shawl and before heading out, turned to say good-bye. Poppa and Momma stood there with strange smiles on their faces and Laura looked ready to burst. Thinking that everyone was just happy, Bethany left without thinking anymore about it.
As she sat in the sleigh with Jeremy, Bethany slid her arm through his. “Have I told you that I am so happy I’m here with you?”
Jeremy laughed as he looked down at her. “You might have mentioned it once or twice.”
“Well, I am exceedingly happy to be here with you. There, now I’ve said it three times. Which tops you. I don’t think you uttered it once.”
“I suppose I should change that then,” but instead of echoing her words, Jeremy remained quiet. She wondered what he could possibly mean, but right now, she was content to just sit with him in the silence as the snow began fluttering to the ground.
“It’s snowing, Jeremy, on Christmas. I love that.” Bethany closed her eyes, feeling the snow fall on her face. A cold blast of air surrounded her and when she opened her eyes, she realized that Jeremy was now facing her in the sleigh and not just sitting next to her.
Jeremy clasped both of her hands in his, “I know we haven’t been courting long, but I’ve long since told you how long I’ve known you. But coming to this conclusion, I just feel that it is as right as anytime and I even had a chance to talk to your father before bringing you out here.” Bethany looked up and saw that they were right at the lake. The ice glistened over the water making it look picturesque.
Now, Jeremy was urging her from the sleigh until they were both standing in the snow. Bethany gave a slight shiver, “What are you up to, Jeremy?”
“You’ll see,” with a twinkle in his eye, Jeremy went to one knee, still clasping one of her hands. “I am exceedingly happy that I am here with you and I don’t ever want to be anywhere else. I promise I’ll love you forever. Marry me, Bethany Woodsmall. Say you’ll be my girl forever.” He withdrew a ring from his pocket, and though it was simpler than what Albert’s might have been, Bethany couldn’t imagine wearing anything else.
“Yes, oh yes, I’ll marry you! And I love you too!” As Jeremy slid the ring on her finger, Bethany fell in his arms before he had a chance to get out of the snow. Now, this Christmas couldn’t have been any better.
January 12, 1855
Around lunchtime, it started snowing pretty hard and around supper when I went out to do the barn chores, it was turning into a real blizzard. I kept Laura inside with Bethy when I went out, for I didn’t need to worry about her. As I went, I took a rope with me that attached to the main house. I was quite relieved when I finally reached the barn door and pushed it open. It was warm in the barn, most likely from all the animals. Still, it took me twice as long to do the chores since there was no one to help me.
As I was putting hay in the horses’ feed trough, the door flew open. A tall figure stood in the doorway. I gave a small scream and grabbed the pitchfork, which was right next to me.
The figure came closer with his hands in the air. “Relax, Carolyn, it’s only me.” It was Scott Harp.
With a sigh of relief, I lowered my pitchfork, “You know, you shouldn’t scare people like that.”
He gave a small laugh. “I reckon not.”
I continued my job at hand. “So, what are you doing here? I would have thought that Luke would’ve told you that Jesse wasn’t here.”
Scott started filling another trough with hay, “He did, but we both thought that it would be good for someone to check up on you girls.”
I turned to him. “We don’t need checking up on, and besides, with a blizzard, there is no need for anyone to put their lives at risk.”
Scott stopped what he was doing and looked my way. “Then just let the barn alone and stay inside and I won’t come anymore.”
That was ridiculous. “I can’t do that! They’ll die out here. What would Poppa and Jesse say when they return and all their animals are dead?”
“They’ll say that at least you and the girls were safe. Just think if you were to get lost out here. How would the girls find you?”
“My sentiments exactly, which is why I have a rope hanging from the house to the barn. And you do not, so you should get home before you get lost.”
“The blizzard might be over tomorrow anyway. There is no sense in arguing this.” I walked over to the door and swung it open. There was nothing but absolute whiteness out there. I couldn’t even see the rope hanging in front of me. I grabbed some pieces of wood before I grabbed to the rope with one hand. I turned then to look at Scott who was just standing there, watching me with a face that showed he disapproved. I tried to smile, but none would come. “Please shut the door when you leave.” Then I left, out into the whiteness all alone. The wind was so strong that I lost all of my wood pieces, but I didn’t stop for them. I could hold the rope easier now with two hands, though it was swinging rapidly back and forth.
Finally, I stumbled upon the steps. Crawling up, I pushed the door open and collapsed inside the house.
“Carolyn!” Bethy screamed upon my entrance. She and Laura pulled me in and settled me by the fire. It took me this long to get here, how would Scott possibly get home?
November 16, 1857
Today would have been Momma’s birthday. It has been three years since cholera invaded our house and Momma died. Carolyn seemed extra touchy, and she spent most of the day out at Momma’s grave. Poppa seems much happier since Momma Hannah’s been here. I believe that it is because we were always missing someone but now the “Momma” void has been filled. Momma can never be replaced, but Momma Hannah helps take our mind off of what we lost.
After we were all in bed, I could hear Carolyn crying from the next bed. Laura was asleep beside me, and I’m pretty sure the boys were too on the other side of the loft. I slipped out of bed and crawled in next to Carolyn.
She turned over to me. “Is everything all right, Bethy?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
I heard her sigh and several moments of silence passed between us before she spoke again. “How can you be all right with Momma not here? And Hannah? You and Laura call her ‘Momma Hannah’ like it makes no difference to you. I’m trying, Bethy, really, and I thought I was finally getting over Momma’s death. But now…” I could feel her crying beside me again.
What was I to do? Carolyn had never come to me asking for advice before. I lay my head on her shoulder. “I think you just need to open your heart and love Hannah for who she is. No one will ever replace Momma in our hearts, and I’m not all right with Momma not being here. I miss her terribly, but I think you will find that the pain ceases when you come to accept Hannah as another Momma.”
Carolyn didn’t say anything for the longest time, and at first, I thought I had hurt her feelings. Instead she leaned over and kissed my forehead. “When did you become so wise, Bethy dear? I will try to love Hannah as her own person, truly I will. You would’ve thought that after a year, I would have. It just takes me a long time.”
We quieted down then to go to sleep, but I could feel my mind going a hundred different directions. Did I “forget” Momma too easily? Should I still be holding on to the pain of losing her and not have accepted Momma Hannah so quickly? I feel I have no answers for my questions and I didn’t want to disturb Carolyn to ask her.
Friday, August 3, 1860
I am not a writer. I much prefer playing out of doors with my brothers than any inside task my sisters or Momma require of me. For whatever reason, my sisters believe that because they enjoy writing in a diary, I would as well. And now I am jumping ahead of myself. How Carolyn would scold me if she read this!
My name is Laura Anne Woodsmall. Today is my thirteenth birthday, which explains the gift of the diary from my sisters. Here I was, hoping for something like a horse to ride or seeds for my garden, but no. My sisters, Carolyn and Bethany, adore traditions. Carolyn is always reminding us of this tradition or that tradition. She and Bethany both received diaries for their thirteenth birthday and thus assumed that I would like one as well.
When I told Carolyn my worries, her eyes just danced. “Dear Laura. Stop being so pessimistic. You don’t have to write in it every day. Besides you may enjoy it.”
“Not everyone is a writer like you, Carolyn,” I countered, which brought laughter from the rest of my family.
Bethany gave me a hug, “Not to worry. You won’t turn into a writer, but please, try to think positively about it.”
And I am. I am trying to think as Carolyn or Bethany would, but I find that I am not like them in any way. I even asked Bethany what she wrote in her diary, because I was afraid I didn’t have anything to write about. She only told me that I would find my own style. Well, that wasn’t very helpful.
Deep breath. Think positive thoughts.
As I said, I have two older sisters. My oldest brother Jesse married Heather Bow in February, 1859. They now live behind my house and through the woods. It isn’t very far, especially for a girl like me.
My step-brothers, Henry and Jake, and I love to take walks through the woods. Well, they are more like adventures. They used to not like it when I tagged along, claiming that girls can’t do the same things that boys do. I soon proved them wrong. Now they pretty much allow me to go anywhere I want with them.
Rosemary is the most energetic of our family. She is my half-sister, born to my Poppa and step-Momma. For only being a year and a half, Rosemary certainly knows how to get around. She often follows me. But maybe that is because it is usually my job to keep an eye on her. When Momma and Bethany are in the kitchen, as soon as I finish chores or schoolwork, I am asked to watch her until dinner.
Carolyn is home some too, but now that she and Scott Harp are (finally!!) courting, we don’t see much of her. She is typically at the Harp’s house or else Scott is at our house. Carolyn visits Jesse and Heather as well. I think she is yearning for when she will have her own house. Though I suppose I will miss her quite a bit.
I am not sure how to end, so I guess… good night? Though it does seem quite strange to be wishing my diary good night.
A Special Thanks to
God…who has been my hope and rock. For sending His Son to earth and being the reason we celebrate Christmas.
Dad & Mom…for continuing to encourage me through all my writing endeavors and editing my work.
Shawn…for encouraging me to try my hand at writing a novella and keep pushing me for my best.
Tara…for editing my novella and catching my missing words.
Author of Finding Faith, Discovering Hope, and Accepting Change, Rachel Rittenhouse has been writing for as long as she can remember. At the age of 17, she published her first book Finding Faith and her dream of becoming a published writer finally came true. Since she grew up loving to read, Rachel remembers the struggle to find wholesome books worth reading for young girls growing in their faith. She strives to write that type of book and because she loves historical fiction, most of her books are set in a past time period. In addition to reading and writing, she enjoys playing clarinet, spending time with her family, going to her church youth group, and babysitting some pretty adorable kids! Rachel is working at her writing, while taking online courses through Liberty University.
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We traveled with the Woodsmall Sisters as they each came to age. Now for the first time, they are brought together in a heart-warming Christmas novella. Will changing traditions bring more grief then joy this Christmas season? Or will the Woodsmall sisters be able to embrace compromise? "Changing Traditions" is a stand-alone novella that follows the series "The Diaries of the Woodsmall Sisters" by Rachel E Rittenhouse.