CHRISTMASTIME 1939 introduces the reader to the world of Christmastime. Set in Brooklyn, we meet the young widow Lillian Hapsey and her two sons, Tommy and Gabriel. Even though the Christmas season is just around the corner, Lillian has no Christmas spirit. Alone, unhappy with her job, and plagued by financial concerns, Christmas has become a burden to her. Overshadowing everything is the war in Europe. Despite the setbacks, Lillian is determined to give her sons a happy Christmas. Can she rekindle her girlhood love for the holiday season? Rediscovering her touchstone just might be the key to unlocking the excitement and magic of Christmas.
Lillian's long-buried dreams of being an artist are reignited when she stumbles upon an art supply store during an outing in the city. The environment fuels her passion to create. While there, she effortlessly steps into the artist's world, and her dreams burst into being once again.
Lillian's sister has given her a copy of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, to help her get into the Christmas spirit. But it seems to have the opposite effect on her. Reluctant to admit it, Lillian realizes that she identifies with the lonely old Scrooge.
One of Lillian's most pressing problems is finding babysitters for her two young sons. When her babysitter, Mrs. Peabody, refuses to babysit any more, it sets off a snowball chain of events, causing Lillian to miss a day of work and increasing her fear that she will lose her job. She had hoped that reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol to her boys would put them all in the Christmas spirit, but so far it has only made things worse.
The prequel to The Christmastime Series opens with Lilllian's mind very much on her recent trip to her sister's orchard. All the books in the series take place in the month of December, with the warmth and coziness of Thanksgiving setting the tone for home, family, tradition and the sense of celebration -- all in direct contrast to the war, which makes its presence felt as the series progresses.
A stroll down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue in the falling snow becomes a way to welcome in the holiday for Lillian Hapsey. The magic of a candy store especially lifts her spirits and blends the past, present, and future.
As a widow with two small children, one of Lillian's ongoing problems is finding babysitters for Tommy and Gabriel while she works. Lillian's favorite babysitters are the Sisley sisters, Sylvia and Cynthia. They offer piano lessons to the neighborhood children and sometimes help out with babysitting. They temporarily refused to watch Tommy and Gabriel after discovering that Gabriel had spun their piano stools up and down right before a lesson, readjusting the heights, which disconcerted them for the rest of the day.
On more than one occasion, Izzy's exuberance pulls Lillian out of her tendency to despair. Izzy has convinced Lillian to join her and some friends that evening - and it turns out to be a momentous evening for one of them. Throughout the series, Izzy encourages Lillian to embrace the challenges of life - and to do so with gusto. As Lillian often thinks, "Everyone should have a friend like Izzy."
Years of relentless fighting have strained the country, and the December news of the Battle of the Bulge crushes the hope that war in Europe will soon be over. Lillian Drooms pushes ahead with her career as an artist while she anxiously awaits the arrival of her, husband, Charles for Christmas, and her friend, Izzy, finally gives Mr. Rockwell the heave-ho – or does she? And on the farm in Illinois, Ursula’s troubling situation reaches a climax and is intensified by the arrival of her brother Jimmy, home on furlough from the Pacific. Among pervasive loss and disappointment, is there room for Christmas hope and happiness?
Mrs. Kuntzman, and her cooking, appears in every one of the Christmastime books. In Christmastime 1944, she unexpectedly meets a new friend.
Tommy and his friends have finally found a part for Gabriel in their school play -- but soon become concerned that they have made a mistake. Gabriel and his friend Billy, also in the play, love nothing more than to make each other laugh. Will they ruin the carefully crafted play -- the highlight and grand finale of the school program?
Charles Drooms, after being away from Lillian and the boys for the better part of the past few years, is now on his way home on leave. His health and his spirit have been battered by war, but his love for Lillian is stronger than ever.
Though Ursula has always prided herself on her honesty, the past year has forced her to dissemble, something that doesn't come naturally to her. Though on the outside she is all smiles and gaiety, inside she suffers from remorse, fear, and sadness.
Christmastime 1944 continues the story of Ursula. One year has made her wiser, sadder, and, by necessity, more secretive.
Christmastime 1944, the 5th book in the series, opens with the hope that the war in Europe will soon be over. The war has spilled over into everything - including Lillian's job at Rockwell Publishing, where she works as an illustrator. Most of her projects involve the war in one way or another - whether for posters for scrap drives and war bonds, or the simple sale of soap.
In Christmastime 1943: A Love Story, Book Four, the war intensifies, the Christmas season arrives, and love is kept alive on the home front. In New York City, Lillian Drooms struggles on her own while her husband, Charles, is away at sea. She volunteers with “Artists for Victory” at a hospital for wounded soldiers, but soon begins to doubt her ability. Meanwhile, on a farm in Illinois, the beautiful seventeen-year-old Ursula is torn between her sense of duty and the power of love. The source of her deepest yearning and her deepest hatred lies in Friedrich, one of the German POWs recently hired to work on their farm. The Christmas season brings its charm and warmth – but can love survive in these turbulent, fragmented times?
Traveling by train at night, Lillian opens her purse and reaches for the worn letter from her husband.
Ursula storms out of the kitchen on hearing that her mother has arranged for German POWs to work on their farm. Jessica, two years younger than Ursula, later brings dinner up to her sister and tries to reason with her. But with one beloved brother recently killed by the German army and three other brothers in harm's way, Ursula can’t bring herself to accept her mother’s decision.
In the opening chapter, Christmas arrives on the home front for the third year, while the war rages on. Though times are bleak, Lillian's friend, Izzy, chases away the weariness of war with her spirited determination and her joy in the Christmas season.
Lillian, an illustrator at Rockwell Publishing, is working on a project entitled Women in the Workforce. For the latest series of posters, women in farm production, she bases some of her drawings on the teenage daughters of Kate (Charles’s sister who has a farm in Illinois). But the elder daughter, seventeen-year-old Ursula, proves problematic for the assisgnment.
I used the beauty of a fall day to help set the tone for this pivotal scene with Ursula. To escape the subject of war, which reminds her of the death of her brother, Ursula instinctively seeks out beauty as an antidote. The autumn day is a mix of melancholy and loveliness that stirs up her yearning for life, and places her in a state of receptivity. The elements of tension – war, beauty, sadness, loss, desire – mirror the conflict she is about to experience for herself.
In Christmastime 1942: A Love Story, Book Three, the Axis forces are winning, and America struggles to find its footing in the war. Men leave to fight in droves and women join the workforce. New York City vibrates with energy, romance, tension, and urgency. Yet love burns brighter than ever, bringing people together and giving them hope for the future. The famous Stage Door Canteen in Times Square provides the background for one of these romances – between the proud, but wounded, Edith Mason and the Shakespearean actor, Desmond Burke.
Lillian and Izzy, happy that the reserved Edith Mason seems to be stepping out of her shell, discuss what it is about Edith that sets her apart from other women. As usual, Izzy's insights are a little more accurate than Lillian's.
The beautiful, but self-conscious, Edith Mason has been persuaded to volunteer at the Stage Door Canteen, where Izzy also volunteers. Lillian finds the unexpected results hard to imagine. And yet the war forced many people to take on new roles. Women were pushed out of their comfort zones and encouraged to take on new challenges - and many of them thrived.
One of the things I kept coming across when doing research for the early WWII years, was the impression of how sexually charged the atmosphere was. To reflect this mood in the 1942 book, all the characters in the opening chapter are rushing off to be with their loved ones. Lillian’s friend, Izzy Briggs, can barely contain her flirtatious exuberance, though her heart is on her volunteer efforts with the GIs.
One of the greatest challenges when writing about the early years of WWII was not to play the end. It's hard to imagine that WWII could have ended in other way than with an Allied victory - and yet at the time, no one knew what the future held. Nevertheless, a heady optimism characterized the nation in the early days, one fueled by sheer determination.
In this scene Robert Mason walks home from work. It's the Christmas season but signs of the war pull his spirit down. A physical condition prevents him from enlisting, causing him a tremendous amount of guilt.
Christmastime 1941: A Love Story, Book Two, opens two days after Pearl Harbor has been attacked. War has just been declared, and New York City is in a state of chaos and panic as it tries to prepare for possible attacks. Following the same characters established in Book One, and introducing a few new ones, it tells of the power of old loves, new loves, and friendship. It continues the love story of Lillian and Charles, the adventures of Tommy and Gabriel, and depicts two bittersweet romances: that of Izzy and her fiancé Red, and that of the office manager at Drooms Accounting, sixty-year old Mrs. Murphy, and her Brendan.
Memories of summer occasionally surface in my WWII Christmastime series, where most of the action is set in the cold and snow of December. Summer memories of a gentler and safer time soften the harsh realities of war-time living. One memory in particular evokes the beauty and longing of late summer. In Christmastime 1941, Charles takes Lillian and her two sons to visit his sister Kate, who lives on a farm in Illinois. Lillian and Kate sit on the farmhouse porch in the late afternoon.
With war now a certainty, Lillian is on edge with worry and fear. Will they be bombed? Will her children be safe? Will Charles re-enlist? On a cold, snowy night, she takes a hot bath and adds a few drops of lavender oil to the water. And like magic, she is back in the tranquility and beauty of the previous summer.
In the cold of winter, Lillian looks back to the peacefulness of summer to help quell her fears of a country now at war. A particular memory of their visit to Charles's sister in the Midwest comes to her mind.
Rather than go home to an empty apartment, sixty-year-old Mrs. Murphy decides to do some Christmas shopping for her great-nieces and -nephews. She takes the escalator to the North Pole, the toy department, and takes a few moments to enjoy the spectacle of Santa and the children.
Seven-year-old Gabriel has ventured to the tenement where his friend Tiny and his brother Marcel live. Though the room is cold and barren, that doesn't dampen the excitement Tiny feels on remembering Christmas at the orphanage. Some readers say this scene feels very Dickensian, but many of the details are straight from the stories that my mom and her brother told about the orphanage they stayed at when they were young, after the death of their mother.
Sixty-year-old Mrs. Murphy discussed the days after Pearl Harbor with her colleague, Mr. Mason. Though New York City, and the country, is in turmoil, she is not to be cowed by the news.
As a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lillian has cut her vacation short and has returned home. In this scene, her friend, Izzy, describes what it was like in New York City. Though Izzy is constantly worried about her fiance, who lies wounded in England, she is determined to do her part.
Lillian and Charles were in upstate New York when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. They were visiting Lillian's sister, Annette, in order to announce their engagement. Though the threat of war was a constant in their lives, they were nevertheless stunned by the attack from Japan.
Sixty-year-old Mrs. Murphy is both excited and flustered to have come across her old love from long ago. Her practical side insists that it means nothing - but the girl in her once again feels the magic of life that always surrounded her time with Brendan.
Lillian's neighbor, Mrs. Willson, is a take-charge woman who has volunteered as air raid warden. Mrs. Kuntzman, who lives in the same building as Mrs. Wilson, is the babysitter for Lillian's two boys, Tommy and Gabriel, and is equally strong minded. Lillian finds herself caught in the middle of their dispute.
In this scene in Central Park, seven-year-old Gabriel hooks up with his new friend, Tiny Tomorrow. Tiny is a wizened, thirteen-year-old boy who has spent much of his life in an orphanage.
Christmastime 1940: A Love Story, Book One in the series, is set in New York City against the backdrop of impending war. It tells of the unlikely romance of a struggling young mother who is trying to make a fresh start in life and a man who has lost his connection to humanity. The curmudgeonly Charles Drooms is content with his life as the owner of a successful accounting firm. However, when the beautiful widow, Lillian Hapsey, and her two young sons move down the hall from him, his narrow world is shaken. Three converging forces – Lillian, the Christmas season, and a mysterious little boy – combine to stir up powerful memories, forcing Drooms to make a life-altering decision.
Children play a big role in bringing Lillian and Charles together. Their playfulness and zest for life can't help but spill over onto Lillian, and even onto the curmudgeonly Charles, or "Old Man Drooms," as the neighborhood children call him.
Though Lillian Hapsey works as a telephone operator at Rockwell Publishing, she has the heart and mind of an artist. When her husband died several years ago, she set aside her dreams of becoming an artist and found work in order to support herself and her two young sons. She learned to be practical and has succeeded in making a comfortable home for them. And yet her moments of deepest connection are those that speak directly to her artist self, when the world becomes infused with beauty and meaning, as in this scene.
Several readers have pointed out similarities between Christmastime 1940 and A Christmas Carol, particularly in the character of Charles Drooms. This is actually a happy coincidence since my story was originally a winter story. When I made the decision to compress the time and action, it made sense to place the story specifically at Christmas – and the series was born!
Lillian Hapsey, mother of two young boys, has moved to Manhattan after several years of lonely widowhood. She has a new job, a new apartment, and is determined to make a fresh start in life.
The Red String Curio Store appears throughout the Christmastime Series. In the first book, it serves as a sort of refuge for Mr. Drooms. When memories from his past threaten to surface, he finds solace by wandering the aisles of the store. He steps into a dreamy timelessness that puts his mind at ease. Key themes of love and passion, and aspects of Lillian and Drooms, are introduced by objects in the store.
I opened the first book of the Christmastime series, Christmastime 1940, with the sense of uncertainty – from the weather to the headlines in the newspapers. Yet I also wanted a sense of hope and optimism – to counter the threat of war that pervaded everything. So along with the heavy skies, there is the promise of snow; along with the wounded vets, there is the excitement of the approaching Christmas season; and along with the fear of impending war, there is a mother’s tender love for her children. In this scene, and throughout the series, it is always human love, human relationships, that provide the source of hope.
Turning fifty opens up Miranda’s life in ways she hasn’t expected, forcing her to come to terms with both old and new concerns. Chief among these is the mystery surrounding the tenant who is renting the family garden house for the summer. Is he the nice man he appears to be? Or is he the reason behind her increasingly disturbing dreams?
Miranda tries to find the reason behind her increasingly disturbing dreams. She feels compelled to do something about them -- but what? Her husband, Ben, is growing frustrated with what he sees as his wife's new obsession.
Inspired by an older woman who lives life with purpose and passion, Miranda resolves to get back into shape and to rekindle her old dreams. In the spirit of celebration, she decides to surprise her husband with an al fresco dinner on their deck overlooking the garden.
Miranda puzzles over a disturbing dream she had the night before about a man named Jasper. Looking down at the garden house, she begins to wonder, for the first time, if the dream has anything to do with their new tenant - the somewhat shy and mysterious William Priestly. In this scene, she and her husband are in their living room in the evening. Miranda tries to ignore the feeling of unease she has had lately.
Miranda wants to move on with her life but is unsure how to do that. Her plans to clean out closets and organize the house has left her with a sense of having no purpose. Her children have grown up and moved away - and though she misses them, she must accept the fact. She turns to her garden for solace.
Part of Miranda's preparation for getting her life back on track is to clean out the house. She drops off several bags of clothes and other items to a shelter for teens. She comes across a pretty, young girl there who is working on a garden. Miranda stops to encourage her.
The way people respond to Miranda's garden tells her a lot about them. When she shows her garden to the prospective new tenant, William Priestly, Miranda becomes sure that he will be the perfect summer tenant.
As an artist, Miranda is always trying to capture the fleeting, the ephemeral, the elusive. She lives in two worlds - one that is earthy and tangible, the other that is more ethereal. It is in her artwork - whether painting or gardening - that the two worlds intersect.
Miranda thinks back on her younger days and is filled with great longing. Her life used to be more dream infused, more romantic, more full of hope. She misses that younger version of herself and wonders if it is gone, or if it is perhaps lying dormant deep within her.
I lived in Seattle for seven years and loved the Sound, the hills, the distinct neighborhoods. I even loved the rain that kept everything lush and green all year long. The growing season for flowers was wonderfully long. It started in February and lasted well into early winter - it seemed there was always something in bloom. It was a time of my life when I lived surrounded by flowers - at least that's how I remember it. In this scene, Miranda gives her new tenant a tour of her Seattle garden. One of her greatest pleasures, as with all true gardeners, is sharing her garden with others.
Miranda approaches everything she does with an artist's eye, even setting the breakfast table. Though this impulse is largely unconscious, she feels a twinge of discord when she falls short of her own vision.
Miranda is a gardener, an artist, wife, and mother. She has pushed aside her dreams for many years, but they are always there, percolating up, just waiting for her to take up where she left off. In this scene she prepares the garden house for a summer tenant.
The novel opens in the evocative time between night and morning. Like the dream world of night, it's a place that often provides insight for Miranda and allows for another way of knowing. It nourishes the artist in her and she is drawn to it, but because it is so elusive and sometimes disturbing, Miranda seeks out the solid, the earthy, the tangible - cooking, gardening, using her hands to create. The tension between these two sides of her serves to heighten the mystery surrounding the man who is renting the garden house for the summer.
Miranda's children have recently moved away and she finds the void unsettling. She had vague plans to fix up the garden house as a studio, but her husband has already rented it out to a tenant for the summer. Though she argued with her husband over it, she convinces her friend and neighbor, Paula, that a delay in her plans is exactly what she wants.
Throughout The Garden House, Miranda is disturbed by troubling dreams -- that began when a new tenant moved into the garden house. In this scene, Miranda has decided to get some exercise instead of worrying about the dreams -- but the pool and dog she comes across, so like the ones in her dream, convince her that she's onto something.
New Year's is a time for both reflection and celebration. In a pensive moment from The Garden House, Miranda re-evaluates the past several months and concludes that it is not too late to live the life of her dreams. Her reflection leads directly to celebration.
These six interrelated pieces tell the story of Maggie, a vibrant individual who is also Everywoman: daughter, dreamer, nurse, friend, wife, mother. Spanning over eighty-five years, they follow her from her youth in Depression-era Illinois to the time when she ventures forth to 1940’s Hollywood and coastal California, and her return to the rural Midwest. Bittersweet and poignant, celebratory and inspiring, these stories portray the exuberance of youth, the delight of friendship, the adventure of going forth into the world, and the disappointment and heartache that are a part of life.
An incident from her twenties, when she was a nurse in California, still haunts the elderly Maggie. A brief, but powerful connection with a stranger lodged in her heart and stayed with her throughout her life.
Maggie, now eighty-five years old, thinks back to one of the happiest times of her life, when she was a young nurse in California.
The Dreams of Youth tells the life story of the indomitable Maggie. Through tragedies such as the death of her mother, being raised in an orphanage, and various disappointments throughout her life, Maggie never loses her zest for living. Nothing stops her from trying to get the most out of life, from giving to the world whatever she has, and from finding beauty and laughter in every day.
Seeing her neighbor, a fellow WWII veteran, causes Maggie to reflect on her husband, Frank. The recognition of time served, even though it was long years ago, links Maggie to her neighbor, and stirs up memories from her past.
Maggie and Rita have made it out of the Midwest and are living their dreams in California. The following scene, as with most of the book, is based on actual events from my mom’s life. She lived her life as an adventure and woke every day with the subtle expectation that something wonderful just might happen.
Seven brief tales depict various expressions of love: unwanted, unrequited, passionate, and enduring — from the bright beginnings of youth, through the doubts and changes of middle age, to the comfort and familiarity of old age.
For the most part, the short stories in Seven Tales of Love are arranged by age (young love, middle age love, mature love). The narrator of the final tale, Solomon Grundy, is an old man, looking back over his life. Though the tale plays off the rather grim nursery rhyme of the same name, this version is not about the brevity of life, but instead celebrates the power of undying love.
In this story, the realization slowly comes to this young couple that things just aren't working, even though they are in love. Subtle differences, almost indefinable, keep them apart.
In "Caramelized Onions," Suzanna, a friend of Olivia's, thinks that Olivia has been mourning the death of her husband for long enough and attempts to set her up.
In this, the shortest story in the collection, a woman is startled to discover that the beauties of youth still cry out to her.
This excerpt is from the story "Offering," in which a simple incident forever changes a young woman's romanticized view of life, and of herself.
"Married on Wednesday" The old-timer, Solomon, reminisces about first meeting his wife, Rose.
Every now and then an old timer pops up in my stories. I was privileged to know a few of them in my small town when I was growing up. They were the salt of the earth: hard working, high minded, generous, and lovers of life. I used the somewhat grim fairytale of Solomon Grundy and gave it a different spin, based on one of these old timers.
This is the opening to the very short story entitled, "Caramelized Onions." An intimate dinner party over the holidays is the setting for this tale.
There is a quality about autumn that is inherently nostalgic. The opening of this short story, Juliet, opens with a surge of youthful optimism, in part due to the crisp charm of the fall day. Yet autumnal melancholy and the sense of time passing and of getting older also infuses the story.
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