I decided to live blog my novel this year, not just because I love WordPress so very much, but because what I am writing might help people get through a season which can be very lonely at times. I have dedicated my book to a woman named Karen, who lost her husband not many months ago. This first year of loss will be the hardest, through the holidays. It will get easier, I promise.
“A Little Book of Holiday Comfort”
Natalie had decided that she better get a pumpkin. Even if she wasn’t celebrating Halloween exactly. She wanted one because it reminded her of childhood and all the goodness and fun that she had had, once. The scent of her grandmother’s pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. The scent of her co-worker’s pumpkin bars, and pumpkin cookies. So many memories were tied to the orange globes she couldn’t separate them if she tried.
Her hand shook a little as she inserted the key to her car. She and Leo had always driven to the patch together over the years in their marriage. She hadn’t expected that he was ever going to leave her, and he had. Priscilla had taken her place. Priscilla was twenty eight and plump to Leo’s fifty eight grey haired years. Natalie looked at her wedding ring. Had it ever meant anything? What about the vows they had taken?
I’ll put the top down, she thought. I need the air.
The day was crisp and bright with Fall. All around her the trees were dropping their beautiful leaves in golds and yellows and russets. As she drove on through the painted autumn swirls she began to cry a little. Her life had been tied for so long to Leo that she had no idea who she was without him. He had made every single decision for the two of them. He had always chosen all the restaurants, chosen which things they could or could not do. He had been doing that for so many years that she no longer felt she had a mind of her own. The tears fell softly along her cheeks as she drove on, her blond hair ruffled by the wind. Like most women, she had dreamed that her husband was Prince Charming, and once upon a time he had been. Leo in his tuxedo, Leo carrying her over the threshold to their house, Leo laughing as he cracked the champagne open the first year she made a holiday meal to impress his parents. That very first year she had been a young bride.
The memories floated up like old photographs in a fixer bath, tinted sepia instead of black and white, as if time left rust stains on things. One by one the images drifted as she drove. So lost in thought was she that she couldn’t even hear the birds singing in the trees, but they were. All around her the birds were keeping an eye on her. Especially the little yellow finches who drifted after her car in a little flock.
I don’t think I’ll go to that patch Leo always liked, she thought. I never liked it anyway.
She took the route by the lake instead of the road they always took. The country smelled of cinnamon on the air and the lake had magic trees in the very center of it growing in the water. It was only three feet deep and thousands of migrating birds covered the surface. Swans. The most beautiful swans she had ever seen drifted in white clusters like angels. Leo had never liked the lake, and he had never been comfortable near water. Fishermen ringed the shore and she could see them casting off as she passed. It had been hard to get anything down for weeks after Leo told her he was moving in with Priscilla. Suddenly she was hungry, for hash browns. In fact the idea of having a good old fashioned country breakfast at a place the two of them had never gone together began to form in her mind like a smile. Hash browns and ketchup. There had to be a restaurant someplace out here in the country. The lake was breathtaking, its surface a pure mirror of the sky. It was hard to tell where the horizon began or where it ended so deep were the pools of clouds, above and below.
Hash browns and a biscuit with butter and honey, she thought.
Leo had always chosen for her, in the past. He had said how fat she was, and how she better watch it, but the truth of the matter was that she was quite thin, especially when it came to how Priscilla looked. Priscilla must have weighed 300 pounds. Somehow Natalie couldn’t see the two of them together, but Pris was so bossy — she would probably never take Leo seriously anyway. Pris was famous for her blue ribbon pies all around the county. The kind of blue ribbon pies that Natalie had never been able to make. It seemed like nothing she had ever done had been good enough for Leo. He had standards. If his standards had been hard, his mother’s had been twice that.
Tinkerville’s Cafe, said the hand painted sign. “Breakfast served all day.”
The road sign was all red and white checks done up in charming lettering, and a picture of a biscuit slathered in butter and honey graced it. When was the last time Natalie had felt charmed? Like so many women it must have been years. Years and years and years. She smiled as the car buzzed by. Six more miles. Six more miles and something new was awaiting her. Something honey scented.
“How y’all doing?” said the most made-up waitress Natalie had ever seen, as she pushed open the screen door. If a color could be assigned to her it was claret. Claret lips and claret nails and even claret hair. Like the cafe she was dressed in red and white checks too. On a high shelf was an old fashioned Raggedy Ann doll, propped between some very fancy china plates. Jessica Langtree had owned the cafe ever since her husband had passed. She had been feeding the fishermen at the lake for so many years, she could hardly recall a time she had not been carrying plates. “Honey, are you alright?” she asked. Her voice was as soft and sweet as a cinnamon roll. “Something must have made you cry, girl.”
The cafe was empty except for the two of them. “Sit anywhere you please,” she nodded. “That little table with the Bentwoods is my favorite.”
Natalie settled herself into the window seat at the prettiest little table she could ever remember seeing. A pumpkin was the centerpiece and it was filled with fall flowers and wheat straw. They were old fashioned paper flowers that had dried, she leaned forward and breathed in the last scents of summer sun.
“This is beautiful,” she said as Jessica handed her the menu.
“Do y’all garden?”
“No, I never tried.”
“Why honey I do not know what I would do without my flowers.”
The menu was worn, as if it had been touched by the hands of a million fishermen.
“I’d like some hash browns and a biscuit, please.”
“Comin’ right up.”
The sun was warm against her back at the window. It seemed to dry up that well of tears she had felt. Natalie let her eyes roam all over the walls of the little cafe. The fishermen had whittled images of the birds they had seen at the lake by the hundreds, and these graced the shelves that ran high along the old fashioned walls. Jessica watched her from a distance, as Sam her oldest friend and the oldest cook in these parts rustled up the food.
“This here is homemade catsup,” Jessica smiled. “Sam’s wife gave us the recipe many years ago.”
“Can I get you some coffee with that honey?”
“Oh, I forgot!”
The cafe felt like it was smiling at her, as if all the whittled birds were alive. They were because the souls of the fishermen had gotten into them and each man had left the mark of his hands on the wood.
“Those are for sale you know.”
“Look at this little swan.”
Jessica went to a glass cabinet and pulled down the smallest little swan. “Art made this one,” she said. “He passed last year.”
It had to be only five inches long, and five inches tall at the graceful neck.
“Everybody loved Art’s carvings.”
Natalie held it up in her palm against the light. How beautiful, she thought.
To say that these were the most delicious hash browns she had ever had would be an understatement. But to begin to talk about the biscuit? Now that was from the divine. It was so soft it was like taking a bite of a cloud drenched in honey and butter. Each bite she took was like taking in a smile from grace itself, the way that grace comes in small doses to the people who need it most, and how it always will, like a rainbow breaking through the clouds.
“Where are you headed?” Jessica asked as she tallied the bill at the old cash register.
“I’m looking for a pumpkin patch.”
“Oh there are about six of those on Highway 89 if you follow the road a bit.”
“Thank you,” Natalie smiled. “For the best hash browns I can remember, ever. And that biscuit!”
“I think I’d like to buy that little swan if you can part with it.”
“I think Art would like it, that it flew to you.”
“I’ll treasure this day always,” Natalie said. “Thank you.”
“Y’all come back anytime, you hear?”
It wasn’t until much later that night, as Natalie unwrapped the swan that she noticed Jessica had hand written a little recipe for her. It was for the biscuits that were the restaurant’s specialty.
“I like to use White Lily Flour for these,” it said. “That was what my momma used, and her memaw before her.”
Natalie’s pumpkins shimmered in the kitchen like golden globes. The little one was a sugar pie, and she was about to make some.