"What do you see in these things?”
Sheila’s gaze moved to the Christmas ornament her sister Samantha held up. A little brown mouse held a sprig of mistletoe over its head; its lips were puckered up and its eyes tightly closed. She loved that piece. “What’s not to like?” she countered. She bent back down and carefully unwrapped another Woodland ornament.
“It’s a rodent, Sheila!”
The wrapping paper revealed a little brown bunny pulling a winter sled and two cute baby skunks under a blanket. “No, it’s a cute Foster’s Woodland creature; it’s a collectible.”
“Just because the signature on the bottom says ‘Foster’s Woodland Collectibles’ does not make it cute.”
Samantha placed the ornament on a low-hanging tree branch with two fingers as if it carried some kind of disease.
“No, cute is in the eye of the beholder, and I say they are cute.”
Samantha’s laughter tinkled throughout the room. She flipped her blond hair over a slender shoulder, winked, and then teased, “Is that why you still don’t have a boyfriend? No one’s cute enough?”
Sheila took the ribbing in stride. She stuck out her tongue at her baby sister. “For your information, I haven’t found a man who’s nearly as sweet as these little critters.” She hung the rabbit and baby skunks on the tree.
From the corner of her eye, Sheila watched her older sister, Sarah, waddle into the room. Sarah and her husband, Dave, were expecting their second child in two months.
“Well, maybe if you got your nose out of a book for a little while, you’d find a husband,” Sarah snipped.
With her hands on her hips, Samantha confronted Sarah. “We were only joking. No need to get ugly.”
“Who’s getting ugly? I’m just thinking Sheila deserves to be as happy as you and I are.” She patted her well-rounded stomach and smiled.
It was the same every year. Sheila shook her head. Samantha in her playful way would tease about the lack of a husband in her life, and then their sister Sarah would take it to a more serious level. She sighed. “Books are how I make a living, Sarah.”
“I know, but do you have to become a recluse to be a writer?” Sarah lowered her body into a chair, all the while protecting her stomach with her right hand.
Unlike Samantha, Sarah had a bob-style haircut and dark brown hair. At the moment, with her rounded tummy, she reminded Sheila of the purple character from that movie where the boy ends up with the chocolate factory.
“Did the doctor say if the baby was going to arrive before Christmas?” Sheila hoped the change of subject would take her sister’s mind off their current discussion.
Sarah sighed. “No, he insisted this baby is going to arrive around New Year’s.”
“I’m sorry, sis.” Samantha knelt beside Sarah’s chair and placed her hand on her sister’s bulging belly.
A twinkle entered Sarah’s eye. “I bet I’ll have this baby before Sheila can find a date for the family Christmas Eve party.” She winked at their youngest sister.
Sheila answered in a dismissive voice. “You know I don’t play those kinds of games.” She set the box of ornaments to the side and stood. “How about a cup of hot chocolate, a nice fat sugar cookie, and a change of subject?”
A couple of hours later, Sheila returned to the living room to finish decorating her Christmas tree. With both her sisters on their way home to their own homes, she could enjoy her collection and dream of the many stories they conjured up in her mind. Sheila’s creativity seemed to explode with ideas when she unwrapped the ornaments she loved.
Sheila turned on the music and hummed along with “Away in a Manger” as she pulled a tiny squirrel decorating a Christmas tree from the brown wrapping paper. She smiled at the delightful sight within her hand. In her mind’s eye, she could see the squirrel’s little home. It stood behind the small Christmas tree he worked to decorate. Colorful Christmas lights decorated the tiny window in the bark of the tall oak tree.
The sound track changed, and soft, whimsical music filled her ears as her mind continued to picture the scene. Tiny rabbits, mice, badgers, raccoons, and other forest animals joined the little squirrel, and they held hands and swayed to the tune of “Silent Night.” The star on the top of the little tree shone brightly.
She shook her head to clear it of the joyful scene. “It’s time to write the stories I have placed in your heart.”
Every year the same thought entered her mind. This year she sat down and looked up at the tree. All kinds of Woodland animals filled the branches. Over the years, she had thought up many stories for each ornament.
“I really should write stories about you guys.” She spoke aloud to the tree and the many ornaments that covered it.
Sheila picked up the phone and dialed her editor, Erin Walters, in New York. When her editor picked up, she said. “Hi, Erin. I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time.” Sheila’s gaze moved to the clock.
In New York, it was 4:00 p.m.
“No, I have a few minutes. What can I do for you, Sheila?”
“Well, normally I’d put this in writing, but I wanted to run it by you first.” Sheila and Erin had become good friends over the past five years. She was thankful she could call her on a moment’s whim and discuss book ideas. Most editors were too busy for such phone calls.
“I’m all ears.”
“I’d like to do a set of Christmas stories based on Foster’s Woodland Collectibles ornaments. You know the ornaments I collect?” She held her breath and waited.
“Sure, I bought you one last year. Tell me about your ideas.”
Sheila was breathless when she hung up the phone. While talking to her editor, she’d gotten excited about the stories and what messages of faith she could impart in them. Her excitement had spilled over into the phone line.
Erin told her she’d love to publish such stories, but Sheila had to get permission from the creator of the ornament collection and a synopsis with multiple stories sketched out to take to the pub board next week.
She looked about her living room. The newly decorated
Christmas tree with its warm lights and friendly forest creatures gave the room a homey feeling. Her gaze moved to the fireplace where she’d hung stockings for her sisters and herself. It, too added warmth to her cozy home.
As she made her way to the kitchen, she thought about her life. Being the middle child in a three-girl family often had its drawbacks. Like today when Sarah demanded she find a husband by New Year’s. Why couldn’t her sisters understand that God hadn’t blessed her with just the right man?
The smell of freshly baked sugar cookies greeted her as she entered her kitchen. A smile crossed her face at the many gingerbread men that decorated the room. They danced on the curtains, offered goodies from the canisters, and graced the faces of several plates that adorned one wall.
Gingerbread men and women cookie figurines sat on the counters and ledges. The set of salt and pepper shakers on her stove even resembled the fanciful men. Gingerbread-men plates were placed about the room holding sugar cookies that were decorated like Christmas trees, Santa’s, flowers, presents, and angels. Even a few gingerbread men filled the plates.
“What man would put up with my weird collections?” Sheila asked as she came into the room.
A large tabby cat answered as she meowed and stretched in one of the chairs. She extended her claws and made paw prints on her plush pillow.
“That’s what I think, too, Chrissie. Most men are too serious for my taste. They don’t like cartoons, chocolate, sugar cookies, or fat cats.” Sheila filled her teakettle with water and placed it on the back burner of the stove.
Chrissie sniffed and raised her tail up into the air. Her nose went up, as well, and she stalked out of the room. “I wasn’t calling you a fat cat,” Sheila called after her. “And some men like cats, some like cookies, and some even enjoy cartoons, but I’ve yet to find one who likes everything I do.” She shook a box of cat treats.
The cat stuck her head back around the corner. Sheila poured a small pile of the treats into the cat’s bowl. “Come on. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply you were a fat cat.” She stroked the feline’s back as Chrissie nibbled at her delicacies.
“I should probably check online and see if I can find information on how to get in touch with Mr. Foster.” She stood and took a sugar cookie off one of the many plates that were sitting around. Sheila nibbled at the yellow frosting of a daisy shaped flower.
The teakettle began to steam on the stove. She laid the cookie down on a small saucer, picked up her favorite Christmas mug, and added hot-chocolate mix to it. Then she added the water and stirred, all the while thinking about Morgan Foster.
He was probably an old man with a beard and round belly. She imagined he had a love for nature and spent long hours in the woods. Sheila pictured him petting a deer and feeding it an apple.
As the scent of hot cocoa filled her nose, Sheila laughed. He sounded a lot like Santa Claus. She dropped six mini marshmallows into the cup. After adding a couple of more cookies to the saucer, she picked up her large mug of hot chocolate and headed for her office.
The room welcomed her like an old friend. The artificial fireplace warmed the room. She took a seat at the desk that faced a large, open window. The tree outside reminded her of the little squirrel. She rolled her mouse to make the computer screen come to life then typed in “Foster’s Woodland Collectibles.”
Sheila knew stores carried the ornaments and figurines, but where did one look for the artist? Sheila put a plus symbol after Collectibles and added Artist. The screen flickered for several moments before pulling up several Web links.
Up popped www.Fosterswoodlandcollectibles.com onto the screen. She clicked on the link and was pleasantly surprised to see a picture of a man with unruly brown hair and smiling blue eyes appear on the screen. “Probably his grandson,” she told a meowing Chrissie.
As she read aloud, her eyes grew round. “The creator of Foster’s Woodland Collectibles lives in Snowbound Village, Connecticut.”
She looked over at Chrissie and whispered, “Oh, he lives here in Snowbound and is going to be at the mall today!”