A 1632 Christmas
Welcome to the Holidays in the 1630s! Sit down, pull up some hot tea and spend some time with friends! The holidays are in full swing all over. Some people are falling in love, some people are learning new ways to celebrate, and others are even having babies.
Welcome to the Holidays in the 1630s! Sit down, pull up some hot tea and spend some time with friends!
The holidays are in full swing all over. Some people are falling in love, some people are learning new ways to celebrate, and others are even having babies. Did you know Santa must be a Lapp because he has reindeer? Did you know that Krampus really doesn’t like bullies? Some people are learning new ways to look at Christmas. And up-time action videos are really important to Christmas. Then there is Christmas in Japanese California and the Indian Ocean. A young Jewish boy learns about traditions not yet invented. And we must not forget the union activity in Nuremberg.
So join us as we welcome in a few new babies and puppies, say goodbye to a grandfather and spend the holidays with us.
Excerpt from: A Christmas in the Wonderland Isles
by Garrett W. Vance
Port Looking Glass, Dodo Island
Early December, 1637
Pers watched the sunrise over the Indian Ocean. Sol’s bloated red orb glistened as if wet from crawling out of the tepid waters. Port Looking Glass’ sprawl of diverse structures, nearly all painted in rich falu red, took on a mysterious mien in the vivid morning glow, like some storied city of the ancients even though the colony was just barely two years old.
Pers sat on a picnic table in front of Pam’s Bird Barn, the nerve center of The Wonderland Colonial Agricultural and Ecological Institute. A dodo came ambling across the park-like grounds hoping Pers might have a treat for it. The affable young Swede usually did. He reached into his pocket to pull out some nuts that he kept on hand for the odd, flightless birds that had become everyone’s darling pets. At their benefactor Princess Kristina’s insistence the island was named for them, and saving them from extinction was the reason they were all here, which Pers thought only served to embolden the ever-hungry creatures in their quest for handouts.
“Here you go my friend.” The dodo greedily gobbled up his offering, then stared at him with its always inscrutable yellow eyes. “Sorry, that’s it for now.”
His adopted mother, mentor, and best friend Pam Miller, the royally appointed leader of the expedition and former governor of the colony, had tried to discourage the practice of feeding the ‘wild’ animals at first, but had eventually given up. “If people think of them as beloved pets it will help protect them better than any laws will.” The dodo’s lack of natural fear had cost them their very existence in the up-time world, but here, under the creed the colony held sacred, it would help ensure a happy future for the outlandish creatures. It had been Pam’s dream and her mission to do so, and Pers was proud to play a part in that success.
The front door of the nearby staff dormitory opened and out stepped Dorothea Weise, Director of the Wonderland Colonial Natural Resource and Wildlife Service. Dorothea was a very attractive, fit young German woman twenty-one years of age, irrepressibly cheerful, thoroughly organized, and smart as a whip. Her large, luminous hazel eyes shining out from beneath a magnificent head of curly brown hair were still adjusting to the growing brightness of the day. She cupped a hand over them to scan the area for Pers.
Pers had heard some people in the staff refer to Dorothea as “chipper,” and “perky,” which was certainly true. To Pers’ mind she was simply wonderful, top to bottom, inside and out. Today Dorothea looked as stylish and sporty as ever, clad in up-time-style khaki shorts and shirt with knee-high leather boots. As far as Pers was concerned Dorothea could wear a gunny sack and still look like a goddess. He forced himself not to stare at her. Dorothea was the subject of the greatest enthusiasm he had ever felt in his young life, and everything about her fascinated him utterly. Pers was shy by nature, but in her company he had to work very hard to overcome a kind of mental paralysis that only she could manifest in him, overwhelming him by her very presence. Trying to match her cheerful air and not looking at her too much seemed to help.
“Oh, time to go!” Pers told the still-hopeful dodo. Pers, who was one year younger than Dorothea, unfolded his long legs and stood, stretching to his full 6′ 3″ height, and gave her a welcoming wave. He was wearing up-time style blue jeans and a white cotton shirt, his long, light-blond hair tied back in a blue ribbon. It was a sensible, but flattering, look on the lean young man. “Dorothea! I am over here!” he called out.
“Pers! Good morning, Secretary!” she replied in her dulcet alto voice as she marched over to meet him.
When Pam had used her gubernatorial powers to appoint Pers to the post of Secretary of the Interior (which he suspected she secretly found highly amusing considering he had spent nearly his entire life at sea, and nepotism be damned!) she had put her trust in him to continue her good works. There was now a Pam-sized hole in the world that he and Dorothea were doing their level best to fill. He couldn’t do it without Dorothea’s boundless enthusiasm, she was truly a godsend. Pam had recognized that and paired them together, yet another thing that Pers was infinitely grateful to the woman for.
“Dorothea! Good morning, Director!”
Over the last year they had worked so closely together that an initial polite and professional camaraderie had evolved into a real friendship between them that didn’t require such formalities. They only used their official titles on each other out of amusement, and, perhaps, to remind themselves that “Yes, that’s really us! A couple of big shots!” The fact was they held very important positions with stewardship over all three of the Wonderland Isles, formerly called the Mascarenes up-time. Fortunately, the two of them were popular among the colonists thanks to their utter sincerity and abundant good nature. Pam had often said she had chosen well.
Today they were headed out on one of their regular surveys, a perk of the job that Pers relished more than any other—an entire day with Dorothea all to himself. They were going to study the flood plains to the north of town, the direction that Port Looking Glass with all of its human habitation, animal husbandry, and agricultural needs was destined to expand in. It was mostly grassland, some of which would be preserved as such, but some of which would have to be given over to the needs of the colony—a small price to pay considering that they were here to prevent the wholesale destruction of the island’s natural environment that had taken place up-time. The dodo and their island were truly being given a second chance, a new future where humanity and nature coexisted in a partnership that benefited both.
It was Pam’s vision, and now Pers and Dorothea were the carriers of that torch. If they could make it work and make it stick, they hoped the concept would spread throughout the world, which would make the new version of history they were creating a much nicer place to live than the depressing conditions in her former world Pam had described.
“Okay, let’s go!” Dorothea said cheerfully to Pers as she began marching up the trail.
“Okey-dokey!” he answered back enthusiastically. It was English day in their rotation, American West Virginia-style English to be exact. The two of them were conspiring to master every language spoken in Wonderland. Thanks to Pers, Dorothea was close to fluency in Swedish and daily doses of Dorothea’s wit and wisdom had greatly bolstered Pers’ German. Dutch was easy enough, but they were both struggling with French, despite their affable coach Doctor Durand’s seemingly endless patience with their ‘impossible accents.’ They didn’t have the heart to tell him that even Japanese was proving easier to master!
Dorothea and Pers were glad to leave the open sun of the Institute’s grounds for the deep shade of the ancient forests that bordered the town. As they walked through the cool air under the massive trees, the calling birds that surrounded them made a pleasant music. It was early December, but here in the southern hemisphere that meant high summer, and the heat could be intense for the northern Europeans who had come to call this place home.
“Pers, are you excited about Christmas?” Dorothea asked from a few steps ahead, briefly favoring him with a smiling backward glance. Her ever-enchanting hazel eyes catching the flickering light sifting through the leafy canopy made her seem more like a dryad of Faerie than a mere human, such was her numinous beauty.
Pers actually had to think about the question. He hadn’t even considered that the popular holiday was approaching. He had never really cared about it. Since he had grown up on ships with no family attachments, it didn’t mean much to him as a celebration, and as he was quietly agnostic it carried no spiritual weight, either. Shipboard it was mostly just another day. Still, Dorothea had asked him, and he could detect the note of excitement in her voice, so he had better come up with something.
She suddenly turned back again to see why he hadn’t answered, which caused him to blurt out an entirely inadequate “Yeah, I guess.”
“You guess? That’s all?” she cocked her head in a way that caused ringlets of brown curls to fall across her lightly freckled face, creating even more discomfiture in painfully shy Pers. “Don’t you like Christmas?”
Pers managed an embarrassed smile. As much as the young woman had the power to make him lose his train of thought, he was also used to her fiercely inquisitive nature, just another of her many charms.
“No, Christmas is fine. It’s really nice. It’s just that I’ve worked on ships for so long, it isn’t a big deal like it is for most folks.”
“Oh.” she stopped walking and frowned slightly, considering this revelation. “You didn’t celebrate Christmas at sea?”
“Most years we hardly noticed it, since we all had to work regardless. Some of the older guys would get pretty drunk on Christmas night, and sing a few old songs, but it wasn’t that much different from any other day.”
Dorothea looked a bit crestfallen to hear that. Pers stood there not knowing what to say, his fair cheeks growing rosy. Dorothea noticed his discomfiture and gave him an apologetic smile
“Oh Pers, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable! It’s just that as I grew up Christmas was huge! It was a very important time! I can’t imagine having no Christmas!” She put her hands on her hips, a sign that she was thinking. After a moment she nodded her head, having decided upon a course of action. Dorothea always had a plan, and always a good one to boot.
“I know how to remedy this. You are not on the ship any more, Pers, so you can celebrate Christmas just like everybody else. We were all too busy to do much last year, so how about this year the two of us throw a Christmas party at the Institute? It would be a lot of fun. What do you say?”
She had Pers convinced at “the two of us.” Anything he could do together with Dorothea was a wonderful thing.
“Yes! That would be great. Let’s do it!” His enthusiasm was genuine, although it had less to do with Christmas than time spent with Dorothea.
After about an hour of walking along in a companionable silence as they often did, Dorothea paused to gaze intently into the branches of a nearby teak tree.
“Pers! Look!” she exclaimed in an excited whisper. She didn’t point, as the wise woodsman Gerbald had trained them, since such a movement might scare away the subject they wanted to study. An “old birdwatcher trick” Pam had called it.
As Pers walked along behind Dorothea he couldn’t help but admire her very pleasing form, so he had to quickly tear his eyes away before she noticed. He followed her gaze to find a magnificent blue pigeon preening in a low branch, a closer than usual sighting. It was a beautiful thing, twelve inches in length, the feathers on its head and breast a striking silvery white, stiff and pointed hackles lending it the appearance of a lion’s mane. Its orange eye was surrounded by a bright red patch of bare skin extending to the dark-green beak. Most of the body’s plumage was indigo, with a metallic sheen on the wings. Finally, it sported an eye-catching maroon tail. All in all it was one of the most visually striking birds to be found anywhere.
“I love all the birds, ” Dorothea told him, “But I think this one may be my favorite. What a fantastic creature!”
“Yes, it truly is.” Pers agreed, carefully cataloging that tidbit of information in the Encyclopedia Dorothea he was compiling in his head. Her favorite color is green, her lucky number is eight, her favorite food is cucumber salad, she loves the music of an up-time music group called the Beatles—the list went on, all things Dorothea being utterly fascinating to a certain young fellow named Pers.
Pers reached into his rucksack to produce the sketchbook that Pam had given him and began outlining the bird’s basic form with his pencil. He felt Dorothea move close in beside him and had to force himself to breathe normally, focusing on the work at hand. There was an intense electric field he always felt when she was close, or on those rare, wonderful moments when she actually touched him. It was a pleasant sensation to be sure, but it tended to reduce him to a tongue-tied imbecile.
After a few minutes the drawing was really taking shape, the pigeon that looked out at them from the page nearly as life-like as the one before their eyes. Dorothea’s silent observation of his skills made him nervous, so he filled the space with some handy self-deprecation.
“I’m not as good as Pam is,” he lamented.
“I think you are!” she exclaimed. “You just have a different style! It looks like it’s about to fly right off the page!”
Pers ducked his head in a gesture of appreciation and continued to work. Dorothea dropped slowly down to sit on her haunches, which accentuated the stretch of bare skin of her shapely legs between her shorts and boots. Pers eyes couldn’t help but follow the motion, he began to grow faint and was having trouble breathing, causing his pencil to stall rather suspiciously in mid-air. With a Herculean effort to regain composure he returned to the drawing.
“You know, this is one of the birds Pam said had gone extinct in the world of the up-time,” he remarked to distract himself from the distraction beside him.
Below him he saw Dorothea’s head of delightful ringed brown curls shake softly in a gesture of sorrow.
“It’s so awful to think of.” Dorothea replied in a voice grown solemn. “Even now in our time there are so many lifeforms that are already threatened. How can we save them all?
Pers, who instantly regretted deflating her usually buoyant mood, grimaced to himself and scrambled to repair the situation.
“Well, we saved this pigeon, didn’t we? And the dodo, and the tortoises, and that lizard, just to name a few. At least we have changed this part of the world for the better! We can be proud of that!” he told her encouragingly, putting his pencil back in his shirt pocket. He had finished the sketch. Any more would just be fussing.
Dorothea cocked her head to look up at him, an enigmatic smile forming on her lips.
“Indeed we can.” She agreed and then, to his surprise and delight, reached up to him for a hand getting to her feet. Pers offered her his hand, which she took in a firm, smooth-skinned grip that was neither too warm nor too cool, just the perfect temperature. His heart was racing at the contact, surely a young woman in the top physical condition she was in didn’t really need any such help, right? He pulled her gently upward to a standing position next to him. To his utter bewilderment she didn’t let go of his hand, but continued to hold it as she studied the drawing he held in the other. Despite his best efforts to prevent the movement, the sketchbook was beginning to shake, so she took a corner of it in her free hand and admired the drawing.
“Pers, it’s fantastic!” she exclaimed, her words of praise ringing like merry bells in his ears.
“Really?” He suddenly doubted himself. “It’s very kind of you to say. . .”
They both turned to watch as the blue pigeon flapped away into the forest’s gloom, apparently having had its fill of human company for one day. Dorothea turned back to the self-deprecating young man with a serious expression on her face.
“You truly have a gift, Pers. Many gifts! Believe in yourself!” She paused, her hazel eyes locked with his bright blue. “I believe in you!” she added, then let go of his hand with a firm parting squeeze.
They spent the rest of the day surveying the settlement’s future expansion into the floodplains, Pers going about the day’s work in a pleasant kind of trance. That night he lay awake unable to think of anything but his day with Dorothea until he finally drifted off to sleep only to dream of a tender hand in his and a soft voice telling him “I believe in you!”
Excerpt from: It’s Tradition
by Anne Keener
Joseph Kantor sank into his chair as his homeroom teacher started talking about holiday traditions, presentations, and a class party. She means a Christmas party, he thought. I wonder if I can leave school early that day. Otherwise, I’ll have to decide if it is better to participate or spend the party in study hall. Joseph held up his hand, to ask if he was expected to participate in a Christmas party.
His teacher seemed to beam brightly as soon as she noticed his raised hand. “Yes, Mr. Kantor, this is a holiday party so I want every student to bring in some food, games, or other traditions from the holidays they celebrate in December and January. I’m looking forward to you showing your classmates some of the Hanukkah traditions like dreidel, candy gelt, and latkes.” She seemed to lick her lips expectantly. “Latkes are so delicious.”
Joseph blinked in confusion. How did his teacher know about Hanukkah? he thought. His own family had moved to Grantville that summer, lured by stories that Grantville did not just grudgingly tolerate but actively welcomed Jews. However, it was still shocking to him that an up-timer had even heard of Hanukkah. It was a minor celebration that few Gentiles had ever heard of. There was not much to it. The only required parts were to light the menorah and recite the special prayers. In addition, his mother would make ponchiks, and the family would eat mostly fried food. There were some games and songs, but it was nothing like the enormity of Passover, Purim, Sukkot, or the High Holy Days.
Of the things his teacher had mentioned, the only one he had ever heard of was gelt, which was just a small gift of money that a student would give to their teachers or parents would give to children who were doing well at school. It often would be given during Hanukkah, but it was also given during other holidays as well. He had never heard of candy gelt before. ‘Maybe candy that looks like coins?’ he thought.
Joseph wanted to ask his teacher what latkes and dreidel were, but he was not sure he would like the response or the embarrassment of admitting his ignorance. I should ask my parents and at the synagogue, he thought. The synagogue might not be that helpful. Most of the members were Sephardim, the exiled Jews from Spain, not Ashkenazim, the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, although the number of Ashkenazim was growing rapidly. He was not sure the Sephardim would have heard of them, as the word sounded Yiddish, not Ladino, but it was a place to start. He would have asked the handful of up-time Jews, but the Roths and Jason Gotkin had moved to Prague that spring, leaving only one or two up-time Jews behind.
As Joseph entered the kitchen of his family’s small home in Deborah, he could tell his mother was getting ready for Hanukkah. The air was filled with the delicious smells of hot schmaltz, fried dough, and simmering jam. “Mother, have you heard of something called a latke?”
His mother immediately held up a hand holding tongs to stop him. As Joseph watched, she started gently moving perfectly fried, unfilled ponchiks from the hot poultry fat to a cooling rack. Another rack held the ones that had been filled with jam after cooling a bit. Finally, she spoke, “No, I have never heard of such a thing. Why?”
Joseph fidgeted slightly. “My class is having a holiday party in a few weeks and my teacher asked that I bring in some of the traditional foods of Hanukkah, one of which she insisted was latkes.”
His mother pursed her lips deep in thought. “This teacher, she is an up-timer, yes?” Joseph silently nodded. “Ah, that explains it. I have heard our goyim neighbors complain about how strangely the up-timers celebrate Christian holidays. It should not be a surprise that there are some strange traditions for Jewish ones too. It is a shame the Roths are in Prague and unlikely to answer the question in time.”
His mother turned back to the cooling ponchiks, pulling out a pastry bag brimming with jam to start filling the ponchiks before they collapsed. ” As the Sephardim say, the law of the land is the law of the land,” she said wryly. “Did your teacher ask for just these latkes or would she like ponchiks?”
“She asked for games and traditional foods. It seemed like she might be open to other things, but she specifically asked for latkes, candy gelt, and dreidel.” Joseph shrugged.
His mother gave him a perplexed look, “I haven’t heard any of those things. I would bring in ponchiks if your teacher really just wants you to bring a Hanukkah dish to this . . . party. However, if you really want to and can find out what these latkes are and how to make them, I would be open to trying to make them. I have no idea where to start with that candy gelt. Maybe some boiled sweets, raisins, or nuts would be acceptable? I have never heard of dreidel either and do not even know where to begin.”
His mother then paused thoughtfully. “You can ask at the synagogue on Saturday. I’m fairly certain the Roths gave some books to the synagogue before they moved to Prague. There are also others who celebrated Hanukkah with them before the move who will be there. Eve Zibarth will also be there.”
Sarah Kantor then turned away and sighed. It felt like one new thing they had to adjust to, one more sacrifice of their own traditions. It was tough enough when the Gentiles would persecute their faith and practices, but even harder when navigating whatever new rules and “traditions” the Gentile authorities would impose at a whim.
Joseph could not wait for the Saturday Shabbat service to be over and the Kiddush to begin. As Hanukkah was approaching, both the Ashkenazim and Sephardim members of the congregation had brought some of the traditional treats. The table was piled high with ponchiks filled with various kinds of jam and jelly, and the pile of buñuelos, honey-fried dough then coated in honey or other sweet sauces, appeared even bigger.
As Joseph decided which of the pastries he wanted to try, his friend David Toledano walked up to him holding a plate filled with ball and disk-shaped buñuelos along with a few round and tube-shaped ponchiks. “Joseph, you’ve got to try the buñuelos Perla made. I don’t know what she flavored the dough with, but it is certainly not anise.” David then gestured to one of the plates holding disk-shaped buñuelos.
David was just the sort of person Joseph was looking for. While David was Sephardim, he had also been in Grantville for longer than Joseph had, arriving in mid-1632. “David, have you ever heard of something called a latke? My teacher . . .” Joseph could not finish that second sentence before David burst out into laughter along with several others who were hovering close enough to hear.
It took several moments for David to catch his breath. “Sorry, sorry.” He gasped for breath. “You would not believe how many people have asked that question. It’s a potato and onion fritter that was popular with the American Jews up-time. Frau Zibarth brought some. Come, I’ll show you.”
David led Joseph down the table of desserts until he reached a tray that held what looked like disks of fried straw. “Those are latkes?” Joseph asked. David silently nodded in response. Hesitating only a moment, Joseph picked up one of the disks and tried it.
He nearly spat out his first bite but managed to swallow it down. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but this was not it. While ponchiks and buñuelos were usually sweet, this was savory. The latke was soft and starchy but also crunchy and strongly onion-flavored. Joseph noticed there was a sauce with them, scooped some onto his plate, and dipped the latke into it. This bite was a lot better. Instantly he recognized the sauce as applesauce, which gave the latke a balance of savory and sweet.
“How do you make these? My teacher asked for some.” Joseph grimaced a bit. He glanced at the latke on his plate. He did not like them that much, but they were what he was expected to make. He knew all too well that when Jewish people did things that goyim did not expect them to do or refused the things they were asked to do, bloodshed was the usual result. He had been told repeatedly that Grantville was different, but other places had claimed to be different which only lasted as long as they viewed their local Jews as useful.
“Check the library. Frau Roth left some of her cookbooks behind, including the ones that were made by the women at her synagogue.” David paused and examined Joseph closely. “Are you sure you want to make them? You don’t seem to like them.”
Joseph paused, searching for an answer. Quickly, he thought up one that felt like it would convince others and maybe even himself. “Oh . . . I just did not know what to expect. They are not that bad, just nothing like ponchiks and buñuelos.” He took another bite, this time without the sauce. They were not that bad if you were expecting something savory. He, however, was used to the sweetness of ponchiks. Maybe he could get used to this, like all the other weird customs in Grantville once you knew what to expect.
Joseph finished the latke on his plate. “Would you want to come to the library with me? There are a few other things my teacher asked for that I have never heard of.”
David looked at the plate he was holding, brimming with sticky and oily pastries. “Let me find a safe place to put these down, and I can meet you there. What else was your teacher asking for?”
Joseph sighed deeply. “Dreidel and candy gelt.”
Once again, David burst into laughter, nearly dropping his plate. “Oh, I forgot how new you are to Grantville. Those are simple.”
David then took him over to where a few of the younger children were playing various games, including one Joseph knew well, Torrel. Torrel was a simple gambling game played with a four-sided top. The tops usually had a N for nichts or do nothing, G for ganz or take all, H for halb or take half, and S for stell ein or put in. Looking closer, however, Joseph noticed that these had the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, He, and Shin.
David then picked up one of the Torrel tops and held it out to him. “This is a dreidel.”
“No, that’s a Torrel top with Hebrew letters,” Joseph said, twirling the Torrel top in his hands.
“That is all a dreidel is. Would you believe some of the up-time rabbis claimed they were an ancient custom dating back to the time of the Maccabees and used to hide Torah studies from the wicked king.”
Joseph couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of that statement. “It’s more likely an attempt to disguise a gambling game as Torah studies. The rabbis who came up with that must have been bigger sticks in the mud than the rabbis of Amsterdam.”
David nodded in agreement, with a big grin on his face. “Dreidel is simple and easy, but candy gelt is a bit harder to replicate.” He then pointed at the boiled sweets the children were using to play the familiar, renamed game. The candy was designed to look like gold coins of different sizes, and each one bore the stamp of an eight-armed menorah.
Joseph picked up a candy and looked at it more closely. He could see its relationship to the gelt he knew, but this was candy, not actual money. “Well, at least this makes sense. Candy gelt is just candy that looks like coins. Why would you give this to your Torah tutor?”
“Well, the up-time gelt was mainly chocolate disks covered in foil and stamped with a menorah. Chocolate is rare and expensive so the Roths commissioned a hard candy version and handed them out at the synagogue during Hanukkah,” David said. He plucked one out of a bowl that was sitting on a nearby table and popped it into his mouth, and then offered another one to Joseph.
“They are fun so even though the Roths have moved away, several people started to make them or bring in other candies,” David mumbled, due to the candy in his mouth. “The candy gelt is meant for children or as a little treat.”
Joseph soaked in this new knowledge. He tried the candy that David had given him. It was actually pretty good. He grabbed a few more and put them in his pocket for later. None of these things sounded particularly bad or painful. Some of them even sounded fun and were tasty, like the candy gelt. They were simply the customs of a different place. I think I can at least tolerate these traditions, if not make them my own, Joseph thought. He then headed to the library to look through the books the Roths had left behind.
Excerpt from: The Gift of the Puppet
by Tracy S. Morris
Denis paused mid-step as he walked through the door of the apartment that he shared with Betsy above her mother’s garage.
It looked like the North Pole exploded across their tiny home. Bits of tinsel, wrapping paper, and ornaments lay scattered across the floor like fallen leaves.
On the couch, their dog, Astia, rolled in knots of ribbon. She paused, novelty reindeer antlers askew, and looked up at Denis with her tongue lolling out to the side and her tail wagging. A line from Cyrano de Bergerac’s play, I Love Betsy, sprang to mind.
“Betsy, you gotta lotta ‘splainin’ to do.”
“What did I do now?” Betsy said from behind him. Denis turned as his red-haired wife pushed past him into the apartment. She held a tangled ball of multicolored lights and green wire tucked under her arm.
Denis waved to the holly hanging in every corner of the room “You turned our apartment into Santa’s workshop.”
Betsy responded with a Cheshire grin. “Isn’t it festive?”
“That’s one word for it,” Denis said. “What are you doing with that ball of lights?”
“It’ll be a string of lights once I untangle it.” Betsy set the ball on the kitchen table and shoved stacks of her reporter’s notebooks out of the way. As she started to tug at this or that wire, she poked her tongue out of the side of her mouth in concentration. “I think I have enough lights and fuses here to make one good strand.”
“For what? We already decided that we don’t have room for a big tree.” Denis glanced at the tiny ceramic tree they’d already put on top of their bookshelf.
“We might be able to rig up a star in the window for St. Griswold.”
Despite himself, Denis chuckled. “First of all, you’re not Catholic! Since when did you start believing in saints? Secondly, I’ve never heard of St. Griswold.”
“Patron saint of having a good old-fashioned family Christmas.” Betsy said as if it were obvious.
“That’s not a thing.”
“Sure it is!” She shook out the last of the ball of lights into an actual string, carried the strand to the window and picked up a roll of clear tape. “You leave lights up in the window along with a bottle of scotch and a copy of The Night Before Christmas, and St. Griswold will bless you with a holiday bonus. If you’ve been a bad kid, St. Griswold signs you up for the jelly of the month club.”
“Is this like the time you insisted that there was a Great Pumpkin?”
She pulled a long piece of clear tape from the roll and tore it in two with her teeth. “Maybe. But if I start the traditions now, in 400 years, when my cousins are born, they’ll have something to look forward to every year. And they’ll say, ‘Gee! We sure do miss Betsy. But isn’t it nice that she started a whole bunch of new traditions just for us?’ ”
Denis chose not to remind her that, due to the butterfly effect, Betsy’s cousins would probably not be born in this timeline. And that her cousins back in the last timeline would probably not experience any new traditions she started here.
“Where did you find the tape?” He asked instead to change the subject.
“The supply closet at The Times.”
“Betsy!” Denis put his head in his hands.
“It’s fine!” She reassured him. “I’ll just sneak it back tomorrow.” She put the roll of tape aside, picked up the extension cord that she’d run from her mother’s house next door, and followed it to the end.
“Don’t overload the cord,” Denis cautioned. “Mr. Kindred said that you could start a fire that way.”
“I know what I’m doing.” Betsy sounded annoyed.
“I’ll put that on your tombstone.” He held up his hands as if framing the words. “Here lies Betsy. She knew what she was doing.”
“Just watch, Mr. Smarty!” She plugged the light string into the open socket on one side of the end plug. Pink, blue and green lights came on, bathing the apartment in a magical glow. She brushed her hands together in satisfaction.
“Very pretty.” Denis conceded.
Betsy hummed in satisfaction. “What did Mom need?”
“She wanted her piano moved into the hall,” Denis said. “So she can turn the parlor into another bedroom.”
Betsy rolled her eyes. “She’s already rented out the attic, the basement, my old bedroom, dad’s man cave and her sewing room. She’s running out of rooms to rent out.”
“There’s always the pantry,” Denis said.
“God forbid!” Betsy muttered.
“If she needs supervision, we could always move back into the house with her,” Denis said without meaning it. The garage apartment was a saving grace. It allowed Betsy to “keep an eye on her mother” while affording them a bit more privacy than they had while living in the same house.
It was also a sanity saver for Denis. Compared to her mother, Betsy was a portrait of reason.
Denis’s cousin Mirari had offered to rent them the apartment above her coffee and chocolate shop, but Betsy’s mother feigned a heart attack every time the subject came up. Which explained why Betsy was willing to traipse halfway across Europe in search of a story, really. She would be the first to say that she dearly loved her mother—from a distance.
“Fat chance! Betsy laughed. “Mom is happier fussing over these down-timer puppies, anyway.”
“Are you happy, Betsy?” Denis asked.
“My first Christmas in my first home with my new husband? Yes, I am.”
“Then I’m happy, too.” He pulled Betsy into a warm embrace. She briefly rested her head on his shoulder. Then she looked up, eyes widening.
“Oh!” She pushed away.
Denis sighed. “And she’s off again! It was nice while it lasted.”
“You know what will make it feel like Christmas? We should watch A Christmas Carol.“
Denis pushed aside the ribbons and sat down on the couch, pulling Astia into his lap and scratching behind the dog’s novelty reindeer antlers.
“Sure. Why not?” he said.
Betsy pulled her box of VHS tapes from beneath her VCR and began sorting through them. “It’s important to watch the right version. Some people prefer the George C. Scott version. Some people like Alastair Sim. Patrick Stewart did a very nice version of “A Christmas Carol” before we came here.
“But for my money, the best version is The Muppet Christmas Carol.”
“A puppet Christmas Carol?”
“Eh, close enough.”
Denis wondered sometimes at Betsy’s tastes. Then again, she chose him.
“What makes this the superior version is that it’s the adaptation that’s closest to the book, owing to the fact that Gonzo plays the part of Charles Dickens and his lines are taken from the text itself. But Michael Caine treats the role of Scrooge as if he’s acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company instead of with a frog made of felt.”
“Perhaps I should watch more than one version of A Christmas Carol and see for myself,” Denis teased.
“You could, if I had any other copies.”
He blinked at that. “That does not sound like you.”
Betsy scratched the back of her neck sheepishly. “I used to have more versions, but you and I were combining our stuff, and we only had so much room.” She looked around the one room apartment. “So I donated any of the movies that I haven’t watched in years to the library.”
Denis smiled fondly at Betsy. “Doing a good deed for the holiday season?”
She returned the smile. “I suppose.”
He clapped his hands together and rubbed them. “Well then, let’s watch your puppet Christmas Story.”
Betsy put the tape into the VCR. The machine made a distressing mechanical whirr.
“Oh no!” Betsy frantically punched one of the buttons. “Come on! Eject! Eject!”
The whirring increased, joined now by a clicking sound. With a groan, Betsy unplugged the machine from the extension cord. She slid her thumbs into the slot on the front of the VCR. The tape popped out, trailing brown ribbon from one side. At the sight, she whined like a kicked puppy.
Denis leaned over her shoulder to look at the VCR. “What happened?”
“I guess the tape got stuck.” Betsy tilted open the cover on the VCR’s slot, and peered inside. “Yep, there’s still a little bit of ribbon stuck between the heads. If I can get it out, I bet I can get the VCR working again.”
“Betsy,” Denis put his hands on his hips. “What do you know about repairing a VCR?”
Betsy was already pulling out the kitchen stool and opening the closet where she kept her father’s tools and his massive collection of Time Life books. “Not a durn thing, but dad used to say that you can learn to do anything if you’re not afraid to try. And he had the complete series of Time Life Books on home repair.”
Betsy’s dad was an avid collector of Time Life books and National Geographic, which gave Betsy an incomplete and eclectic education on everything from conspiracy theories and folklore to the American Civil war, installing drywall, and mummification. She said that knowing just enough to be dangerous on a lot of subjects made her an ideal investigative reporter.
“What are you going to do about your puppet movie?”
Betsy sighed. “It would have worn out eventually, anyway. The companies make these things so that they break in a few years and you have to buy them again.”
That didn’t sound right to Denis. “Really?”
“Oh yeah! It’s a huge conspiracy. These things just aren’t meant to last.”