The party was MaryAnn’s idea.
“Oh, it will be wonderful, Esther! Just think of the memories you will make with all of those grandchildren under your roof. There’s nothing like the laughter of children to make you feel young again.”
It had been ages since the children had all been together. James Allen had not been back to the farm house since his father passed away, five years ago. The other’s had stopped in from time to time, but I wanted them to be together this Christmas. A holiday party did seem like a good idea. Thank you, MaryAnn.
I spent a lot of time over the next few weeks preparing the invitations. I could almost hear James Allen’s voice telling me how much easier it would be to use a computer, but I hated those new fangled contraptions. I carefully cut out little Christmas trees out of green paper. The snowmen were shaped out of little pieces of cotton balls that I found in the bathroom cabinet. I decorated each one with an orange paper nose, tiny button eyes and little sticks for arms. I even went so far as to knit little scarves for Frosty’s neck. Printed at the top, in my shaky hand, was the words “Bancock family reunion.” I thought I did a fair job, but MaryAnn said I should start my own card shop.
“Oh, Esther, these are magnificent!”
On December first my Christmas cards, with the invitations carefully tucked into them, were ready for the post. I felt giddy as I dropped the stack of letters into my mail box and pushed the red flag up. Soon those cards would be traveling to New York, California, New Jersey, Indiana, and Ohio. Only a few would remain within the state. If everyone came, there would be fifty-seven of us tucked into the old farm house. I doubted, however, that there would not be fifty-seven people. James Allen would not be traveling to the farm this year. He had too many responsibilities as a lawyer to take time off for a simple family gathering. I shared my thoughts with MaryAnn.
“New York has ruined that boy, Esther!”
As I waited for the response to the invitations, I gave the house a festive flair. The artificial tree that James Allen insisted on buying us ten years ago, sat in the corner of the parlour. I hung the stockings by the mantle, remembering Christmas’ of seasons past. There were a lot of memories in those old boxes that MaryAnn and I pulled out of the attic.
“Look, Esther! ‘Baby’s first Christmas, 1952.’ Wasn’t that the year that James Allen was born?”
Finally, the post brought four Christmas cards. The top card was from Susan. I opened the nice red envelope, enjoying the card that Sue had chosen. There at the bottom of the card was a short hand written note. My eyes misted. MaryAnn took the card from my hands and read.
“The invitation was beautiful, mom. You must have spent an age on it! We would love to be able to join you, but it’s not going to be able to work out this year. Sorry! We will be thinking about you. Merry Christmas!”
The other three cards bore the same type of response. “Thank you, but...” Cheryl was taking a cruise. Paul already had plans with his wife’s family. Molly was going to Europe. Maybe having a party wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“Cheer up, Esther. I’m sure you’ll get better news tomorrow.”
For the next two weeks I received many replies to my invitation. They all said the same thing. “Thank you, but...” I began to hate that three letter word. At least they thought to send me a Christmas card. I tried to be optimistic, but this year those beautiful pieces of paper felt like a consolation prize. My original list of fifty-seven was down to twelve. I still hadn’t heard from Stephen, Robbie and, of course, James Allen.
The next day’s mail held three holiday envelopes. Robbie would not be able to make it. I opened Stephen’s envelope. My eyes quickly skimmed the shallow holiday greetings printed on the card. There at the bottom was the handwritten note. That nasty three letter word screamed at me from the paper. They weren’t coming. I handed the last unopened card to MaryAnn.
“I hope you still have room for two more at Christmas. Love, James Allen”
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