Kelly had gone in town to buy feed for the various animals around the farm that morning, not forgetting the special feed for the new pony, since Alexis reminded him three times over breakfast. He was surprised at how his daughter took to the chores associated with owning a pony. She loved to brush and feed the small animal, and she sure looked cute perched on it as she followed her parents on their rides. Though he missed the closeness of holding her in front of him as he rode, it made him happy to see how joyful Alexis was with this latest mark of growing up.
Kelly was smiling, thinking about his little cowgirl, as he drove the old truck down the gravel drive. As he got past the stand of mesquite trees, he saw that Genevieve was standing on the veranda, awaiting his arrival. Or to be more correct, judging from her dress, she was awaiting the arrival of the truck. He was late, and could tell by the rigidness of his wife’s stance that she had been waiting for some time. As he parked the truck he angled it so that Genevieve didn’t have to turn it around as she left. Getting out of the truck, he walked back to release the trailer with the feedbags, and noticed that Alexis was standing next to her mother, and was dressed in a fancy Sunday dress.
“Well, where are you two off to?” asked Kelly, hoping to give the impression that he didn’t remember telling his wife that he would be home for lunch.
“We are going to the Lions Club!” she said, in exasperation at her husband for forgetting. Noting his confused expression as to why she was going to the men’s only club, Genevieve looked at him hard and cut her eyes down to the happy little girl at her side.
“Oh, of course, let me put on a jacket and tie and I will go with you,” he said remembering that the blacksmith, Gene Elbert was going to powder his bushy black beard white and put on a red suit for the delight of the local children. Bounding upstairs, he grabbed his coat and tie, and was donning them as he dashed down the front steps to the truck where Genevieve was already behind the wheel with Alexis sitting in the middle, waiting for her daddy to get in through the passenger side door Genevieve left open for him.
“I am sorry to be so late, my dear,” said Kelly as he expertly tied his tie, without the use of a mirror.
“It is okay, Kelly. We have plenty of time. It will be going on until supper time,” said Genevieve, glancing down at her little girl fondly, thinking about how surprised Alexis would be when they didn’t drive to Brother Milstead’s house were her grandmother was staying for a Christmas visit. She hoped that Alexis would be happy to meet Santa, and wouldn’t be afraid like Genevieve’s twin sister, Madeleine, was when the two went to see Santa for the first time. Of course this wasn’t the first time that Alexis would be seeing Gene Elbert, dressed as Santa, but in the years before she was too young to realize what was going on. This year the child was primed with a lot of Christmas stories and the house being decorated.
When Kelly’s mother first took the baby Alexis to get her photo taken with Santa, Genevieve and Kelly were disapproving, but finally gave in because of the joy it gave his mother to participate in the ritual with her only grandchild. Once they gave in, there was no going back. They were expected to join in the celebrations with the rest of the town, in spite of intellectually disapproving of the holiday.
“Your mother is going to meet us there. I wish we could drive together, but there just isn’t enough room for all of us in that little car your uncle has loaned her, and there certainly isn’t enough room in this old truck,” said Genevieve, planting the first seeds of the idea in her husband’s mind to get a second vehicle.
“I thought my uncle was getting rid of the little car, since he bought that big sedan for his wife?” asked Kelly, realizing that he was able to avoid his uncle a lot since his mother’s move to Florida, taking her big Edsel with her.
“Not yet, I think he is letting that driver of his use it as a personal car,” said Genevieve, sounding very much like a local lady in her disapproval of the minster’s affectation of having a driver. Local wisdom was that the minster should just learn to drive, and stop dressing his handyman up and giving him airs.
“Alexis, sit down, it is not safe for you to be standing up like that,” said Genevieve to her daughter.
“Yes,” said Alexis, shortly.
“Yes, what?” Her mother asked, with her mind on the road.
“Yes, ma’am,” responded Alexis.
“I have got her, dear,” said Kelly, as he grabbed Alexis and gathered her up in his lap.
“Thank you, but you know, when I am driving alone with Alexis, sometime she gets a little too rambunctious. It would be better if we owned a sedan, so that she could stay in the back seat,” said Genevieve, planting another hint into her husband’s head. As she maneuvered the truck though the gate of the parking lot she saw her mother-in-law’s borrowed car parked near the entrance to the building. “Oh, look, your mother is already here. I will park next to her car, and then we can go find her.”
Kelly’s mother was standing outside the Meeting Hall, which on Thursdays belonged to the Lions Club while on other nights it was assigned to other civic groups for their meetings, when she saw her son’s truck pull up. Louise nodded with satisfaction that Genevieve finally learned to drive. Having spent most of her life in Misty, and not knowing what it was like to live in a city, Louise, just didn’t understand why a city girl like her daughter-in-law never learned to drive.
By the time the little family extracted themselves from the truck, Louise was standing there to greet them. “Oh, I am so glad you were able to come. We have been having so much fun today. You are lucky that one of the early comers just pulled out of that space,” she said in unspoken disapproval of the little family’s late arrival. Taking her granddaughter out of her son’s arms she said, “Come with me baby, I have a special surprise for you.”
“Nana, I am not a baby. I am three years old.” Alexis informed her grandmother, who settled the child snugly on one hip.
“Alexis, I am a southern woman. When I call someone baby, it doesn’t mean that I think that they are babies. It is a term of endearment,” said Louise, deftly handling a problem that was causing Alexis’ parents more than a little trouble.
Kelly slipped his arm through his wife’s, and the two followed in the wake of the proud granny, who was stopping to show Alexis off to all her friends as she made her way into the meeting hall. “Look how Mama is carrying Alexis. I was worried when she said she was getting into playing tennis and lifting weights. After all I thought she would at the most take up golf,” said Kelly in an undertone to his wife.
“I know what you mean. Alexis must be nearly 40 pounds, and Louise is carrying her like she is a feather,” said Genevieve in admiration, thinking how much younger Louise looked with her suntan and slightly blued hair.
They watched as Alexis tow-white head bobbed around taking in the sights. The hall was decorated like a storybook illustration of Santa’s workshop. A line of children snaked though tables displaying dioramas, showcasing the projects that the town’s various civic groups conducted during the year. Normally dignified members of the groups shed their dignity for the season and were dressed as Santa’s helpers guiding the children and their adult companions through the gathering.
Louise stopped at the first station inside the wooden double doors, which were propped open to let some of the heat from the crowd of bodies in the hall escape, and took a stocking made of red felt edged with white faux fur. Moving on to the next table a woman there carefully selected letters, cut from felt, A, L, E, X, I, S, and quickly glued them onto the stocking with fast drying glue.
“Eileen’s sewing circle made the stockings again this year.” Genevieve told her husband.
“Did you help?” kidded Kelly, knowing that the domestic crafts were not his wife’s forte.
“I found the felt and fake fur at the Bargain Barn and donated them,” she said, overlooking his teasing. “Milstead’s wife donated the other supplies, including the felt letters and the glue.”
“I still can’t get over how strong mother is getting. You know, when I mentioned Mama taking up tennis and weight lifting you didn’t act surprised. Did I tell you about that already? Did I just forget that I told you?” He asked, worried that he was becoming forgetful.
“No, you didn’t, but I have visited your mother twice since she has been here. She can’t talk about anything else,” she said, wondering why her husband hadn’t mentioned it. Perhaps he just didn’t like to think about his mother changing. “It has made her a lot stronger. Alexis isn’t getting any lighter, and I have never seen your mother carry her for so long without handing her back to one of us.” Just as Kelly and Genevieve were making their observations, Alexis wiggled out of her Nana’s arms to walk in front of her, clutching the Christmas stocking, the toe of which drug slightly on the carpeted floor as she went forward.
Louise guided Alexis, with soft touches on her small shoulders, to each of the Santa’s Helpers, as they progressed down the path between the stations, which was decorated to look like a garden walk. Kelly wondered to himself, why a garden path was in Santa’s workshop, but decided that it would be a good idea to keep all cynical remarks to himself.
At each station, one of the normally, normal citizens, was standing next to two large barrels, one painted pink and the other blue. Each helper made a little fuss over the pretty child, reached into their pink barrel, and placed a small wrapped package into her stocking, before she was whisked away to the next station.
“Do you think she knows what is going on? Do you think she remembers coming last year?” asked Genevieve, under the cover of the other children’s squeals of delight, as she observed her small daughter quietly and solemnly proceeding through the Christmas ritual.
“No, she seems to be very interested, but not too excited. I suspect that next year it will be different. Then she will know that goodies are being place into her stocking. With any luck, this year, we can save the stocking for Christmas morning,” he said.
Finally at the end of the procession, Alexis came to the place where the children were lining up to wait for their turn with Santa Claus. Louise leaned down with her Florida born flexibility and took the now heavy stocking from Alexis and whispered in her ear. “I will take that, while we wait.” Smiling she stood up not realizing that little Alexis was too short to be able to see over the whimsical garden-fence that was set up around Santa and his elves. Alexis waited patently, in the dark as to what was in store for her, but because she was with her Nana, she was content.
Genevieve and Kelly filed off to the side with the other extra adults to watch while Alexis was photographed with Santa. Glancing at Kelly, Genevieve was glad to see that he wasn’t staring at the surprising long bare legs of Santa’s photographer, whose short shorts barely showed from under the hem of her elfin jacket. Genevieve congratulated herself that she was so lucky to have a husband without a wandering eye, unlike some of the women standing near her, who were staring daggers at their husbands who were raptly staring at those legs.
As the child ahead of Alexis was lifted off of Santa’s lap, Alexis was led around the edge of the fence. Tugging on her grandmother’s hand she said, “Nana! Look! It is Santa Cause!”
“Why yes dear, this is your chance to sit on his lap and tell him what you want him to bring you for Christmas,” said Louise, enjoying Alexis’ excitement, and suppressing a laugh at Alexis’ name for Santa Claus. She let one of the helper’s pick Alexis up and deposit her in Santa’s Lap.
“Oh, I hope she doesn’t get scared!” said Genevieve, worried.
“Oh, don’t fret. She is as fearless as you,” said Kelly with pride, as he smiled at his wife.
Their eyes were on each other, so they didn’t notice Alexis’ initial reaction to Santa, so their first indication that there was a problem was their daughter’s loud proclamation, “You are not Santa Cause! You are Mr. Elbert! Why are you dressed …” Alexis’ denunciation of the fraud was cut short by the flashing of the camera, and her being plucked from the masquerading blacksmith’s lap, without ever having gotten to prattle on about her Christmas list.
As Louise carried Alexis to her mother, Alexis continued to try to clear up the mystery of Mr. Elbert’s masquerade, in a surprisingly loud clear voice for such a little girl. Genevieve took the proffered child, as her husband relieved his mother of the stocking, and the embarrassed family made for the exit.
“Oh, dear, I guess there are going to be some parents doing some explaining right now,” said Kelly, glancing back toward the meeting hall, as he walked his mother to her car.
“Oh don’t worry about it, dear. They will all be laughing about it by the time they have their kids to bed,” his mother assured him.
“Why don’t you come out to the house? I am sure Alexis would like to spend some more time with you,” said Kelly, out of earshot of his wife who was putting Alexis into the truck and climbing behind the wheel.
“No dear, I already promised my sister-in-law that I would be there for dinner. They are having the deacons and their wives over, probably to pump me about living in Florida. I tell you son; if things keep going the way they are, there won’t be any old folks left in Misty. Half will be in Florida, and the other half will be in Arizona,” she said, and gracefully sat down in her car and swiveled into the driving position, which she learned as a young woman was the only way a lady settled herself into an automobile.
“Well, we will see you tomorrow as planned. Do you want me to come pick you up?” asked Kelly as he closed the car door for his mother.
“No, I don’t need a ride; I will be there at supper as planned. As a matter of fact, I am going to be stopping to pick up your aunt. We are coming out together,” she said.
“Where is Carol today?” asked Kelly realizing that he hadn’t seen his aunt among the volunteers.
“She wasn’t feeling very well, so she went home. I am not sure if she is going to feel up to coming out to your place tomorrow,” she informed her son.
“Well, I guess we will just have to play it by ear. It would be nice if she came. You know Alexis loves her great aunt,” said Kelly, wondering how long that would last once the child was old enough to pick up on the tension between Carol and her in-laws.
“That is true,” she replied, and leaned out the open window to receive a dutiful kiss on the cheek from her son.
Kelly returned to the truck, climbed in, and took up the duty of keeping Alexis calmed down. As Genevieve maneuvered the truck around she stopped for a moment and waved a cheery wave at Woodrow Cooper who worked part time at the mortuary and full time at the car dealership. The elder Cooper, who was the town’s lone mortician, also owned the little town’s sole car dealership, which most people assumed was owned by Woodrow himself. The wags on the benches around the courthouse liked to joke that the Coopers only sold cars to keep the mortuary afloat. Kelly was busy with Alexis and didn’t notice the wink exchanged between Woodrow and Genevieve.
“The truck is not going to do for me, Kelly. We are going to have to get a normal car. Though I am confident about my driving, I am not very comfortable driving Alexis around in your old truck,” announced Genevieve, to her husband suddenly during the drive home.
Surprised at this turn of events, Kelly agreed, “Okay, we will start looking for a new car soon.”
“But Kelly, I heard that the Harpers have a nice sedan for sale. Do you want to go over and see if it fits our needs first?” asked Genevieve.
“What are you talking about, woman? This is your first car … ever! We are going to get you a brand new one. One with all the bells and whistles,” said Kelly with pride. “It will take a little while to find just the right one, but we will get it.”
Genevieve dropped the subject for the moment, not liking Kelly’s someday attitude. She rightly assumed that it was best to let the idea sink in, before trying to hurry the action.
When the old truck pulled up in front of the farmhouse, Alexis was sound asleep in her father’s arms, her fancy dress flowing over his chest like an elaborate cravat. Genevieve broached the subject of the new car again, “Kelly, are you sure we can afford the expense of a new car?” she asked with the little vertical line appearing between her eyes.
“My dear you really should pay more attention to your money. You made more with your last gallery show than I made in the last ten years,” said Kelly with his voice brimming with pride.
“My love, I don’t have to worry about money. I married you because you could balance a checkbook.” Genevieve smiled as she slipped out of the truck and rounded to the other side to open the door for Kelly, who could not reach the handle with Alexis in his arms.
Once in the room, she turned away to brush out her long hair, and hid a knowing smile. She now had her husband primed for Woodrow. Leaving his wife to her toilette, Kelly took Alexis to her room, before returning to undress for bed. Leaving their door ajar, to hear is she woke in the night, Kelly and Genevieve got undressed and slipped into bed.
The next morning Alexis had forgotten the large Christmas stocking that her parents hid away for Christmas morning. She spent the day busily following her father around, keeping busy playing with his tools while he worked.