9 Reasons We’re Glad Santa Isn’t Our Boyfriend

Happy and handsome santa claus

No matter your religion, we’ve grown up with the presence of St. Nick in our lives pretty much since birth. There is no adult man we love more in December as a child than good ol’ Santa Claus. Even as we age, the original beardo is still quite endearing. (Um, hello, haven’t you ever seen The Year Without a Santa Claus?!)

So we can all basically agree that we love Santa Claus. He brings us all together, teaches us how to be cheery and unifies us all at least for one day out of the year. But how would you like to date Santa? It probably wouldn’t be quite as terrific. Why is that, you ask?

1. He calls you a ho all the time. That isn’t cool bro! Never put up with a man who name calls. Even if it might not be “on purpose.”

2. He lives in the North Pole. Ok, yes, some people like seclusion and snow, but the North Pole seems to be quite too much of both of those. Unless it’s anything like the movie Elf and you can befriend a narwhal when visiting, it doesn’t seem worth it (that would be a lot of airline miles though).

3. He has a belly like a bowl full of jelly. Wait…this would be very cozy and cuddle-worthy. Especially considering #2. Ok, this one is actually probably a plus.

4. He needs a wardrobe makeover. Does he wear the same outfit every day? Like yeah, we get it, red is a statement color and powerful for business. But it’s a little outdated and can be revamped, dontcha think?!

Muscular new year man5. He sneaks into houses in the middle of the night. Supposedly this is because he is delivering gifts to those homes, but why so sneaky and at like 2am? Nothing good happens when you are going over someone’s house at that hour, and this just might create trust issues.

6. Too many late night munchies. What is creating this hunger so late at night that others must feed him? And shouldn’t he eat some veggies and protein along with all those sweets? I mean, he can at least save some of those cookies for his boo. Especially if it’s that time of the month on Christmas.

7. He’s a workaholic. How is he supposed to cuddle you with his jelly belly when he works until wee hours of the night? You can’t even spend Christmas Eve together, and the rest of the year he’s spending preparing for this big one. What about your birthday? Anniversary? He’s probably working on gifts for everyone else. Which leads to #8…

8. He’s closer with his elves and reindeer than with you. How can he have time for your relationship when he’s busy tending to his 9 reindeer and kicking it with the elves in the workshop? And shouldn’t he have some friends his own age?

9. He’s married. This should’ve come up earlier but we almost forgot—he already has a Mrs. Claus. We’ve heard the song about a kid seeing their mommy kissing Santa Claus so we shouldn’t be surprised about his wandering eye, so don’t be another side piece for this supposed saint. You’re better off without him.

(From Never Liked It Anyway, the number one destination for all things break-ups and bounce-back! It’s the place to buy, sell and tell all things ex! Sell your breakup baggage, tell your story and join the community of rock stars bouncing back better than ever! )

My Husband’s Deathbed Wish Came True On Christmas

Torso of waitress

My legs seemed to melt beneath me as I neared the booth to serve the friendly young couple. Sudden dizziness spun through my head but faded. I’d be okay once I got even busier. The rushing would stimulate me, as it usually did. That’s what another waitress, Patti, always said, too.

I set down the warm plates heaped with the sizzling fish, salad, and a roll, then felt another surge of dizziness.

“Oh, no!” A woman screamed as I fell into a fog of blackness.

I opened my eyes and saw a crowd of onlookers with worried faces. Someone was calling 911 on a cell phone. Again, I blacked out.

I came to in a wailing ambulance as a kind, young paramedic told me not to worry. “We’re taking care of you,” he promised.

The ambulance halted. Bright lights streamed over me as I was carried on a stretcher into the emergency room. Suddenly I longed to see Ben Samson, the handsome widower who was unusually kind and obviously cared for me. Sometimes I felt he cared for me more than my family, who were so busy and involved with their own lives.

Ben had often asked me to go out for dinner and dancing. We’d danced at our mutual friends’ wedding reception a few months earlier. Maybe someday we would go out together, but now I had to work hard, earn money, and glory in my holiday shopping plans. I had ideas for each grandchild on my list. Dating would have to take a backseat for a while.

My husband, Jeff, had insisted I start dating as soon as I could to go on with my life. “You’re too young to be alone now, honey. Just know I want you to find another man.” I felt a bit guilty despite Jeff’s request. I wanted to honor the good husband he had been and not pair up with someone else too soon.

My thoughts flew back to earlier that evening, when I’d gone to work. I needed to earn as much as possible. I missed the steady paycheck Jeff used to bring home from the Iron Works, but I missed my wonderful Jeff even more. But reality said I needed to pay my bills, so I didn’t give in to my tiredness as the night wore on.

The manager, Trish, stared at me when my hands shook as I picked up two plates. “Amy, let me call Patti to come in and replace you, okay? You look worn to a frazzle!”

“I’m fine!” I fibbed, feeling more worn out than in years.

But I had bills to pay and Christmas gifts to buy. As a fifty-four-year-old mother and grandmother, I had loved ones on my list that I wanted to see smile when they opened my presents. Giving gifts was important to me, a high point in my life, something I liked doing better than making new life plans for myself. I had enjoyed life with Jeff. Now it was time to give happiness to my children and grandchildren.

As I rushed around, I thought about my son Mike and his wife, Lorna. They had two active kids—Lisa, who was five, and Joseph, six. I loved driving the ten miles to their home in Crystal City. Their happiness with what I could give them was my life goal now. Everytime I earned extra tips and had my bills paid, I bought small presents for my family to give when I visited them. Giving was such a happy feeling.

Sure, I heard from some of the women I talked with at work or at coffee gatherings that giving gifts was not always a guarantee for family happiness. “I gave my son and his wife a new coffeemaker and she got upset. It wasn’t the brand she liked and she let me know about it every time I visited,” said Elaine.

Lois, Marla, Diana, and Tina mentioned that the children in their lives were often too fussy. So they gave money in a card instead of buying gifts that would be shunned.

I didn’t let what anyone said discourage me. I felt good giving gifts and nothing would make me stop shopping for them.

The only thing that was getting me down now was that this job was my extra one. My main waitress work was at the Lakeside Resort. My boss, Mr. Lewis, would frown on my overextending myself with this evening job on my day off from the resort. He wanted his workers to be rested and fresh. But Mr. Lewis wasn’t responsible for paying my bills or buying my loved ones gifts on birthdays or for Christmas!

My thoughts scattered as another wave of dizziness spun through me and I fell asleep or passed out from exhaustion on that high hospital bed.

When I came to, I was looking at Dr. Morgan’s craggy, sixty-plus-year-old face. He had been our family physician and was on-call that evening.

“Amy, I told you at your last checkup that you were overdoing it. You need more sleep and more time for fun—not just work. Remember the old saying that ‘all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl?’ Well, Jill is you, Amy. I want to know why you can’t make ends meet with one job. You no longer have Mike at home to support. Why do you need a second job when you’re at a stage in life when you need to relax and have some leisure time?”

His sincerity made me tell him something I didn’t tell many people; I admitted that I wanted to give my grandchildren special Christmas gifts. I told him about the electronic gifts, a porcelain collector doll, and a baby doll I was buying for my grandchildren. “I have a list of books and video films to buy for them, too, Dr. Morgan.”

“There’s no need for a grandmother to give up her personal life, to work herself to the bone so she can dote on grandchildren to the point where she ends up in the ER!” Dr. Morgan said emphatically. “You’re still young and attractive. Start dating again, and maybe even remarry!”

“But my life is Mike and his family. I’m that kind of woman and I can’t help it. I am the kind of woman who needs to create a homey atmosphere for those I love. I’m like that and I can’t change.”

“You need to take care of yourself, Amy. This December, you need to forget about Christmas.”

I gazed at the doctor’s stern but concerned expression and shrugged. I made no promises to give up on Christmas, so I stayed silent. He ordered me to rest awhile. He brought me a phone and ordered me to call Mike to come and take me to my home.

I obeyed that part of his order and phoned Mike, who sounded frantic with worry. “What’s wrong, Mom? You’re always so healthy and peppy. What happened?”

“Just exhausted. I haven’t been sleeping well.”

I didn’t admit my sleep had been interrupted by my long work hours. I was so physically uptight when I got home that sleep often eluded me. It was a secret I kept from my family. I needed to keep working to earn money and I knew I’d stop before I got sick.

Already, I knew I’d rest more. I’d learned from my trip to the ER. I wasn’t stupid. I planned to rest more—and that meant no dancing with Ben Samson until maybe next summer when I’d be caught up on rest.

Mike said he’d come and get me right away. “I want you to come home with us tonight, Mom.”

“No, I’ll rest better in my own bed, honey. Thanks for the offer, but I do like my own bed.”

He sighed. “Then I’ll sleep on your sofa tonight so I can be there for you. Lorna will understand and agree with my idea, too. I know it.”

I said okay, but I knew deep down that Lorna would not like it. She’d let me know early on that she now belonged to Mike and he belonged to her. “Our lives are our own, said Amy. My parents taught me to be up front with my beliefs. So I want you to know that we love you, but we have our own little family now. Please don’t tell Mike that we had this little talk.”

I agreed just to keep the peace between Mike and his wife. I thought of my neighbor Susan’s words: “A mother-in-law shouldn’t lead her life to please her married children or their spouses. I don’t. And I’ve been given some unwanted advice a few times, too.”

Susan had often frowned on the way her son and his wife spent too much money on every fad advertised on television. “The kids don’t need every gimmick on the market,” she’d said.

“That might have some truth to it,” I agreed, “but to see my grandchildren smile makes me feel such inner peace. It makes me happy and that’s my goal in life now that Jeff’s gone.”

“Suit yourself, Amy.” Susan shrugged, then offered me another piece of her tasty homemade cake.

Later, her words echoed in my mind as I pondered how Lorna indulged my grandchildren in whatever they begged for. Then guilt overwhelmed me. Was I doing the same? Still, I was giving Christmas gifts to create happy Christmas memories to show my love for them. My own past memories were not delightful. I’d longed for a certain doll for two years in a row and never got the beautiful blonde doll in the pink satin dress.

I felt torn inside but kept it a secret from my friends. I always smiled and said my Christmas had been great—like theirs had been.

As I lay on the bed waiting for Mike, I thought about how my son and his family took long weekends at resorts to get away from it all. Jeff and I hadn’t done that. We’d waited for someday, and that day had never arrived. So I was feeling fresh gladness giving loving gifts to my family. Somehow, it eased my grief and fulfilled me. It helped me more than finding romance with a new man would, I was sure.

And now I lay in the ER with Dr. Morgan’s words echoing in my brain: Forget about working so hard to shop for Christmas.

Then the curtain by my bed was pulled aside and I gazed at my tall blonde son whose blue eyes were shiny with tears. “Mom, what happened to you?”

“I got too tired. And my insurance will pay for this.”

“Mom, you’ve got to stop working at two jobs. I’ll do my best to help you if you need money.” He started to say more but he stopped. I knew he had no extra funds to help me. I had to work and lead my own life to fulfill my new goals for contentment.

A friendly nurse wheeled me to Mike’s van in the lighted hospital parking lot as the December wind blew. I decided to rest so I could enjoy the holidays. I’d find out about buying gifts on credit. My credit card was limited. I didn’t want to go over the maximum.

Mike settled in on my sofa bed overnight. It felt good to have him in the house again. I slept well and woke up feeling more rested. What a relief! I’d go to bed as soon as I got home from work each evening and catch up on my sleep.

Ben kept asking me to go dancing but there was no time—and I secretly knew I had no energy left for a new man, anyway.

I felt better each day and wrapped presents in my spare time. I wouldn’t be with Mike’s family when they opened their gifts. When Mike and Lorna had their first baby, she had told me birthdays and holidays would be their ‘family’ time. “I can’t help it if I seem selfish. I didn’t have family time when growing up, Amy. There was always something else going on.”

I would be invited to birthday and Christmas dinners at a separate time, though. I’d have loved to have seen their faces when they opened my gifts, but I’d heed Lorna’s wishes and do as she asked. It was their marriage and different from our family tradition. But that was what would be for now. Someday I would ask to be there on a holiday to see the grandchildren’s faces when they opened my gifts.

It was easier to work at my two jobs with ease after my rest. Ben Samson kept coming in to pay attention to me with his caring comments. “I want to take you dancing, Amy. You need to have some fun!”

“Someday, Ben, maybe,” I said. “For now, I’ve got bills to pay.”

“I understand about bills, but we all need a break for fun. You raised your son. Now it’s time for you to relax and enjoy some free time.” His dark eyes looked serious. “I worry about you wearing yourself out when you already did your child raising thing.”

Sometimes after he flirted and asked me to go dancing with him, I dreamed about him holding me close. And I’d wake up wishing it hadn’t been a dream.

Soon after that, he asked me to go to the Landing, a restaurant where there was a good dance band. “I know you were a terrific dancer in high school. No one forgets how to dance, right? So let’s go to the Landing and dance, Amy.”

I felt a twinge when he said the day he wanted me to go. I couldn’t say yes. It was the Sunday afternoon I had off from work and was invited to a pre-Christmas dinner at Mike and Lorna’s home. I couldn’t say no to my family. I’d been a mother too long for anything to interfere. Ben’s attentiveness would wait for another time, I told myself. He was a patient man.

Then I saw a new widow, Pam Taylor, flirting with Ben as he was leaving the restaurant to go dancing. What if he asks her? A jealous pang hit but melted when I knew I couldn’t give up being with my family for a Christmas gathering. Yet worry knotted in me. Pam was pretty and Ben smiled when she flirted with him.

Then Ben stopped showing up at the restaurant. I felt puzzled and worried that he was seeing Pam.

One late night after work I cried during a tearjerker romance movie on television. I longed to be held close and loved by another caring man. I even went so far as to look for Ben’s usual booth every time I was working, but he had vanished from my life. Why hadn’t I been more flirtatious in return?

I knew the answer: If I had to choose between Ben and Mike and his family, my maternal loyalty would have drawn me to my family. Was I being fair to them? Was I leaning on them too much?

Grandma had told me as a child that family closeness is a gift to be cherished.

As Christmas neared I kept busy, despite Ben’s absence. I trimmed the tree and baked Mike’s favorite fancy cut-out cookies for him and his family. I felt my pep lagging and ran out of wrapping paper while I still had gifts to wrap. So I found some leftover wall paper rolls to use for the rest of the gifts. It matched my kitchen walls, but the kids would get a smile out of it. I smiled, thinking of them clapping their hands in delight and saying, “Nana, you used wallpaper! Now our presents are like your walls!”

Christmas gift with tag

I ran out of ribbon, too, so just added a nametag on each. I sighed with relief when I finished the last gift. My grandchildren would have a pile of pretty packages with big ribbons to put under their big tree. They would never know how it felt to wake up on Christmas to find nothing under the tree. Buying for them was a way to fill the hole inside me from my bleak Christmases as a child and teen. And the wallpaper would be fun for them!

Three days before Christmas I wrote the last of my cards, delivered cookies to Susan and Ted next door, listened to taped carols, went to church, phoned my parents and promised to visit them in Nevada come summer. I must have sounded tired because Mom asked if I felt okay. I hadn’t told her about my ER trip and the doctor’s warning.

Mom sounded worried. “I know we didn’t have much money when you were growing up. But don’t work too hard, honey. Take a vacation and visit us before summer. I’d like to make hot soup for you and bake your favorite cinnamon rolls to go with morning coffee—the way you like breakfast.”

I thanked Mom. I missed her and Dad with a sudden fierceness and longed to visit them sooner. But I’d charged most of the gifts and needed to pay off my credit card bill before too much interest added on. I didn’t tell Mom. Why should I worry my parents?

“I’ll try to visit soon if I can swing the expense, Mom.”

“I hope so, Amy. I’d like to somehow make up for the hard times when you were a girl at home.”

I kept busy at the restaurants and delivering the cookies to Mike and Lorna’s home. Their trimmed tree was a glorious sight, with all the new trimmings in shimmering silver.

“Mike got a raise at the accounting office, so the new decorations were one way to celebrate,” Lorna said, beaming.

She offered me coffee with cookies. “They’re not homemade, but easier!” Lorna smiled.

“I brought you homemade cookies, Lorna,” I said.

Instead of the smile I expected, her expression told me she guessed I’d made the usual cut-out cookies she’d once said she disliked. Mike and the children liked them. I hugged her and asked her to greet Mike and the children for me when they got home.

As I drove home, I felt like attending the church concert. On an impulse, I decided to call Ben to see if he wanted to join me. It would be short notice, but I hadn’t seen him lately. I wouldn’t know if he’d like to go unless I asked.

I waved to Susan when I got out of my car in the driveway. She called to ask if I would be going to Mike’s for the gift opening on Christmas morning. I told her I’d go there later for dinner in the afternoon.

“You should be there for the gift opening, Amy. You’re the mother and grandmother, so why not?”

“I’m not pushy and it’s private family time. That’s how Lorna grew up, with only their immediate family there for the gift opening time. I understand—or intend to try!” I smiled to soften the tension growing inside me.

“Why don’t you go dancing with Ben sometime? I know he’s asked you to go.”

“Maybe I will,” I said, adding cheer to my tone.

However, worry gnawed at me. What if Ben had given up on me and found Pam to be good company?

Once inside, I decided not only to date Ben when he asked, but to be bold and call! Why not? I tried several times, but got no answer or machine to leave a message.

The trimmed tree at the church, the carols, and the nativity crèche gave me a family feeling. At home later, I quickly tuned on some Christmas television programs and vicariously enjoyed others’ lives on It’s A Wonderful Life. Then I went to bed, glad I hadn’t worked that night. I’d enjoyed a family feeling, even though I was alone.

But I wondered, Where’s Ben?

On Christmas morning, I made coffee, scrambled an egg, warmed a cinnamon roll in the microwave, and poured myself orange juice. I ate while “Joy To The World” wafted from the tape player. I basked in the memory of my first married Christmas, when Jeff and I had breakfast together in the tiny kitchen of our first apartment. Then we went back to bed for a while to make passionate love.

But that was another lifetime ago, I realized. I shook away the memories and anticipated seeing Mike, Lorna, and the children that afternoon. Then a sad streak hit me. Would I ever see Ben again? Well, I’d pushed him away, and it might have been best that way.

I glanced at the clock. It was time to go to Mike and Lorna’s home. I could hardly wait to see my grandchildren’s shining faces when they would rush to greet me and tell me how much they loved the gifts I’d given them!

I rang the doorbell an hour sooner than expected, but that wouldn’t bug them, I was sure. After all, it was Christmas. Everyone would be in a carefree, holiday spirit. I know I was! My drive over had been like riding on air.

When Lorna saw me at the door her mouth opened wide. “Oh, you’re early! We’re—we’re not ready yet, Amy.”

“That’s okay, Lorna. I can . . . well, blend in. Merry Christmas! And thanks for the wonderful sausage and cheese gift. My favorite kind!”

I leaned toward her and gave her a tight hug, although she stiffened. Her tight expression and cool attitude hurt me. Suddenly, my being pushed away from my family was too much. I was a person and I deserved a happy life. Jeff had told me that on his deathbed. And I would call Ben and tell him so—if I could still have Ben in my life.

Lorna must have seen my expression as I said, “I’ll leave now. Merry Christmas!”

I turned to go, but she stopped me by saying, “Listen, you’ve driven ten miles to get here, so you might as well come in.”

She pointed me to the family room, where the buzzing voices sounded. I stood in the doorway, gazed at the shimmering tree, and admired it aloud. Mike hurried over to hug me, as did my grandchildren, who then rushed right back to their new toys. I stood there, observing them as though they were on stage and I was in the audience.

“Sit down, sit down, Mom!” Mike said, pointing out a spot on the sofa he had cleared for me.

Happy family at christmas opening gifts together

I sat down and saw the gigantic pile of presents. There were games, toy trucks, doll carriages, a miniature keyboard, a little dinette set, a small beauty shop—to name some. The room was congested with crumpled paper and gifts. The gifts I had given must have been buried in the heap, so I wouldn’t ask if they’d liked them.

Everyone was chattering and keeping busy with different toys. I thanked Mike for the cheese assortment and he got me a cup of hot coffee to sip while we visited.

Then I saw it, peeking out from behind a pile of presents: the wallpaper-wrapped presents among the others I’d delivered to them earlier. Thinking they’d overlooked them, I walked over and pointed out what I had given them.

“You still have mine to open, Joseph,” I told my grandson.

He screwed up his little face. “You wrapped them in paper like your kitchen!”

“Joseph!” Mike scolded as Lorna walked into the room.

“Well, it’s not Christmas wrap, honey,” she said. “Can you blame a child if he’s got his own opinion?”

Stunned, I knew this was the end of my longing for family closeness on holidays. My family unity hope had been suddenly, most cruelly shattered. Now I could go on in life—a life of my own, with a new romance with Ben—if he still wanted me. My heart ached with worry that Pam had him now.

I would drive home to my peace and quiet. I would go out with Ben, if he was still available. I would take Susan’s suggestion to become bolder. I would wait to tell Mike and Lorna how I felt. It was Christmas, so I would just honor the day with patience . . . until I could change my life pattern of overindulging my son and his family. It was time to move to a new life—and romance!

I got up and walked to the door. Mike rushed to ask me to stay for dinner, but I’d lost my appetite. I knew I’d finally found my new pathway in life, and it wasn’t there, in that house. I needed time before we could discuss this, and Christmas wasn’t the day to do that.

I forced a smile as reality rushed through me like a river. “Mike, please don’t be concerned. I’ve got plans of my own today. Ben and I will spend time together.”

“Well, at least stay for when the children open your gifts, Mom.”

“No, it’s okay with me if they open them today or another time. I’ve got to leave now, Mike.” I took his right hand and squeezed it. “Merry Christmas to each of you! I’ll be happy, too, with my plans today.”

As I drove I hoped that Ben would listen to me and forgive me for putting him off so often after I’d told him I’d learned to pursue my own life.

Even if he was out of my life, I planned for the following Christmas. I would be willing to date and heed Jeff’s deathbed wish for me. I would socialize at a singles’ group, where everyone went to the movies, concerts, or dances together and didn’t necessarily pair off. I was weaning myself from being obsessed with making up for my poverty-stricken childhood by giving up happiness now.

As I entered my home again, with its cozy splendor and my renewed inner peace, I became even bolder. I phoned Ben. This time his wonderful, deep voice answered.

“Hi!” I said. “This is Amy Lukas. Merry Christmas, Ben.”

“Merry Christmas to you, Amy,” he said, gladness tingling in his tone. “I’ve been busy checking out a new job lately, so I haven’t been at the restaurant. I was sitting here having a frozen dinner for my Christmas meal. Not too bad, but not great, either. The restaurants in town are closed, so I can’t be choosy.”

“If you want to come over, I’ll scramble some eggs for you, make toast, and serve you some of the pumpkin pie I made. I’ve also got salad fixings, if you like, to go with two kinds of cheese with crackers as an alternative, Ben.”

“I don’t care what you serve, Amy. I’m so glad you’re including me in your Christmas.”

Romantic Senior Couple In Bathroom

We had a cozy time eating the holiday breakfast in the evening. Then we put on some tapes of romantic love songs, and Ben and I danced. We swayed to the soft melodies and I felt as though I was meant for his arms. He whispered, “I’ve never been happier, Amy. Merry Christmas, honey.”

That was last Christmas. This Christmas will be our wedding day—and I had to share the good news. I feel that Jeff will smile from heaven, knowing that I will no longer be widowed and I’ll be cherished and loved by another man.

Mike, Lorna, Lisa, and Joseph are happy that I no longer will be alone. The children made me a poster: happy marriage to nana.

Now I’ll have family love and my new romance to cherish!

A Christmas Angel Saved Our Cursed Town

Winter night

The phone rang four times before I could get to it. It was Elvira Matthews, the town busybody. “Did you hear about Cherry Lane?” she wanted to know.

“No. I haven’t heard anything.” Cherry Lane was a senior at the Hartford Falls high school and the captain of the cheerleading squad. “She was in church on Sunday, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to her. What’s up?”

I wasn’t prepared for what Elvira had to say. “Oh, Marlene, it’s so terrible. Cherry’s been murdered.” She burst into tears over the line.

I knew how Elvira felt. Cherry was the prettiest, brightest, sweetest girl in Hartford Falls. A tall girl with dark eyes and long black hair, she had recently been awarded a scholarship to the state university. She wanted to become a physical therapist.

By the time Elvira finished her story, I was also crying. Cherry had been dating Collin Waters, the quarterback of the football team. According to Elvira, Collin had wanted Cherry to elope with him. He couldn’t stand the fact that she’d be leaving him for college. When she refused his offer, he shot her before turning the gun on himself.

For a few minutes, Elvira and I took turns sharing stories about Cherry and agreeing that her death was a horrible tragedy. Then she told me she had to let me go—that meant she had several other people she wanted to call and break the news to. I said good-bye and wiped away my tears. If it wasn’t one thing, it was something else.

My husband and I had moved to Hartford Falls about nine months before Cherry was killed. It was a picture-book town in the mountains, with one main street and a small church on a hill overlooking the town. My husband had taken over as the church’s pastor after the previous minister retired.

This was Gordon’s first church, and we had been very excited at the prospect of moving to the mountain town. The Hartford Falls congregation had welcomed us and helped us settle into the little pastoral cottage down the road from the church. Things went very well for six months.

Then, one night while we were sleeping, the church building burned down. The fire department told us that faulty wiring had caused it. The congregation, which included most of the townspeople, had worked very hard at putting up a new building. Most of the structure was replaced in about ten weeks. That was around the time Jake Willis had died.

Mr. Willis had been one of the deacons of the church and the first person to officially welcome my husband and me to Hartford Falls. His family had built the town in the late eighteen hundreds. The man’s death hadn’t been entirely unexpected, since he was eighty-four years old, but he had been a very lovable person. Everyone in town missed him.

Two weeks to the day after Jake’s funeral, Cherry Lane was killed.

I put together a pasta casserole and carried it to the Lane house. As I expected, the girl’s family was in a state of shock. I offered to stay with the three remaining Lane children while Cherry’s parents left to make the arrangements for her funeral.

Most of the residents of Hartford Falls came by that afternoon, bringing food, condolences, and offers of help. Gordon arrived among the throng.

“I thought I might find you here,” he told me.

“I’ve been taking care of the kids all afternoon, but the Lanes will be back in a few minutes. They just called. Where have you been? I thought you’d be here earlier.”

“I’ve been with the Waters,” he said sadly. “Collin is in the hospital over in Rock Creek.”

I was surprised. “The hospital? He’s still alive? Elvira said he shot himself.”

Gordon grimaced. “He did, but somehow he managed to miss any vital organs. The doctors say he’ll recover.”

“How are his parents holding up?”

“They’re shocked and devastated, as you can imagine. They’re torn between being glad that their son is alive and being horrified by what he’s done.”

When the Lanes returned, Gordon counseled them for awhile. Then he told them that if they needed anything they should call him immediately. We rode home together.

“I just don’t understand,” I told my husband over dinner. “When we first came here, I thought this was the most perfect town. Then the church burned down, Jake died, and now Collin has murdered Cherry. How could so many bad things happen in such a small place?”

“Now, Marlene, you know that bad things happen everywhere. Hartford Falls is no different than anywhere else.”

Of course he was right. But anything bad that happens in a small town seems worse than if it happens in a city. In a large city a murder is nothing more than an item on the news. In Hartford Falls, everyone knew everyone else, and a lot of the people in the town were related to each other. A murder affects everyone in the community.

Cherry’s death hit the town hard. All the residents of Hartford Falls and most of the residents of neighboring Rock Creek came to the funeral. Between the tears and the expressions of sorrow, I heard something else—anger. Many of the townspeople were angry at Collin Waters for taking Cherry’s life. I could understand their outrage and frustration. What I couldn’t understand was that some people were angry at Collin’s parents for what he’d done. They blamed the Waters family for their son’s actions.

Collin was an only child, the cherished son of doting parents. Constantly lavished with love and attention, he’d been spoiled, or so I was told. Elvira described him throwing tantrums whenever he didn’t get his way. A couple of other people speculated to me that killing Cherry was nothing more than an extreme tantrum on Collin’s part. A few people even insisted that his parents’ indulgence had turned him into a murderer.

Gordon heard those theories, too, and he addressed them in his Sunday sermon.

“Our lives are our tests, designed to make us stronger and more compassionate, as well as more loving and spiritual. That’s why bad things happen to good people. It’s not our place to assign blame. What hurts one of us hurts all of us. It’s our forgiveness and our kindness that matters in these situations.”

After the service, Elvira sought me out in the vestry. “Marlene, the reverend’s sermons always make me feel so much better. It gives me peace to know that some spiritual good might come from poor Cherry’s death.”

I agreed with her. “Yes, Gordon always had the ability to make people feel better.”

I should know.

My husband and I had met in college. We’d been dating for a couple of months when Gordon enthusiastically shared with me his dream of becoming a clergyman.

“I start at the seminary next semester, Marlene,” he announced one night over dinner at a fast-food restaurant.

I was completely astounded, not just by his plan but also by the excitement in his voice when he made his declaration.

“Seminary? You’re studying theology?” My words came out in a dry croak. Somehow I couldn’t imagine this big, sweet man as the parson of some church. He got straight As in physics and math, and he seemed more like the kind of guy who would study science or engineering. “Why?” I wondered.

The glow in his eyes was bright enough to read by. “Remember when I told you that I was raised in a children’s home?”

Gordon had been abandoned on the steps of a hospital and turned over to the home as an infant.

“My closest friend there was Reverend Bristol. Reverend Billy—as I used to call him—taught me to play baseball and basketball. He helped me with my homework, and he consoled me when people came to adopt the other children but they never chose me.

“One day I realized that the reason I wasn’t adopted was because I was supposed to grow up there. That same day I decided that when I grew up, I was going to go into the service of my fellow men and women, just like Reverend Billy had.”

I wanted to ask him why he didn’t just join the Peace Corps, but all I could manage to ask was, “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“I didn’t know until recently how important you would become to me, Marlene. As we’ve gotten to know each other, I’ve realized that you’re very important to me.” The glow in his eyes got even brighter when he said that.

I had seen the seminary buildings on campus, those gothic structures complete with old brick and ivy. Gordon was the only person I knew who was enrolled there. He had become important to me, too, so much so that I had begun to imagine myself as his wife. His revelation crushed my fantasy. If I couldn’t envision him as a preacher, I really couldn’t see myself as a preacher’s wife.

Now don’t get me wrong. When I was growing up, I went to church with my mother every Sunday. I watched the pastor and his wife. The pastor’s wife seemed to work even harder than her husband. She was always available to anyone who needed help. She taught Sunday school, ran the church nursery, presided over the Christian Aid Society, and organized the activities. She even found time to tutor children who were having trouble in school. I was sure I could never handle the responsibilities of a minister’s wife.

Life teaches us what we can handle, however. A few weeks after Gordon made his announcement, my father had a stroke. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk, and I was certain he would never recover. I thought the best he could ever be was a shell of his former self, and I wandered through each day sad and sorry about the way life was treating my family.

Gordon told me to get over myself. He said that my giving up wouldn’t help my father at all. He assured me that my dad would get better, and my family would survive. He not only encouraged me, he helped my family in every way he could. Gordon was there to run every errand. He drove Dad to the doctor, helped me buy groceries, prepare meals, and clean the house so that Mom could spend more time with Dad. He read to Dad for hours on end. Gordon was my knight in shining armor, my Prince Charming, and my best friend, all rolled up into one.

Dad recovered in a few months. By the time his recovery was complete, I was absolutely sure that I belonged with Gordon. Wherever he was, whatever he wanted to do, I would be there with him. His life would be my life. I would follow him across broken glass on my knees.

Since moving to Hartford Falls, Gordon and I had been trying to have a baby. So far we’d been unsuccessful, and every month I was disappointed to discover that we would have to wait a little longer. Baby-sitting for the mothers in the congregation always lifted my spirits while I was waiting for my own child, and little Kristin Riggs was my favorite charge. She was seven months old and as close to an angel as a little girl could be.

Kristin’s mother, Iris, was a young, single woman with no family. Several of the women in the congregation, myself included, tried to watch over Iris and Kristin. We took turns caring for Kristin while Iris was at work.

I always looked forward to my time with the little girl and felt blessed to share her life. I loved to hold her and tell her stories. I imagined that Gordon and I would have a daughter like her one day.

It was Gordon who broke the news to me about Kristin. He came home on a weekday morning looking tired and depressed. “I’ve just come from the hospital.”

I braced myself. “What happened, Gordon?”

“Iris called me at the church this morning. The paramedics took Kristin to the hospital last night. She wasn’t breathing. They tried to revive her, but there was nothing they could do. She’s gone, and they’re still not sure what was wrong with her.”

I sank down on the sofa and covered my face with my hands. “Kristin’s gone? But I just had her here yesterday.” Tears rolled down my cheeks.

Gordon sat down beside me and drew me into his arms. “I’m sorry, Marlene. I know how much you loved her.”

Everyone loved her.” I sobbed. “And Iris . . . ”

“ . . . is going to need our support,” he finished.

If it isn’t one thing, it’s something else.

Kristin’s death was the main topic in Hartford Falls for the next few days. The people who’d known the little girl were shocked that she was gone, and the people who hadn’t known her were saddened that a child so young could be taken so unexpectedly.

Rumors started to fly. There were whispers that Iris had done something wrong, that Kristin’s death was a punishment. Some people pointed out that Kristin’s death was just the latest incident in a string of strange episodes that included the church burning down, Jake’s death, and Cherry Lane’s murder. A few even suggested that there was something unnatural at work in our town.

I didn’t have much time to listen to rumors. Iris was totally devastated, and she came to stay with Gordon and me while the police investigated her daughter’s death. The police chief assured me that the investigation was standard procedure in cases of unexplained death.

Iris blamed herself. “I thought she was sleeping. But if I had checked her earlier, there might have been something I could have done,” she wailed. “When I saw that she wasn’t breathing, I gave her CPR.”

“Please don’t beat yourself up like this,” I pleaded with her. “You’re a good mother, and Kristin’s death wasn’t your fault. It was some kind of horrible accident.”

Her guilt feelings weren’t lessened by Detective Cook, who stopped by my house to question Iris. I offered to leave the two of them alone, but the detective assured me it wasn’t necessary.

“These are just routine questions, Mrs. McKenzie,” he said.

Then he shocked me by asking Iris if she smothered her daughter because she was tired of being a single mother. When Iris burst into tears, the detective suggested that Iris had been high on drugs and she had neglected Kristin, causing her daughter’s death.

I couldn’t stand by and let him continue.

“That’s enough, Detective. You know that Kristin didn’t die of abuse or neglect, and Iris did nothing wrong. I can vouch for Iris and so can the entire congregation of our church—which, as you know, includes most of the people in this town. There’s no reason for these outrageous accusations.”

He had the decency to look sheepish. “I’m sorry, Mrs. McKenzie. I’m just doing my job.”

I turned to Iris. “Dear, why don’t you go and lie down? Detective Cook is finished doing his job.” I gave him a look that dared him to disagree. When Iris was out of the room, I turned on him. “She lost her baby, and she feels bad enough already. You don’t need to make it worse.”

He declined my offer of coffee and left.

The next day the coroner ruled that Kristin had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At Kristin’s funeral, Elvira told me that Collin Waters had been released from the hospital and transferred to jail. Since he had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, he and his family would be spared the agony of a trial. Collin would be taken to the state penitentiary, where he would spend the next twelve years of his life.

“Some people in town are saying that Hartford Falls is cursed,” Elvira confided.

I knew she was serious, but I felt like laughing. “Cursed? I hadn’t heard that word.”

“Well, maybe not cursed exactly,” she amended, “but Benton Peters did say that he thinks the people of our town are being punished. And Linda Sanchez insisted that the tragedies that have been happening are positively evil.”

Evil. Punishment. I had never believed in curses. Elvira’s sister, Mildred, declared that the town’s problems must be because our congregation had sinned in some way.

Gordon heard those suggestions, and he brought them to a halt. As he stood at the pulpit in the front of the church on Sunday, light spilled through the new stained glass window behind him and showered him with a golden radiance.

“The people we miss are not lost to us,” he reminded the congregation. “They’ve merely gone home to wait for us in Heaven. We will all be together there one day. Talking of curses and evil is a foolish waste of time. There are no curses and no one is being punished. Although evil does exist, we can’t think of it as evil when our loved ones go home to Heaven.”

I glanced across the sanctuary at Elvira. She was sitting with Mildred, and they were both nodding their heads as though they had thought up the idea of Heaven themselves.

A couple of weeks later, when I found out I was pregnant, I thought I was in Heaven. I had gone to the drugstore for a pregnancy test and hurried home to take it. When I saw that it was positive, I laughed and cried at the same time.

I couldn’t wait to tell Gordon. I prepared a special dinner while I practiced the words I would use. But before I could give him the wonderful news, another tragedy struck.

That morning, forty students from the high school, along with a driver and several chaperones, had taken a school bus over the mountain to Rock Creek to spend the day skiing. Although there had been a heavy snowfall a few days earlier, the roads were clear and the day had been a fine one. No one suspected that there was any kind of problem . . . until after nightfall, when the bus never returned.

Gordon called me from the church and asked me to walk over. When I arrived, I discovered that most of the townspeople were already there. I looked around at everyone I had come to love and at the church that had been rebuilt, and I thought about how unfair it was that something else should happen. Hartford Falls had suffered enough.

But it became worse: The state police called to inform us that there had been an avalanche on the road between Hartford Falls and Rock Creek. A large section of the road had been buried. That road was two lanes wide and ran beside Yellow Mountain. Along one edge of the pavement, the rock slope rose almost vertically to the mountaintop. Along the other edge was a wide shoulder that ended in a long, steep drop to the river below. If the avalanche had pushed the bus off the road, there was no way the passengers would survive the fall, and if the snow had buried the bus on the road, the passengers would freeze to death before the rescue crews could reach them.

There was a snow shed on that road, a huge awning made of steel beams. It was meant to shelter anything that passed under it from the most dangerous snow slide. But to use the snow shed, the bus would have to be somewhere near it, and the driver would have to suspect that there was an avalanche danger.

Unfortunately, the state policeman who called said that by the time the bus had left the ski area on its return journey, it would have been too far away from the snow shed to take shelter there when the avalanche hit. The officer suggested that the people of Hartford Falls should prepare themselves for the worst.

Several men from the town worked for the state highway department, and it was their job to drive the heavy equipment used to clear the road of mud and snow slides. These men were already out on the mountain, working on the road and searching for the bus. At the other end of the drive in Rock Creek, men were also working with heavy equipment to clear the snow.

The state police had avalanche dogs standing by, waiting to search the snow slide and sniff out the survivors. The only thing the rest of us could do was pray.

While we waited, extra bulldozers, snowplows, and Sno-cats were brought in from nearby towns to both Hartford Falls and Rock Creek. Crews and equipment worked around the clock to move the snow.

In addition to the school bus, other traffic would have been on the mountain road. We remained in the church, hoping for news of any vehicles, survivors, or bodies that had been pulled from the snow.

I looked around the sanctuary at the women clutching tissues, some of them crying, some with eyes closed in silent prayer. The men sat beside them, tight-lipped and pale, clenching their fists in their laps. The sprigs of holly decorating the pulpit and the bright, cheery poinsettias set before the altar in preparation for the Christmas holiday seemed out of place with those heavy hearts.

In spite of that, Gordon seemed to be everywhere—smiling, hugging, encouraging people not to give up. I thought about what he had said about our loved ones going to Heaven, and I wondered if the Lord had called forty of the town’s young people to be by His side.

Benton Peters once again brought up the subject of punishment. “Hartford Falls is being punished for its sins!” I heard him insist to Elvira.

She disagreed. “I don’t believe that what’s happening to our town is a punishment, Benton. I agree with Linda. I think this is evil and that Hartford Falls is cursed. There are evil spirits here, and Reverend McKenzie will have to drive them away.”

“Elvira, Benton, that’s enough of that talk,” I chastised them. “Everyone here is upset and scared. They don’t need to hear about evil spirits.”

“Well, Marlene,” Elvira looked over her glasses at me, “then how do you explain all the tragedies we’ve had in this town?”

“I can’t explain them,” I admitted, “and neither can you. But I’m not ready to believe that evil spirits are responsible.” I looked around the church and spotted Annie Palmer sitting alone in a pew.

“Elvira, Annie is over there sitting by herself. She lost her husband a couple of years ago, and her only child is on that bus. If you went over and sat with her, I’m sure it would make her feel better. But please don’t mention curses.”

Elvira nodded and went over to join Annie. I turned to Benton, but he had moved to the other side of the sanctuary.

In the time it took to clear away the avalanche, the people of Hartford Falls aged by decades. The state police had promised to call the church as soon as they found or recovered anyone. Hour after hour passed, and still the phone didn’t ring. When it finally did, I nearly burst into tears.

Gordon took the call, and after he hung up he made the announcement: “Friends and neighbors—the state police just told me that the snowplows made it to the snow shed. Inside they found the school bus, two cars, and a pickup truck. Everyone is safe!”

A loud sigh of relief escaped from the congregation, followed by a cheer. There were shouts of, “Praise the Lord!” and “It’s a miracle!” Gordon led us in a prayer of thanks and Elvira stepped up to the organ and began to play hymns.

“It really was a miracle, Reverend,” the bus driver told Gordon a few hours later. “The last thing I remember was leaving Rock Creek—and the next thing I knew, the bus had stopped in the snow shed, and the snow hit all around us. The Man Upstairs was watching over us this day.”

Vilnius Old Town Square at Christmas time “I’m sure He was,” Gordon agreed, “like He does every day.”

As the families were reunited and the townspeople trickled away to their homes, I heard the word miracle mentioned many times. No one used the word curse. My husband and I agreed that the Lord had sent our town a guardian angel to bless that Christmas.

Gordon and I walked home together.

“There’s another miracle that I haven’t told you about,” I confessed. “We’ll have to wait for awhile for this miracle, though.”

“How long do we have to wait?” my husband asked.

“I’m expecting another little angel to arrive . . . in about eight months,” I told him. “I’m hoping it’s a girl.”