The next week, braving the chilly air, old man Barnes and Rufus stopped by as Luther was hauling the tree to the curb. “Did you have a good Christmas, book man?” asked old man Barnes. “How were Cole and the family?”
Luther, again trying to hide his disappointment, said, “well, they couldn’t make it. The weather turned bad up there, and they were afraid they would get stranded somewhere on the way, but Cole said they would try to make it down after the first of the year. Luther said, “they sent me a nice card with a picture of the family on it. You should see my little darlings. They’re the spitting image of their grandma.”
Old man Barnes, trying to hide his own sadness, said, “well, I’m sure they’ll make it down soon. Where are you off to now? Atre you after getting some more books?” Luther smiled and said, “I thought I might run into some good sales seeing as how it’s after the holidays. You never know what I might find.”
Cole and his family didn’t make it down after the new year as hoped, so Luther continued to busy himself making shelves for his treasured books. Old man Barnes had once asked Luther who his favorite author was. Luther smiled and said, “why that would be like asking somebody who their favorite child was. To me, they’re all my favorites.”
Christmas rolled around again, and again Luther was anticipating a visit from Cole and his little darlings, who were now a year older. This year, Cole had promised that “come Hell or high water,” they would make it down.
Just as last year, Luther visited the tree farm, wallet full of dollar bills, and once again, picked out the most beautiful tree he could find. He brought the lights and ornaments down from the attic, and sang to himself as he decorated the tree. Luther was getting some age on him, and it was getting harder and harder to lift heavy things like Christmas trees, but oh, the joy of finally getting to see his family made his efforts worth it.
While hanging lights on the outside of the house, the children in the neighborhood, bundled up like ticks about to burst, walked or rode by on their bicycles and yelled, “Merry Christmas, book man.” Luther loved to see them having fun and would sometimes watch as they struggled to build a snowman out of powdery snow. Unable to get it to stick together, it lent itself to making perfect snow angels. Luther remembered Cole making snow angels and when there was a heavy wet snow, he would ask Luther to help make what he called “the bestest snowman ever.” Luther always obliged, and it was a memory that he would never forget.
Christmas came and went, and again, Cole and his family weren’t able to make it down. One of his little darlings had gotten sick, and Cole said they didn’t want to travel with a sick child, but promised Luther that they would make it down as soon as she got better.
As Luther was hauling the tree out to the curb, old man Barnes and Rufus were walking by. Rufus walked up to Luther and when he bent down to rub his head, he started licking his hand. It was as if he could sense the sadness in Luther. Old man Barnes didn’t ask how his Christmas was, or how the visit with Cole and the family went. He could tell that once again, Luther had been disappointed.
Luther hadn’t received a visit, but he had received yet another card from Cole with pictures of his little darlings. How they had grown! He was so looking forward to seeing them, as Cole had promised they would be down soon.
He put on a brave face and started the new year. He tried to soothe his sorrow by thinking of the abundant treasures yet to be discovered. In true form, the next week he came home with a pillowcase full of books. Old man Barnes and Rufus came walking down the street. He stopped and asked, “how many have you got today?”
Luther smiled and said, “I haven’t counted yet but, I need to get working on some shelves. Cole and my little darlings are coming down soon you know, and I don’t want to be down in my basement building shelves when I can be playing with them.”
“When are you expecting them this time?” old man Barnes asked.
“Well, Cole promised that they would try to make it down in a couple of weeks.” Luther said. “I have to tell you, I’m so excited, and I think this time they’ll make it.”
Alas, Luther would be left wanting again. Cole said that things were just too hectic at work, but he was taking some time off around Christmas, and without a doubt, they would be down.
Soon Christmas was on the way and once again, Luther bought a tree and decorated it with lights and ornaments. Once again, he hung his little darlings’ stockings on the fireplace mantle and filled them with goodies. He had bought two little porcelain angels, carefully wrapped them, and put them under the tree. He ordered a turkey dinner from the local grocer, and had taken the good china from the hutch. This was going to be such a wonderful Christmas.
After last Christmas, Luther was scouring the local garage sales, and to his delight, he found a set of reindeer whose heads moved back and forth, and he got them for what he called “a song.”. He carefully packed them away, hoping they would make their debut the next year. The next year came, and he made his way to the attic, got them down and put them in the front yard. He thought they might make his little darlings giggle as they watched. As he was hanging the lights on the house, the neighborhood children, growing up, and now riding bigger bicycles, rode by and said, “Merry Christmas, book man. I like your reindeer.”
Luther smiled and waved and hoped that maybe they could come play with his little darlings. He was also hoping that it would snow so they could make their very first snowman in Papa’s yard. He had an old scarf, an old hat and some of Arlenes’ buttons. He had picked out two perfect limbs for arms and he made sure he had a carrot for the nose.
But Christmas again came and went. Cole and his little darlings couldn’t make it, but there was yet another promise of trying to visit after the first of the year.
Christmas night, nobody knew that Luther sat in his house next to the tree, and cried.
The next day, as he dragged the tree to the curb, Luther’s melancholy was clear to old man Barnes, who was finding it more and more difficult to hide his anger toward Cole…a man he didn’t even know. He asked Luther if he was angry. “No, I’m not,” he said. “I understand. You know these young folks have a lot going on in their lives. They have work and children and friends.”
He sounded as if he was trying to apologize for Cole. Old man Barnes looked at Luther and said, “you’re a good man.” Luther smiled and said, “well, I try to be.”
Luthers’ family didn’t make it down to see him, but one of his hopes had come true. It had snowed and everything was covered in a white blanket that lent a sense of serenity to the entire neighborhood. It was beautiful, but how much more beautiful it would have been had there been a snowman in the front yard, sitting next to the nodding reindeer.
To be continued_________________________