With her truculent family gathered at her stately Charleston mansion for Christmas, 93-year-old matriarch Theodora is having a hard time tolerating the lot of them. Theodora hankers for her 1920s childhood, when Pearl, the family's stern black maid, enforced strict houshold discipline and took no guff while working hard at Christmas, all the while singing gospel favorites such as "Come en Go wid Me." When Theodora's usual maid is called away, Pearl herself (as a ghost) blows in, ready to set the house in order, She unearths the antique crèche and other Christmas heirlooms long buried, and altering the family's general bad temper. Frank (The Land of Mango Sunsets) includes homegrown recipes that further sweeten this Lowcountry holiday confection. (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Christmas Pearlby Dorothea Benton Frank
Still spry at ninety-three, Theodora has lived long enough to see her family grow into an insufferable bunch of truculent knuckleheads. Having finally gathered the whole bickering brood together for the holidays at her South Carolina home, the grand matriarch pines wistfully for those extravagant, homey Christmases of her childhood. How she misses the tables… See more details below
Still spry at ninety-three, Theodora has lived long enough to see her family grow into an insufferable bunch of truculent knuckleheads. Having finally gathered the whole bickering brood together for the holidays at her South Carolina home, the grand matriarch pines wistfully for those extravagant, homey Christmases of her childhood. How she misses the tables groaning with home-cooked goodies, the over-the-top decorations, those long, lovely fireside chats with Pearl, her grandmother's beloved housekeeper and closest confidante. These days, where is the love and the joy . . . and the peace?
But this is, after all, a magical time. Someone very special has heard Theodora's plea—and is about to arrive at her door with pockets full of Gullah magic and enough common sense to transform this Christmas into the miracle it's truly meant to be.
Ninety-three-year old Theodora is lost in memories of past holidays when the housekeeper, Pearl, would overdecorate, overcook, and have long fireside chats with her. This year it's all slice-and-bake cookies, Internet gift certificates, and bickering families throwing insults. When Theodora is about to give up, the spirit of Pearl appears and smoothes over the holiday for all. This charming little book by the best-selling author (Land of Mango Sunsets) also includes holiday recipes. For most collections.
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The Christmas Pearl
By Dorothea Frank
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Dorothea Frank
All right reserved.
When I was a young girl, the glorious celebrations of the Christmas season were a very different affair than they are today. Of course, I am as old as Methuselah. Ninety-three. When I got out of bed this morning, every bone in my body creaked like the loose boards in the front staircase of this ancient house. Can you even imagine what it would be like to have lived so many years? It was hard to believe that I had done it myself. But there it was. I was an old nanny goat at last. However, I much preferred to be thought of as a stylish dowager, the doyenne of Murray Boulevard, staving off her dotage. The fact was that if dotage and incapacitating decrepitude couldn't take me down in ninety-three years, I might squeak my way to Glory unscathed. Hallelujah! Another blessing!
My, my! The world has certainly changed, although many other, more important things have remained the same. After all, as Charlestonians, we are the self-appointed guardians of all traditions worthy of preservation. For example, it was 2006, I was still living in my family's home, as my mother and grandmother had done. Probably my great-grandmother before them, too. My memory is a little bit fuzzy about that. Regardless,the point is, I never left. Why would I?
Unfortunately, our home has become a little threadbare. Everything from the plaster to the plumbing could use some attention. It was not that my offspring or their offspring couldn't gather the resources to correct the creaks and leaks; it was that no one seemed to be worried about how this state of dilapidation looked to outsiders. What kind of Charlestonian no longer cared about appearances? Apathetic slackers, I'm afraid to say. It made me sick in my heart. The house deserved better.
Like any classic Southern stately home, ours has massive white Corinthian columns strung along the front portico. The foundation and the portico flooring is handmade brick, as is most of the entire house. My parents loved wrought-iron work so much that they added lots of detail—handrails, a balcony, and so forth.
Each generation—that is, until now—added some distinction to the house and grounds. I was the one who commissioned the gates forged by Charleston's greatest blacksmith, Phillip Simmons, himself! Yes, it's true. I will never forget the day he came with his men to install them on the sidewall of the house. They are superb, like black iron lace, with delicate snowy egrets set in ovals in the center of each side. He brought with him a small plaque bearing his name—P. SIMMONS. He asked me if I thought it was all right to affix it to the bottom. I said, you go right ahead, Mr. Simmons, because you are truly an artist! So he did.
In the yard are sprawling magnolia and live oak trees dripping with great sheers of Spanish moss. In the rear gardens are azalea and camellia bushes that are as old as Noah's house cat. Most of the landscaping is original to the house, except for the few things we lost during hurricanes, disease, or because of hostile visitors, if you know what I mean. Naturally, we have fig ivy crawling up the front steps that grows so quickly it makes me wish I carried pruning shears in my purse. Truth? Everything needs pruning and a good coat of paint.
I couldn't dwell on it. What was I supposed to do about renovations and repairs when my life had come to a place where I was practically a guest in my own home? Not much, I'm afraid. In any case, I was determined to maintain a positive attitude.
I was preparing to celebrate Christmas with my darling daughter, Barbara, her family, and their spouses and children, who had all arrived for the holidays. To give you the family map, Barbara and her husband, Cleland, who are both in their early sixties, live here with me. Their grown children have children and live in their own homes in Atlanta and Charlotte. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I'm glad they do. Bless their hearts, they are a truculent bunch. Yes, they are, but I mean that in the nicest possible way.
It might interest you to know how the house retaliated against their presence. Every time my whole family gathers under this roof, the walls rattle, the chandeliers downstairs flicker, and every portrait goes crooked on its nail. You see, along with the living comes the dead. Yes, our house is very haunted. It certainly is. Or it is sinking. Or perhaps both. I was never quite certain which because Charleston, especially the tip of the peninsula where we live, was built on plough mud. However, I can see Fort Sumter from my bedroom window. Knowing all that the mighty fortress represented gives me ample strength to deal with them.
All I can do all day is cluck to myself. I am clucking for a good reason. This was supposed to be a time of great joy. Unfortunately, Barbara's family always does such a pitiful job of the production of our Christmas celebration that I wind up disheartened. In her defense, at her age Barbara can only do so much on her own and the rest of them are clueless. Sadly, no one else appears to see anything wrong with the ramshackle way things are thrown together. Truly, I don't mean to judge them so harshly, but somehow it seems to me that they have allowed the whole spirit of the season to erode into blatant commercialism. I could have told them plenty of ways to revive the beauty of the past. I have tried many times; however, who wants to listen to an old coot like me? I worry that it is too late. When I close my eyes for the last time, an entire library of instructions for genuinely rewarding living will go with me.
Excerpted from The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Frank Copyright © 2007 by Dorothea Frank. Excerpted by permission.
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