Giovanni's Light: The Story of a Town Where Time Stopped for Christmasby Phyllis Theroux
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Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but there was a certain storybook quality about the town that made visitors catch their breath. As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December first, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners, the plastic Santa Claus went back on the top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane at Elwood's Market started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers.
Yet on this particular Christmas, there were signs that the order of things would change. And when it did, the people in Ryland Falls never celebrated Christmas the same way again.
The Christmas spirit is alive and well in this inspiring story about the redeeming power of the imagination and the true nature of compassion.
Howard Norman author of The Haunting of L. Deeply affecting, written with offhand-seeming brilliance and compassion, Giovanni's Light is a Christmas dream of achieved realism. Phyllis Theroux succeeds in plaiting together a philosophy of art with real people's lives in a way that makes her book a small classic.
Thomas Moore author of Care of the Soul Charming and universal, Giovanni's Light is a story of hope and the often forgotten fact that life can change, especially when nature is allowed to play a role.
Benjamin Cheever author of Famous After Death You'll read this in one sitting. And when you've finished, the world will look fresh and new again, the way it used to look. Giovanni's Light is splendid. Read it to yourself. Read it to your children.
Sue Grafton author of P Is for Peril Reading Giovanni's Light is like being transported by magic into one of those miniature villages under an old-fashioned Christmas tree.
Judith Viorst author of Imperfect Control This Christmas, and every Christmas, families all over America should be reading Giovanni's Light. Like It's a Wonderful Life, it offers enduring truths about connection and community. As always, Phyllis Theroux writes with a spare eloquence that speaks directly to the heart. Do I dare call her gentle fable an instant classic? You bet.
The Reverend William Sloane Coffin author of The Heart Is a Little to the Left Giovanni's Light reminds us of the Divine wonder and beauty of ordinary things in the everyday world.
Michael Korda author of Country Matters Giovanni's Light is a charming, lovely story, and the perfect Christmas "stocking stuffer."
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Ryland Falls, population thirty-five hundred, was a town that didn't look quite real. With its quiet, tree-shaded streets, old-fashioned clapboard houses with wraparound porches, and lawns thick with fireflies on summer evenings, it made people sigh and imagine happy things that had never happened to them. There were vacant lots full of buttercups and Queen Anne's lace, a creek with frogs and large, flat stones for sitting. Children rode their bicycles downtown for ice cream. Everybody knew everybody else's name.
City people called Ryland Falls a backwater, and it's true that not a lot happened here from one year to the next. But in spring, the pear trees along Center Street sent drifts of white petals into air that smelled of fresh grass clippings. In summer, willows formed a soft green drizzle of branches around the pond. And when the air grew cold, the maples on top of Cemetery Hill burst into flame and burned for long blue days before dropping their leaves like a bright tablecloth upon the graves.
In the distance was a mountain. Old Rag was as wild and trackless as Ryland Falls was orderly and refined, and the townspeople didn't spend much time there, except on the road that cut across the top of it. But it gave the town a picturesque backdrop and protected it from the noise and confusion of the big city on the other side.
Ryland Falls had its share of sad people, lonely people, and impatient people, like Miranda Bridgeman, who thought it was the dullest place on earth, and she couldn't wait until she was old enough to leave. Every house had its own private cup of sorrow, although some were fuller than others, and no mountain was large enough to keep out the demands of time.
The demands had built up slowly, over many years, so that nobody really noticed how much faster the pace of life had become. But a town that looked sleepy was, in fact, full of people who had to wake up earlier and earlier to keep up with their own lives.
By 6:15 A.M., half the newspapers were already snatched up off the sidewalks. By 6:45, Reverend Williams was on his second cup of coffee and going over his day's calendar, which usually had three hospital visits and a meeting before lunchtime. And by 7:15, the school bus was rumbling down Center Street, full of children still brushing toast crumbs off their lips, on the way to school.
Like every other place on earth, Ryland Falls was full of busy people who had too much to do. But that was the price of modern life and nobody complained. Then, too, living in Ryland Falls made the faster pace easy to ignore. The librarian automatically renewed your overdue books, the postman would add a stamp from his own pocket if there wasn't enough postage on a letter, and if somebody left the car lights on by mistake, somebody else would knock on the front door with the news.
Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but it didn't take long for newcomers to realize that most people went out of their way to be kind. And there was a certain golden quality about the town -- the way the light dusted the shop windows, threaded its way down back alleys, and lit up a stand of daylilies stretching their necks like trumpets toward the sun -- that made visitors catch their breath and say, "Oh, my goodness! I didn't know that places like this existed except in storybooks!"
As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December 1, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners from all the downtown lampposts. The inflatable plastic Santa Claus went back on top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers behind the counter at Elwood's Market.
"Happy holidays," she would say glumly as she handed a customer change. "My brother died last month."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
"Thanks, and my aunt died the month before that."
"Goodness, you've been having quite a time. I hope you feel better soon."
"I'm trying but I was up half the night coughing."
Grumpy Diane could be counted on to come up with these kinds of sinking remarks, but most people let them roll right off the counter. They knew what to expect, which was one of the reasons why Ryland Falls was such a pleasant place to live. You knew what to expect from everything. Even Christmas.
The gingerbread-house contest was always announced right after Thanksgiving. Next, the tickets for the house tour and Christmas tea went on sale. Then came the annual Messiah community sing-along. On Christmas Eve, people gathered in front of All Saints Church while the children chosen to be in the "Living Nativity" scene shivered for a holy cause in a plywood manger. And on Christmas night, almost everybody -- with one sad and glaring exception -- took their children to Cemetery Hill for a town sledding party.
Almost everything that happened in Ryland Falls was a repetition of something that had taken place last year, or a hundred years ago. That was part of its charm.
But on this particular Christmas, there were signs that the usual order of things was going to be disturbed. They weren't very large signs, at least not in the beginning. But even if they had been, most of the people in Ryland Falls would have been too busy with their own lives to notice.
Copyright © 2002 by Phyllis Theroux
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Meet the Author
Phyllis Theroux is the author of The Book of Eulogies, Nightlights: Bedtime Stories for Parents in the Dark, Peripheral Visions, California and Other States of Grace, and Serefina Under the Circumstances, a children's book. She is also the founder of Nightwriters (www.nightwriters.com), which holds writing seminars in the United States and Europe. She lives in Ashland, Virginia.
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Remember when we had time for our friends and neighbors. Time to just talk and visit, and help each other out. This is the message of Giovannis Light. I loved it. It reminds us of what we are missing in our modern hectic life.