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By six o'clock, when much of the population of 1,074 was leaving for work in Wesley or Holding or across the Tennessee line, the drops had grown large and heavy, as if weighted with mercury, and those running to their cars or trucks without umbrellas could feel the distinct smack of each drop.
Dashing to a truck outfitted with painter's ladders, someone on Lilac Road shouted "Yeehaw!," an act that precipitated a spree of barking among the neighborhood dogs.
Here and there, as seemingly random as the appearance of stars at twilight, lamps came on in houses throughout the village, and radio and television voices prophesied that the front passing over the East Coast would be firmly lodged there for two days.
More than a few were fortunate to lie in bed and listen to the rain drumming on the roof, relieved to have no reason to get up until they were plenty good and ready.
Others thanked God for the time that remained to lie in a warm, safe place unmolested by worldly cares, while some began at once to fret about what the day might bring.
Father Timothy Kavanagh, one of the earliest risers in Mitford, did not rise so early this morning. Instead, he lay in his bed in the yellow house on Wisteria Lane and listened to the aria of his wife's whiffling snore, mingled with the sound of rain churning through the gutters.
Had he exchanged wedding vows before the age of sixty-two, he might have taken the marriage bed for granted after these seven years. Instead, he seldom awakened next to the warm sentience of his wife without being mildly astonished by her presence, and boundlessly grateful. Cynthia was his best friend and boon companion, dropped from the very heavens into his life, which, forthwith, she had changed utterly.
He would get up soon enough and go about his day, first hying with his good dog, Barnabas, into the pouring rain, and then, while the coffee brewed, reading the Morning Office, as he'd done for more than four decades as both a working and a now-retired priest.
Feeling a light chill in the room, he scooted over to his sleeping wife and put his arm around her and held her close, comforted, as ever, by the faint and familiar scent of wisteria.
* * *
Lew Boyd, who liked to rise with the sun every morning, and who always wore his watch to bed, gazed at the luminous face of his Timex and saw that it was the first day of October.
October! He had no idea at all where the time had gone. Yesterday was July, today was October. As a matter of fact, where had his life gone?
He stared at the bedroom ceiling and pondered a question that he'd never been fond of messing with, though now seemed a good time to do it and get it over with.
One day, he'd been a green kid without a care in the world. Then, before you could say Jack Robinson, he'd looked up and found he was an old codger with a new and secret wife living way off in Tennessee with her mama, and him lying here in this cold, lonesome bed just as he'd been doing all those years as a widower.
He tried to recall what, exactly, had happened between his youth and old age, but without a cup of coffee at the very least, he was drawing a blank.
Though he'd worked hard and saved his money and honored his dead wife's memory by looking at her picture on Sunday and paying to have her grave weedeated, he didn't know whether he'd made a go of it with the Good Lord or not.
For the few times he'd cheated somebody down at his Exxon station, he'd asked forgiveness, even though he'd cheated them only a few bucks. He'd also asked forgiveness for the times he'd bitten Juanita's head off without good reason, and for a few other things he didn't want to think about ever again.
To top that off, he'd quit smoking twelve years ago, cut out the peach brandy he'd fooled with after Juanita passed, and increased what he put in the plate on the occasional Sundays he showed up at First Baptist. But the thing was, it seemed like all of it-good and bad, up and down, sweet and sour-had blown by him like Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega.
He sighed deeply, hauled himself out of bed, and slid his cold feet into the unlaced, brown and white spectators he wore around the house. If Juanita was alive, or if Earlene was here, he'd probably turn on the furnace out of common decency. But as long as he was boss of the thermostat, he'd operate on the fact that an oil furnace was money down the drain and wait 'til the first hard freeze to make himself toasty.
Sitting on the side of the bed and covering his bare legs with the blanket, he scratched his head and yawned, then reached for the cordless and punched redial.
When his wife, living with her dying mama in a frame house on the southern edge of Knoxville, answered the phone, he said, "Good mornin', dumplin.'"
"Good mornin' yourself, baby. How're you feelin' this mornin'?"
"Great!" he said. "Just great!"
He thought for a split second he was telling a bald-faced lie, then realized he was telling the lawful truth. It was the sound of Earlene's cheerful voice that had changed him from an old man waking up in a cold bed to a young buck who just remembered he was driving to Tennessee in his new Dodge truck, tonight.
* * *
At six-thirty, Hope Winchester dashed along Main Street under a red umbrella. Rain gurgled from the downspouts of the buildings she fled past and flowed along the curb in a bold and lively stream.
To the driver of a station wagon heading down the mountain, the figure hurrying past the Main Street Grill was but a splash of red on the canvas of a sullen, gray morning. Nonetheless, it was a splash that momentarily cheered the driver.
Hope dodged a billow of water from the wheels of the station wagon and clutched even tighter the pocketbook containing three envelopes whose contents could change her life forever. She would line them up on her desk in the back room of the bookstore and prayerfully examine each of these wonders again and again. Then she would put them in her purse at the end of the day and take them home and line them up on her kitchen table so she might do the same thing once more.
UPS had come hours late yesterday with the books to be used in this month's promotion, which meant she'd lost precious time finishing the front window and must get at it this morning before the bookstore opened at ten. It was, after all October first-time for a whole new window display, and the annual Big O sale.
All titles beginning with the letter O would be twenty percent off, which would get Wesley's students and faculty hopping! Indeed, September's Big S sale had increased their bottom line by twelve percent over last year, and all because she, the usually reticent Hope Winchester, had urged the owner to give a percentage off that really "counted for something." It was a Books-A-Million, B&N, Sam's Club kind of world, Hope insisted, and a five-percent dribble here and there wouldn't work anymore, not even in Mitford, which wasn't as sleepy and innocuous as some people liked to think.
She dashed under the awning, set her streaming umbrella down, and jiggled the key in the door of Willard Porter's old pharmacy, now known as Happy Endings Books.
The lock had the cunning possessed only by a lock manufactured in 1927. Helen, the owner, had refused to replace it, insisting that a burglar couldn't possibly outwit its boundless vagaries.
Jiggling diligently, Hope realized that her feet were cold and soaking wet. She supposed that's what she deserved by wearing sandals past Labor Day, something her mother had often scolded her for doing.
Once inside, and against the heartfelt wishes of Helen, who lived in Florida and preferred to delay heating the shop until the first snow, Hope squished to the thermostat and looked at the temperature: fifty degrees. Who would read a book, much less buy one, at fifty degrees?
As Margaret Ann, the bookstore cat, wound around her ankles, Hope turned the dial to "on."
The worn hardwood floor trembled slightly, and she heard at once the great boiler in the basement give its thunderous annual greeting to autumn in Mitford.
* * *
Uncle Billy Watson lay with his eyes squeezed shut and listened to the rain pounding the roof of the Mitford town museum, the rear portion of which he and Rose called home.
He was glad it was raining, for two reasons.
One, he figured it would make the ground nice and soft to plant th' three daffodil bulbs Dora Pugh had trotted to 'is door. Th' bulbs, if they was like her seeds, wouldn't be fit to plant, but he'd give 'er one more chance to do th' honorable thing an' stand by what she sold.
When he was feelin' stronger an' the doc would let him poke around outside, he knowed right where he'd plant to make the finest show-at the bottom of th' back steps, over to th' left where the mailman wouldn't tear up jack when he made 'is deliveries.
Feeling the gooseflesh rise along his arms and legs, he pulled the covers to his chin.
Th' other good thing about the rain, if hit lasted, was when Betty Craig come to nurse 'im t'day, she'd be cookin' all manner of rations to make a man's jaws water. If they was anything better'n hearin' rain on th' roof an' smellin' good cookin' at the same time, he didn't know what hit'd be.
He lay perfectly still, listening now to the beating of his heart.
His heart wasn't floppin' around thisaway and that-away n' more, he reckoned the pills was workin'.
In a little bit, he rolled over and covered his ears to shut out the sound of his wife's snoring in the next bed.
He might've lost a good deal of eyesight an' some control of 'is bladder, don't you know, but by jing, 'is hearin' could still pick up a cricket in th' grass, thank th' Lord an' hallelujah.
* * *
"Check this out," said J. C. Hogan, editor of the Mitford Muse and longtime regular of the Main Street Grill. He thrust a copy of the Muse, hot from his pressroom above their heads, under Father Tim's nose.
"Photo staff?" asked Father Tim.
"You're lookin' at it" said J.C. "I thought you had spellcheck." "I do have spellcheck."
"It's not working."
"Where? What?" J.C. grabbed the newspaper.
"Meteorologist is misspelled." The former rector of the local Episcopal church had kept his mouth shut for years about the Muse editor's rotten spelling, but since the newspaper had invested in spellcheck, he figured he could criticize without getting personal.
J.C. muttered a word not often used in the rear booth.
"You ought to have a photo contest," said Father Tim, blowing on a mug of steaming coffee. "Autumn color, grand prize, second prize ... like that."
"Unless th' rain lets up, there'll be nothing worth enterin' in a contest. Besides, I'd have to shell out a couple hundred bucks to make that deal work."
"Where's Mule?" asked Father Tim. The erstwhile town realtor had been meeting them in the rear booth for two decades, seldom missing their eight a.m. breakfast tryst. "Down with th' Mitford Crud. Prob'ly comes from that hot, dry spell changin' into a cold, wet spell."
Velma Mosely skidded up in a pair of silver Nikes. "Looks like th' Turkey Club's missin' a gobbler this mornin'. What're y'all havin'?"
This was Percy and Velma Mosely's final year as proprietors of the Grill. After forty years, they were hanging it up at the end of December, and not renewing the lease.
In the spring, they would take a bus to Washington and see the cherry blossoms. Then they planned to settle into retirement in Mitford, where Percy would put in a vegetable garden for the first time in years and Velma would adopt a shorthaired cat from the shelter.
Father Tim nodded to J.C. "You order first." "Three eggs scrambled, with grits, bacon, and a couple of biscuits! And give me plenty of butter with that!"
The Muse editor looked at Velma, expectant. "Your wife said don't let you have grits and bacon, much less biscuits an' plenty of butter." J.C.'s wife, Adele, was Mitford's first and, so far, only policewoman.
"That's right. Adele dropped in on her way to the station this mornin'. She said Doc Harper told you all that stuff is totally off-limits, startin' today."
"Since when is it th' business of this place to meddle in what people order?"
"Take it or leave it," said Velma. She was sick and tired of J. C. Hogan bossing her around and biting her head off for the last hundred years. J.C.'s mouth dropped open.
"I'll order while he's rethinking," said Father Tim. "Bring me the usual."
Velma glared at the editor. "If you'd order like th' Father here, you'd live longer." She felt ten feet tall telling this grouchy so-and-so what was what, she should have done it years ago.
"I wouldn't eat a poached egg if somebody paid me cash money. Give me three eggs, scrambled, with grits, bacon ..." J.C. repeated his order loud and clear, as if Velma had suddenly gone deaf. "... an' two dadgum biscuits."
Father Tim thought his boothmate's face was a readout of his blood pressure rating-roughly 300 over 190.
"If you want to drop dead on th' street, that's your business," said Velma, "but I won't be party to it. Get you some yogurt and fresh fruit with a side of dry toast."
"This is dadblame illegal! You can't tell me what to order"
"Suit yourself. I promised Adele, and I'm stickin' to it."
J.C. looked at Father Tim to confirm whether he was hearing right. Father Tim looked at Velma. Maybe this was a joke....
But Velma was a brick wall, an Army tank. End of discussion.
J.C. drew himself up and played his trump card. "Do I need to remind you that this is a democracy?"
Velma glared at the editor over her half-glasses; heads turned in their direction. "Where's Percy this mornin'?" demanded J.C. He would call in the troops and nip this nonsense in the bud once and for all.
"Down with th' Mitford Crud!" snapped Velma.
The young man at the grill turned his back on the whole caboodle, lest he be drawn into the altercation.
There was a long moment of silence, the sort that Father Tim never enjoyed.
"Then I'll just take my business down th' street!"
J.C. grabbed his briefcase and blew out of the rear booth like a cannon shot. Father Tim's coffee sloshed in its mug.
Posted January 10, 2012
I ordered a book which combined The Mitford Snowmen, Esther's Gift, and Shepherds Abiding. What I got was a book with ONLY Sheperds Abiding. When I returned it to the store, the cashier checked the ISBN and discovered the same number was used for BOTH books, thereby making it impossible for me to order the volume I wanted.
Hopefully, they will get this problem fixed.
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Posted May 5, 2010
So many of the characters in this novel are the people we meet every day. Some of us even ARE the characters! It's one of those stories that helps you take stock of yourself at the same time you are enjoying good reading. This story of Mitford during the Christmas Season is very touching, while teaching us the real meaning of giving. I can't think of a better gift to give to a Jan Karon fan.
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Posted February 1, 2013
Posted January 11, 2012
This is the first book I read by this author. I got it because I like to read some Christmas stories around Christmas. This book was very good and I would buy another book by this author again.
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Posted December 5, 2009
Ms. Karon's writins are great for book clubs and bedside reading. They are a wonderful equalizer in this hectic world in which we live. This one is no exception. I used it for a pre-Christmas selection for our book club and was very satisfied.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 23, 2009
I bought this book early, and was saving it until around Christmas. What a disappointment. Hey, I'm old. I don't wanted to have 19 new characters thrown at me in the first 19 pages of the book. If she wants to put the whole town in her books, she should have a cast of characters like the Rita Mae Brown/Sneaky Pie Brown books!
I didn't finish the book. By page 80 it had not grabbed me, and I had to stop.
Posted February 23, 2009
I am still reading this book and find it quite interesting and very enjoyable to read, there were parts that kind of jumped around a little bit but I was able to keep up with them.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 30, 2004
I truly enjoyed Shepherds Abiding as much as the others. They were all lovely and well written. I have no complaints about the price or length. They are all worth every penny. Ms. Karon is very talented and gifted. Only a few author stories leave a inprint on your heart in such an unforgettable way. I will never forget Mitford or its cast of characters. I just wish there were more books coming in the future.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2004
Compared to Jan's earlier work, this was a little disappointing. I missed the funny, quick witted characters of her past novels. Perhaps after so many books, it gets harder to come up with fresh, new ideas. A pity... I really enjoyed the others. I much prefer the Dorsetville series by Katherine Valentine.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 5, 2004
I read Shepherds Abiding during the holidays. It was another great Mitford story. It's always like coming home to revisit the folks of Mitford. The book is simply beautifully bound, however, it could have been smaller, costing less. The words were large and few on the page. But, it was great, as always!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 12, 2003
I have read all of Karon's books and truely enjoyed every one of them. This is a delightful Christmas story that is the length of a short story. This book has so few words on some pages that it is hard to turn the pages fast enough to keep up with the story! I wish it had been published as the thin paperback it should be!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 1, 2003
I love the sense of peace and hope that I always feel after reading these books. They are a true blessing. I do have to tell you about another book that I just read that left me with the same feeling, Shade of the Maple by Kirk Martin.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2003
I love this book. I was so happy to read about the characters I have come to care about through her other books. It's nice to have a book that I can lay down and not worry about my kids picking it up. The books are very endearing, and I was in tears by the end. I will greatly miss reading about these characters when she finishes the series.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 10, 2003
Need a break from the rat race? Then sit down with a Jan Karon book. Recommend you read the entire Mitford Series from beginning to end. Quick, easy reads Read this one in one day.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 3, 2003
For Mitford fans, Shepherds Abiding will not disappoint! This novel is smaller than our appetites, yet Karon crafts a satisfying tale. This novel focuses on Father Tim's restoration endeavors while also providing enlightenment into the lives of two lesser known but equally delighful characters. Buy the book and prepare yourself for a weekend visit to Mitford.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2003
This was a warm and fuzzy book that you wish would never end! I am anxiously awaiting the next book in the series. It's like visiting old friends everytime I pick up one of Jan's books! I wish everyone a Happy Christmas!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 1, 2003
I didn't know what to expect. I love Christmas and books about Christmas. I have absolutely loved each one of the Midford Years books. This book is a very sweet special treasure. The two previous Christmas books and this book have one special connection......read them and see. But read them all for sure. HAPPY READING!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 31, 2003
If you want to feel the good and kind side of life, this is the book for you. I always read Father Tim's books and come away feeling like a better person. Nice Read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 29, 2003
My whole life has changed since reading this collection of books by Jan Karon. I recommend them highly to read to a child in grade school right up to an elderly person that could use a friend. It is purely coincidental that the names of the characters are similar to the ones in my family, so everytime a new character was introduced it was a real laugh. I can say that there are no Timothys though...I was so sad when someone stole my car and my book was inside, my father replaced the book with a special inscription written inside that I will treasure forever. I am at peace in Mitford. It has taught me to enjoy every minute of my life, to stop and smell the roses and to be a better person to anyone that I might meet.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.