Read an Excerpt
Prologue by Lorna Collins
Christmas Eve 1958
Aspen Grove, Colorado
Tinsel shimmered on the fragrant pine tree; colored lights were reflected and mirrored in the metallic strands. Every time a door opened, the silver streamers sparkled and danced. In addition to the brightly-colored bulbs on the string, two special ones stood out: the first in the shape of Santa Claus and the second looked like the tree on which it was displayed. Multicolored glass balls, plastic icicles and more than a few precious ornaments handmade by the children had been carefully placed on the branches. All was in readiness.
Allegra, in her new green velvet dress, wearing nylon hose and small heels, felt very sophisticated as she waited for everyone to arrive. Mother and Dad had finally relented, for this special occasion only, and allowed her to put a dab of Tangee Natural on her lips. Even though she would not celebrate her birthday until March, they had made this one exception to the rule of "no makeup until the age of fourteen."
With her usual attention to detail, she examined the tree from all angles for at least the twelfth time that day.
"Perfect," she declared as she stepped back.
"What's perfect?" asked her youngest sister, Carole. Mother had spent several hours ironing Carole's dress and curling her hair, but within five minutes, the tomboy of the family had managed to wrinkle her plaid taffeta skirt, get dirt smudges on the white lace top, scuff her black Mary Janes and destroy her carefully-arranged hairstyle. The curls were loose, and one green satin bow was untied.
"The tree is perfect," Allegra replied. "In fact, the whole house looksspecial."
"What about my birthday presents?" demanded Carole. Because she was born on Christmas Eve, her parents' preference for naming their children with musical references bowed to the songs of the season.
"Now, in all your eight years, have we ever failed to celebrate your birthday?" her big sister asked.
"Not yet, but it could happen."
"Well, not this year," Allegra replied. "You'd better get back upstairs and ask Sonata to fix your ribbons before Mama sees you."
"Okay." Carole scampered noisily to the second floor. She nearly ran into nine-year-old Melody.
"Watch where you're going," Melody scolded as she smoothed her sapphire blue velvet skirt over the crinkly crinoline.
"You watch out. It's my birthday," was the reply.
Melody shook her head. When aggravated, her redheaded temperament sometimes erupted. But this was Christmas Eve, and even her little sister's bossiness wasn't enough to set her off. She entered the living room and stopped abruptly. "Wow! This is so pretty," she said as she took in the room, which looked like a Christmas card. "I can almost see fairies dancing on the branches and the star on top really glows, just like the Star of Bethlehem."
"You and your imagination." Allegra chuckled. Melody could see a good story in nearly every event, even the smallest.
"Dinner smells yummy," Melody observed as she dashed off toward the kitchen.
The bell rang, and Allegra opened the door to reveal Uncle George and Aunt Sue. Behind them stood the twelve-year-old twins, Roger and Richard.
"It's cold out here," said Roger. (Or was it Richard?)
"Yeah, let us in," added Richard. (Roger?)
They couldn't push by their parents because Uncle George was laden with colorfully wrapped boxes while Aunt Sue held her famous scalloped potatoes in front of her with fancy Christmas potholders.
"I'll just take this into the kitchen," Aunt Sue offered.
As soon as Uncle George cleared the doorway, the boys rushed through the breach.
"Wow," said one twin.
"This is cool," added the other.
Their eyes lit on the electric train circling the base of the tree. In just a second, the locomotive was moving around the track much too fast. The train was Daddy's toy and he was usually the only one allowed to operate it.
"What are you doing?" demanded Sonata as she descended the stairs and spotted the boys. She was the most serious of the four girls, and seemed mature for her age. Her dark brown hair was styled in a smooth pageboy and tied with a red velvet ribbon which matched her dress. Although she was less than a year younger than Allegra, she was not allowed the same privileges as her big sister. It would be another year or more before she'd be allowed to wear nylons, or heels or a bit of color on her lips.
Uncle George set his load in the corner with the rest of the brightly-colored gifts. "Okay, boys, turn that off until your Uncle Jack gets here," he ordered as he removed his overcoat. Sonata took it from him and hung it on the hall tree.
"Gee whiz, what are we supposed to do?" asked twin one.
"Yeah," agreed twin two.
"We'll be having dinner soon. Then we'll come back in and open presents. So why don't the two of you wash up?"
"Aw," and, "Darn," the boys said together, but followed instructions.
"Think I'll see if Jack needs help carving," Uncle George suggested. He was famous for stealing bites before dinner.
The bell rang again, this time disclosing Grandma and Grandpa Sullivan.
"Well, hello. And who are you, young woman?" asked Grandpa.
Allegra blushed. "Oh, Grandpa."
"Well, you do look mighty grown up--and very beautiful," said Grandma, taking a good look.
Allegra's cheeks grew redder.
Both grandparents carried beribboned boxes, and Grandpa also had a brown grocery bag. "I've got the rolls and relishes, so dinner can begin," he announced.
As soon as they had deposited the presents and started toward the kitchen, there was a knock at the door. The Miller grandparents and Great-aunt Maude stood on the porch.
Nana Miller began to cry as soon as she saw Allegra. "Just look at our grown-up girl. She'll be married and gone before we know it," she sniffled.
"Now, now," Baba said. "We still have a few years left with her."
Each of them hugged Allegra and then turned to intercept the small strawberry blonde tornado hurtling down the stairs.
"Nana! Baba!" she shouted. "It's my birthday. Did you remember?"
"Why, of course we did, Kitten," Baba assured her. "Just look at all these pink ribbons. You don't think they're for Christmas, do you?"
"Oh, boy! Allegra, look at my presents!" the child squealed.
Allegra helped Great-aunt Maude take off her coat while Baba placed her gifts with the others.
"And how are you, my dear?" the elderly woman asked.
"Very well, thank you."
"You look lovely," Great-aunt Maude observed as she touched Allegra's cheek.
Just then, Daddy called, "Dinner's ready. Is anyone hungry?" The stampede began.
"I'm stuffed," sighed Uncle George as he settled into a comfortable easy chair. The rest of the adults found seats on the couch or carried chairs from the dining room; Allegra brought hers too. Sonata perched on the footstool.
Melody plopped down at Baba's feet. He tousled her hair. "Merry Christmas, Peanut."
"Merry Christmas, Baba," she returned.
The rest of the children staked out places on the floor.
"Who's going to play Santa?" asked Jack.
"We are," cried the twins.
"I am," cried Carole.
"Well, Sweetie, since you're the birthday girl, I think you should be waited on. Don't you?" asked her father in a loud stage whisper.
"Oh, yes. I'll be the princess, and they can be my servants."
"Heck, no," and "Uh unh," responded the twins, shaking their heads.
"Well, if you don't want to play Santa..." Jack observed, and started scanning the room for another volunteer.
"I'll do it," said one boy.
"Me, too," said the other.
And the gift giving began.
Most of the presents had been distributed and opened by the time Great-aunt Maude's gifts appeared. She had given the boys and men socks. There were scarves for the women. All that remained were four small boxes for the girls.
"Now before you open these," said Great-aunt Maude, "I want you to know that they are very special. Someday you may lose your way in life, and these are to remind you how wonderful you are."
They opened the boxes together. Each contained a crocheted snowflake ornament which sparkled in the firelight. Attached to each one was a poem:
Precious and beautiful
No two the same
The Creator's aim
Shining and shimmering
God's light in view
The snowflake and you
"Just as no two snowflakes are the same, God created you to be different, too. That's why you are each unique and beautiful. If you ever forget, these may remind you," she explained.
"Thank you, Aunt Maude," the girls said in chorus. And each gave her soft wrinkled cheek a kiss.
They couldn't know that it would be Great-aunt Maude's last Christmas with them. Or that someday, each of their special snowflakes would reveal its secret, just when it was needed most.