From The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere
Lauren Mabrey stands on the sidewalk at the entrance to Glory’s Place, welcoming children as they arrive for the after-school program. She finished her shift in the floral department at Clauson’s Supermarket an hour ago. Clauson’s has given her the morning shift so she can be at Glory’s Place each day by three to help. In November the twenty-three-year-old will mark two years of volunteering here and less than a year as a married woman. Just five months ago, in December, she stood in the gazebo in the heart of Grandon, surrounded by the townspeople who had adopted her as one of their own, and became Mrs. Travis Mabrey. She stumbled upon Grandon just a year and a half ago by accident, a literal crash. She was a witness to a car crash while driving through Grandon one day, was called back to town to identify the man involved in the hit-and-run, and never left. After years in foster families and with no family of her own to return to, she became a volunteer at Glory’s Place, fell in love with the children at Glory’s Place, with Grandon itself, and then with Travis.
Travis works with the Grandon Parks and Recreation Department, keeping ball fields in shape and the city’s playground equipment safe. He mows the grass at city parks, paints and cares for the gazebo in the town square, and even places the giant star atop it for Christmas. They live in the house Travis bought two years ago, a small two-bedroom ranch that was built in the 1960s. Although Lauren would like to say that she has added a female’s touch to the home, decorating has never been her strong suit. Part of her thinks it’s because she moved from one foster home to the next and never really had it modeled for her, but the other part believes it’s because she simply does not have an eye for it. Either way, their home still lacks warmth in color and feel, like Miss Glory’s home or Dalton and Heddy’s or Miriam’s, and she wants to do something about it.
Her stomach feels queasy, and Lauren leans against the door, waiting for another wave of children to arrive. A knock on the glass of the door makes her jump. “What is wrong with you?” She turns to see Miriam looking at her from inside. Her colored strawberry-blond hair hangs just below her chin in a sleek bob and her pink oxford shirt is tucked impeccably into blue trousers on Miriam’s trim frame. Her English accent and appearance would make anyone believe that she is demure, fragile even, but this isn’t the Miriam that Lauren has come to love.
“Are you ill?” Miriam says, opening the door and sizing up Lauren. “You look dreadful.”
Lauren shakes her head. “I ate sushi at work yesterday for lunch and it’s been a rough two days.”
Miriam groans. “Supermarket sushi! Do people really have to be told not to eat that? Isn’t that akin to squirting cheese out of a machine onto nachos in a petrol station?”
“No! Clauson’s has wonderful sushi. It’s always fresh.”
“And toxic,” Miriam says. “Fresh and toxic. A wonderful combination.” She looks at Lauren. “I’ll finish here. Why don’t you go inside and sit down or throw up or . . . whatever? One of Gloria’s friends is coming in today for training and since I don’t necessarily care to be around people, I will leave her training to you.”
Lauren smiles. Miriam can pretend all she wants, but Lauren knows how much she loves these children and the work that is done at Glory’s Place. Miriam loathes the thought that she’s old enough to be a grandmother to most of the volunteers, but she loves them and the children here with the fierce, protective love of any grandma. It was Miriam who bought her wedding dress and it was Miriam who wrapped her arms around her when Lauren gave the dress to a young woman who couldn’t afford a wedding gown of her own. Her bond to Miriam, Gloria, Stacy, and Heddy and Dalton here at Glory’s Place is stronger than any she ever imagined having with any adult as a child growing up and she feels safe in a way she never thought possible.
The tutoring section of Glory’s Place is behind a door and Lauren spends the next few minutes here, sitting quietly at a desk and hoping this queasiness doesn’t blow up into food poisoning. She pops a couple of peppermint candies into her mouth, something that Heddy told her would help ease nausea, and lays her head on the desk in front of her. She stays here for several minutes until she hears Gloria’s voice inside the big room. Gloria is Glory’s Place; it was her idea many years ago to help single moms and struggling families and that morphed into an after-school program that’s open year-round. Lauren opens the door and sees Gloria standing in the middle of the big room with her arms open wide.
“This is the best day because all of you are here with us,” Gloria says in her Southern accent that sounds like a big, vocal hug. She says this every day to the children, many who come from broken homes and some who are in the foster care system, like Maddie once was before Amy, a volunteer, and her husband, Gabe, adopted her. More than thirty children from the ages of five to thirteen look on as Gloria, or “Miss Glory” to them, welcomes them. Her salt-and-pepper curls have been pulled back hastily with a clip she keeps in the top drawer of her desk and she’s wearing a Betty’s Bakery T-shirt. She and Miriam could not be less alike, but they are the best of friends. “I have a friend of mine who is going to be volunteering with us and I’d like all of you to meet her. I met Andrea and her husband, Bill, a few years ago, and she has been a wonderful friend to me, and I know she will be a wonderful friend to you, too. She’s helped from time to time over the years, but now wants to help more, and we can always use more hands around here. Say hi to Mrs. King.”
From The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.
Christmas Hope #11
From Donna VanLiere, the New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Hope series comes another heartwarming, inspirational story for the holidays, The Christmas Table.
In June 1972, John Creighton determines to build his wife Joan a kitchen table. His largest project to date had been picture frames but he promises to have the table ready for Thanksgiving dinner. Inspired to put something delicious on the table, Joan turns to her mother’s recipes she had given to Joan when she and John married.
In June 2012, Lauren Mabrey discovers she’s pregnant. Gloria, Miriam, and the rest of her friends at Glory’s Place begin to pitch in, helping Lauren prepare their home for the baby. On a visit to the local furniture builder, Lauren finds a table that he bought at a garage sale but has recently refinished. Once home, a drawer is discovered under the table which contains a stack of recipe cards. Growing up in one foster home after another, Lauren never learned to cook and is fascinated as she reads through the cards. Personal notes have been written on each one from the mother to her daughter and time and again Lauren wonders where they lived, when they lived, and in a strange way, she feels connected to this mother and her daughter and wants to make the mother proud.
The story continues to from 1972 to 2012 as Joan battles breast cancer and Lauren learns to cook, preparing for the baby’s arrival. As Christmas nears, can Lauren unlock the mystery of the table, and find the peace she’s always longed for?
About Donna VanLiere
DONNA VANLIERE is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Good Dream, Finding Grace, The Angels of Morgan Hill, and over a half dozen Christmas books, including the perennial favorites The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Hope. She travels as a speaker and lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband and three children.