The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

Published 8:52 am Thursday, December 22, 2022

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Always Room at the Inn

By Julie Terry Cartner

Shivering, Grace moved closer to the group surrounding the barrel fire, hoping desperately to feel just a smidgen of warmth. Hands thrust deep into the pockets of her ski jacket, she thought of the winters when cold had meant she’d spent too much time on the slopes, when all she’d needed was to get inside the lodge and cradle a mug of hot apple cider as she warmed up beside the roaring fireplace. How the mighty have fallen, she thought. Only last year, that had been her life: ski trips, tropical vacations, and a home that others envied for its size and beauty, the house, always perfectly decorated, always pristine, and yet, always cold in that bone chilling way that indicated a sterile and loveless life.

When sterility had morphed to violence, she’d escaped, foregoing everything substantive as a worthwhile price for her freedom. Maybe she hadn’t realized how scary the world without money was. Maybe she hadn’t realized how cold the world was to the homeless. Maybe she hadn’t realized how accustomed she was to luxuries like food, hot showers, and warm beds, and how much she missed them now. But she was free, able to forge a new life, her own.

Grace thought she’d prepared. But she hadn’t planned on her bookbag being stolen, right off her back. Faced with a knife at her throat, she’d released the bag containing all of her possessions with barely a whimper. She was lucky they’d allowed her to keep her coat. And now, here she was, cold and scared, looking longingly at the homeless version of a fire pit, and wishing, desperately, that she could join the people surrounding it.

As she stood, she heard the soft strains of music. Was that a harmonica? Were those voices crooning “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “The Fist Noel,” and “Away in the Manger”? She realized she’d crept closer as the songs continued, now actually feeling the warmth of the fire. Finally, when the group broke into “Silent Night,” she could resist no longer. Taking the last steps towards the fire, she sang along, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…” As the words continued, Grace marveled at the peace she was feeling. She should be terrified at this, her first night of homelessness, but instead, calmness prevailed. When she’d said, “I do,” four long years ago, she’d had no idea she’d be standing here one day. Homeless, hopeful, terrified, and yet joyful, singing hymns that embodied the essence of Christmas: promises of love, peace, joy.

As the strains of the last words, “sleep in heavenly peace,” whispered away into the starlit sky, Grace felt her hands enveloped by strangers, a middle-aged woman on one side, a young man on the other. Without words, she’d been accepted, not judged by the quality of her coat or her recent manicure but instead, admitted into the fold. Perhaps they’d seen the fading bruises or the look of desperation on her face, perhaps not. They embraced her without judgement. No doubt there would be cashmere sweaters, fur-lined boots, and a new coat under the Christmas tree at her husband’s house, probably purchased by a personal shopper while her husband spent the holiday in Aspen with his latest conquest, clothing that would keep her body warm, but attached to a life that kept her soul cold. But here, on this lonely and deserted street, she was enveloped in the warmth of other’s easy acceptance.

Amidst the comfort of the blazing fire, Grace smiled at these kindred souls surrounding her. She marveled at those who had so little, yet still shared what they had. Tonight, she’d seen a different world. Tonight, she had been accepted by strangers, connected only by a common thread of homelessness, temporary though it might be. Tonight, there was room at the inn. These people had made that room for her. Tomorrow, well, she’d figure it out, but tonight she experienced the unconditional love of strangers; love far greater than the carelessness afforded her by those who were supposed to love her.

Christmas Music

By Marie Craig

I have a big collection of Christmas music books that I enjoy savoring each year.  Some of them are from special concerts when I was a teenager and sang in programs, so there are a lot of good memories that flutter out from those old books.  I grew up in Black Mountain, and several churches would combine to form larger choirs for special Christmas programs.

In college in Brevard, I joined a community chorus with weekly rehearsals to prepare for a special presentation of “Handel’s Messiah.”  I would be in awe of seasoned singers who could hit the high notes and have enormous lung power for the long passages of elaborate sustaining words.  The organists who could play that very complicated accompaniment were amazing to me.  At another location one year, the organist played for us with no music score in front of him.  I still don’t understand how that is possible.

     My “Messiah” book is aged and reinforced on the cover with clear contact paper to hold it together.  There is only one selection in the book that I can almost play.  Seeing the markings and inserted old programs I have kept in it make me grateful to have shared that experience quite a few times.

     In addition to concerts, sometimes there will be “Messiah” sing-alongs.  This is a wonderful experience for people who don’t have time to attend multiple rehearsals or who are uncertain of their own musical abilities.  The one that comes to mind was when our two sons were about 10 and 12 years old.  My husband was out of town on a business trip the night of the sing-along.  I mentioned to my sons at supper that I wish I could go to that.  “We’ll be just fine by ourselves — you should go.”  I had my doubts about leaving them alone and resisted.  On that very cold day, I had washed clothes and thrown them on the bed to put away later.  My nylon warm coat filled with down had been tossed on top.

     My sons insisted that I go because they knew how much I would enjoy it.  The next thing I knew, I was standing on the front porch in my down coat, holding my “Messiah” book and my purse.  They wouldn’t let me back in the house.  So I went to the old church where the singing would take place.  I finally warmed up enough to remove my coat which crackled with the cold static.  I heard people behind me laughing but didn’t know what was funny.  Finally, a woman sitting behind me leaned up and whispered, “You have a sock on your back.”

     I quickly reached behind me and jerked it off to cram it into my pocket.  When I got home, I accused my sons of trying to embarrass me.  They quickly denied it, so I guess the cold weather and my nylon coat created the attraction.

Before Christmas

By Gaye Hoots

Faye continued to need around-the-clock care after her procedure, and her headaches persisted. I decided to stay until her next doctor’s appointment, and we planned to discuss in-home care with her doctor. The morning of the visit, I helped her dress, and Nick assisted her into the wheelchair. She managed to get into the truck, and we left for Deano’s, where we had ordered sandwiches which we ate in the truck.

While the nurse did her assessment, Faye’s blood oxygen dropped to eighty-one percent, her blood pressure dropped, and her pulse rate increased. Her doctor sent her by ambulance to the ER at Advance for assessment, where we spent about six hours. They did a CT scan of her brain and determined the bleed had not returned. When she appeared stable, they discharged her home with a follow-up appointment with her doctor the next day.

Her doctor made the appointment by video, so Faye did not have to travel. The doctor added medication for a UTI and made referrals to PT for physical therapy and a follow-up home health care assessment. PT started her on exercises she can do in bed but will not allow her to try to stand. Home health has not called to schedule yet, so Nick is on his own except for volunteer help from family and friends.

When I returned to Oriental, my contractor came and completed half the finishing work, which I hope he accomplishes before Friday when I return to Advance. I plan to stay with Faye until the twenty-second when Kendra and I leave for Florida for Christmas and Vann’s wedding. The best part of returning home has been spending time with my youngest grands, who are excited about their Christmas plans.

Faye had a few friends visit, and a couple plan to bring food while I am there. I will have little time to visit as I plan to stay with her and give Nick a break. I enjoyed the pictures of the Advance Parade posted on Facebook. Vance enjoyed riding his bike and Miss Advance Mary Nell Jones had a beautiful smile.

I spoke by phone with Bill Evans, who is starting more intensive physical therapy to help him return home to independent living, and I am praying this will be possible for him. I was sorry to hear of the death of a schoolmate who also attended our church when he was young. He has a sister my age who died young, as did their mother. And a sister who died after a prolonged bout of cancer. My prayers are with this family.

I wish everyone a Happy and blessed Christmas and hope all can appreciate the family and blessing we all have despite the losses. God bless.