by Carolyn Haines
Growing up in the small town of Lucedale, Mississippi, I looked forward to the Christmas holidays for a number of reasons. I love to sing Christmas carols. Sadly, few people like to hear me sing Christmas carols. One of my friends told me that my singing had been listed as a form of torture by all governmental agencies. Doesn’t matter. I love to sing the carols. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is one of my favorites.
At the Haines house we always had a huge cedar tree decorated with all of the heirloom ornaments. We would spend hours getting the lights, ornaments, and icicles just so. (These days, my brother is much better about decorating a tree than I am. Then again he doesn’t have 10 large dogs swarming about.) But the cutting and decorating the tree was a big, big part of the holiday.
As the weather turned crisp and cold, the whole family spent endless afternoons in the fall, driving along dirt roads and stomping through the woods, looking for that perfect cedar tree that was ‘full’ on all sides. And then we’d gather sweet gum balls and pine cones and spray paint them to use as decorations, along with holly, cedar boughs, and magnolia limbs. We had plenty of store-bought decorations, but my family loved making our own, putting our creativity to work.
Food was very important, too. My mother and grandmother were wonderful cooks, and they made the best dressing on the planet. Only Miss Velma Brown can top their dressing—she’s a magical chef. But we had all of the traditional fare from cornbread dressing to pumpkin pies.
I was always put to work peeling oranges and satsumas and cutting them up to make ambrosia. The citrus, coconut and cherry dish was always displayed in a beautiful cut glass bowl. My mother had to watch sharp to be sure one of my uncles didn’t spike the ambrosia with vodka.
We had three pecan trees, and my brothers and I would pick up the nuts. What Mama didn’t need for her cooking, we’d sell at the co-op to get our Christmas spending money (greatly supplemented by our parents, who pretended they didn’t). Some of my best memories involved those brisk afternoons as my brothers and I hunted the pecans and plotted what to get my parents and grandmother as gifts.
My mother always made fruitcakes and candies, and she made gift boxes for all of our teachers. (God knows those poor teachers needed more than candy for having put up with us for half a year. They deserved hazardous duty pay.) Cracking and shelling the pecans was a pain, but making the candy was bliss. Martha Washington balls, divinity, pralines, fingers, date loaf—incredible homemade candies. I try to continue the tradition of candy making, but I don’t have the touch with the spun sugar to make divinity. I am not the cook that my mother was.
But Christmas wasn’t all candy and food. There was always a big Christmas adventure.
When I was fifteen, I was at the center of the Christmas adventure. A friend invited me on a hayride for the high school band. I wasn’t in the band (no musical talent at all). So we loaded up in two flatbed wagons pulled by a tractor. I was on the back of the first wagon, sitting with my legs hanging down. Ricky Ham was playing his guitar and we were all singing away. (Note how singing creeps up—and then things happen.) I was happy as a pig in mud (that’s a bit of foreshadowing there) and if my voice was terrible, no one said so.
I’m not exactly certain what happened next. The wagon lurched, and somehow I was thrown under the second wagon. I was run over by 4 wheels.
Lucky for me, it had rained that day and the road was mushy. When the hayride ran over me, it sort of pushed me down into the muddy road. I came out from under the wagon to a terrible wailing. All of my friends were screaming and crying and the hayride stopped.
Everyone jumped down and came to pull me out of the mud. I had a broken leg and part of my ear was almost torn off, but you know, it wasn’t bad considering how many wheels had bumped over me.
It could have been a whole lot worse, but that ended the Christmas hayride tradition.
A week or so later, when I was able to get up and use crutches to get to the front door, some of the students from the high school came and caroled me. So one tradition died and another began.
Traditions are important to me, and to my character Sarah Booth Delaney. To that end, I’ve written another Bones Christmas story. Sarah Booth (in the Southern tradition of using both first and middle names) has only one wish this Christmas—
…She wants the perfect Christmas holiday. Even with the dissolution of her engagement, she refuses to lose her Christmas spirit. But when Theodora Prince–an ex classmate and current Pastor’s wife–comes calling with a year-old case and cash upfront, Sarah Booth must find the truth about the boys who ruined last year’s Christmas pageant in time to stop them from doing it again.
Jingle Bones, an e-original Christmas story featuring Mississippi PI Sarah Booth Delaney, offers all the Southern charm and zany adventure Carolyn Haines’s fans have come to expect–and more.
In this short story, I was able to fulfill one of my Christmas wishes—to write a humorous Christmas pageant. It’s a fine tradition for writers to come up with the wildest Christmas pageant tale.
Here, in Jingle Bones, I did my best, folks.
The original e-story goes on sale Oct. 13 for $1.99. (It’s available for pre-order now.) It will also be available as an audio story (narrated by the fabulous Kate Forbes and produced by Recorded Books) on Dec. 6.
Merry Christmas, just a little early. From me and Sarah Booth. And if you have any doubts about my singing, watch this.
Do you have any crazy Christmas stories? You know you can make them up! I won’t mind. I’ll be giving away 2 free downloads of Jingle Bones to 2 lucky people who post a tall tale.
Jingle Bones can be purchased in eBook format for/from: