04 Finding Clara and Christmas

Joy to the world!

“I am so excited it’s Christmas,” shouted Victoria Scarlett Jones from high atop her tree house. She listened for her echo.

Christmas Eve gloried in the little town of Archerville. Bright bulbs—red, yellow, orange, blue and green glowed on Christmas trees and shone through lacy curtains. Wreaths with big bows decorated every door.

Southern sunrays warm most Decembers in Florida. This year was no exception. Twelve year-old Victoria Scarlett Jones and her best friend, big Betty Jo Martin stood ready. They perched high in the tree house in Victoria Scarlett’s yard.

Betty Joe said, “Hanging out in a tree house is the perfect place to be, even if it is Christmas Eve.”

Victoria Scarlett and Betty Jo planned a special “gift” for snaggle-toothed, freckled-faced, hairy-scary, lean, mean, Jimbo Bean. He was not really hairy, but he was their favorite target when it came to pelting. With a stash of dirt bombs carefully laid out on the ledge of the tree house railing, they waited for Jimbo to stroll by.

“I can’t wait for Mean Bean to come,” Victoria Scarlett said as she rubbed her hands together.

“I’m going to blast his backside so hard, he’ll wish he had grits in his britches.”

“I’m sure he’ll be along soon,” Betty Jo said.

“When he does get here, I’m gonna pelt him a hundred time before he know what’s happening.”

“Girl, you know we don’t have a hundred dirt bombs,” Betty Jo said with a giggle.

. “But we’ve got enough to make him think so.” Victoria Scarlett snickered.

Something caught her eye and Victoria Scarlett bent down. She picked up an acorn that had clunked to the tree house floor. “Yes! We’ll stash a hoard of these.”

“How about those seashells the storm tossed up on the beach yesterday? We collected a bunch of them,” Betty Jo said.

“We don’t want to kill him. They’ll put us in jail. He’s not worth that. Dirt bombs and acorns will do just fine,” Victoria Scarlett said.

A strong gust of wind swiped at Victoria Scarlett’s long, honey blonde, crimpy curls. Even her Braves baseball cap couldn’t contain the massive, billowing hair. Betty Jo’s dark brown bob hardly budged when the wind blew. Victoria Scarlett was tiny, ‘peaches and cream’ while Betty Jo was a stocky, ‘suntan ‘n sandy’ sort of girl. They dressed alike most days. Today they wore jeans, matching Florida Fightin’ Gator T-shirts and red Keds. Victoria Scarlett always told everyone that her mom spelled her “Scarlett” with two “t’s” because she was ‘totally terrific.’
At that moment the girls heard a faint ‘click, clack,’ coming up the sidewalk.

“Jimbo has heel taps on his boots,” Betty Jo said.

With careful hands, Victoria Scarlett gathered two dirt balls. “It’s gotta be him. Get your bombs ready,” she said.

Before Jimbo got within walloping distance, a strange noise from a different direction troubled their ears. They picked up more bombs.

Chapter Two

“Shhh,” whispered Betty Jo. “Listen.” She put her hand to her ear and pushed it forward like it’d help her to hear.

“Ooooooh, ----el--, elp----elp----“

“Sounds like a kid crying, huh?” Betty Joe said. She put her bombs back on the ledge.

“It’s not loud, so it’s definitely not Jimbo. Anyway, he stopped in Billy’s driveway to shoot baskets. See him?” Victoria Scarlett said.

“Maybe it was a cat,” Betty Jo suggested. “The sound is coming from that vacant lot over there. You know there are alley cats and all kinds of creatures in there.”

“He----lp. I nee----d, h----elp!”

“Whoa, that is not a cat. It’s a human,” whispered Victoria Scarlett. Her dirt bombs dropped to the floor.

“I’m scared,” Betty Jo said as she grabbed Victoria Scarlett’s arm and held onto her.

“Somebody needs help. We’ve got to over there,” Victoria Scarlett said.

With trembling, knocking knees, they climbed down the tree house ladder. Gaining courage, bullet-like, the girls zinged across the lawn. Victoria Scarlett and Betty Jo reached the vacant lot in seconds. They struggled through bushes and briars. Something moved. Peering closer, the girls saw the sound maker.

“Call 911, quick!” Victoria Scarlett ordered as she kneeled down and bent over a form.
Betty Jo shot to the nearest phone, across the street from the vacant lot. She grabbed a quarter from her jeans pocket and shoved it into the phone slot.

”The ambulance is en route. You may hang up now,” the operator told her. Rushing back to Victoria Scarlett, Betty Jo ran into Jimbo Bean and his dog, Lulu.

“Ugh,” Betty Jo pretended to be sick. “How’d you snake your way over here without me noticing? You can slither on home now.”

“A spooky noise came from those bushes. I’m gonna investigate,” Jimbo said as he began to walk beside Betty Jo.

“Go on home. And, take Little Lulu with you. Me and Victoria Scarlett have everything under control. We don’t need your aggravation.”

Jimbo gouged his boot toe into a weedy clump. “I want to help.”

“You might do. In a pinch,” Betty Jo said.

Betty Jo ran back to the vacant lot, Jimbo in tow. Lulu scampered along behind—able to keep up even though, having been bitten by a rattlesnake a few years ago, could run only on three legs. They found Victoria Scarlett kneeling beside a woman, holding her hand and talking in soft tones.

The lady was dressed nicely, Victoria Scarlett noticed, in a pink and blue flowered dress with a white lace collar. Her snowy white hair looked like she’d had it curled recently at the beauty parlor.

“The ambulance is coming,” Betty Jo said, hoping the lady could hear her voice and understand that help was on the way.

“I’m glad. The medics will know what to do,” Victoria Scarlett said. Patting the woman’s hand, Victoria Scarlett assured her, “See I told you we’d get help.”

“Her neck broke?” Jimbo asked as he knelt close to the lady’s feet.

Victoria Scarlett plastered her hand over Jimbo’s lips. “Hush your mouth. She can hear you,” she whispered. “What’s he doing here anyway,” she asked Betty Jo.

“It’s a long story, and we can’t argue in front of her,” Betty Jo whispered.

“You’re right. Okay, I guess he can stay.” Victoria Scarlett pulled at the button of Jimbo’s flannel shirt he wore on top of a blue T-shirt. “Make yourself useful, Jimbo. Give us your shirt. Her hands feel cool,”

Jimbo handed over his shirt. Victoria Scarlett put it over the lady’s chest and tucked it around her as best she could.

Victoria Scarlett could see the lady’s finger bones under the pale, wrinkled skin. Victoria Scarlett’s own hands were satiny smooth and pink beside this hand.

“Th---ank good---ness you ca---me,” groaned the little old lady. “I-I-I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here. You kids are so sweet to help me.” The lady’s voice trembled as she spoke.
She looks so pitiful and helpless, thought Victoria Scarlett. I bet she doesn’t weigh more than 90 pounds and she must be nearly 90 years old. I hope she doesn’t…oh! I can’t think that.

Chapter Three

“My-my-my name is Clara. I, uh, well, several people did come by. I guess they didn’t…hear me… calling for help,” stammered the lady.

Victoria Scarlett touched Clara’s pale forehead and gently stroked it. A few smears of blood had crusted on Clara’s face. “Your face is scratched and bleeding. How’d you get here?”
Clara’s sharp, skinny elbows gouged into the dirt as she tried to use her strength to raise her body.

“No, no. Be still until the rescue squad comes,” implored Betty Joe.

“Oh, I-I-I’m not seriously injured.” Clara’s voice seemed a bit stronger. “I was very lonesome this Christmas Eve. This is the first Christmas I’ve spent without Elmer. Elmer…my husband.” Tears trickled down Clara’s cheeks as she choked out the words: “Elmer died last month. Just after Thanksgiving.”

Clara clutched Victoria Scarlett’s hand tighter. Jimbo hung his head and squirmed. Betty Joe’s eyes grew large as she continued to fix her gaze on the pitiable heap lying on the ground.
Using the sleeve of Jimbo’s shirt, Victoria Scarlett blotted Clara’s tears and patted Clara’s shoulder with gentleness. “We understand, Ms. Clara.”

Clara said, “An afternoon walk used to cheer me up. Today I particularly needed cheering up. So, I started down the sidewalk and I saw the cutest little puppy. I only wanted to pet it and wish it a Merry Christmas. That’s what Elmer would’ve done, you know. He loved animals and children…and just about everybody, I guess.”

“I bet he did,” Betty Joe said as she sat down alongside Clara and Victoria Scarlett. Jimbo still kneeled at her feet.

Clara continued, “I followed the puppy as he scampered into these briars. Only I didn’t know there were briars. Then, I stepped on a rock half hidden in the weeds. I turned my ankle. So, here I am, lying in the brambles with a sprained ankle. I know that’s all it is—a sprain. But, I couldn’t get up by myself. Elmer is so strong. He could get me up from here in a minute.”
“But, the blood,” Jimbo said in a shaky voice.

“That’s only briar scratches. However, I was getting worried that I might be here a long time. People kept passing by and not stopping. They couldn’t hear me calling. I am so thankful you three came to my rescue.”

At that moment the ambulance arrived. Two men and a woman came got out and came over with a stretcher, stethoscope and other medical supplies. Victoria Scarlett, Betty Joe and Jimbo moved away to give the EMT rescuers space to examine Clara.

“They’re checking her out real good,” Jimbo said as the three kids stood on the sidelines looking on. To Victoria Scarlett, it seemed like the exam took forever.

As she removed the stethoscope and put it into the bag, the lady EMT said, “You are going to be fine. You just have a sprained ankle.”

“See, I told you so,” Clara said.

“All right!” Jimbo practically shouted. He bounced on one foot then the other.

Jimbo is not such a bad guy. I shouldn’t be so hard on him, Victoria Scarlett thought.

The EMTs cleaned the blood from Clara’s face and put an ACE bandage on her ankle.

One of the men rescuers said, “Ma’m, after Christmas you should have this checked out by your doctor. But, for right now you’re okay to go home. We’ll take you in the ambulance.”

“Please…can these kids ride with me?” Clara begged. “I only live one block from here.”

“Umm. I guess that’d be okay, for that short distance. Do your parents know where you are?” asked the lady EMT.

Chapter Four

“Yes, our parents know we explore this area, usually riding our bikes,” Betty Joe said. “We don’t have to be home for another couple of hours.”

Once inside Clara’s house the EMT persons helped Clara get comfortable on her sofa and checked her blood pressure and pulse again. And then, they left.

Looking around the dark room Victoria Scarlett noticed a small, undecorated Christmas tree in the corner. No other signs of Christmas existed in this house. No presents, no cookies, nothing like Victoria Scarlett had at her house.

A picture frame perched on a table at the end of the sofa. In it, Victoria Scarlett recognized Clara sitting next to a robust, balding man. For sure this must be Elmer.

“Can we get you a glass of water or something?” Victoria Scarlett asked.

“Oh, Elmer.” Clara turned her face into the pillow and began to sob. Her body trembled. Her shoulders shook as she cried.

Victoria Scarlett walked over and gently patted Clara’s arm. Betty Joe rubbed her shaking shoulders.

“Is there anything we can do to help you get ready for Christmas? Are you expecting guests…or relatives?” Betty Joe asked.

Controlling her sobs, Clara said, “No, I’m not looking for anyone to come for Christmas. Elmer and me, we had no children. We love children but were never able to have any.” Clara sat up, wiped her eyes, patted her hair and straightened her dress. “I’ll be okay. Really. You need to get back home. I know you must have a million things to do to get your Christmas ready. Your parents will be worried.”

Jimbo said, “Oh, no. They don’t care. They like for us to be out of their hair. My mama says I’m always in the way.” His face flushed. He shoved his hands in his pants pocket and looked embarrassed. Victoria Scarlett had never known Jimbo to be embarrassed about anything. Maybe he does have feelings she thought.

Fingering and twisting her lace collar, Clara began again, “The reason I wanted you kids to ride home with me in the ambulance is…I wanted to do something to say “Thank You” for coming to my rescue. But now that we’re here, I can’t think of anything to give you. I didn’t bake this year. No Christmas cookies, no pies or cakes.”

“Oh, please,” Victoria Scarlett said, “we don’t want any rewards. We just wanted to help.”
Jimbo said, “Yeah, we need to help our neighbors whether they’re next-door kind or just neighbors in this big world.”

Jimbo does have a big heart Victoria Scarlett thought. I’ve gotta remember to be nicer to him.
Victoria Scarlett walked over to the corner where the little tree stood. She said, “Ms. Clara if you’d let us help you decorate your tree, that’d be like a reward.”

Clara sprang from the sofa. Her face beamed with excitement. “I would love that. I have boxes of ornaments in the closet.” She hobbled over, opened the closet door, and pulled out several boxes and bags of icicles, tinsel and ornaments. There was even a wreath for the door.

When they were nearly finished decorating, Victoria Scarlett said, “I’m gonna run home and get a few Christmas cookies that I helped Mama make.”

When Victoria Scarlett returned she not only had cookies, but also a beautifully wrapped gift.
“You can’t open it until tomorrow,” Victoria Scarlett said.

“Let’s sing Carols,” Clara cried.

First they sang Jingle Bells, and then I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. Being native southerners, not one person in the room had ever seen snow at Christmas.

“We could be singing about the white sand out on the beach a couple of miles from here. That gives us a nice, white, Christmas,” Betty Joe said.

Victoria Scarlett thought the room seemed filled with love as everyone sang Silent Night. Clara put her arms around both girls and hugged them. Then, she reached for Jimbo. He looked hesitant, but let her hug him. The four of them made a hugging sandwich. The sandwich swayed to the music.

When the song was over Clara said, “I like hugs. I didn’t realize how much I miss them. Thank you for these special Christmas hugs.”

Victoria Scarlett Jones liked the feeling she had inside knowing that Clara was happier because of her hugs.

With a now rosy glow in her cheeks Clara said, “My life has been enriched because you became a part of it today. I’m sure Elmer is happy, too, knowing that I’m no longer so sad at this special time of year. I know he would want me to be happy and joyous. Thank you for helping bring that joy. You are special kids.”

Betty Joe, Jimbo and Victoria Scarlett exchanged happy glances.

Clara said, “I don’t want our friendship to end. Will you come visit me again?”

“Of course we will,” said Victoria Scarlett.

“If you three will stop by my house on Thursday afternoons I’ll read you a story or we can bake cookies or make a craft.”

“We’d love that,” Betty Joe said as she took a swig of milk Clara had poured to go with the cookies.

Jimbo said, “You’ll be just like a grandma to us. My real grandma passed away like your Elmer.”
“We can read books together and remember your grandma and my Elmer.”

Jimbo popped a last cookie in his mouth and said as he munched, “That’d be super.”

“You know,” Clara said, “your rescue of me this afternoon is like another story I’ve read many times.”

“What story is that?” Victoria Scarlett asked.

“In the Bible. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Now that is the true meaning of Christmas. And you three kids are the best examples of the real Christmas spirit.”

With those words, Victoria Scarlett, Betty Joe and Jimbo hugged Clara once more and they all sang Joy to the World.

What I liked best: I loved Victoria Scarlett's voice. It was very unique and individual.

Publication ready: Not quite. I'd ask you to pump up the characterization of Clara, Betty Jo & Jimbo a bit. They are a little too old for some of the things you have them do. I'd make them around 10, 11 tops. To me, it felt more like Georgia or Louisiana, not so much Florida. Also, since it's called "Finding Clara and Christmas" I'd add in some internal conflict with Victoria Scarlett not having the special feelings of Christmas like she usually does.

Watch punctuation and spelling—especially of Betty Jo/Joe.


Anonymous said...

I vote for this one

Anonymous said...

This story has my vote.

Jackie said...

I love this story, there was a wonderful message in it about helping and showing kindess being more fulfilling than throwing dirt bombs and acorns.

Jackie said...

Forgot to say "I vote for this story" in my comment. But let me say it now - I vote for this story.

Anonymous said...

I vote for this one, Southern Charm and all!

~T~ said...

The moral at the end is pretty obvious, but this is a sweet story, and Victoria Scarlett has a great voice.