It’s Christmas in Pecan Bayou, Texas. Join Betsy (aka The Happy Hinter) for a good old small-town Christmas complete with Christmas carols, over the top light displays, delicious food, loving friends and…a Christmas Creeper. One of the residents of Pecan Bayou has a secret and you’d better lock the door because that isn’t Santa out there or even an elf off his shelf. Enjoy spending Christmas with the town and family you’ve come to know in the Pecan Bayou Series. Recipes and helpful hints included!
A Washing Machine Full of Rocks
“What would possess Joe Nelson to give the Christmas solo to a woman who sings like a washing machine full of rocks?” Aunt Maggie’s voice echoed in the community center gym, the location hosting many of the neighborhood churches for the Christmas Eve service. Her attitude was in direct contrast to Rudolph’s blinking nose on her fire engine red Christmas sweatshirt.
“Ooh. You better watch out,” Danny whispered in my ear. “When Mama says words like that, it’s best to look busy.” I had just picked up Danny from the Christmas party for people with disabilities held at his adult care center. Today he seemed especially happy for some reason. And from the way he kept giggling, I could tell Danny had a secret he was bursting to tell me.
“Joe!” Aunt Maggie called out.
The choir director, who was busily engaged in a conversation with Enid Sanford—solo-stealer and owner of the voice that sounded like a washing machine full of rocks—didn’t respond.
“Joe!” she bellowed.
When he failed to respond a second time, she stomped back, turned him around by the shoulders, and plopped her slender black music folder into his hands.
“Take it. I can’t sing in a choir where my voice isn’t heard.”
I had to admit, Maggie was one of the better singers in the holiday choir. Some of the other vocalists possessed lesser talent. One time when I was watching Joe’s friend Howard Gunther at the soundboard, I noticed he was turning down certain microphones. It was wonderful these people volunteered, but some of the singers could be described as cats screeching in the night. Enid Sanford was one of those people; when she hit a high C, it could make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Leaving an astonished Joe, Maggie returned to us. “Well, that’s it. You’re hearing it right here and now. I am quitting the Pecan Bayou Singers. They can jingle their bells with somebody else.”
Lester Jibbets, a tall wiry man with protruding cheekbones and the owner of the most successful port-a-potty business in Central Texas, walked over waving a bony hand. “I totally agree, Maggie. What happened here is nothing short of criminal. It will ruin the Christmas Eve performance, uh huh.” He nodded his head to reinforce his point.
“Thanks, Lester,” Maggie said, about to continue her tirade, but Lester just kept talking.
“Yes, sir, I knew right away I needed to come over and help a beautiful lady in trouble, I did.” More nods.
“Thank you, Lester,” Maggie repeated, but this time she waited. Lester Jibbets was not an easy man to shut up once he got started. I guess the portable bathroom business is pretty lonely, even if you’re at the top of your game.
“May I walk you to your car? I would hate for you to swoon right here, and I would have to catch you in my strong yet surprisingly gentle arms.” His eyes lit up at the thought. This was getting downright creepy.
“That’s okay, Mr. Jibbets,” I reassured him. “Maggie’s not the swooning type.” I took Maggie by the elbow and led her to the car, leaving Jibbets standing alone. He gave us a final wave, just in case we wanted to turn around and talk to him again.
Danny took Maggie’s other arm and said, “Mama, you can’t quit the Pecan Bayou Singers. They need you. You told me that if you weren’t there, the whole group of idiots would fall apart. I don’t want to see the whole group of idiots fall apart.”
Even I had heard her say that more than once. Leave it to a man with Down syndrome to keep things honest.
Pastor Green careened over, ever the crisis counselor. He had sniffed this one out like a bloodhound. He was dressed in what Leo called his “cool pastor casual wear,” a black shirt, white liturgical collar, husky man jeans, and sneakers.
“Maggie, I saw what just happened. I don’t know why Joe made a decision like that, but you need to be charitable.”
“Charitable! That’s rich!” Maggie said, launching into the speech that Lester had kept interrupting. I knew she couldn’t hold it in for much longer. “Everybody wants me to be charitable all of a sudden. I get enough offers to be charitable in my own mailbox. Next thing they’ll be asking me for money for blind Seeing-Eye dogs and displaced squirrels. It’s ridiculous.”
The pastor moved closer and whispered, “I don’t know if they can handle some of the music without you.”
“Well then, they’re just going to have to fall apart. Couldn’t Joe hear how Enid sounded? Lord knows it’s Christmastime and I have plenty of baking and wrapping to do. I certainly don’t need another commitment on my calendar. Let’s go home, Betsy.”
Joe Nelson hurried over and joined Pastor Green. He held the folder up to his brown-and-gray argyle sweater vest. “Now, Maggie, I can see you’re pretty upset with me right now. Please know there was a lot to making this decision. I do hope you will be gracious and let Enid enjoy her solo. There was just something about her voice I hadn’t heard before.”
Maggie’s nose went up in the air as if she smelled something bad. “Oh, I’ll be gracious. I’ll be so gracious, you’ll think I’m Martha Stewart with a new scone recipe.” She jabbed him in the chest where he still held her thin black choir folder. “I quit.”
Joe gave my aunt a gentle smile, tucked the folder under his arm, and reached out to take her hand. “You can’t mean that, Maggie. We need you. I don’t know what we would sound like without your lovely soprano voice. It’s just that this time, I do wish you would reconsider.”
Where Jibbets was a little off-putting, Joe was sweet, and Aunt Maggie became flustered by this heartfelt plea. I had to wonder if she was a little ashamed by her outburst.
“All I can say is, I’ll think about it.”
Cupping his hand behind his ear, Joe gave her a confused look. Pastor Green, who usually had an excellent poker face, pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. Enid was doing a little extra rehearsing in the background. Listening to her again, I would have to say she wasn’t rocks in a washing machine—more like a cross between nails on a chalkboard and the sound a balloon makes when the air is slowly released. “What?”
“I said,” she shouted, “I’ll think about it.”
“And that is all I can ask. Running a choir is never easy because people’s egos are at stake. You can certainly understand that about Enid, right?” Joe shouted now as Enid reached the volume of a plane revving up engines for takeoff.
“So, are you telling me you gave her the solo because you wanted to pump up her ego?” Maggie cupped her hands together like a megaphone. “I don’t think that’s how you direct a choir.”
Luckily, Enid stopped before Joe had to answer.
“You may be right about that, Maggie. I am what you would call an amateur choir director, and I’m afraid I lead with my heart before my head. I do hope you’ll understand and maybe forgive me. It is the Christmas season, after all, and sometimes we have to think of our fellow man or woman.”
“Amen, brother,” Pastor Green added.
Joe’s words were simple and yet very stirring. He was right. It was Christmastime, a time to think of others, and he was thinking of Enid Sanford. Most people in town really didn’t like Enid because she was bossy and arrogant. I’d had my own experiences with her I would rather forget. I supposed even a person as obnoxious as Enid deserved a break now and again. It looked like this was going to be Enid’s lucky day. Or should I say she was going to get her Christmas miracle?
It’s been a wonderful year at Books to the Ceiling with fantastic books and authors to fill our days! Thank you to all the readers and listeners of the podcast and to all the authors who stopped by to share their work. Merry Christmas!