Last year, I told my grandson, Forrest, then nine, that I was glad he was spending Christmas at the Bride’s House, because it had a fireplace. “I wonder how Santa gets into houses that don’t have fireplaces,” I said.
“Oh,” Forrest replied. “Santa has a master key.”
Forrest knows all about master keys, because he sometimes accompanies his grandfather, Bob, a property manager, on his rounds. But his answer was more than that. It was about faith. And believing in the magic of Christmas.
I don’t know if Forrest is still a believer in Santa. At 10, kids are pretty sharp, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody at school has enlightened him. I was about that age when I learned about Santa. It wasn’t traumatic. In fact, I don’t even remember how I found out. I do remember that I didn’t ask my parents about it, for fear the presents would stop. And as I got closer to Christmas, I began to doubt my new knowledge. There was a real need to believe.
Learning about such things is a rite of passage. I remember when Povy figured out about Easter. For some reason, our girls believed in the Easter Pig, who clomped through the house at Easter leaving candy. We were in Taos that Easter when she was eight or nine, and she found something in her basket on Easter morning that she’d seen in a store the day before.
“There isn’t really an Easter Pig,” she said.
“Do you think he’s really the Easter Bunny?” I asked.
She thought about that for a few minutes. I could see the wheels clicking in her head. Then she said, “There isn’t an Easter Bunny, either, is there?”
Sometimes, I think these discoveries hurt parents more than they do children. We think the truth destroys the illusions of childhood, but coming to terms with them is about growing up. Christmas is every bit as wonderful for children even when they know the truth. There are still presents. There is family and Christmas Eve dinner, lights shining on the tree, the candlelit church service, and walking home in the snow. And most of all, there is the Christmas story, which is so much more magical than the fat man in the red suit. As they give up Santa, children learn what Christmas is really about—the birth of a baby boy in a stable so many years ago, a birth that brought promise to the world.
So it won’t bother me that Forrest will lose a treasured childhood belief this year or next. Because it will be replaced with the real meaning of Christmas.
I wrote the following as a blog last year, after several women at the International Quilt Festival in Houston asked if I were a Christian Writer. More inquired this year, so I thought I would reprint the blog in Piecework.
I’m not sure what a Christian writer is. I try to be a Christian, and I earn my living as a writer, but I think that’s different from being a Christian writer. Technically, a Christian writer is one who is published by a Christian press and whose books are sold in Christian bookstores. Some of my books, especially Prayers for Sale, have been sold in Christian bookstores, but St. Martin’s is not a religious publisher, so by that definition, I don’t fit the category. But that’s a narrow definition.
I’ve gotten emails from readers who want to know how my religion influences my writing. I always reply that my religion is personal and I don’t like to discuss it. But that’s really my way of begging the question, since I have no idea what the answer is. At the festival, I signed books next to my friend Clare O’Donohue, the wonderful mystery writer, who said she was asked once about how being of Irish descent influenced her writing. She couldn’t answer that any more than I could about how my religion affects my writing. It’s just part of who we are.
I’m a Presbyterian, and we’re reluctant to wear out religion on our sleeves. In fact, there’s an old joke: What do Presbyterians bring to the evangelical movement? The answer: Restraint.
Do I pray when I write? Oh, yes! Just the way an unprepared student begs God’s help before a test. Anne Lamott, my favorite writer, says one of her two favorite prayers is “Help me, help me, help me.” (Her other is “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”) That’s the way I pray when I write.
But all this doesn’t answer the question of whether I’m a Christian writer or how my religion influences my writing. I was brought up in a religious household, a liberal one. My parents believed that God loves all people. So the God in my books is a loving God. My father was a man of integrity, which is why the men in my books (especially Tallgrass) have integrity. Mom believed in women’s rights; my women are strong like Mom was.
Our minister at the First Presbyterian Church of Georgetown tells us to love God and our fellow man, and everything else pretty much falls into place. (Not that that’s easy, of course.) That belief is part of who I am, and I think who I am influences my writing.
So am I a Christian writer? God knows.
Dinner at the Willa Awards
In October, Bob and I went to Albuquerque for the 2012 Women Writing the West Willa Awards. The Bride’s House won the Willa for Best Historical Novel. It was a wonderful evening, and it underscored how much women writers depend on and help each other. There was a real sense of understanding and support, not to mention friendship. The Bride’s House was also a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.
I’m on the right, with the rest of the Willa winners.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. By John Boyne.
Since I’ve been searching for a story for another children’s book, a friend suggested I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It is so moving that I can’t stop thinking about it. Of course, it’s not a children’s book, although it is short and simple and written from the standpoint of a little boy. The book has been out for awhile. In fact, it’s been made into a movie. But I just discovered it.
Bruno, ten, a German boy, has been told the family is moving out of Berlin to a remote area. The “Fury” has given Bruno’s father a wonderful promotion, but it means living far away. Bruno doesn’t want to leave his friends, doesn’t understand this new place or the people dressed in striped pajamas, who live behind a high wire fence. The place is called “Out With,” and he doesn’t understand why a camp would be called that either.
As you get deeper into the book, you realize that the Fury is the Fruher, and Out With is Auschwitz. Bruno’s father is the commandant of the camp. You know what is going on there, but Bruno doesn’t, and he’s curious about the people on the other side of the fence. Do they have cafes and stores like the ones he left behind in Berlin? He’s been told to stay away from the fence, but one day, he wanders along it and discovers a boy in striped pajamas on the other side. The two become secret friends. When the boy tells Bruno he’s hungry, Bruno brings him food. But Bruno doesn’t understand hunger. In one of the most moving scenes in the story, Bruno decides to sample the cake he’s stolen for the boy. He takes a bite, then another, and then convinces himself that it wouldn’t be polite to give his new friend a half-eaten piece of cake, so Bruno eats it all.
The story is easy to anticipate. So is the horror. But that doesn’t make The Boy in the Striped Pajamas any less impactful. Like The Diary of Anne Frank, this is a book about evil that you should read.