The Christmas Table (Christmas Hope #10) - Donna VanLiere


May 1972

Thirty-five-year-old John Creighton pulls a slab of black walnut wood from the back of his pickup truck and carries it into the small workshop behind his home. He retrieves two more slabs, setting each one down on the worktable, sizing them up and his task at hand. What possibly made him think that he could build a kitchen table by October when the only other things he has made to this point are mirror and picture frames?

“So, this is the wood!”

He turns to see his thirty-year-old wife, Joan, standing in the doorway with her shoulder-length brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and holding their one-year-old son, Christopher. Their five-year-old daughter, Gigi, runs to her dad, wrapping an arm around one of his legs and using the other hand to pound on the wood. “This is it!” he says. “Nice, isn’t it?”

Joan runs a hand over the top of the wood, dusty and dirty from sitting in a farmer’s barn on the outskirts of Elmore for years. “If you say so, I believe you.” Christopher leans over in his mother’s arms, and Joan lowers him so he can tap the wood with his chubby hand.

John reaches for a can of mineral spirits and swipes a cloth off the table behind him. He pours some of the mineral spirits onto the cloth and rubs it across a slab, revealing a handsome, rich, brown wood. “See that, Joansie! Beautiful!”

She smiles. “Remember John, you don’t have to have this finished by October.”

“I told you that we would not eat one more Thanksgiving or Christmas meal on that yellow Formica table, and you have my word,” he says, saluting her.

“I’m just saying you don’t have to rush it.”

He leans against the workbench, looking at her. “Are you implying I won’t be able to have it finished by October?” She opens her mouth. “Are you inferring you don’t believe in my skills as a fine craftsman of tables? Are you saying I can’t demonstrate my woodworking abilities on our local PBS affiliate?”

Joan laughs, setting Christopher down on the floor. “I’m suggesting you’ve never made a table before, so take it easy on yourself.”

John throws the white cloth on top of the wood. “Game on, sister! Game on! The table will be done, and it will be magnificent. The question is, will we be able to say the same about your turkey?”

“Are you calling yourself a turkey? Because that’s how I interpreted that.”

He rears his head back, laughing. “To be so pretty, you’re a cruel woman, Joan Creighton.”

She kisses his cheek, picks up Christopher, and reaches for her daughter’s hand. “Dinner is in an hour and a half. I assume by your confidence that you’ll be bringing the table in with you?”

John watches them leave. “You jest, but it could happen!” He turns to look at the wood, sighing and scratching his head. He walks back to his truck and opens the passenger-side door, then lifts several library books off the front seat. Carrying them back into the workshop, he stacks them next to the wood and picks up the first one filled with black-and-white photos of kitchen tables and other furniture pieces. He reaches for another book, titled Measure Twice and Cut Once, and opens the pages filled with step-by-step instructions for furniture projects. “Oh boy,” he says beneath his breath. “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.”


May 2012

Lauren Mabrey stands on the sidewalk at the entrance to Glory’s Place, welcoming children as they arrive for the after-school program. She finished her shift in the floral department at Clauson’s Supermarket an hour ago. Clauson’s has given her the morning shift so she can be at Glory’s Place each day by three to help. In November the twenty-three-year-old will mark two years of volunteering here and less than a year as a married woman. Just five months ago, in December, she stood in the gazebo in the heart of Grandon, surrounded by the townspeople who had adopted her as one of their own, and became Mrs. Travis Mabrey. She stumbled upon Grandon just a year and a half ago by accident, a literal crash. She was a witness to a car crash while driving through Grandon one day, was called back to town to identify the man involved in the hit-and-run, and never left. After years in foster families and with no family of her own to return to, she became a volunteer at Glory’s Place, fell in love with the children at Glory’s Place, with Grandon