Harmony Books, 2014, 204 pages
Collier County Public Library: Yes
“Christmas is doing a little extra for someone.” – Charles M. Schulz, “Peanuts” creator
In the first week of October 1999, Rick Smith died in the night. He had been diagnosed the prior month with a heart valve defect that needed surgical repair but elected to postpone repair until Christmas vacation when he could recuperate at home with his kids.
The story picks up two months later, 13 days before Christmas. Rick’s widow, Joanne, and their three kids are adrift, no longer functioning as their once tight-knit family unit. Still in the early stages of grieving, they are each going it alone. Joanne sleeps on the couch and showers in the guest bedroom, unable to re-enter the room she had shared with Rick. She has learned to overlook unswept floors and piles of dirty laundry.
Seventeen-year-old Ben has a bedroom in the basement as well as his own car and makes a point of spending minimal time with his mother and his siblings. Nick, 12, is in no mood for Christmas and insists on keeping his bedroom door closed at all times. Only Megan, 10, is embracing the holiday this year. She seems to sense that keeping the family traditions is a way to stay connected to her father.
Having overslept, Joanne hurries to get everyone moving to start their day and while rushing outside to warm up the car, almost falls over a poinsettia on the front stoop. Megan picks it up as well as the card that accompanied it. “On the first day of Christmas your true friends give to you, one Poinsettia for all of you.” Megan of course is delighted with the true friends, or gift givers as she calls them, as well as the gift. However, Joanne goes into Mom mode and immediately begins to suspect everyone at work, in the neighborhood, in her extended family, or perhaps they have a stalker!
At the urging of her sister-in-law Charlotte, Joanne makes a first run at Christmas shopping that evening. She is truly struggling to find a way for her children to get some happiness out of this worst-ever first Christmas without their father. Her description of her shopping expedition at the mall is both humorous and poignant, but finally she gives up, abandons her cart and flees the cheery Christmas music and grumpy shoppers. After retrieving Nick and Megan from Charlotte’s house, Joanne arrives home to find the second day of Christmas gift: “…two bags of bows for all of you.”This second gift draws Nick into Megan’s enthusiasm. Before she falls to sleep, Joanne vows to try online gift shopping the next day, unable to face another excursion to the mall.
The ice encasing the Smith family’s collective heart has begun to thaw and finally melts over the next 11 days. Mini miracles occur each day. These simple little gifts, bestowed anonymously, have shown these grieving people the way back to each other.
“The 13th Gift” is a warm, easy read. I finished it in one sitting — had to solve the mystery of the true friends. The author’s style is very descriptive and straightforward. I felt I was right in the middle of the action. Although written 15 years after the “true friends” appeared, Joanne kept journals which formed the basis for this book.
The final chapter tells the story of how Joanne finally tracked down the gift givers whom she knew had to be generous, happy, carefree souls. In reality, they themselves had been “true friended” many years prior after the tragic loss of a baby daughter left them bereft. Their gift givers had helped them find some peace in that first Christmas when their pain was so fresh. They decided to do the same for other families in succeeding years in honor of their deceased child. As Smith writes about that 13th gift: “These couples sought new ways to make the holidays matter despite their own heartbreak……The power of their gifts lies in the understanding that joy and sorrow can coexist comfortably and without guilt.”
If you need a little Christmas right this very moment, or any moment in the future, reach for “The 13th Gift.” Available just about everywhere in e-book, hardcover and audio book formats.
I hope your Christmas was as merry as possible and wish you a wonderful 2015, filled with many hours of enjoyable reading!
Maggie Gust has been an avid reader all her life. Her past includes working as a teacher as well as various occupations in the health care field. She shares a hometown with Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, but Florida has been her home since 1993. Genealogy, walking on the beach, reading, movies and writing, are among her pursuits outside of work. She is self employed and works from her Naples home.
“This book is about finding a way to honor those who cannot be with us this season, to create new and joyful memories, to experience this season of giving in a very special way. Come. Walk with me. I will share with you the message that forever changed my family, the healing magic of the 13th Gift.”