(This scene is from Tucker’s Way, the first book in the Tucker series. I find it to be a particularly touching scene and enjoyed writing it very much. I hope your Christmas Day is filled with magic, just like Tucker’s was.)
Following the Christmas meal, Ella says, “If everyone’s finished, let’s all go into the living room.”
Tucker and Maisy sit down beside each other on the couch and March and August form bookends for them. April sits on her knees beside Ella.
“Now that it’s getting dark outside,” Ella says, “August, why don’t you plug in the Christmas tree lights, and March, you turn out the overhead light.”
As if practiced and choreographed, March switches out the lights at the very instant August plugs in the lights of the tree. The effect is dramatic. Red, green, white, and blue lights send their beams across the ceiling and floor.
“Oh man…” August says softly as his head turns round the room to follow the tails of the colored comets.
March is transfixed. After a moment, he slowly walks toward the tree and stands beside it.
Tucker whistles low.
“It looks just like the tree in my apartment,” Maisy says. “Except that mine is – ”
Tucker cuts Maisy off with an elbow to the ribs. Through her clinched teeth Tucker says, “This ain’t about you.”
Rubbing her side, Maisy shoots a mean look at Tucker but says nothing.
Pulling a chair up to the side of the tree and sitting in it, Ella says, “August and March, you come sit in the floor by the tree.”
The normally boisterous March moves cautiously to join his brother at the base of the tree.
Ella clears her throat and says, “Now, I’ve done something without asking permission, and I don’t want anyone to get upset about it. I did it because it’s what I wanted to do. It’s what I enjoy doing.”
Everyone’s attention is glued on Ella.
“I’ve got some surprises for you,” she continues. “Will you help me April?”
Smiling, April stands.
Pointing to a present under the tree, Ella says to April, “Give that one to August and that red one to March.”
“Presents!” March yells at the top of his lungs.
“Wow,” August says quietly.
“Now just a minute – ” Tucker begins, but Ella cuts her off.
“Shush right there Tucker. I just got through saying that this is something I wanted to do and no one is stopping me.”
Tucker exhales and eases back into the couch. “It’s your right t’ do what y’ wanna do, I guess.”
August and March are sitting on their knees and looking at Ella, their unopened presents in front of them.
“Well what are you waiting for?” she asks. “Open them.”
March jerks and tears at paper and bow like a Tasmanian devil. August unties the bow and then breaks the hold of the tape on the paper. Identical boxes are exposed underneath the colorful paper. They open the boxes simultaneously and pull out sheepskin denim jackets. With eyes as big as their open mouths, the boys are speechless.
“Oh my lordy,” Tucker exclaims. “Put ‘em on, boys, ‘n let’s see how y’ look.”
Standing up, the boys slide their arms into the sleeves and pull the jackets over their shoulders. August stands tall and looks down at himself. March spins around in front of everyone.
Maisy says, “Don’t my boys look handsome?”
Handing two smaller presents to April, Ella says, “Take this one to Tucker and this one to Maisy.”
With a wide grin, Maisy grabs her gift and opens it quickly. She pulls out a long scarf. “How pretty.” Standing, she wraps it around her neck and prances across the floor. “Don’t I look beautiful?”
Tucker opens her present slowly, her thick fingers fumbling with the paper and bow.
“What did you get Tucker?” August asks.
“Give me a minute,” Tucker says. Finally getting it open, she pulls out a pair of leather work gloves. She puts them on and admires her gloved hands. “Now them’s some fine gloves right there. I ain’t never had none this good. Thank y’ Ella. Boys, whatta y’ say?”
“Thank you Miss Ella,” March says.
Walking to Ella, August puts his arms around her neck and says, “Thank you Miss Ella.”
Tucker thumps Maisy’s ankle with the edge the sole of her boot. “Ouch,” Maisy exclaims. “Watch where you’re – ”
Catching Tucker’s eye, Maisy stops and says, “Thank you Ella. This scarf is lovely.”
Looking very pleased, Ella says, “Now April, why don’t you go get your Christmas present and put it on so everyone can see it?”
Smiling, April runs to her room.
Reaching behind the tree, Ella pulls out her autoharp case and lays it on her lap. As she begins unbuckling it, August says, “I’ve seen that before. That’s where you keep that thing you played when we were here after the tornado. What’s it called?”
Opening the lid, Ella reaches in. “It’s an autoharp.” Lifting it out of the case, she says, “Move the case for me, will you March?”
March quickly obeys and Ella places the autoharp on her lap. She pulls out a pick and strums it a few times. The notes float through the air like the seeds of a dandelion.
“How pretty,” Maisy says softly.
“You just wait, mama,” March says. “She’s really good at playing that thing.”
“What about Jingle Bells?” Ella asks her audience. “Anyone in the mood for Jingle Bells?”
Clapping her hands, Maisy says, “Yes, yes. That’ll be fun. We can all sing together.”
“Okay then,” Ella says. “Here we go.”
She attacks her autoharp with relish and begins singing with the same verve.
Maisy immediately joins in.
March and August gape at their mother and swap looks of amazement. Shrugging their shoulders, they join in as well.
As they head into the chorus the second time, Maisy says, “Come on Tucker. Sing with us.”
Looking embarrassed, Tucker smiles almost shyly.
“Yeah,” August encourages her, “sing with us.”
March darts over and begins dancing in front of her. “Sing Tucker. Sing.”
Softly at first, Tucker begins singing.
“We can’t hear you!” Ella calls out excitedly. “Let ‘er rip Tucker!”
Finding a voice she hasn’t used in decades, Tucker throws back her head and sings lustily with the others.
Maisy looks at her mother with wonder.
August moves to take his mother by the hand and pulls her off the couch. They dance in circles.
“Come on, Tucker,” March says. “We can do better than them.” He tugs on her with all his might.
Laughing, Tucker rises to her feet.
Soon the four of them are holding hands and dancing while Ella continues playing. When she stops playing, they turn to look at her.
Standing beside Ella is April dressed in a red dress, white tights, and red shoes. Her golden hair is pulled back and held in place by a red bow. Rhinestones on the front of her dress catch all the colors from the Christmas tree and reflect them into every part of the room. It’s as if she is plugged in, too. She smiles broadly at her family.
Tucker, Maisy, August and March continue holding hands, but seem too stunned to move.
“If you would,” Ella says to them, “please sit on the couch together. April has a present she wants to give to all of you.”
Still appearing shocked, the four step backwards and squeeze onto the couch, March sitting on Tucker’s lap.
Looking at April, Ella says, “Are you ready?”
April smiles and nods.
Ella looks down at her autoharp and begins slowly strumming and picking.
The notes of the song touch a memory in Maisy. She looks at Tucker, who has had the same memory stirred. Whispering, Maisy says, “Isn’t that what you used to hum to me when – ”
“Shhh,” Tucker says gently. “Yes it is.”
They turn their attention back to Ella playing. As they look, April takes a deep breath, opens her mouth, and in a voice as clear as crystal, sings –
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I’m found.
Was blind but now I see.
As April continues with the next verses, Maisy openly weeps and lays her head on Tucker’s right shoulder.
August’s bottom lip begins to tremble as he lays his head in Tucker’s lap.
March leans back as Tucker tucks him into her right arm.
And Tucker? Tucker puts her right arm around Maisy’s shoulder and hums along with April.