UPDATE: A Ruby Christmas is FREE on Kindle
Friday, December 13 through Monday, December 16.
Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.
A Ruby Christmas
by Ruth O'Neil
Here she was at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia getting fitted for a pair of hiking boots. She’d only seen this style of footwear in magazines at the dentist office. Her cowboy boots had always worked just fine, but the note he’d left assured her that where she was going next required a sole with treads.
Chet Welton, an old college roommate of Daddy’s, lived tucked away in the wilderness. Ruby thought the Buckner ranch was isolated. But this was ridiculous. At least in Texas she had a truck for transportation.
She had to admit this part of the country was pretty. So much green! The woods here were thicker than maple syrup, and the rolling terrain made Texas Hill Country look like speed bumps. But at home she could see for miles without anything getting in her way. Here she’d be lucky to see a quarter of a mile in one direction. She’d find out soon if she suffered from claustrophobia.
The store owner, a pleasant older gentleman, finished tying the long laces for her. “I think these are perfect. How do they feel?”
“I’m not quite sure how they’re supposed to feel.”
“Don’t forget your map. I’ve highlighted the trail so you won’t get lost.”
Ruby slung the backpack over her shoulders, carrying only necessities for a couple of days and a gift for the family. The store clerk, a friend of Chet’s, was letting her leave her suitcase and the dog crate in his storage area.
She went outside to retrieve Yippee. He was sitting patiently where she had left him. He seemed to be enjoying the scenery.
He stood on his hind legs and jumped in a circle, his front paws batting the air.
“You’re enjoyin’ this escapade far more than you should.” She untied his leash from the porch railing in front of the store and her cell phone beeped.
A text! Rescuing the cell from her pack, she read the sender’s name and opened the message.
THOUGHT ABOUT YOU WHILE CATCHING WAVES THIS MORNING. J. S.
She punched out a return message. “Will I see you—?” No, sounds too eager. She erased that. “Where are you flying to—?” No, Jonathan said he’d surprise her if possible. She erased that. “Yippee says hi—” No, that’s dumb …
She accidentally pressed send. “Oh, horse apples!”
“I know. I know. Let’s go.” Ruby put the cell away for now. She could text him once she arrived at the Weltons.
Consulting the map one more time, she headed out.
The first part of the trail was easy, but after an hour, the new boots rubbed her pinky toes raw. Spotting a large boulder, she sat for a moment and got a drink of water for both her and Yippee.
She smiled at his tongue hanging out. “With your mouth open like that, Momma would say you’re tryin’ to catch flies.”
The cool air swirled around her ears, and she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head. Thinner air had her breathing almost as heavy as it had in Colorado. Trading the water for the map, she checked her route. She had covered most of the highlighted part, if the trail markers were correct.
“We better get to it. Hope it’s not much farther.”
They started back up the trail with Ruby trying not to count the minutes. After an endless half hour, the trees opened up to a clearing. A wood-sided house sat smack-dab in the middle. It looked as if someone had cleared just enough land for a house, barn, and garden and left the rest of the mountain intact.
Startled by the fanatical screeching, Ruby jolted to a stop and whipped her gaze left.
A little redheaded girl with braids like Ruby’s bounded out of the trees and ran into the house, shouting. “She’s here! She’s here!”
Before Ruby took two more steps, a bunch of kids roughly elementary school age burst through the door and ran toward her. Little boys in denim overalls and striped shirts. Girls wearing patterned dresses and sweaters.
Yippee darted out of the way and hid behind a tree. Yapping.
“Welcome! Welcome!” Seven voices drowned out his barking.
“Hi?” Ruby grinned at a sandy-blonde haired girl hopping in place. Two front teeth missing.
“You kids get back here!” A woman in a blue-checkered dress waved her hands and strode toward Ruby.
“You’re going to scare the poor girl away.”
The woman in her mid-thirties made her way to the front of the crowd and shook Ruby’s hand. “Hi, I’m Celia Welton. This here’s my brood.” She turned to the seven. “Children, this is Miss Ruby.”
“I’m Josiah,” said a boy about eight. “Like the boy king of Judah.”
“Nice to meet ya, King Josiah.” Ruby shook his hand and prayed she could remember everyone’s name.
“Come on in the house.” Celia took her backpack and handed it to Josiah. “You’re probably cold and tired from your hike. I’ll fix you a cup of hot cocoa.”
A comfortable seat and a hot drink sounded like heaven.
Pressing in like pigs at a trough, the youngest children escorted Ruby into the house. She didn’t understand one word of their chatter with all of them talking at once. Checking over her shoulder, she made sure Yippee followed. He did.
They reached the front door, and their mother turned around. “You all have chores to do. You’d best get to ’em before your father gets home.”
The children groaned and headed off in different directions. Josiah set her pack by a comfy-looking, lavender armchair. Momma’s favorite color.
Peace and quiet filled the large room. A giant braided rug slept under the coffee table, wide enough for children to sit around it and not freeze their rears on the cold, wood floor. Ruby pictured Celia’s brood gathered in front of the big stone fireplace, listening to stories or coloring. She settled into the chair, removed her boots, and carefully rested them on the matching paisley ottoman.
Yippee sniffed the room before stationing himself by the hearth. Something about the new smells had him on alert.
Celia handed her a warm mug of hot cocoa. “I bet it’s colder here than in Texas.”
“For this time of year, yes.” Ruby spread her fingers around the mug, absorbing the warmth into the rest of her body.
The ringlets of sandy blonde that escaped the scrunchy holding back the woman’s tresses dangled at her temples, adding charm to her smile. “Well, I hope you enjoy your stay here.”
Screaming and stomping all but made Ruby drop the mug. A wiener dog, chased by all of the kids, came running through the house.
“Frankie, come back here, you naughty dog!” King Josiah led the stampede.
Frankie ran past Ruby and directly toward Yippee. The terrier jumped and skittered about but after doing the usual canine greeting—sniffing everyone—he acted as if he and the squat dog were long lost friends. The children laughed at the dogs’ antics. Ruby couldn’t help laughing as well.
An older child hustled over to Celia. “I’m sorry, Mom. He ran right for the house as soon as we opened the side door.”
The woman didn’t seem to mind. “He must have smelled a new dog.”
While the canines played together, the children went around and said their names. Jonah, Joshua, Jenna, Julia, Josiah, Jessica, and the littlest one was Joanna. Remembering all J names was going to be an issue.
They all took turns asking Ruby questions. She answered each of them, saying their names in the answer while looking at their features, trying to memorize them together.
“Yippee can do tricks?” Jessica bent to pet the terrier. “Can we see them all?”
“Not now, children. Maybe after dinner. Your father will be home in a few minutes. I’ll go finish dinner. Whose turn is it to set the table?”
Julia, a spittin’ image of her mother, got up and went to work.
The smell of food cooking made Ruby’s stomach growl. Famished, she sneaked into the kitchen while the little ones were distracted with canine entertainment. “Can I help with anything?”
“Just sit right down there at the table and chat with me while I finish. Most everything’s ready.”
Ruby studied the large eat-in kitchen. Cast iron pots and pans hung above a gas stove. A double oven. Cream-colored cabinets printed with pears and vines. The mile-long butcher table with a bench on one side and chairs on the other took up the middle space. Even though she’d just arrived, this place felt homey. In a Walton family sort of way.
“Howdy, everyone,” said a deep voice. “You must be Ruby. I’m Chet.” Daddy’s friend from college stood taller than a giraffe, and just as lean. His thick salt-n-pepper sideburns made up for the thinning head of hair.
She approached the man in a mechanic’s uniform. “Nice to meet you.”
“It seems like forever since I saw your daddy. He was the best roommate. We got into our share of trouble, but I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell you any of that.”
“You mean like the time you and Daddy kidnapped the mascot from the University of Texas?” Ruby liked that story best.
“Really?” Julia’s eyes lit up at her father.
Chuckling, Chet hung his cap on a hook near the rear door. “We learned a good lesson about not messing with longhorn steers.” He showed his daughter the scar where the steer’s horn had pierced his side.
“Time to eat!” Celia hollered.
The sound of an army running along the wood floor made Yippee jump into Ruby’s arms.
The children took their places at the table. Ruby put the dog down by a bowl of food set out for him then took her seat among the Weltons—perfect Waltons-look-a-likes. She had watched the reruns on TV. They lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, right? Maybe this family was kin.
The ranch hands back home had eaten most dinners with Ruby’s family, and they treated her like a little sister. But this camaraderie was different. She’d never thought she was missing anything by not having siblings. Maybe she had been wrong.
“Ruby’s dog can do tricks, and she’s gonna show us after dinner.” Josiah pointed at Yippee.
Chet buttered a homemade roll. “Not if you don’t finish your broccoli.”
After dinner, everyone gathered in the living room to watch Yippee perform. Chet and Celia cuddled up on the couch, reviving in Ruby’s mind a picture of her parents snuggling on the loveseat while watching TV.
Jonathan, I wish you were here. She’d text him once she was alone.
Joanna plopped onto the floor, and Yippee pulled one of her braids. The girl giggled.
“There’s one trick.” Ruby packed treats in her pocket. “That’s how he tells me he wants to play.”
She had Yippee heel backward and forward, weaving through her legs as she walked.
He limped up to Julia and wiggled his ears.
“Oh, no.” The pigtailed girl covered her mouth. “He’s hurt.”
“No, he’s just flirting.” Ruby wagged her finger. “Yippee, shame on you.”
He covered his eyes with one paw, yapped, and uncovered his eyes.
This family laughed as easy as the wind blew. Easily entertained. Ruby figured that came with living the simple life. She looked around and noticed for the first time there wasn’t a TV. Maybe this had been their only entertainment for months. Could they not afford one?
“Can you teach Frankie a trick?” Jonah brought the dog to her.
“We can try.” Ruby rubbed the dachshund’s back. “Do you have any treats?”
Jonah ran to the kitchen and brought back a handful. They worked with Frankie for almost an hour, but he didn’t seem to understand. Or he was too distracted by all the commotion.
Celia yawned. “I think Ruby’s tired, children. It’s time for bed.”
“Awww. Can’t we watch her open her present?”
“I guess.” Chet went to the fireplace and pulled a small package off the mantel. He handed it to Ruby. “One of the things your daddy and I used to do together was wood carvings. That’s how we paid our way through college. Jake Buckner is the one who taught me it’s the simple things in life that really matter. That’s what brings joy.” He looked tenderly at each member of his family. “I’ll always appreciate him for that.”
Ruby opened the gift, a standing Joseph, his hands folded in prayer. Fingering the piece gently, she pored over each swipe of the knife. It showed amazing detail. She set it on the armchair cushion and rose to give Chet and Celia hugs. “Thank you for the gift and for your hospitality. I have something for y’all, too.” She pulled a bottle of Dutch’s famous rib sauce out of her backpack, still swathed in bubble wrap for travel in her suitcase. “It’s homemade by our cook, Dutch—”
She jolted at another commotion, which seemed a normal occurrence here.
An ornery dachshund was definitely the norm in this household.
Frankie had Joseph in his mouth, running around the room.
“Hey!” Ruby stumbled out of the kids’ path as they chased the dog around the couch and between the armchairs.
For being so squat, ran fast as lightning. Through the doggie door he flew. All seven kids and Yippee burst through the entry after him.
“You children get back here!” Celia marched to the threshold. “It’s dark and cold. Let your father go after him. You get ready for bed.”
Yippee darted back inside, shivering.
After the children were settled, Ruby and Yippee sat by the fireplace near Celia, waiting for Chet to return.
“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have set the piece on the chair.”
Celia waved her off. “You didn’t know. Chet can make another one before you leave if necessary.”
Ruby felt horrible. When Chet finally returned she jumped up, hoping for good news. It wouldn’t matter to her if Joseph had a few teeth marks in him.
He hung his coat on the large handle. “I couldn’t catch him.”
Ruby let her shoulders sag. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry for not warning you.”
Celia held Chet’s hand. “I told her you could make another one before she leaves.”
The man kissed his wife’s forehead. “I’ve got a better idea. Ruby can make one herself.”
Me? Her heart dropped into her stomach. “I’m not good with blades. I cut off half my thumb trying to make a turkey sandwich.” She held up her thumb to show her scar.
“Don’t worry. I’ll guide you.”
Lying in bed that night, Ruby took out her cell. A text from Jonathan would lift her mood.
No reception. Figured.
She covered her face with the pillow and let out a muffled yelp of frustration. She missed Daddy something fierce. And Dutch and the ranch hands. She groaned out a prayer for the lost piece of the Nativity, sadly anticipating the loss of the rest of her thumb.
“Lord, I trust You to help that silly dachshund bring back Joseph. We have to have a Joseph, and you know I’m no good with woodworking.”
The next morning, while Ruby enjoyed a delicious bacon and pancake breakfast, movement caught her eye.
Yippee sniffed at the trail of muddy paw prints leading to the dog bowls. There stood the dachshund that had apparently sneaked in unnoticed.
Celia rose partway. “Frankie, what’s that all over your paws? Have you been digging a hole where you could hide Joseph?”
Frankie left his bowl and stuffed his head into the corner, keeping his back to them like a naughty kid trying to hide.
Jonah laughed. “There’s his trick!”
Everyone burst out laughing.
But Lord, I prayed. I don’t want a second-rate Joseph.
Breakfast ended too soon. Ruby laced up her hiking boots and followed Chet into the woods in search of the perfect branch with which to craft a new Joseph. The children serenaded them with Christmas carols while on the trek across the mountain. Their companionship was growing on Ruby. A pleasant change from the quiet ranch.
Chet chose dogwood, the official tree of Virginia. “Something to remember us by.”
She painstakingly followed his directions as he showed her where and how to carve out pieces of the branch to form it into a shepherd, or at least something that looked kind of human.
Jonah and Joshua, the oldest boys, took to carving their own pieces.
“That’s really good,” Ruby told Jonah. She looked back at hers, which proved paltry compared to his. “Mine redefines imperfection.”
Jonah flipped the knife in his hand. “Then yours tells a great story.”
“No one’s perfect. But God loves us each the same. He loved Joseph and Mary in spite of their imperfections. And look what God did through them.”
Ruby’s spirit leaped within her. Joseph, an imperfect earthly father, managed to raise the Messiah. Just like Daddy did his best to raise me. Not that Ruby saw herself as sinless like Jesus but more of a someone God could whittle into something useful or beautiful despite her past. Despite her lack of a mother.
Lord, thanks for answering the prayer I didn’t put into words last night. She smiled at Jonah. “I needed to hear that.”
All her life she’d strived for perfection, in school, in barrel racing, in training Yippee, in trying to be a helper to her daddy as Momma was before her passing.
I can’t do it all. She peered up at heaven. She didn’t want to do it all. I want to be my own person. The mountains of Virginia had more to teach her than she’d expected.
Chet picked up her backpack. “I’ll drive you down to the store to get your stuff.”
“It’s only ten minutes away.”
She planted her fists on her hips. “There’s a road?”
Chet grinned. “I expect your daddy wanted to give you time to think and enjoy the countryside.”
Ruby couldn’t help but smile at her daddy and his ways. “I was kinda looking forward to the walk.”
Besides, she probably wouldn’t have use for hiking boots in New York City.
Read Chapter One here.
Read Chapter Two here.
Read Chapter Three here.
Read Chapter Five here.
Read Chapter Six here.
Our authors are blogging all sorts of fun posts, interviews, articles, devotions and more during the next couple of weeks too, so we'll try to keep an updated list so you can visit. Most of them are changing posts as often as we are, so if you see their names listed more than once, check out all the links, because it's a different post.
Thursday, December 5
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter Four's Pinterest image and Ruth O'Neil's blog
DIANNE E. BUTTS
FAY LAMB posting on INNER SOURCE
MARJI LAINE Chapter 4 Devotion on Faith-Driven Fiction
PHEE PARADISE hosts Tracy Ruckman at Delighted Meditations
From Wednesday, December 4
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter Three's Pinterest image and Fay Lamb's blog
DIANNE E. BUTTS
MARJI LAINE Chapter 3 Devotionon Faith~Driven Fiction
FAY LAMB guest devotional at Phee Paradise's Delighted Meditations
From Tuesday, December 3
For the Pinterest contest, visit Chapter Two's Pinterest image and Dianne E. Butts' blog
FAY LAMB posting on INNER SOURCE
MARJI LAINE Chapter 2 Devotion on Faith~Driven Fiction
DIANNE E. BUTTS guest article about Christmas at Embattled Spirits
DIANNE E. BUTTS guest devotional at Phee Paradise's Delighted Meditations
Contributing author to The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt
Ruth O’Neil has been a freelance writer for more than twenty years, publishing hundreds of articles in dozens of publications. Her first novel Come Eat at My Table came out earlier this year. Her second novel, Belonging, is on its way sometime next year. Ruth sees everything as a writing opportunity in disguise, whether it is an interesting character, setting, or situation. When she’s not writing or homeschooling her kids, Ruth spends her time quilting, reading, scrapbooking, camping and hiking with her family.
You can reach her at her website – http://ruthoneil.weebly.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RuthONeilAuthor
Twitter - https://twitter.com/writerrutho