Grace, p.1Richard Paul Evans
ALSO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS
A Perfect Day
The Last Promise
The Christmas Box Miracle
The Looking Glass
The Christmas Box
The Christmas Candle
The Light of Christmas
Simon & Schuster
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Richard Paul Evans
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
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The writing of Grace has been a remarkable journey. I would like to thank my fellow sojourners. First, my friends at Simon & Schuster: Carolyn Reidy, David Rosenthal, Sydny Miner, and Gypsy da Silva.
Also, my agent, Laurie Liss. (Unbelievably, I still love you after all these years.)
My writing assistant, Karen Berg-Roylance. Thank you for your unending enthusiasm and inspiration. My friends, Jean Nielsen and Barbara Thompson—thank you for sparking the idea.
Thank you to my staff: Miche “Captain” Barbosa (Lee), Heather McVey (James), Karen Christopherson (Al), Chrystal Hodges (Collin), Barry Evans (Brenda), and Meagen Bunten (James).
Thank you to the Christmas Box International staff: Lisa McDonald, Sherri Engar, Patty Rose, Elisabeth Williams, Jean Krisle, Doug Smith, and Jenna Evans Welch. Also, Rick Larsen, Dennis Webb, Bob Gay, and our friends at Operation Kids for assisting us with the Christmas Box Initiative.
As always, thank you to my family: Keri Lyn, Jenna & David, Allyson, Abi, McKenna, Michael, and Bello. I am proud of you all and grateful for your support. You are my home, my heart, and my reason for living.
Most of all, thank you to my loyal, dear readers who share my stories. Without you, none of this happens. Have a blessed Holiday season.
In the summer of 1874, Mary Ellen Wilson, a nine-year-old girl from New York City, was the most talked about child in America. The event that created a national media frenzy back then wouldn’t make the back page of a rural newspaper today: Mary Ellen was abused by her parents.
The abuse was so severe that Mary Ellen likely would have died if she hadn’t been rescued by Etta Wheeler, a Methodist missionary working in the girl’s neighborhood.
Ms. Wheeler’s initial efforts to help the child were fruitless. No one wanted to believe that child abuse existed, or even that it could exist. Because of this, there were no laws on the books prohibiting cruelty to children.
There were, however, laws prohibiting cruelty to animals. After repeated failures in her efforts to seek justice for Mary Ellen, the determined Wheeler took her case to Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Bergh and his organization won protection for Mary Ellen by arguing that a child was, in fact, a member of the animal kingdom, worthy of the same protection under law as a dog.
Despite national outrage over the case, the commotion quickly died down and people once again closed their eyes to the problem.
Shortly after the turn of the century, public recognition of child abuse faced another setback when renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud publicly theorized that his patients’ claims of childhood sexual abuse were merely repressed fantasies.
It wasn’t until the early 1960s, nearly a century after the Wilson case, that the medical profession formally agreed upon the existence of child abuse.
While the world debated whether or not child abuse existed, thousands of children carried horrible secrets and scars, both physical and emotional; because no one would believe or protect them. Many of them ran away from home.
Grace is the story of one of those children.
“It were better for him that a millstone were hanged
about his neck, and he cast into the sea,
than that he should offend one of these little ones.”
THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL
By Hans Christian Andersen
It was Christmas Eve, and from the brightly lit windows of the town square came the sound of laughter and singing as people celebrated the holiday. Outside, the snow-covered streets were deserted except for the poor little match seller who sat alone beside a frozen fountain. Her ragged dress and worn shawl did little to protect her from the cold. She hadn’t sold one box of matches all day and she was frightened to go home, for her father would certainly punish her. She was so cold. If only she could light a match, she thought, but she knew her father would beat her for wasting.
She resisted until it was too cold to bear any longer. She took out a match and lit it. She magically saw in its light a large stone hearth with a brilliant fire. Beyond the hearth was a fine table laden with food. As she reached out towards the table, the match went out and the magic faded. Her eyes filled with tears.
She struck another match and an even more wonderful vision appeared. Before her was a Christmas tree hung with hundreds of candles, glittering with tinsel and colored balls.
“Oh, how lovely!” she exclaimed. Then, the flame flickered out. The light from the Christmas candles rose higher and higher. Then one of the lights fell, leaving a trail behind it. “Someone is dying,” said the little girl, remembering what her beloved Grandmother used to say: “When a star falls, a heart stops beating!”
The little match seller lit another match. This time, she saw her grandmother.
“Grandma, stay with me! I’m cold and alone!” She lit one match after the other, so that her grandmother would not disappear like all the other visions. When she was down to her last match, she cried out, “Grandma, take me away with you!” Her Grandmother smiled and opened her arms to the girl.
Christmas morning dawned, and a pale sun shone down on the frozen town square. On the snowy ground near the base of a fountain lay the lifeless body of a little girl surrounded by spent matches.
“Poor little thing,” said a passerby. “She was trying to keep warm.”
But by that time, the little match girl was far away where there is no cold, hunger nor pain.
My memory of her has grown on my soul
like ivy climbing a home until it begins to tear and
tug at the very brick and mortar itself.
ERIC WELCH’S DIARY
DECEMBER 25, 2006
It’s Christmas day. There is Christmas music playing from the radio in the other room. Mitch Miller’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” It’s a little late, I think; Santa’s come and gone, as have our children and grandchildren. They’ve left an impressive mess in their wake, but I don’t care. As I get older I’ve come to treasure any evidence of family. Snow is falling outside and all is peaceful and still. In such moments it is possible to believe that the world could still be good.
It’s not just a story, there really was a little match girl and she changed my life in ways I’m still trying to understand. Even the grandchildren sitting before me wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. As important as she is to me, I’ve never shared her story. It’s finally time that I did.
My memory, like my eyesight, has waned with age and I pray I can get the story right. Still, there are things that become clearer to me as I grow older. This much I know: too many things were kept secret in those days. Things that never should have been hidden. And things that should have.
Who was she? She was my first love. My first kiss. She was a little match girl who could see the future in the flame of a candle. She was a runaway who taught me more about life than anyone has before or since. And when she was gone my innocence left with her.
There is pain in bringing out these memories. I suppose I don’t really know why I feel compelled to write at this time, only that I am. Maybe I want those closest to me to finally know what has driven me for all these years. Why, every Christmas, I occasionally slip away into my thoughts to someplace else. Or maybe it’s just that I still love her and wonder, after all this time, if I can still find grace.
To choose the path is to choose the destination.
But sometimes it seems that the path is under our feet
even before we know we’re walking.
My story began in October of 1962 about ten days before the world was supposed to end. I think the Cuban Missile Crisis brought us as close as we’ve ever come as a species to extinction.
Even without the imminent threat of global destruction, the holidays looked pretty grim for my family. In November of that year my mom told us it would be a “Dickens Christmas,” and she didn’t mean the festive kind with merry carolers wassailing in nineteenth-century attire. She meant the real Dickensian landscape of debtor prisons and want.
My family—me, my parents, and my ten-year-old brother, Joel—had just moved from a palm-tree-lined suburb of Los Angeles to a blighted neighborhood in south Salt Lake City, just a few blocks from State Street with its nightclubs, bars, and pawnshops. My father, a construction worker, had contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks parts of the nervous system. It started with weakness in his legs and for several months he was paralyzed from the neck down; the doctors said that if it got any worse he’d have to be put on a respirator to breathe. Fortunately, it never progressed that far. The good news, they said, was that he would likely make a full recovery, at least physically. Our financial situation was a different matter.
The first big thing to go was our car, a ’61 Chevrolet Impala convertible, which was a pretty fine car even by today’s standards. What I remember most about it was the smell of the red vinyl seats on hot days. It also had electric locks, which Joel and I flipped up and down until Mom yelled at us to stop. Dad sold the Impala, purchasing in its stead an ugly used utility van from the phone company, which cost him just two hundred dollars. The van was yellow with wide brown stripes running across its sides. Joel dubbed it “The Bee,” which was appropriate for more than its paint job. The van’s motor made a high-pitched humming noise and it wobbled at high speeds, especially with Mom at the wheel.
The back seats had all been removed and there were no side windows. One whole wall was covered with metal shelves, cubbies, and drawers for holding tools and electrical supplies.
Things got worse. To Joel’s, and my horror, our parents decided to move. My grandmother from Salt Lake City had passed away three years earlier leaving her home vacant. My mother and her seven siblings had inherited the house and couldn’t agree on what to do with it. It was decided that we could live there until they came to a consensus, which, at the rate things were going, was a little less likely than a nuclear holocaust.
On the day we moved, Joel and I helped Mom load up the Bee. A few neighbors came over with going-away brownies and lemonade, and ended up staying to help as well. Dad just shouted orders from his bed. It drove us crazy but Mom said it made him crazy to be so helpless. I guess shouting at us made him feel useful. Fortunately we didn’t have much left to pack.
The Bee pulled out of our driveway, with furniture and luggage tied to the roof. My mother drove the whole way, the passenger seat next to her piled high with boxes. My father sat on a La-Z-Boy in the back of the van, while Joel and I sat on and between boxes and bags, rearranging them as best we could for comfort.
The trip seemed to take forever as we abused our parents with the obligatory “How much longer?” and “Are we there yet?” Had we known our destination, we might not have complained so much about the journey.
Our new home was a warped, rat-infested structure that smelled like mold and looked like it might have fallen over in a strong wind—if it weren’t for all the cracks in the walls that let the wind pass through. What was left of the paint on the exterior was peeling. The interior rooms were covered with wallpaper, most of it water-damaged with long rusted streaks running down the walls. Still, for a couple of boys from the California suburbs, the arrangement wasn’t all bad. The house sat on nearly five wooded acres bordered on two sides by a creek that ran high enough to float an inner tube during the summer.
That summer we scaled every tree—and there were lots of them—worthy of climbing. We also valued the trees for the food they produced. Money was so tight that my mother had stopped buying luxuries like potato chips and ice cream and now brought home only staples: bread, peanut butter, flour, and an occasional chuck roast for Sunday dinner. The trees, however, generously bent with ripe fruit. There were Bartlett pear, crabapple, apricot, peach, plum, Bing cherry, red Delicious apple, even a black walnut. Every day that summer we ate fruit until we were full, which satisfied us, but more times than not gave us the runs.
Joel and I spent that summer alone together. Joel loved baseball so we played a lot of catch, though it bothered me that he was four years younger than me and had a better fast ball. We also engaged in a fair amount of insect torture. On the east side of our home, on the slope of the underground fruit cellar, we found a hill of ant lion pits. We’d capture ants and drop them into the pits, watching for the buried ant lion to suddenly emerge. If we felt more adventurous, we’d hunt grasshoppers in the tall grass of the back fields, incarcerating them in a glass jar. We’d try them for some indiscretion—like reckless hopping or ugliness—and summarily execute them, usually death by rock or BB gun firing squad. Every day was something new.
I don’t remember whose idea it was to build the clubhouse. Years later Joel claimed it was his. Whoever’s it was, we never could have anticipated the chain of events it set in place.
We had all the materials we needed to build. My grandfather, who died long before I was born, was a pharmacist by trade. He was also a builder, and sheets of weathered plywood were stacked up against the old greenhouse and warped two-by-fours were piled in the smelly, straw-floored cinder block chicken coop my grandfather had built fifty years earlier.
As far as clubhouses go, ours was pretty big, ten foot by twelve foot, half the size of our bedroom. It had a particle-board floor on which we nailed carpet. The ceiling was about six feet high, though it sagged quite a bit in the middle. We clearly lacked our father’s and grandfather’s building skills.
One afternoon Joel and I were taking a lunch break, eating tuna and pickle sandwiches on slices of wheat bread, when Joel said, “It’s going to cave in when it snows.”
I studied the sagging ceiling until I saw a solution. After lunch we dragged a four-by-four beam from the chicken coop, cut six inches off the top with a rusted handsaw, then raised it in the middle of the room to brace the ceiling, pounding it fully upright with a sledgehammer. The pillar was useful in other ways. We put nails in it and used it to hang our flashlight and the transistor radio I got on my last birthday.
The fact that the ceiling was low was not a bad thing. We didn’t plan to do much standing around and it was a certain deterrent to adults, though probably not as much as the size of the entry itself. The clubhouse’s front (and only) door was only three feet high, which made it necessary to crawl into the clubhouse. Joel pointed out that this would be good in case of an attack, as it would make it easier to defend ourselves. I asked him who he thought might be attacking us. He thought about it a moment, then replied, “Well, you never know.”
We did our best to furnish the place with the creature comforts of home. For entertainment we had chess, Chinese checkers, and Monopoly. We hung artwork: a framed paint-by-numbers landscape, a poster of Superman, and a poster my mother never would have approved of—a Vargas pinup. Earlier that year I had started to take an interest in girls (alien as they were to my actual experience), and while we were first exploring the garage, Joel came across the rolled-up Vargas. The poster was pretty tame by today’s standards—a young woman posing in a bright red swimsuit—but for its time it was considered pretty risqué. For us it was definitely taboo. I assumed it was my grandfather’s, which was all the more reason for my mother to never find out we had it.
Our carpet and most of our furnishings came from the garage, an A-frame structure with a steeply pitched tar roof and two large wooden doors that opened like a barn. My parents stored some of our belongings in the garage when we first arrived, but with the exception of a brief and unsuccessful hunt for some missing pots and pans, I don’t think my mother ever set foot in the place. Probably because it was dark, smelly, and housed more rats than a research laboratory.
Grace by Richard Paul Evans / Romance & Love / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes