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Marva Ferguson has a very personal Christmas tradition that happens every December 26. As an aging widow, the tradition means more to her now than it ever has.
Her newest neighbor, nine-year-old Charlee, loves Christmas too. But her family has fallen on hard times and things get worse when Charlee becomes critically ill.
Then, on December 12, Charlee makes a wonderful discovery. A mysterious note is delivered that promises twelve days of gifts and stories that will reveal the truth behind the beloved Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas." As the days go by, the gifts hint at a possible lost lyric. Was there once a 13th day of Christmas? And if so, could its magic change—or save—a life?
If Marva knows something about the "letters from the Elves," she's not telling. However, you don't live as long as Marva Ferguson and not have a secret or two—including a whole lot of faith—in your apron pocket.
Filled with laughter, tenderness, and hope, The 13th Day of Christmas invites us to see how an old Christmas favorite can become a true Christmas miracle.
- Size: 5 x 7
- Pages: 236
- Published: 09/2012
About the Author
Jason Wright is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USAToday bestselling author. Articles by Jason have appeared in over 50 newspapers and magazines across the United States and writes a weekly column for The Deseret News and Mormon Times.
He is the author of seven books with over one million books sold. His most recent novel, The Seventeen Second Miracle, was released nationally in September of 2010.
Jason is from Charlottesville, Va., but has also lived in Germany, Illinois, Brazil, Oregon and Utah. In 2007, Jason fell in love with Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley while researching the area for his second book, The Wednesday Letters, and with the enthusiastic blessing of his wife, Kodi, he relocated their family to the historic town of Woodstock. A sign on their door reads, “Friends welcome. Family by appointment only.”
Marva Ferguson draped a wet yellow apron over the clothesline that ran along the side of her home. In curly cursive, a screen-printed message on the front of the apron boasted: If life gives you lemons, throw them through the candy shop window and grab some taffy.
It was just one of more than 150 aprons in the collection that hung ten deep on pegs and hooks around Marva’s kitchen, pantry, and sunroom. She wore aprons while cooking, cleaning, and doing the laundry, and often changed them during the course of the day to suit her mood. It was hard to pick a favorite when she wore most of them only a few times each year, but this particular apron was a contender.
Marva knew she was probably the last person in the town of Woodbrook who still used a clothesline. Once, when local newspaper columnist Rusty Cleveland of The Woodbrook Weekly knocked on her front door asking to do a profile on her as part of a weekly Know Your Neighbors series, Marva agreed on the condition he help her hang the morning’s load. Rusty had such a good time, he’d stopped by every couple of months since to check on the widow and work the clothesline. He’d even donated a few aprons to her collection.
She enjoyed Rusty’s company and was grateful for his visits. She also appreciated the occasional drop-ins from the circle of widow friends she’d made at various volunteer gigs around town. But they surely didn’t make up for the mornings when her husband, John, used to hang clothes with her. He’d been gone thirty-three years, but she still saw him in the next row, smiling over a pair of overalls or damp dishtowels.
John and Marva had an unusual history with laundry. When they were young, John joked with his pals that the first time he saw Marva, she was taking her clothes off. When their jaws dropped, he finished the joke. “Off the clothesline—get your minds outta the gutter!”
It was true.
She’d first laid eyes on him in 1946 while clipping a sand-colored beach towel to a clothesline in the backyard of her parents’ home. The eighteen-year-old young man with bad hearing and a World War II deferment had been cutting her neighbor’s lawn all morning, pushing a mower over the same patch of scratchy grass over and over like a perfectionist barber corralling a cowlick.
But the drunken snail’s pace had nothing to do with lawn care. He just wanted to sneak peeks at Marva and admire the tall, sixteen-year-old with fire-red hair and a matching personality. He finally found the courage to introduce himself, but instead of the more formal introduction called for in 1940s America, he chose to pop up from behind a bedsheet with clothespins pinned to his ears and nose.
How could she not love the boy?
They were married five years later and spent many hours at the clothesline together until the second of two heart attacks took him in 1978. In the years since, she’d had plenty of suitors and had even been to dinner, the movies, or square dancing with a gentleman or two, but she never seriously considered remarrying. In her stubbornness, she determined that no other man’s clothes were worth washing besides John Ferguson’s. And there certainly were no other men she wanted to hang clothes with in the virgin morning air.
She told friends that even before she met him, there was only John.
When they were married, there was only John.
Now that he waited in heaven, there would be only John. And she was sure he would still want to do laundry with her.
Marva loved living life by hand, but it’s not as if she’d never tried using a dryer. In 1961, John was inspired by outgoing First Lady and pink devotee Mamie Eisenhower and surprised his wife with a Frigidaire Pink Custom Imperial Washer Dryer set for their ten-year anniversary. She liked it just fine, and it saved time as advertised, but she missed the moments the couple spent in the yard peering at one another between cotton dress shirts and sundresses. The first time the dryer needed repair, Marva told John not to bother.
“I can live with the washer, John. It gets clothes cleaner than I ever could on the old board. But no dryer can get the clothes any cleaner on the line than God Himself. Plus, I think He makes them smell better.”
John didn’t argue.
Marva breathed in the morning air and admired her two lines of clothes, sheets, towels, and the lemon apron she’d chosen for the day. September had soaked up the southern humidity, and Marva thought the air had an unusual, tasty crispness to it, like a long, salted pretzel rod snapped in half.
She dove her hands into the pockets of her apron that read (Insert Funny Apronism Here). A few children played in the field that separated her house from the 27 Homes trailer park. She watched them for a long time as they played tag and built an obstacle course from old plastic trash cans and worn truck tires. She hoped when the sun gave up for the day, they’d each get a full meal and fall asleep with full bellies. She knew some would; some wouldn’t.
Even after seeing generations of children come and go from the neighborhood, even though she’d looked hundreds of kids in the eyes as they bounced by her on their pogo sticks or rolled past on roller skates, she still wished each one were the grandchild she never had from the son who’d preceded her husband to heaven too early.
She watched until the kids in the field disappeared from view, and soon their distant laughter and shouts slipped away, too.
The trailer park hadn’t always been named 27 Homes. When John and Marva sold the land to the town of Woodbrook, the planning commission proposed a low-income trailer park with twenty-one mobile homes on larger-than-average lots. The homes would go first to families with children, then the disabled, then veterans, then the elderly. The town billed the mini-development as a path to homeownership for those in need of a boost. It was a model Woodbrook hoped the surrounding county and other nearby cities and towns would adopt.
It didn’t take long before Woodbrook squeezed in three more trailers and renamed it 24 Homes, complete with a new sign. Then, in 2001, they renamed it again, adding three nice double-wide trailers close to the entrance off the rural highway.
When the third sign went up, the town manager finally had the foresight to design the numbers so they could easily be removed if the mobile home park grew yet again.
Marva wondered what her husband would think of the neighborhood today. The place had been maintained for a decade, and the families worked hard to convey the impression that their trailers were not just temporary housing but permanent, comfortable homes. Yet, of late, many of the lots had taken ill. Most of the homes had faded siding; some were missing it entirely. A few homes still had nicely manicured lawns, but the majority of her neighbors had let their yards grow into jungles of weeds and broken swing sets.
She assumed the best in people though, and chose to believe the struggling families simply didn’t have the energy to provide for their loved ones and care for the small plots of earth around them that they didn’t even own.
She thought because the town owned the homes, residents certainly couldn’t be expected to invest much in them. Once upon a time, she’d heard that 27 Homes had a waiting list. Now she wondered how many people thought of it more like a prison than a path to homeownership. Because the sputtering economy and job market had played no favorites, she’d heard that out-of-work tenants were often behind and negotiating to stay another month, then another and another.
Marva often said that selling the land was the smartest thing John had ever done, though he’d had his doubts. The deal allowed the Fergusons to stay on a large parcel at the northeast corner of the trailer park at the end of the main drive. Their home, once hidden like a juicy Southern secret in a grove of box elder trees, was now partially visible from a busy two-lane, east-west road that cut the county in half.
Still, more than three decades after his death, Marva was grateful to live in the only home they’d shared together and to know she’d likely die in it too, just as John had. John’s decision to give up a portion of their land and privacy had become her nest egg when he left the world seven years before the law of averages and medical spreadsheets said he would.
The town had originally designed an entrance to the neighborhood that was large and inviting, with fat azalea bushes on either side and the 21, then 24, then 27 Homes sign framed by hydrangeas. The road in was straight and wide with plenty of room for bicycles, Big Wheels, and minivans. After fifty yards of mobile homes on both sides of the road, a short stem shot to the left with six more homes, three on each side of the street. Another handful of homes sat back on the main straight road before the street took a sweeping round right and dead-ended at Marva’s private driveway.
Locals said the neighborhood resembled a fishhook and over time referred to the three sections as if they were parts of a real hook. The long main street in was called the shank, the short dead-end street was the barb, and the bend was the big turn that held another six trailers and led to the Fergusons’ home.
Those in the trailers nearest the entrance rarely saw Marva anyplace except in her Mazda Miata as she zipped in and out. Though the town had agreed to cut and pave a separate entrance through the trees for the Fergusons to access their property, there had been so many excuses through the years that Marva and John had finally given up the fight. Plus, with John gone at the age of fifty, not long after the town closed the deal for the land and trailers began appearing, Marva found she didn’t mind driving past the mobile homes and the children who occupied them.
Even though they rarely spoke to her, and more than one child had been caught hanging from her clothesline or stealing aprons for a laugh, their simple presence in her daily universe reminded her that she was not alone.
A new Christmas tradition at our house!
by Stephanie - reviewed on December 03, 2012
13th Day of Christmas?? I know, I bet you are wondering if you are remembering the song correctly? You are! In this new book from the author of The Christmas Jar and The Wednesday Letters comes a story about hope, friendship and the true meaning of Christmas. This book tells the story of a young girl named Charlee and the unlikely friendship she develops with an elderly lady named Marva. Charlee and Marva become kindred spirits as together they conquer loneliness, find beauty in their surroundings and joy in serving one another. Marva teaches Charlee about the 13th Day of Christmas! This was a wonderful read but -- be warned -- I needed a tissue! This hardback book is the perfect size for a stocking stuffer, hint-hint. It would make a great gift for someone this Christmas!
Another Enlightening Read from Jason Wright
by Rachelle - reviewed on December 28, 2012
Jason is a talented writer who inspires and enlightens. This story is another great read by Jason and his characters invite you into their lives and traditions. His 13 days with the Traveling Elves are fun and witty and I love how simple the concept is, yet powerful. For me, it made the 26th day of December quite special this year and something I'd like to remember every year after.
A NEW TRADITION
by Shauna - reviewed on December 09, 2012
From the author of... The Christmas Jars and The Christmas Jars Reunion Comes another Christmas tradition The 13th Day of Christmas Charlee is an old soul in a young body... Miss Marva is a young soul in an old body... Together they form a unique friendship...experience a life-changing disease...AND...receive a wonderful NEW tradition... That of the re-making of the 12 Days of Christmas PLUS one day more. Wonderful Traveling elves have to make some changes in the traditional story... What if the Partridge in a pear tree was really David Cassidy hiding from a throng of screaming teen-age girls? What if there was a miscommunication and the two turtle doves were interpreted as two purple gloves? Each day gets twisted into wonderful gifts.. THEN... The 13th Day of Christmas is the most special day of all! You will laugh and cry and share a very special journey in this book... Time to start enjoying December 26th and the 364 days leading up to Christmas!
Imagination mixed with mystery…
by Diane - reviewed on September 28, 2012
Christmas is a joyous holiday that brings happiness to everyone… but not always. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in our own small worlds that we forget the reason for the season. The 13th day of Christmas is about giving, quite literally, even when it hurts. Two families become acquainted when a devastating loss sets one family so far back they can’t see daylight and it just keeps snowballing. Then a kindly eighty-one year old neighbor opens her heart and their worlds become intertwined. This story will alter your perspective.
by Emilee - reviewed on October 04, 2012
I am a huge fan of Jason Wright. He writes amazing stories that will lift ones spirit. This book was inspirational allowing one to discover the true meaning of Christmas. The main point that Wright portrayed was the day after Christmas. Not only do we celebrate Christ's birth during the Christmas season, but we should celebrate by living like Him the rest of the year. I love that thought! He also challenged the reader to participate in doing the 13 days of Christmas project. I also loved the characters, Marva and Charlee. Their friendship was sweet and warm. They needed each other. I know that people come into our lives at certain times for certain reasons. This book was a great example of friendship and love. I definitely recommend The 13th Day of Christmas to everyone this Christmas season. It will change your perspective and bring you closer to God.
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