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The New York Times bestseller Christmas Jars has sold nearly 500,000 copies. Thousands of people across the country have emailed the author at ChristmasJars.com about how the Christmas Jars tradition has touched their lives— either by receiving a jar or by giving one.
Hope Jensen’s story continues in Christmas Jars Reunion. It’s been two years since Hope was reunited with her biological mother on Christmas Eve at Chuck’s Chicken ’n’ Biscuits. Hope has never felt more complete. She’s writing full-time for a family magazine and, with the help of her mother, Marianne, leading the Christmas Jars Ministry out of Chuck’s quirky restaurant. To top it off, she’s dating a marketing executive in a comfortable long-distance relationship. Her life is right where she wants it to be — a state of organized chaos — as another Christmas rolls around.
Then her world changes forever over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Maxwells hire a nephew to take over the family furniture restoration business. Someone that Hope can’t stop thinking about. Then an out-of-town stranger shows up at the diner asking to help in the ministry — a stranger whose motives are yet unclear.
Before the sun sets on Christmas Day, two men will try to change Hope’s life forever. In the process, Hope will be reminded of the immense power of a single jar, and the healing that sometimes comes only with forgiveness.
- Size: 5x7
- Pages: 176
- Published: October 2009
- Number of discs: 4
- Approx. running time: 4.5 hours
- Book on CD: Unabridged
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.”
Twenty-Five Years Later
It was such magic in our lives. The gift left to us by someone restored something in my family and me. My troubles aren’t gone, but MY HOPE is restored. —JBM
Chuck might be the only person ever to write his last will and testament on the back of a paper placemat.” Preacher Longhurst paused as soft laughter rolled across the crowd assembled under the mammoth green canopy erected in the field behind Chuck’s Chicken ’n’ Biscuits. “But friends, who are we kidding, there were probably a lot of things Chuck was the first person to ever dream of.”
Hope Jensen smiled from her folding chair on the second row.
“And that’s why we loved him. It was not just for his secret recipe that produced fried chicken so tasty it could have been made by angels in hairnets, but also for his heavenly Three Musketeers pie, his Sing for a Wing talent nights, and his Cluck Truck that was a rolling landmark around town. Who here hasn’t been sitting at a stoplight when Chuck pulled up behind you and all you could see in the rearview mirror was a yellow beak? You’d smile, he’d wave, and if you were lucky, he’d honk the only horn ever manufactured that went ‘buck-buck.’”
The congregation laughed, partly for the memory of Chuck’s famous horn, but mostly for the silly sound effect Preacher Longhurst made with his lips pressed against the microphone.
Hope looked at Marianne’s soft expression and squeezed her hand. Marianne had only known Chuck since she had been reunited with Hope three years earlier, but he’d become family to her, just as the Maxwells had. In fact, he became family to nearly everyone who’d ever had a meal at Chuck’s Chicken ’n’ Biscuits.
“Friends and neighbors, there was more to Chuck than his sense of humor, and he wasn’t just about customer service. He was about people service. More often than not when you saw the Cluck Truck around the county it meant that Chuck was delivering free meals to schools, church functions, or the seniors’ center. His sweetheart, Gayle, tells me he gave away as many meals as he sold during his many years in business.”
Gayle nodded from the family section in the front row.
“Dear friends, I know that some among us find it ironic that a preacher from a church Chuck never attended is officiating his funeral. I have wondered the same thing. The truth is that Chuck rarely attended church. I invited him every time I saw him, usually on Sundays for lunch or when I was brave enough to participate in Sing for a Wing night. But his answer never deviated. And these words will sound familiar to his family, I’m sure. He always told me, ‘Preacher, just because I’m not in God’s house doesn’t mean he’s not in mine.’”
He looked down at Gayle from the wobbly tabletop pulpit. “Chuck’s church was here, wasn’t it? Here at the diner, where he did more good for God than any of us will ever know.” He reached down to the table and pulled something from a large envelope.
“Now I know this is rather unusual, but this whole day feels different, doesn’t it? I’ve discussed this with Gayle and with her enthusiastic support I’m going to read Chuck’s will for you.”
Gayle smiled, reaffirming her blessing, and clutched her unopened package of Kleenex. With her eyes closed she saw herself sitting in a booth five years earlier with her husband late one evening. Chuck had suffered a very mild heart attack and was convinced it was time for a will. But instead of hiring an attorney and producing long, complicated lists of wishes, assets, and disclosures, he jotted down his thoughts in tiny letters on the back of a paper placemat. With one hand he wrote, with the other he ate a piece of pie and nursed a carton of chocolate milk.
Hope reached forward and tenderly rubbed Gayle’s back.
Gayle’s two grown sons, Joel and Mike, sat on her right and left and simultaneously looped their arms through hers.
Preacher Longhurst unfolded the placemat and held it high for the guests to see. Those in the first few rows laughed at the mustache Chuck had sketched on the diner’s longtime logo: a cartoon chicken.
“‘The one and only will and testament of Charles ‘Chuck’ Quillon. If you’re reading this then I’ve kicked the chicken bucket.’” Preacher Longhurst looked up and out at the crowd. “It says, ‘If read aloud, pause for laughter.’”
They laughed again.
“‘If I’m dead, I either choked on a chicken bone, had a heart attack worse than last month’s, or Gayle finally made good on her threat to smother me in my sleep and take my vast personal wealth. I hope for the sake of a good story that it was the latter.’”
Hope whispered something in Marianne’s ear.
“You’re so bad.” Marianne poked her in the side.
“‘What to do with my stuff.’” Preacher Longhurst looked up again. “You’ll have to excuse me, the writing is quite small here.” He held the placemat closer to his face. “‘My stuff. The restaurant to Gayle and the boys. The red Mustang to my brother, Derrick. The silver-and-black one to Randall, the best cook in America. The stuffed chicken by the register to Eva, the worst waitress in America.’”
Eva laughed loudly and clapped her hands twice in delight.
“‘Last. My two certificates of deposit from Southern Family Credit Union. Gayle will cash in and divide equally with everyone who ever worked at Chuck’s. Be prepared to be surprised.’” There were several gasps throughout the tent and someone actually clapped. Before long they were all applauding.
Preacher Longhurst continued. “‘Rules for my funeral. Number one. No crying. Number two. No church. Funeral must be held at diner or outside in the meadow.’” He smiled and gestured with one hand to the rented tent that sheltered some two hundred guests less than fifty yards from Chuck’s. “‘Number three. No sad and hokey two-for-one deaths. This isn’t some cheesy novel or chick flick. If I go first, Gayle must live for a minimum of twenty more years.’”
The crowd laughed and Gayle rolled her eyes.
“‘Number four. No use of the words “mourners,” “grief,” or “beef.”’” Preacher Longhurst shook his head. “I just got that,” he said sheepishly.
“‘Number five. Serve a free meal before or after. Leg-and-thigh platter with tots. But no free drinks.’”
The crowd laughed even harder.
“‘Number six. Everyone gets a jar. Hope’s in charge.” Preacher Longhurst pointed at a row of banquet tables running along one side of the tent. Covering the tables were Mason jars bearing a black-and-gold label that read Christmas Jar.
Gayle turned around and winked at Hope.
Hope glanced at her best friend, Hannah Maxwell, on one side, Marianne on the other, and gave the preacher a thumbs-up.
“‘Lastly, number seven. Keep living. Because I’ll know if you’ve stopped.’”
Preacher Longhurst held up the placemat once again and pointed out where Chuck had signed and dated it and reminded everyone that despite its uniqueness, it was, in fact, a legally binding document. He added a few more words of his own about the legacy of Chuck Quillon and closed with a scripture.
Both of Chuck’s sons spoke briefly. Then his brother, Derrick, spoke until he began to lose composure. He finished, “I better sit down now before I cry and lose that Mustang.”
Finally, Hope, Hannah, and Marianne stood and sang a closing hymn that could have been written by just about anyone in attendance: “Because I Have Been Given Much.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the tent.
After a benediction by one of Chuck’s grandchildren, the pallbearers loaded the plain casket into the hearse and the guests made their way to a small cemetery ten miles south down U.S. Highway 4. There was no graveside service, just a moment or two of private reflection. Many stopped to touch the casket or whisper something kind into the wind.
A team of folks had stayed back at the diner to prepare for lunch so by the time the procession returned, the tent had been filled with tables and chairs and hot chicken and tots were being served on heavy-duty paper plates. Five-gallon coolers bearing Chuck’s cartoon chicken logo poured lemonade.
“What a turnout,” Hope said to Hannah Maxwell.
“Not surprising though, right? Who in the south hasn’t eaten at Chuck’s at least once? See that lady over there?” She pointed with her fork to an older woman sitting at the far side of the tent. “That’s Terri Alexander. I think she’s from Tampa. She heard from a friend of a friend that Chuck passed and wanted to be here.”
Hannah repeated the point to her husband, Dustin, and the two began counting how many people in the crowd were unfamiliar to them.
Hope rested her head on Marianne’s shoulder for a moment and relaxed. It had been a tiring four days. Chuck died on Thanksgiving evening, alone in the kitchen, after serving free meals to anyone who’d asked. It was an annual tradition at Chuck’s, and it seemed natural that he’d leave the earth on the same day he gave several dozen others a full stomach and one more day of life. Gayle said that at age seventy-four, after all that Chuck had accomplished, no one could say that he’d left behind any unfinished songs.
This had been Hope’s first funeral since Adam Maxwell’s three years earlier when she’d sat shyly in the back. She’d not grown up with a traditional father of her own, but she’d certainly had two terrific dads. Between Adam and Chuck she’d had more love and fatherly guidance than most girls she knew.
Hope looked at Marianne and warmed at the thought that not only had she loved two fathers, but in a strange way, two mothers as well. Raised with such unconditional care by her late mother, Louise, she was now cherished by Marianne. The two were much more like sisters than mother and daughter. In fact, Hope reserved the title of Mother only for Louise, even though it was as crystal clear as their stunning eyes that Marianne was Hope’s biological mother.
By now practically everyone in the county knew she’d been mentored by Adam for a short time, and by Chuck since birth. She surveyed the funeral scene and proudly wondered how many other people could make such a claim.
Adam’s widow, Lauren, had adjusted well to the loss of her husband. She volunteered at the hospital three days a week and at an elementary school the other two days. The weekends were spent with her grandchildren, recharging her battery, and keeping her mind off the loneliness of a king-sized bed. And because Christmas was just three weeks away, she enjoyed telling people she was “beyond busy” with the Christmas Jars Ministry.
Hope watched as the first wave of people finished lunch and began stopping by the tables to pick up their Christmas Jars. A few spotted Hope at her table, caught her eye, and proudly raised their jars for her to see. She blew them a kiss and waved good-bye.
She knew that everyone would find a rolled-up note, tied with green yarn, inside the jar which explained its purpose:
Thank you for honoring Chuck’s wish and taking a Christmas Jar with you. The tradition may already be a familiar one, and if it is and you already have a jar at home, we thank you again and invite you to give this jar to someone who is not yet part of the magic. If this is your introduction to the tradition, we ask you to place this jar on your counter at home, or anywhere it can easily be seen and reached. Each day drop your spare change, coins only, into the jar. On or around Christmas Eve, give the jar away anonymously to someone in need. The need is yours to judge and the decision of who receives the jar is yours and yours alone to make. As soon as possible after Christmas, place a new jar on the counter and begin filling it for next year. The miracle begins with you!
by Heather - reviewed on October 09, 2009
If you haven’t read Christmas Jars, the New York Times bestselling book by Jason F. Wright, you’ve missed out on a classic Christmas story that will change how you view the season of giving. Its sequel, aptly titled Christmas Jars Reunion is reminiscent of the first. Across the country, a phenomenon has begun to unfold. Since the release of Christmas Jars, hundreds of readers have contacted author Jason Wright and shared their Christmas Jar stories, and thousands of Christmas Jars have been given away across the country. Individuals and families are setting out an empty Mason jar to be filled with spare change throughout the year. Then anonymously, the family gives away the jar around Christmas time to a person in need. In Christmas Jars Reunion, the story that began in Christmas Jars continues. Yet, this story stands on its own, bringing the reader once again into Hope’s Jensen’s remarkable life. The author includes a quote from a Christmas Jar recipient at the beginning of each chapter. One reads, “I’ve often wondered how a person repays kindness. I know now . . . with a Christmas Jar. As if a year full of blessings wasn’t already enough, God blessed me again tonight. And tomorrow? A new jar begins. –Patricia” (CJR, 60). But even Hope Jensen needs to learn what the spirit of selfless giving is truly about. When Clark Maxwell re-enters her life, she must decide if she can allow him into her heart once again, and discover that loving someone might just be worth the risk. Hope sets the lofty goal of distributing 1,001 Christmas Jars in honor of Chuck, deceased owner of Chuck’s diner. But in the process, the importance of the original Christmas Jar is lost. It will take a stranger, a young girl, and an interview of a lifetime to bring back the true meaning that the Christmas Jar was intended for. Christmas Jars Reunion is a story that will inspire you to look closer at your life and remind you of the significance of selfless giving.
ONE Jar for ONE Person because of ONE Savior
by Shauna - reviewed on November 08, 2012
I LOVED this book even better than Christmas Jars! Hope has been touched by the gift of the Christmas Jars and wants to help spread that love... and help that they bring... Heading up the Christmas Jars Ministry has become a big part of her life. She wants to see thousands of jars given this Christmas... But in the end she realizes it is all about... ONE jar For ONE person Because of our ONE Savior