The winning Christmas story

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By Kim Villalva
Millington, Tenn.

First place

The phone call shocked Vernon Lee. He had won first place in the library’s Children’s Christmas Story Contest.

He shifted carefully in his chair so as not to wake the sleeping feline warming his lap.

“You happy up there, Genevieve? Honey, now I gotta read that silly story of mine to kids at the library. What kind of prize is that? Never should have entered that contest.”

Vernon closed his eyes. He had stumbled onto one of his old writing notebooks that he had put away after Genevieve’s death. There was the first story he had written for her — a fun little story about an old mule. How Genevieve had loved it! She read it so frequently that the pencil all but smeared right off the page. It was that story that Vernon had told her in the hospital until she rested peacefully and eternally.

On the day of the library’s Christmas story contest reading, it wasn’t just the bitter cold wind that forced Vernon to keep his head low. He didn’t want to face an audience. Genevieve was the only audience he ever wrote for. She had encouraged him to write and his ability flourished.

A crowd of children and parents greeted him in the cheery reading room. Vernon reluctantly began his story. Despite his nerves, it was as if he was telling the story for the first time to his beloved wife.

“It was a snowy Christmas night on the farm, but that wasn’t about to stop old Jeremiah! Why, that old mule knew it was his job to get the barn ready for Santa’s visit!”

After Vernon finished his story and was gathering his things, a little girl with big brown eyes asked him to tell it again.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve done what I came to do. Go find your daddy now.”

Almost as if on cue, the man near the back said, “Ginny, come get your coat.”

The girl asked again, “Please? It’s my favorite. My mama tells me that story too.”

“Genevieve Lee Wilkins, stop bothering the gentleman!”

Her father stomped forward.

Genevieve? Genevieve Lee? Vernon found himself unable to break away from the little girl’s pleading eyes as he tried to register what her father had called her.

“I’m sorry she’s hounding you, sir. I have to admit your story sounds identical to the one my wife tells her. She learned it from her mom, Ginny’s grandma. I’m Ron Wilkins and this is my daughter Genevieve, or Ginny for short.”

“Wilkins did you say?”

Vernon remembered that the name belonged to Karen, his Genevieve’s daughter. Karen had never forgiven her mother for leaving her daddy and for marrying Vernon. He wanted to be a good stepfather to her, but she wanted nothing to do with him. She left home and even refused all contact with her mother. Karen’s daughter now stood before him. She looked like just her grandma.

Vernon learned from Ron that Karen had finally forgiven her mother, but was too late to reach out to her. She named her daughter Genevieve Lee to include the name of the man her mother had always loved. She even had been searching for Vernon for the past few years.

Vernon left the library holding his head high to meet the winter wind. When Ron called his wife to tell her that they met Vernon, Karen graciously invited him to their house for Christmas dinner. There was so much catching up to do.

Genevieve had a granddaughter. His Genevieve had shared Vernon’s silly story with her daughter. The story she treasured so dearly led him to the only family he had.

Later that night, Vernon pulled out his old red cardigan sweater and a green bow tie. Genevieve had loved him in that outfit, even though he thought he looked a bit silly. It was years since he had worn it.

He felt in the pocket and found another one of his little writing notebooks — a gift from Genevieve on their last Christmas together.

He read, “Merry Christmas, Sweetheart! Your stories warm my heart! May you always find your joy and passion in writing. Always share this passion with me. Love, Genevieve.”

Vernon plopped down on his bed and scratched his cat’s belly. What if Jeremiah, the mule, met a fat cat named Lou on Christmas Eve? Vernon grabbed a pen and started scribbling furiously in his notebook.

He couldn’t wait to share this story with his newly found granddaughter, his Genevieve.

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