The Christmas Spirit: A Novel
Eight-year-old Lance and his six-year-old sister Lily are visiting their grandmother, who treasures their company. When she asks if they want to make cookies, they tell her they want her to tell them a tale, one Lance states has no kissing, though Lily says she likes kissing.
When Lily asks if she can start by saying “Once upon a time . . .” Lance says he wants a real story. They want to use, “In the beginning . . .”
The children choose their names: Peter and Hank. And so, the tale begins . . .
“‘In the beginning there were two rough-and-tough friends named—’”
It is funny how a lot of people think the grass is always greener on the other side. Such is the case with Peter Armstrong and Hank Colfax. Though best friends, the two couldn't be any different. Peter is the pastor of a growing church and spends the majority of his time preaching, meeting with parishioners or board members, and engaging in other pertinent duties. Hank owns a very popular tavern named The Last Call and does not have any time for himself. He's either waiting on customers, ordering supplies, or cleaning his business—all of which is tiring.
When the two single men meet at a local eatery for lunch, Hank mentions how he assumes Peter has it easy—he believes he only has to prepare a sermon and work one day. Wait till he realizes a minister's job can be exhausting, yet Peter thinks running a bar can't be too difficult. So what happens? They decide to switch jobs for a week, so they can see exactly how hard the other one works.
Peter chuckles at the thought of telling his sister Grace Ann of their plot for he knows the staid and stodgy Grace Ann and Hank are like oil and vinegar. Ever since the man Grace Ann believed she would marry wed someone else, she has withdrawn and become a curmudgeon. Peter surmises it will be hilarious when she finds out Hank will be working with her for the week. He can just picture the sparks flying.
"Grace Ann Armstrong glanced up from the typewriter when her brother returned from his lunch with Hank Colfax. Personally, she couldn't understand what it was about the tavern owner that appealed to Peter. Hank was the one who first shortened her brother's name to Pete, and soon all his friends followed, much to her consternation. As far as she could tell, the two men had nothing in common, nothing that should bond their friendship, other than the fact that years ago they'd once played on the same football team and ran cross-country together.
"Bottom line—Grace Ann didn't trust Hank."
As the two take on the other's jobs, they realize each position has its own responsibilities, heartaches, and frustrations. At first, Peter feels like a fish out of water, especially when one of the regulars harass him about not knowing how to pour beer.
“‘Tilt the glass,’ the grisly, bearded man sitting on the other side of the bar snapped at Pete. ‘Look at all the foam that's collecting. Do you even know what you're doing?’”
Then six motorcyclists, a group going by the name Hell's Outlaws come into the tavern and badger him more. When he mentions Hank and he are doing a job swap, they give him a hard time, but when Pete discloses his real profession, they drop their nasty demeanor and start to respect him.
When Hank happily settles down ready to watch a football game, Grace Ann is pounding on his door. She has come to remind him he is needs to pick up a trailer to cart a mule they will be using for the live Christmas nativity scene. So much for a relaxing night in front of the TV with a beer.
Grace Ann is annoyed because Hank always calls her Gracie, but she soon starts to notice the man she dislikes in a new light. He proves to be more than helpful, though she still is wary of his flirting ways, not knowing he is determined to break the wall she has built around herself.
Christmas is approaching, and plans are made to have a party at The Last Call where everyone is invited—even those Grace Ann considers unacceptable. She and the members of the Ladies' Missionary Society from the church prepare the food, and Grace Ann wonders how will they all mix together, and will this be a successful event? In addition, Peter invites the regulars at Hank's establishment to the holiday service. Can those considered outcasts or overly pious manage to put aside their differences and enjoy each other's company?
For those who like to reminisce about being snuggled up next to Grandma on a cold winter's day while she relates tales from the past, this novel will take one back to those times. Grandmas can tell the best stories ever. With almost all of Debbie Macomber's novels, the reader is not only given a captivating story, but also a lesson in life.