All is not happy in these Christmas stories

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It seems to me that in the old days there were more Christmas collections, stories from one author or, as here, from several authors. These collections were generally very positive.

The most famous Christmas stories, after making the protagonist endure certain dangers, have a happy ending. Scrooge learns to love Christmas and his ilk and won’t have to drag the chains of sin for eternity, and little Ralphie Parker in “A Christmas Story” doesn’t take his eyes off him with his brand new Red Ryder BB pistol.

“Gritty Southern Christmas Anthology” is made up of 16 pieces – a poem, several non-fiction pieces, a few barely fictional stories, and a few short real and imagined stories. The pieces go, as is generally the case in collections, from very good to less good.

A poem by New Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley Jones, “Racially Content at Christmastime,” opens the collection. The lecturer imagines a Christmas there in which the representations of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, all the cast of the crib are African-American, just like the Barbie dolls under the tree.

Laura Hunter’s “Gritty Southern Christmas Anthology” debut story, “As Luck Would Have It,” is also the darkest.

Willard Peoples is released from Holman Prison in Atmore at the start of Christmas Eve 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. The prisoners are overcrowded, sick and dying. Many leave by “clandestine parole”, that is, they die in prison.

Willard is poor, unlucky, with little self-control; one of nature’s losers. He never took a break and probably never will. The correctional system gave him $ 20 and he wants to buy small gifts for his two children at Sand Mountain.

Hours after his release, Willard impulsively commits a crime, and that’s not very kind, and we know he will eventually return to jail if he and his family don’t die from COVID-19.

It is now a gritty Christmas story.

Many of the stories are a combination of pain and hope.

In Gayle Young’s “The Gift”, a little girl is sad because her parents are divorced, but her Nana’s gift, a ballerina in a jewelry box, gives her a boost. We’re told the ballerina never stops dancing, never gives up, and neither should she.

“No Christmas Miracles” by Peter Last is the sentimental story of a young married couple going through a very difficult time.

Brian has an engineering degree but works terrible jobs: a drug clinic and a fast food chicken shack, and Shelly has a crappy job and a mean boss. They fight. Life seems bleak, but on Christmas Eve Brian reminds Shelley, “I don’t think it was ever so hopeless as the day before Jesus was born. They must have hope.

This collection is not for atheists, agnostics, or skeptics of any stripe.

A more successful inspirational story, I thought, was “Hooves and Hope” by CR Fulton.

It’s told from the perspective of young Lacy Mullins, a teenage “system” girl who will spend Christmas vacation on a Kentucky farm.

Lacy is brooding, miserable, cynical. It seems that she has been abused by men and is heading towards a life of trouble, but the gentle, selfless love of the farming family slowly warms her up. In a lovely scene reminiscent of “All Creatures Great and Small”, Lacy helps bring forth a foal for the Moonlight mare, saving the life of both mare and foal, and this direct connection to the life force saves her.

The collection ends with “Halfway to Nashville”.

The protagonist, a nice middle-class woman, Brantley McGehee Spencer, travels to Nashville on Christmas alone. Recently become an empty breeder, she is distraught and wonders if she should make a bold new start, perhaps divorcing her husband.

While driving, Brantley composes a country song in her head, “Halfway to Nashville, Halfway from home”, then “Halfway to leaving you, Halfway on my alone”.

The lyrics aren’t driven so much by genuine emotions as they are by the rhyme and conventions of country music, and in her creative imagination, she’s an abused woman, fleeing from a hellish situation.

Arriving in Nashville, she finished the song, accepted her situation and of course, decided to return home for her happy marriage. This was good news since the author, Jennifer Horne, is my wife.

Don Noble’s latest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson and eleven other Alabama authors.

“Grainy Southern Christmas Anthology”

Edited by Rachel Davis

Publisher: Gritty South, 2021

Price: $ 14.95 (Paper)

Pages: 130


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