I created the fictional Riley family- father Charles, a dentist, mother Charlotte, the owner of a used bookstore in the village in which they live, teenager Ruby who has a million girlfriends and a busy social life, bookish, quiet Carmine who is at the awkward cusp of adolescence, nine and seven year old Rusty and Pepper, the mischief makers, and four year-old Chili, a clever little mimic. They live in the old Butterfield farmhouse on Shady Hill Road in rural Vermont.
I've mentioned Rusty and Pepper before- they are based on real brothers who were rather mischievous back in the late 50's or early 60's- the sons of one of my Mom's nursing school friends.
I edited the second holiday story I wrote about the Riley's on Sunday while John and Kelly were out looking at cars for her. Christmas at the Riley's: Carmine Goes to the Dogs is set on Christmas Day. It's chaos in the kitchen as Mrs. Riley tries to prepare Christmas dinner for her family and all the relatives who will be arriving soon. Rusty and Pepper have pulled off a few bits of mischief. Chili is holding court in her holiday finery. But, it is Carmine, the quiet, serious, bookish one, who is the focus of the story. While setting the table, Ruby notices, thanks to her budding feminine intuition, that her almost thirteen-year old brother is unusual subdued and upset. She manages to get him to reveal that he did not get what he wanted most for Christmas, something that had been on his wish list.
Ruby alerts Mrs. Riley whose dinner preparations screech to a halt as she grabs her husband and hauls him upstairs to discuss the problem that they have with Carmine. Mr. Riley, who had Carmine's list, points out that they had agreed not to spoil their children by gifting them everything on their lists. Mrs. Riley wants to see the list, because there is something on it that Carmine had had his heart set on. He finds the list and they see that Carmine had asked for a dog. A brief discussion is held, and a decision made. Mrs. Riley sets wheels in motion to remedy the oversight.
After dinner, Carmine is sent to Mrs. Monroe's with a plate of cookies and other goodies. His father happens to be standing at the gate when he comes out, having just seen some relatives off. He accompanies his son down the hill to Mrs. Monroe's. Carmine thinks his mother is nuts because Mrs. Monroe has plenty of cookies in her kitchen. He thinks it was a wasted trip to bring her more. But then she tells him that Santa has left a present for him under her tree, of all things. He's sent into the parlor to find the gift with the blue bow- and returns hesitantly with the runt of the little, little Trouble, cradled in his arms. He can't quite believe the puppy is his. Mr. Riley regrets not bringing his camera to record the moment when Carmine realizes that Trouble is his, that his Christmas wish has come true.
Yes- I sat here at the kitchen table and literally sobbed. I don't know what it is about this little story, but every time I read it, I cry. Carmine is awkward and vulnerable as he's about to enter the even more difficult adolescent years- a boy struggling to be more grown up, but still a boy whose heart aches for a puppy for companionship. His quiet joy at receiving the puppy just touches me- and reminds me of certain special Christmas gifts I received growing up. I can still feel that elation, that glowing joy. I think it comes across well in this story and, here, Carmine outshines his mischievous younger brothers and his vibrant older sister and his adorable baby sister. This story let's Carmine, the quiet one, hold center stage.
A few years later, I wrote a third Riley family Christmas story. This one about Carmine will be in volume 2. The one about the Christmas pageant in which Chili portrays an elf and Ruby receives her first kiss will be in volume 3.
Maybe this year it's time for another visit with this now familiar family- I'm curious to know what they've been up to since last we looked in on them.