‘Christmas Longings’ by Elizabeth Spencer

Christmas Longings by Elizabeth Spencer, 2012

The magic trick:

Using the story’s second act to generate a sense of nostalgia for the first section

Merry Christmas Eve!

We have a great holiday story for you today – in two acts. The first tells, in the present tense, of a family Christmas – two sisters hoping for, respectively, snow and a good role in the Christmas pageant. The second act abruptly shifts our sense of time. It’s clear now that the present tense of the first section was in the distant past.

It’s a simple thing, but it magnifies the emotion of the story. Now we’re not only charmed by the familiar holiday scenes in the opening section, we feel the melancholy of nostalgia for them. And that’s quite a trick on Spencer’s part.

The selection:

Smithville was the last little town in the middle section of the state before the mountains soared up in the west. In the daytime you could see what was now true both day and night, the pure white layer high above. Each day it came a little lower, white, spilled down from heaven. But not to Smithville yet. Margie was cross. She took it out on her little sister Sonia. “If you an angel, you got to be sweet.”

“I am sweet!” Sonia said back.

“No you’re not. You’re mean!”

“I am not mean. Am I, Mamma?”

“Angels can’t be mean. You can’t be an angel!”

By now they were shouting again. George Avery put down his paper. “It’s time for bed.” He also had to shout to be heard.

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