23 December 2004

Everyone's Christmas

Your little girl asks for just one thing for Christmas, a small, insignificant treasure. You procrastinate and then find out the one thing, the only thing, the sole thing she has requested of Santa Claus, is out of production. What do you do?

That's the dilemma of the young father in "Lipstick Like Lindsay's," just one of the stories in Gerald Toner's collection Lipstick Like Lindsay's and Other Stories. I found Lipstick misfiled and shoved among the tattered children's volumes in a used book store. Toner doesn't write Christmas stories in which apprentice angels turn up to solve miracles or holiday tales where little magical characters appear. One or two of his stories have a slight religious slant, but even that is low key, concentrating not on the religion itself, but the warm feeling of well-being that belief brings.

What his stories are are about real people. Some may be rich, some may be poor, but they all have the usual problems: perhaps a job or lack of same, perhaps parential or spousal problems, or enigmatic children. They may not want to face Christmas, or go into the holiday with different perceptions, and Christmas doesn't solve all their problems, but in some way they make peace with the spirit of the season, and in a way that isn't lachrymose or overly cute.

One of my particular favorite stories this year was the final story in Lipstick, "My Dad's Idea of Christmas." Every year, the father of the story's seventeen-year-old protagonist takes his family into the big city to visit a venerable department story and explore a nearby shopping arcade. The descriptions of the department store brought back all those wonderful memories of Christmas shopping at the Outlet Company and Shepard's and Grant's. Even though you've never met the people or visited the places Toner has created, you know them all, if not still there physically, forever in your heart.

If you want to read Christmas stories that will leave you with a smile and a good feeling, please pick up any or all of Toner's books, which also include Holly Day's Cafe and Other Stories and the novel Whittlesworth Comes to Christmas. I've always been thankful that I rummaged through the untidy shelves of that bookstore one year; the effort is well worth your while.