While much of Lennox Valley huddled around fireplaces in homes filled with families and friends after attending one of the many Christmas Eve services on the town square, Raymond Cooper, Farley Puckett, Marvin Walsh and Elbert Lee Jones gathered around the lobby of The Valley’s only radio station to discuss more important topics.
After hearing the Rev. Sarah Hyden-Smith promise a “special announcement” at the upcoming Valley New Years Eve party, the foursome was awash in fears of what the town’s newest pastor had up her clerical sleeve.
“Do you think she knows?” Marvin Walsh asked in a worried tone.
“How could she know?” Farley Puckett shot back. “Did somebody here start flapping their mouths?”
“Everything has gone haywire since Bascomb Finch saw A.J. in the Methodist playground,” noted Marvin.
“Settle down, boys,” a calm Raymond Cooper Finch. “Nobody believes Bascomb saw anything after he came on the show. Everybody thinks he was drunk that night.”
“Well, somebody knows something!” shouted Elbert Lee.
“Now listen,” Cooper continued. “We don’t know that she knows anything. That announcement could be about something totally unrelated to A.J. Maybe those Methodists are building a new building or something. Methodists love to build buildings.”
Three blocks away, Juliet Stoughton, Iris Long and Frank Bell gathered around Sarah’s Christmas tree, enjoying a holiday amongst friends.
After all, these four weren’t acquainted just a year earlier, and now they were quite close. Well, three of them were quite close. Frank was growing increasingly close to Sarah and was now considered the lone male member of the “family.”
No mention was made of Raymond Cooper. It was a time to celebrate a child born long ago in a faraway place. It was a time to celebrate new friends. True, Iris’s husband, Ed, had passed away 10 years earlier, and Juliet’s one-time soulmate, Chris Roadhouse, was fading from memory. But there were many things for which to be thankful.
Yes, there was truly something special about the year 1998.
Over on Vanosdale Drive, Earl and Rhonda Goodman shared a slice of chocolate cake covered in cherry icing. It was a tradition in their home to have dinner before Christmas Eve service, then enjoy dessert together by the warmth of their fireplace.
Elbert Lee, Marvin and Farley eventually made their ways home, all knowing their wives wouldn’t be happy about spending so much of Christmas Eve alone. As they left the radio station, Raymond shouted, “Let’s talk tomorrow. We have to come up with a plan.”
Brother Jacob, assistant pastor at Lennox Valley Lutheran Church, was on his way to his church when he came upon the three culprits leaving Cooper’s station.
With a laugh, Jacob said, “I thought I had run into three wise men for a moment.”
Asking the trio if any of them would be at the midnight service at his church, all three hurried on, with Marvin muttering something about getting home to his wife.
Marvin was obviously still embarrassed about his last visit to the Lutheran church. That was the morning he had his encounter with the Devil himself, just outside the door of the Lutheran fellowship hall.
Almost all the good folks of The Valley were home. Some would wander out in a few hours to attend a midnight service at the Catholic or Lutheran church. Others would be busy helping Santa arrange presents under the tree.
There was one exception, however. As Lennox Valley folks celebrated the gift of Christmas, one Valley resident made his way to his car and headed down Highway 11 toward Springfield, the county seat.
As he passed the empty VFW post, Raymond’s thoughts momentarily drifted back to the election rallies he had attended just a few months earlier. It was a time of promise, but something had gone wrong.
“I’m not going to let them get away with this,” Cooper muttered under his breath. “Not this time. Not again. They have been a thorn in my flesh for too long.”
Driving north on Highway 11, Father O’Reilly, on his way back to The Valley after visiting shut-ins on Christmas Eve, noticed Cooper pulling into the parking lot of the closed Phillips 66 station just inside the Springfield city limits.
Looking as closely as possible while driving down a lonely highway on a dark night, the “Good Father” noticed a thin man in overalls and a heavy coat walking toward the passenger’s door of Cooper’s 1994 Buick Skylark.
“I wonder what he’s up to now,” Father O’Reilly whispered to himself.
Visit LennoxValley.com to get inside information about Bascomb Finch and A.J. Fryerson “Lennox Valley: The Book” is now available at Amazon.com and other booksellers.