I've posted about this series before, here, here, here and in other places. The books shown above are the "Christmas" books in the series (one regular-length, two mini-stories), but there are other Christmases mentioned in the years that the Mitford series covers. And Easters, and Thanksgivings, and weddings, and funerals, and a few births. In re-reading Shepherds Abiding, it strikes me that what Jan Karon writes about well...besides holidays and the spiritual happenings in Mitford...is love. Grownup, married love.
She can't seem to resist pairing off any and all of the old maid booksellers, grizzled mechanics, nebbishy mail carriers, muscle-bound construction workers, and pistol-packing policewomen who end up in the town. (She draws the line at Old Man Mueller, I guess.) And she celebrates the relationships between those who have been married forever as well as those who are just getting started. Shepherds Abiding, in particular, is full of those scenes (sorry if you have not read these books yet): Dooley takes his girlfriend Lace out for a fancy dinner (after fighting and ignoring each other for most of the series), and ninety-ish Uncle Billy has the most beautiful Christmas morning scene with Miss Rose (after thinking that the sight of her in her nightgown is enough to make "Santy" run for the hills). The bookseller and the chaplain have their little thing going; Father Tim and Cynthia have the flu together and make Christmas presents for each other; and Lew the mechanic struggles with being away from his new wife and with not being able to tell anyone that he's now married.
To be honest, I can't relate too well to Father Tim and Cynthia, much less the very beautiful and talented Olivia-and-Hoppy duo. They are all too clever and creative and hatty and watercoloury. I don't identify with being able to spend hundreds of dollars on a spousal birthday gift, even if it's for the most beautiful thing in the world.
What I do relate to are Gene and Esther, sixty-somethings who call each other "doll-face" and similar endearments (see Esther's Gift), and who don't mind if the said "doll-face" is wearing an old bathrobe and a hairnet. Gene's death in the last book was, I think, even sadder than Uncle Billy's. I really liked that guy. I notice that those characters who are experiencing or are seeking wholeness in their relationship with God seem to acquire increased amounts of love for their spouses...or increased chances of finding a significant other who feels the same way they do. Healing and wholeness in one way seems to bring increased understanding of the other--and sometimes it comes in a God-then-people sequence, sometimes the other way around.
I relate to Lew and his new wife, finally reunited on Christmas Eve and waking up together the next morning as "the coffeemaker kicked on and brewed four cups of Wal-Mart's breakfast blend." I like them eating their Chinese take-out "at the kitchen table like normal people" and fixing up his old Christmas tree that's been mashed into the corner since his first wife died. His reaction on waking up with his wife nestled into his arm is just "thank you."
"His heart flooded with a joy he hadn't known before, not even on their furtive honeymoon to Dollywood. He gazed at the streaks of gray in her chestnut hair, and the little lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth, and felt the love beat up in him, and the thanksgiving, and didn't mind that his arm had gone numb as a two-by-four--nossir, he wouldn't disturb this moment for anything."That's love. Love--God's love, human love--is not just for the glamorous or for those who quote Wordsworth to their dogs. It's for people who drink Walmart coffee, have fake fireplaces, and go to Dollywood.
And in typical Jan Karon style, experiencing that love is what brings Lew, immediately afterward, to finally say yes, once and for all, to God.
P.S. I pre-wrote some of this post last night, out loud, to Mr. Fixit. He thinks we could be a good Lew and Earlene.