Ellis Vidler is a reader and writer who lives in the South Carolina Piedmont with her husband and dogs and way too many books. Her new suspense novel is Time of Death, about a psychic artist who draws scenes of murder she can’t explain. It’s set on an island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. Cold Comfort, published by Echelon Press, concerns a Christmas shop owner in Williamsburg, Virginia, who becomes a killer’s target. Her other books are listed on her website, ellisvidler.com.
What are some of your favorite Christmas memories? Mine are of family traditions. In the weeks before, Mother baked gifts for friends and service people such as the postman or the men who picked up trash. She loaded plates with goodies for each of them. My sisters and I decorated cookies and sneaked bits and bites of mouth-watering cakes and confections.
A few days before Christmas, in a state of high excitement, we piled in the car and drove to a friend’s farm. Mother brought a thermos of hot chocolate, and Daddy a saw. The chocolate was part of the ceremony, whether it was cold or not, and in Alabama it could be anything. We traipsed around looking for the perfect tree, and Daddy cut it. It was always a cedar because that’s what grew in north Alabama. The scent of cedar is still the scent of Christmas to me.
We drank the chocolate while he tied it on the car. Once home, it sat outside in a bucket of water until that special morning, Christmas Eve. Then, with handsaw and a drill, Daddy restructured the tree until it suited Mother’s discerning eye for symmetry.
We dragged out boxes of decorations, some handmade, some bought, but many came with a story. “Your father made this the year we got married.” Or “Grandmother crocheted these stars for your first Christmas.” This was a tree made with love, a hodgepodge of faded and new, bedraggled and shiny. Prickly and hard to decorate but always fragrant and beautiful in our eyes. We loved it.
That night Mother picked one gift for us to open early, usually a book. I think she hoped reading would calm us down, but it never worked. We were too excited to sleep. When we finally gave up, they started work. Mother wrapped and Daddy assembled.
In the morning, we woke them before daylight and danced around until they got coffee and turned on the tree lights. After all their work, they wanted to see our faces.
The tree sparkled and shone and underneath, books and boxes bright with colored wrapping sat in three piles, one for each of us. Our gifts were often clothes or things we needed, but the highlight was books. Lots of books. That evening, sated on turkey and adrenaline, we read. All five of us.
The tree stayed up until the Feast of Lights, the twelve days of Christmas. For us it was a time of magic.