The airplane wobbled in the snowstorm, what the captain called “a few bumps” when he came over the intercom.
“Don’t worry, folks, just a few more bumps and we’ll be on the ground in Kansas City. No problems here. We’ve got a snowplow on the ground making things ready for us. Hang tight.”
Amy Moran was on her way from Boston to Honolulu. Her best friend, Cora, was getting married on Christmas Eve and Amy was “the best woman.” She hated that “maid of honor” expression. She and Cora had known each other since they met during fourth grade choir at St. Benedict’s Church and had been through so much together—adolescence, applying for college, the guys they used to hang with, and so much more. Amy was overwhelmed when Cora asked her to be in the wedding, but now this—this snow! From what she’d heard, this was one of the biggest storms Kansas City had seen at Christmas since meteorologists began keeping records.
She was somewhat comforted by this guy who sat next to her. Kansas City was his final destination. He lived in Boston, alone, having just moved into his own place after rooming with a bunch of guys he’d gone to college with. Brian Emerson. Kinda cute. Soft-spoken, blond guy with reddish sideburns and the same in his mustache. He’d been talking to her ever since they left Boston, telling her about his family and what they did every Christmas.
Amy found everything fascinating. Her family celebrated Christmas, yes, but hers was nothing like what Brian described. He talked about dressing up and attending elegant parties, people from the neighborhood singing Christmas carols door to door, going to midnight mass. He had two brothers and two sisters. He was the oldest son in the family; he had one older sister. She was pregnant with the child who would be his parents’ first grandchild. He was ecstatic about the prospect of this new family member.
He and she talked in an easy way, as if they’d known each other all their lives.
He told her he sang and played the guitar. Like Peter, Paul and Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot. Music like that. He didn’t bring his guitar home, but his parents kept an older one at the house. He was looking forward to singing for his family and friends during Christmas. His parents also had a grand piano in their living room. Maybe someone would play that.
When the plane jerked mightily, she sighed, and he put his arm on hers. “Don’t worry,” he said. “My dad’s a pilot for this very airline. Pilots don’t fly if they can’t land the plane. We’re almost there.”
She looked out the window and could see city lights. He was right.
She noticed another woman wearing a transparent, blue-and-green scarf in the row across the aisle from them, comforting another anxious passenger. Amy and the scarf-woman made eye contact and smiled. Just in passing, but Amy was intrigued by her mysterious face.
After finally landing through the bumps, they walked down the jetway. Brian turned and asked, “Amy, where are you going to stay? It’s obvious no planes will be leaving here tonight.”
She teared up a little. “I have no idea. I spent most of my money on airfare and hotel arrangements in Hawaii. I don’t have much left—just enough for food and a little more. I can’t call my family and ask for money. I’ll just sleep in the airport.”
He stopped and looked directly into her eyes. “My parents have a huge house. Let me call them and see if I can make arrangements for you to stay with us until the weather clears out.”
“Oh, no, Brian, I can’t impose on your family. Not this close to Christmas. Your brothers and sisters will be there—and your sister’s pregnant—”
“It’s no worry. We have seven bedrooms in our house and five bathrooms. If we don’t have room for you, maybe one of the neighbors does. We live in a neighborhood where all the houses are enormous. The Emersons of the Enormous. That’s us. Let me call.”
“I’ll take a trip to the ladies’ room while you do that.”.
He whipped out his cell phone and made a call. His mother answered.
“Hello, Mother, it’s Brian.”
“Brian! We were so worried that your plane wouldn’t get through this storm! Your father is waiting for you with the Jeep. I’ve been afraid they’d close the roads before you get here.”
“No worries, Mother. I’m here. That is, we’re here.”
“We? Who is we?”
“Well, that’s why I’m calling. I sat next to this young woman from Boston on the plane. She’s on her way to Honolulu to be in her best friend’s wedding on Christmas Eve. The planes are grounded. She has nowhere to stay. She doesn’t have a lot of money. Do you think we could put her up for a few days until the storm clears?”
“Brian, Brian, Brian! There you go again, picking up strays! What do you know about this girl? What kind of family does she come from?”
“I never asked. All I know is that she’s a nice girl who needs a place to stay, and we have lots of room at our house, or maybe someone else in the neighborhood could offer a room. I just can’t let her stay in the airport until it stops snowing.”
“Why can’t she stay in a hotel?”
“She doesn’t have a whole lot of extra money…”
“Like I said, picking up strays…Oh, okay, well, give me some time to get another bed ready. I’ll talk to your sisters about where they want her to be so that we can get her settled when she gets here. And what did you say her name was? Or did you say?”
“I didn’t. Her name is Amy Moran. She’s from Boston. Well, right outside of Boston. She seems nice, Mother. I don’t think it will be much of an imposition. We’ll go get our luggage and meet Daddy outside. The Jeep, you say?”
“Yes. The Mercedes doesn’t have all-wheel drive. The Jeep is better in snow, you know.”
Amy made her way back. “Okay, Mother, we’ll see you when we get there. Thank you. Bye.”
He turned back to Amy. “She said it’s fine. We need to get our luggage and meet my father. He has his four-wheel-drive SUV. He’s waiting outside. And let me warn you—he flies an airplane better than he drives. Let’s go.”
Amy followed him to the baggage claim area. After all, he knew where he was going; she didn’t.
Standing outside in the blizzard was a black Grand Cherokee and a tall, distinguished-looking man wielding a snow brush, involved in what seemed to be an impossible task: staying ahead of the falling snow. He went from the front to the side windows, brushing the white stuff away.
Brian was amazed that Amy only had one suitcase, especially since she was headed to a wedding. He’d seen his sisters travel with two or three suitcases for a long weekend.
He spied his father working on the car. “Daddy! Here we are!”
His father pulled his wool hat down, took it off, and shook the snow off it. “Brian? And who is this lovely young lady with you?”
“Daddy, this is Amy. She’s stranded here in Kansas City in this blizzard. I called Mother and got her permission for Amy to stay with us until the storm clears. She’s on her way to Honolulu to be in a wedding.”
Amy stood on the curb with the snow blowing in her long, brown hair. Brian’s dad came over and picked up her suitcase. “Thank you, Mr. Emerson. I appreciate you and your family letting me stay at your house.”
“Mark. Call me Mark, not Mr. Emerson. Mr. Emerson is way too formal for me. Now, my wife—she’ll want to be called Mrs. Emerson. You can save the formalities for her. We need to get out of this weather! Why don’t you get in the car while I put the suitcases in back.”
“Thank you, Mr.—I mean, Mark.” She opened the rear door and climbed into the back seat. Warmth. At last.
Brian opened the passenger-side door and his father took the wheel. “Buckle up,” he said. “We’ll have a while on the road before we get home.”
The main highway was practically empty as they made their way from the airport to what Brian had referred to as “Emerson Enormous.” The car skidded a few times on the way. Brian was right. His father drove way too fast for the conditions. Amy was content to be strapped in, warm, and have a place to stay.
As they made their way, she noticed an amazing lighting display on what appeared to be shops. “What is this, Brian?”
“That? Oh, that’s the famous Country Club Plaza,” he replied. “Every year it’s decorated like this. Isn’t it wonderful?” He explained it was supposed to look like the Plaza in Seville, Spain, with glittering lights dancing on every building.
The white lights outlined every building and fountain, glistening through the snowflakes. “It’s gorgeous,” she said. “Breathtaking.”
“In the summer, Kansas City has many fountains, including some here, that complete the feeling of being in Spain. But of course, they don’t flow in the winter,” he explained.
They pulled into the snow-covered driveway of what was, indeed, a gigantic house, splendidly decorated. White lights punctuated by red bows on the windows, green wreaths and garlands on the porch railings.
“Wow,” she said to herself. “This can’t be where I’m staying.”
“Home, sweet home,” Brian declared.
“Welcome home, son,” his father said. “And welcome to our home for as long as you’re here, Amy.”
“Thank you, Mr.— Mark. This is so nice of you and your family.”
“So glad to help. Come on in.”
Inside the house looked like the winter wonderlands she’d seen at Jordan Marsh in downtown Boston when she was a child. Garlands perfectly placed on the fireplace mantel with candles and red bows, holly centerpieces on the dining room table created by the best florist in town, and one of the most beautiful nativity sets she’d ever seen: hand-carved statues of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the baby Jesus, the wise men, angels, and all the farm animals in a hand-hewn replica of the stable in Bethlehem with a banner on top reading “Rejoice!”
Amy had never been in a house like this before. She felt as if she’d stepped inside a magazine photo. Or a castle. Everything was perfect.
Brian’s mother descended the stairs wearing a stunning, black-velvet skirt and shimmering, gold blouse. Amy was taken not only by the outfit but also by how striking she was. She looked too young to have a child Brian’s age, much less to be expecting a grandchild. Her hair was perfect, her makeup impeccable. She emitted just a hint of expensive Parisian perfume.
Amy stood there, still wearing her winter coat.
“Bri—ANN—whom do I have the pleasure of meeting?” she asked.
Brian rushed over. “Oh, Mother, this is Amy Moran from Boston. She’s the one I mentioned on the phone. She will be staying with us for a few days.”
“I see.” Mrs. Emerson looked Amy up and down. “Hmph. Well, you might have the good manners to take her coat first and then take her up to the blue room. That’s where she’ll be staying.”
“Amy, this is my mother, Mrs. Emerson.”
Amy didn’t know if she should curtsy as if meeting the Queen of England, or if she should reach out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Emerson,” she replied.
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, I’m sure,” Mrs. Emerson sarcastically replied, reaching out her hand. When Amy gave her own hand in response, Mrs. Emerson barely touched it.
Amy didn’t know what to think. She smiled weakly.
Brian took her coat to the hall closet. Then he took her by the arm and directed her to the stairway. “C’mon, Amy, let me show you where your room is. It has its own bathroom.”
“Uh, what? A private bathroom?”
“Yes, Mother always wants the girls to have their own bathrooms. My brothers and I have what they call a Jack-and-Jill bathroom—joined in between our rooms. It’s kind of like living in a dorm. But I’m not home much, so it’s not much of an inconvenience for me.”
“When I lived in a dorm, we all had to run down the hall to use the bathroom,” she replied, “so having a private bathroom will be a new experience for me.”
“Enjoy it while you can,” Brian said.
On the landing, one of his sisters was coming down the stairs. “Hey, Chris, this is Amy. She’s going to be staying with us for a couple of days.”
“Oh, hi, Amy. I’ll be in the room next to you if you need anything. Glad to meet you.” Chris bounded down the stairs and headed to the kitchen.
“She’s my younger sister,” Brian explained. “She’s about ten years younger than me.”
“Then I take it she’s not the pregnant one,” Amy laughed.
“Uhhh—no. That would be Kathleen. She and her husband, Eric, are down the hall in the other bedroom—the green room.”
“Okay. I think I need a scorecard here. Chris and Kathleen are your sisters. Your father is Mark; your mother is Mrs. Emerson. And your brothers?”
“Thomas was born after me, and the youngest brother is Paul. Does that complete your scorecard?”
“Birth order? Kathleen; then you, Brian; then Thomas; then Paul; then Chris? And Kathleen is married to Eric?”
“You’ve got it. You’re a quick study.”
He brought her luggage into the room, which had a suitcase rack waiting—one like she’d expect to see in a hotel room. The “blue room” had aquamarine wallpaper tinged with gold brocade fiber. The bedspread matched the wallpaper, as did the curtains. This was more luxury than she’d ever seen in her twenty-four years on the planet.
“Thanks again, Brian. Is there anything I can do to help anyone with Christmas preparations?”
“Oh, no, Mother has everything under control. At least, that’s what she tells us.”
He plunked down on the bed as she flipped open her suitcase and began emptying her belongings.
“So, Amy, you play the guitar too, you said?”
“A little…but mostly I sing.”
“Then you’ll be ready when we whip out the Christmas carols?”
“Of course. Will we be going door to door like how you were explaining on the plane?”
“Maybe. Depends on the weather, I guess. But definitely, we’ll gather around the piano in the parlor and sing. Maybe even later tonight. Although it’s late. I have to get my ‘house guitar’ out here. Probably need to change the strings. It’s been a while since it’s been played.”
“Probably a good idea. Changing strings, I mean. Somehow, Brian, I don’t think your mother would be happy with your being in this room with me with the door closed. Somehow, I get the impression she’s old-fashioned, and I don’t want to give her the wrong idea. I’m just here because of the storm.”
“Of course. Of course.” He stood up, smoothed out the bedspread, and went to the door. “If you need anything, I’ll be next door. Just knock. Chris is on the other side. If you need anything in the kitchen, let me know. I’ll get that for you, too. We can go watch TV in the family room, if you’d like.”
“Maybe. Give me about half an hour to get settled and check back with me. And Brian—”
Amy surveyed the room again. She thought about her parents’ house. It would fit into this place two or three times. When her family moved into it, they thought it was luxurious because it had a bath and a half! Her dad collected antique motorcycles and cars and built a barn for those in the backyard. Neither of her parents had graduated from high school. She was the first one in her family to go to college. These people were so—sophisticated. How was she supposed to act? She had one pair of dressy black slacks and two fancy blouses. The rest of her suitcase was filled with an extra pair of jeans, underwear, a bathing suit, two pairs of shorts for the beach at Waikiki, T-shirts, a few toiletries, and her gift for Cora and her soon-to-be husband. Cora had the maid-of-honor dress she’d be wearing in the wedding waiting for her in Honolulu.
That meant she had no clothing appropriate for this house. This family. Brian’s mother. Mrs. Emerson.
She heard a knock on the door.
“Come on in.”
“Hi,” said Chris. “Thought you could use some company. Guess you’ve met Mother.”
“Yes. She seems kind of—formal. I don’t have any clothes with me that seem appropriate for what may be happening for Christmas, like fancy dinners or anything else. It seems she’ll be upset if I were to show up wearing slacks and a blouse. Let me show you what I have.”
She pulled out the outfit she planned to wear to dinner.
“You’re right,” Chris said. “That won’t do. Let’s go ‘shopping’ in my closet. We might find something.”
They walked down the hall. Amy could tell she was a couple of sizes larger than Chris, but maybe Chris had a loose-fitting dress she could try. And shoes. She’d need shoes if she expected to wear a dress.
Chris’s room contained a huge walk-in closet filled with enough clothes to fill an entire boutique. She started flipping through the hangers. “No, no, not this one…Maybe…No, no…Ah, ha, this has possibilities.” She pulled out a few things. “Amy, let’s try these. I think they may work.”
Amy looked at a few really frilly pieces. One, though, wasn’t quite as flouncy as the others. It was light blue, loose-fitting, with long sleeves and a scoop neck. She picked that one up and asked to try it.
“Good choice,” Chris agreed, while pointing her to a three-panel Chinese screen in the closet. “You can try it on behind that.”
Amy hadn’t ever seen anything like that in the closets of her friends on the South Shore—a screen behind which you could try on clothes—but she followed Chris’s directions and tried on the dress.
Miraculously, it fit. It was a little snug in the right sleeve, but she’d expected that because she carried her guitar around Boston all the time with her right arm. She asked Chris for help with the zipper.
“This looks great, Amy. You have good taste. I’ve never worn this one. Mother will be pleased.”
“Do you think she’ll know it’s yours? And do you think I need to iron this before I wear it? It looks a little wrinkled.”
“I’ll go get the ironing board. I’ve never ironed anything. Do you know how?”
“Uh—yes, I do. Sure. Do you want to bring it in here?”
“There’s room here in the closet. Mother won’t know.”
Why would she care if her mother knew we were ironing the dress?
Chris ran into Paul at the foot of the stairs. He carried the ironing board into Chris’s closet and set it up.
“Hey Paul, this is Amy Moran,” Chris said. “Brian met her at the airport when she was stranded because of the storm. She’s staying in the blue room with us. She’s on her way to Honolulu.”
“Nice to meet you, Amy. I’m sure we’ll see more of you when Brian whips out his guitar and starts singing Christmas carols later tonight.”
“Nice to meet you as well, Paul. I was so fortunate that your parents allowed me to stay here until the weather clears up. I’m supposed to be in a wedding in Hawaii.”
“Sure beats being stranded in Kansas City in a blizzard. Who’s getting married?” he asked.
“Cora, my best friend from home,” Amy replied. “We’ve known each other since the fourth grade. She’s marrying a guy who’s a marine biologist out there.”
“Say, Amy, you told me you know how to work this iron thing,” Chris interrupted. “Let’s get this done before Mother sees us ironing.”
“Yes, let’s do it. Nice to meet you, Paul.”
“Same here,” Paul said, as he disappeared out the door.
Amy got some water in a cup and poured it into the iron. She waited for the steam to rise out of the appliance and began ironing the wrinkles from the dress, carefully pressing so that the iron didn’t get too hot and burn the fabric.
“Wow, you’re good at this. I’ve never ironed anything in my life,” Chris said.
“Who does your ironing? Your mother?”
“Not on your life! We have a woman who comes in a few times a week who does the cleaning, the laundry, the ironing, and stuff. She lives in the ‘other part of town,’ if you know what I mean.”
Amy sighed as she finished. Yes, I know what you mean. The other side of the tracks. Like where people like me come from.
Just as she was putting the dress on the hanger, Mrs. Emerson poked her head into the closet.
“What are you two doing here? Conspiring?” Mrs. Emerson asked.
“Oh, no, Mother, Amy and I were just looking for some dressy clothes for her. She didn’t have any with her,” Chris explained.
When Mrs. Emerson spied the ironing board, she screamed, “And what is THAT contraption doing here?”
“Amy had to iron the wrinkles from the dress I had hanging up,” Chris said. “It looks great, don’t you think?”
“Chris, dear, we don’t do that kind of domestic chore in this house. You know that. We have people who do that for us. We would have had Hazel do that for you tomorrow. You know she comes on Wednesdays.”
Amy felt her face flush. Yes, she knew how to iron. Her family didn’t have people to do domestic chores; they did them themselves. Laundry, ironing, dusting, cleaning floors, vacuuming, washing dishes—that was what they did, not hired help.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Emerson, it just made sense that I did it myself,” Amy explained. “I’ve done my family’s ironing since I was in sixth grade.”
“I bet you have, young lady. Do you take in ironing for other people as well?”
“MOTHER!” Chris admonished. “She was trying to help.”
“Not the kind of help I need right now, Chris,” Mrs. Emerson said, as she stomped down the stairs.
“Don’t let her get to you, Amy,” Chris said. “She gets really stressed during Christmas.”
Amy felt tears come to her eyes. “I’m sorry, Chris. I’m just so used to doing everything myself.”
They heard a big ruckus downstairs.
“I NEED THIS NOW LIKE I NEED A HOLE IN THE HEAD!” Mark Emerson screamed.
“Uh-oh,” Chris said. “That’s Daddy. He doesn’t lose it much. Gotta go see what’s up.”
“THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR THE BLASTED DISHWASHER TO DIE!!!” Mark said. “Where am I going to get a new one in a snowstorm two days before Christmas? And who’s going to install it?”
Paul and Thomas weren’t far behind Chris and Amy. Eric came down and asked Mark to keep the noise down because Kathleen was trying to take a nap.
“If you can get one, we’ll help you put it in,” Brian said. “I mean, how hard can it be? We can follow directions.”
How hard can it be? These people have servants, for crying out loud. Now they want to install a dishwasher? This I’ve got to see! Amy thought.
Everyone—including Amy—huddled in the kitchen. Mark was furiously calling appliance stores, trying to locate a replacement.
“Yes…I’ll hold…Yes…That’s the brand I need…No, I CAN’T wait three weeks! I have my whole family here right now! I need it today or tomorrow! I have a houseful of people! Do you have any ideas where I might find one? Yes, I’ll hold while you call your other stores…”
Chris leaned in and whispered to Amy, “Even if he has to drive to Wichita in this weather, he’ll do it.”
“Overland Park? You have one in Overland Park? That’s a miracle! What do I have to do to make sure they don’t sell it to someone else? Yes…Yes, I’ve been a customer of your store for about thirty years…Yes, I will trust that it doesn’t get sold to anyone else…E-M-E-R-S-O-N. That’s ‘N’ as in Nancy… Right. I’m leaving right now. I have the address from the phone book. I’m on my way!”
He turned to the assembled entourage. “Good news! All I have to do is figure out how to get to Overland Park in this mess. Anyone want to have an adventure with me? I’ll have to take the back seat out of the Jeep.”
“I’m game,” Thomas replied. “I have nothing else to do.”
“Good! Get your coat and boots and some utility gloves, son. This won’t be easy. At least we’ll have ballast in the back of the SUV.”
Both took off like a shot to get their winter clothing.