When Isabella wrote Missent; the Story of a Letter, she created a heroine named Sarah Stafford. Sarah was strong, yet sympathetic; wealthy, but lonely, too. Alone in the world, Sarah yearned for a family, which is one of the reasons she decided to rent rooms as a boarder in the home of the Dennison family.
There Sarah spent Christmas day with the family and took part in their Christmas celebration and fun. In the book, the family made a game of distributing gifts by making up rhymes and riddles, and having the recipient guess what the gift was before it could be opened.
That game was actually part of Isabella’s real family tradition. The entire family gathered together at Christmas—Isabella, with her husband and son; Isabella’s mother and sister Julia; her sister Marcia, with her husband Charles and daughter Grace.
On Christmas morning, there were many gifts to be opened, “nearly all of them quite inexpensive, most of them home-made, occupying spare time for weeks beforehand; occasionally a luxury, but more often a necessity, a little nicer perhaps than would have been bought at an ordinary time because it was Christmas.”
Isabella’s niece, Grace Livingston Hill, remembered those family Christmas mornings with love. “Our Christmases together were happy, thrilling times.”
Grace also described the process they used for handing out the gifts:
The ceremony of distribution was a long delight, because it was a rule that each present, no matter how small, should be accompanied by an original poem or saying that was appropriate to the gift, the giver or the receiver. The rite lasted usually far into Christmas morning, with shouts of laughter over each reading, and Aunt Julia, or Grandma, or one of the others would frequently have to be excused and the ceremonies held up for a few minutes while the turkey was basted, or the mince pies taken out of the oven, filling the house with delicious Christmas odors.
It was on one of those Christmas mornings that Isabella gave her niece a gift that would influence her life: one thousand sheets of typewriter paper. With the paper was a note, wishing Grace success with her writing and encouraging her to “turn those thousand sheets of paper into as many dollars.”
At the time, Grace was just beginning to write bits of stories with no thought of ever trying to publish them. But Isabella’s gift changed that.
It was the first hint, Grace later wrote, that anyone thought she could write professionally.
It’s no wonder that Isabella used her own experience to write about Sarah’s Christmas with the Dennisons in Missent; the chapter was completely based on her happy and love-filled Christmas mornings with her own family. You can click on the book cover to learn more about Missent; the Story of a Letter.
Do you have a Christmas tradition that brings your family together? Please share it in the reply section below.