Authors: Susan May Warren
Tags: #FICTION / Christian / General, #FICTION / General
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The Great Christmas Bowl
Copyright Â© 2009 by Susan May Warren. All rights reserved.
Front and back cover photographs taken by Stephen Vosloo. Copyright Â© by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
Cover snowflake illustrations Â© by Dover Books. All rights reserved.
Interior photograph of pine branch Â© by Michael Koziarski/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.
Designed by Jessie McGrath
Edited by Sarah Mason
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
. Copyright Â© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Warren, Susan May, date.
The great Christmas bowl / Susan May Warren.
1. Christmas stories. I. Title.
For my precious family:
Andrew, David, Sarah, Peter, and Noah.
Table of Contents
A Note from the Author
I love football. And I love Christmas. And I love being a mother.
Last year, two monumental occurrences happened in the Warren life. First, my son Peter went out for football. I went berserk with joy and became a little over-the-top obsessed with supporting him. (So maybe he doesn't need brownies before
game.) I created my own cheering section. I was the loud mom in the bleachers. I realized about halfway through the season that football had created a monster out of me. (It wasn't all my faultâhe kept scoring touchdowns!)
About the same time, my oldest son, David, got the lead in the community playâas Daddy Warbucks in
. On opening night, he came out on stage, head shaved, shoulders broad in a tuxedo, singing in his rich tenor, and I burst into tears that would last the entire Christmas season as I realized next year he'd be heading off to college. It didn't help that my beautiful daughter, Sarah, got the role of Lily St. Regis, and when she opened her mouth to sing, I hardly recognized the grown woman onstage. Even Noah, my youngest, amazed me as he sang in the cast, and I wondered where my babies had gone.
The Great Christmas Bowl
was already simmering deep in my heart. But it never would have found the light of day if it hadn't been for Rachel Hauck. While attending our friend Anne's wedding in Nashville, we spent one evening watching college football and dreamed up a fun story about an obsessive mother during football season. (At the time, I might have had a lot of church activities on my plate, also.) We each had our own vision for the story and pledged that the first one who wrote it got to keep the idea. I went straight home and opened my computer.
But I was stuck on the mascot. I envisioned a beaver. Or a moose. But they didn't quite fit. So I asked the plotting mastermind who lives with meâmy husband, Andrew. He shrugged and said, “Of course, it's a trout.” Of
. And the Big Lake Trout was born.
I wrote this story over the Christmas season like a tailback, head down, plowing through the defensive line, my eyes on the end zone. I laughed aloud. I cried (I still do when I read the end). And my children gave me the biggest gift of all for Christmasâthey let me read it aloud to them at the dinner table every night. And
laughed. And they told me they loved it.
As a test, to see if I wasn't just dreaming up my own humor (maybe I still am), I gave it to my pal Ellen Tarver, who read it and, once again, helped me tweak it so it was just right.
I wrote the
as a gift for my family. Because, you see, it's us. We have clam chowder (see recipe in the back). We have the Great Christmas Tree Hunt in the backyard, we have the crazy dog Gracie, and we live in a magical small town that may or may not look like the fictional Big Lake, with an amazing, loving church family (who resemble none of the players in the story, I might add!). Most of all, we love Christmas and our traditions.
I never thought the
would really be published, so I'm grateful to my agent, Steve Laube, for loving the book and showing it to Karen Watson, who encouraged me by also loving it. And to Tyndale, for believing in the story, as simple and crazy as it is, and to Sarah Mason, who smoothed out all the rough edges.
Most of all, I'm grateful to God, who plunked this story in my heart and gave me a rich life, an incredible family, and the gift of salvation. I'm so grateful that He reached out of heaven to the downtrodden, the lost, and the hungry people who didn't know Him, to give us eternal nourishment so we will hunger no more. This, I believe, is the true meaning of hospitality. I pray this Christmas season, you see the hospitality of Jesus Christ in your life.
Susan May Warren
There are some Christmases that slink by, their significance lost amid the flurry of parties, holiday card mailings, and the endless lists of stocking stuffers. They end well, perhaps, with a sigh of relief and a warm curl of happiness that signifies, once again, a successful season had by all.
There are other years, however, that stand out in stark relief. Moments when the trudge of time, however briefly, hiccups. Years when we remember exactly why we gather with family to celebrate a day of peace, of grace.
For me, such a stumble in time came in my forty-eighth year. The year I turned into a fish.
It happened by accident, as all monumental occurrences do. In fact, it wasn't until afterward that I realized the depth of what had transpired. My youngest son claims that I entered into my state fully cognizant of the ramifications. My perspective suggests I was tricked, baited by the hope that my youngest son might find inspiration and purpose in my humble transformation and sacrifice.
Perhaps he did. But that year, the year I became a fish, also turned out to be the Christmas that would remind me, in years hence, that children do remember. They hold the memories we create as nourishment, filling in the nooks and crannies of their lives to make them stronger.
And eventually, they pass them on.
“Hey, Mom, I think it's a day for soup.”
The voice of said youngest son, Kevin, greets me now as he stomps into the foyer after building a snowman and takes me back for a moment to those childhood days when he'd drop his football gear with a noisy thump, kick off his boots, and trumpet into the house.
I can hardly believe he is in graduate school. Especially since I didn't think he'd graduate from high school. But here he is, home for Thanksgiving, his hair wild and long, his shoulders broader, his countenance stronger. He finally towers over his two older brothers and his sisters, of course, but he still bears that boyish smile that could make me say yes to anything.
He's the only one home this year. Of my five children, only a few sprinkle back to the homestead for Thanksgiving, their own families and in-laws commandeering their time. I don't blame themâwith Big Lake located three hours north of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, smack-dab in the woodsy middle of Minnesota, who knows when a three-day blizzard might strand them for a week or more in our little lakeside town. Indeed, only two days ago, a northern preseason blizzard that I feared would keep Kevin imprisoned in the big city ushered in high hopes of a white Christmas, giving a sheen of diamonds to the shaggy black pine trees ringing our yard. The pond out back finally froze over, and trees creaked in the cold wind off the lake. Our little town will soon be decked out with ribbons and wreaths, Main Street alive with twinkle lights, the shopwindows spray-painted with holly. Normally, I would eagerly wave good-bye to the dying brown grasses of fall, stiff with cold that begged for a snowy white blanket.
However, when the weatherman predicted snow for Thanksgiving, I bemoaned the timing and stared out the window into the blackness, not at all charmed by the Rockwellian nostalgia of a holiday blizzard as I waited for my youngest son's headlights to reach up our long gravel drive.
He arrived with fanfare Wednesday night, right behind a plow, dragging with him into our icy paradise Marci, the girl he brought home for our approval. Another jolt of reality. Now she enters the house right behind him, snowy and cold, clapping off the clinging ice from her knitted mittens.
“Mrs. Wallace, Kev tells me you have the most amazing chowder.” Marci peels off her scarf and glances at my son, her eyes shining.
“I thought we agreed you'd call me Marianne.” I hand her a mug of hot cocoa. It's a store-bought mix, but I've relaxed my standards over the years.
Not about soup, of course.
“She has amazing soup. Miracle soup.” It's then Kevin meets my eye. He's wearing that smile. “Tell her about the Great Christmas Bowl, Mom.”
“Oh, Kevin, no.” But even as I say it, I'm taking out the old recipe, a sudden hankering guiding my hands. I'll just whip up a quick batch, add a chunk of French bread on the side.
Kevin notices, and his blue eyes fill with laughter. “Please. It's a family story that Marci has to know. It's time, don't you think?”
No, I don't think.
“I can't believe you remember that.”
He shakes his head, silently saying,
Really, Mom, are you serious?
Then he leans over and lands me one of those kisses that tells me no, he'll never forget.
Truthfully, neither will I.
And as he grabs a knife to peel potatoes, I realize he still has the power to make me do anything.
Really, I mean anything.
I've always been a football fan, the kind of woman who could easily find herself parked on the sofa any given Sunday afternoon, rooting for my favorite team. I've never been a gambler, never played fantasy football, never followed my team during the hot summer months. I'm a fall-season-until-Super-Bowl-only fan, but die-hard nonetheless. Something about investing my emotions for three hours in the fate of eleven men dressed in purple tights soothes my busy spirit.
Having given birth to three sons, I dreamed I'd have the makings of a starring offensive lineup. My oldest son, Neil, would play quarterback; Brett would be aÂ running back; and my youngest, Kevin, would be a wide receiver. My daughters and I would lead cheers from the stands. My husband, Mike, who had played in our hometown high school and helped bring them to state in his senior year, would help coach. We'd be aÂ football family, training with weights and running in the off-season. We'd plan our vacations around summer practices, and I'd join the booster club, maybe sell raffle tickets, even host the end-of-the-year potluck.
If girls could have played football in our tiny town, I know that Brianna and Amy would have joined the team. They became my cohorts, huddling under stadium blankets and clapping their mittens together as we cheered our high school team to victory.