Book review: 'Offerings in the Snow' is a story for all ages

Monday, November 21, 2005

The best thing about this book is that it is set in the Ozark foothills of Arkansas. The next best thing about it is that it is a story of a simpler time, before the "crass commercialization" of Christmas -- that is, the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This is a frame story that is told by a grandfather to his grandchildren -- a long-standing family Christmas tradition. The author has done well in giving a masculine voice to the grandfather as a boy, as he recounts his life-long knack for storytelling and his comparative ineptness with guns.

While the entire story is fictional, the setting is real, being somewhere in the hills and hollows around Dover, the closest town. Occasional references are made to the big town of Russellville, where the well-to-do live on the west side of town -- a historically accurate point.

As a boy, Robby, the grandfather, is the next to the youngest of his siblings, with two older brothers and a baby sister. Long ridiculed by his brothers for his inability to saw a board straight, he scavenges some wheels and makes a wagon for his little sister.

The family had recently taken in a dog, a white short-hair with a perfect black circle around one eye, hence the name of Ring. Ring is sister Cubby's pet more than anyone else's. She dresses the dog in red ribbons as she plays with the wagon.

One day the dog accompanies little sister Cubby as she rides the wagon down the hill toward the busy highway -- busy even by 1930s standards -- and the wagon self-destructs, out of control, into the road. Traffic bears down on the scene as Robby watches Ring rescue Cubby, only to be hit by a delivery truck, trying to stop on the rain-slick highway that was just starting to freeze.

Time moves slowly in this story, typical for one being told by a child. Cubby is uninjured, but depressed about the loss of her dog. Robby wants to make his sister feel better.

Along with the Depression being underway, the children's father is down in his back and unable to work as Christ nears.

Taking a rifle, Robby heads for Cedar Mountain with the idea of bringing home meat to eat. Facing a buck, he fires, but the deer does not start, and instead turns and leads the boy into the U.S. Forest Service game reserve where he finds a grouping of rocks resembling a nativity scene with smaller rocks that look like animals surrounding it.

Robby, ever the story-teller, takes Cubby to the site, and the girl sees the resemblance to the Baby Jesus in the rocks. Her brother tells her the old legend of how animals can only speak on Christmas Eve.

"Offerings in the Snow" is a sweet story fraught with childhood trauma, such as Robby's embarrassment in the school Christmas program when the curtain collapses to reveal that he is the singer for the girl portraying the angel -- a scene which evokes hearty laughter from Robby's father. That angel eventually became Robby's wife.

All in all, this is a good book for adults and children alike.

"Offerings in the Snow: A Christmas Story"; by Joan Shaddox Isom; fiction; 152 pages; hardbound; Foxmoor Press, 17718 W. Murrel Road, Tahlequah, OK 74464; $13.95.

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