The Saturday after Halloween, one of the boys from the neighborhood came to help with the outside decorations. Robin, as well as other neighbors, hired him to do odd jobs around their houses. He was a good worker and followed instructions well. At the end of the day, the lights were on the house. Robin thought they'd get more done, but her design was so detailed it would take more than one day.
"Not at all." Robin answered in a much calmer voice than Sylvia's. "I have made up my mind to enjoy Christmas this year."
"You enjoy Christmas every year."
"I know, but this year will be extra special. I am going to make sure I celebrate every moment the way I want to celebrate. I don't care how much it costs or how early I have to start. I am going to enjoy Christmas. Just wait till the rest of the yard is done."
"The rest of the yard? You mean there's more?"
"Much more. It's going to knock your socks off."
"Mother, please don't embarrass me. I don't want to be the laughing stock of the neighborhood. Remember I grew up here." Sylvia said.
"Don't be ridiculous. It isn't going to be gaudy. Think of it as Mother's Wonderland."
"Well, just be careful. Don't hurt yourself." Sylvia said as she left the house.
By Thanksgiving, the tunnels were complete, lights were on the house, and the porch posts were wrapped with red and white vinyl to create a candy cane effect. The inside of the house was decked to the hilt. There was lighted garland over every doorway. The mantle was covered with garland surrounding a hand-painted porcelain nativity scene. Every table held a Christmas village, each representing a different country or time period. Robin had been collecting them for years. She tried to buy at least one new set every year.
Sylvia was supposed to host Thanksgiving, but a last minute plumbing problem derailed that plan. The celebration was moved to Robin's house. Sylvia did most of the cooking, but it did interfere with Robin's plans to decorate the house. She grudgingly replaced the Christmas centerpiece on the dining room table with a Thanksgiving theme. But she refused to make any other concessions.
The Monday after Thanksgiving, Robert arrived at 7:30 a.m. He was one of the best carpenters in town and had built Robin's deck the summer before. He knew what Robin wanted built and wasted no time getting started. By the end of the week, Robert had built three small houses in Robin's front yard. Each one at the end of a tunnel that Lance had prepared. Robert wasn't clear about what Robin was doing either, but he followed her design plans.
Robert had painted the base colors on the houses and Robin did the detail work.
"Mother, I can't believe you did all this. This is magnificent. How do your neighbors feel about the traffic?"
"They are all in support of my project. Most of them are even excited about it. Some plan to participate next year."
"Well you have done a wonderful job. You must be exhausted."
"Well, I'll rest after Christmas. I want to enjoy this Christmas."
"You always enjoy Christmas. It is your favorite holiday. What is so special about this year?"
Robin laughed. "Well, I'm not getting any younger, you know."
"Oh, Mother. Really? You are fit as a fiddle."
"It appears so, doesn't it?" Robin answered.
Sylvia was so proud of what her mother had accomplished that she called the newspaper and explained the project. They agreed to do a feature on Robin's Winter Wonderland.
By the time the reporters left, Robin was fatigued, but too excited to rest. She never dreamed her project would get so much attention.
It was featured on the local evening news programs and made headlines in the local newspapers. Robin wasn't quite prepared for that much attention.
At the end of the evening, all the cookies were gone and Santa had given out all the candy canes that had been purchased for the weekend. The cocoa had run out at least an hour before closing. It was well after midnight before Robin, with the help of her neighbors, got everything cleaned up and inventoried for the next night.
Robin slept later usual, but once awake, she couldn't wait for that night to begin. She made a made dash to the store for more supplies. There was a message from Sylvia on the answering machine when she returned. Robin called her and gave a glowing report about the evenings events.
"Do you need any help?"
"If you want to come, I'd love for you to do this project with me."
"I'll be there by 5:00."
Sylvia refilled the cookies trays and Santa's bag of candy canes while Robin prepared hot cocoa. Lance carried it to Mrs. Claus' house. By 5:30, everything was ready and everyone in their appointed places. Mr. Wilson was stationed at the end of the street. He had taken it upon himself to barricade the street, requiring everyone to park on the side street and either walk or ride the tractor into Robin's village. It was safer and less traffic hangups...At least that's the way he planned to justify it if the police came by.
Monday morning Robin was resting in the recliner when the phone rang. She checked caller ID and knew immediately who it was. She had been expecting this call for three weeks.
"Hello?" Robin answered as cheerfully as she could muster.
The caller didn't even try to sound cheerful. They had a message to deliver and took no joy in doing it. At the end of the conversation the caller asked if she needed anything.
"No." Robin said as she fought back the tears. "We knew this was coming. I'm not surprised. I'll be fine. Thank you for calling." She hung up the phone
Robin had planned for this day. First she would receive the phone call. Then she'd call Sylvia and calmly tell her. But now, she just couldn't bring herself to dial the number.
She turned to 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 and read about the comfort God gives to us when we have trouble.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
She had used those verses many times in her troubled life. They had brought peace to her heart on more than one weary night.
Robin hadn't had an easy life. She came home from work one night to find her husband gone. He left her with a child, a mortgage, overdue bills, and a loan shark knocking on her front door. For weeks she didn't know where he was. When she found him and tried to talk to him, he became both verbally and physically abusive. She filed charges, but the scoundrel was long gone by the time the police went to arrest him. She hadn't heard from him since.
Sylvia hadn't been an easy teenager to raise. She was rebellious and tried Robin's patience often. By the time she entered college, she had matured and become the woman Robin knew she could be.
After a couple of hours of finding comfort in the Word of God, the phone rang again. Robin noticed that it was Sylvia and chose not to answer. She wasn't quite up to putting on a cheery facade yet. So she spent the evening in her recliner, reading her Bible and talking to her Savior.
Christmas Eve was the last time the village would be open. Robin was both glad and sad. It had proven to be more physically taxing than she thought. She wasn't sure how much longer she could have held up. She took lots of pictures of both guests and her construction site. She wanted the plans followed next year also.
Sylvia hosted Christmas dinner and once again outdid herself with decorations, gourmet food and enough desserts for most of the neighborhood. Robin stayed as long as possible, but fatigue finally beckoned her home.
"Sylvia, I have taken pictures and there are plans drawn for what I did this year. You may have them and modify anyway you want."
"What does that mean? You aren't going to do it again next year?"
"My precious child, I won't be here next year. I have known for some time that I am ill. The doctor has been running tests for about four months. We have ruled out most things. The last test showed that I have a very fast growing rare tumor. They can't take the chance of it leaking with surgery. I have two to four months left."
"Mother, why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to alarm you if it was nothing and then when I found out, I didn't want to ruin your Christmas. Please stop crying."
"Stop crying? You tell me you are dying and you want me to stop crying?"
"I understand, but I'm going to ask you to cry after I'm gone. I need you to lift my spirits. Please spend every minute with me rejoicing about the life we've had together."
Robin and Sylvia spent hours together talking. Many of those conversations were about the Winter Wonderland and the joy that it brought Robin. Sylvia noticed that Robin's face lit up every time they discussed it. One afternoon, Sylvia took a legal pad from the desk and sat beside Robin's bed. Sylvia asked Robin to talk about her dreams for Winter Wonderland. As Robin talked, Sylvia took notes and determined in her heart to honor every request.
As Robin predicted, by March she was ready to say goodbye to this life. As Sylvia had promised, she was with her until the end. One of the last promises she made to her mother was that the Winter Wonderland would continue.