Dottie Morgan lost the Christmas spirit five years ago when her only son, Nelson, was killed in combat. She discontinued local traditions in the little town of Frost, such as her annual reading of a Christmas story at the library where she is the librarian, and the placement of the star that Nelson made on the town’s Christmas tree.
Since losing Nelson, she has lived a solitary life in her family home, just across the way from that of Gordy Lindholm, the man she should have married so many years ago. Instead, she married a man lied to and abandoned her, leaving her to return home broken-hearted, pregnant, and alone, as Gordy watched in tortured silence. He was a surrogate father to Nelson, teaching the boy all the things that fathers are supposed to teach their sons such as how to hunt and shoot. Nelson became a combat sniper because of his excellent marksmanship and Dottie simply cannot forgive Gordy for the fact that Nelson died protecting his fellow soldiers from enemy fire, receiving the Bronze medal posthumously.
Violet Hart also served in World War II as a WAAC. Born with her father’s mechanical abilities, she was in the motor pool, much to her mother’s chagrin. When she returned home, there was no victory parade for her. Her mother and siblings did not even meet her at the train station. Since she’s been back, she has also worked as a librarian alongside Dottie while continuing to correspond with Alex, a handsome soldier. While she has poured her heart out to Alex on the pages of her letters, he has responded only with postcards from various locations around the country.
As the story opens, Violet and her mother are helping with final preparations for the evening’s annual Christmas dance. Violet boldly invited Alex to come to Frost as her special guest for the dance, but is dismayed when her letter to him is returned, stamped “Return to Sender.” Violet always knew that she was deluding herself into thinking that Alex, whom she met only briefly during the War, returned her feelings. Now, as her thirtieth birthday looms, she must accept that she is destined to be a spinster.
But she is determined to see the town’s Christmas tree brightly lit again, its star shining from atop its highest branch. Despite the blizzard that is fast gathering strength, she drives out to Dottie’s house, just outside of town, to convince Dottie that it is time to let the town of Frost once again see Nelson’s star lit during the Christmas season.
Any work of fiction by prolific author Susan May Warren, particularly one with a Christmas theme, promises several things: Innately flawed, but intriguing characters, at least one of whom has lost their faith as a result of difficult life experiences, a fairly predictable story line, and a happy ending. Baby, It’s Cold Outside, set in 1949, deftly delivers on all three promises.
At the story’s core are two couples who clearly belong together, even though they have either not yet figured that out themselves (Violet and Jake) or have not been able to set aside their differences and pride (Dottie and Gordy) in order to make their dream a reality. The two librarians, Dottie and Violet, are both living solitary lives. Violet clings to the hope that her pen pal relationship with Alex will blossom into a real romance, at least until her hopes are dashed when her most recent letter is returned to her. In contrast, Dottie is mired in memories of a near-miss relationship with Gordy, reminded that she missed her chance at real love every day when she looks across the way to his farm or finds the chopped wood, cream or other items that he leaves on the porch for her. She continues to mourn her only child, Nelson, who was the only good thing to come from her brief failed marriage to T.J. Dottie is convinced that God abandoned her the day Nelson died and is determined to spend Christmas alone in her house, sans Christmas tree or other decoration, curled up in front of the fireplace with her memories and regret.
Gordy has spent the last twenty-seven years pining for Dottie, figuring that he had one chance to build a life with her, but blew it when he botched his marriage proposal so long ago. He begged her to stay in Frost and marry him, rather than run off with T.J., but she refused. Gordy took no pleasure when Dottie returned alone and pregnant. Rather, he became the father to Nelson that the boy never had. But for the past five years, Dottie has not spoken a single word to him and he is convinced that they will both go to graves regretting that neither of them could swallow their pride and make the first move.
Everything changes, however, when Violet dares to pay a visit to Dottie to ask for the Christmas star and ends up stranded there during the blizzard, along with Gordy and Jake, Alex’s friend who has come to visit Dottie in his place for the purpose of revealing a long-held secret. As the wind howls, the electricity is cut off, and the snowdrifts pile up in front of the home’s doors and windows, Dottie and Jake make meals from the meager rations remaining in Dottie’s kitchen cupboards, the four stranded souls stoke the fire, and learn much about each other and themselves.
The fact that the story will have a happy ending, just in time for Christmas, does not diminish the pleasure of the characters’ journeys to each other and spiritual wholeness. Warren throws a few surprises and unexpected revelations into the otherwise formulaic plot as some of the characters face life-threatening perils and others come to their rescue. Through it all runs the underlying theme of the true meaning of Christmas, of course. By the time the story ends, the characters have moved from utter hopelessness to new beginnings, just as the dark and dreary world segues into the hopeful days of Advent and on to the full-fledged joy and endless hope that the most magical night of the year, Christmas Eve, delivers. Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a perfect book to snuggle up with before a roaring fire on a cold winter night when looking to get lost in an uplifting, upbeat story that will leave you smiling and ready to head up to the attic looking for your own Christmas decorations.