From the Christmas Story Archives

Been going through my Christmas story archives and pulled this one out for today.


 

THE SIDEWALK

SIDEWALK BROWN STONE“Well, what’a ya know,” Ben whispered, grinning, seeing his breath form vapors on the Christmas air. “Who would have thought it would be the brick sidewalk?”

He sighed. In one unexpected instant – as his feet had tread the bricks of this dear old sidewalk that had run the length of Main Street all his life – it had happened. He knew for sure the place he’d returned to was still ‘home.’

Just yesterday he’d been dreading coming back – as he had been for a week – from the time the doctors had told him he was almost well enough to make the trip. He knew for sure how much he had changed, and he couldn’t shake the deep, gut-wrenching fear that the whole world had changed as well – including the little town nestled at the foot of the mountains in Montana. He’d grown up here, played high school basketball, and dated the girl from three houses down the street until she’d decided to elope with the captain of the basketball team.

He had to chuckle to himself when he remembered how devastated he’d felt back then. It had been his first serious relationship with a girl, but in hindsight, he realized that he hadn’t really been in love – just fascinated with the boy-girl relationship.

Sometimes when he’d been hunkered down in the trenches, waiting the next command to move out into the threat of enemy fire, he’d started thinking about Allyson, and even though she belonged to someone else now, the memories comforted him. He knew even during those hours that it had nothing to do with Ally or their time together, but it was all about ‘home.’ When he thought of Ally, it took him away from the cold, wet, ugly war he was fighting.

Sometimes he’d remember his mother and could smell again the warm vanilla scent that so often clung to her from her constant baking. He’d conjure up the image of Granddad, sitting with his feet propped in front of the living room fireplace, sweet-scented smoke curling from his pipe. He’d hear again his father’s voice as he read the latest news stories from the paper as the family sat soaking up the security of their home and their quiet life together.

Then, sometimes, when he and his unit were on the move and trekking through secure territory, on their way to the next battlefront, he had remembered walking down that old brick sidewalk – past Old Man Chesterfield’s hardware store, Woolworth’s Five & Dime, the candy and tobacco shop, where he’d bought Ally that huge box of chocolates for the Valentine’s Day they’d celebrated together. There was Mrs. Gallagher’s Boutique next, and then Pansy’s Pancake House. Some days, when his senses were crystal clear, he could nearly taste those light, fluffy concoctions smothered in her special Cherry Cordial Syrup.

When he let his memory take him wherever it willed, he usually ended up thinking about Christmas, and he’d see again the decorations strung the entire length of Main Street, with lights in the windows of every storefront, snowmen standing sentry at almost every corner, and wreaths and holly hanging everywhere. He could almost feel the frost in the air and the festive atmosphere that surrounded shoppers and merchants alike from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And oh those chestnuts! The scent of roasted chestnuts hung over the main business district for two whole weeks before Christmas Day. And often he thought that sweet aroma was his favorite memory of all. Sometimes he swore he could smell those roasted chestnuts even though he was thousands of miles away on foreign soil with no hope of even a warm dinner for that night.

He’d been wishing he could have some of those chestnuts just minutes before the ambush occurred, but then bullets and grenades had killed all thoughts and images of anything but the hell breaking loose in every direction. Those same bullets and grenades had killed twenty of the men in his unit as well. When he’d taken the first hit in his leg and fallen, his best buddy had turned back to help him up. But the bullet that had caught his rescuer in the head had snuffed out his life in seconds, and Ben had taken a second bullet in the chest, blacking out at that point.

Five days later, when he’d regained consciousness in the hospital, he’d found himself hooked to all kinds of tubes and machines. The doctor had been compassionate and kind, assuring him that he was going to make it, but that it would be a month or so before he was fit to leave the hospital. When he’d asked about his unit, the news had been brutal, and he’d found himself so frozen by the grief that he hadn’t even been able to cry.

The day he’d been released and given his extended leave for home, his doctor had been wreathed in smiles. “We’re going to get you back to your family in time for Christmas, Son,” he’d said. And as much as the news brought a spurt of joy to Ben’s heart, it also brought a stab of fear.

He’s made a short journey first to the home of the man who’d been his best friend in combat, the man who’d lost his life trying to save Ben. He’d learned that Rick’s body had been shipped home for burial in the family plot. Ben knew he had to visit that grave and spend some time with Rick’s family before he could get started on the longer journey to his own family. And it was with that family, sitting in Rick’s home, remembering his buddy, that he’d finally been able to let the tears come. With his head on Rick’s mother’s shoulder, and her arms holding him tightly – the way she would never be able to hold her own son – Ben had finally cried out the pain and bitterness and loss.

Eighteen hours later, on the day before Christmas Eve, he boarded the bus that would take him to Montana. He had purposely refrained from letting his family know what bus he was taking. He had to walk out this journey one step at a time – in his own way and in his own timing. He had to find out what kind of world awaited him at the end of this journey, and he had to have the security of facing it on his own terms.

His physical wounds were almost healed, but the wound’s in his soul would be with him forever. And that’s what made him afraid. As long as he didn’t go home, he could always try to tell himself that it was still a place of peace and safety and love and laughter – and that life was still good there. But all the time he sat on the bus, heading to that little town in Montana, he battled with the fear. The questions kept circling through his mind: when he walked down the streets of his old hometown – when he stepped into his mother’s kitchen – when he visited the high school campus – when he sat in the park watching the breeze blow across the lake – when he met with friends in a restaurant –would he find what he’d left behind – or would it all be gone – forced out of existence by the same powers that had changed him forever?

Finally, at the end of the seven hour trip, he stepped off the bus, retrieved his suitcase and stood for a few moments just looking across Main Street at the row of well-remembered businesses – those stores and shops that had filled his dreams and imaginations hours at a time in the rare instances between battles.

Everything glowed with Christmas. It looked the way he would have expected it to look back before he’d had to wade through hatred, filth, and slaughter in another land. But could he relate to this place any longer? Could he ever belong here again? Would it welcome him – would he welcome what he found here now? He slowly walked across Maine and stepped onto the sidewalk that would take him from the north end of town to the south, where his parents lived.

He walked – slowly – hesitantly at first. His eyes caressed the old, worn bricks that stretched out ahead of him the whole two-mile distance of the business district, and he began to realize that each step he took was a familiar experience – the same experience he’d enjoyed for years, day in and day out – those warm brown bricks woven together by expert hands generations ago – just slightly uneven but plenty smooth enough for easy walking.

And every step reassured him. He began to breathe easier now, and as he took a good, deep breath, his nostrils twitched a little. Chestnuts, roasting, in a cart just up the street about two more blocks. He walked with more purpose then, his eyes still caressing the worn, welcoming bricks beneath his feet, stretching out before him invitingly.

Finally, he chuckled out loud. Yep … it was okay. … It was really okay. … He was okay.  And this good old brick friend convinced him — more with every step he took — that home was still everything he needed it to be.

THE END


Excerpts from my Christmas Anthology

STOCKING AMAZON COVER - frontHi, there dear readers. Merry Christmas!  It’s almost here. And today I’m posting a few excerpts from my Christmas Short Story Anthology:  STOCKING FULL OF STORIES.  Just five teasers, but hopefully they’ll give you the right idea.

‘What right idea is that?’ you ask. Why, the idea that you should hop over to Amazon and order a copy of the book just for yourself — or maybe someone you love — or maybe both. It’s available in digital and paperback RIGHT HERE.

Now for the teasers:

GOING HOME:

“I have a family somewhere. I must have. I can feel it. Admittedly, I don’t have a clue where they are, but I’ve made up my mind that I’ll find them.” I spoke the words somberly as Dr. Randall sat looking at me. I’d been thinking those same words over and over for weeks now, but today I’d decided to say them out loud. They sounded good, but they sent a shiver of fear coursing through me.

“But you’re sure you’ve had no flashes of memories since you regained consciousness?” Dr. Randall asked.

“None,” I responded, shaking my head. It still hurt when I moved it to any extent. I winced, and he walked over to the wall-mounted light, slapping up my latest x-ray for us to look at. He pointed to an area we’d been discussing for the past two months. “Well, this is encouraging, Peter (my choice of temporary names we’d resorted to since I had no identification on me.)

“What’s encouraging?”

“This area right here,” he said, running his index finger around in a circle over one spot on the picture of my brain. “It used to be covered in heavy shadows, if you remember.” I nodded.

“But those shadows are gone now. Yesterday’s CAT scan confirms what I’m seeing here – that the bleeding has stopped completely, and the last of the old blood is cleared away. The tissues look like they are almost normal again.”

“Then why can’t I remember anything?”

He sat back down, relaxing in his chair, his hands on the two armrests. “We don’t know, Peter. As I told you earlier, with memory, it’s sometimes as much an emotional recovery as a physical one that’s required for complete restoration. By the way, any idea yet why you chose the name Peter?”

I shook my head. “The frustration is almost unbearable, you know. It’s now my constant companion, and I fight really hard to keep it from driving me crazy.”

He sighed and straightened in his chair, resting his elbows on the desk in front of him. “I can only imagine – albeit that imagination is helped along considerably by all the research I’ve done and the other amnesia patients I’ve worked with.” He sighed gain. “And I always find myself a little frustrated as well. I want to remember for them, if you know what I mean.”

I nodded. “Yes, I can understand that.”

“I struggled terribly the first time or two that I worked with amnesia patients. All the textbooks and clinical studies didn’t prepare me adequately for the emotional trauma in the patient – or the emotional turmoil that the attending physician can find himself in. “But – ” He smiled suddenly. “The really good news is that in every one of the twenty cases I’ve been associated with, the patient regained either all or most of his memory.

“There were two patients whose memories for certain segments of life remained fleeting. But even those two people were able to recognize close family and friends again and were able to return to their normal occupations – one with a short period of re-training in some complex work that his job required. So the future looks bright, Peter. And, as I’ve said several times already, keeping a positive attitude and positive thoughts can make a world of difference.”

“I’ll keep trying, Doctor,” I said on a sigh as I rose to go.

“And don’t discount prayer, my friend. Pastor Patterson, who’s been visiting you and praying for you, has seen some pretty heavy-duty miracles in his ministry.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

“Oh, have you changed your mind about the online search?”

“Not as of this morning. I understand that, considering I was found beaten up out in a field, the police naturally had to run my picture through their data base. And I don’t mind telling you that I heaved a huge sigh of relief when that didn’t turn up anything. But I still can’t bear the idea of seeing my picture plastered all over the internet with a plea for someone to tell me who I am. Just the thought of how vulnerable that makes me has been too much to deal with.

“But … my resolve on the subject is beginning to weaken. It’s almost Christmas, and although the townspeople have been very hospitable to me, I don’t want to feel I’m the object of charity at some family’s Christmas gathering. I want to be home for Christmas!”

I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I added, “In fact, I was at the library yesterday, and I checked out a holiday CD with that song, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ as the first track. I’ve already played it a dozen times.”

Dr. Randall’s eyes lit up. “That’s good; that’s good. Keep playing it. Something within the deepest part of you led you to that song, and who knows what keys it may hold to open doors for you.”

As I put on my coat, I asked one more question: “Now that the bleeding has stopped, can I start working around the farm for the Morgans? They’ve given me free room and board and spending money for five weeks now – ever since I got out of the hospital.”

“I’d say you’re fine to do a little work, but keep it to just three or four hours a day for the rest of this week, and we’ll see how it goes. If the headaches get worse, stop and lie down a while.”

As I left the office I felt lighter than I had for weeks. At least I would be able to repay Edgar and Becky Morgan for their kindness in taking me into their home when I had no place to go – no money – no extra clothes – not even a name. But someday ….


 

SURPRISE!

. . .
“Vicky, we’ve got problems,” Dale Springer said as he entered Victoria’s office on the top floor of Springer’s Department Store.

“What’s up?”

“All those mannequins we ordered to use in our front Christmas window have been in an accident.”

“What kind of accident can dummies get into?”

“A real accident – auto accident – well, in this case a truck accident.”

“Oh, you mean the truck they were shipped in.”

“Right, and evidently all the merchandise in that truck was totaled. There will be no mannequins in time for the display to go in by Black Friday.”

Victoria leaned back in her chair and rubbed the back of her aching neck. She’d been working day and night the past two weeks – partly because she was trying to get Steve Templeton off her mind – and partly because, as head of the window display division at Springer’s, her busiest season was in full swing. She let out a deep sigh. “Well … I’ll have to think of something. Thanks for letting me know as soon as you could, Dale.”

“Sure thing.” He turned to leave, but then turned back. “You know, I thought those mechanical mannequins were a terrific idea. That scene you described to me would really be an eye-catcher. The scenes would have looked like real life. Too bad,” he said and finally started down the hall.

“Yeah,” Victoria said, even though she knew Dale was already too far down the hall to hear her response. “That was the idea. To look like real
li – ” She stopped mid-sentence because an idea had struck full force. It would mean going out on a limb, but did she actually have much choice?

As her mental wheels continued to turn, excitement began to build. “Yep. I really believe it will work,” she told herself out loud and swung around in her chair to reach for her Rolodex. Her list of close acquaintances included two agents in the city who each had a long list of actors who were out of work or looking for more publicity. They should be a lot of help.

The following morning, Dale was back in her office. “Sonya just told me about the all-out search for live actors for our window. Are you sure this is going to be cost-effective, Vicky? It’s a lot of money.”

“Now, Dale, you said yourself that the idea of a scene that looked like real life would attract a lot of attention – and that converts to a lot of buyers – which converts to lots of money. We’ll be a sensation, and just think, we will be setting the bar high this year. All of our competitors will be scurrying to try to catch up.”

“Well … I admit that knowing Springer’s is leading the way in innovative advertising has a nice ring to it. Okay … I’ll back you on this, but … by jingles, girl, you’d better make it good enough to pay off.”

Victoria gave him two thumbs up and grinned at him.

Two days later, Steve Templeton entered her office. He hesitated at the door, but she put on her business face and greeted him with a smile. “Good morning, Steve. I bet you’ve come about the window display.”

“Well, my agent sent me over. He said you were racing the clock on your displays and wanted live actors. But if you’re uncomfortable …”

“Don’t be silly, Steve. Our relationship is in the past. All I’m concerned about right now is getting enough actors to do our front Christmas window. We hope to make a dramatic impact this year, and we need a real hunk to pull it off – after all it’s the window that covers half the front of the store.”

Steve preened and sat down in a chair opposite her desk. “Well, if that’s what you need, this is your lucky day, Vic. It’s just too bad I can’t clone myself, isn’t it.”

Victoria pasted on another false smile and said, “The hours are 10:00 to 6:00 with a break for lunch, and the actors will take turns working every other day so that no one gets too tired.”

“Hey, that’s not necessary. I can do every day from now ’til Christmas if you want. And let’s face it, there aren’t too many of us who can fill the bill,” he added, sliding his hand lovingly over his trendy hair.

. . .


FIVE VIGNETTES: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
(A Futuristic Look at Characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol )

# 1 Ebeneezer the Suitor

Ebenezer had never felt his heart stop beating before. Was that what was happening, or was he just forgetting to breathe? He wasn’t sure, but He did know he was looking at the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, and he was glad he’d worn the new suit.

“Ebenezer, meet my cousin, Marilee Cratchit,” said Bob.

Marilee extended her hand, and Scrooge took it, becoming submerged in the magical cloud of her cologne. He’d been nervous about attending this party, but since his regeneration on Christmas day last year, he was welcomed everywhere. Right now he felt ten feet off the ground. It seemed being a kind, generous man really was the most important thing in life.

“Ebeneezer, I’ve been very eager to meet you,” Marilee cooed. “Come sit with me and talk.”

He was so thrilled he could have danced. He couldn’t believe anyone so beautiful and fragile would be interested in spending time with him. His heart skipped a couple beats as he wondered: was he actually going to get another chance at love?

“What shall we talk about?” he asked her, contemplating ways to express his renewed heart to her. Ever since his transformation, he found that he wanted to tell everyone how good life was when you learned that people are more important than money.

“I’d like to talk about your money, of course!” she said.

. . .

# 3 The Spirit of Christmas Past: Request For Transfer

“Mr. Alexander, the Spirit of Christmas Past is here for his 2:00 appointment.”

“Send him in.”

As the door opened, his boss could see that Past was unhappy.

“Good to see you, Past. We haven’t had a talk in – what – three or four years?”

“Four years, Sir,” Past said, taking a seat.

“I get a lot of good reports about your work. But you look unhappy. Is something wrong?”

“Yes, Sir. Something’s very wrong!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Can I help?”

“Well, Sir, I was wondering if I couldn’t trade places with Christmas Present for a while.”

“But you’re an expert at what you do, Past. Why would you want to have to learn a whole new job?”

“Because I never get a chance to use any of the new stuff, sir – any of the new technology and advanced equipment and devices that men have invented in the last several decades. I never get to play video games, or use cell phones, or those gadgets they call iPods. Why, do you realize I’ve never even had a chance to use a computer?”

“Well, I have to admit that I hadn’t given that point any thought, Past, but you don’t need any of those devices in your work, do you?”

“That’s just the point, sir. I don’t need any of those things in my work, so I get none of the fun involved with using them. And there’s something else that’s just recently come out – a brand new thing-a-ma-jig that they call Google Glass. Wow! It looks like a blast!”

“Google glass, huh?”

“Yes sir.”

Mr. Alexander just shook his head in consternation. He didn’t understand all this new-fangled equipment either, but that fact hadn’t bothered him before now. Maybe he was starting to fall behind himself. He looked back at Past, unsure what to say because he knew there was no way The Boss would go along with moving Past to a totally new time dimension.

Past looked at him hopefully. “It just isn’t fair, Sir! And that’s why I’m asking for a transfer. I was sure you’d understand when I explained.”

Mr. Alexander leaned back in his chair and looked at Past kindly. “Let me think this over for a bit, Past, and, of course, I’ll have to run it by The Boss.

One week later, Past walked back into Mr. Alexander’s office, having been summoned there to discuss the troubling issue again.

. . .


THE RESCUE

The old woman knelt shivering before the tombstone as her husband pulled away a pile of decayed leaves that seemed to cling defiantly to its base in spite of the wind that whipped at them repeatedly. It wasn’t bitterly cold — at least not like it had been many other Decembers in this city. But the wind was always stronger up here at the cemetery, and today, with no sun smiling down its warmth, the chill just seemed to beat its way into their elderly bones. Of course, sorrow had its own chill, and sometimes it was hard to tell if the icy feeling came more from the weather or from the pain within.

The old man finished his work and then joined her, slowing sinking to his own knees and removing his warm felt hat. Tears glistened in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He had to be strong for her right now. He glanced sideways at her, seeing the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She kept pressing her handkerchief to her face, to try to stem the bitter stream, but it did no good.

It had been a year and a half now since they had lost their second son. He had followed his brother into military service and then into war … and, finally, into the grave.

The old man shuddered out a deep sigh. He had brought his new bride to this country just one year before their first son had been born, and it had been a time of promise and happy expectation. The Lord had blessed them with two handsome, healthy sons, and they had been the sweetest blessing life had to give. He sighed now as he thought back over the years of raising two strong-willed, but tender-hearted boys. They had all been so happy … until ….

But he shook off the heaviness of those years of war … and the funerals … and the nights of wishing he could have gone in their stead. He knew his boys weren’t really in these graves here. He knew that for certain. They had believed in Jesus Christ, both of them, from the time they had been tiny little curly-haired boys. And they were in Heaven now. He couldn’t grieve for them, but for himself and his beloved wife … he couldn’t not grieve.

He leaned over toward her and put his arm around her shoulders now. “The wreaths look lovely, my dear. You’ve done yourself proud. I think these are the most beautiful you’ve ever made.” And she had made some beautiful flower arrangements, this wife of his. It had been her life’s work and a great joy at one time. Now, it seemed to always remind her of the need for flowers on these graves, and she took no joy in the work of her hands. Still … it kept her from sitting and mourning all the time, so he encouraged her to keep the business going.

And the money helped. There was no doubt about that. His pension and the little bit he made working as the church custodian were just enough to enable them to keep their house, modest as it was, and to cover their basic utilities.

But … with both their incomes … and with a little extra help from the Lord from time to time … they lived well enough. And every year at this Christmas season they pulled out their special bank … the little treasure box where they had put aside a very small offering each morning during their prayer time with the Lord. They paid the tithes on their monthly income faithfully, of course, but this little extra offering represented their desire to do more than just what was expected of them. And each Christmas they asked the Lord what He would have them do with the money to help someone not as fortunate as they.

The old man smiled to himself now. Christmas Eve was just three days away. They needed to get to asking the Lord what His plan was for this year. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Come, Mama. We need to get into the warm. The wind is getting bitter.” She allowed him to help her rise from her knees and pull her coat tighter around her neck.

The wool scarf she wore on her head had almost blown off, and he straightened that too and then placed his hands tenderly on either side of her worn face. “Our wonderful boys are warm and safe in Heaven, Mama … looking down on these wreathes you have made for them and feeling proud. Now … we will go home and fix some hot cocoa and take out our silver bank and have our talk with the Lord about His plans for the money, hmm?”

She nodded her head in agreement, and they turned together to plod arm-in-arm out of the cemetery and down the lane to their car.

As they entered their back door, he stopped a moment and breathed deeply. “Ahhh . . . your kitchen still smells like molasses cookies and shortbread, Mama,” he said, pinching her cheek tenderly and grinning at her. “What do you say we have some with our cocoa?”

His wife was taking off her scarf and coat and hanging them on the pegs beside the door. “You’ll ruin your supper if you eat all that sugar right now, Papa,” she scolded him. It never occurred to either of them to refrain from calling each other by those names, even though they had no children living now. They had rarely called each other anything else since their two little ones had started talking and calling them by those names. It had thrilled them so to be parents that they took pride in the names and wore them like crowns of honor.

Now he hung his coat and hat beside hers and grabbed her around the waist with both hands and began waltzing her around the kitchen. “Well, I have the solution to that!” he announced boldly. “We’ll just have molasses cookies and Scottish shortbread for our supper!”

“Now listen to you go on. What kind of supper is that?”

“Well … we’ll have a chunk of that delicious cheese you bought yesterday along with it, for protein,” he announced, as if that solved the whole question, whirling her around one last time and depositing her in a chair beside the table. At least she was laughing now, and that gave his heart a little ease. “You make the cocoa, and I’ll go get the treasure box.”

So while the milk warmed on the stove, Mama set the food out on the table. She was pouring out the cocoa when he returned carrying a small silver box that looked a little like a treasure chest. “Here it is, Mama,” he said setting it in the middle of the table and taking a seat beside her. “Now, let us thank the Lord for our food and enjoy it while the cocoa is good and hot, and then … then we shall count the money!”

When they had eaten their fill, and their faces were rosy with the warmth of the kitchen and the good food, they moved their utensils out of the way, and Papa pulled the box to him, unlocking it with the key that he always kept tucked away in his top dresser drawer. He dumped out the contents and began to straighten out the paper and sort the coins. “You count the coins, Mama, while I count the bills,” he said, and so they sat quietly, adding up their respective parts of the treasure.

When he was done, Papa picked up the little pad and pencil that he also kept in the box and wrote down his amount. Then he wrote down the amount Mama had in coins and added them together. He looked up at her beaming. “Mama, God has truly blessed us this year. We have put a total of six hundred, fourteen dollars, and seventy-two cents in our bank!”

“Oh, that’s more than last year or the year before either one!” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So after having a cozy breakfast, the couple loaded the flowers into the car and headed into the main part of the city. As they passed the corner one block from the church, they noticed a small boy sitting on a concrete bench on the sidewalk. “Would you look at that little tyke, Papa,” Mama said with a chuckle. “He’s bundled up all the way to his nose.”

“Well it is awfully cold,” Papa answered. “Wonder what he’s doing sitting there all by himself.”

“Oh, his mama probably told him to stay put while she ran into the bank behind the bench there.”

“Mmmm, probably, but … I don’t know … in these times, I don’t think I’d leave my little boy sitting by himself for even that long in a city this big.”

Mama sighed, “I know, Papa. Sometimes it seems to me that parents don’t take the dangers waiting for their little ones seriously enough.”

“Well, here we are,” Papa said in a more cheerful voice as he slowed down to look for a parking place close to the first store. “Are you sure you want to walk back down to the church? I can come and get you, you know.”

“Oh, Papa! Don’t be silly. It’s only two blocks. You just carry in one of the arrangements for me, and as soon as I’m done here, I can manage to carry the last one on to the shop two doors down. I’m sure they’ll both want to talk a few minutes, and then I’ll come down to the church to meet you.”

“Okay,” he answered, sliding into one of the few parking spots left on the street in this part of the city. While Mama carried the arrangement for the proprietor of this first shop, Papa carried in the other piece and set it down where Mama could get to it easily. He went on to the church and began his work, stopping almost an hour later when he realized that Mama had not returned yet. But just as he started down the hallway to the outside door to check on her, she walked in, bringing the biting air from outside with her, but flushed with a smile and twinkling eyes.

“Oh, Papa, they raved about my arrangements! They said they’d never seen anything they liked any better!”

He hugged her. “Well, of course, Mama! What else did you expect with your talent for working with flowers?”

“Thank you, Papa, but I happen to know you’re just a little prejudiced,” she said, pinching his cheek gently. “But come … I’ll help you with your work.”

So they worked side by side, finishing up the day’s list of tasks by noon, and left the church together. As they drove back the way they had come, they noticed that the small boy was still at the same corner, sitting on the bench alone.

“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.

. . .


To read the rest of these stories — and all eleven stories — hop over to the Amazon store and get your copy.
Digital: $1.99
Paperback: $5.50

I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing.  🙂

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‘Stocking Full Of Stories’ – now in Paperback! Yay!!!

STOCKING AMAZON COVER - front

IT’S FINALLY HERE in PAPERBACK!

Why not buy yourself an early Christmas present this year? My Christmas anthology, Stocking Full Of Stories, is just what you need to add that extra little sparkle to this year’s celebration.  Stories about love, challenge, hope, faith, and ridiculously funny stuff as well.  There’s 11 stories in all.

It’s also a great stocking-stuffer (no pun intended).

$5.50 at Amazon. Just follow this link:

 

 

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The Rescue: A Christmas Story – Part 3

Find Part 1 HERE.

boy-praying-1-itense-bronzePART 3

At the end of the program, all the children received bags full of treats to help celebrate the Lord’s birthday, and as Papa and Mama led David out of the church, they turned once more toward the corner where he had spent three lonely, fearful days. “We’ll just sit here a short minute, David, and make sure your Mama isn’t right around here looking for you,” Papa said, and sat down, putting one arm around Mama and the other around David. But after about ten minutes, Papa shifted his position so that he could look right into David’s eyes. Mama looked over Papa’s shoulder, her face registering her pain for the boy’s situation.

“David,” Papa said, clearing his throat a little. “I know you want to believe your mama is coming back here to get you. But you see, son, I believe she was having some big problems and didn’t want you to have to go through them too. I believe she probably knew she couldn’t find another place to live with you, and that’s why she didn’t pack any of your clothes. She packed only her own, because she intended to have you sit here until someone came along who could help you and give you a good place to live. A place like she couldn’t give you.” Papa could see the tears glistening in David’s eyes just before the boy turned his head to look up the street as far as he could see, and then turned to look in the other direction one more time.

“Now, we could let you stay here, of course,” Papa continued. “But Mama and I …” he turned slightly to see his wife’s face, and she smiled at him through her own tears and nodded, so Papa continued. “Mama and I would like to have you come and stay with us as long as you’d want to.” He stopped and waited.

David looked at him and then at Mama. “Please come home with us, David,” Mama said in almost a whisper. “We’ll love you just like we did our own little boys years ago.”

“You can decide, David,” Papa said. “But we need to decide right now, because I don’t want to keep Mama out in this cold any longer. So what do you say?”

Once more David looked up and down the street, and then back at Papa. Suddenly he put his hands to his face and whisked away the tears that tracked down his cheeks. Papa could see decision in his eyes, and he knew the moment the boy faced the truth that his mother was not ever coming back to him. He heard Mama whisper just behind him, “Please help him, Jesus.”

David stood to his feet. “Okay,” he said.

Mama gave a glad cry and jumped up to gather the boy into her arms. Papa forced the tears filling his eyes to stay where they were, and he reached out to rest a hand on David’s shoulder. “You made the decision your Mama would have wanted you to make, Son,” he said. Then he stood up, putting an arm around each of them again. “Now,” he said with authority, “let’s go home and celebrate Christmas!”

Which is exactly what they did. And before David went to sleep, Mama and Papa told him more about the Jesus he’d learned about in the Christmas play. They told him how Jesus took all of people’s sins so that they could become good in God’s sight. They told him about the Father who loved little boys and welcomed them into His own family, and how they’d never have to be alone, no matter what, if they would allow the Father and Jesus to come and live in their hearts. So David made another right decision that night and offered Jesus a home in his own heart.

Just as they were getting into their own bed, Mama said, “Oh, my goodness Papa! We forgot about listening to the Lord about our $700.00!” But Papa reached out to take her hand in his. “Not to worry, Mama. I believe the Lord has shown us where to use the money this year, don’t you?” he asked, nodding toward the bedroom next door to theirs where David slept peacefully.

“Oh, of course!” she said, and giggled as he hadn’t heard her do since their own boys had been toddlers. “Clothes and books and toys and schooling, and so many other things. Isn’t it exciting, Papa? The Lord has trusted us with another little boy to raise for Him!”

So they did. And the days and weeks passed. Mama and Papa simply told friends and acquaintances that David was a friend of the family whose mother had become seriously ill and needed him to stay with the Larsons until she was well. In their own hearts and minds, they believed she would have had to be spiritually and emotionally sick to make the choices she’d made.

Friends were glad to see how much the elderly couple enjoyed giving the boy a safe, loving home, and they approved when Papa and Mama asked a young mother who home-schooled her own three children to add David to her classes. Papa used the $700.00 to help pay for the schooling expenses.

And the months rolled along, into the next year, and on to the next Christmas. That next Christmas Eve, Papa announced after their lunch, “It’s time for us to take a drive.”

So all three of them settled into the car, warm and cozy and ready for some kind of adventure. But as they neared their destination and David saw where they were going, he began to feel a tightness in his throat. His stomach began to ache, and tears burned his eyes.

Sure enough, Papa pulled the car into a parking place right beside the corner where they had first seen David sitting on a bench. And the bench was still there. “Let’s get out,” Papa said. He walked around the car and opened Mama’s door and then the back door for David.

“No … please!” David said, panic in his voice. “I’m sorry! Whatever I did that was wrong, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again! Please don’t leave me here again!” And then the tears that had started coursing down his cheeks became a flood of sobbing. “Please don’t make me stay here. I’ll be good. I promise!”

Papa and Mama were stunned. Mama sat down in the back seat, grabbed the boy, and held him close, “Shhh,” she said. “What’s wrong, dear?”

Papa knelt down in front of the door, reached in, and took David’s hand. “David … David … we’re not going to leave you here! Is that what you thought?”

David nodded his head, sniffing back tears as well as he could and leaning hard into Mama’s shoulder.

“Oh, no, no, no!” Mama said.

“No indeed, David,” Papa added. “We’d never give you up. Not ever! I’ve just brought us all back here so that we could remember how the Lord first brought us together. And I thought it would be good for us to sit here a minute and pray and thank Him for making us a family.”

“Would you like for us to do that, David?” Mama asked.

Sniffing again and trying to get the last of his crying under control, David looked at one and then the other with wide, surprised eyes. “You’re not going to leave me here?”

“Never, Son!” Papa said. “You’re part of our family for as long as you want to be. Just like you’re part of God’s family forever!”

So they got out of the car and sat on the bench together, hand in hand. They prayed and thanked the Lord that Christmas Eve for His love and mercies in their lives. Then the months rolled by again, and the next Christmas Eve found them at the same bench, praying the same prayer. They made the same journey the next Christmas Eve … and the next … and the next ….

~~~~~~~~~~

“Pastor McKenzie?” The voice seemed to come from far away. “Pastor McKenzie?” It came again more insistently. David shook himself slightly, realizing that his thoughts had been so concentrated on the testimony he’d been giving that he’d almost forgotten he was on an international Christian television program.

“I’m sorry,” he said, smiling apologetically now. “I was so caught up in remembering.”

“Do you still go back to that same spot every Christmas Eve?” the interviewer asked, her own voice husky with her response to his emotions.

“Yes,” he said, discreetly wiping the dampness from beneath his eyes with two fingers. Releasing a quiet sigh, David McKenzie leaned back in his chair and continued. “Yes, I still go back every year, and … and that’s also why I make sure that I drive one of the buses throughout those neighborhoods every Christmas Eve and pick up all the kids I can personally and take them to our church service.”

“Not many pastors of such a huge inner-city church would drive the bus themselves. It must be a heavy load of work, considering the fact that you have the Sunday School classes for several thousand children every week, plus all of the extra Christmas season services where you serve meals and hand out clothes and gifts to the thousands in need in the city.

“And you’ve begun similar work with children in similar situations in other nations, is that correct?”

“Yes. There are so many hurting children, and we touch only a fraction of them,” he answered.

“I’m sure after almost three decades of serving the Lord, you’ve had opportunities to move into many other areas of ministry. You’re a powerful preacher in your own right, and I’m sure you have connections that would open any number of doors to you. Have you ever thought about doing anything else besides reaching the hurting children in inner cities?”

He paused a long minute before answering. “I can’t do anything else,” he said, looking almost surprised that she had asked the question. “I can’t do anything else!”

“So … you would never consider turning your attention to any other kind of evangelism? Something on a larger scale that would bring you more into the public eye?”

David McKenzie smiled. It was a knowing smile. A smile that spoke of contentment and peace. And he looked directly into the eyes of the young woman asking the question. “No,” he said quietly, shaking his head gently. “No, I’d never considere that alternative even for one minute.”

“That’s interesting. May I ask why?”

“Because it’s only on the streets of New York, and countless cities like it, driving the bus through those ugly neighborhoods of ragged, hungry, frightened, hopeless kids to take them to Jesus … it’s only there that I can rescue the person I’m looking for.”

The interviewer’s eyes grew wide as she asked, “And who is that, Pastor McKenzie?”

“Myself,” he said, smiling at her as another trickle of tears made its way down his weathered cheeks. “Every time I pick up one of those hopeless kids … I’m really picking up myself.”

~ THE END ~

~~~

The Rescue: A Christmas Story – Part 2

You can find Part 1 here.


boy-praying-1-itense-bronzePART 2

“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.

“It is peculiar, Mama,” he answered, but traffic was so heavy right at that time, that he had to give his full attention to working through it and getting into the correct lane to make their way back home. Concern nagged at him as he sat down to his noonday meal, and then troubled him off and on as he sat in his recliner and dozed during the afternoon. When the couple retired for the night, they prayed especially for the little boy they’d seen on the bench and his family.

The next morning Papa helped Mama finish her Christmas baking. She always made cranberry nut bread for four of the people in their church and popcorn balls and fudge for all of the children to take home after the Christmas Eve program. They stopped to have a ham sandwich and a cup of hot cider while the treats cooled enough for packaging. Then they began to wrap the gifts in gay paper and tie them with carefully worked bows, adding a candy cane to the top of each package.

When the last of the gifts was finished and set on the kitchen counter to wait for delivery, Mama made a meatloaf, while Papa scrubbed potatoes and prepared them for baking along with the meat.

“You know I can’t help thinking about that little boy we saw yesterday,” Mama said quietly as she worked. “I wonder who he was waiting for.”

“Probably some of his family who were doing last-minute Christmas shopping.”

“But wouldn’t you think they would have taken him with them?”

Papa looked up from the potato he was working on, thinking for a moment before he spoke. “No … not necessarily. Especially not if they were buying his gift.” He laid down his potato absentmindedly. “Still … you’d think they’d be a little hesitant to leave him there alone for so long.”

“You don’t suppose something happened to them do you, Papa?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know, of course, Mama, but I’m sure at least one or two police officers must have passed by their yesterday, and if something had been wrong, I’m sure the boy would have told them.”

Mama nodded her head and carried her meatloaf to the oven. “Of course. I hadn’t even thought about that.” She turned to look back at him. “Are the potatoes ready?”

“Yes, here they are,” he said carrying four potatoes over to the stove and laying them on the pan she had ready to slip into the oven beside the meatloaf.

After dinner, Papa read the newspaper to Mama, and then they watched a Christmas program on television. As they retired, they prayed once more for the young boy and his family and asked the Lord to show them by tomorrow what His plan was for the money He had helped them save this year.

First thing the next morning Papa drank hot coffee, wolfed down some of Mama’s gingerbread, and hurried off to the church to turn the heat up for the evening program. He also wanted to make sure that all the different props for the Christmas program were in place so that they would be easy to find at the last minute before the service began. But as he neared the block where the church stood, he was horrified to see that the little boy from two days before was still sitting on that same concrete bench. Papa hurriedly found a parking place close to the church and then walked back to the corner and sat down on the end of the bench opposite the young boy.

He could see that the child was very cold, even though he had on a heavy coat and a knit cap pulled down over his ears. He had his hands in his coat pockets, but once when he pulled a hand from his pocket to wipe his runny nose, Papa saw that he also had on gloves. He didn’t want to frighten the boy, but he felt frightened himself at the thought that this child could possibly have been sitting here for more than two days.

Why hadn’t the police done something about it? He thought about that question for a while, but then decided that there was so much crime and so many people with serious problems that possibly the police officers who were responsible for this area of town were unusually busy this time of year, just trying to take care of all of those other situations.

“Hi there, Son,” Papa said, his voice friendly and encouraging.

The big brown eyes just looked at him for a moment, and Papa saw a shiver run through the little body. “Hi,” the boy answered in little more than a whisper.

“I’m Jules Larson,” Papa said, holding out one gloved hand toward the boy. Slowly, the child pulled a hand from his pocket and reached it over to shake the old man’s hand.

“I’m David,” he said.

Papa nodded, letting go of David’s hand and watching him put it immediately back into his pocket. “Haven’t I seen you here on this corner for that last couple of days?”

David nodded, but didn’t speak. Instead, he just looked up and down the street again, much as he had been doing the other times Papa had passed by this corner.

“Well … you haven’t been sitting here all day and night, though, have you?” he asked.

David looked back at Papa and nodded again. Papa felt a cold wave of fear move through him and called out to Jesus under his breath.

“But …” Papa started to speak again, but then he stopped. He needed to figure out exactly what to say. After another minute, he sighed deeply and tried again. “But what about your family, David? Where are your mom and dad?”

David looked once more down the street and then turned his eyes on Papa. “My mom’s comin’ back for me,” he said, his lips trembling. Papa wasn’t sure if they trembled from the cold or because the boy was on the verge of tears.

“Where did your mom have to go?”

David looked up and down the street again, and then turned to look behind him once. He looked back at Papa and shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. She just said I should wait right here.”

“Do you live close to here?”

David shook his head. “Not anymore.”

“What do you mean? Did you used to live close?”

This time David nodded. “Unhuh,” he said, pointing back down the street. “Over in that other block. We lived in one of the apartments on the very top of that old brown building.”

“Well, why don’t you live there now?”

David shrugged his shoulders again. “Don’t know. Mom just said we couldn’t live there anymore. She put some of her clothes in a bag and told me to put on my coat, and then we left.”

“But did she put some of your clothes in a bag too?”

David shook his head. “I thought maybe she was goin’ to buy me some new clothes.”

Papa sighed, not liking the thoughts that came crowding into his mind with the boy’s last words. “So she took her clothes with her, but not any of yours?”

David nodded. “And when we got to this corner, she told me to sit down here and wait.”

“Is that all she said?”

David nodded. “Sometimes she goes away for a day or two, but then she comes home again, and we have something to eat. So I know she’ll be comin’ back for me,” he said, lifting his chin as if to ward off any rebuttal of that idea from the old man. But just then his lips quivered again and two tears slipped down his chapped cheeks.

Papa sighed inwardly and prayed silently with all of his heart. What was he to do? He couldn’t leave this little boy out here another night, and it was obvious to him that if his mother hadn’t bothered to pack any of his clothes, she had not intended to keep him with her. Should he go to the police? That’s probably what the police would tell him was the right thing. But, somehow in his heart, he just didn’t think he could bring himself to do that just yet. They would turn him over to the authorities, and he might end up in almost any kind of place while the legal aspects of his case were considered.

Papa shook his head silently. No … he couldn’t just turn him over to the police. What would Mama tell him to do?

He sat up straighter. Of course! That was the answer! Mama would say to bring him home and give him some warm food and a warm bed for tonight at least … and then they would pray for the Lord to show them what to do after that. But first, he’d have to do the necessary work at the church. He looked back at David.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I think maybe your mama might have had to go farther than she planned to try to find another place to live. And I don’t think she’ll be able to come back for you for a while. But my wife and I … we used to have two little boys. They died in the war, and we miss them. We’d like to have you come to our house and eat supper with us and maybe sleep in one of the warm beds that we used for our boys. We could always come back here tomorrow and see if your mama is here waiting for you.” He knew that wasn’t a sensible plan, but he was counting on this boy, who looked no more than nine years old, to be too cold and tired and hungry to figure out how improbable it was. David was looking at him with wide eyes, full of indecision. He looked up and down the street again and than back at Papa.

“I’ll tell you what,” Papa continued. “I was going to go into that little coffee shop over there and get me some soup. How about you come with me, and I’ll get both of us some, and we can talk it over.”

David chewed on his bottom lip, and Papa could see the temptation on his face. What must it feel like to sit on this bench for nearly three whole days and have nothing to eat?

“What do you say?” he urged David again.

Finally, the boy nodded his head, and Papa stood and held out his hand to take David’s. Together they walked to the restaurant across the street, and once seated at the table, Papa ordered two steaming bowls of soup and added a glass of milk for David. He would have liked to have ordered him a big, juicy hamburger too, but knowing he probably hadn’t eaten anything in more than two days, he was afraid too much food at once might make the child sick.

Papa sipped his soup slowly, not really hungry yet himself, but David ate as if he were truly starved. “Did you have anything to eat yesterday?” Papa asked the boy.

David only shook his head and kept eating.

“Well, how about the day before?”

David shook his head again and picked up his bowl to drink the rest of the liquid from the soup.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I could sure use some help to do my work at the church down the street. I wonder if you’d help me there for a little while, and then we’ll come back to the corner and sit a minute, just to see if your mama’s coming. Then, if we don’t see her, you come home with me, and we’ll have some more good food to eat. Would you like to do that?”

David thought, his brown eyes dark with the intensity of his concentration as he tried to decide what to do. Finally he nodded. “Okay,” he said, “but just for a little while, and then I gotta go back to the corner.”

“Good enough,” Papa said and rose from the table. They donned their coats and caps once more and made their way back out into the cold and down to the church. A couple of hours work put everything into good shape for the evening festivities. Papa had planned on him and Mama coming to the Christmas program, but he wasn’t sure now just what they would do.

He took David back to the corner, and they sat together for another thirty minutes, while Papa tried to listen to the Lord for instructions. Finally, he looked at David. “Well, now, let’s go home and have supper with Mama,” he said and then chuckled. “That’s what I call my wife, you see. Ever since we had our little boys, I’ve called her Mama, and she’s called me Papa.” For the first time David smiled just slightly, and Papa’s heart was lighter instantly.

“Well, as I was saying, let’s go home and eat some supper with Mama and then we can come to the Christmas program at the church and stop on this corner afterwards, just in case your mama comes along then.”

This time David decided more quickly and got up, reaching out to take Papa’s hand as he did so.

When they arrived home and entered the kitchen, Papa called out. “Mama, I’ve brought a friend home with me. Come and see.”

Mama came scurrying into the kitchen and stopped short as soon as she saw the boy. Her hand flew to her heart as she took in the situation without being told. She had known inside somehow that this little boy had been abandoned on that bench. She just hadn’t been able to shake that feeling, and now as she looked down into his dark, frightened eyes, she knew with certainty that what she’d felt was true. She hurried forward and reached out to shake his hand.

“Why, hello, young man! I’m so glad you’ve come home with Papa.”

“This is David … David McKenzie,” Papa said, “and I invited him to eat with us and then go to see the Christmas program. I even told him we could give him a warm bed to sleep in after the program if his mama hadn’t come back for him yet.”

Mama gave her husband a knowing look and then spoke to David, “We like having boys stay at our house,” she added, looking up at Papa to gauge his response to her use of the word ‘stay.’ He nodded his head in agreement and began helping the boy remove his coat and cap.

“We had a bowl of soup in town, Mama, but we could sure use something else hot,” he told his wife.

“Well, you show David where the bathroom is so he can use the bathroom and wash his hands and face in some warm water, and I’ll see what all I can find.”

After their mid-afternoon snack, Mama tucked David into the bed that her youngest son had used, and the boy had drifted into a deep sleep almost before she left the room. Then she went to an old chest that she kept in the hallway, and digging deep inside, she extracted two sets of clothing just about David’s size. For a moment her eyes clouded with tears, and she held the garments to her chest. But then she braced her shoulders and whispered, “Thank you, Lord, for having me save these garments all these years. You knew that little boy was going to need them.”

After his nap, a warm bath and clean clothes made David feel so much better that he couldn’t keep a smile from sneaking through when he re-entered the kitchen for another snack before they took off for the Christmas program. And during the program, David’s eyes were glued to every single action on the stage. The lights and music fascinated him, and he listened to the words, taking in the story of Jesus’ birth as if he had never heard it before.

(To be continued. Watch for Part 3 on Tuesday)

~~~

The Rescue: A Christmas Story – Part 1

The following story is fiction – as are all the characters and the setting. However, the story was inspired directly by the real-life story of one of the most effective and compassionate men in ministry today. Bill Wilson, who is the founder of Metro World Child in New York City, was actually abandoned as a child and left alone on the streets of his home city in Florida. He was eventually rescued and greatly helped by a loving man of God, and that love led Bill Wilson to devote his entire life to rescuing inner-city children and ministering to their most vital needs – as well as those of their families.

The results of his work, both in the U. S. and internationally, would fill volumes. I have listened to him tell his own story more than once. He always concludes that story by sharing why he does what he does. And it is his reason – which constitutes the final statement by the main character in my story as well – that inspired me to sit down and write “The Rescue.”

I trust that the story will touch your heart deeply, and if it does, I encourage you to remember that it was inspired by the real life experiences of a great man of God. Readers can learn more about Bill Wilson’s ministry at the ministry website: metroworldchild.org. It is my prayer that readers will pray about supporting that ministry with finances and with prayer.

THE RESCUE – PART 1
`

boy-praying-1-itense-bronze

The old woman knelt shivering before the tombstone as her husband pulled away a pile of decayed leaves that seemed to cling defiantly to its base in spite of the wind that whipped at them repeatedly. It wasn’t bitterly cold — at least not like it had been many other Decembers in this city. But the wind was always stronger up here at the cemetery, and today, with no sun smiling down its warmth, the chill just seemed to beat its way into their elderly bones. Of course, sorrow had its own chill, and sometimes it was hard to tell if the icy feeling came more from the weather or from the pain within.

The old man finished his work and then joined her, slowing sinking to his own knees and removing his warm felt hat. Tears glistened in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He had to be strong for her right now. He glanced sideways at her, seeing the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She kept pressing her handkerchief to her face, to try to stem the bitter stream, but it did no good.

It had been a year and a half now since they had lost their second son. He had followed his brother into military service and then into war … and, finally, into the grave.

The old man shuddered out a deep sigh. He had brought his new bride to this country just one year before their first son had been born, and it had been a time of promise and happy expectation. The Lord had blessed them with two handsome, healthy sons, and they had been the sweetest blessing life had to give. He sighed now as he thought back over the years of raising two strong-willed, but tender-hearted boys. They had all been so happy … until ….

But he shook off the heaviness of those years of war – and the funerals – and the nights of wishing he could have gone in their stead. He knew his boys weren’t really in these graves here. He knew that for certain. They had believed in Jesus Christ, both of them, from the time they had been tiny little curly-haired youngsters. And they were in Heaven now. He couldn’t grieve for them, but for himself and his beloved wife, he couldn’t not grieve.

He leaned over toward her and put his arm around her shoulders now. “The wreaths look lovely, my dear. You’ve done yourself proud. I think these are the most beautiful you’ve ever made.” And she had made some beautiful flower arrangements, this wife of his. It had been her life’s work and a great joy at one time. Now, it seemed to always remind her of the need for flowers on these graves, and she took no joy in the work of her hands. Still … it kept her from sitting and mourning all the time, so he encouraged her to keep the business going.

And the money helped. There was no doubt about that. His pension and the little bit he made working as the church custodian were just enough to enable them to keep their house, modest as it was, and to cover their basic utilities.

But with both their incomes – and with a little extra help from the Lord from time to time – they lived well enough. And every year at this Christmas season they pulled out their special bank – the little treasure box where they had put aside a very small offering each morning during their prayer time with the Lord. They paid the tithes on their monthly income faithfully, of course, but this little extra offering represented their desire to do more than just what was expected of them. And each Christmas they asked the Lord what He would have them do with the money to help someone not as fortunate as they.

The old man smiled to himself now. Christmas Eve was just three days away. They needed to get to asking the Lord what His plan was for this year. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Come, Mama. We need to get into the warm. The wind is getting bitter.” She allowed him to help her rise from her knees and pull her coat tighter around her neck.

The wool scarf she wore on her head had almost blown off, and he straightened that too and then placed his hands tenderly on either side of her worn face. “Our wonderful boys are warm and safe in Heaven, Mama … looking down on these wreathes you have made for them and feeling proud. Now … we will go home and fix some hot cocoa and take out our silver bank and have our talk with the Lord about His plans for the money, hmm?”

She nodded her head in agreement, and they turned together to plod arm-in-arm out of the cemetery and down the lane to their car.

As they entered their back door, he stopped a moment and breathed deeply. “Ahhh . . . your kitchen still smells like molasses cookies and shortbread, Mama,” he said, pinching her cheek tenderly and grinning at her. “What do you say we have some with our cocoa?”

His wife was taking off her scarf and coat and hanging them on the pegs beside the door. “You’ll ruin your supper if you eat all that sugar right now, Papa,” she scolded him. It never occurred to either of them to refrain from calling each other by those names, even though they had no children living now. They had rarely called each other anything else since their two little ones had chosen those names for them. It had thrilled them so to be parents that they took pride in the names and wore them like crowns of honor.

Now he hung his coat and hat beside hers and grabbed her around the waist with both hands and began waltzing her around the kitchen. “Well, I have the solution to that!” he announced boldly. “We’ll just have molasses cookies and Scottish shortbread for our supper!”

“Now listen to you go on. What kind of supper is that?”

“Well … we’ll have a chunk of that delicious cheese you bought yesterday along with it, for protein,” he announced, as if that solved the whole question, whirling her around one last time and depositing her in a chair beside the table. At least she was laughing now, and that gave his heart a little ease. “You make the cocoa, and I’ll go get the treasure box.”

So while the milk warmed on the stove, Mama set the food out on the table. She was pouring out the cocoa when he returned carrying a small silver box that looked a little like a treasure chest. “Here it is, Mama,” he said setting it in the middle of the table and taking a seat beside her. “Now, let us thank the Lord for our food and enjoy it while the cocoa is good and hot, and then … then we shall count the money!”

When they had eaten their fill, and their faces were rosy with the warmth of the kitchen and the good food, they moved their utensils out of the way, and Papa pulled the box to him, unlocking it with the key that he always kept tucked away in his top dresser drawer. He dumped out the contents and began to straighten out the paper and sort the coins. “You count the coins, Mama, while I count the bills,” he said, and so they sat quietly, adding up their respective parts of the treasure.

When he was done, Papa picked up the little pad and pencil that he also kept in the box and wrote down his amount. Then he wrote down the amount Mama had in coins and added them together. He looked up at her beaming. “Mama, God has truly blessed us this year. We have put a total of seven hundred, four dollars, and seventy-two cents in our bank!”

“Oh, that’s more than last year or the year before either one!”

“Yes!” he said, nodding his head eagerly.

“Do you think the Lord has multiplied it for us?”

The old man smiled at her with eyes that were lit up with his faith that the Lord had done just that. “Now we must find out what our Lord wants us to do with it. Shall we pray right here, or go into the living room and kneel on the rug?”

“Let’s go and get down on our knees. We need to do everything we can to make sure we focus on the Lord. We wouldn’t want to make a mistake with so much money.”

So they moved into the living room and knelt down in front of their old but cared-for sofa, and, hand in hand, sought the Lord for His plan for the money they had given to Him during their morning devotions. After they had prayed for some time and were now both quiet and listening with their hearts, Papa whispered to Mama, “Do you hear anything yet, Mama?”

“Not yet, Papa. Perhaps, He will reveal something to us while we sleep tonight. He did that once before, remember?”

“Yes, that’s right. All right. We will expect that He will show us something, either as we sleep, or maybe when we first awake in the morning.” He grinned down at her with the eagerness of a small child. “I can hardly wait to see what He has in mind. I know we have to be patient. He may not show us until Christmas morning, you know. One time that’s what He did. But at least we know that He’s never taken longer than that to tell us what we must do, and that’s only four days away.”

Mama smiled at his excitement and rose from her knees, grateful for this generous-hearted husband that the Lord had given her. If only … if only he could have kept his sons to pour that heart into, she thought, shaking her head gently at the sad thought.

“No, Mama,” he said to her now, reaching out and lifting her chin and looking into her still bright blue eyes. “We will not be sad tonight. God has something happy for us to do, and we will enjoy it!” He leaned down and kissed her on the mouth. Then he raised his eyes heavenward and said, “Thank you, Good Lord, for giving me such a beautiful wife!”

“Oh, Papa . . .” she said, chuckling and shaking her head.

“Now,” he said turning her toward the kitchen, “I will help with the dishes, and then you shall read to me.”

The next morning the couple rose expectantly, eagerly anticipating the Lord’s leading about what to do with their money. But as the day progressed into evening, both had to admit that they just didn’t sense the Lord’s direction yet. So they retired that night with the prayer on their lips that He would show them tomorrow.

Again the following morning, they were a little disappointed, but since it was a day with much to be done, they quickly went about their business. Papa had more than the usual custodial work to do at the huge stone church in the middle of the city, because there were always extra services and celebrations this time of year. And Mama had finished the Christmas flower arrangements that had been ordered by two merchants whose shops were on the same street as the church. They always ordered the flowers for their holiday parties from her.

So after having a cozy breakfast, the couple loaded the flowers into the car and headed into the main part of the city. As they passed the corner one block from the church, they noticed a small boy sitting on a concrete bench on the sidewalk. “Would you look at that little tyke, Papa,” Mama said with a chuckle. “He’s bundled up all the way to his nose.”

“Well it is awfully cold,” Papa answered. “Wonder what he’s doing sitting there all by himself.”

“Oh, his mama probably told him to stay put while she ran into the bank behind the bench there.”

“Mmmm, probably, but … I don’t know … in these times, I don’t think I’d leave my little boy sitting by himself for even that long in a city this big.”

Mama sighed, “I know, Papa. Sometimes it seems to me that parents don’t take the dangers waiting for their little ones seriously enough.”

“Well, here we are,” Papa said in a more cheerful voice as he slowed down to look for a parking place close to the first store. “Are you sure you want to walk back down to the church? I can come and get you, you know.”

“Oh, Papa! Don’t be silly. It’s only two blocks. You just carry in one of the arrangements for me, and as soon as I’m done here, I can manage to carry the last one on to the shop two doors down. I’m sure they’ll both want to talk a few minutes, and then I’ll come down to the church to meet you.”

“Okay,” he answered, sliding into one of the few parking spots left on the street in this part of the city. While Mama carried the arrangement for the proprietor of the first shop, Papa carried in the other piece and set it down where Mama could get to it easily. He went on to the church and began his work, stopping almost an hour later when he realized that Mama had not returned yet. But just as he started down the hallway to the outside door to check on her, she walked in, bringing the biting air from outside with her, but flushed with a smile and twinkling eyes.

“Oh, Papa, they raved about my arrangements! They said they’d never seen anything they liked any better!”

He hugged her. “Well, of course, Mama! What else did you expect with your talent for working with flowers?”

“Thank you, Papa, but I happen to know you’re just a little prejudiced,” she said, pinching his cheek gently. “But come … I’ll help you with your work.”

So they worked side by side, finishing up the day’s list of tasks by noon, and left the church together. As they drove back the way they had come, they noticed that the small boy was still at the same corner, sitting on the bench alone.

(To be continued.  Look for Part 2 tomorrow.)

~~~

Christmas E-Book – $0.99 Today Through December 24.

stocking-full-promo-2

My Christmas short-story anthology, Stocking Full of Stories, is on a special holiday sale at the Amazon Kindle Store.  It will be only $0.99 until midnight December 24.

Christmas is about love – and laughter – and hope – and second chances. This collection of 11 original Christmas stories covers all those subjects and then some. From poignant to funny to heart-warming and faith-inspiring – you’ll find a little bit of everything in this Stocking Full of Stories. Read the book straight through for an evening of well-rounded Christmas pleasure. Or pick and choose, one story at a time, depending on your mood.

Give yourself a gift this Christmas: fill your stocking with these stories of the season. And while you’re ordering, go ahead and send one to someone you love.

Amazon also provides a free download for a Kindle app so you can read on any of your devices.

 

 

~~~

 

Arnold’s Antlers: A Christmas Story for Children of ALL AGES

I originally posted this story last year, but I thought it might add to the holiday enjoyment of some of my new readers this year, so I’m posting it again.  Arnold may be a youngster, but what he learns about life is important enough to pay attention to even after we’re way up in years.
Happy Holiday Reading! 

ARNOLD’S ANTLERS

GLOBE - NORTH POLE DARK BLUE CLEAR NAMESome people say that way up at the very top of the planet Earth — at the spot that scientists call the North Pole — where it’s very cold — there is a special city — a big, bright, happy, busy city.

And they say that everyone who lives there spends their time making toys and games and yummy treats to give away to all the boys and girls who live on planet Earth.

The reason is that the city is the home of a jolly, round, kind man named St. Nicholas – and he’s known as the giver of gifts. Some children in different countries call him by other names: Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, and Santa Claus, to name a few.

As the story goes, St. Nicholas plans his whole year around one particular night – Christmas Eve – when he loads up a huge sleigh with all the wonderful gifts his helpers have made and flies through the night to deliver them to homes all over the planet Earth.

He has twelve reindeer who pull his sleigh for him, and when they are on the ground, they look just like any other reindeer. But as soon as he’s ready to take flight, St. Nicholas calls out to his team, “Let’s fly!” and they all leap into the air. The leader of the team is a reindeer named Rudolph, and he has a bright red nose that helps light the way when it’s foggy.

SLEIGH FLYING NEW - smallerRudolph has become very famous. There’s even a song about him, and people all over the world sing it. But a lot of people don’t know that he has a younger brother named Arnold. That’s right. And the story in this book is about Arnold and his antlers.

When Arnold was born, his parents were so excited, and so was his older brother. Rudolph had been an only child for many, many years, and even though he had a lot of friends among the other reindeer who lived at the North Pole, he didn’t have anyone that he felt was his very own.

ARNOLD & RUDOLPH AT AT BEGINNINGSo as soon as Arnold was old enough, Rudolph took him along everywhere he went and taught him all about the city where the toys were made. He also taught him about the North Pole, the great forest that hid the city from sight, and the icy cold river that ran through the forest and all the way down to the places where the weather was warm all year.

Rudolph and Arnold ran and played with the other young reindeer in St. Nick’s herd, and they were very happy. One of Arnold’s favorite things to do was to sit and listen to Rudolph tell how he had became the leader of St. Nicholas’ team. Arnold was proud of his big brother, and he got so excited when Rudolph told him stories about flying through the air delivering all the toys.

And St. Nicholas was always looking over the herd, checking to see who might be a good addition to the team. He liked to have young deer in training at all times. If some of his team caught a cold and couldn’t fly on Christmas Eve – or if his older deer became tired and needed to switch to doing easier jobs – he could get a substitute instantly and never be without enough reindeer who were in perfect shape to pull his very heavy sleigh. Every year, he chose two young deer to go into the training program.

When Arnold was about a year old, St. Nicholas came to look him over thoroughly and talk to the family about his following in his brother’s footsteps. The whole family was excited. They just knew that since Rudolph was St. Nicholas’ most important deer, his younger brother would surely be the first one chosen that year to go into training.

“What a fine specimen you are, Little Arnold,” St. Nick said, as he lifted Arnold’s head and smiled at him. Continuing his examination, St. Nick checked out Arnold’s back and hips and legs. He lifted each leg to examine Arnold’s hooves. And when he was done with that, he came back to Arnold’s head and began to look over his antlers.

Now, regular deer grow antlers and then shed them and grow new ones the following year. But the reindeer at the North Pole do not shed their antlers. They keep the same antlers all their lives. St. Nicholas looked carefully at Arnold and ARNOLD WITH CROOKED SMILE - YELLOWsaid, “Hmmm, these are quite large already, aren’t they?”

“Yes sir,” said Arnold proudly. He felt that growing large antlers must be a good thing.

“Hmmmm …” was all that St. Nick said before he patted Arnold’s head kindly and turned toward his parents. Mom and Dad had noticed that St. Nick did not seem all that happy about Arnold’s antlers. They looked at him hopefully.

St. Nick sighed gently. “Well,” he said, “we’ll let Arnold start training and see what happens. He may grow into those antlers yet.” And with that, he took his leave of the family, but he asked Rudolph to walk with him.

As they walked, St. Nick looked at Rudolph and said, “Well, Rudy, you know what the problem might be.”

Rudolph’s heart beat fast. He was feeling afraid. He knew that his little brother wanted to fly with St. Nick on Christmas Eve more than anything in the world. And Rudolph had looked forward all year to helping train his brother so that they could work together. He finally managed to get words out. “You … you think his antlers are going to be too big to fly, don’t you sir?”

St. Nick looked kindly at his favorite deer. “Yes, Rudolph, I fear that Arnold is one of those special deer who grows such a huge set of antlers that they make him too top-heavy to fly.”

“But, sir … but you said yourself that he might grow into them!” Ruldoph’s voice shook just a little as he talked, and St. Nick reached out his hand to stroke his back and comfort him.

“Yes, I said that he might grow into them, but, you know as well as I do by now that it rarely ever happens that way. I just could not disappoint him today. So … we will put him into the training program and see how things go.”

And so it was that Arnold began his training. There were so many things to learn. Pulling the sleigh wasn’t just about leaping into the air and taking off.

Each deer had to learn how to balance his body once he was airborne. And he had to learn how to turn left and right even when the wind was blowing the opposite direction. And, most of all, he had to learn to pull with all the other deer, so that they all worked together as one. It wouldn’t do for some of them to be pulling one way and the rest pulling a different way – or for some to be pulling all the time, and the rest not to be pulling much at all.

Arnold loved his training, and when the day came for him to actually lift off the ground, he was so excited he could not sleep the night before. On that day, at Rudolph’s command, Arnold threw himself into the air, all four of his legs moving at the same speed, just the way he’d been taught. He felt the wind brush past him, and his lungs sucked in the delicious air.

ARNOLD'S PRACTICE FLIGHTS W. HOLLYHe was bursting with pride and excitement as he began his turn to the left, but suddenly, he felt thrown off-balance. He could not complete his turn, and he began to roll through the air, headed for the ground. He landed with a thud, but, thankfully, since he hadn’t been flying very high yet, he wasn’t hurt badly.

Rudolph hurried to his side. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. I just sort of lost my balance and started rolling to the left.” He had scrambled to his feet by then, so he shook himself to get the twigs and dust off his coat and said. “But I’ll give it another try.”

“Okay, if you want to, but be careful, you hear?” his brother said.

“Oh, I will. And besides, what’s a little fall. I’m sure other reindeer have fallen plenty of times when they were learning.”

ARNOLD'S PRACTICE FLIGHTS - holly flippedSo Arnold tried once more – this time turning toward the right. But, again, he lost his balance and began to roll and ended up on the ground.

By this time, he was a year and a half old, and his antlers had kept growing and growing and growing. They hadn’t bothered him because he just figured he would do as St. Nick had said and grow big enough to fit them. But now he found himself worrying that it was his antlers that were his problem.

Two days later, when St. Nicholas sent for him and his parents to come to his office, Arnold felt very afraid of what was going to take place. St. Nicholas was very kind when he talked with them, but that didn’t make what he had to say any easier to hear.

“I’m always sorry when one of my deer has to be disqualified from flying with my sleigh,” he said. “It’s happened only half a dozen times in all these hundreds of years, but it’s always sad for me. This time,” he added as he looked over at Rudolph, “I’m especially sorry because I know that Arnold’s flying with the sleigh means so much to his brother as well as to Arnold himself.”

St. Nick got up from his chair and walked over to Arnold. He put his arm around the deer and rubbed his nose gently. “I’m sorry, Arnold, but I have something for you.” St. Nick picked up a holly wreath from a stack of them on his desk. “As you know, only my sleigh reindeer wear these wreaths around their necks, but I’m giving you one and making you an honorary member of the team because you’ve worked so hard”.

St. Nick placed the small wreath around Arnold’s neck and said, “And I promise you that you can have any other job you want here at the Pole. You just think about it and let me know what you’d like to do.”

The family returned to their apartment in the stables, and for days, Arnold just lay on the hay and would not even eat. “But, dear,” his mother said, “you must eat to keep up your strength.”

“Strength for what?” he cried. “If I can’t fly, then I don’t need strength to pull the sleigh, and there’s no other job that I want to do.” His mother didn’t argue because she knew that when a young deer decides to feel sorry for himself instead of making the best of things in his life, there is no taking him out of his self-pity. She would just have to let him figure it out for himself.

ARNOLD & RUDOLPH TALKING WITH TEXTUREFinally, one day Arnold decided to leave. “But where do you plan to go?” Rudolph asked. “Don’t do something so foolish,” he added.

“I wish I’d never grown antlers!” Arnold shouted. “Why couldn’t I have been born a girl! Girls don’t have antlers. That would be better than this.”

Rudolph just shook his head. What nonsense, he thought. Who would want to be a girl reindeer? They didn’t have nearly the fun the boys had. Oh, he had heard St. Nick talking about how he thought it was time to start including girl reindeer on his team for the sleigh, but Rudolph doubted it would ever happen. (Now, that’s where he was wrong, because, although he hadn’t told Rudolph yet, St. Nick planned to put two girls into the training program the following year.)

But Rudolph tried once more to talk his brother out of leaving. “You know Mom and Dad will worry about you,” he pleaded.

“No, they won’t. They’ve taught me well, and they know I can take care of myself.”

“But what will you do?”

“I don’t know, but there’s nothing I want to do here,” Arnold answered and turned to walk away.

“Well, will you at least stay in touch with us?” his brother asked.

Arnold turned to look at him. “Maybe,” was all he said, and headed into the forest.

ARNOLD WALKING THROUGH WOODS - flipped. WHITE SPLOTLIGHTJPGArnold walked through the quiet forest for hours, once in a while stopping to nibble on a few berries or sniff at an unusual scent that came his way. For several hours, the only sounds were the normal sounds from the other forest animals, and he was so used to them that he didn’t even pay any attention. But all of a sudden, he heard a terrible squawking coming from an area of forest up ahead of him, and he hurried his steps to see what it was all about.

He followed the sounds to a huge Spruce tree where one of his favorite Redbird friends had her home. But something strange was happening today. Several men in hard hats were surrounding the tree, examining it. Off to the side sat a huge truck with a long flat trailer on the back. Suddenly, one of the men pulled a handle on the machine he held in his hands, and the machine started groaning loudly enough to hear it on the other side of the forest. Arnold learned later that the machine was called a chainsaw, but knowing what it was didn’t make it sound any less scary.

ARNOLD HEARING BIRDS - WHITE SPOTLIGHTAt that moment, Arnold’s Redbird friend swooped down toward the man, screeching and acting as though she would attack him. A couple of her friends did the same. One of the other men picked up a large stick and started swinging at the birds.

Arnold couldn’t believe his eyes. He hurried over to the scene and called out to his friend. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “Can I help?”

“Oh, Arnold,” the Redbird cried, flying over to him, “I don’t know what to do! These men are going to cut down my tree. But my nest is there, and my little babies are just about to hatch. I can’t let them cut down my home and kill my babies. But I can’t get them moved to a safe place without building another nest, and that will take too long. What can I do? What can I do?”

The chainsaw had stopped for a minute, while the men talked together, but now it started up again. Arnold thought quickly. “I know!” he said. “I will come and lift your nest onto my antlers and carry it away safely.”

“But my nest is very high in the tree. Can you reach that high?”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Arnold said. “My antlers are much bigger than an ordinary deer, so I will have no trouble reaching your nest and lifting it to safety.”

“That’s very kind of you, and it would get my babies out of the tree, but where can I put them? It will take me at least three days to build a new nest anywhere – and that’s if I can find the materials. Wild animals will find my babies and eat them before I can get it done.”

“No they won’t. I will keep the nest in my antlers until you build another nest. You can sit on your eggs in your nest, and when your babies are hatched, you can feed them and take care of them just the way you always do. I have nothing else to do these days, and I will enjoy being useful.

“Oh my, what a great friend you are. How can I ever thank you?”

“There’s no need. In fact, I am the one who’s grateful. I’ve been feeling rather useless lately. You see, we discovered that my antlers are way too big for me to be able to fly with St. Nick’s sleigh. They put me out of balance, and I keep heading toward the ground.” He hung his head low, and one little tear ran down his nose and dropped to the ground. “I’ve been awfully sad about it.”

“I’m very sorry, my friend,” said Redbird. “But I’m so grateful for your extra big antlers today.”

Arnold lifted his head and looked toward the big Spruce tree. “Let’s get your babies to safety,” he said and started toward the back side of the tree where he knew the nest rested. He pushed his way gently between the lower branches, stretched his neck up, and lifted the nest onto his antlers very carefully. “Now, you make sure it’s settled,” he told Redbird, and when she was satisfied her nest was lodged snugly into the antlers, she flew ahead of Arnold into a quieter, safer part of the forest.

REINDEER W. BIRDS NEST - BETTER EYE - NEUTRAL PICKERShe was able to find enough building material to build a brand new nest in a nearby tree, and by that time her babies had hatched.

Arnold was having fun with the babies hopping around in their nest and chirping loudly, wanting to be fed. He enjoyed their company, and he almost forgot about his problem with his antlers. Finally the day came when the mama Redbird was able to move her babies to the new nest.

“Arnold, my friend,” she said. “You have saved my babies lives. If there is anything I can ever do for you in return, please, please let me know.”

“It was my pleasure, Redbird. I’m so glad they are safe.” He sighed deeply. “I guess I need to be on my way,” he said, the sadness back in his voice.

“I know you’re very unhappy because you can’t pull St. Nicholas’ sleigh, but I wonder if the Creator who made all of us didn’t work it out for you to have extra large antlers because you can use them to help other animals and even people sometimes. You need to think about that, Arnold.”

“I guess,” he answered, but he didn’t really believe it. He just didn’t want to hurt Redbird’s feelings by arguing with her. “I’ll see you again sometime I hope,” he said now and started through the forest again.

“Are you going home?” Redbird asked.

“No, not right now,” Arnold said. “I just can’t go back and watch my friends training to pull the sleigh and know that I never can. Goodbye, Redbird.”

So he went on his way, and Redbird watched him, hoping he would soon learn that he had been created for things more important than just pulling a sleigh.

Two days later, Arnold heard the sound of a chainsaw again. It frightened him, because he thought maybe another bird friend was in trouble. But as he came close to the sound, it suddenly stopped, and he heard the thud of a big tree hitting the ground.

But he also heard another sound. It was not the cry of another animal. He thought it sounded like the voice of a person, so he moved toward it slowly and carefully. He had heard the voices of the men who cut down Redbird’s tree, and was used to hearing the voices of St. Nicholas and his family, so he knew what people’s voices sounded like, but this voice was smaller and lighter than men’s voices.

As he came closer to where the tree had fallen, he also heard weeping. The terrible sadness in the sound touched his heart, because he knew what it was to be so unhappy that he cried. He moved even closer and saw a little girl kneeling on the ground close to the fallen tree, crying and saying, “Daddy, please wake up. Please wake up.” Then the girl moved just enough for Arnold to see that there was a man on the ground beside her, but he was under the top part of the tree that had fallen.

MAN UNDER TREE
Of course, Arnold couldn’t understand the girl’s words. St. Nick was the only person whose words he could understand, but it wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened here. The man had been cutting down the tree, and it had fallen in the wrong direction. People often came through this section of the forest to cut Christmas trees for their homes, but sometimes, they didn’t really know how to do it safely.

Arnold slowly made his way toward the girl. She looked up when she sensed he was beside her, and she must have been able to tell that he was not going to hurt her, because she reached out to him and touched his nose. He gently licked her hand to let her know that he was friendly, and she sniffed and said, “I wish you could help my daddy. I can’t get him to wake up.”

But just then, the man on the ground made a sound. Then he said, “Kelly, honey, are you all right?”

The little girl moved closer and touched her daddy’s face. “Daddy, I’m right here, and I’m okay, but what about you?”

“I don’t feel like I’m hurt badly, honey. I think I was just knocked out for a minute. I can feel my legs and hands and all my fingers, but I can’t move out from under this heave tree, and I can’t get to my cell phone in my pocket. I need to think of what to do.”

“I’ll go find someone to help daddy.”

“No, darling. You could easily get lost in this forest, and it’s going to start getting very cold in a couple of hours.” Kelly sniffed again and wiped more tears away, and her daddy spoke again. “You know, Kelly, we’re not really alone here. We have the Lord with us, and He promised to protect us and take care of us, so let’s pray for His help.”

“Okay, Daddy. You pray, and I’ll close my eyes and believe with you.”

“Dear Lord,” Daddy said, “in the name of Jesus, Kelly and I are praying that you will do something to get me out from under this tree and get us home to safety. We just don’t know what to do, but we know that You promise You will take care of us, so we are going to thank You right now for working everything out.”

Kelly sniffed again and finally pulled a handkerchief out of her pant’s pocket to blow her nose. Arnold felt so bad for her and for her daddy. He looked around, trying to think of a way to get them some help. Then Kelly stood up. “I’m going to try to pull on the tree, Daddy,” she said.

“No, dear. Please don’t,” he said. “To begin with, it is too heavy for you, and another problem is that if you just pull it to the side, it could cut into my legs. We need someone who can lift if up so that I can roll out from under it.”

All at once, Arnold shouted, “Hey, I just thought: my antlers are big enough and strong enough to lift the top of that tree off that man!” Of course, Kelly and her father did not understand Arnold’s words, but they heard him making excited sounds and saw him begin to circle around the fallen tree, looking things over.

Finally, he stood still, braced his four legs, and lowered his head. Then, very, very gently, he worked his huge antlers between the smaller branches of the tree until they could get hold of the main trunk at the place where it lay on the man’s legs. Next, Arnold took a deep breath and began to lift his head slowly and steadily. As he did so, the whole top of the tree came away from Kelly’s father, and he rolled out from under it and crawled completely out of the way.

“Oh, Daddy!” Kelly shouted, running to him and throwing her arms around his neck. “The deer saved you!”

Arnold gently laid the top of the tree back on the ground and turned to look at Kelly and her father. Kelly ran to Arnold then and threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, you darling deer!” she said. “Thank you! Thank you! I love you for saving my ARNOLD WITH CROOKED SMILE - YELLOW - flippeddaddy.”

Arnold’s heart was about to burst. He was so happy that he had helped to save Kelly’s father, and he felt proud. Then Kelly’s father spoke again. “You know, Kelly, the Lord sent that beautiful deer to help us, and do you realize, he was here even before we prayed. How wonderful God is.”

“You’re right, Daddy. He was here before we prayed, and then after your prayer, he just walked right over there and lifted the tree.” She petted Arnold’s back and his nose and rubbed his ears. “What a wonderful friend you are,”she said, and then turning to her father, she asked, “Could we take him home with us, Daddy?”

“Oh, honey, that would not be kind. He lives in the forest and knows how to take care of himself out in nature. He was never meant to live in someone’s little bitty yard in town. He wouldn’t be happy there. The kindest thing we can do for him is let him stay here where he belongs and pray that the Lord will take very good care of him and bless him for helping us.”

He stood to his feet then and checked out both his legs to make sure they moved correctly. Then he walked over to Arnold and petted him. “Dear Lord,” he prayed, “Kelly and I thank you for sending this deer to help save us, and we ask you to bless him with a very long, happy, healthy life. Give him plenty to eat, wonderful deer friends to play with, and the best kind of life that a deer can have. Amen.”

“Amen,” said Kelly, as she hugged Arnold one more time. “Goodbye, deer. Jesus will take good care of you.” Her father patted Arnold’s head one more time, and then he took Kelly’s hand.

“I think I tried to cut down a tree that was too big for us, Kelly. We’ll go home and buy us a smaller tree for this year, and next year, maybe we can come back with more help and try cutting down a smaller tree for our house. So he and Kelly started back through the forest to head home, and Arnold watched them until they were out of sight.

“My goodness,” he said to himself, “that’s the second time I’ve been able to help save someone because of my big antlers. I’m almost glad that I have them.” But, suddenly, he remembered that he could never pull St. Nick’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, and he hung his head down again and felt sad. He also noticed that his holly wreath from Santa was missing. He must have torn it off when he squirmed in under the branch to lift it. He breathed a big sigh and started off through the forest again.

ARNOLD WALKING THROUGH WOODS 2ND TIME - CORRECTEDBut as he walked, he remembered the look on Kelly’s face when she saw her father was free from the tree. And he kept thinking about how she and her father kept petting him as if they couldn’t thank him enough. And, slowly, as he walked and thought about those things, he began to feel happier.

He began to think about how, if he had not grown such huge antlers, Redbird’s babies would have died, and Kelly and her father might have been trapped there for days before anyone found them – and then it might have been too late. And the longer he thought about it, the more he began to feel that he didn’t want to be just an ordinary reindeer with ordinary antlers.

That night, Arnold slept close to the river, and the next morning, as he was walking along the bank and stopping now and then to take a welcome drink of the clear, sweet water, he suddenly heard someone scream. By now, he was getting used to the sound of human voices, but this time, he wasn’t sure it was a human because it was so loud and sharp.

He looked downstream, but didn’t see anything. Then he moved a little so that he could look upstream a long way, and, immediately, he saw where the sound was coming from. A man and woman were in a boat coming down the river, and the man was jumping out of the boat into the ice cold water.

Arnold walked closer to the edge to see better, and that’s when he understood the problem. There was a little baby in the water. It had on a life-jacket, so it was still floating, but the water was much too cold for a little child. The baby was in great danger in water that cold, and it had been caught by the current and was being carried downstream too fast for the man to catch up to it.

ARN JUMPING RIVER # 2,EYESSuddenly, Arnold leaped into the river and started swimming toward the baby. All those months of training for pulling the sleigh had caused his leg muscles to grow very, very strong, and he had no trouble swimming against the current.

He heard the man yell something, but of course, he couldn’t understand the words He also heard the woman screaming even louder. He guessed that she was afraid he meant to harm the baby, but the thought never entered Arnold’s mind to do anything except grab the little bundle and carry it back to its mother.

It took longer than he thought to reach the child, but he finally did. Then he ducked his head beneath the water just enough to get his antlers underneath the baby, and as gently as he could, he lifted the little bundle onto his big antlers and out of the water completely. He then turned and swam as fast as he could toward the boat.

By that time the man understood that Arnold was bringing the baby back to them, so he started swimming back toward the boat himself. He and Arnold reached the boat at the same time, and as Arnold paddled along the side, the mother reached over and lifted her baby from Arnold’s antlers. “Oh, my darling little boy!” she said, as she held him close and then began to wrap him in warm dry blankets. The man got back into the boat and hugged his wife and child.

“The Lord answered our prayers, honey,” he said. “He sent this precious deer to save our David.” Then he reached over the side of the boat to pet Arnold’s head. “What a gift of God you are, little deer,” he said. And even though Arnold did not understand the words, he knew that the man was telling him how grateful he was.

By that time, Arnold was very cold himself, so he wasted no time in swimming back to land. And as soon as he could, he found a place in the sunshine where he could lie on the dry ground and let the sun get him warm. It felt very comforting on his body, and he was surprised at how fast he got dry. In fact, he was warm and comfortable in no time at all, and he fell asleep.

About an hour later, the sound of someone calling his name woke him. He looked up and turned his head in several directions, trying to figure out where the sound had come from.

“Arnold. Arnold.” There it was again. Arnold shook his head and listened carefully. That sounded like Rudolph’s voice. But surely not —

“There you are!” Rudolph shouted, coming through a thicket of bushes and heading straight for his brother.

ARNOLD & RUDOLPH BACK TOGETHERArnold jumped to his feet and ran to greet Rudolph. “Oh, Rudolph, I’m so glad to see you!”

“I couldn’t stand it another day without you, Arnold,” his brother said. “I’m so unhappy, and Mom hasn’t stopped crying since you left. Please, please come home.”

“I’m ready to come home,” said Arnold. “I have had so many adventures since I’ve been gone, and they have taught me a very important lesson.”

“Really? What have you learned?”

“I’ll explain it to everyone when we get home,” said Arnold. “Right now, let’s just hurry back home.” When they arrived safely, their mother greeted them with tears and laughter, and Dad said he was proud of Arnold for being wise enough to come back home.

SANTA LAUGHING - EDITEDEven St. Nicholas laughed and cried with joy at Arnold’s return. Then they all sat down and Arnold told them of his adventures. At the end of his tale, he said, “So I have learned that I have extra big antlers for a reason, and I am glad now that I am who I am.”

“Arnold, my young buck,” St. Nick said, “you have learned a very valuable lesson indeed. The Creator gives each one of us special gifts and special abilities to do the work that He wants us to do on this earth. No two of us are alike. And if we will just learn what our special gifts and abilities are, and be grateful for them and use them to do good for the rest of God’s creation, we will live very happy lives.”

Then St. Nick hugged Arnold’s neck tightly, and putting his other arm around Rudolph’s neck, he laughed: “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, everyone! I think this will be the Merriest Christmas we have ever had!”

And it was.

ARNOLD'S ANTLERS FOR END WITH CURVIER SMILE

THE END

 

 

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My Christmas Anthology Came Out in the Kindle Store Today: $1.99

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Hooray! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Season’s Greetings!

My Christmas Anthology — STOCKING FULL OF STORIES — went digital today, and it’s priced right for the holiday shoppers at $1.99

Christmas is about love – and laughter – and hope – and second chances. This collection of 11 original Christmas stories covers all those subjects and then some. From poignant to funny to heart-warming and faith-inspiring – you’ll find a little bit of everything in this Stocking Full of Stories. Read the book straight through for an evening of well-rounded Christmas pleasure. Or pick and choose, one story at a time, depending on your mood.  (It’s 82 pages in regular print, but with digital, only your own personal device will determine how many “pages” you actually have once the book is downloaded.)STOCKING W. STORIES FRONT COVER FOR KINDLE - ED 2.

Some of you will have read a few of these stories, since I’ve posted many of them right here on the blog, but several have been re-written and enlarged since their original posting.

So if you’re looking for a little more holiday atmosphere, check out STOCKING FULL OF STORIES at the Kindle Store. Give yourself a gift this Christmas: fill your stocking with these stories of the season. And while your ordering, go ahead and send one to someone you love.

(If you don’t own a Kindle device, you can download a free Kindle app for any device you use.)

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‘Going Home’ — a short, short story

My friend Dawn, a photographer and host of the blog “The Day After,” posted this beautiful photograph on her site a few days ago. It so captured my attention that it eventually inspired a short story – a Christmas story, if you will. She has given me permission to use her picture for my story post – and for my upcoming book of short, short stories and poetry, which will also include “Going Home.” Be sure and go over to visit her site and enjoy all of her other terrific photographic work.

DAWN'S PHOTO OF SNOWY RR TRACK

GOING HOME

I have a family somewhere.  I must have.  I can feel it.  Admittedly, I don’t have a clue where they are, but I’ve made up my mind that I’ll find them.” I spoke the words somberly as Dr. Randall sat looking at me. I’d been thinking those same words over and over for weeks, but that day, I’d decided to say them out loud. They sounded good, but they sent a shiver of fear coursing through me.

But you’re sure you’ve had no flashes of memories since you regained consciousness?” he asked.

None,” I responded, shaking my head. It still hurt when I moved it to any extent. I winced, and he walked over to the wall-mounted light, slapping up my latest x-ray for us to look at. He pointed to an area we’d been discussing for the past two months. “Well, this is encouraging, Peter (my choice of temporary names we’d resorted to since I had no identification on me.)

What’s encouraging?”

This area right here,” he said, running his index finger around in a circle over one spot on the picture of my brain. “It used to be covered in heavy shadows, if you remember.” I nodded.

But those shadows are gone now. Yesterday’s CAT scan confirms what I’m seeing here – that the bleeding has stopped completely, and the last of the old blood is cleared away. The tissues look like they are almost normal again.”

Then why can’t I remember anything?” He sat back down, relaxing in his chair, his hands on the two armrests. “We don’t know, Peter. As I told you earlier, with memory, it’s sometimes as much an emotional recovery as a physical one that’s required for complete restoration. By the way, any idea yet why you chose the name Peter?”

I shook my head. “The frustration is almost unbearable, you know. It’s now my constant companion, and I fight really hard to keep it from driving me crazy.”

He sighed and straightened in his chair, resting his elbows on the desk in front of him. “I can only imagine – albeit that imagination is helped along considerably by all the research I’ve done and the other amnesia patients I’ve worked with.” He sighed again. “And I always find myself a little frustrated as well. I want to remember for them, if you know what I mean.”

I nodded. “Yes, I can understand that.”

I struggled terribly the first time or two that I worked with amnesia patients. All the textbooks and clinical studies didn’t prepare me adequately for the emotional trauma in the patient – or the emotional turmoil that the attending physician can find himself in. But – ” He smiled suddenly. “The really good news is that in every one of the twenty cases I’ve been associated with, the patient regained either all or most of his memory.

“There were two patients whose memories for certain segments of life remained fleeting. But even those two people were able to recognize close family and friends again and were able to return to their normal occupations – one with a short period of re-training in some complex work that his job required. So the future looks bright, Peter. And, as I’ve said several times already, keeping a positive attitude and positive thoughts can make a world of difference.”

I’ll keep trying, Doctor,” I said on a sigh as I rose to go.

And don’t discount prayer, my friend. Pastor Patterson, who’s been visiting you and praying for you, has seen some pretty heavy-duty miracles in his ministry.”

I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

Oh, have you changed your mind about the online search?”

Not as of this morning. I understand that, considering I was found beaten up out in a field, the police naturally had to run my picture through their data base. And I don’t mind telling you that I heaved a huge sigh of relief when that didn’t turn up anything. But I still can’t bear the idea of seeing my picture plastered all over the internet with a plea for someone to tell me who I am. Just the thought of how vulnerable that makes me has been too much to deal with. But … my resolve on the subject is beginning to weaken. It’s almost Christmas, and although the townspeople have been very hospitable to me, I don’t want to feel I’m the object of charity at some family’s Christmas gathering. I want to be home for Christmas!”

I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I added, “In fact, I got to thinking about the song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” so much that I went on a search for it at the library yesterday. I found a holiday CD with that song as the first track. I’ve already played it a dozen times.”

Dr. Randall’s eyes lit up. “That’s good; that’s good. Keep playing it. Something within the deepest part of you led you to that song, and who knows what keys it may hold to open doors for you.”

As I put on my coat, I asked one more question: “Now that the bleeding has stopped, can I start working around the farm for the Morgans? They’ve given me free room and board for five weeks now – ever since I got out of the hospital.”

I’d say you’re fine to do a little work, but keep it to just three or four hours a day for the rest of this week, and we’ll see how it goes. If the headaches get worse, stop and lie down a while.”

As I left the office I felt lighter than I had for weeks. At least I would be able to repay Edgar and Becky Morgan for their kindness in taking me into their home when I had no place to go – no money – no extra clothes – not even a name. But someday ….

~

The following Tuesday, I rode with Edgar over to Stockbridge for supplies. About a mile before we reached the city limits, we crossed a railroad track. Out of habit, I glanced both ways, and when my eyes swept left, a jolt of recognition forced me to suck in an audible breath. About a hundred feet beyond the crossing, the track made a wide curve to the right, winding around a small hillside. On either side of the tracks, the banks were snow-covered, and a thin blanket of snow lay between the rails like confectioners sugar forming a pattern over the long trail of railroad ties as far as my eyes could see.

I’ve been here!” The words were out before I could consciously think them.

What’s that?” Edgar asked. “You remember somethin’?”

I grabbed his shoulder, “I’ve been here Edgar! I’ve been down this railroad track. Would you pull off the road for a minute?”

Sure,” he said, navigating the truck over to the wide shoulder and coming to a stop. “But, Son, you know as well as I do that train tracks can look pretty much the same all over the country.”

No, Edgar,” I said, shaking my head. “Not this time. I know these tracks and that curve. It hit me as soon as I saw it. I’ve been around that curve on a train going down this very track!”  I spoke the next words through a catch in my throat: “Edgar, this train track goes around that curve and leads to a place that knows me. A place that knows my name; knows who I am, Edgar!”

I got out of the car and walked several feet along the track. It was bitter cold, and I knew I couldn’t keep Edgar out here very long, but I also knew I had to ride down that track. I walked back and got into the car, looking at the old man, whose eyes clearly showed his worry on my behalf.

You and Becky have been so good to me, Edgar, and I know I can never completely repay you, so I really do hate to ask for more, but I need to ride down this track from this point to all points south until I come to my home. Could you possibly loan me the money for a ticket?”

I could see confusion and turmoil in his eyes. I could almost hear him thinking, what would Becky tell me to do? That thought must have worked because suddenly he smiled at me. “I don’t mind loanin’ you the money, Son, but I’ll do it on only one condition: you have to make me a promise that if you get where you think you’re goin’, and it ain’t what you expected, then you’ll come back here to us.”

Edgar, you old coot. That’s exactly the kind of thing Becky would say.”

He grinned. “I know it. And that’s how I know it’s the right answer.”

I promise I’ll come back and let you and Becky know what I found. That’s the best I can do. If that’s not good enough to get me a loan, then I’ll just have to walk the track.”

Edgar shook his head, knowing he was beaten. “You’ll get your loan. We’ll see if we can get you a ticket from the train office here in town.”

~

I was scheduled to leave in two days, so I stopped in to let Dr. Randall know what had transpired. He was excited and encouraged me to pursue the plan.

Becky held onto me in a tight hug the morning I left for Stockbridge. And she did, indeed, say exactly what Edgar had said to me. I gave her the same promise. With tears in her eyes, she just nodded that she accepted it as the only promise I could make right then. I was so indebted to them that it seemed I’d never be able to repay them, and that weighed heavily on me. But if I could ever get my life back, surely I could make enough money to do something for them in return.

Edgar was riding the train with me for the first two stops on the destination. That would put him off at Stone’s Quarry. He had a friend there who did business in Stockbridge and would give him a ride back. As we prepared to board, my stomach quivered. My hands shook. I forced myself to take a slow, deep breath and stepped onto the platform. Once we were seated, I leaned out the window to watch the last activities of departure.

As the train lurched into motion, a scene flashed across my mind: big people in heavy winter coats – surrounding me. I held tightly to a hand – someone much taller than I — but — who? I strained to see who held my hand so comfortingly, but the image vanished as quickly as it had come. I shook my head in frustration. “Somethin’ wrong?” Edgar asked.

“I just had a flash of memory. I was on this train – evidently as a child, because I was holding tightly to the hand of someone much bigger, but I couldn’t see who!”

Edgar patted my arm. “Well, you know what Doc Randall said. Don’t strain. Let it come easy-like.”

Since we had boarded the train on the far north end of Stockbridge, we had to travel almost three miles before we came to the curve. There was a small platform between our car and the engine, and I had arranged with the conductor to have permission to stand on that platform as we rounded the curve so that I could see clearly. For some reason that mattered to me. The train company had frowned on that plan, of course, out of safety considerations, but my personal plea to the conductor, once he understood my problem, resulted in his compassionate agreement to my request.

As Edgar and I walked toward the door to exit the compartment, a brief conversation flashed through my memory. “But where’s Grandmama?” I heard myself asking. “She will not be riding the train, Peter. She’ll be at the station to meet us at the end of our trip.” I tried to see who spoke to me, but there were no images with the conversation at all. Had it been my mother? Surely it had. But what did she look like?

By that time we were standing on the platform, and Edgar was holding onto my arm – whether to comfort me or to keep his balance better I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t matter. His touch did comfort me. He spoke: “Peter, I know you’re excited … and I guess I’m excited for you. But … Son … I just don’t want you to get your hopes up too high. Train tracks can look the same in a lot of places …” His words hung there for a moment, and then I glanced at him and reached to pat his hand. My eyes immediately returned to watching us round the curve, but I answered him, my voice strong with a confidence I had not experienced since waking up in the hospital.

Don’t you worry, Edgar. Around this curve and down these tracks is a place that knows me. These tracks are taking me home, my friend.” I glanced back at him with what I know was a giddy grin on my face. “Just like the song says, Edgar: I’ll be home for Christmas!”
~~~

~ The End ~

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© 2013 Sandra Conner

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