My Two Favorite Christmas Stories

Bridget & Santa 2Most of you–dare I say all of you?–are familiar with the iconic tale of Ralphie and the coveted Red Ryder BB gun “with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.” In years to come, I imagine Ralph and his family reliving those moments that led up to his receiving that amazing gift: Flick’s grizzly bear, the dreaded “fudge” word, Randy bundled up for the cold and unable to lower his arms, Mom’s brilliant disposal of the hated lamp, and the Old Man’s facility with language.

Every family has it stories centered around the holidays. These are two of mine:

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THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

The yearly trip to pick out a Christmas tree continues to be a big deal for me and my husband; an event we look forward to with anticipation and delight despite not having family–in particular, small children–nearby to share it with.

One year, we drove to a Christmas tree farm in Mystic, CT recommended to us by an acquaintance. On the back seat lay a blanket to protect the car roof, a bow saw, and plenty of stout rope to secure the tree to the car … plus a silent reminder to NOT tie the doors shut as we had one year.

The farm proved to be everything we hoped for–quintessentially Currier and Ives; rustic and without all the hoo-haws and folderol-fiddle-dee-dees adopted by too many places that turn the yearly Christmas tree endeavor into an amusement park. If I sound hum-buggish, I don’t mean to. I just don’t understand why people can’t appreciate for the moment as it is, rather than needing hay rides and mazes and … well … stuff. This place was different; quiet. There was a machine to shake and net the tree (a lovely invention), a small fire for customers to gather round and warm their hands, a pack of friendly farm dogs, and oodles of helpful folk. They pointed us toward the fields of trees, and we set off.

It was a wonderfully crisp day. A dusting of snow that had fallen the night before lent itself to the magic of the moment. As we plodded along, scuffing our boots through tall stands of frost-burned grass and bits of glittery snow, we heard on every side the voices of other families looking for their special tree.

This area was dense with growth, so all we could see of our fellow shoppers was a vague outline or a sense of motion behind a screen of boughs. Off to our right, we could hear the crunch of boots and three voices–two children (a boy and a girl, by the sound of it), and a woman, probably their mother. We couldn’t make out what was being said, but there was a certain petulant whine to the kids’ voices that made it easy to guess–they were cold, or hungry, or (fill in the blank). Whatever they were, unhappy was a big part of it.

The boy’s voice lifted slightly. We still couldn’t make out the words, but the lift at the end marked it as a question. His mother’s reply–exasperated and LOUD–rang clear in cold air for everyone to hear:

“BECAUSE IT’S THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS! NOW SHUT UP!”

Dead silence followed … for all of two seconds, and then the entire tree lot, all those hidden families, burst into laughter.

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A VISIT WITH ST. NICHOLAS

I love Santa Claus. In my personal pantheon, he’s right up there with Captain Kangaroo; a kindly gent who loves me no matter what.  As my friends and I grew into adulthood, they put aside “rubbish” like Santa with a rapid ease I found disconcerting. I, on the other hand, chose to hang tight to my childlike belief in Santa and all he can stand for.

The first year we lived here in Connecticut, we ended up at BJ’s Warehouse on Christmas Eve afternoon. Don’t ask me why; I can’t recall. Our shopping was done, our packages and cards mailed. The kids weren’t with us that year, so we were anticipating a quiet day of just us and the three cats. Ed was on shift work at the time and had to go in Christmas morning for part of the day, and we hadn’t met many people, leastwise not the sort who’d invite strangers to their homes on Christmas, so I was anticipating a somewhat lonely day, low-key and a little depressing.

We were both wearing our Santa hats as we entered the store. As we passed the candy aisle, Ed said, “Hang on. I forgot to get a cart.” Off he went. As I stood waiting for him, a voice spoke behind me; a voice with a decidedly Germanic accent.

“Are you in competition vis me?”

I turned around. As God is my witness, it was Santa Claus.

Less than five feet tall. (Remember, Santa’s supposed to be an “elf” according to the Moore poem.) A round,comfortably chubby belly. Black boots, red pants, suspenders, white shirt, hat. (No coat; we’d yet to have snow that year and it was unseasonably warm that night.) Long white beard. Wire-rimmed glasses of old-fashioned design. Sparkling eyes. An impish smile and rosy apple cheeks. Heck, I don’t have to describe him to you. You know what Santa looks like.

And there he was. Real.

With a shopping basket over one arm.

I blinked, stunned for an instant, and laughed. “Competition?” I asked. “Never with you!” I spontaneously hugged him, and he returned it. “What are you doing here on Christmas Eve?” I asked.

“Buying candy, of course,” he replied. He winked and went off down the aisle.

Ed was back in less than a minute. “What happened to you?” he asked, giving me an odd look.

I was beaming, my cheeks stretched so high and tight that they ached. “Santa buys his stocking candy at BJs,” I said.

“What?”

“Just look down the candy aisle.”

He did. “What?” I looked. Santa was nowhere to be seen. In seconds, he’d come and gone. I scoured the store, but he’d vanished … leaving behind a touch of Christmas magic for someone badly in need of it.

Believe what you like. I know the truth.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Christmas Memories

When I was a child, I believed our Christmas tree ornaments were alive. When we packed them away in January–each swaddled in its separate wrapping of tissue paper and tucked into a box marked “Special Ornaments;” a visual history of our family or, at least, of my childhood–I believed they settled down for that “long winter’s nap” Clement Clarke Moore wrote of in A Visiting from St. Nicholas. 

I imagined them shifting to get comfortable, snuggling down one against the other before drifting off to sleep.

I believed that the roll of our year seemed but one long night to them. When my dad carried the boxes down from the attic the following December, I’d gently open each lid and whisper, “Good morning. Merry Christmas. It’s time to get up.” They would stir … stretch … yawn … and greet me with excitement, as happy as I was that we were reunited for another holiday.

I’m fast approaching my 61st birthday, and I still believe. Each year when I carry out the plastic bins that hold our collection of (“way too many” according to some friends) ornaments and open the lids, I sense their vitality and that thrum of excitement. Time to wake up! Time to hang on the tree!

The first year my husband and I wound up with a smaller tree than usual, it was clear right from the beginning that we couldn’t possibly fit every ornament. His solution was simple and logical: choose our favorites and leave the rest packed.

I was horrified. “You can’t do that! They wait all year for this moment!”

To his credit, he didn’t look at me as if I’d grown another head. “Well, what are we supposed to do? Get a second tree?”

BINGO! I found a table-top artificial tree at Goodwill, put in on our back porch, and decorated it. It was lovely.

This year, we ran into the same situation. The narrow tree fits our living room beautifully, but–alas–it’s too small to hold all the ornaments. We also own a full-size artificial tree we purchased a few years back. Up it came from the basement and now it stands in our dining room, bedecked and bejeweled. I know some visitors will find us odd to have two trees but, really, if they’re friends, they already know we’re odd and they love us anyway.

And, boy, are those trees beautiful!

2017-12-10 18.37.30

Tree #1

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Tree #2

Great Event in Colchester

Thanks to the folks at Books and Boos Press for including me in a terrific day in Colchester, CT, selling books and talking about writing.

Apologies in general to all for my silence here. After a bout of bad weather, I took a tumble in the woods behind my home and wound up with a crack rib. My time behind the computer has been in fits and starts due to pain. I hope in the coming weeks to be better about keeping in touch.

Resource for Free Photos

victoryBloggers like to include pictures to illustrate what they write, but often don’t have something at hand. Visual Hunt takes the pain out of searching for that perfect photograph. With over 300,000,000 images to choose from, there’s something for everyone.

According to their site, “High quality free photos in one place. We hunt for best free images from many online sources and pull them all together in one spot. Most of our photos are CC0 license (do whatever you want). Additionally we offer all Creative Commons and Public Domain photos from sources like Flickr and make it possible to embed them directly from our website.”

Happy browsing!

 

RIP Len Wein

Len

Len, looking as he did when we first met

I can’t say I knew Len Wein, not at all. Harlan Ellison introduced us during a convention on Long Island (and we shared a truly memorable ride back to NYC in a friend’s van with–God help us–Harlan driving, excoriating the other drivers as we shot along the LI Expressway at roughly the speed of light). Fate threw us together at one other convention long enough to say “hi, yes I remember you, how’s things” before we went our separate ways and never saw each other again.

On the off-chance some of you reading this don’t recognize his name or know who he was–was; I had a  hard time writing that word–let me tell you just t his little bit: He was a writer of great heart and soul. He co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing, and revived X-Men with artist Dave Cockrum. He was a legend.

More than that, he was kind, a gentleman, funny as hell, and possessed an incandescent smile. We weren’t friends. We didn’t hang out or call or email. But I liked him, admired him, knew he was out there somewhere in the world, and that was a good thing to know.

And now he’s gone. And we can talk about Heaven, or the Universe, or the Cosmos, or how there’s another star in the night sky, but the truth is, it hurts. And it stinks. And I’m angry because he was taken way too soon.

RIP, Len. Thanks for the laughter on that long-ago ride. Thanks for being kind and gentle toward a newbie fan who could barely get her head out of her ass. Thank you for all the great stories. You’ll be missed.

Len3

WTF?

confused-2681507_1920It’s the weirdest damn thing.

I have this blog, see, but I also have the “The Man Who Loved Elephants” site where I speak–or write, rather–more directly to that particular book, what brought it about, and offer stories about Roger and the elephants.

Great, right? Yeah, it is. And the response has been really encouraging and I thank all of you who have checked it out and chosen to follow it.

But what’s strange is the number of “likes” I get that, when I go to check them out–as I invariably do because I’d like to offer a personal thank you–turn out to be porn-related sites.

??!!??

Not sure where they’re coming from, unless they think “elephant” is a euphemism for … something. Or maybe these people just randomly “like” sites? Or maybe these sites are actually robots? To what point and purpose? I know there are those of you out there who are way, WAY more computer-savvy than I am. Isn’t life confusing enough?

Or maybe there’s some other connection?

I’m afraid to ask.

Book Launch!

Three on a matchI’m pleased to announce that THREE ON A MATCH is now available for purchase directly from me (send me an email if interested), and will also be available on Amazon as of Tuesday, September 5.

Be prepared to be shocked to your socks.

In Splendid Chyna by Kristi Petersen Schoonover, a woman’s hope for a fresh start changes to terror when a dark secret proves that while she may be done with the past–but it’s not done with her.

All’s Well That Ends by g. Elmer Munson harkens back to the classic pulp stories of old when a routine call turns bloody for police officer Angel Lewis.

My own story, Thicker Than Water pits an innocent young woman against the witch hunter determined to find her guilty.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to my fellow authors (see below), thank the folks at Books and Boos Press, and in particular thank Kristi Petersen Schoonover for planning and executing our fantastic book launch party last night. Thank you, ma’am!

Book Release Party