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Archive for November, 2010

 

The year was 1974. It was ‘our’ first Christmas (the ‘our’ being Patty and me). I probably wouldn’t have included this story in my blog, but how could I leave out my one and only Christmas story that had a direct connection to Oz?

On Santa’s Lap

Ted McMartin had lost his job in the second week of October. And although his job hadn’t been much, it did help him and his wife meet the monthly expenses, cover the hospital costs for their recently born second child, and clothe and feed Keith, their five-year old son.

As fall turned into winter it didn’t look like a job would come calling for Ted, but he continued walking the streets looking for a job…and finding nothing until one day when he came upon an ad for a part-time position as a department store Santa Claus.

Ted applied for the job…and got it.

Two days before Christmas, Keith was amongst the many boys and girls on line to see Santa Claus. Ted could feel his heart beat faster as he saw Keith get closer and closer.

It was bad enough, Ted thought, not to be able to buy Keith any Christmas presents, but now he might wind up spoiling the magic of the season by shattering his son’s belief in Santa Claus.

When it was finally Keith’s turn to hop on Santa’s lap, Ted looked down at his son. He had never stopped to realize how beautiful a gift his son was to him.

Ted smiled down on Keith as he picked him up and sat him down on his lap.

And for what seemed like an eternity to Ted, Keith just looked up at him. “The game is up,” Ted thought, “he recognizes me.”

But if he did, Keith never let on. All Ted saw was a sparkling smile on his son’s face that advertised the wonder and magic of childhood.

“Santa.” Keith said, “Will you be coming to my house this year?”

“Sure,” Ted answered in his best Santa voice. “Why do you ask?”

“I heard my daddy say there wasn’t going to be a Christmas at our house this year. He said we didn’t have any money.

“Don’t you go worrying yourself. Everything will work out. Santa will take care of everything.”

Ted sounded so convincing; he almost began to believe himself.

“Well,” Keith told Santa, “if you do come, would you bring something to make my mommy and daddy happy. And bring some toys for my baby sister.”

“What about you? Don’t you want anything?”

“I just want one thing. A Tin Man.”

“A Tin Man?”

“You know. The Tin Man. From The Wizard of Oz.”

“A Tin Man?” Ted wondered. “How am I ever going to get Keith a Tin Man?”

Keith looked up at Ted waiting for a response.

“I’ll do my best.”

Keith said, “I know you will”, as he stretched up past Santa’s whiskers and planted a kiss on his cheek.

“I love you, Santa,” he said.

Well, needless to say, Ted couldn’t find a Tin Man for Keith, but he did get him a copy of The Wizard of Oz book.

If Keith was disappointed in not getting a Tin Man for Christmas, he didn’t let the disappointment show. Instead he announced how happy he was to get the book, and happier still that Ted took the time to read it to him.

All that happened way back in 1940….before the Second World War, before Korea, and before Viet Nam. It happened before all the myths had been destroyed.

This year fate returned in the guise of 1940. Ted McMartin, age 61, was forced to take early retirement, and Keith, age 39, was sidelined from work while his company was out on strike.

It looked like it was going to be a lean Christmas. There would still be the exchange of gifts, only this year it would be an exchange of smaller and fewer gifts.

Ted and Keith had always made a big thing about exchanging gifts with each other. With childlike enthusiasm they would tear into the gifts they had given each other. And this year was no different.

Ted and Keith handed each other the single gift they had been able to afford to buy this year. They ceremoniously tore the wrapping off their gifts, and simultaneously opened the boxes.

Ted pulled his gift out of the box and Keith did the same. They looked at their gifts, then up at each other.

Ted had finally lived up to Santa’s promise by giving Keith a statue of the Tin Man. Keith had given his father the same gift.

As Ted and Keith admired their shiny silver statues, Keith moved over to his father.

“I knew that one day you’d make good on your promise,” Keith told his father. He then bent down and kissed his father on the cheek.

“I love you….Santa Claus,” was all Keith said, and all he had to say.

(Note: You know you’re old when black and white photos from your childhood have turned a sepia tone.)


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…a story was stirring. In truth, I wrote my first original Christmas story in 1972 and mailed it with a card I had designed. I had no intention of starting a ‘tradition,’ but I wrote another original Christmas story in 1973, and before I knew it I was writing a story every year. This year I wrote what is my 39th original Christmas story. Since it is Christmastime, I thought I would post some of my stories beginning with the ‘original’ original from 1972. I will continue to post another story every two or three days. The stories I post will be as they were without any editing. Please note that the stories written in ‘the beginning’ are shorter than the more recent ones largely because the first ones were typed the old-fashioned way…on a typewriter, so I was limited to a single sheet of paper to tell a story. (Some of my readers might wish that I would go back to typing stories on a single sheet of paper.)

So, here it goes. The year is 1972 and I was 10 (right, I wish).

A LITTLE WHITE DOVE.

Just this side of somewhere, almost before you get to some place, stood a very ordinary house on a very ordinary block in a very ordinary town. This ordinary house was filled with ordinary furniture and commonplace decorations of the five and ten variety. And living in this ordinary house were two ordinary parents; two ordinary girls and one most  ‘unordinary’  little boy.

This ordinary family was ordinary in every way, from conversations at the supper table to the little arguments that erupted over “he said and she said.”  They took ordinary vacation trips to the mountains one summer and to the shore another summer.

Holidays, too, were quite ordinary.  A flag would be raised on a white pole on flag day, a carved pumpkin put out on the porch for Halloween, a set of Indian corn hung on the door for Thanksgiving, and a pine wreath wired to the front door every Christmas.  Of all the holidays, Christmas was the only one that almost became ‘unordinary’. There was a little less fighting and a little more cooperation.

Christmas was the little ‘unordinary’ boy’s happiest time of year because it made his family a happy family.  No high-priced, battery not included, plastic toy could match his happiness when his family was happy.

When this ordinary family decorated the Christmas tree, the house was filled with love. They had a particularly ‘unordinary’ ritual in decorating the tree.  After all the new and shiny ornaments were hung on the tree, and the lights were turned on for the first time, the last ornament…a little white dove was placed on the lowest bough by the little  ‘unordinary’ boy.

Over the years  while many of the older ornaments were replaced by newer ones, the little white dove was had been knocked off the tree  and sometimes deliberately taken off by a child so it could be played with. Sometimes the little white dove was carelessly tossed on the floor where it was stepped on by many a (fat) great-aunt, and sniffed at by the family dog.

The family had meant to throw out the little white dove years ago when it first started to look shabby, but the little ‘unordinary’ boy said it was his favorite ornament. (Even if the rest of the family wouldn’t admit it, the little white dove was their favorite ornament, too.)

Last Christmas, after the tree had been decorated, the little ‘unordinary’  boy announced he couldn’t find the little white dove. It was nowhere to be found, and this made the little ‘unordinary’ boy very sad.

And you know what? It also made the rest of the family very sad, too.

So they all went to bed on Christmas Eve, ‘unordinarily’ unhappy for such a wondrous night.

When they awoke on Christmas morning, they went out to the living room where they overlooked all the neatly wrapped presents because they saw the little white dove hanging on the lowest bough.

For some reason the tree stood taller, the lights grew brighter, and the smiles on the children grew wider.

At the end of the day, after all the company had gone home, the little ‘unordinary’ boy picked the little white dove up from the floor where it had been knocked…and trampled, and loved a bit by all the small children who had come to visit. And the little boy thought how this had been his happiest Christmas.

To this day nobody actually knows how the little white dove managed to appear on the Christmas tree that morning.

Cynics would call the whole story hogwash…but what do cynics know, anyway, because they never smile or laugh or dream.

But anyone who does dream will know the little white dove appeared because it was part of the miracle that is Christmas, the miracle that is love.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?


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‘Twas the week before Thanksgiving and all through the…. No, that’s not right, but that popular phrase could equally be applied to Thanksgiving. “On stuffing, on biscuits, on gravy, on…

Whatever. Equally whatever is the real reason behind Thanksgiving on the YBR. For most people it’s a holiday stuffed into the calendar between Halloween and Christmas. A day of excess between two other days of excess.

How many of us know that it was at the height of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln issued(1863) a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November as a national day of Thanks. (It was celebrated on that day until FDR changed the day in 1939 to the third Thursday, the day my parents were married.)

Very few people know that in the same year Lincoln made his Thanksgiving proclamation he issued another one of equal, if not, of greater importance. Following is part of that proclamation:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

“It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

“Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

“All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”

Just something to think about this Thanksgiving because unless we shoulder the responsibilities that come from living in a land of liberty, we stuff our turkeys for naught.

Personally I have too many things to be thankful for that could be contained in a blog. However, I do want to go on ‘blog’ and publicly thank my family (Patty; Jennifer , Bryan, Jillian and Brielle;Jeremy, Sarah and Andrew;Nick and Court; and Kieran) because they mean everything to me.

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bee a verb

A short while ago someone I’ve only known a short time  (but have come to respect and admire) called me a ‘verb.’  I’ve never been called a ‘verb’ before.  I’ve often been called the posterior of an animal, but never a ‘verb.’

So I asked what it meant to be a ‘verb’ and he told me it means to be active, to be doing…something.

Funny how a brief exchange can get you thinking (and if you have a blog, thinking leads to blogging).

I suspect that on the YBR we should all be verbs. And if we choose to be a verb, I say, don’t be a verb in the past tense. Don’t be a verb in the future tense. (And for God’s sake don’t be a verb in the pluperfect tense because I failed that part of my grammar test.)

I say be a verb in the present tense because the time is now and it’s better to be and live in the now. Stand up and say “I am.”  And always try to avoid saying “I was” because what you were is a thing of the past. And the worst thing you can do as a verb is say “I could have been” because that only leads to excuses….”I could have been _____ if only_____.” (You fill in the blanks.)

Most people are ‘nouns.’ People say “I am a banker.” “I am a lawyer.” “I am a builder.” “I am a nurse.” “I am a teacher.” etc. ,etc., etc.

When you are a noun you limit yourself. Better to go all out and become a…sentence. (Remember a sentence needs a subject and a verb.)

But, you might say, “I am a lawyer” does contain a subject and a verb.

True, but who you are gets lost in what you are. Better to say: “I teach ” “I cure” “I defend” “I build ” “I help”

Today I believe we get stuck on the YBR because so much of our identity is found in our jobs. I think it should be the other way around. We should not be a reflection of our jobs, our jobs should be a reflection of who we are.

In the end, though, it’s all  about being a ‘verb.’ When all is said and done, the most important thing we can say is “I am.”

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I really wanted one of these when I was a kid.

This weekend my son, Nick and his wife, Courtney asked if I could lend them a hand with a few chores at their new house. Of course i said yes, but in truth, asking me to help with chores that involve tools would be like asking Typhoid Mary to give out flu shots.

Two plus hours and we had hung up two mirrors…twice, because the first time I sort of messed up. And then we were going to put up a mail box. When I read the required tools listed on the side of the box I felt like a mechanical genius. Even I knew it was going to take more than a screw driver and a pair of pliers. I think those were the tools you needed to open the box. Inside the box the instructions said you needed a wrench, a hole digger and a bag of cement (not included).

The experience brought back memories I once wrote about in an essay called: Some Assembly Required. Following is that essay without a word changed.

What are the three most frightening words in the English language?  What words when read or uttered could bring a strong man to his knees?

Shark Infested Waters?  Toxic Waste Site?  Falling Rock Zone?  Scary enough, but in my opinion, the three most frightening words in the English language are…SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to swim in shark infested waters, take a sponge bath in toxic waste site and pogo stick my way through a falling rock zone with a blasting boom box than face the specter of assembling anything, especially when it is required.

Now I know for some of you the words SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED don’t cause you to break out in a sweat, but for those of us who are lacking the “some assembly required” gene, there is nothing more frightening than to read those three words.

I come from a long line of non-assembly people who fled their homeland when they were told they were going to have to assembly the king’s new palace.  I even have it on authority that my non-assembly ancestors can trace their origin back to the dawn of time when they began building caves in trees.  They were also the same group who, following the directions stolen from the Hittites, assembled a spear in the shape of a boomerang.  Our inadequacy literally came back to haunt us.  In fact it almost wiped out our entire race.

My earliest “some assembly required” memory goes back to the days of the erector set, the metallic version of tinker toys.

Previous to my first exposure to an erector set, I had no idea I descended from non-assembly tribes.  My father tried to warn me, but did I listen?  No.  I was a know-it all kid.

I had entered into an erector set competition at my elementary school.  A dozen ten-year old boys stationed behind a row of tables with an unopened erector set in front of us.  We had been studying Paris, and we were all familiar with the Eiffel Tower.  Our job was to construct a model of the Eiffel Tower with the pieces from our Erector set.  We were given fifteen minutes to complete the task.  The entrant who erected the best Eiffel Tower first was to receive a $75 savings bond.

The judge blew his whistle and we were off in a fury of nuts and bolts and pieces of erector.  It took me less than ten seconds to realize I was in trouble.  I couldn’t get the box open.  And when I did, the contents spilled on the floor.   By the time I gathered all the pieces together most of my peers were nearly finished their project.

Not one to be daunted by overwhelming obstacles, I threw caution to the wind, not to mention my screw driver, and connected a series of metal pieces together.

When the judge yelled, “Stop,” I looked down at my contraption and then up for the nearest fire exit. On either side of me stood two models that looked so real I swore I could smell freshly baked croissants.

The judge was all smiles as he went down the table until he stopped in front of my entry.  With wide-open eyes he asked me, what was that?   I thought quickly.  Sir, I thought you told us we had to make an Awful Tower.   Isn’t mine just awful?  The truth was my exhibit looked like Paris after a bombing.

I was so traumatized by the event that I couldn’t even attend school assemblies for fear that I would have to put something together.

Attendance at Some-Assembly-Required Anonymous Meetings, where we don’t have a twelve step program because it sounds too much like directions, have helped to dim the painful memories, and made me realize I was going to have to cope in a some assembly required world.

Christmas time has always been the worst because ’tis the season to assemble bicycles, doll houses, big wheels, baby carriages….

Even though panic sets in the minute I unload the box that’s filled with dozens of lookalike parts with grooves and pre-drilled holes and a ten pound bag of nuts, bolts and screws of umpteenth sizes, it’s the directions that get me the most.  Pages and pages of them with barely readable type and illustrations that seldom resemble the pieces stretched out all across the floor.

And speaking of directions, imagine my surprise when assembling a computer stand when I was told to hold hinged door C in my right hand while pushing rod B into opening at rear, and with the other hand, snap them together.   With the other hand?

That’s what happens when products made in Romania have directions translated into English by a ten year-old who took a language correspondence course.

Would any of you with your three or four years of high school French or Spanish dare translate assembly direction for a lawn mower?

Even when I have survived a some-assembly required job I always managed to have one or two seemingly insignificant parts left over.  Over the years I have saved those left over pieces.  I believe I have enough to make a life-size replica of the Eiffel tower.

And how has my assembly disability affected my family?  At a young age their Christmas list included items like blocks, balls, string and underwear.

Today, on those rare occasions when I do enter the house carrying something that needs to be assembled, a funny thing happens.  Instead of being offered help, my children, and my wife who isn’t even in school, suddenly have a term paper due the next day.

Yes, those three frightening words have been the bane of my earthly existence, and I hope they don’t follow me when the good Lord calls me home, because I’ll immediately know where I’ve been sent for eternity if I see the words “Some Assembly Required” over the door.

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I guess Veterans Day is as good a day as any to think about heroes and the heroic, not that you need to exhibit military strength to be a hero.

Over the course of the past few years…or maybe even longer…there’s been an inordinate number of movies and books featuring amazing heroes with superhuman…everything. I also noticed that during the dame time period that there have been an equal number of movies and books about evil forces…usually from somewhere deep in space…who seem to want to scare the shit out of the human race.

While one of the genres is about the hero and the other is about the anti-hero, I have this theory why such movies and books are more popular now than perhaps ever before.

But before I get into the meat of my blog (and for those of my readers who are vegetarians, before I get into the tofu of my blog) I want to follow Dorothy down the YBR.

On the surface the Oz story has no similarity with the plethora of hero and alien fare of late. The Wicked Witches are lame compared to some of the scary characters I’ve seen in movie trailers (I don’t really go to many alien attack movies. In fact I don’t see many movie. Hmm. I must get out more.)

Anyway. I don’t think many people would consider Dorothy a hero, nor would they consider her skipping along the yellow brick road with three of the weirdest characters you might ever find in a book a hero’s journey.

But, because I have spent a number of years studying and reading about real heroes (thanks to Joseph Campbell), most of you are wrong.

Dorothy is a real hero and her journey was heroic. Crazy you say? Not really. Dorothy’s journey was the stuff of the real heroic journey. Her life was not the life she wanted to live and it took a cyclone to rip her out of her world and place her down in a strange land where she would have to find her way home, and in true heroic fashion she would not get home until she completed some tasks.

That’s exactly what the classic hero has to do. The classic hero has to go outside himself and take an inner journey and the journey demands that you wrestle with some demons to reclaim your soul/spirit. And the true hero does go back home…a different person, a stronger person. A hero.

Now, back to the point of this blog. I believe we are living in an age desperately in need of a hero. We no longer see ourselves as heroes, so we are looking out there for a hero, and unfortunately, we want a super hero – someone who can fight for justice, liberty…and the American way.

Many of us want to believe that there is someone capable of standing up for what is right. Someone who can take on the bad guys because we all feel so powerless.

And on the flip side, we also get a thrill out of all these alien attack movies because we want to point the finger of blame at someone else and we all enjoy a battle between good an evil.

I will go one step farther. I suspect that many people looked at candidate Barrack Obama as that classic and mythical hero. I think millions of people wanted him to be that super hero. I even think Obama himself want to be that hero for the world.

But…politics is not the place for heroes. Politics is a swamp that devours anyone who has a spark of nobility (well at least that’s my opinion and if you don’t like it get your own blog).

In the end, we have to find our own inner hero. We all have to go on that heroic journey even if it means traveling through a deep, dark forest, because in the end…if we are true to ourselves, the hero will come home.

And there’s no place like home.

Amen, Fini. Kaput.

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It happened in the morning. I was picking out a tie when without warning my tie rack exploded, sending about a dozen ties to the floor where I scooped them up and tossed them over the door. I didn’t have the time to organize them. I’d attend to that mundane chore when I got home. Well, I didn’t attend to that chore when I got home, nor did I take care of it the next day, nor the one after that.

When I did finally get around to it, I looked at the dozen ties in lying in disarray on the closet door and considered it not just a mess, but rather it stood as a metaphor on the YBR.

The rack of ties consisted of individual ties purchased over a long period of time. The ties were experiences, also ‘purchased’ over a long period of time. They were my ties. They were my experience. And I wore them both (yes, we do wear our experiences). Some more proudly than others.

But when I looked upon my experiences tossed ‘willy-nilly’ like ties thrown without care, it made me think how careless we can be with the ‘ties’ of our lives. It made me realize how difficult it is to introduce order into our lives, especially since all of us live such frenetic lives.

I would be the first to admit that while I can quickly and easily search my brain for some arcane final jeopardy fact about President Franklin Pierce, the author of some long-forgotten poem, and even some baseball trivia when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, I’ll be damned if I can find an electric bill that only came in yesterday’s mail.

I might never appear on a show about hoarders, but you could see me in a clip on a show about people who suffer from IDKWTHTDWI (I don’t know what the hell to do with it.) And that translates to mean, when I’m confronted with a bunch of ‘shit’, i.e. bills, forms, receipts, notes written on napkins, magazines with articles I want to re-read, etc. I suffer from clusterphobia.

And try as hard as I do to sort it all out, all I end up doing is creating little piles of crap all over the dining room table. When I look at the battlefield of assorted crap, it becomes a modern version of the loaves and the fishes, meaning that even after accumulating a ton of recyclables; I have more stuff on the table than I began with.

So what do I do? That’s easy; I scoop everything up and put it in a small plastic bin that I mark: TO BE SORTED #12. And if you ask why the #12, I’ll tell you. I label it #12 because it’s the twelfth box of material needed to be sorted.

I understand that life was supposed to get simpler in our current high-tech days, but I think our lives have become more complicated.

I want to simplify. I want to get rid of stuff. Sure I loved this and that book and if there’s anything I hate to part with it’s a book, but what are the odds of me re-reading some of the many books I have? Not very high.

I think we collect and save things for the comfort that comes from collecting and saving. I almost wish we had the ability that the computer has when you trash something. Once you dump the trash, it’s gone (but not forgotten because it’s forever stored away in the hard drive). But at least it’s out of the way.

Simplifying our lives is terribly difficult, but if you remember, Dorothy landed in Oz with a picnic basket and a dog. (She didn’t even have a change of clothes, which might be taking simplicity to the extreme.)

I finally did attend to my ties. They are all back, hanging up nicely and neatly. But they are not really in perfect order. If I have the time I’ll arrange them by color, or maybe by the date I bought them, or…

November is the time of year when we stuff the turkey. Maybe it should also be the month when we de-stuff our lives and learn to live without things we don’t really need.

 

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