Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Growing up there was one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas designated as the day Mom and Grandma shopped for presents. They would leave the house at dawn and return at bedtime full of whispers and excited tiredness.
I grew into the ritual when I could be trusted with secrets and too old to sit on Santa’s lap. I got to join the ritual of sharing space with crowds of eager shoppers surrounded by twinkling lights and red-suited bell ringers.
Then I became a mother creating Christmas rituals for my own little girls –dresses of red and green, ornaments out of reach of tiny hands, bedtime stories replaced carols, gaily wrapped gifts and squeals of laughter and Grandma spending Christmas at my house and the shopping day at the mall to search for perfect gifts.
But Christmas had lost its magic for Grandma. Stiff with old age and arthritic bones she tired easily, and complained that we spent too much, bought too many presents, hurried too much. Endless complaints threatened to spoil the holiday.
I looked at twinkling lights and at Grandma - the day before Christmas - and find her the perfect Christmas gift.
I saw Santa’s Ginger-Bread House and said, “Let’s go talk to Santa, Grandma.” She mumbled something about being silly. I locked onto her bony arm steering her quickly towards Santa and his elves. “We want to sit on your lap and have our picture taken.”
Grandma hated having her picture taken but sat down reluctantly. Santa coaxed a rare smile from Grandma’s puckered, ruby-red lips. Afterwards I helped her from Santa’s knee and I tucked the Polaroid snapshot into my purse to show my little girls when we got home.
Christmas morning I pulled a small gift from a huge pile of boxes and bows. Grandma held it in her hands and shook it, still irritated at being pulled out of bed by the laughter of grandchildren eager to open presents. She gingerly removed the wrapping paper and fixed a puzzled stare at a transistor radio.
I came to her rescue attached headphones, placed them on her head, turned the dial on the side and watched her eyes for enlightenment. This was the perfect gift for Grandma; her favorite pastime was listening to baseball games, but she turned the volume up too loud. Not wanting to remind her of her deafness, I said “Now you can listen to your baseball games, Grandma, even when a storm blows out the power at your house.”
Grandma looked so sweet, sitting in the rocking chair Christmas morning, in flowered housecoat and fuzzy socks, hair flattened from sleep, holding a small black radio with wires in her ears. Her bright blue eyes sparkled behind wire-rimmed glasses and I saw a glimmer of a younger Grandma excited by a present bought just for her. I snapped the camera and she gave me the perfect Christmas gift—Grandma smiled and said “Thank you”.
The Santa Claus Myth
“I know he’s going to find out eventually. Of course, he’s picking it up at school. But the older kids can be so cruel to the little ones. If he ruins it for his younger sister…” Mary shook her head.
“Um hum,” Vera said as she continued to make centerpieces for the fundraiser.
“Here he is. Billy, do you want some hot chocolate?” Mary asked.
Once Billy was at table with chocolate Vera said, “So, Billy, is Santa going to bring you lots of goodies?”
“There isn’t any Santa Claus!” Billy said with the passion of a convert.
“Is that so?” Vera ignored Mary’s hostile glance.
“Nobody could go around the world in one night! Your parents buy stuff and put Santa’s name on it.”
“Well, that’s the first part. What about the second part?”
“What second part?” Billy asked suspiciously.
You know you have to pass some tests to become an adult, right? There’s a reason that adults pretend that one kind and generous guy delivers all the toys on Christmas Eve. It’s a test. The first part is when you figure out that’s impossible. Did you figure out the second part?”
“There isn’t any second part,” Billy said uncertainly.
“Lots of kids pass the first part and fail the second part. You’ve seen them at school – the ones telling the really little kids that there isn’t any Santa Claus? Sometimes they even make them cry. You’ve seen that, right?”
Billy said nothing but wore a guilty look.
“To pass the second part you have to become Santa Claus.”
“There isn’t any…”
“Right, there isn’t one person who is Santa Claus, because Santa Claus is all of us. Once you figure out that there isn’t anyone out there who will be kind and generous to little kids, then you decide to be kind and generous to them yourself. That’s what makes the difference between a little kid, who believes in Santa Claus and a big kid who keeps the secret and works to make Christmas a special time for little kids. Those mean kids who run around telling little kids that there is no Santa Claus are just little kids in a big kid’s body. They passed the first part of the test but failed the second. It will take them a really long time to become grown ups. You wouldn’t tell a little kid that there’s no Santa Claus, would you, Billy?”
“There’s some kids at school who tell the little kids that there’s no Santa Claus,” Billy deflected.
“That’s really sad. I hope you wouldn’t say something like that to a little kid.”
“That’s great, Billy! That makes you a Santa Claus, too! Congratulations! You’re a big kid now.”
“If you’re done with your chocolate, you could go do your homework,” Mary said.
Once Billy left Mary turned to Vera, “Thank you.”
“I hate Christmas bullies,” Vera said. “How many more centerpieces are we making?”
© Jane Burch-Pesses
© Jane Burch-Pesses
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
From Vannessa McClelland (member, Westside Writers)
“Such a magnificent tree. As good as the one at the Davenport,” Michael said, head craning back, his hair cascading down his back. A five pointed star twinkled at the peak. “Who did all this?”
“You’ll stay?” Nash asked. Michael nodded.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Maggie stared upwards into the steel gray sky. The giant oak’s branches were barely visible 20 feet above her, shrouded in fog. Brittle brown leaves fell softly, plastering the lawn she’d just raked clear. She sighed at the futility of it all.
Jim would have made her laugh at herself. And then he would have leapt into a pile of leaves, scattering them everywhere.
God, how she missed him. Especially with Christmas coming.
Maggie could hardly believe he’d been gone a year already. The weight of the silence pressed heavily upon her. Wrapping her heather gray sweater tightly around herself, she hung up her rake and gardening gloves and went inside.
Determined, Maggie backed the car out of the garage and headed south. She remembered how much Jim enjoyed their frequent drives into the surrounding countryside, and sensed he was with her in spirit, as she headed out on this new journey.
Maggie pulled into the parking lot 20 minutes later and leapt out of the car before she could lose her courage. She plodded into the concrete, one-story building with children’s paintings in the lobby. As she rounded the corner, 20 dogs erupted in a cacophony of barking, each vying for Maggie’s attention.
She looked carefully at each dog, leaning down to pet and speak with them. At the very end of the row, a tri-color border collie lay on his bed, curled in a ball, disinterested in all the fuss and excitement. Maggie squatted down in front of his kennel and held out a piece of cheddar cheese. The dog’s ears perked up and the tip of his tail began to wag ever so slightly.
“Hey, boy,” Maggie said. “What’s your name? How did you end up here?” She slowly reached out a hand and gently scratched his fuzzy head. He looked up at her then, and their eyes locked. Maggie saw his intelligence, and he saw how much she needed him. The border collie nimbly got to his feet and licked Maggie’s hand.
The next day, Maggie and Max the border collie raked leaves together in the backyard. Max dashed about madly, chasing squirrels and falling leaves. Finally Maggie raked the last leaf into the pile and hung up her rake. Max took a running leap and dove into the file, barking excitedly. He climbed out, shaking leaves from his thick coat. Max looked back over his shoulder at Maggie mischievously, tongue lolling out in a doggie grin, eyes shining brightly.
Maggie laughed out loud. “I think you’ve been very naughty this year, Max…but Santa may still bring you some cheese.”