Posts tagged: Christmas Tale
[Another installment of one of Dave's Christmas stories. (He is recuperating very well, prayers for continued healing and recovery are very much appreciated.) ~ Jeanie]
Good morning, Netizens…
Like other Christmas stories I have written over the years, this is an excerpt from what I call a living series I call Tales of the City and, in this case, the story is true. Although it hails from a different time, a different place in my life, and perhaps I have taken some liberties with insouciant Metaphysical Philosophy, it is a story of the Anticipation of Christmas. The Anticipation of Christmas can change people for the better, as you will quickly see.
Old Sarah stirred restlessly, laying in the pile of newspapers behind the shopping mall in Century City. Of all the places that she had found to stay, this was by far one of the best. The warm air being pumped out of the mall by huge fans beneath the street kept her warm on even the chilliest of southern California nights.
Normally nobody bothered her here either, as she was always very careful to arrive long after the crowds of shoppers had gone home, and the few security guards still on duty were inside the mall somewhere guzzling styrafoam cups of hot coffee and minding their own business.
Except, now that it was nearly Christmas, she had to adjust her schedule to compensate for the late shoppers that jammed the mall until closing time. Tonight, for example, she had not been able to tiptoe into her customary place until nearly midnight, and still she couldn't sleep.
Images of her kids, now fully grown and on their own, kept haunting her. It had been nearly five years since her divorce from Ben and she hadn't heard much from either of them since. Of course that was a two-way street, as she would be mortified for either of them to see her now. Ben didn't help much by saying some of the nasty things he'd said, either.
“That no-good rotten drunken bastard”, she muttered angrily, turning over, making certain to clutch her shopping bag close to her. “Wish his memory'd leave me alone so's I can sleep.”
She had lost her home nearly a year before, about the same time she lost her job at Carlyle's machine shop outside of Bakersfield, and when unemployment finally ran out, she had found herself, at age 54, too old to get another job and too young to retire. Shortly thereafter, she joined the ranks of the homeless on the streets of Glittertown.
It hadn't been as bad as she had first imagined. Once you learned the ropes, a body could survive with some degree of comfort living on the streets, and it was never boring. Prior to joining the homeless, Old Sarah had never really had the time or energy to just watch people. Why, they were more fascinating than anything she had ever seen. The countless types of people, the voices and the looks on their faces when they thought no one was watching them…why it almost made living on the streets worthwhile.
Now Christmas, there was a matter of a different color.
“People start being extra polite to one another at Christmas, somewhat like peaked frilly white frosting on a cake that tastes bad to begin with.” she had observed earlier in the day to Charlie, one of her few friends. “They simply aren't the same over Christmas, until all the goodness they are supposedly feeling wears off, and then they go back to being their same nasty old selves. What's even worse is the kids these days never learn what Christmas is really about…”
Charlie had thought that was particularly funny, and laughed until he started coughing. Charlie was dying of emphysema, and living off his pension in an old hotel. He had offered, time and again, to let her stay at his room, but she refused, knowing that the room barely had enough space for Charlie and his collection of Zane Grey novels, let alone her.
The morning damp had moved in, and gray was already whispering its way across the eastern sky when Sarah stirred and moved out of her spot, long before the mall employees or early shoppers began arriving.
She had just stopped off at one of her usual morning stops, a MacDonalds that stayed open all night, to buy a cup of coffee and try and filch a copy of the early morning paper.
Frustrated at not finding a paper inside the restaurant, she had gone back outside, under the glare of the Golden Arches, to check a few of the trash containers next to the bus stop for a paper to read, when she saw the guitar laying on top of a pile of greasy rubble in the dumpster behind the restaurant.
Back in the 60's she had played the guitar quite well, and used to sing in the coffeehouses of that time. That had been one of the things that Ben did that ended their marriage, once and for all, was smash up her ivory-inlaid Gibson guitar during one of his drunken rages.
Surreptitiously looking around to see if anyone was watching, she lifted the guitar carefully from amid the mix of food and paper containers in the dumpster and set it carefully aside, next to her coffee. On a whim, she dug a little deeper into the rubble and found a battered, but serviceable hardshell case for the guitar, and before she finally quit digging in the filthy dumpster, had found several books of Christmas music to boot.
“Looks like somebody else is having a tough Christmas,” she muttered to herself, carefully putting the guitar back inside the case where it belonged.
She wandered aimlessly for a few moments, her newly-acquired booty tucked under her arm, until she found the right spot, next to an old, abandoned railway spur, where no one would notice her. Sitting down, she experimentally plucked a few strings, then strummed a few notes. Yes, she could still remember quite a few chords.
An hour or so later, as the sun began climbing in the east, she carefully put the guitar inside the case, and finishing off the last of her coffee, headed purposefully toward where she customarily met Charlie each day. Charlie, as usual, was already there, sitting on the park bench, basking as the early morning sun began warming the little park where they had met, on a daily basis, more or less for the last five months.
“What's you got there, Sarah?” Charlie peered at her over the tops of his bifocals, as she strode up with the guitar case in view.
“I found this guitar in a dumpster behind the MacDonalds. It even has a case and some Christmas music, 'n there's nothing wrong with it. It ain't busted or anything. What's even better, I think I remember how to play it.”
“Well I'll be damned.” Charlie took out his pipe and a rumpled sack of pipe tobacco and began stoking up his pipe. “Let me hear you play a few tunes.”
Sarah shyly opened up the guitar case, next to her on the park bench, and took the guitar out. Like most of her fractured dreams, old memories unfolded in Sarah's mind, as she struggled to tune the guitar. She had been there once, singing in front of uplifted faces in the coffeehouses. She had once been a folk singer, back in the 60's, although in those days her Gibson and her voice were both much better.
This was a good guitar, as guitars go, although not a Gibson, still it had a straight neck, and the strings were not too bad.
The morning waned, and as they returned from their usual noontime trip to the taco vendor, sitting in the park, she played what she had hoped to be her last song for her fingers and her voice were both getting sore. Charlie, who had sat there the whole time, with a beautific smile on his face, tapping his feet to the beat, sighed deeply when she became adamant about quitting.
“Could you sing me a song, please?”
A black child, holding firmly onto the hand of a young woman behind the park bench, was struggling against the woman's insistent efforts to leave this area of the park. He asked the question again, in that same soft voice.
Sarah turned to look at him, and realized that he was blind, for he had a white cane in one hand opposite his attendant. And behind the bushes she could see a small group of children, all with white canes and escorts, getting off of a delapidated old school bus at the curb.
“Why…sure,” she stammered. “I'm really not a very good singer, though.”
“We used to have a teacher that sang to us, but he died, and now we don't have anyone to sing Christmas songs to us anymore.”
The young boy pulled his attendant, somewhat against her will, around to the front of the park bench, whereupon he prompted sat down on the grass, only to be joined by the rest of the children from the School for the Blind.
“Please…” he whispered softly. “Please sing some Christmas music for us.”
Sarah picked up the guitar once more, inwardly chiding herself for the tremor in her hands, while Charlie smiled that same enigmatic smile of his, and leaned back, puffing silently on his pipe.
She sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and then when one of the kids asked to hear it, Jingle Bells. Of course, there was a request for Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and then Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. She played nearly every song in the faded songbook, and many of them twice, even three times.
When she finally stopped to catch her breath, and to rest her fingers, she realized, with a sense of shock, that she had lost track of how long she had been playing music for these kids. The sun was going down, yet the children were sitting silently in a circle around the park bench, their sightless eyes and faces upturned, as if to capture every nuance, every phrase and tone of each song, patiently waiting for more.
Then, as suddenly as they had arrived, someone from the school, a supervisor probably, reappeared with the wheezing schoolbus, to retrieve all the children. One by one, each of them solemnly reached out to touch her face, and thank her for singing to them. When the last child had thanked her by touching her face, she and Charlie were once again alone, together.
As they trudged back the way they had came, and as the night dressed itself in its finery ready to take to the streets, in a secret corner of the park, an elderly old man dressed in a moth-eaten red suit and faded red pants, a very special old magician with a white beard known to children both sighted and unsighted throughout the world, peered over the tops of the bushes as Sarah and Charlie passed on their way into the twilight. He had delivered an early Christmas present—one battered guitar and its case for Sarah, former bag lady and musician extraordinaire, who would find it, on her way back to the meaning of Christmas.
The city, contrary to what some people think, breathes and has life. Although we hear so much about the bad things in the city, occasionally, and with no help nor assistance from us, goodness just naturally oozes forth from its concrete and steel barriers and just embraces us. The City lives.
Postscript: Although the real-life embodiment of Charlie passed on in 2000, Sarah, despite her advancing years, has gone on to a well-deserved retirement and currently lives in a senior center in Santa Monica, California. However, I have it upon good report that each Christmas she still makes the rounds to assisted-living facilities, foster care facilities and other non-profit agencies where she plays Christmas music.
[From co-blogmeister Jeanie: While Dave is recovering from a heart attack and bypass surgery and several other ailments, I am posting some of his Christmas Stories for your enjoyment. The following is from December 18, 2012.]
The China Doll
Written by Dave Laird
November 22, 2001
Copyright Dave Laird
None of the stuffed animals reclining against the overstuffed sofa in the front window of the Swap and Shop on West First Avenue actually saw the blue china doll arrive, since she was obviously inside a set of pasteboard boxes, although they all could clearly see the boxes being hauled into the front door of the old pawn shop on a dolly on Monday morning. It had been a few days since anything interesting had happened in the old store. They had long since grown tired of gazing out onto the sidewalk, where hobos, winos and the homeless gathered together to talk, gamble or share bottles of cheap wine, so they welcomed just about any changes that might come about.
Peter Panda, because of his great height, could clearly see that the boxes were overflowing with used clothing, tattered school books with their covers all bent and mangled and the various other bits and pieces that were hanging down the side. Old Burt, towing the dolly like a locomotive behind him, set down the dolly on the creaky wooden floor by the cash register. Until his arrival, his stepson Billy had been reading a weathered comic book from a pile of Superman comics he kept stashed by the cash register for just such occasions.
“What's you got?” Billy asked his stepfather brightly, as if he really cared a great deal about it. “Looks like you've got yourself some kids' stuff.”
Old Burt chewed on his lip pensively a moment, as if debating whether to chew him out for sitting around reading comic books when he should be sweeping the sidewalk out in front or perhaps, god bless him, dusting off the shelves. He sighed, and leaning on the dolly, said, “No, I just got some stuff from a landlord over on Grace. He said the tenants were busted by the cops for meth last week, and since they were six months behind in their rent, he finally evicted them this morning. Three weeks before Christmas, and the whole lot of 'em are in jail, 'cepting for their daughter, who's been placed in a foster home somewhere. A sad story, I tell ya.”
Wide-eyed, but being very careful not to make any noise, the twin stuffed otters peered at one another from their vantage point in the front window, their black eyes blinking, at hearing this bit of news. They were both very shy and unworldly, having recently arrived in the store's front window after the freight truck in which they were riding had crashed outside of town some months back.
“We Little Beasts don't use meth,” Agatha the chimpanzee hissed, giving a reproving look in their direction. “Only very bad humans do that.”
“What's Christmas?” Oliver, the grey overstuffed cat asked hesitantly, sitting behind them on one of the semi-vacant bookshelves. Oliver, like most of his species, was exceedingly curious about everything and always prided himself on knowing the latest events. “Is that a thing or just a place?”
“SSSHHHHHH!” Peter Panda admonished them all, waving one paw in the air frantically. “If you persist in making so much noise, I cannot hear what is being said. Even worse, the humans might get suspicious.”
Once more, all the animals gathered in the front window fell back into that peculiar posture of relaxation they all maintain when there isn't anything really important to watch, and within minutes, half of them had fallen back to sleep.
It was a short time later that the otters, Hissie and Missie, in adjusting themselves into a more comfortable position, suddenly noticed the Blue China Doll sitting back in one corner of the storefront window. They were both very sure she had not been sitting there before, her expression blank, her eyes gazing through the dusty window to the street outside.
“Hello?” Hissie asked in a barely audible whisper. “I say, how long have you been sitting there?”
“Not long,” the doll barely answered. Her pretty blue satin dress was soiled in places, her hair badly mussed up, as if she had just arose from bed, with her face smudged with sleep. “I just arrived a short time ago.” Her voice drifted off, as if it took a great deal of energy even to speak. “Where am I?”
Peter Panda, who awoke the instant he heard them whispering, leaned toward the twin otters and looking directly at the doll, stated, “Why, you are in the front window of a place called The Swap and Shop, on a street called West First Street, though we know not where that might be. The two otters to your right are Hissie and Missie, the yellow tomcat behind you on the bookshelf is Oliver and the Chimpanzee to your left is Agatha. I am called Peter Panda. If I might ask, what is your name?”
“I… I'm called Cass,” the doll whispered, brushing fitfully at the dirt on her dress.
“If you will pardon my manners,” Peter whispered knowingly, “you look like you could use a bit of rest. Generally speaking, we try to keep our conversations down during the daytime when the owner and his stepson are around, to avoid suspicion. We will have lots of time later on to talk more about things, so close your eyes and try to sleep.”
The day wove fitfully through its paces like a drunken sailor marches down the street, and shortly after Old Burt turned off the blinking neon sign over the front door, and he and Billy left the store for the night, only then did the stuffed animals in the window begin to stir themselves, and only after each of them had stretched thoroughly, did anyone speak.
“How did you come to be here?” Oliver the cat purred, stretching himself to full length behind the blue china doll atop his perch in the bookcase. “Since none of us saw you being carried in, one must presume that you came in among those boxes of things Old Burt carried in this morning.”
“Yes, tell us your story!” Missie the otter exclaimed in a loud voice. “All of us came from someplace, once upon a time. Tell us about where you come from.”
The blue china doll hesitantly stood on her feet, and attempting to smooth out the wrinkles in her dress, said in a soft undertone, “I came from a horrid place, actually, although my mistress was as gentle and loving a creature as any of the Little People I've ever known. There were terrible things taking place, at all hours of the day and night. My mistress cried a lot, because no one fed her. Once or twice strange men and women came for her, took her away and made her cry some more. I wanted so to make her smile again, but try as I might, I could not. Yesterday more strangers came for her, and took her away for good, but not before the men in blue uniforms had taken away all the rest of her humans.”
“Well, since you had a mistress,” Hissie the Otter said, her oval brown eyes gazing at the doll, “Why is it she didn't come back for you? Peter Panda had a mistress once, for most of his life as a Little Person.
Peter's mistress did something he calls passing away, and she was no more. If your mistress is still in our world, why hasn't she come to claim you?”
Peter Panda abruptly stood up at this point, and smiled gently upon hearing this. “From what I have learned about human-kind, when they pass away, they cease to exist. They die. They cross over. In Cass's case, I believe someone took her mistress away before she had a chance to take Cass with her. Such horrible things should not be spoken of so near to Christmas, however. This is supposed to be a time of joy and great happiness.”
“As I recall, you were about to tell us about Christmas,” Oliver the Cat sighed, laying back down, his large green eyes blinking in the dim light shining through the store window. “I am very confused. Is Christmas a place in the heart or a thing?
“It depends,” Peter said evenly. “To those who have had a mistress or master, it is always a place in the heart. To everyone else it is a thing, a time of the seasons when humans get and give gifts to one another and perform acts of kindness like Little People do for one another every day.”
“Do they only do these things at Christmas? That's ABSURD!” wailed Oliver.
“I'm confused!” both Hissie and Missie exclaimed in unison.
Cass, smiling a bit for the first time since she had joined the group of stuffed animals in the window, held up one hand, quieting everyone down.
“To my mistress and others of her own human size, Christmas is a time of love, of tenderness and great mysteries. There are all those pretty gifts to buy for other humans, and sweetbreads and rich fudge to make for everyone. There is crinkly wrapping paper around gifts beneath the Christmas Tree, and sleigh bells ringing in the snow. It is one of the most joyous times, and they do this every year.”
“That sounds delightfully familiar,” Peter Panda said, nodding his leonine head. “I remember something quite like that back when I was with my mistress a long, long time ago.”
He paused, scratching his large pink nose for a moment, then in a puzzled tone of voice asked, “Just a few minutes ago, however, you whispered how horrid it had all been. What went wrong? Isn't Christmas supposed to be a joyous time of year?”
“Oh yes,” Cass said, nodding her head vigorously. “When my mistress and I were hiding beneath her bed one night, she told me all about how, once things got better, we would have a Christmas celebration, just like we once did.”
“Hiding beneath the bed? Hiding from WHOM?” Peter Panda asked gently, his eyebrows arched high up on his head. “That sounds simply dreadful.”
“Our last night together, her family held something they called a 'meth party',” Cass said. “Lots of new people came over, and started acting in very strange ways. My mistress and I hid beneath the bed after one of the adult humans slapped my Mistress across the face and made her cry. All I was ever able to figure out was she had made them all very angry through no fault of her own. When people started hitting her, she came running into our room, grabbed me and hid beneath the bed. People were kicking at her, trying to drag her from beneath the bed and yelling loudly. It was very frightening.”
“They do such strange things whenever there is meth around,” Agatha murmured. “I heard about these things from Richard the Lion, who chanced to be here, in this place once. He had a huge tear in his side, the direct result of a meth party. Eventually Old Burt gave him to some strange woman who chanced by the store one day. Richard was SUCH a delightful old scamp! Despite his injury, he told us such marvelous stories late at night and made us all laugh. I was so sorry to see him go.”
“Now I'm REALLY confused,” Hissie the Otter said softly, speaking to Missie. “First they are planning a delightful-sounding celebration, and next they are chasing Cass's mistress into her room, where she and Cass both hide beneath the bed. Were they celebrating Christmas?”
“No, silly,” Cass said gently, scratching both of the otters behind the ears which sent the pair into throes of delight. “It was the adults and whatever meth is that started the problem. Once the meth dealers started coming by, they stopped celebrating Christmas entirely. Had I not been there, to see the pretty lights and hear the joy in their voices, I would have never believed that such a thing was possible, after seeing what meth did to their lives. Meth destroyed Christmas for everyone. Everyone. I so wish I could have seen another Christmas with my mistress. It is such a special time,” and with a glance in the direction of Oliver the Cat, added softly, “It is such a special place in my heart.”
“Meth does terrible things. As I said, you never find Little People that use meth. We are smarter than that,” Agatha said with another reproving sniff. “They say humans are the smarter species. HA!”
The rest of that night, they sat up telling tales about The Humans, laughing at some of the funny things they did. Even Cass, who had once been so forlorn, joined in their laughter, and sang a few of the old Little People songs for them. Still, it was long before the sun would soon brighten the eastern sky when nearly everyone had fallen back to sleep, except for Oliver the Cat, that is. Like usual, he was sitting with his tail curled up around his nose, cautiously watching the window, when the old elf dressed in red and white came by.
The wizened up old man dressed in a red snow suit somehow stepped inside the store, although it was hours and hours before Old Burt was due to arrive and unlock the door. Peering uncertainly at a list he held in his right hand, he walked over to where the Little People were all laying in the store window. He stood looking over the top of his glasses, until he spied Cass, sitting back in the shadowy corner where she had returned for her day's rest.
“Ah,” he said, and reaching past Peter Panda, he gently picked up the blue china doll, first smoothing her hair and then smiling to himself. To everyone's surprise, he spoke the language of The Little People flawlessly, not the language of the humans. It was the first time any of them had ever heard a human speak in their own ancient tongue.
“You are the one they call Cass?” he gently asked the Blue China Doll.
“Y-y-yes,” Cass said uncertainly. “Are you taking me back to my mistress?”
“Not to worry, pretty doll. I am taking you home with me, right now, and in a few weeks, I will take you to a new home, where they still have Christmas lights, sleigh bells and shiny presents wrapped up beneath a Christmas tree.”
The old elf wrapped her up carefully in a warm fluffy blanket, and pausing long enough to pet and admire the other animals who, by now, were wide awake. Having petted all of them once more, he strode out the door to where an old wooden sleigh and eight tiny reindeer stood waiting in the cold gray of the early snowy morning.
Putting Cass beside him on the worn leather seat, he called to his reindeer by name, and with a hearty wave at the assembled Little People remaining in the window, mounted up and up into the sky, and as they rode out of sight, everyone, all the Little People with their noses pressed against the glass of the old storefront heard him cry, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”