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We were fortunate again this year, the whole family was together for Christmas. We gathered, exchanged gifts, caught up on one another’s lives and enjoyed one another’s company. And we ate. We ate a lot.
When we weren’t sitting down to our traditional Christmas dinner, we were snacking on things I’d gathered on my travels and brought home to share with my family. That’s come to be one of my travel traditions and now wherever I go I spend time looking for goodies to bring home with me.
This year, while playing board games or working on a jigsaw puzzle we opened a can of Virginia peanuts that traveled back from Roanoke tucked into a corner of my suitcase.
We made pots of good Door County Coffee & Tea Company coffee and nibbled peanut brittle from Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri.
I passed around a can of delicate and delicious Clear River pecan pralines I bought in Fredericksburg, Texas and hand-carried home. And we cracked pecans I gathered from where they’d fallen from the trees around the same city.
I spread tart cherry jam from, also from Door County, Wisconsin, on our toast at breakfast. In the afternoon I sliced a block of Wisconsin's Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese to go with the bottle of crisp white wine I brought back from Rhine River valley in Germany.
One night I made a big pot of chili and seasoned it with heritage chili pepper powder I bought at the Chili Pepper Institute in Los Cruces, New Mexico. I made a batch of brownies with brownie mix spiced with the same chilis.
We warmed up with mugs of hot buttered rum, savoring the bottle of Koloa rum I picked up in Kauai and saved especially for this holiday season.
This is the time of my life when I can travel freely and I don’t take it for granted because I know that could change at any time. My children are mostly grown and my work takes me around the world. I can’t always take them with me, but I can bring the world back to the ones I love and share it with them one delicious bite at a time.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at email@example.com
FROM LONGVIEW — We're back home for the holidays with Washington State out of action until its Saturday game in the Tri Cities (and the Cougars have a few days away from practice for the holidays, too). As expected, there isn't a whole lot to pass along in the way of news. But as a creature of habit, we still have a post. Read on.
The nativity scene offers us comfort at this time of year and a visual reminder of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
While the nativity scene is a tradition, where did the tradition come from and what do the symbols mean? What is history and what is “art”? Some answers are found in the Bible and some of our symbols came to us over time.
The first nativity scene – a living scene - was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. He wanted to cultivate the worship of Christ at a time when there were few books and few skilled readers. St. Francis was a lover of animals; he is often depicted with animals and described as able to communicate with them. So it is no surprise that our nativity scenes are filled with animals – particularly an ox and an ass.
We really do not know what – if any – animals were present at Jesus’ birth, but the symbolism of the creatures we set in our stables, do offer rich meaning. Perhaps Francis read from an 8th century text not included in the Bible: “And on the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Mary went out of the cave, and, entering a stable, placed the child in a manger, and an ox and an ass adored him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by the prophet Isaiah, ‘The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.’ ”
And so the ox and ass are now part of our tradition. The ox symbolizes patience, Israel and the Old Testament, while the ass symbolizes humility, service and The Gentiles.
The sheep and shepherds were typical of the time of Jesus’ birth and referenced in Luke’s Gospel: “There were country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.”
The light in the manger represents the star from Matthew’s Gospel that illuminated the sky and the light of Christ that continues to illuminate our lives. The “wise men” from Matthew’s Gospel were dispatched by King Herod to find the child and return with word about Jesus’ location. We do not know if there were actually three wise men, only three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The wise men – called Magi - were likely astrologers, familiar with the night sky. The Magi did not follow orders to return and inform King Herod.
Jesus rests in the manger as the center of our story: a story of hope, healing, brought to us in the simplicity of a child.
As Christmas unfolds in our lives, may the nativity scene offer you a message of light, of hope, of joy.
(S-R photo archives: Wise men bring gold and frankincense at a Nativity scene in Amsterdam, Netherlands, December 2006)
I remember making bells for the Christmas tree out of egg cartons and foil; this and chain links made out of different strips of colored construction paper and Elmer's glue (or even homemade flour glue). All our decorations were home made. Most of our gifts were homemade. My best dresses were sewn by my mother; toys made by my Dad. Those were the simple days of Christmas.
Our tradition was to put the tree up very late – sometimes on Christmas Eve. It was hand cut by Dad after a drive in the country. It had to be a tree that needed loving. A “Charlie Brown” tree. We would put our handmade decorations on it and then stand around with the only store bought item – icicles – and one by one, we would lay the strands individually on branches. It was a lovely tree!
Christmas Eve day we would make cookies. These were for Santa – but we would test drive a couple dozen before we left them on a plate for the jolly fellow, along with a glass of milk. Every year this little gift would be miraculously gone on Christmas morning. We were in awe! There would even be sleigh tracks in the snow in our front yard. I was always so impressed that he landed in OUR yard!
The night before Christmas we would all get in the station wagon and Dad would tour the town looking at Christmas lights and decorations. We had our tree – but everyone else had “outside” decorations! Every year they were more and more fantastic! Even as an adult, I must go out Christmas Eve and tour the Christmas Village our town has become. It is a magical thing!
Christmas morning we had strict traditions:
* we had to sleep in until at LEAST 6:30 in the morning. (My brothers, sister, and I would stay up all night in anticipation, hoping to at least hear Santa – just once. Never happened – but still the anticipation was delicious and enchanting.)
* We had to have a substantial breakfast – boring, boring, boring – but this one morning it would be individual cereal boxes of sugar coated, not Mom approved cereal.
* After breakfast we could check out our stocking which always had an apple and a banana in it. That was it. Our whole stocking was fruit (to make up for the Sugar Pops)
* Once we were done with our obligatory fruit, we lined up to go to the Christmas tree, shortest first. As the years went by, my siblings grew taller than me, so that when I was 18, the oldest, I was first in line!
* Dad was assigned the Santa duty of doling out presents, one-at-a-time. While one present was being opened, exclaimed over, gushed over – the rest of us silently sat on our hands, whispering ooos and ahhs to the recipient, all the while trying to patiently wait for the next dole-out.
The rest of the day would be wonderfully exciting – we'd feel love in the air, we could smell it! The banquet would be a feast of scents and tastes. Everything was brand new and bright.
We would sleep like lambs Christmas night, tucked in our beds, still twinkling with the sounds and scents of Christmas!
Have a wonderful Christmas!
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
When Christmas comes to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, it is wrapped in a big white tent and filled with music, food, handmade crafts and the ancient tradition of German Advent markets.
Osthoff Resort General Manager Lola Roeh spent time in Nuremberg, Germany before returning to Wisconsin and coming to lead the Osthoff. Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlesmarkt left an indelible mark on her imagination and she was determined to bring the tradition to the resort. Fifteen years ago she did just that and now the Old World Christmas Market at the Osthoff Resort has grown to be an important part of the region’s holiday season, catering to those who return each year to add to a collection or simply savor the tastes of an authentic German Christmas by eating schnitzel and red cabbage or sipping Glühwein.
Some vendors, including the sausage maker who flies in each year to sell authentic Nuremberg sausages—made with his secret recipe— have been with the market since the beginning.
While shoppers move from booth to booth, Father Christmas parts the crowd, calling out Christmas greetings. Seasonal music fills the big heated tent.
I had only just walked in when I spotted a booth filled with beautiful handmade paper mache Santa and Father Christmas figures. Each exquisite piece was made in authentic vintage German molds, hand painted and decorated with glass glitter or tiny glass beads. I spent almost half an hour looking at each one, trying to decide which would come home with me. Finally, I chose a petite Father Christmas, ornamented with glass beads and holding a tiny Christmas tree. He was wrapped and packed for the trip home and the little figure was the first decoration I put out when I returned.
Elkhart Lake is beautiful any time of year but the elegant white structures of the surrounding resorts, including the crown jewel, the big, rambling, historic Osthoff Resort, shine brightest in winter. The summer crowds are gone and the small town becomes a place to escape the hectic pace of the holiday while celebrating the best of the season.
The Osthoff Resort
Old World Christmas Market
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For some, that's a family tradition.
Is yours one of those families?
If so, have you decided what you will see?
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
The mantel is done, dressed with billows of fluffy artificial snow and a forest of tiny white flocked trees and candles, so I open the next box and pull out the family Christmas stockings.
As I slip the small loop at the end of each stocking over the hook under the mantle top, I think about the child, now an adult, who will take it down on Christmas morning.
Every moment of the day will be scripted by tradition. First, those who spent the night will stumble and stretch as they walk into the living room, sleepy, with the deliberate nonchalance of someone who cares deeply but doesn’t want it to show. The back door will open and one by one the rest will file in. Their eyes straying to the tree and the wrapped packages below it.
Pots of coffee will be made, the dogs will be underfoot until someone finally puts them outside. Comfortable chairs and corners will be claimed and when everyone is assembled the ceremony of Christmas morning will begin.
First, the “Santa” gifts. The toys, things they can share and enjoy—what used to be bicycles and Barbies and model trains but are now video games or family board games—will be opened. This used to be the big event of the day but now it’s more of a nod to tradition. Nobody in the house lies in the dark counting the minutes and hours until morning. Nobody is waiting and wondering, believing in magic. Nobody races to the tree. But Santa still comes, leaving one or two special gifts for the child inside every adult in the room.
Next, is breakfast. “Dad” always makes a big casserole we eat only on Christmas morning and the kids look forward to it each year.
After breakfast come the stockings. Everyone takes their stocking to their own corner or chair and they pull out one treat after another and admire it, taste or share it. The room is full of voices and the lingering fragrance of sausage and cheese and eggs.
Then, for a while the house will be quiet. They will wander back to bed, off to watch a movie or upstairs to play the new game. My daughter and son-in-law will leave to spend a few hours at their own home. This year the new baby will need a nap.
In the afternoon the Prime Rib will go in and just as the sun goes down we will gather around the table again. Then, after dessert, we’ll sit around the tree and exchange our gifts to one another, taking turns so that everyone has a chance to open each gift slowly and savor the moment.
And with that, the long day will be over. After our goodbyes I will walk through the house turning out lights, picking up stray ribbons and bows and folding empty boxes. I will stand in the dark room, lit only by the tiny lights on the tree, and my throat will tighten with tears because one more family gathering has come and gone and I still can’t say I appreciated it enough.
All this goes through my mind as I decorate the house, as I open each box and carefully hang each each empty stocking with tender, loving, care.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons. She can be reached at email@example.com
(Photo by R. B. Millsap)
One night, on my first trip to Germany during the month of December, hungry and still a little jetlagged from the flight, I walked into a tiny restaurant in a residential district near the center of Munich. I opened the door and then, dazzled by what I saw, stopped to take it all in.
A forest of dozens of small, elaborately decorated Christmas trees were hanging upside down from the ceiling of the room. I’d never seen anything like it before. Beautifully-wrapped packages of all sizes were stacked on windowsills, strung like ornaments on garlands of ribbon and greenery, and piled into corners. Evergreen boughs, woven with tiny white lights that glowed in the fresh snowfall outdoors and were reflected in the mirror over the bar, trimmed every door and window.
The intimate neighborhood eatery was filled with locals enjoying a big plate of schnitzel or wurst and crowded with friends who’d stopped by for an after-work drink. I felt as though I’d walked into a scene from an ornate Victorian picture-book, but I quickly realized the over-the-top decor was no show for tourists. It was just a perfectly fine example of the way Germany dresses up for the holiday season.
Anyone who has ever spent time at one of Germany’s Advent or Christkindlmarkts can relate. It’s the same kind of over-the-top feeling. Strolling down the rows of wood huts, most strung with white lights and wrapped in garland and decorations, it’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back in time.
Most markets are held in the traditional market square or city center. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, the air is filled with the sweet and spicy scents of sausages, pastries, potato pancakes and warm candied almonds and other nuts. Shoppers crowd around booths buying gifts of handmade wood toys, knitted items, ornamental gingerbread and hand-carved wood figures for the family creche. And the Glühwein stands are the most popular by far, with friends gathering to enjoy a mug of the hot, spiced and fortified wine that is so much a part of Germany’s holiday season.
Each market has a distinctive feel. The walled city of Nuremberg is famous for its red and white striped market canopies. The Munich “manger” market is where families come each year to select hand-carved pieces for the creche displayed every Christmas season. And the sprawling, busy, Frankfurt market stretches from the old city center to the river, highlighting both the history and contemporary culture of the vibrant city. The beautiful market in Cologne is consistantly voted one of the most popular.
If you have the time and want to explore Germany at a more leisurely pace, consider booking a Rhine River cruise. With frequent stops at villages between Frankfurt, Germany and Basel, Switzerland, a December river cruise down the Rhine River gives you a trouble-free way to enjoy the scenery as you cruise past ancient castles, beautiful and productive vineyards, old fortifications and picturesque villages. Each day brings a new opportunity to explore holiday markets in towns along the river, each with its own flavor and vibe, without the crush of peak-season tourists. Small-ship cruising combines the best of cruising—fine dining, comfortable staterooms and leisurely travel—but most river cruise ships carry fewer than 200 passengers so one never feels lost in the crowd.
No place is as beautiful as Germany this time of year. Every year when I hang the wreaths and decorate the tree I think back to that small but beautifully and exhuberantly decorated restaurant on a quiet street in a very busy city. And I'm always inspired to do just a bit more.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I went out and got the mail and found it snowing, just a little, like snow sprinkles. It's December already and shoppers are in a frenzy.
This year, more than any other, I am NOT doing the shop-til-you-drop thing, buying trinkets and goblets and niknaks, O My, for family, and friends, and acquaintences. (Knowing full well, I will see all your purchases given in the “spirit of Christmas,” at every yard sale I go to this spring and summer. For a buck!)
This year I see my life in a different perspective. It's more precious to me. My priorities have changed. I don't jump on the computer as often or as long. I appreciate my friends and my family more. I'm focused on my two new grandtwins. I am kinder to people around me. I listen more and opine less.
I have been through a lot this last six months, in and out of hospitals and doctors' offices, multiple surgeries, procedures, tests. I thought I would never get well. But I am. Now looking back, I think of all the people who have chronic illnesses, some pretty bad, some eventually fatal - and these people usually have a palpable zest for life. It's not about buying presents at Christmas, going through Black Friday, and mobs of shoppers for days on end. It's about life. Smellng roses. Having a snow flake kiss your tongue. Holding a baby. Holding anyone. Telling friends you love them. Enjoying little moments every day all day long.
It's a wonderful life!
Enjoy your day today!
Are those who insist that Christmas should be embraced as a universal cultural celebration denying the holiday's religious foundation or do they simply not care that some people are not Christian?
Or is it simply a majority-rule perspective?
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
My eyes flew open and I was instantly awake.
It wasn’t that long ago that when I woke suddenly in the middle of the night, I would lie still for a moment, listening for what had pulled me out of a sound sleep, straining to hear the plaintive wail of an infant’s crying or the footsteps of a preschooler who was out of bed and into mischief. Later, it was the sound of a teenager coming home, chased by curfew But this night there was only silence.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes and then walked out of the bedroom. The rest of the house was dark but a single light burned in the living room and I saw my jetlagged son, home from Japan, sitting on the sofa. He was concentrating on the yarn and needles in his hands and didn’t look up until I was beside him.
He had learned to knit while he was away and in the dim light of the lamp on the table, in the darkest part of the night, he worked on the pair of mittens he was making for his father.
I sat down beside him and watched his hands as he worked. He is young, only 24, but his hands already show the wear and tear of all his projects. He is always busy making something, a piece or a part for one of the massive, expensive, machines he designs and builds or one of the tiny works of art he creates when he is bored or thinking hard about something. When he needs to keep his hands busy so he can still his mind.
Looking at the scarred knuckles, the callouses, as he looped the rag wool yarn around the needle, making one stitch at a time and linking it with the chain, I thought about the things he’s made and brought me over the years.
When he was five he took a piece of paper and marked it with North, South, East and West. He folded the edges up into a cup and inserted a brad into the center, covering the top with cling wrap. He’d made me a compass, he told me as he presented it. You could, if you wiggled it, make the brad rotate and point in a new direction.
Later, in school, I was called to a conference with his teacher. “He’s not paying attention,” she told me. “He’s always working on something else.” And then she handed me a little paper tube. It was folded flat but if you allowed to rectangular tube to open, a miniature classroom popped up. Rows of paper-doll heads looking toward the miniature blackboard and teacher. I studied it as the teacher, a woman my family knew and adored, talked to me about his lack of attention in class. She, like me, was torn. What he could do with his hands was astounding, but you have to pay attention if you want to move on to third grade.
I have a treasure box filled with his handiwork. Clay pots, tiny shadowboxes, elaborate sketches and diagrams. This Christmas, his gift to me was a miniature loom. Perfect in every detail, he’d created it while on a ship in Japan, killing time while he waited to test the complex underwater drill he’d built, piece by piece. Bored, a lot on his mind that needed to be worked through, he grabbed a handful of coffee stir-sticks from the galley, some pieces of wire and the thread he usually carries with him as he travels. He built the working loom, complete with a tiny bit of cloth woven on it, and then, for a moment, considered throwing it away.
But, because he is my son and I have hoarded his creations all his life, he put it into a box and mailed it to me. And Christmas morning I opened it, speechless at the cleverness of it. The beauty of it.
When I found him knitting in the living room, he was doing what he does best, setting his hands free so his mind can follow. And, in the shadowy and quiet cocoon of the room, I listened as he talked about his work, his dreams, his concerns and his worries.
I slipped my bare toes under his knee and tucked myself into the opposite corner of the sofa as one stitch linked to another and the mittens took shape.
I thanked him again for the gift of the loom, working to keep the tears out of my voice and, taking advantage of the moment, I told him, just as I did when he was a boy, a sweet, busy, square peg trying to fit in a tight round world, that I am proud of him and always will be.
Wherever life takes him, it won’t be on the same path others follow. He’ll always come into each new adventure through a side door. Through an opening no one else noticed. He’ll find his own way and he’ll be OK. Because his future, just like his heart, is in his hands.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
The best finds are not only bargains that catch the eye and stimulate the imagination. The real treasures are objects that are useful.
Years ago I spotted this wooden box in a Spokane thrift store. It is basic and beautiful, solidly constructed out of tongue-in-groove pine with traces of white paint. At some point someone attached modern casters to the bottom so it rolls smoothly.
Over the years the box has served many purposes in my home. I've filled it with magazines, used it to hold firewood and even stacked wrapped gifts in it under the Christmas tree. These days it holds three Pottery Barn Kilim floor pillows that are used as extra seating when the house is full of company, as it was last weekend, or to stack by the fireplace for a warm and cozy place to sit by the fire and read.
Now, with the birth of my first grandchild, I can see a new life for the old box. Soon it will be used to hold toys and books for a little girl I am hoping will spend many happy hours with me.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ganesha, the controversial Hindu idol in downtown Coeur d’Alene, received an unscheduled makeover during the Christmas weekend. As you may recall, some Lake City residents were upset when the Ganesha statue by Spokane artist Rick Davis made an appearance on Sixth Street and Sherman Avenue as part of a yearlong public art display in downtown Coeur d’Alene. A handful protested the unveiling early last summer. Ditto for Lake City Lighthouse and Hayden Friends churches. Ditto for the Kootenai County Constitution Party. Besides the religious aspect of the statue, protesters imagined hidden symbols on Ganesha that others couldn’t see, like phallic ones and swastikas. The hubbub eventually died away – until a week ago when a large red ribbon and what appears to be a doll depicting the Christ child were added secretly to the display. No harm. But no one will mistake elephantine Ganesha plus Baby Jesus for a Bethlehem manger scene/DFO, Huckleberries, SR. More here. (SR file photo)
- Let the Budnick awards begin/Doug Clark
- Coeur d'Alene Tribe's gifts from gaming add up/Betsy Russell
- Rich fail to show proper gratitude for entitlements/Shawn Vestal
- Smart Bombs: Avoid political Twinkies/Gary Crooks
- Lingering snow, high waters affect boaters, anglers, bears/Rich Landers
Good morning, Netizens…
I read an article by Cindy Hval in yesterday's Spokesman-Review called Front Porch: Christmas Traditions Move Along that spoke volumes to me about Christmas Traditions, most of which I never enjoyed until recent years. In her piece, Cindy opens up the doorway of perception, allowing us as readers into her personal space at Christmas time. All those quaint, heartwarming bits and pieces of Christmas ornaments, her Norwegian heritage, her kids and their Christmas stockings, even her infamously misbehaving cats all have become part of her tradition of Christmas.
However, as both she and my wife have taught me, much to our chagrin, even Christmas traditions move on from where they once were to new places and new ways of being. Cindy's reverie of Christmas traditions almost brought me to tears, not so much because I shared so many of them, but I never shared most of them until I married a woman with strong traditional background over a decade ago, and my life has never been the same since.
When it comes to Christmas traditions, I cannot help but remember the late Gus Jordan, a cab driver in downstate Illinois, who once started my first Christmas tradition quite by accident. It was a time of solitary transition, when I was in the midst of beginning a career driving long-haul trucks for a living. I made a promise to Gus, late one Christmas Eve, that I would somehow manage, despite the miles that were to separate us, that once in awhile I would find my way back to wherever he happened to be driving his cab, to spend Christmas Eve with him, a promise which I kept for several years until his death.
Since neither of us had much in the way of family lives that we could cling on to, our Christmas tradition consisted of a quiet meal in one of the many hole-in-the-wall eating places we both knew well, and driving around in his cab throughout the downstate area looking at the Christmas lights and listening to Christmas carols on the AM radio. One Christmas Eve we even drove from South Chicago to East Saint Louis where we welcomed Christmas in Gas Light Square singing carols with a Dixieland Jazz band in some forgotten bistro.
I am beginning to learn the new traditions of Christmas from my wife. This Christmas Eve we attended a thought-provoking Christmas Eve service at a nearby church. Like Cindy, I haven't clung to the old traditions. Instead, I have made new ones.
Don Sausser, Eye on Downtown CdA for HucksOnline, spotted this addition to the controversial statue of Ganesha at Sixth & Sherman over the Christmas Day weekend. Emails Don: “Feeling in an ecumenical way on Christmas day the Hindu Ganesha sculpture on Sherman Ave was garnished with a Christian touch. Its Coeur d’Alene detractors should be pleased.” Seems the battle isn't over.
- Idaho Records/Sherry Adkins, SR
- Snow ends this morning, rain tonight/Mike Prager, SR
- Traffic fatalities mar holiday weekend/Mike Prager, SR
- St. Maries 18YO woman shot, killed on Christmas/Colleen O'Brien, KXLY
- Boise 13YO girl goes on 'Today' show to discuss hair loss/Jamie Grey, KTVB
- Idaho checks up on doctors more than other states/Audrey Dutton, Statesman
- Arctic snowy owls spotted across U.S. this winter/Brett French, Billings Gazette
- DUI offender seeks sobriety pledges from Idaho solons/Dan Popkey, Statesman
- Whitefish skydiver came within breath of dying in UMontana jump/Lynnette Hintze, DIL
- Orbusmax Special: Death of Jewish man on Mount Rainier fuels fight over autopsy here
I hope that when you opened your eyes this morning—no, even before you opened them, even earlier than that—I hope that when you first found yourself swimming into morning light and out of whatever dreams you’d been having, somewhere in your mind there rang out the words Christmas Morning! And for a moment or two you were a child again, thrilled by mystery, consumed by possibility.
As an adult, I know that doesn’t always happen.
It’s so easy to lose the holiday spirit when all you can think about is the fact that you’re the one who is responsible for making the magic. That you’re the one who shops and wraps and cooks and cleans and plans and then makes new plans when the old plans fall through. It’s easy to lose the joy and let any happiness you might find in a song on the radio or a kiss under the Mistletoe slip through your fingers when you are already looking ahead to Visa bills and taking down the tree and packing away the decorations and standing in line to return gifts.
This time of year, the darkest part of the year, is laden—some might say booby-trapped—with reminders. There is the dragging weight of all the invisible holiday baggage each of us carries. Nothing is safe. Food, music, celebrations and even movies and books come wrapped in memory and association. Some pleasant, some not so pleasant. And, to add to the fun, for those with young children, there is the suffocating parental pressure of creating the mythical perfect holiday; the self-imposed quest of taking on the impossible task of sending our children into the world without the legacy, the thousand little failures, of an imperfect parent. Good luck with that.
So much of the stuff of life is out of our hands. Forget holidays, on any day the big things, war, weather, economic turmoil, toxic bosses, family issues, bad fortune and lousy luck, are beyond our control. But the one thing we can choose is how we will face each day in world that perplexes and frequently exhausts us. Even the weariest among us can, if we so choose, celebrate the gifts of sleepy eyes that open on a dark December morning and a childlike heart that unfolds to let the spirit in, and with it the mystery and the possibility of another Christmas Day.
Good morning, folks,
As a writer and journalist, I strive each year to create vivid characters
that reach out to your imagination, to indwell in your consciousness and
allow you to enjoy all the rich, full range of the emotions. Each year, as
has been my habit for over a decade online, I have sent an electronic
Christmas card to everyone on my personal writer's mailing list, and this
year is no exception.
No, this won't be an exercise in plagiarism, by sending each of you graphics
or highly ornate Christmas cards by e-mail, for I know of lots and lots of
people who do that as witnessed by how my e-mail bogs down each and every
year about this time, no matter how robust I build my servers. No, this is a
story, one of the oldest stories I know by heart, and each year I rejoice in
retelling it, over and over again.
In 1983, which is the first year I began this tradition, my mailing list had
only 28 names in it (yes, I have a writer's archive that reaches back that
far) but when I sent out my first Christmas Card, we didn't have the World
Wide Web quite working yet in Spokane, so it was a text file. By 1990 the
numbers of people receiving this same text file had grown to over 60, and
now on the cusp of the new millenium, it numbers around 500 people.
However, in 1992, much to my surprise, I found myself reduced to tears by
the telling of this annual story, because people, most of whom I have never
or will possibly will never meet in my life sent copies of the story they
had received either from me or others, to THEIR friends, adding little bits
of sentiment of their own, perhaps items about their families, afterward.
Last year, over 3200 such messages followed my original posting. As one
system administrator in Bayview, New York observed:
“…I felt compelled to respond to this, as it came to me through half
a dozen other people, and although it is one of those dreaded “chain
letters” that one encounters so often on the internet these days, I agree
with you— it is well worth repeating and passing on. Merry Christmas to you
and your loved ones. “
It is with humility and best wishes in my heart, I am proud to present the
greatest Christmas story of all time, and I give it to each of you as our
personal gift, in the hopes that you will read the story, take it into your
heart, cherish it and yes, please, pass it onto someone you love.
THE CHRISTMAS STORY
As told by a man named Luke
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar
Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first
made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, everyone unto his own city. And Joseph also went
up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of
David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage
To be taxed with Mary his expoused wife, being great with child. And so it
was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should
be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in
swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for
them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping
watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon
them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tiding
of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in
the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in
swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in
the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the
shepherds said on to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see
this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in
the manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying
which was told them concerning this child.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the only true star of Christmas, in a story
that has withstood the test of time for us all, Emmanuel, which translates
from the Aramaic to mean, Christ with us.
May all the blessings of this most joyous time of year be with you and those
you love most dearly. May you be overwhelmed with the depth of love that the
Birth of the Christ Child represents to all our lives, and may it give you
Peace and Goodwill to all men.
Dave Laird (email@example.com)
…and a cast of 100's of The Community Comment Blog…
Tales From the Front, an ongoing series of stories started four
years ago, offers a means to explore aspects of human nature
which often go unnoticed in the rush and throng of modern
society. In this, the first of four Christmas Tales From the
Front for 1992, we meet a modern-day nurse who, upon losing her
place in the book of life, finds that she still has the means to
discover the meaning of Christmas.
TALES FROM THE FRONT
The Christmas Bear
Copyright 1992 Dave Laird
The wet snow fell earlier than usual that year. The number of
auto wrecks added a particularly heavy load on the hospital
emergency room, so Sue was glad when it drew close to time to go
home. No more battered bodies, children shrilly screaming in
pain, no more crying out in pain. She glanced overhead at the
clock. Only fifteen more minutes to go, yet as soon as the
thought crossed her mind, she heard the ambulance radio come to
life, and in the distance she could hear the sound of a siren
beginning to wail.
Code Blue. Car accident. A child and her mother. She checked the
carts in both of the unused emergency rooms once more, finished
restocking just as the ambulance backed up to the entrance in the
deep slushy snow outside.
“Ohmigod.” someone cried out softly, choking, as the first of the
two stretchers were pushed into the emergency room, for on the
first stretcher the broken, shattered remains of a young woman
was terribly mangled. Most of her face was badly lacerated, and
where her right breast had been was badly dented inward, with
pieces of fractured bone sticking out between the shards of what
remained of her blouse. Her eyes were closed, almost as if to
ward off the inevitable pain. Vital signs were not good, but with
luck, she would live.
The second stretcher bore a small girl, perhaps 10 or 12 years
old. She appeared conscious, but unmoving.
“Put the mother in Room 2 and the daughter in Room 5,” Sue
crisply said, directing the attendants from the ambulance crew.
“I'll take the mom.” Lou Ann, the other Registered Nurse in the
E.R. whispered briskly, striding off behind the first stretcher.
The procedure was deeply imbedded into her consciousness.
Establish blood pressure and respiratory rate. Check for visible
trauma. Pulse checked in thready, breathing shallow. Shock, like
an unwanted visitor, lingered close at hand. A bruise at the base
of the girl's neck, extended around the rear only to emerge on
the other side. The girl continued to lay still, a stolid look on
her face, her deep brown eyes staring soundlessly back at her.
“What's your name?” Silence.
“Do you know who I am? I'm the nurse that's going to help your
mommy get better.” Stillness dripped, like an ugly viscous fluid,
into seconds, then minutes.
“Don't you want your mommy to get better?” She leaned over the
stretcher, examining more closely. Little girls on the verge of
shock were never quiet.
“If you can hear my voice, blink your eyes for me.” At last, the
long lashes closed briefly over the deep dark eyes, only to
She reached over and hit the intercom button.
“Dr. Lindley, could you come in here as soon as possible? I have
a little girl who is paralyzed.”
Minutes later, when the doctor arrived, he confirmed her worst
fears. Injury at the base of the head, possibly nerve damage.
Loss of all psychomotor activity, hence the silent, forbearing
look on her face. Otherwise she would have, in typical little
girl fashion, been screaming her lungs out.
Before the ward nurse came to take the little girl away for X-
rays, Sue held up a button-nosed teddy bear where the little girl
could see it. The teddy bears, donated by the Hospital Auxiliary
for such occasions, seemed to soothe little boys and girls who
were frequently terrorized by the unknown.
The eyes blinked once more at her, until as the stretcher was
moved down the hall, the twin swinging doors closed, as the
little face swathed in white sheets with a teddy bear sitting up
next to her on the stretcher, disappeared from view.
She checked in on the little girl about a half hour later, after
once more cleaning and sterilizing the emergency room. She kept
her voice even, happy, not daring to tell the girl that she no
longer had a mother. Under the watchful gaze of the pair of
sombre eyes on the stretcher, the best that she could do for the
littlest patient and her newfound friend, the bear, was to hold
her lifeless hand, and before she left, tuck the teddy bear in
beside her on the stretcher.
It was six in the morning on Christmas Eve, and as she left the
hospital nearly an hour late, it was beginning to snow once more.
She had done much of her Christmas shopping during the flurry of
sales just after Thanksgiving, yet she still needed to buy
something undefined and special for her dad, not to mention buy
groceries for the big feast that was slated to take place at her
house on Christmas Day. Her folks would be there, along with her
daughter, Melanie, and Larry.
Her heart warmed at the thought of Larry, her good-looking,
boyfriend, for since he had entered her life nearly six months
ago, he had increasingly become the center of her life. At first,
it had been tranquil dinners up at the ski lodge. Then there were
passionate weekends spent up at a friend's lake cabin. Their
relationship had continued to spiral inward until they were
seeing each other exclusively, nearly every night of the week.
She had already begun to admit to herself that even after her
bitter divorce two years ago, she was falling in love, and this
time it felt different. Trust in men was beginning to return to
On an impulse, instead of driving down the hill toward home, and
some sleep, she turned instead toward Larry's apartment.
Opening the door with the key he had given her, she had an
indefinate notion of perhaps fixing his breakfast while he slept
in. She tiptoed into his bedroom, trying not to squeak the door.
Yet, when the door squeaked loudly, a figure moved in the gray
half-light that lay on the bed.
Instead of Larry's deep bass voice, a woman's voice all full of
sleep and slurry with unanticipated awakenings, floated across
Indignation, betrayal, pain. Somewhere inside her, a voice
started crying out. Only after several seconds did she realize
that she was screaming, at the woman, at Larry. She started
crying, and turned to leave.
Larry grabbed at her shoulder, missed. She slapped his face hard
once, twice, then with the anguish of the scorned, tried to
scratch his face.
Although off-balance from the slaps to his face, he struck back,
his marine training finally discovering a macabre fulfillment. A
savate kick to the midsection. Sue stooped over, the breath
already leaving her midsection. He snapped his arm over his head
in the classic karate chop, and dropped her neatly unconscious to
the carpet with a blow to the back of her neck.
Today, nearly two years later, Sue remembers that morning, seldom
dotes upon it, but never mentions it to anyone, save trusted, few
friends. Although she can talk, she no longer works as an R.N. at
the hospital where she was treated, for she, like the little girl
who was her last patient, is now a quadraplegic. She spends her
days, frantically attempting to continue living life
independently, save for the bevy of nurses, nurses aides and home
care professionals who sustain her new life.
Larry has already completed his jail term, and is once more a
free man, once more the predatory animal he was when she first
met him. He has a new apartment, a new job, a new girlfriend to
whom he is engaged to be married. He filed bankruptcy. He is a
Her hands, her legs, are lifeless and limp. Yet, sitting upright
in her bed, she can gaze out her front window, where it is
beginning to snow once more, and as the twilight fades into
evening, here and there, across the city, she can see the
Christmas lights coming on. Carolers from the church up the
street come by, stand beneath the street light and sing a few
desultory carols before wandering off in the snow.
She is nearly asleep. The sound of her bedroom door opening
gently rouses her.
“Huh? Who is it?” she asked, thinking it probably was the nurse's
A faded old elf of man, all dressed up in a filthy dirty red and
white suit limps in the door, dragging some sort of a bag over
“Okay, who's idea of a joke is this?”
“It's no joke, Sue. Come with me.”
“What? You know I'm paralyzed, for Christ's sake. I can't move,
can't feel anything from the neck down. Besides, I don't even
know who you are.”
“Yes, you know who I am. Reach out and take my hand.”
She did, and somehow was not surprised that she could move her
legs once more, stand up and walk with the old man toward her
bedroom door. There, standing just outside the open door, was the
little girl she had treated in the emergency room nearly two
years before. Just before they crossed the threshold, he handed
her a button-nosed, teddy bear, and together, the three of them
walked forth into the sunlight and the haze outside.
Sue and Rebecca, once mutually associated with a house of pain on
a hill in Spokane, Washington, now have gone onto a better place
with an old man dressed up in a red suit. He came bearing gifts
for each of them, special Christmas bears which were made
especially for this occasion.
The Talemaster turns yet another page, and speaks once more.
“Turn the page, child. I'll tell you another tale when you are
My son, who has been working in Japan, is on his way home. We haven't seen him in several months and I'm hungry for some time with him. My son has grown up to be a wonderful man; an adventurer, a tinkerer and a master of creating complex machines from bits of metal.
He'll be home for Christmas Eve and wrapping his gifts and putting them under the tree, thought about the boy who loved contraptions and I was reminded of something he taught me one Christmas years ago.
(I had to do some digging to find a copy of this early column.)
The Spokesman Review
December 25, 2003 | Cheryl-Anne Millsap The Valley Voice
Early each Christmas morning, as I turn out the lights and make my way to my bed, knowing I will be pulled out of it again when the sun rises, I stop for a moment, overwhelmed by memories and the knowledge that time is flying past me.
The children, who have been the reason I wake each morning and fall into an exhausted sleep each night, are growing up so quickly. Already one has left the nest, and another is perched on the edge. Their Christmas lists are more sophisticated now, with high-tech gadgets replacing Easy-Bake ovens and G.I. Joe.
When my son was six, he fell under the spell of a miniature arcade game, the kind where you manipulate a giant claw to pick up prizes and stuffed animals and drop them down a chute. He wanted the game more than anything and put it at the top of his Christmas list.
He was thrilled when he found the game under the tree and played with it constantly. But it was a complicated toy that was never meant to go the distance. When it stopped working, he was disappointed and put it away in his closet.
I didn't think about it again until the next year on Christmas Eve when I was getting everyone ready for bed and another visit from Santa. He walked in and placed the broken game under the Christmas tree with a note asking Santa to please repair it.
I could only gape at him, speechless. It was already midnight and to paraphrase the poet, there were miles to go before we could sleep.
My little boy had no idea that his mother was staggering under the weight of postpartum depression or that his father, who was in graduate school and wearied by final exams, was scheduled to work a 24-hour shift on Christmas Day.
My son wasn't jumpy and distracted from listening for the cries of the colicky baby sister or thinking about the 2 a.m. feeding that would cut into the few productive hours of the night.
The way he saw it, Santa brought that game to him and he would want to know there was a problem. And since the big guy was going to be in the neighborhood, it wouldn't hurt to have him take a look at a broken toy. So he left it with a note asking that Santa “make it work again.”
Somehow, the two elves-in-residence, Sleepy and Weepy, did everything that needed to be done. The baby got her 2 a.m. feeding and Santa placed the surprises, including the refurbished toy, under the tree before the children woke with the dawn.
I was watching my son the next morning when he found the game. He was pleased but he wasn't surprised. It was just where he expected it to be. His face shining with pleasure, he took it to the kitchen table, turned it this way and that to admire Santa's handiwork, and began to play contentedly while new presents waited under the tree.
Whenever I am confronted with the reality that life doesn't come with guarantees, I think about that Christmas morning. And when I think about it, I wish I could be seven years old again, with that much trust in everyone around me to do the right thing. I wish I hadn't learned that sometimes things break so completely that no one can fix them, not even Santa. Not even for a day.
Now, years have passed. Dad got through graduate school, Mom got over the blues, and the new baby stopped crying. The toy, which wasn't built to last, stopped working again and found its way back to the closet, to be eventually taken apart and its parts scavenged for a little boy's inventions.
For my son it was proof that Santa cared enough about him to take the time to try to make something work again. For the elves, it was an exercise in patience. For all of us it was a sweet reminder that love has responsibility.
Maybe this year under the tree I'll leave my heart, just to see what Santa can do.
This is yet another of my almost-true stories about Christmas. However, unlike most, in this story I became not only the author but the protagonist, as well. Although in the final version, which you are about to read, I gave Freddy the Logger the credit, whom some of you may know from reading The Springdale Tales, in actuality, I was the Santa in this story. The Darigold milk truck was, indeed, stuck in the snow, and I happened upon it in time to strike a bargain with the route manager and thus procure the milk for distribution. That Christmas Eve, armed only with a Toyota 4X4 full of milk,
I made the first (and possibly the last) ever Santa's ride distributing milk to all the needy families I knew in Springdale. Coincidental to this story, I also managed to capture what I feel is the essence of a real-life character you know by his non de plume of Freddy the Logger. I hope you enjoy it…
by Homer Pheeder
Copyright by Dave Laird
Freddy the Logger roundly cursed the guy in the gold Honda driving ahead of him on the highway that meanders between the set of hills that separate Loon Lake and Springdale. He had been following the car since Deer Park and had not once been able to pass in the heavy holiday traffic although he had stuck his head out the window several times to yell at the driver ahead to turn off and let him pass. When that failed, he resorted to leaning out the window sporadically to describe the errant driver's family tree, and almost got a face full of half-frozen road sludge for his efforts.
Here it was,Christmas Eve and Freddy, against all his better judgement,had gone to Spokane to make some last minute purchases for his girlfriend. Of course, on the way home, he had to stop at the Red Hound Tavern in Deer Park to pick up reinforcements,in the form of a half-rack of Ranier Ale since miles, like cutting logs in Stevens County, are often measured in cans of beer. It takes half a rack to log a half-acre of ground, and a half-rack to drive 200 miles.
His rancor on the rise after fighting the crowds in the mall, Freddy the Logger was in no mood for a long, slow drive home behind some farmer in a clattertrap smoky Honda. It was getting close to dark, and his personal bar stool at the Reservation Tavern was calling to him as certainly as a wife might call her husband in from the fields.
He took another sip from his beer only after surreptitiously checking both mirrors for sign of the State Patrol.
“Screw Christmas!” his muttered darkly. “…n' screw all the prairie Hebes that drive Hondas, too.”, he added, bringing to mind his generic slur for anyone of questionable race, creed or political affiliation.
Freddy the Logger has been an instinctively curious man since birth. If something appears abstract, obtuse or otherwise the least bit out of the ordinary, without fail he turns aside, stops dead in his tracks inexorably altering his path to investigate. Ahead, on a obscure side road off Highway 395, he could clearly see that a big milk truck he'd earlier noticed sitting alongside the road had not yet moved since his trip to town.
“Why would anyone park a milk truck clear the hell out here?” Freddy mused. “With the damn temperature down close to zero, if they sit there long enough, they are gonna' freeze that load of milk up tighter'n a witches tit.”
Like the predictable creature of habit that he was,he gingerly tapped the brakes and pulled off on the side road, driving down the narrow farming road to where the truck was parked.In his headlights, he could see clearly why the truck hadn't moved. The wheels on the passenger side of the big rig had slid off the roadway into a deep drainage ditch, trapping the truck in what amounted to chest high snow.
“Goddamn got her stuck good…” he laughed to himself. “They'll need a crane to pull her out of there.”
Someone, obviously the driver of the truck,came walking over to the side of Freddy's truck, wrapped in an oversize flannel mackinaw.
“Looks like you got a problem there friend,” Freddy commented dryly, rolling down his window. “Do you need a lift somewhere, or maybe somebody to make a phone call for 'ya?”
“Nah.” the driver said bitterly. “I already called twice, and there's nobody in the shop to come out with a tow truck until 8 a.m. tomorrow. The milk is already froze up tighter'n a drum so I'm in no hurry. I got a thermos o'hot coffee in the cab, a full load of fuel and as long as the motor still runs, I'm warm. Just stuck is all. ”
“Y'say the milk is froze up?” Freddy asked, his mind whirling.
At first, Freddy didn't make the connection. The truck was stuck, the milk frozen, and that was that. With a flash of genius spawned by idle curiosity tinged with opportunity, suddenly it was upon him. There was nothing wrong with frozen milk, if you put it in the refrigerator and let it thaw, why it was just as good as milk you bought in the store.
“So, what are you gonna do with all the frozen milk?”
“Shit, I don't know. The law says the comp'ny can't sell it to the public after it's been froze so I guess they'll just dump it. I've been here since four this morning, waitin' on a damn tow truck, so I say 'piss on 'em. They should have thought about the milk back several hours ago before now.”
“Christ, that seems a shame.” Freddy murmured unctuously. “I hate to see all that milk goin'to waste.” He paused, then looking directly at the driver, as if to read his deepest thoughts, and asked,”I don't suppose that's there's any way I could talk you out of some frozen milk, since they're gonna dump it anyway, now is there…”
“What the hell are you gonna do with 3000 gallons of milk?”
“Well,” Freddy scratched his chin speculatively, “I don't know if I could carry all 3000 gallons in this old truck, but I got a good use for as much as I can carry. Y'see, I know this hog farmer, kind of a broken-down old hippy hog farmer up the road here a piece, and I know he can feed the milk to his hogs. I'm sure he would be grateful, and I damn sure know those scrawny hogs of his would be tickled to death to have something better than the crap he feeds 'em. Why all the poor bastard feeds 'em is corn cobs and molasses…”
“I can't see where anyone would bitch.” The driver muttered. “I had this happen once before, and gave some froze-up milk to a family down by Medical Lake, and nobody said squat.”
He thought a second more, then added, “Well, I guess it won't hurt anything. Pull yer truck around back and take as much as you want. If you'll pardon me, you're gonna have to load it yourself, 'cuz I'm gettin' back in the cab where it's warm.”
Without further ado, Freddy backed his old one ton truck gingerly up to the rear of the milk truck, wisely putting on a pair of heavy wool gloves, proceeded to load his truck up to the gunwales with gallon after gallon of frozen milk in white plastic jugs, humming to himself the whole time.
When there was no more room for not even one more carton in the back of his truck, he climbed into the warmth of the cab, popped the tab on a fresh can of ale, and pulled back around the front of the stalled truck.
“You have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, hear?” he yelled out the window at the driver sitting inside.
Once back on the road, he started speculating about his new fortune, over and over, like a cow chewing on its cud.
“Now what the hell am I gonna do with 500 gallons of frozen milk? You should have started thinking about that before you loaded it on the truck. Here I am, half froze myself, and all I have to show for it is a truck load of frozen moo juice. Too bad it wasn't a damn beer truck.” He cackled briefly at the thought. “Yeah, too bad it wasn't a beer truck all froze up in the snow, now wouldn't that be wonderful…”
They say that the stars of heaven must keep many secrets, since they witness everything that takes place here on earth below. Late on winter's nights, when the temperature sinks off the end of the thermometer out by the back porch, folks in these parts say that if you have the courage to step outside in the frigid night air, you can hear the stars whispering to one another bout the latest scandal to rock the tiny hamlets that lay scattered over the valleys and hills of Stevens County.
However, on once upon a Christmas Eve, there was a secret, of which not even the stars have whispered, for a mysterious real-life Santa Claus came to town, delivering a load of real Christmas cheer, and disappeared in the same mysterious manner as he arrived.
All dressed in a faded, moth-eaten red flannel suit, with a set of moldy-looking fake whiskers that wouldn't fool anyone for a minute, Santa rode into town riding in a sleigh drawn by a tired, down at the ears jackass that occasionally brayed, thus waking up every dog in town. This strange visitor went methodically from house to house in Springdale on Christmas Eve, banging on doors, waking up everyone, and in general pissing off half the damn town.
He came to my door just after eleven o'clock, just as I getting ready to turn off the Christmas lights for the night and go to bed.
“Merry Christmas, there Homer!” Whoever was hiding behind the suit and whiskers obviously knew my name, but was obviously stinking drunk, for he stood there in the front porch light weaving erratically back and forth like a tree in a high wind.
“What can I do for you?” I asked, peering uncertainly at him, trying to guess who this mysterious visitor was.
“Come on and pick yerself out a few cartons of milk out of the back of my sleigh. I was runnin' kinda late this year and ran out of presents before I hit this dog-piss of a town, so I made a stop along the way and grabbed some milk, but the damn stuff froze flying this way, so you'll have to let it thaw.”
“Goddammit, Homer, I told ya before, I got some milk out in my sleigh, and although it's froze up, let it thaw a while. It's fresh whole moo juice. Just a little hard is all.”
Out on the lawn there was a strange noise, and in the dim light of the Christmas lights in the front yard I could just barely see a big gray jackass hitched to a sleigh. He was standing there on three legs, stamping his fourth foot in the snow, his big ears flopping back and forth in the half light.
Christmas Day, the entire town was a'clatter, like a collection of beer cans in the back of pickup truck on a bumpy road.
Some say that it was Juan Guiterrez, all dressed up in a Santa Claus outfit. because nearly everyone recognized that it was his mule pulling the sleigh. Others say no, it must have been Joe Red Deer, because it was his sleigh that the jackass was pulling. Yet both men, when confronted, seemed as startled to hear of the exploits of the night visitor as everyone else. They both left hastily to check their possessions, returning a short time later to announce that although both items had obviously been in recent use, they had been returned as mysteriously as they had been borrowed.
Yet, among the children of the town, the tale is still being repeated, over and over that Santa Claus, Springdale's very real Santa, came to Springdale that year.
Little brown Indian eyes grow bigger and bigger with the retelling of how, in the middle of the night, Santa arrived with a real sleigh and a reindeer, and while he was there, gave their families as much milk as their refrigerators could carry. For that Christmas morning when they woke up and saw the their gifts under the tree, they each could clearly see outside in the snow, the tracks of where the sleigh had driven up into their yards, and where the reindeer stood by while Santa delivered the presents.
Some even say, with a knowing look, that Santa probably must have been pretty burned out from his travels that year, because everywhere that Santa went that night lay crumpled Ranier Ale cans in the newfallen snow.
A legend of Springdale-town was born, and as this tale is retold by hundreds of Indian and near-Indian children, it too, like Christmas, will grow.
As for that Christmas morning, Freddy the Logger sat on his personal barstool, a fresh glass of his cherished ale sitting in front of him.
“Christmas? Santa Claus?” he says, eyeing those around him warily. “Thas' a bunch of whoopie. Bah Humbug.”
This sequence seems pretty accurate.
The new cars were coming but hadn't arrived just yet.
Be sure to pay attention to the closet.
Can you spot Rockwell himself?
This Santa-themed video probably won't make you ho-ho-ho, but it's a pretty effective message for UNICEF.
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 Monday morning.
The week before Christmas, 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 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 apile of Superman comics he kept stashed by the cash register for just such occasions.
“what 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, excepting 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, 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 repoving look in their direction. “Only very sad humans do that.”
“What's Christmas?” Oliver, the stuffed 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.” The two otters to your right are Hissie and Missie, the yellow tomcat behind you on the bookshelf is Oliver and the Chipanzee 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 again 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.
“We're 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 kind, 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 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 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 red somehow stepped inside the store, although it was hours and hours before Old Burt was due to arrive. 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 everheard a human speak in their own 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, they mounted up and up into the sky, and as they rode out of sight, and 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!”
Somewhere there is a storefront, a bit tattered and weatherbeaten from its years of surviving on West First Street in Spokane. It is a halfway house of sorts, for Little People who have either lost their way or have been separated from their past lives. Occasionally an elderly gentleman named St. Nick comes by to check on the Little People, and occasionally takes one or more of them with him on his flight to the North Pole, and the return to Christmas as they once knew it. The city breathes.
The Christmas Present
Copyright December 2000
by Dave Laird
The weatherbeaten old highway had seen better days, lots of patch jobs
hastily done by county employees who didn't care how well it held up. Where
it crested the steep grade, the roadway generously overlooked part of the
sloping valley to one side, with a tiny creek now frozen hard as a rock in
the throes of winter. Down the road a quarter of a mile, there were a set of
huge scars where, one spring several decades ago, the creek had neatly
bisected the roadway in a flood. The patch job bore mute testimony to the
violence of the washout, still to this day.
In the half-hearted sunshine of a cold winter morning, a rattling
clattertrap of a vehicle, a faded red Toyota Landcruiser with dented fenders
and a spare tire on the back door that jiggled at every bump, began wheezing
its way up the hill, desperately attempting to dodge the potholes, and as it
reached the scars on either side of the roadway, it momentarily slowed.
Behind the wheel, a woman with hair gone to white, slowed down, carefully
downshifting, easing her way over the broken pavement. Although she wasn't
that remarkable, really, she was the kind of woman that if you met her in
the grocery store, you would remember her brilliant blue eyes and white
hair, all soft and downy, and perhaps the gentle lines of humor that tickled
at the corners of her eyes. She wore a brown 60's-style Chairman Mao work
cap, shoved back on her forehead, and was dressed in a faded pair of bib
overalls with a blue nylon down-filled jacket, open at the throat. There
were a brace of pencils jutting this way and that out of the front pockets
of her overalls, which lent her a rather businesslike air, much like a
farmer on his way to town.
It was not unusual that the road was devoid of any other traffic at this
hour of the morning. Those few houses scattered throughout the hills on
either side seemed vacant, or so it appeared, driving down the road. Having
been this way a number of times, she knew better. Since this was part of the
Spokane Tribal lands, there were Indian families for the most part, living
back in the trees, eking out their humble living hidden in nearly invisible
cul de sacs that more resembled dirt tracks than driveways.
Down the road a few miles from the summit, where the valley began spreading
out a mile or more on the right side of the highway, there was a wide spot
in the road, and easing the Landcruiser off the side of the road, she
stopped, turned off the engine, listening to the sound of silence,
interspersed with the cooling sounds of the exhaust. A pair of brilliant red
cardinals landed on the barbed wire fence to her right, and saluted her with
a blast of song before they, too, went along their way, leaving her and
As she opened the driver's door, it complained with an angry squeal of rusty
'I must do something about that hinge', she thought to herself, and she went
around to the back of the Landcruiser and opened the rear compartment.
Sitting on the rear deck, she began unlacing her brown leather shoes, and
putting on a pair of well-worn hiking boots in their place, meticulously
making certain to tie double knots.
Inside the open maw of the rear compartment, she fetched a tiny Coleman
stove, a large canteen and a slightly-dented teapot, which she carefully set
on the rear deck, and fumbling in her jacket, she came up with a book of
matches. She lit the stove, poured water into the pan and setting it atop
the stove, she then squatted on her heels beside the road, gazing at the
snow-covered mountains off in the distance. A meadow lark gave voice,
somewhere off in the wheat stubble, but otherwise, there was no sound to
break her reverie until the tea pot began whistling.
She made two cups of tea in tiny porcelain tea cups with matching blue
flowers around the sides; she used a pair of tiny tea strainers to brew the
tea. She carefully set both cups in matching saucers on the rear deck, then
turned off the Coleman stove, and taking one of the cups with her, once more
resumed her vigil squatting alongside the Landcruiser, leaving the one cup
sitting in its saucer beside the stove.
It was cold there in the shadow of the mountain on the other side of the
road from the valley. She quietly sipped her tea, and the steam from the tea
in the icy cold air quickly built a soft-edged cloud around her head.
The land was hard and cold, with tiny bits of snow and ice hiding in the
shadows where the sun would not reach until spring. It was, as she had once
read, resolutely sleeping. If you were to gaze across the wheat stubble
toward the mountains, you would never know it was the day before Christmas.
Nothing moved, not a vehicle in sight and only a few birds chattering in a
madcap way from atop a nearby power pole broke the serene silence.
“Time to go', a voice inside her head spoke, and quickly gulping down the
last of her tea, she reached inside the Landcruiser and removed a holly
wreath from inside, and carefully draping it over her left shoulder, hanging
it beneath her right arm, she picked up the single remaining cup of tea, and
closed the back door.
She'd been this way for fifteen years, so her feet, unbidden, knew the
nearly invisible path that led between the rocks on the side of the road
opposite the valley. She moved with care, trying to avoid spilling any of
the tea, as she wove her way up into the rocks overlooking the road.
Finally, just as she was about winded, she reached the peak of the hill,
overlooking not only her Landcruiser parked below, but the entire valley,
open at her feet.
A pair of towering fir trees stood back among the rocks, and as she neared
them, she could see an empty china cup and saucer were still sitting there
where she had left them the previous year, untouched and unmoved. She
carefully set the cup of tea sitting on its saucer beside the empty cup, and
taking the wreath from around her shoulder, she hung it on one of the giant
fir's spreading branches. There was no sign of the previous wreath, but
nature has its ways.
Then, picking up the empty cup and saucer, she softly said, “I just came to
wish you a Merry Christmas, honey. It's been fifteen years since I last saw
you, but I'll never forget our Christmases together. I brought you a cup of
your favorite tea, and a wreath, just like always. Oh, how I wish you could
be here, with me, again. I miss you so.”
She stood, unjudged by any, save a curious blue jay who carefully examined
her from the relative safety of a nearby branch, curiously observing the
tears silently streaming down her face and onto her jacket.
Then, as soft was the feathery white hair which shone in the morning's
light, she walked from that place, her hands brushing the hot tears from her
cheeks, as she strode back down the way she had come.
Over fifteen years earlier, at her late husband's request, she had buried
him there, between the pair of fir trees, where he could gaze at the valley
below. Each year, in good weather and bad, she had brought him her presents,
and thus she had become a part of Christmas itself.
Each year, after Thanksgiving dinner, some time after the last of the dishes are washed and before the pie comes back out again, I bring up a big handwoven basket from the storeroom in the basement. The basket is the size of a bed pillow, a split-oak rectangle with a sturdy handle, and it is filled with books.
There are one or two that my husband and I brought with us when we married: his old copy of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. My 100-year-old edition of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Stories with A Christmas Carol, a story I’ve read and reread since I first opened the book as a girl. But mostly, it holds an assortment of holiday books we’ve collected since our first daughter was born more than 25 years ago; familiar titles like The Night Before Christmas, The Gift of the Magi and The Littlest Christmas Tree.
Some are old toddlers’ board books, with broken spines and peeling pages, showing the wear and tear of little hands. Others are children’s classics filled with familiar illustrations.
To me, the basket is a time capsule. A record of time spent together as a family and in the company of beloved books and stories. Each year another book is added to the collection. The new book is left propped under the tree late on Christmas Eve and is passed around on Christmas Day before going into the basket and, eventually, after the tree is undressed and all the decorations are put away, back down to the basement to wait until Christmas comes again.
It pleases me to see my grown children sit down and pull out a book when they drop by during the holidays or on Christmas Day when we’re all together. Especially the older books that were in the house when they were babies. I steal glances at them as they read. I like to think they hear, in some shadowy corner of memory, the sound of my voice and the feel of my arms around them as we read together; that they hear again the creak of the rocking chair and recall other rooms in other houses and are reminded of the sweetest years.
So much of what happens during the season is rushed and hurried. So much is new and shiny and meant to be tossed away as soon as the New Year arrives. But the basket, with it’s cargo of paper and ink and memories is evergreen. Like a precious ornament taken off the tree and put away for another day.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Big time H/T to Tom Torgerson who spotted this sight today on Scarcello Road in the Rathdrum/Twin Lakes area. As the son of a dairyman who grew up cutting/raking/hauling hay for 500 head of daily cows, I know that the rancher here has it right. This is exactly what cows want for Christmas.
Good morning, Netizens…
Ostensibly the War in Iraq is over. At least American's parts in this most-bloody vicious war is over, according to all the news wires. But what about Christmas in Iraq in this new “peacetime” Iraq? Christmas was first observed in 2008 in Iraq as an official holiday, and some of their customs, while quite a bit different from the materialistic West, nonetheless will be celebrated this Christmas.
On the 25th of December, a bonfire is built in the church and the faithful men of God chant hymns while the fire burns. A bishop, who leads the church officials in the procession, carried an idol of Baby Jesus on a crimson cushion throughout the church. The religious service always ends with the blessings of the bishop.
Even a bishop’s blessing is carried out differently in Iraq. He blesses people and touches one of the faithful men of the congregation with his hand. This blessing is then passed on to all the people beside and continues until all the people in the church have received that touch; it is called the ‘Touch of Peace’.
Apart from this divine tradition followed here, gifts are also a part of the Christmas Eve. Here, Papa Noel, the Iraqi Santa Claus, brings gifts and presents for the kids like Santa Claus in the west. Gifts and greetings are exchanged amongst the families. Visitors are also offered special food and drink.
While it is not known whether the fanciful tales associated with Santa Claus here in the United States, such as the reindeer flying Santa through the night to deliver toys to boys and girls, exist in Iraq, if one takes the tale of Santa and his sleigh flying around the country at face value, we can perhaps believe that the Iraqi military, much like the United States SAC-NORAD, are aware of Santa making his rounds on their radar screens, and allow him safe passage on Christmas Eve.
Thus the stories and tales of Christmas, once banned in Iraq, are now told over and over by little children in this once war-scarred country and that future generations will learn and repeat the stories of Christmas each year in Peace.