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The Boy Who Believed

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.)



For some, Santa's magic a guarantee

The Spokesman Review 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.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. 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 catmillsap@gmail.com

Santa’s Ride…

Hello Everyone!

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…


Santa's Ride

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."

Back when magazines were a big deal

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?


Today’s fun video: UNICEF makes its point

This Santa-themed video probably won't make you ho-ho-ho, but it's a pretty effective message for UNICEF.

The China Doll…

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

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.



Our Christmas Story

    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 catmillsap@gmail.com

Parting Shot — 12.16.11

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.

Christmas in Iraq…

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.


Down but not out at Christmas…

Good evening, Netizens…


By this time, almost 10 days from Christmas, if I were following my traditions of years past, I would have already begun writing about Christmas, both in fiction and comment. What I didn't count on this year is that two weeks ago I came down with bronchitis which rapidly metamorphosed into pneumonia as of last Thursday afternoon. I have been told having Type II Diabetes considerably weakens ones ability to fight off such things so I comprehend why this happened. So rather than writing about Christmas, I have been drifting in and out of consciousness on an antibiotic haze mixed with codeine and all the while still feeling the urge to tell about Christmas.


As my beloved spouse will quickly tell anyone who asks, I am not a good patient at all, as I simply do not have the patience. However, with a fever and rales in my chest that sound like a city garbage truck each week, I have been increasingly aggravated at the thought of being so ill.


However, now that I have managed to accomplish sitting upright in the Great Chair for nearly an entire work day, and because the medications I am taking have gotten my vile ailments more or less under control, I anticipate that within a day, perhaps less, I will begin writing about Christmas and once more cast my thoughts on this most sacred time of the year into the ether once again.


Of course, if Christmas is not a sacred time to you, the readers, then I apologize for having interrupted your mid-December reveries with the ramblings of an old man who remembers how it has been and hopes that they will continue to be.



Tree’s up on South Perry

Lots of neighbors big and small, young and old, gathered at the Perry Street Cafe last night for the annual Christmas tree lighting. The cafe genorously hosted the event, serving coffee, hot chocolate and cookies for everyone. And Santa was busy having his picture taken.

Once the indoor commotion had calmed down, people went outside to sing carols and put ornaments on the Christmas tree.

Atheist Message Boots Nativity Scenes

A sign with an Atheist message is on display along Ocean Avenue at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif., today. Most of the Christmas nativity scenes that local churches had placed in a Southern California coastal park for nearly six decades have been displaced by non-believers and the churches say it was a coordinated attack. But atheists got all but three of the spaces this year because of a new lottery system. The coalition got two spots and one went to Isaac Levitansky of Chabad Channukah Menorah. Story here. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)


Farmers Market is still open

The South Perry Farmers market is still open every Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. The market's winter location is in the Buddhist Temple gym, just across the street from The Shop (915 S. Perry Street).

On December 22 the market plans a special holiday market, complete with Santa, carolers and lots of local gift ideas.

The market will close for the season after the Dec. 22 event and reopen on March 1, 2012.

Christmas on South Perry

The South Perry Business and Neighborhood Association is having its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony outside the Perry Street Cafe (1002 S. Perry Street) on Tuesday Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Come and enjoy carols and treats and chat with your neighbors.

This is also the official kick off of the "Brighten the Night" campaign which will encourage residents to leave their porch lights on to illuminate streets, alleys and sidewalks so the area is more welcoming to visitors and shoppers. Hopefully this will cut down on burglary attempts, too.

This event replaces the monthly SPBNA meeting - to all of you who have asked how to connect with SPBNA and when the group meets, come to this event and meet everyone. The picture is from last year's Christmas tree lighting.

(The blog has been on hiatus for a bit and it's now back - please e-mail news bits and pictures to piah@spokesman.com or give me a call at 509-459-5427 - watch for expanded neighborhood blogging in the new year)

Guild donates to theft-stricken charity

The Spokane Police Guild will donate $500 to the Wishing Star Foundation after burglaries left sick children without Christmas presents.

The donation is one of many the nonprofit organization has accepted since news of $1,000 in items stolen in two burglaries was reported last week at its office at 139 S. Sherman St. Stolen gifts included those meant for a four-year-old cancer patient whose home was burglarized in the Tri-Cities.

Certified Security Systems of Spokane Valley is donating a security system, and cash donations have enabled the organization to replace all lost items and then some, said Paula Nordgaarden, Wishing Star's executive director.

"Our community is so wonderful," Nordgaarden said. "This outpouring, it was overwhelming."

Nordgaarden said all families on the organization's waiting list will be taken care of this Christmas, and she expects to have about $15,000 leftover for next year.

"We want to thank everybody. Just a huge thank you from Wishing Star," Nordgaarden said.

Magic and Christmas are often the same…

Good morning, Netizens…


If you haven't been looking, it is almost Christmas, and Santa Claus has already arrived in a typical blast of public relations gusto at most malls and other public places. Yet if you peer closely at those faux Santas at the malls, through the eyes of adulthood, you will see only that – just an impersonation. Most mall Santas have fake white beards, padded outfits to make them appear rotund, and in reality they might not be as kindly as the real Santa Claus. Of course by now, being good adults, you know the legendary tale of how Santa Claus hops on his sleigh each year at Christmas Eve, making the rounds of all the good little boys and girls around the world, delivering their Christmas gifts.


In fact, you probably do not even believe there is a real Santa Claus. The Santas that appear about this time of year are, for the most part, all fakes. However, before you get all jaundiced and smile at one another with an air of superior knowledge, as if this business of the fake Santa Claus is a big, hidden secret that only adults truly understand or know about, guess again.


There are many things in our lives of which we have very little knowledge or control, things such as unavoidable accidents, matters over which we have no warning nor the ability to change. Then there is the matter of gross stupidity, because not all of us are rocket scientists despite what it suggests on our resumes. Acts of God, of course, fits in with unavoidable accidents, but if the acts are actually preordained by God, such things were not accidents, at all.


Then there is the matter of magic. No, this doesn't imply that Jeanie nor I are going to perform cheesy magic acts on Community Comment. We both have health issues that, were such a thing possible, we would unquestionably cure with just a few chosen words. You betcha!


To better answer your question about Santa Claus and magic, some have asked why Community Comment has a Virtual Ballroom and Virtual Garden where ghosts and garden gnomes abound. It is because we believe in magic.


What better method of divining who is a real Santa Claus? What better way to reinstate the miracles of Christmas that appear to have fallen on hard times in favor of materialism and greed?


Welcome to the run-up to Christmas, my friends. Some of the stories, tales and fables that will grace Community Comment until the day after Christmas may contain elements of magic, as well.



Michelle, Kermit Sing In Christmas

First lady Michelle Obama, with Kermit the frog, sings songs with daughters Malia, left, and Sasha Obama after the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the Ellipse across from the White House in Washington earlier today. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Question: Which Christmas carol/song is your favorite? Why?

Brock: Santa Now Reason For Season

Good heavens, it's December already. America's most genuine holiday - Thanksgiving - is in the rearview mirror and our most garish one is coming up fast. Can't you just see the incandescent Santas? The dancing elves? And the mall parking lots, jammed full of cars? Can't you just smell the pepper spray that some folks use to clear a path to the Xbox video game players? It's said that Jesus is the reason for the season, but he appears to be peripherally involved, at best. When it comes to X-mas, Santa is The Man. Originally rooted in innocence and humility, the Christmas season has become almost unrecognizable - with merchants intent on their bottom line, and shoppers a-twitter over the prospect of buying, giving and getting more stuff/William Brock, Moscow-Pullman Daily News. More here.

Question: Have you done anything in last 5 years to rein in Christmas spending and refocus on "the reason for the season"?

Lighting up the morning

Rode my bicycle to work this morning.

Yes, it was a bit brisk. But I wanted to be able to say I had bike commuted at least one day in every month of 2011.

Once I got downtown, I took a little detour before heading to the Review Tower. I rolled over to Main to see the illuminated Madonna and child while it was still dark out.

And there it was, where it always is at this time of year, on the corner of The Bon, er, Macy's.

I know I am not alone in thinking of it as one of the true signals that the Christmas season has arrived in Spokane.

As I made a slow turn and admired the lighted art above me, I heard some guy in a hardhat talking on a phone. He wasn't happy about something.

I tried to tune him out and took one more glance up at the colorful scene.      

Celebrating Another Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)




    I turned the corner, down an unfamiliar street, my mind so oblivious to where I was going I might just as well have been a dog with its head out the window, lost in the delicious rush of mysterious and fragrant air, just happy to be out and about with no thought of what might be ahead.

    Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, swept down by the wind and an early snowfall, and the sidewalks and street were littered with the russet and copper remnants of a spectacular autumn. But at the end of the block a scarlet tree still blazed, a burning bush, bright and vibrant against the faded landscape. Even the sun could not ignore it and sunlight danced in the tree, painting the leaves with subtle shades and shadows.

    It was impossible to look away and I didn’t try. I gazed at it as I drove by and even looked back at it in the rearview mirror. 

    Thursday my family will sit down to our Thanksgiving meal and for the first time one of our small group will be absent. My son is away, working in Japan, and we will miss him even as we celebrate his success.

    We are so fortunate to have made it this far without an empty seat at the table. Even in difficult times—and I have never pretended there weren’t some truly difficult days—we gathered, held hands, and spoke aloud the things for which we were most grateful.

    Each year I compose a mental list but when it is my turn to speak, the words fly out of my head. I tear up and can say only that I am grateful for the love of those around me. But what I can never seem to get out is that I am filled with gratitude for the gift of a million small moments.

    There were quiet Sundays spent reading, curled in the big chair beside the fire, my husband stretched out on the sofa. There were Saturday morning feasts that lured home grown children who filled the house with the sound of laughter and the smell of bacon and coffee.

  There were quiet walks through the park with my dogs and the rapturous look on my daughter’s face as we stood in Notre Dame Cathedral on a rainy January day in Paris. There was the afternoon my son turned to me and recited a poem I’d read to him when he was a boy, and my firstborn’s secret smile when she told us her news.

   There were shooting stars glimpsed from my back door and my youngest daughter’s shining face as she sat in the saddle, flying on horseback. There was, just this week, the chance encounter with a beautiful brilliant tree in a landscape that had already surrendered to winter.

 On Thanksgiving Day I will blink back tears and fumble the opportunity to say what I feel. But in my heart I will celebrate the quiet gift of time and the chance to have lived one more extraordinary year of ordinary days.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. 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 catmillsap@gmail.com

The Upside of Jet Lag

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  


    The upside of jet lag, and I suppose it takes a certain kind of optimism to even search for an upside, is that you sometimes find yourself awake and alone deep in the night. Or, at least, that’s what happens to me. For days after a trip my internal clock is upended. While everyone else is tucked in and sound asleep, I am a ghost. I tiptoe through the house making tea and toast. With the muffled whine of jet engines still ringing in my ears and a stuffy head thanks to the combined coughs and colds of hundreds of passengers packed into a 10-hour flight, I wrap myself in blankets and sit on the chaise lounge by the window in my living room with wool socks on my feet and a box of tissues by my side. I am miserable.

    But, I have discovered, there is a gift. When you are awake - half-awake as the case may be - in the dark and quiet world, you are free to think. Wrapped in warm blankets watching the snow fall on the other side of the glass, a comforting mug of hot tea in your hands, you can plan, imagine and dream. Who cares if you have to struggle to remember dates and names? If you’re too sluggish to do more than fall back against the pillows. Under the influence of too much travel and too little sleep, one is free to play with memory and ambition like a puzzle. The pieces can be arranged in whatever way suits you best.    

    Back from a December trip to Germany, cruising down the Rhine River past castles and villages and light-studded Advent markets; after navigating snowstorms, airport closures, cancelled flights and last-minute schedule changes, arriving just in time for Christmas with my family, I spent the last days of the year in just that condition. Exhausted, congested, confused and restless at night and too sleepy to function well by day, I cocooned in thick blankets. I looked back over the previous months. I measured my progress against the plans I’d made. I was too tired to run from my mistakes so there, in the darkest hours of the night, I let them catch up with me. There was, as is usually the case, plenty to answer to.

    I looked at the year ahead. I lay there and thought about what I really want to achieve. Maybe it is my age, my place in life, but when I really considered it, I realized the list is surprisingly short. I want less now than I’ve ever wanted before. The important things still matter: good health and happiness for myself and my family, time to daydream and write, freedom to travel and explore. But I’m no longer inclined to tilt at windmills. Let them spin. I’ve learned to choose my battles.

    Although it didn’t feel that way at the time, those hours by the window, awake in a dark house illuminated by the moon shining down on a snowy world, were the best gift I received. I could see where I’ve been. And where I want to go. And, perhaps this is the most important thing of all, I made peace with where I am.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. 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 catmillsap@gmail.com


Hi Noon: Ghost Of Xmas Treats Past

Cindy found these sugar cookies in her freezer last night. She describes them on Facebook to a friend who suggested that she toss them: "They are not 'just cookies.' They are melt-in-your-mouth delicate bites of' buttery goodness topped with deliciously flavored frostings. They go from tongue to hips in less than an hour."

Question: Did you gain any weight over the Christmas holidays? How long will it take you to get the weight back off?

When silence falls like snow

    The dog scratched at the door, asking to go outside. For days the city had been wrapped in a front of arctic air that swept down from the north and wouldn’t leave us. It was so cold that the doorknob burned against the palm of my hand when I turned it and the first breath shocked me, making me gasp.

    The dog rushed out into the darkness, disappearing into the backyard. He rolled in the snow, happy to be out of the too-warm house - too warm if you’re wearing a fur coat - and then stood still, sniffing the air.
    I wasn’t dressed for the weather but I stepped out and closed the door behind me. It was so beautiful I was pulled out into the night.

    In the cold, pure, silence that falls with snow, we stood there, alone in the dark. The air was so cold the snowflakes were thin and sharp, like frozen shards of broken rain swirling around me. I could feel them land on my face and in my hair. The sky was filled with crystals and the hard, crusted snow glittered.
    I pulled my robe tight, tucking my hands under the collar, feeling the chill creep in through the soles of my boots.

     Every breath I took lingered, hanging in the air around me, a cloud of proof that I was there in that cold place, warm and alive.

            Looking up, the sky formed a dome over me. For a moment, I was encased in a frozen bubble. There was no sound except the white noise of snow falling and landing on the roofs of the houses on the street, collecting on the boughs of the Ponderosa pines, falling to the ground around me. I listened to the sound of my heartbeat in my ears.

    I could, in that moment, imagine that I was in a snow-globe. I was a song, a carol, a witness to a silent night filled with peace and contentment. I was cold only because I chose to be cold. And, when I chose again, I could walk back into a warm and welcoming shelter. I was reminded that so many men, women and children do not have that simple luxury.

    Through the windows I could see the rooms of my house glowing with light and warmth. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the living room, strung with lights and ornamented with family history. The cat was asleep by the fireplace. There was the familiar clutter of books and newspapers and coffee cups. The fragrance of food still hung in the air. It was, at that moment, a place of comfort and joy.

    The dog shook the snow from his coat and brought me back from my thoughts. Together, we walked, taking our time, back through the door leaving the silent night behind.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. 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 catmillsap@gmail.com

Suspected Grinch jailed in package thefts

Two men arrested last week may each be the Inland Northwest's version of the Grinch.

Steven J. Karvela, 39, is suspected of stealing Christmas package from Spokane homes, then selling the would-be gifts at pawn shops. Joseph Michael O’Masters, 43, of Hayden Lake, was arrested in Coeur d'Alene that same day for grand theft after police found him with stolen property worth more than $1,275 in the 3200 block of West Manning Loop.

Spokane police were on alert after several thefts were reported in Spokane and Kootenai counties when a woman reported a package stolen by a man in a Honda-type car. She wrote down what she thought was a license plate, and police spotted a 1992 Ford Escort with a similar plate outside a Spokane pawn shop on Christmas Eve.

Police stopped the car, and the driver, later identified as Karvela, said he lent his drug dealer his car and, in return, the dealer told him he could sell any property left in the car, according to court documents.

Karvela told police that he "know the property was 'probably' stolen, that he was 'in trouble' and that he was going to prison," police wrote.

Karvela had pawned several expensive items in the last couple of days, police said.

He's in custody at Geiger Correction Center on $5,000 bond after appearing in Superior Court on Monday on stolen property charges.

Thefts have been reported in the South Hill area near Cannon Hill, near Whitworth College and in the deeper southeast areas of south Spokane, police said. Victims should report thefts to Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Late AK hunt could ruin Christmas 2011

HUNTING —  This photo was just received with no elaboration from concerned big-game hunters and Santa fans in the far north. Stay tuned.