Thursday, December 14, 2017

Happy Holidays From #OurAuthorGang

Our authors celebrate different holidays in December and we decided to share a few holiday stories with our readers as a group.

A Christmas that became a turning point in my life 
A story by Erika M Szabo

When I was twelve-years-old, we spent Christmas with my favorite aunt, Julia. She was an electrician and very active in community life, so on that particular Christmas, she volunteered to organize a church play the day before Christmas. She told us that the group of volunteer actors wrote and directed the play and Julia promised that we will enjoy it.

I was excited because I always loved Christmas stories. The church was beautifully decorated and the volunteers built a raised platform for the play where houses made out of cardboard were displayed. Three of the houses were bigger with fancy doors, windows, and decorations, and painted with bright colors. One house was small and looked drab.

The play started and fake snow was blown on the stage by fans that were placed high above it so it really looked like the cold wind was blowing snow. A man appeared slowly walking up to the first bigger house and knocked on the door. He was bundled up in a long winter coat, hat, and scarf. A short, chubby woman opened the door and the man said to her, "I'm very cold and I'm hungry. Could you please let me in to warm up by the fire?"

"Go away!" the chubby woman yelled angrily and slammed the door.

The man shuffled up to the next house and when he knocked, he got the same, cold response. The same thing happened when he knocked on the third house's door as well.

The man sighed and knocked on the door of the small house. When he said he was cold and hungry, the man stepped away from the door and replied, "Please, come in and warm up by the fire. I'm afraid I can't offer too much to eat, but I'll share my bread and cheese with you if you like."

I turned to Aunt Julia and I said feeling disappointed, "This play is very bad, those people are retarded. The woman in the first house looks like Marie's sister who has Down's syndrome, the man in the second house doesn't look normal either. He's so skinny and deformed and he's in the wheelchair. The man in the small house was jerking his head, flopped his arms, stomped on the floor with his foot, and I could barely understand what he said. Why did they let people like them do the play?"

Aunt Julia smiled and replied, "These people live in a nursing home where I'm doing some rewiring. They have disabilities but they're just as loving and caring people as you and me, they're just a little different. They've been so excited about this play and they've been rehearsing their lines for months. The woman in the first house is Klara. She has indeed Down's syndrome and she's the sweetest and most loving person I've ever known. The young man in the second house is Peter. He has cerebral palsy and it made him the happiest person in town when he was chosen to be in the play. The older man in the third house has Tourette's syndrome and it probably took all his mental and physical strength to control his movements during his part in the play and to recite his long line. They usually shy away from people because the stares and cruel comments hurt them too much, but the nurses encouraged them, helped them, and gave them the courage and confidence to take part in the play in front of so many people."

Her words shocked me and I felt deeply ashamed. I whispered to my aunt, " I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I never thought about it. I will never-ever-ever use the word 'retarded' again."

I thought about this throughout the story when we found out that the cold and hungry man was Jesus and he rewarded the good-hearted man for his kindness by healing his disability, and I thought about it all evening.

The following day aunt Julia took me to the nursing home where I helped serving breakfast and giving out the presents to the residents. I watched the nurses interacting with residents. They gave them a smile and a hug when they saw their distress and it warmed my heart watching how the people with disability reacted when they saw and felt the genuine care radiating from the faces and from every action of the nurses. The man's erratic movements with Tourette's instantly calmed when he felt the nurse's hand on his shoulder and the angry frown turned to smile on the face of the young man in the wheelchair when the nurse noticed that he couldn't open his present and helped him. 

That Christmas was a turning point in my life. That's when I decided to become a nurse.

Christmas in the City of Bath
 By Mary Anne Yarde

I love Christmas, from Midnight Mass to being woken up ridiculous early because Santa has been. It is certainly a magical time of year. But for me, I like the build-up to the 'big day.' There is so much to do. Visiting Santa is a must, obviously. But so is strolling around Bath's Christmas Market in the evening. The smell of roasting chestnuts and the beautiful sparkling Christmas lights are guaranteed to get you in the festive mood. The thing I like most about the market is that 80% of the stallholders are local business and many of the things for sale are handmade. The market is held in the shadow of Bath Abbey, and it is just a great way to shop for unusual and unique presents.

Bath Christmas Market 2016

If you ever wondered what a Georgian House would look like decked out for Christmas, then you can go and check out No.1 Royal Crescent. Every year the museum celebrates a Georgian Christmas. Or perhaps, you would like to see what Christmas was like in America in times gone by. If so then The American Museum, is a good place to start. How about finding out which dress is the "Dress of the year 2017" The Fashion Museum will show you. And for those who like their Jane Austen, then The Jane Austen Centre is a great place to find those Austen mad family members a gift.

By now your feet will be aching so, if you can afford it, why not treat yourself to a fabulous meal at the famous Pump Rooms. While you eat, you can admire the splendour of The Roman Baths.

There is something for everyone in my home city and at this time of year, it is especially appealing.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a safe and happy holiday.

Don't Need No Snow for Christmas
by Joe Bonadonna
Photo of Floyd, 1/2 of a friend's twin boys

First, let's start with rain. I'd always heard it said that it often will rain on one side of the street and not on the other. I'd never seen this happen until Christmas Eve, 1975, when I was 23. 

I've always spent the holidays with my parents, if not with them and enough members from both sides of my family to invade and conquer the state of Arizona, which my Mom's family is doing quite well on their own right now, thank you. Well, in 1975 I got the chance to go to Florida for the holidays, and I asked my parents for permission. Yes, even though I was over 21, I still asked their permission because this matter was big. Very big. Big big. Really big. Santa's belly-size big. It was big. My parents encouraged me to go: that's the sort of people they were, bless their big, candy-cane and sugar-plum hearts. They never had the money to trave: family vacations were usually in Wisconsin, Michigan or Missouri, and those ended in 1964. Other than Illinois, those were the only 3 states my Mom had ever been in. My Dad, because of his stint in the army, was in Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. So they wanted me to enjoy myself. 
"Make sure you visit Lookout Mountain," my Dad told me, knowing I was a Civil War buff. Lookout Mountain is a mountain ridge located at the northwest of Georgia, the northeast corner of Alabama, and along the Tennessee state line in Chattanooga -- which is the Creek Indian word for Lookout Mountain, and that word translates roughly into "two mountains looking at each other." Well, it's the site of famous battles, and my Dad loved it when he was there. "Go enjoy," he told me. "Don't pass up this opportunity. Besides, you hate snow, and you really don't need snow for Christmas." So his and Mom's Christmas present to me that year was their blessing to go travel with my friends. Now, we weren't flying from Chicago to Florida, so we could make the stop in Chattanooga, and in Nashville, too. Santa had loaned us his spare sleigh, sans sleigh bells, and we had to use mountain goats instead of reindeer, and those guys couldn't fly. I was tempted to steal Rudolph's red-red nose, but I refrained from committing a crime at Christmas time, ho-ho-ho.

Anyway, during our 2-week sojourn in the sunshine state (or is that Califorinia? I don't know. I digress), we visited and stayed in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Daytona, and we went swimming in the pools and in the ocean every day -- in December, no less! A few days later we ended up in Deerfield Beach, where a member of our little expedition was meeting his family. We stayed at a small but nice motel on Atlantic Boulevard, and there was a hotel located directly across the street. I think it was a Holiday Inn, but my brain's a little egg-noggy on that memory. But I do recall that on Christmas Eve, while waiting for the others to get ready for dinner, I was sitting outside the motel, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the sight of palm trees lined up in front of the big hotel all decked out with twinkling lights and balls of holly. I thought it was beautiful. Then it started to rain, across the other side of Atlantic Boulevard. Never having seen this natural phenomena before, I ran back and forth across the street several times, dodging in and out of traffic, playing like a kid in the rain. People must have thought I was nuts. I'm, pretty sure they were. They were honking and yelling curses at me. The nerve -- and on Christmas Eve, no less. I hope the Fat Man had his hitman squad of elves put coal in all their darn stockings.

When I finally got bored and tired doing that, I went back to sit down in front of the motel, the name of which I still can't recall, and just reveled in the lovely site of palm trees turned into Christmas trees. It was magical and joyous . . . a summer wonderland. And New Year's Eve we spent in Disneyworld, which I loved because I never got to go to Disneyland when I was no bigger than one of them there Keebler elves who, incidentally, also work for Santa. (That's how he developed his addiction to cookies, you know.) It was a wonderful vacation. And my friend's large family made me feel right at home. Driving home on January 3rd, I remembered my Dad's words: "You don't really need snow for Christmas." He was so right.

Incidentally, I bought my Mom a coconut that had a face carved into it. My Dad received a small, stuffed alligator. They still sold those back then, in the last century.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah,  Happy Kwanzaa, and a Festivus for the rest of us! Blessings to all and to all a good night! 

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Merry Christmas, Darling...A Flash Fiction story
by Grace Augustine

Thanksgiving evening.
               Leftovers put away…check. 
               Dishes rinsed and in the dishwasher…check. 
               Cup of hot herbal tea…check. 
               Pen in hand with Christmas cards and address book on lap…check. 
               Cheesy Hallmark movies on television…check.

Christmas Eve.

                The four of us walked to the church in the gently falling snow. It was only a couple blocks away and, of course, the boys ran ahead of John and me, but waited at the Narthex doors so we could enter as a family.
                The Christ candle of the Advent wreath was lit, the ageless message was spoken, and the candles were lit as we sang Silent Night. That song always stabs my heart, this year more so than others.
                Things with John haven’t been good for a very long time. The kids have picked up on the tension between us, so they’ve been a handful both at home and at school. It’s difficult pretending nothing’s wrong.
                With a smile plastered on my face, I hugged several on the way out of the church.  I greeted Pastor Iverson and his wife and nodded when they suggested we all get together after the holidays. The boys, one on either side of me, grabbed my hands and pulled me toward the door.
John never likes to hang around to visit. He impatiently waited outside. The cold hit me as I opened the door and we walked out to meet him. The short walk to our house was in silence. It was still snowing, and the silence was deafening.
I’d made a crockpot of hot chocolate, so it would be ready when we returned. It was tradition in our home to open presents after church. They boys hurried upstairs and put on their pajamas and giggled their way back to the living room, sitting as close as they could to the tree and the brightly wrapped boxes. 
We didn’t have much money. Even though John and I both worked a forty-hour work week, there never seemed to be any extra. I hated that I couldn’t get more things for the boys for Christmas, but two presents each would have to do.
Thankfully, they were happy with the toy selections. John was happy, too, when he opened his new electronic gadgets…and me—well, I got a new pair of socks and a flannel nightgown.
I picked up the wrapping paper and took it to the trash in the kitchen before filling my mug with more hot chocolate. I secretly wished I had something strong to put in it! I walked back into the living room and sat down. The boys were tired. They were whiny and biting at each other. It was close to eleven o’clock… time for bed.
John continued messing with the stereo speaker enhancer. As usual, I was on my own getting the kids calmed down and ready to sleep. I chased them up the stairs to their respective rooms, but they wanted to sleep together tonight, so I figured there was no harm in that.
They both climbed into the double bed and I grabbed ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas from the bookshelf. The longer I read, the sleepier they were…three-fourths the way through, both were fast asleep. I kissed each forehead and counted my blessings as I turned on the night light and closed the door.
My mug was lukewarm, but I wasn’t going downstairs to heat it. The last person I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with was John. I grabbed the cordless phone and went into the bedroom. I’m not proud of what happened after that.
You see, with the problems between John and me, and being overwhelmed with work and the kids, I’d reached out to anyone who showed me the least little bit of attention. I was in a chat room online and met several wonderful people. Some of us remain friends today. One person struck my fancy…and I did his. Doug.
Doug was a real estate mogul from Denver, Colorado. He’d been my saving grace more times than I care to count. He listened. He didn’t judge me on my feelings, or lack of, where John was concerned. He seemed to truly understand. He was divorced, and we’d developed quite a thing for one another. We’d talk to each other by phone a couple times a week and send countless email messages. We even met during a lay-over at Denver International Airport.
All I knew was that I needed to be anywhere but where I was tonight. That meant a phone call to Doug. I put my Carpenters Christmas CD in the player and punched his number into the phone. He thanked me for the peanut clusters I’d sent him for Christmas and we talked about church, dinner, his kids, my kids, how we wished we were together walking in the snow, sharing the quiet, magical night.
“Someday. I believe it will happen, someday,” he’d always say.
Tonight. I wanted it to happen tonight. How could it, though, when we were hundreds of miles apart?
“Merry Christmas, Darling. We’re apart, that’s true…but I can dream and in my dreams, I’m Christmasing with you…” The familiar words rang through my heart as I listened to Doug’s voice mixed with the words of the song. In that moment, it became our song. I began singing them as the music played. To my surprise, Doug joined in. There was a long pause in our conversation when the song ended. I didn’t want this moment to end. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I listened to his rich voice.
“Merry Christmas, Darling. Someday. Someday.

Photo copyright of the author

Footprints in the snow

By Nicola McDonagh

The last time we had snow at Christmas was at least six years ago. I was excited, I love the snow, so when I looked out of the window on Christmas morning and saw all of my big garden covered in a pure white blanket, I was thrilled. Racing down the stairs, fumbling for my wellington boots, I quickly donned gloves, woolly hat, and overcoat. I grabbed my camera. The sun was peaking through the clouds and I wanted to capture some sparkling ice.

I stepped out and saw a stretch of snow by the door defaced by mysterious markings. Who could have made them? I imagined some kind of small animal angel lying down and fanning its delicate wings, leaving the distinctive fanned imprint. Well, perhaps not. Or maybe it was a hedgehog that had woken up and was stumbling around cold and hungry? That thought made me resolved to discover who was the perpetrator of these peculiar footprints.

I decided that I’d hide behind the conifers and observe, but my husband reminded me that it was Christmas. Time to feed the cats and open presents. After making some porridge with lots of maple syrup and soya cream poured over the top, we sat by the log fire eating, listening to Jethro Tull’s wonderful song, Ring Out Solstice Bells, and I gradually forgot about the marks in the snow.

Until, later in the day just after the sun went down, I was cooking in the kitchen, and heard a small scraping sound outside the window. I turned off the light, looked out and in the rising moonlight, saw the culprit. A rat or rather, several rats scrabbling about the frozen pavement in search of the dropped seed I’d put out the day before for the birds.

 Ugh, rats then, not ethereal fairy creatures or cute hedgehogs, just nasty vermin.

I stared at them for a while wondering whether or not to run out with a broom and chase them away. But as I watched them interact and play I realised that they were actually quite cute and just as deserving of nourishment as any other creature. So in the spirit of Christmas, keeping kindness in my heart and goodwill to all, I opened the window and threw out some scraps. They scattered and hid but after a few minutes reappeared, picked up the pieces of bread in their dextrous paws, sat on their hind legs and nibbled contentedly.

I wonder if it will snow this year and I’ll see some more mysterious footprints in the snow?

Christmas Memories
Ruth de Jauregui

When I was a kid, we didn't have a lot of money. Christmas meant a new book, an outfit, games and a toy or doll. Still, we were always so excited. We were only allowed to look at our stockings and gifts from Santa. We had to wait until the elderly sisters who lived across the street made their way to our house (10 am or later) before we could open our gifts. We waited impatiently every year for them.

My parents believed in sharing, and that included sharing the holiday with those who had no other family. One sister had never married and the other was widowed and had lost her only son, I believe in WWII.

Being kids, yeah, we were a bit selfish about sharing our holiday. But the joy that our elderly friends got out of our excitement and glee at receiving a new book (they usually gave us books) -- well, now I look back and smile. 

To this day, our family shares holiday dinners with friends and neighbors. And Mom usually cooks up several extra turkeys for the community dinner too. (At Thanksgiving I went with her to deliver three turkeys that had been cooked and deboned, ready for the chafing dishes to serve all who chose to attend the free dinner.)

Our parents have always set the example for us. We aren't especially religious, we each follow our own belief systems. Still, the spirit of Christmas lives on in each of us.

May your holiday season be blessed, no matter what your beliefs, religion or spirituality.

A Comfy Christmas Tradition 
by Toi Thomas ~ The ToiBox of Words
So, over the years I’ve enjoyed the freedom of being able to meet people from all over the world and learning the many and different ways people celebrate Christmas. I’ve even enjoyed making friends and associates of people of different cultures and learning about their celebrations of Hanukkah, Kwanza, and many Solstice celebrations. 

For me, the one Thomas/Cameron celebration that I’ve always enjoyed has been the Christmas Eve pajama party. Whether a large or small gathering, this section of my family has always gotten together to dress up in the sleepwear of our choice to sing songs, eat sweets, and open a few (or a lot) of presents at the stroke of midnight. Even last year, on a cruise ship in the coastal waters of the Bahamas, the Cameron family kept up the tradition.

Not only am I blessed to have been born into a loving family, over the years I’ve acquired many new devoted family members by marriage or simply by kindred souls being united. There’s a certain point where a friend crosses the line into family; it’s a point where you realize that even if and when this person drives you mad, you still love them and will be there for them when they need you, and you know they’ll do the same (even if you reach a point where you don’t like each other, the love is strong enough to make you family). Whether by blood, marriage, or divine providence, I love my family and keep thoughts of them close to me during this season of peace, love, and hopefully cheer. 

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