The “Show Off” Writing Contest: Christmas Special

by Joe Bunting | 210 comments

The Write Practice's mission is to help writers like you succeed, and one of the ways we want to do that is by giving you a place to show off your work. That's why today we're launching something I'm extremely excited about (and huge thanks to the illustrious Mr. Jeff Goins for this idea, and to Kati Rice for helping flesh it out).

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, and all of you have a little more time to write, I'd like to present you with a very exciting opportunity. This is for people who:

  • Want to be published (in print)
  • Want to drastically improve their writing
  • Enjoy a little competition
  • Love Christmas (or Hanukkah) and want to write about it
  • Like the Write Practice

Sound interesting?

Christmas Story

Photo by Shandi-Lee

Show Off Your Best Work

This month, the Write Practice is hosting its first monthly writing competition. You will get to submit a longer piece by Friday, December 2011, and then, I'm going to pick the best one.

Here's the exciting part. If your piece is chosen, I will work with you on making it the best it can be. We'll work on making your images shine, your prose sparkle, your dialogue sing, and your grammar… not suck. Then, before the month is over, we'll publish it on the Write Practice where hundreds of people will get to read you at your very best.

It gets better though. We're going to do this every month for the next year, and this time next year, we plan to collect all twelve of these pieces and publish them in a book. Real paper, real cover, real ink. So if your piece is chosen, you will be able to consider yourself a published author.

How's that sound?

I know. I'm excited, too. Here are the rules.

SHOW OFF: RULES

Write about Christmas. (Or Hanukkah.)

  • This could be a non-fictional account of your memories from Christmas or a fictional account of some sort. I would like to see pieces that are a complete thought, though, with a beginning, middle and end.
  • I'm looking for pieces between 500-1250 words. I will read every word, so please, nothing over 1250 words.
  • You can post your completed piece in the comments of this post. You can post as many times as you want!
  • The deadline is Friday, December 9, 2011 to post your piece. That's a week, but start today!

And, of course, if you submit your work, you agree to let me publish your piece on the Write Practice and in a physical book.

Good luck! I'm SO excited to read your work.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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210 Comments

  1. Patricia W Hunter

    What a fun and fabulous idea. Can you tell us just a little more about the “physical book” you mentioned in the rules? How the winning entry will be used?

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Patricia. The winning entry for this month will be published on the Write Practice (along with links to the author’s blog, facebook, and twitter, if they wish), and, if all things go according to plan, in a physical book along with eleven other selected stories. If published, the author would, of course, get a copy of the book for free.

  2. Patricia W Hunter

    What a fun and fabulous idea. Can you tell us just a little more about the “physical book” you mentioned in the rules? How the winning entry will be used?

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Patricia. The winning entry for this month will be published on the Write Practice (along with links to the author’s blog, facebook, and twitter, if they wish), and, if all things go according to plan, in a physical book along with eleven other selected stories. If published, the author would, of course, get a copy of the book for free.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Thanks for explaining, Joe.

  3. Guest

    What a great idea Joe! Here’s my first attempt at a non-fiction entry.

    Christmas Bells and Carillon

    Door Bell

    The door bell rang, but when I answered there was no one there; just a mysterious package. To my delight, the package was a Christmas gift. Even more delightful was the fact that it was just the beginning of a series of twelve drive-by giftings; all committed by a secret Santa.

    2002 was promising to be one of those Christmases that every romantic fantasizes about. A living Currier and Ives mashup of Rockwellian proportions. I was the romantic that dreamed it was possible to have the perfect Christmas; complete with scenes of caroling children bunching and crunching in the snow-laden streets of my hometown. Having a secret Santa was a wonderful lead-in to my perfect Christmas fantasy. But my wife was soon to get a phone call that would rock the very foundation of my perfectly assembled Christmas village.

    Phone Ring

    “Mrs. Wideman, we see something on your mammogram and need you to come in for more tests.”

    This did not fit into the plan for a perfect Christmas. The fact that the doctor wanted the tests performed before the holidays only increased the probability that my Christmas fantasy would remain just that; a fantasy. How I wished Sally hadn’t answered the phone, then I could have lived in my fantasy and continued to deny the reality of any problem.

    But cancer doesn’t take a holiday, so arrangements were made for a lumpectomy the day before Christmas Eve. It was also the day we had originally planned to travel fourteen hours to be with Sally’s family for the holidays. But that would have to wait, there were more pressing issues than having the perfect Christmas family gathering. By this time I had accepted the reality of my Christmas dream turned nightmare.

    “It’s definitely cancer,” was the only thing I heard the surgeon say before falling back into my chair. I was told I could go see my wife in recovery and tell her the news; the bad news. Wasn’t Christmas supposed to be about the Good News? Christ came to earth to bring us hope, peace, love and joy; not cancer.

    I gazed into her eyes when I told her. As I did, I thought about how I hadn’t done enough eye-gazing and committed to do it more. Time froze on that cold winter morning in the recovery room. As our eyes locked, few words were spoken, but many were received. Tears flowed as dreams melted. Hearts were fused in renewed love and desperation.

    When we got home, we gathered the kids and told them the news. I remembered thinking how young they were to have to experience the dashed dreams of their own Christmas fantasies. They wouldn’t have as many years to get to live in denial of the existence of pain and suffering during the holidays.

    Steeple Bells

    It wasn’t long before the call rang out at our church that Sally indeed had breast cancer. Over the next few hours, the church ladies would do what they do best; what I call the ministry of being there. Sisters who had survived breast cancer immediately adopted Sally into a sisterhood she didn’t want to belong. They encouraged and counseled and listened and hugged. Other’s brought prayer quilts and lotions and comfort food casseroles. Prayers were spoken, cards were sent, and phone calls made.

    Family Jingle

    We decided we needed to be with family so I loaded up the family sleigh, our ’98 Explorer to be exact, and we all piled in for our trip over river and through the woods. A major snow storm was bearing down on our area, so we planned on driving with as few stops as possible in effort to avoid getting snowed in, snowed out, or snowed under. My wife took her pain meds, lowered her car seat straight back and fell asleep with her head in our daughter’s lap who was sitting directly behind her. We traveled straight there with only stopping for gas. Sally slept the entire fourteen hour drive.

    There is healing power being with family, at least there should be. It certainly was for us; maybe not physically, but emotionally for sure. We told stories, sang songs, watched movies, ate meals, baked cookies, gave gifts, hugged necks and prayed prayers during our week together. It was as close to Norman Rockwell as one could get while still facing a deadly disease.

    As we said our final goodbyes and headed back home to face more surgery and chemo, I thought about how different this Christmas had turned out compared to my perfect Christmas fantasy. The sound of jingle bells and sleigh bells had been replaced with the music of a different kind; a Christmas carillon.

    I looked up carillon in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It read, “A set of fixed chromatically tuned bells sounded by hammers controlled from a keyboard.” When I read that, I realized that’s exactly what we experienced that Christmas. In my fantasy to have the perfect Christmas, I thought I had to have a set of events align in perfect tune and sequence. The only problem, life doesn’t work that way. The carillon cannot be played without being pounded by a bunch of hammers. But thank God, that when we allow him to control the keyboard, he has always had a way of making beautiful music with the pounding of a hammer.

    Reply
    • Eileen

      Enjoyed reading your entry. It resonated with me. I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was teenager and was just thinking, today, about that first Christmas without her. Love how you talked about our idea of the “perfect” Christmas and so often life doesn’t live up to our expectation BUT so thankful God still makes “beautiful music” out of it!

    • Joe Bunting

      This is a powerful Christmas story, Tom. You’ve set the bar very high!

      I was just talking about how story is about change with Sarah above. In this you go from wanting a comfortable Norman Rockwell Christmas (great analogy, by the way), but instead got one full of unexpected pain. Rather than be defeated, you had to change your understanding of what Christmas, and life, is. You had to realize it’s about being present and grateful in the moment, despite the pain, in the midst of the pain. It’s a great message and a great story.

      Like I said, way to set the bar high 🙂

    • Oddznns

      O my goodness, my heart has stopped! This is so powerful and so true, so true, so true.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Powerful story and message, Tom. Thank you for writing it.

  4. Anonymous

    Christmas Bells and Carillon

    Door Bell
    The door bell rang, but when I answered there was no one there; just a mysterious package. To my delight, the package was a Christmas gift. Even more delightful was the fact that it was just the beginning of a series of twelve drive-by giftings; all committed by a secret Santa.
    2002 was promising to be one of those Christmases that every romantic fantasizes about. A living Currier and Ives mashup of Rockwellian proportions. I was the romantic that dreamed it was possible to have the perfect Christmas; complete with scenes of caroling children bunching and crunching in the snow-laden streets of my hometown. Having a secret Santa was a wonderful lead-in to my perfect Christmas fantasy. But my wife was soon to get a phone call that would rock the very foundation of my perfectly assembled Christmas village.
    Phone Ring
    “Mrs. Wideman, we see something on your mammogram and need you to come in for more tests.”
    This did not fit into the plan for a perfect Christmas. The fact that the doctor wanted the tests performed before the holidays only increased the probability that my Christmas fantasy would remain just that; a fantasy. How I wished Sally hadn’t answered the phone, then I could have lived in my fantasy and continued to deny the reality of any problem.
    But cancer doesn’t take a holiday, so arrangements were made for a lumpectomy the day before Christmas Eve. It was also the day we had originally planned to travel fourteen hours to be with Sally’s family for the holidays. But that would have to wait, there were more pressing issues than having the perfect Christmas family gathering. By this time I had accepted the reality of my Christmas dream turned nightmare.
    “It’s definitely cancer,” was the only thing I heard the surgeon say before falling back into my chair. I was told I could go see my wife in recovery and tell her the news; the bad news. Wasn’t Christmas supposed to be about the Good News? Christ came to earth to bring us hope, peace, love and joy; not cancer.
    I gazed into her eyes when I told her. As I did, I thought about how I hadn’t done enough eye-gazing and committed to do it more. Time froze on that cold winter morning in the recovery room. As our eyes locked, few words were spoken, but many were received. Tears flowed as dreams melted. Hearts were fused in renewed love and desperation.
    When we got home, we gathered the kids and told them the news. I remembered thinking how young they were to have to experience the dashed dreams of their own Christmas fantasies. They wouldn’t have as many years to get to live in denial of the existence of pain and suffering during the holidays.
    Steeple Bells
    It wasn’t long before the call rang out at our church that Sally indeed had breast cancer. Over the next few hours, the church ladies would do what they do best; what I call the ministry of being there. Sisters who had survived breast cancer immediately adopted Sally into a sisterhood she didn’t want to belong. They encouraged and counseled and listened and hugged. Other’s brought prayer quilts and lotions and comfort food casseroles. Prayers were spoken, cards were sent, and phone calls made.
    Family Jingle
    We decided we needed to be with family so I loaded up the family sleigh, our ’98 Explorer to be exact, and we all piled in for our trip over river and through the woods. A major snow storm was bearing down on our area, so we planned on driving with as few stops as possible in effort to avoid getting snowed in, snowed out, or snowed under. My wife took her pain meds, lowered her car seat straight back and fell asleep with her head in our daughter’s lap who was sitting directly behind her. We traveled straight there with only stopping for gas. Sally slept the entire fourteen hour drive.
    There is healing power being with family, at least there should be. It certainly was for us; maybe not physically, but emotionally for sure. We told stories, sang songs, watched movies, ate meals, baked cookies, gave gifts, hugged necks and prayed prayers during our week together. It was as close to Norman Rockwell as one could get while still facing a deadly disease.
    As we said our final goodbyes and headed back home to face more surgery and chemo, I thought about how different this Christmas had turned out compared to my perfect Christmas fantasy. The sound of jingle bells and sleigh bells had been replaced with the music of a different kind; a Christmas carillon.
    I looked up carillon in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It read, “A set of fixed chromatically tuned bells sounded by hammers controlled from a keyboard.” When I read that, I realized that’s exactly what we experienced that Christmas. In my fantasy to have the perfect Christmas, I thought I had to have a set of events align in perfect tune and sequence. The only problem, life doesn’t work that way. The carillon cannot be played without being pounded by a bunch of hammers. But thank God, that when we allow him to control the keyboard, he has always had a way of making beautiful music with the pounding of a hammer.

    Reply
    • Eileen

      Enjoyed reading your entry. It resonated with me. I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was teenager and was just thinking, today, about that first Christmas without her. Love how you talked about our idea of the “perfect” Christmas and so often life doesn’t live up to our expectation BUT so thankful God still makes “beautiful music” out of it!

    • Joe Bunting

      This is a powerful Christmas story, Tom. You’ve set the bar very high!

      I was just talking about how story is about change with Sarah above. In this you go from wanting a comfortable Norman Rockwell Christmas (great analogy, by the way), but instead got one full of unexpected pain. Rather than be defeated, you had to change your understanding of what Christmas, and life, is. You had to realize it’s about being present and grateful in the moment, despite the pain, in the midst of the pain. It’s a great message and a great story.

      Like I said, way to set the bar high 🙂

    • Oddznns

      O my goodness, my heart has stopped! This is so powerful and so true, so true, so true.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Powerful story and message, Tom. Thank you for writing it.

  5. Eileen

    What a great idea, Joe. Not sure I will have anything to contribute or not BUT will look forward to reading the entries.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I really hope you will, Eileen. If not this month, then maybe next month 🙂

    • Eileen

      Well, I did end up writing something. I’ll share it here. After finishing it, I am not sure it fits appropriately into the “Christmas” category, but it’s written. This was fun and I enjoyed attempting something.

      Unwrapping the Gifts of the Father

      My dad is not the best gift giver. For instance, for my birthday this year, I received a one gallon jug of organic household cleaner.

      I love my dad and while it might not be obvious from the above example, I’ve watched him do some growing over the years, both in the gift giving department and other areas too. When the glue of our family, my mom, lost her battle with breast cancer, my dad was left to fill both the mom and the dad role in my life. Prior to my mom’s death, my dad was not very affectionate. As a child, I don’t remember him ever telling me he loved me…not with those words anyway.

      Instead, he showed his love for me and my brothers by providing for us and being strict. His most effective disciplinary tactic was the “scary father look”. You know the look, don’t you? The look that says “if I have to tell you one more time, you will be incredibly sorry.” I never had a problem respecting this look. But despite his lack of verbal expression of love, I knew my dad cared deeply for me, my brothers and my mom.

      Eventually, my dad did learn to say the words I love you to me. I do, however, recall a few failed attempts before he finally succeeded. His earlier attempts came out sounding like this…”Keep one in the chamber.”

      One of the gifts my dad gave me as I journeyed off to college after my mom died was an old gun. And, whenever we spoke on the phone, these were the five words he would say to me at the end our conversation before hanging up, “keep one in the chamber.” Somehow, I knew those words were synonymous to these five words, “be careful, I love you.” And, I would always respond, “Okay, Dad.” This, of course, was code for these five words, “I love you too, Dad.”

      I kept my dad’s “I love you” gift hidden in my closet. I never actually loaded it. The bullets never came out of the small cardboard box.

      On the drive home from work last night, I thought about the first Christmas after my mom died. It was my dad’s first attempt at gift-giving without my mom’s guidance or tips. I was standing in the living room Christmas morning and I remember my dad coming into the room carrying a plastic Walmart shopping bag in one hand while hiding his other hand behind his back.

      “Merry Christmas.” he says and hands me the bag. I open the bag. It’s an address book.

      “Thanks, Dad.”

      “You’re welcome. Can I have that bag back? I need to wrap your next gift.”

      I hand him the bag, he turns and quickly takes another item from behind his back and places it into the bag. He turns, and hands me the bag again. I open it again. It’s another address book, but this one is a little bigger. “Uh…thanks, Dad.”

      “Okay, I need the bag again,” he says.

      I hand him the bag and the same scene unfolds.

      This time when I reach in the bag, I lift out a giant leather-looking note pad. But, it isn’t just any note pad, this is a special note pad. When I opened it, there was this huge…and I mean huge, solar calculator built into the inside cover.

      “Thanks, Dad”

      Over the years, my dad has learned the beauty of purchasing restaurant gift cards for his kids at Christmas time. Applebees and Outback are his cards of choice. He’s even learned to “wrap” the gift inside a Christmas card.

      He’s come a long way. And yet, regardless of his gift giving skills, I love him.

      He’s my dad.

    • joco

      Eileen, what a sweet, heart-warming story. It really conveys a message of grace. I love the scene of your first Christmas after your mom passes. Awkward and broken, yet still full of love. You really do a good job of helping us readers learn to love him as you do. Other daughters might have turned him into a despised ogre, but you showed him as a beloved dad.

    • Joe Bunting

      This definitely fits into the Christmas category.

      I love it, Eileen. A good “tour” of your dad’s character. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      I LOVE how you honor your dad, Eileen. It’s a beautiful picture of grace.

  6. Eileen

    What a great idea, Joe. Not sure I will have anything to contribute or not BUT will look forward to reading the entries.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I really hope you will, Eileen. If not this month, then maybe next month 🙂

    • Eileen

      Well, I did end up writing something. I’ll share it here. After finishing it, I am not sure it fits appropriately into the “Christmas” category, but it’s written. This was fun and I enjoyed attempting something.

      Unwrapping the Gifts of the Father

      My dad is not the best gift giver. For instance, for my birthday this year, I received a one gallon jug of organic household cleaner.

      I love my dad and while it might not be obvious from the above example, I’ve watched him do some growing over the years, both in the gift giving department and other areas too. When the glue of our family, my mom, lost her battle with breast cancer, my dad was left to fill both the mom and the dad role in my life. Prior to my mom’s death, my dad was not very affectionate. As a child, I don’t remember him ever telling me he loved me…not with those words anyway.

      Instead, he showed his love for me and my brothers by providing for us and being strict. His most effective disciplinary tactic was the “scary father look”. You know the look, don’t you? The look that says “if I have to tell you one more time, you will be incredibly sorry.” I never had a problem respecting this look. But despite his lack of verbal expression of love, I knew my dad cared deeply for me, my brothers and my mom.

      Eventually, my dad did learn to say the words I love you to me. I do, however, recall a few failed attempts before he finally succeeded. His earlier attempts came out sounding like this…”Keep one in the chamber.”

      One of the gifts my dad gave me as I journeyed off to college after my mom died was an old gun. And, whenever we spoke on the phone, these were the five words he would say to me at the end our conversation before hanging up, “keep one in the chamber.” Somehow, I knew those words were synonymous to these five words, “be careful, I love you.” And, I would always respond, “Okay, Dad.” This, of course, was code for these five words, “I love you too, Dad.”

      I kept my dad’s “I love you” gift hidden in my closet. I never actually loaded it. The bullets never came out of the small cardboard box.

      On the drive home from work last night, I thought about the first Christmas after my mom died. It was my dad’s first attempt at gift-giving without my mom’s guidance or tips. I was standing in the living room Christmas morning and I remember my dad coming into the room carrying a plastic Walmart shopping bag in one hand while hiding his other hand behind his back.

      “Merry Christmas.” he says and hands me the bag. I open the bag. It’s an address book.

      “Thanks, Dad.”

      “You’re welcome. Can I have that bag back? I need to wrap your next gift.”

      I hand him the bag, he turns and quickly takes another item from behind his back and places it into the bag. He turns, and hands me the bag again. I open it again. It’s another address book, but this one is a little bigger. “Uh…thanks, Dad.”

      “Okay, I need the bag again,” he says.

      I hand him the bag and the same scene unfolds.

      This time when I reach in the bag, I lift out a giant leather-looking note pad. But, it isn’t just any note pad, this is a special note pad. When I opened it, there was this huge…and I mean huge, solar calculator built into the inside cover.

      “Thanks, Dad”

      Over the years, my dad has learned the beauty of purchasing restaurant gift cards for his kids at Christmas time. Applebees and Outback are his cards of choice. He’s even learned to “wrap” the gift inside a Christmas card.

      He’s come a long way. And yet, regardless of his gift giving skills, I love him.

      He’s my dad.

    • Anonymous

      Eileen, what a sweet, heart-warming story. It really conveys a message of grace. I love the scene of your first Christmas after your mom passes. Awkward and broken, yet still full of love. You really do a good job of helping us readers learn to love him as you do. Other daughters might have turned him into a despised ogre, but you showed him as a beloved dad.

    • Joe Bunting

      This definitely fits into the Christmas category.

      I love it, Eileen. A good “tour” of your dad’s character. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      I LOVE how you honor your dad, Eileen. It’s a beautiful picture of grace.

  7. Adriana Willey

    this is a really wonderful idea. if i were to write, i would create something with warm tones and tender moments. whether or not i do, i look forward to see this unfold!!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Adriana. But you HAVE to submit something. If not this month then next month. I love your writing so much.

    • Adriana Willey

      thank you! that’s encouraging to hear. i’m rolling ideas around as i’m cooking dinner 🙂

  8. Adriana Willey

    this is a really wonderful idea. if i were to write, i would create something with warm tones and tender moments. whether or not i do, i look forward to see this unfold!!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Adriana. But you HAVE to submit something. If not this month then next month. I love your writing so much.

    • Adriana Willey

      thank you! that’s encouraging to hear. i’m rolling ideas around as i’m cooking dinner 🙂

  9. Sarah A

    Hi, I’m new here but am intrigued by the contest…So here ya go! Anxious to get some feedback–thanks!!
    Sarah 🙂

    Dear God,
    I had a revelation this week: You are the true meaning of Christmas!

    Ok, that probably seems like a pretty obvious one, depending on who You talk to. I mean, everywhere I go there are declarations of defiance against using any term other than “Merry Christmas.” Facebook and Twitter are blowing up with proclamations of outrage against anyone daring to use the words “happy” and “Holidays” in the same sentence. Heaven forbid we wish anyone enjoy all of the Holidays celebrated at this time of year, right?

    No, I’m talking about You being the true meaning behind what most people consider the spirit of Christmas: the unwavering faith of Mary and Joseph, despite a cold and crowded welcome to the town of Bethlehem; a little drummer boy’s selfless act of giving all that he has; the stereotypical Grinch’s heart suddenly pulsing with love and compassion for the “whos” of the world; the way that Ebenezer Scrooge gets a second chance at living a life of goodwill to men…even Rudolph’s narrow-minded critics learn their lesson about judging a book by its cover! This is great stuff!

    It is truly “the time of year when the world falls in love” as we “hear the bells on Christmas Day” pleading with us to heed the “tidings of comfort and joy.” Every traditional and pop culture reference to the season (that seemingly dances like fevered sugarplums in our heads!) seems to call on humanity to embrace what You’ve been telling us all along: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you!

    Pretty smart, if You ask me. Once a year as we celebrate Baby Jesus, the Festival of Lights and the beginning of a New Year, You give us a longing to treat others better. For a shining moment, humanity’s attention is zeroed in on how beautiful life would be “if it were Christmas all year long,” as yet another Christmas song from my childhood wistfully ponders. What would it be like if we gave each other thoughtfully-selected presents on a regular basis, set aside specific time for spending with family and friends all of the time, organized drives to share what we have with those less fortunate constantly and decorated our homes to reflect the song in our hearts all year? What would happen if every song on the radio called for us to enjoy the beauty of nature and prize the innocence of childlike faith and wonder? How would the world look if we took time to love and hope and wish and dream?

    Why, I think it would be Heaven.

    So, nicely done, God. Despite the commercials, crowded shopping malls and even the arguments about how to properly wish each other the best during this season, You still get the message across. You—and all that we believe You are and stand for—are truly the meaning of Christmas.

    And, so on behalf of all of us, regardless of background or belief, I thank You. That’s truly the best Christmas present of all.

    “Dear God”—By Sarah R. Adams, Copyright 2011

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for submitting this piece, Sarah! It’s heartfelt, warm in tone, and hopeful. As I was reading, I was wondering what it would look like if you wrote it from the perspective of a child. It has that kind of naivete, like a kid who writes a letter to Santa, you know?

      The one thing I think would improve it is if you told a story or two. The framework of a letter to God is cool, but you always want to try to show what you’re writing about rather than tell it. So you could write about how you were driving along and listening to a Christmas song made you feel hopeful, joyful, peaceful, in the midst of the difficult circumstances the world throws at all of us, and how that made you change your behavior in some way. Good stories are all about change.

    • Kati Lane

      Hi Sarah! As one of the “regulars” here, I wanted you to know how nice it is to have another voice here! And I love that you jumped right in with an awesome holiday message…that Christmas cheer can and should take many forms. i love your paragraph that lists Mary and Joseph, and Scrooge, and the Grinch one after the next.

      I hope you keep visiting and contributing! This community (and all the practice opportunities) can be addicting 🙂 I have put a lot of stuff out here, and have never been disappointed with the feedback. Joe takes a lot of time to read our stuff, and is honest and encouraging.

      I noticed in Joe’s “show off rules” that we are allowed to submit as many times as we want. It would be awesome to read a second draft of your Dear God piece. Like Joe said, it’s heartfelt and warm…perfect for the season 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Just the fact that you are addressing this to God speaks to your message that “it’s all about Him.” I enjoyed reading this, Sarah.

  10. Sarah A

    Hi, I’m new here but am intrigued by the contest…So here ya go! Anxious to get some feedback–thanks!!
    Sarah 🙂

    Dear God,
    I had a revelation this week: You are the true meaning of Christmas!

    Ok, that probably seems like a pretty obvious one, depending on who You talk to. I mean, everywhere I go there are declarations of defiance against using any term other than “Merry Christmas.” Facebook and Twitter are blowing up with proclamations of outrage against anyone daring to use the words “happy” and “Holidays” in the same sentence. Heaven forbid we wish anyone enjoy all of the Holidays celebrated at this time of year, right?

    No, I’m talking about You being the true meaning behind what most people consider the spirit of Christmas: the unwavering faith of Mary and Joseph, despite a cold and crowded welcome to the town of Bethlehem; a little drummer boy’s selfless act of giving all that he has; the stereotypical Grinch’s heart suddenly pulsing with love and compassion for the “whos” of the world; the way that Ebenezer Scrooge gets a second chance at living a life of goodwill to men…even Rudolph’s narrow-minded critics learn their lesson about judging a book by its cover! This is great stuff!

    It is truly “the time of year when the world falls in love” as we “hear the bells on Christmas Day” pleading with us to heed the “tidings of comfort and joy.” Every traditional and pop culture reference to the season (that seemingly dances like fevered sugarplums in our heads!) seems to call on humanity to embrace what You’ve been telling us all along: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you!

    Pretty smart, if You ask me. Once a year as we celebrate Baby Jesus, the Festival of Lights and the beginning of a New Year, You give us a longing to treat others better. For a shining moment, humanity’s attention is zeroed in on how beautiful life would be “if it were Christmas all year long,” as yet another Christmas song from my childhood wistfully ponders. What would it be like if we gave each other thoughtfully-selected presents on a regular basis, set aside specific time for spending with family and friends all of the time, organized drives to share what we have with those less fortunate constantly and decorated our homes to reflect the song in our hearts all year? What would happen if every song on the radio called for us to enjoy the beauty of nature and prize the innocence of childlike faith and wonder? How would the world look if we took time to love and hope and wish and dream?

    Why, I think it would be Heaven.

    So, nicely done, God. Despite the commercials, crowded shopping malls and even the arguments about how to properly wish each other the best during this season, You still get the message across. You—and all that we believe You are and stand for—are truly the meaning of Christmas.

    And, so on behalf of all of us, regardless of background or belief, I thank You. That’s truly the best Christmas present of all.

    “Dear God”—By Sarah R. Adams, Copyright 2011

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for submitting this piece, Sarah! It’s heartfelt, warm in tone, and hopeful. As I was reading, I was wondering what it would look like if you wrote it from the perspective of a child. It has that kind of naivete, like a kid who writes a letter to Santa, you know?

      The one thing I think would improve it is if you told a story or two. The framework of a letter to God is cool, but you always want to try to show what you’re writing about rather than tell it. So you could write about how you were driving along and listening to a Christmas song made you feel hopeful, joyful, peaceful, in the midst of the difficult circumstances the world throws at all of us, and how that made you change your behavior in some way. Good stories are all about change.

    • kati

      Hi Sarah! As one of the “regulars” here, I wanted you to know how nice it is to have another voice here! And I love that you jumped right in with an awesome holiday message…that Christmas cheer can and should take many forms. i love your paragraph that lists Mary and Joseph, and Scrooge, and the Grinch one after the next.

      I hope you keep visiting and contributing! This community (and all the practice opportunities) can be addicting 🙂 I have put a lot of stuff out here, and have never been disappointed with the feedback. Joe takes a lot of time to read our stuff, and is honest and encouraging.

      I noticed in Joe’s “show off rules” that we are allowed to submit as many times as we want. It would be awesome to read a second draft of your Dear God piece. Like Joe said, it’s heartfelt and warm…perfect for the season 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Just the fact that you are addressing this to God speaks to your message that “it’s all about Him.” I enjoyed reading this, Sarah.

  11. Sarah A

    Thanks, Kati!! Nice to “meet” you and thank you for the comments! So much! I have to write a somewhat specific, conversational way for my job, so I’m looking forward to challenges and exploring and relaxing into new writing techniques…I’m also looking forward to looking around the site and reading your and others’ work as well! 🙂

    Reply
    • Kati Lane

      So cool, how you say the challenges and exploring and relaxing. Perfect, it’s exactly how i feel when I’m here. I hop from this post to that, and use whatever prompts fit for me for the day…even if they’re months old. So, I will see you around! 🙂

  12. Sarah A

    Thanks, Kati!! Nice to “meet” you and thank you for the comments! So much! I have to write a somewhat specific, conversational way for my job, so I’m looking forward to challenges and exploring and relaxing into new writing techniques…I’m also looking forward to looking around the site and reading your and others’ work as well! 🙂

    Reply
    • kati

      So cool, how you say the challenges and exploring and relaxing. Perfect, it’s exactly how i feel when I’m here. I hop from this post to that, and use whatever prompts fit for me for the day…even if they’re months old. So, I will see you around! 🙂

  13. Laura W.

    Thanks (this should be fun!)

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I sure hope so, Laura 🙂

  14. Laura W.

    Thanks (this should be fun!)

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I sure hope so, Laura 🙂

  15. Oddznns

    IS VIETNAMESE NEW YEAR THE SAME AS CHRISTMAS? Just finished this piece for the novel … a non-celebration

    They eat bitter gourd at Tết, khổ qua with taste so sharp Oldest Sister tells Thong she’s sure bitterness will pass them by. It’s simmered plain in water. The meat, just the half kilogram Thong brings home from work, is saved for something else – the obligatory New Year stew. Sugar cannot be found in the markets to make candied offerings, not even for the price of gold. There’s not enough money for boiled head-cheese or sauccisons, all their savings have been converted. Not once, but twice. All the paper money they hold, ordered to be surrendered; each adult given two hundred 200 new Vietnamese Dong in exchange. Just enough for a week of Russian barley, or one meal of good white rice for the New Year’s Eve re-union dinner.

    They sit down around Oldest Sister’s dining table, an incomplete circle – the head of the family, Oldest Brother-in-Law, is missing.

    In the May following liberation, all former employees of the old government had been ordered to the town hall to listen to a speech on the new government’s policy of concord and reconciliation by the minister of heavy industry. When the minister was done and they’d applauded with as much enthusiasm as they could pretend, they’d simply been sent home. In June, they were sent to a ten day course on the crimes of the previous regime, the history of the people’s revolution and the policies of the revolutionary government. After the course, they were asked to summarize the salient points of what they’d studied. When all the essays were collected, they were again simply released.

    Re-education, Thong concluded, was annoying but not life threatening.

    When the directive for a third study session was announced in July, he’d no qualms about attending. Nor did he hesitate to encourage Oldest Brother-in-Law to come out of hiding and go along with him.

    Comrade Bao, in his pre-1975 life the undercover cadre whom Thong reported to, was more uneasy about this third call-up.
    “Younger Brother Thong, until we get some official recognition from the central government, your status remains uncertain,” he’d confided.
    “Going along with your Brother-in-Law will not help.”
    “Are you saying we shouldn’t go?” Thong was alarmed.
    “No … no … of course you cannot disobey,” Comrade Bao’s sunburnt honest face had blanched at the thought.
    “Take this,” he’d pressed two cartons of Amreican cigarettes and an envelope into Thong’s hands.
    “Use the packs in the first carton as gifts to the assistants. Tell them I’ve entrusted you with a personal message for Comrade Trung. When you meet him, give him the other carton with my compliments, and also this letter,” he’d instructed.

    Thong had done as told and after a nervous morning being passed from one dour faced thick accented soldier to another, Thong and Oldest Brother-in-Law had finally found themselves in front of a dark rough hewn man in plain civilian clothes.
    “My men say you’ve been agitating them all morning to let you pass me a message from Brother Bao,” he looked at Thong with a hostile expression.
    Thong forced himself to lower his eyes, to appear humble.
    “He asked you to accept these,” Thong dug out the carton of cigarettes from his bag and placed them respectfully on the man’s desk with two hands.
    Sliding Comrade Bao’s envelope under the carton he added, “… and also to take a look at this.”

    Thong saw the eyes behind Comrade Trung’s puffy lids light up at the sight of the envelope, but his voice remained contemptuous.
    “You Southerners,” he shook his head, “you think everyone’s for sale.”
    His hand reached out to take the envelope and tear it open. Thong saw the short rough fingers hesitate as they pulled out the letter inside, a mere one page thin, with no enclosures.
    Thong held his breath, obviously not what Comrade Trung had expected.

    Thong sees the man’s thick right index finger tracing the lines of the message. The strong hands fold the letter back into the envelope with more care than it was taken out.
    “Looks are certainly deceiving,” Comrade Trung said, looking at Thong more carefully.
    He leaned over his desk and pushed the carton of cigarettes on the table back towards Thong.
    “Return these to Comrade Bao. Tell him I don’t need them to know we can’t overlook anyone’s service for the revolution. Don’t worry my young comrade, I’ll do what’s right by you.”

    Comrade Trung was indeed a man who knew right from wrong. When the cadre’s came in with their name lists the next morning, Thong and Oldest Brother-in-Law were separated. Thong, along with a handful of other people who seemed as unlikely to be spies as he did, were asked to stand on the cadre’s left. Everyone else, including Oldest Brother-in-Law, was asked to stand on the other side. In Comrade Trung’s books, it’s only right that the puppets of the puppet regime be sent for re-education.

    Thong never forgets how Oldest Brother-in-Law’s expression changes from confusion, to disbelief, to understanding and then to fury. How he jumps up and tries to scramble over the public works contractors, bank managers, hospital workers and post office supervisors in his way to get at Thong. And how he’s knocked down with the butt of a soldier’s rifle and hauled bodily onto the truck that drives him away.

    After a week, the medical workers return, their identity documents stamped with the words ‘essential personnel’. After a month, the neighbor opposite comes back, thinner and more careful with his words, but otherwise healthy. But it’s more than six months now, and Oldest Brother-in-Law is still away!

    After the second month, Oldest Sister had asked Thong why he’d been let off so easily when even the doctors had to go for a week. In the fourth month when she’d figured it out, she screamed at Thong for being a traitor before turning around to ask him to pull strings to get Brother-in-Law released. In the fifth month, after her youngest child came home from school crying that he wasn’t given a red-scarf to wear around his neck because his father was a class enemy of the proletariat, she stopped talking about her husband altogether.

    Just before New Year visit, Comrade Bao tells Thong that Oldest Brother-in-Law is fine. Not to worry, it’s just re-education.

    Thong knows the good Comrade has volunteered that tit-bit of news to salve his own conscience. It’s an empty assurance, unlike the two kilo bag of short grain American rice Comrade Bao urges on him.
    “I’m a single man, what can I do with twelve kilos a month,” Comrade Bao had said apologetically, referring to the rations given to party members, three times Thong’s allotment as an engineer.
    “Not fragrant like our rice, but maybe your sister can use them for New Year Cakes, a bánh tết to represent the south, a bánh chưng for the north,” he is insistent that Thong takes the gift.
    Thong doesn’t bother to retort that southerners rarely make the square northern bánh chưng at home. After all everyone, even Comrade Bao, has to toe the party line! He accepts the rice and takes his leave. He’s grateful there’ll be rice cakes after all but angry they must be made from donated rice.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I love your writing Audrey. Thank you for submitting this.

    • Oddznns

      Dear Patricia… I was trying to subscribe to “Washing the feet of the saints” but I couldn’t find a subscribe button. I’ve subscribed to Pollywog creek… but it isn’t the same.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Welcome to Pollywog Creek! I just added a “subscribe by email” link to “Washing the Feet of the Saints”, but that really is a very slow WIP. I have not contributed anything to the content there in over a year. You’re welcome to subscribe. Who knows. I might write something there tomorrow. =)

    • Oddznns

      Well, I recommended the blog to someone who’s taking care of her mom at home… and this is what she said … so please know what a blessing you are!~ ” I have read some of the stories on the www. It is so comforting to know that there are people out there who are going through the same thing or have experienced them and knowing that there are people with bigger problems – much bigger than mine! It is a good www to refer to when I feel down. ..”

    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Audrey,

      I wanted to thank you for submitting something to the contest. This really is a great piece.

      From an American’s stand point, the idea of seeing what a winter celebration on the other side of the world, in a country that is such a huge part of our national identity, is fascinating. Especially, a glimpse just after the war.

      I LOVED your first line. It’s incredible. So beautiful and kind of captures the whole spirit of the piece. There’s action in your story and deception and fear and betrayal and regret. It’s a story of disconnection in a time that’s supposed to be full of connection. The stark contrast is powerful.
      To make it better I would just read through it and make some little cuts for clarity. Tighten everything up. For example:

      Thong held his breath, obviously not what Comrade Trung had expected.

      In this line I would cut, “obviously not what Comrade Trung had expected.” I like ending paragraphs on strong visuals rather than weak explanation. And I wish the ending were a little stronger. You end,

      “He’s grateful there’ll be rice cakes after all but angry they must be made
      from donated rice. ”

      It’s too confused and obscure. What are you saying about the holiday? What
      are you saying about the bitterness you began with? What are you saying
      about the characters? I’d like the story to end with an action. Perhaps he
      pours out the rice in front of Comrade Bao. Or he goes home and eats the
      cakes and they taste as bitter as the gourd? Something that shows what he’s
      feeling rather than just tells us.

      I love this story though and think it will work excellently in your book.
      I’m excited to read it someday.

      Joe Bunting
      joebunting.com

  16. Oddznns

    IS VIETNAMESE NEW YEAR THE SAME AS CHRISTMAS? Just finished this piece for the novel … a non-celebration

    They eat bitter gourd at Tết, khổ qua with taste so sharp Oldest Sister tells Thong she’s sure bitterness will pass them by. It’s simmered plain in water. The meat, just the half kilogram Thong brings home from work, is saved for something else – the obligatory New Year stew. Sugar cannot be found in the markets to make candied offerings, not even for the price of gold. There’s not enough money for boiled head-cheese or sauccisons, all their savings have been converted. Not once, but twice. All the paper money they hold, ordered to be surrendered; each adult given two hundred 200 new Vietnamese Dong in exchange. Just enough for a week of Russian barley, or one meal of good white rice for the New Year’s Eve re-union dinner.

    They sit down around Oldest Sister’s dining table, an incomplete circle – the head of the family, Oldest Brother-in-Law, is missing.

    In the May following liberation, all former employees of the old government had been ordered to the town hall to listen to a speech on the new government’s policy of concord and reconciliation by the minister of heavy industry. When the minister was done and they’d applauded with as much enthusiasm as they could pretend, they’d simply been sent home. In June, they were sent to a ten day course on the crimes of the previous regime, the history of the people’s revolution and the policies of the revolutionary government. After the course, they were asked to summarize the salient points of what they’d studied. When all the essays were collected, they were again simply released.

    Re-education, Thong concluded, was annoying but not life threatening.

    When the directive for a third study session was announced in July, he’d no qualms about attending. Nor did he hesitate to encourage Oldest Brother-in-Law to come out of hiding and go along with him.

    Comrade Bao, in his pre-1975 life the undercover cadre whom Thong reported to, was more uneasy about this third call-up.
    “Younger Brother Thong, until we get some official recognition from the central government, your status remains uncertain,” he’d confided.
    “Going along with your Brother-in-Law will not help.”
    “Are you saying we shouldn’t go?” Thong was alarmed.
    “No … no … of course you cannot disobey,” Comrade Bao’s sunburnt honest face had blanched at the thought.
    “Take this,” he’d pressed two cartons of Amreican cigarettes and an envelope into Thong’s hands.
    “Use the packs in the first carton as gifts to the assistants. Tell them I’ve entrusted you with a personal message for Comrade Trung. When you meet him, give him the other carton with my compliments, and also this letter,” he’d instructed.

    Thong had done as told and after a nervous morning being passed from one dour faced thick accented soldier to another, Thong and Oldest Brother-in-Law had finally found themselves in front of a dark rough hewn man in plain civilian clothes.
    “My men say you’ve been agitating them all morning to let you pass me a message from Brother Bao,” he looked at Thong with a hostile expression.
    Thong forced himself to lower his eyes, to appear humble.
    “He asked you to accept these,” Thong dug out the carton of cigarettes from his bag and placed them respectfully on the man’s desk with two hands.
    Sliding Comrade Bao’s envelope under the carton he added, “… and also to take a look at this.”

    Thong saw the eyes behind Comrade Trung’s puffy lids light up at the sight of the envelope, but his voice remained contemptuous.
    “You Southerners,” he shook his head, “you think everyone’s for sale.”
    His hand reached out to take the envelope and tear it open. Thong saw the short rough fingers hesitate as they pulled out the letter inside, a mere one page thin, with no enclosures.
    Thong held his breath, obviously not what Comrade Trung had expected.

    Thong sees the man’s thick right index finger tracing the lines of the message. The strong hands fold the letter back into the envelope with more care than it was taken out.
    “Looks are certainly deceiving,” Comrade Trung said, looking at Thong more carefully.
    He leaned over his desk and pushed the carton of cigarettes on the table back towards Thong.
    “Return these to Comrade Bao. Tell him I don’t need them to know we can’t overlook anyone’s service for the revolution. Don’t worry my young comrade, I’ll do what’s right by you.”

    Comrade Trung was indeed a man who knew right from wrong. When the cadre’s came in with their name lists the next morning, Thong and Oldest Brother-in-Law were separated. Thong, along with a handful of other people who seemed as unlikely to be spies as he did, were asked to stand on the cadre’s left. Everyone else, including Oldest Brother-in-Law, was asked to stand on the other side. In Comrade Trung’s books, it’s only right that the puppets of the puppet regime be sent for re-education.

    Thong never forgets how Oldest Brother-in-Law’s expression changes from confusion, to disbelief, to understanding and then to fury. How he jumps up and tries to scramble over the public works contractors, bank managers, hospital workers and post office supervisors in his way to get at Thong. And how he’s knocked down with the butt of a soldier’s rifle and hauled bodily onto the truck that drives him away.

    After a week, the medical workers return, their identity documents stamped with the words ‘essential personnel’. After a month, the neighbor opposite comes back, thinner and more careful with his words, but otherwise healthy. But it’s more than six months now, and Oldest Brother-in-Law is still away!

    After the second month, Oldest Sister had asked Thong why he’d been let off so easily when even the doctors had to go for a week. In the fourth month when she’d figured it out, she screamed at Thong for being a traitor before turning around to ask him to pull strings to get Brother-in-Law released. In the fifth month, after her youngest child came home from school crying that he wasn’t given a red-scarf to wear around his neck because his father was a class enemy of the proletariat, she stopped talking about her husband altogether.

    Just before New Year visit, Comrade Bao tells Thong that Oldest Brother-in-Law is fine. Not to worry, it’s just re-education.

    Thong knows the good Comrade has volunteered that tit-bit of news to salve his own conscience. It’s an empty assurance, unlike the two kilo bag of short grain American rice Comrade Bao urges on him.
    “I’m a single man, what can I do with twelve kilos a month,” Comrade Bao had said apologetically, referring to the rations given to party members, three times Thong’s allotment as an engineer.
    “Not fragrant like our rice, but maybe your sister can use them for New Year Cakes, a bánh tết to represent the south, a bánh chưng for the north,” he is insistent that Thong takes the gift.
    Thong doesn’t bother to retort that southerners rarely make the square northern bánh chưng at home. After all everyone, even Comrade Bao, has to toe the party line! He accepts the rice and takes his leave. He’s grateful there’ll be rice cakes after all but angry they must be made from donated rice.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I love your writing Audrey. Thank you for submitting this.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Very interesting, Audrey.

    • Oddznns

      Dear Patricia… I was trying to subscribe to “Washing the feet of the saints” but I couldn’t find a subscribe button. I’ve subscribed to Pollywog creek… but it isn’t the same.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Welcome to Pollywog Creek! I just added a “subscribe by email” link to “Washing the Feet of the Saints”, but that really is a very slow WIP. I have not contributed anything to the content there in over a year. You’re welcome to subscribe. Who knows. I might write something there tomorrow. =)

    • Oddznns

      Well, I recommended the blog to someone who’s taking care of her mom at home… and this is what she said … so please know what a blessing you are!~ ” I have read some of the stories on the www. It is so comforting to know that there are people out there who are going through the same thing or have experienced them and knowing that there are people with bigger problems – much bigger than mine! It is a good www to refer to when I feel down. ..”

    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Audrey,

      I wanted to thank you for submitting something to the contest. This really is a great piece.

      From an American’s stand point, the idea of seeing what a winter celebration on the other side of the world, in a country that is such a huge part of our national identity, is fascinating. Especially, a glimpse just after the war.

      I LOVED your first line. It’s incredible. So beautiful and kind of captures the whole spirit of the piece. There’s action in your story and deception and fear and betrayal and regret. It’s a story of disconnection in a time that’s supposed to be full of connection. The stark contrast is powerful.
      To make it better I would just read through it and make some little cuts for clarity. Tighten everything up. For example:

      Thong held his breath, obviously not what Comrade Trung had expected.

      In this line I would cut, “obviously not what Comrade Trung had expected.” I like ending paragraphs on strong visuals rather than weak explanation. And I wish the ending were a little stronger. You end,

      “He’s grateful there’ll be rice cakes after all but angry they must be made
      from donated rice. ”

      It’s too confused and obscure. What are you saying about the holiday? What
      are you saying about the bitterness you began with? What are you saying
      about the characters? I’d like the story to end with an action. Perhaps he
      pours out the rice in front of Comrade Bao. Or he goes home and eats the
      cakes and they taste as bitter as the gourd? Something that shows what he’s
      feeling rather than just tells us.

      I love this story though and think it will work excellently in your book.
      I’m excited to read it someday.

      Joe Bunting
      joebunting.com

  17. Kevin Mackesy

    I wasn’t sure what to write for this but I knew I wanted to write someting. I guess it’s the way my brain is wired that I don’t immediately go to the fiction side of things. Seems I’m a non-fiction kind of guy. Anyway, hope you guys enjoy this or find it helpful in some way…

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or is it?

    Christmas for me has always been a time of childlike wonder. Things just feel different at this time of year. The music and the classic movies never get old. I love revisiting them year after year. I suppose I haven’t really been given a reason for this to change. At least in this stage of my life – my family is pretty close knit, I’ve been married to the love of my life for almost two years and I don’t have any major complaints against God for how my life has turned out to this point. He’s been pretty “good” to me. Maybe I should say His plan for my life has been pretty consistent with my plan for my life. Everyone seems to be relatively healthy and we’re just blessed beyond what we could ever hope for.

    However as I’ve gotten older and more mature I’ve become aware that not everyone’s experience is similar to my own. I understand that Christmas unearths painful memories, brokenness and hurt in many. For others brokenness and hurt is right around the corner and Christmas, for them (and maybe even me), will never be the same. Some will spend their last Christmas together with parents, spouses, or even children. Life, for some in the last year, suddenly and unalterably changed its tracks and now Christmas is most definitely not the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes life takes on a life of its own and Christmastime, more than others, seems to be an acute reminder of the tension built into the DNA of life.

    Tension.

    That’s a great word to describe Christmas. Everyday life is full of it, but for some strange reason Christmas seems to magnify it, bringing it into clearer focus, making the pain more acute. There’s tension between relatives, religious practices (do you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?), what is and what could be. And I think this is right.

    Even though Christmas is still a joyful occasion in my life there are still reminders that things are not as they could or should be. There is still tension, it’s just in proper proportion to the relief the holidays bring. Just as tension is built into the DNA of life, I think it’s built into the DNA of Christmas as well.

    I understand that not everyone shares my beliefs at Christmas, but there’s no denying the origins of this holiday – whether you believe them to be truth or myth. Think about it…

    • A nation of people going through a seemingly endless cycle of obedience giving way to rebellion, then back to obedience only to follow with more rebellion.
    • This same nation, through it all, awaiting the fulfillment of a prophecy concerning a coming King to save them, which only made sense because for most of their existence they found themselves enslaved to other nations.
    • Imagine the tension of the hundred-or-so mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a woman in full term pregnancy on the back of a donkey.
    • The prophesied King is born to an unwed, virgin girl from the poor town of Nazareth.
    • This same King finding the least of accommodations at his birth in the equivalent of a barn and being laid in a manger (read: feeding trough for animals).
    • The current king, in an attempt to avoid being overthrown by this new “King,” orders all boys born in Bethlehem under the age of two be ruthlessly murdered.
    • This new King survives the attempt at his life, grows in anonymity, claims to be the King around his thirtieth birthday but talks of some strange thing called, “The Kingdom of God” and does not, as most thought he would, overthrow the evil Roman Empire and erect his new kingdom at that time.
    • Rather the people had to watch as their awaited King was murdered, crucified on a cross along with their hope of salvation (or so they thought).

    The Christmas story is rife with tension. Tension between what is and what will be. It’s in the DNA of the story and every writer knows that any good story has a hefty dose of tension. Thousands of years of waiting give way (finally!) to the consummation of their hopes. Only the story didn’t play out quite the way they would have written it. Do you feel that way? Do you feel as if the story of your life is playing out completely different than you had planned it? If so, then you understand the tension of Christmas; perhaps better than the rest of us. The world is very clearly broken, sin abounds, and pain and despair are in the offering for all of us to some degree. But there’s something else you should know. Hidden somewhere in the sting of the tension is a glimmer of hope. For if you feel things are not as they should be, you’re quite right.

    You see, Christmas is only the beginning of the narrative. It’s the first act in a story that is not yet finished being told. Just as the nation of Israel waited for thousands of years for their coming King, we wait. We wait for the fulfillment of a promise. Things aren’t as they should be, but they will be soon. He’s coming back. He said he would. Because of this we are free to embrace the tension with knowledge of the hope that a better future awaits.

    And all this we get from a little baby lying in a manger one “Holy Night” two thousand years ago.

    Reply
    • Kevin Mackesy

      Hope > Tension 🙂

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for submitting this, Kevin. It’s going to be really hard to choose a winner.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Really like this, Kevin. Reminds me of a sermon our pastor preached one Christmas Eve. It was titled “The Dragon in the Creche”….taken from Revelations. It was a reminder of that tension, but it was not what many who attended Christmas Eve services expected (or wanted). They wanted the lovely and romanticized nativity scene. I thought it was a powerful message.

    • Kevin Mackesy

      Thanks Patricia! For many years I assumed that Christmastime was as joyful for others as it was for me. To the innocent all things are innocent. I am now aware of the tension that exists and hopeful for the day it will be gone and things will be as they were in the beginning. Merry Christmas!

  18. Kevin Mackesy

    I wasn’t sure what to write for this but I knew I wanted to write someting. I guess it’s the way my brain is wired that I don’t immediately go to the fiction side of things. Seems I’m a non-fiction kind of guy. Anyway, hope you guys enjoy this or find it helpful in some way…

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or is it?

    Christmas for me has always been a time of childlike wonder. Things just feel different at this time of year. The music and the classic movies never get old. I love revisiting them year after year. I suppose I haven’t really been given a reason for this to change. At least in this stage of my life – my family is pretty close knit, I’ve been married to the love of my life for almost two years and I don’t have any major complaints against God for how my life has turned out to this point. He’s been pretty “good” to me. Maybe I should say His plan for my life has been pretty consistent with my plan for my life. Everyone seems to be relatively healthy and we’re just blessed beyond what we could ever hope for.

    However as I’ve gotten older and more mature I’ve become aware that not everyone’s experience is similar to my own. I understand that Christmas unearths painful memories, brokenness and hurt in many. For others brokenness and hurt is right around the corner and Christmas, for them (and maybe even me), will never be the same. Some will spend their last Christmas together with parents, spouses, or even children. Life, for some in the last year, suddenly and unalterably changed its tracks and now Christmas is most definitely not the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes life takes on a life of its own and Christmastime, more than others, seems to be an acute reminder of the tension built into the DNA of life.

    Tension.

    That’s a great word to describe Christmas. Everyday life is full of it, but for some strange reason Christmas seems to magnify it, bringing it into clearer focus, making the pain more acute. There’s tension between relatives, religious practices (do you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?), what is and what could be. And I think this is right.

    Even though Christmas is still a joyful occasion in my life there are still reminders that things are not as they could or should be. There is still tension, it’s just in proper proportion to the relief the holidays bring. Just as tension is built into the DNA of life, I think it’s built into the DNA of Christmas as well.

    I understand that not everyone shares my beliefs at Christmas, but there’s no denying the origins of this holiday – whether you believe them to be truth or myth. Think about it…

    • A nation of people going through a seemingly endless cycle of obedience giving way to rebellion, then back to obedience only to follow with more rebellion.
    • This same nation, through it all, awaiting the fulfillment of a prophecy concerning a coming King to save them, which only made sense because for most of their existence they found themselves enslaved to other nations.
    • Imagine the tension of the hundred-or-so mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a woman in full term pregnancy on the back of a donkey.
    • The prophesied King is born to an unwed, virgin girl from the poor town of Nazareth.
    • This same King finding the least of accommodations at his birth in the equivalent of a barn and being laid in a manger (read: feeding trough for animals).
    • The current king, in an attempt to avoid being overthrown by this new “King,” orders all boys born in Bethlehem under the age of two be ruthlessly murdered.
    • This new King survives the attempt at his life, grows in anonymity, claims to be the King around his thirtieth birthday but talks of some strange thing called, “The Kingdom of God” and does not, as most thought he would, overthrow the evil Roman Empire and erect his new kingdom at that time.
    • Rather the people had to watch as their awaited King was murdered, crucified on a cross along with their hope of salvation (or so they thought).

    The Christmas story is rife with tension. Tension between what is and what will be. It’s in the DNA of the story and every writer knows that any good story has a hefty dose of tension. Thousands of years of waiting give way (finally!) to the consummation of their hopes. Only the story didn’t play out quite the way they would have written it. Do you feel that way? Do you feel as if the story of your life is playing out completely different than you had planned it? If so, then you understand the tension of Christmas; perhaps better than the rest of us. The world is very clearly broken, sin abounds, and pain and despair are in the offering for all of us to some degree. But there’s something else you should know. Hidden somewhere in the sting of the tension is a glimmer of hope. For if you feel things are not as they should be, you’re quite right.

    You see, Christmas is only the beginning of the narrative. It’s the first act in a story that is not yet finished being told. Just as the nation of Israel waited for thousands of years for their coming King, we wait. We wait for the fulfillment of a promise. Things aren’t as they should be, but they will be soon. He’s coming back. He said he would. Because of this we are free to embrace the tension with knowledge of the hope that a better future awaits.

    And all this we get from a little baby lying in a manger one “Holy Night” two thousand years ago.

    Reply
    • Kevin Mackesy

      Hope > Tension 🙂

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for submitting this, Kevin. It’s going to be really hard to choose a winner.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Really like this, Kevin. Reminds me of a sermon our pastor preached one Christmas Eve. It was titled “The Dragon in the Creche”….taken from Revelations. It was a reminder of that tension, but it was not what many who attended Christmas Eve services expected (or wanted). They wanted the lovely and romanticized nativity scene. I thought it was a powerful message.

    • Kevin Mackesy

      Thanks Patricia! For many years I assumed that Christmastime was as joyful for others as it was for me. To the innocent all things are innocent. I am now aware of the tension that exists and hopeful for the day it will be gone and things will be as they were in the beginning. Merry Christmas!

  19. Katie Axelson

    Well, I don’t quite think this fits the “show off” category because it’s not my strongest piece but it will do. It’s non-fiction, by the way.

    The Christmas Miracle
    “Nothing’s wrong here,” Grandma told our answering machine, “but if you could please give us a call before nine tonight.”
    Similar phone calls were not unusual, but this time something was wrong. Very, very wrong. A family friend of more than thirty years had a seizure during dinner. Eighty-one year old Arnie vomited, aspirated, and earned himself a flight for life ride to the intensive care unit.
    While the rest of the world was joyfully preparing for Christmas, my family was preparing for the worst. Our Christmas celebration went on as planned missing two vital members of the party: Arnie and his brother Herb. With them disappeared a majority of our joy, smiles, and laughter. Instead, we all focused our thoughts on Arnie at the university hospital relying fully on life support.
    Doctors asked if any out of town relatives needed to arrive prior to discussing Arnie’s condition. Even though he could respond slightly to voices through a light hand squeeze, doctors felt as though there was no hope for Arnie’s improvement. On December 26, it was decided that life support would be terminated the following day at noon. This gave everyone the opportunity to say good-bye to a warm hand rather than a cold one. Herb called my father and asked him to be a pallbearer, thanked him for being Arnie’s friend through life, and welcomed him to join them in the morning. Dad politely declined due to work obligations.
    The following morning, my father received a wake-up call from my grandmother asking him again to make the two-hour drive to be with them. Saying good-bye was going to be harder than they expected, and they wanted him to accompany them. He agreed and prepared for the day. While he was showering, Grandma called back. She had to hand the phone to my grandfather because she was crying too hard to speak. They were tears of joy. Arnie was awake and sitting up.
    After spending eight days on life support, Arnie woke on his own! Three hours later was transferred out of the ICU into an individual room. On December 27, 2006, the day we all thought would be the day of his death, Arnie was talking and asking for whiskey.
    Arnie lived for eight more months before passing away peacefully. There was no reason he should have survived that December. His funeral was planned; good-byes had been said. Even skeptics were willing to call it The Christmas Miracle.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I had formatting issues over at Jeff’s blog today, too… sorry

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for submitting this to the contest, Katie. The formatting is fine. I can figure it out. Best of luck to you.

  20. Katie Axelson

    Well, I don’t quite think this fits the “show off” category because it’s not my strongest piece but it will do. It’s non-fiction, by the way.

    The Christmas Miracle
    “Nothing’s wrong here,” Grandma told our answering machine, “but if you could please give us a call before nine tonight.”
    Similar phone calls were not unusual, but this time something was wrong. Very, very wrong. A family friend of more than thirty years had a seizure during dinner. Eighty-one year old Arnie vomited, aspirated, and earned himself a flight for life ride to the intensive care unit.
    While the rest of the world was joyfully preparing for Christmas, my family was preparing for the worst. Our Christmas celebration went on as planned missing two vital members of the party: Arnie and his brother Herb. With them disappeared a majority of our joy, smiles, and laughter. Instead, we all focused our thoughts on Arnie at the university hospital relying fully on life support.
    Doctors asked if any out of town relatives needed to arrive prior to discussing Arnie’s condition. Even though he could respond slightly to voices through a light hand squeeze, doctors felt as though there was no hope for Arnie’s improvement. On December 26, it was decided that life support would be terminated the following day at noon. This gave everyone the opportunity to say good-bye to a warm hand rather than a cold one. Herb called my father and asked him to be a pallbearer, thanked him for being Arnie’s friend through life, and welcomed him to join them in the morning. Dad politely declined due to work obligations.
    The following morning, my father received a wake-up call from my grandmother asking him again to make the two-hour drive to be with them. Saying good-bye was going to be harder than they expected, and they wanted him to accompany them. He agreed and prepared for the day. While he was showering, Grandma called back. She had to hand the phone to my grandfather because she was crying too hard to speak. They were tears of joy. Arnie was awake and sitting up.
    After spending eight days on life support, Arnie woke on his own! Three hours later was transferred out of the ICU into an individual room. On December 27, 2006, the day we all thought would be the day of his death, Arnie was talking and asking for whiskey.
    Arnie lived for eight more months before passing away peacefully. There was no reason he should have survived that December. His funeral was planned; good-byes had been said. Even skeptics were willing to call it The Christmas Miracle.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I had formatting issues over at Jeff’s blog today, too… sorry

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for submitting this to the contest, Katie. The formatting is fine. I can figure it out. Best of luck to you.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      That’s quite a story, Katie.

  21. Katie Axelson

    We can post more than once, right?
    -K

    There are exceptions to every rule. The exception to what we could and could not teach in China was more of a loophole. We were not to teach religion that was very clear. We were to teach the English language and American culture. In that was our loophole: Christmas, an American holiday.

    One day we taught the secular version in the form of a Christmas party where Santa delivered Christmas presents, we ate candy canes, and we sang Christmas carols. Never have I worn sandals and kapris to a Christmas party before. Neither have I ever helped host a Christmas party in August. Welcome to China.

    The following morning, Curt and Vernon were to teach the real Christmas story using a reader’s theater script.

    First period had been dismissed when Vernon ran into our classroom, script in hand.

    “We didn’t finish,” he said breathlessly. I was not sure if he had run from the hotel or from the classroom next door. “Will you finish it for us?”

    Jori and I graciously accepted. The lesson plan we had stayed up all night to plan had flopped first hour anyway. Jori revised our lesson again while I skim-read the script.

    The sixteen-person class of college students and English teachers took their seats in the horse-shoe we had set up. I prayed silently and began asking them questions about where they’d left off. Jesus had been born and the magi were asking Herod where they could find this new king.

    I summarized the remainder of the story being relatively brief since we had another lesson to teach but not so brief so as they could have missed the point. Then Jori and I welcomed questions. This was one of our more talkative classes but we were not in the least prepared for the forty-five minutes of questioning that followed. We ended up scrapping our entire planned lesson to answer their difficult questions.

    What happened next? Why did God choose Mary? Was Jesus a king? Joseph was king, right? Where Mary and Joseph his real parents? Jesus was killed, right? So Jesus is a god? What do you mean there are three gods? How do you believe something you don’t understand? Does God still speak through dreams like He did to the magi? Did Jesus talk to special people? Was Jesus rich? How do you (as Christians) make decisions? What is faith?

    We were flabbergasted. So many questions don’t have pat answers. While I spoke, Jori prayed. While Jori spoke, I prayed. We both quoted scripture and read directly from the New Testament. So many questions were directly answered by the Holy Spirit speaking through us.

    As soon as the class left, Jori and I joined hands and prayed until tears filled our eyes. It was an incredibly humbling experience we were excited to share with our mission team at lunch.

    But God wasn’t done.

    Two periods later the same students were in a class co-taught by Amber and Juanita who had no knowledge of what happened earlier. They were teaching the five love languages and discussing the love language of giving and receiving gifts. Juanita held an empty gift back and asked the students what they most hoped would be in the bag. Money, food, books, and jewelry were the most common answers. One girl said she wished a Bible would be in the bag. Amber was immediately on the edge of her chair, anxious for the end of class.

    Everyone on the mission team had been given a New Testament in Chinese and English to give away. Immediately, Amber knew it was for this student, Monica. As soon as class was over, Amber approached Monica to ask if she was serious. Monica confirmed she was serious about wanting a Bible, so Amber handed her the New Testament. As per Chinese customs, Monica refused to accept the gift. However, Amber insisted, and Monica got misty-eyed when she accepted it with a huge smile. She was so grateful and so excited! Amber also connected Monica to a woman who attends the local church.

    Once morning classes were over, we sought refuge in a classroom to wait out the rain before heading back to our hotel for lunch. It was in that time that we were able to piece together the puzzle and allow God to reveal Himself to us. It had been a rough morning of team disunity yet still the Lord used it ways beyond what we ever imagined!

    We were all grateful for loopholes and exceptions. We could not teach religion but we were permitted to answer all questions honestly. We were not permitted to distribute religious materials, but we were able to gift Bibles if the student directly asked for it. Above all, we were grateful for God’s prompting through the necessary loopholes and exceptions to be able to openly speak about Him even in communist China.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Yep! Thanks Katie! I have a lot of reading tonight. Looking forward to it.

    • Joe Bunting

      Excuse me. I mean tomorrow night. We will be open for submissions through the day tomorrow.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      That’s a beautiful experience, Katie. I love to see how God orchestrates the events in our lives for His purposes.

    • Joe Bunting

      Hey (again) Katie,

      Cool story! Where were you in China? With a mission trip?

      I liked this story, but it just didn’t fit my needs for two reasons:

      1. Too Christian. I’m a Christian and a former missionary (my wife actually spent a month doing missions work in China), but for the Write Practice I’m looking for stories that may involve faith, but don’t make faith the central aspect of the story. We could talk for a long time about why, but that’s just my general rule.

      2. Not Christmasy enough. To me, the central story here is the people who miraculously came to Christ. Which is an incredible story, but Christmas is only a piece of it, not the central thing.

      You should definitely post this on your blog though, if you haven’t already.

      And tell me more about your trip to China!

      Joe Bunting
      joebunting.com

  22. Katie Axelson

    We can post more than once, right?
    -K

    There are exceptions to every rule. The exception to what we could and could not teach in China was more of a loophole. We were not to teach religion that was very clear. We were to teach the English language and American culture. In that was our loophole: Christmas, an American holiday.

    One day we taught the secular version in the form of a Christmas party where Santa delivered Christmas presents, we ate candy canes, and we sang Christmas carols. Never have I worn sandals and kapris to a Christmas party before. Neither have I ever helped host a Christmas party in August. Welcome to China.

    The following morning, Curt and Vernon were to teach the real Christmas story using a reader’s theater script.

    First period had been dismissed when Vernon ran into our classroom, script in hand.

    “We didn’t finish,” he said breathlessly. I was not sure if he had run from the hotel or from the classroom next door. “Will you finish it for us?”

    Jori and I graciously accepted. The lesson plan we had stayed up all night to plan had flopped first hour anyway. Jori revised our lesson again while I skim-read the script.

    The sixteen-person class of college students and English teachers took their seats in the horse-shoe we had set up. I prayed silently and began asking them questions about where they’d left off. Jesus had been born and the magi were asking Herod where they could find this new king.

    I summarized the remainder of the story being relatively brief since we had another lesson to teach but not so brief so as they could have missed the point. Then Jori and I welcomed questions. This was one of our more talkative classes but we were not in the least prepared for the forty-five minutes of questioning that followed. We ended up scrapping our entire planned lesson to answer their difficult questions.

    What happened next? Why did God choose Mary? Was Jesus a king? Joseph was king, right? Where Mary and Joseph his real parents? Jesus was killed, right? So Jesus is a god? What do you mean there are three gods? How do you believe something you don’t understand? Does God still speak through dreams like He did to the magi? Did Jesus talk to special people? Was Jesus rich? How do you (as Christians) make decisions? What is faith?

    We were flabbergasted. So many questions don’t have pat answers. While I spoke, Jori prayed. While Jori spoke, I prayed. We both quoted scripture and read directly from the New Testament. So many questions were directly answered by the Holy Spirit speaking through us.

    As soon as the class left, Jori and I joined hands and prayed until tears filled our eyes. It was an incredibly humbling experience we were excited to share with our mission team at lunch.

    But God wasn’t done.

    Two periods later the same students were in a class co-taught by Amber and Juanita who had no knowledge of what happened earlier. They were teaching the five love languages and discussing the love language of giving and receiving gifts. Juanita held an empty gift back and asked the students what they most hoped would be in the bag. Money, food, books, and jewelry were the most common answers. One girl said she wished a Bible would be in the bag. Amber was immediately on the edge of her chair, anxious for the end of class.

    Everyone on the mission team had been given a New Testament in Chinese and English to give away. Immediately, Amber knew it was for this student, Monica. As soon as class was over, Amber approached Monica to ask if she was serious. Monica confirmed she was serious about wanting a Bible, so Amber handed her the New Testament. As per Chinese customs, Monica refused to accept the gift. However, Amber insisted, and Monica got misty-eyed when she accepted it with a huge smile. She was so grateful and so excited! Amber also connected Monica to a woman who attends the local church.

    Once morning classes were over, we sought refuge in a classroom to wait out the rain before heading back to our hotel for lunch. It was in that time that we were able to piece together the puzzle and allow God to reveal Himself to us. It had been a rough morning of team disunity yet still the Lord used it ways beyond what we ever imagined!

    We were all grateful for loopholes and exceptions. We could not teach religion but we were permitted to answer all questions honestly. We were not permitted to distribute religious materials, but we were able to gift Bibles if the student directly asked for it. Above all, we were grateful for God’s prompting through the necessary loopholes and exceptions to be able to openly speak about Him even in communist China.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Yep! Thanks Katie! I have a lot of reading tonight. Looking forward to it.

    • Joe Bunting

      Excuse me. I mean tomorrow night. We will be open for submissions through the day tomorrow.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      That’s a beautiful experience, Katie. I love to see how God orchestrates the events in our lives for His purposes.

    • Joe Bunting

      Hey (again) Katie,

      Cool story! Where were you in China? With a mission trip?

      I liked this story, but it just didn’t fit my needs for two reasons:

      1. Too Christian. I’m a Christian and a former missionary (my wife actually spent a month doing missions work in China), but for the Write Practice I’m looking for stories that may involve faith, but don’t make faith the central aspect of the story. We could talk for a long time about why, but that’s just my general rule.

      2. Not Christmasy enough. To me, the central story here is the people who miraculously came to Christ. Which is an incredible story, but Christmas is only a piece of it, not the central thing.

      You should definitely post this on your blog though, if you haven’t already.

      And tell me more about your trip to China!

      Joe Bunting
      joebunting.com

  23. Nathan Salley

    There is no moral to this story – but Christmas is involved.

    I was 11. I never wanted to play the piano. I just wanted a Sega Genesis. Saaaayygaa…Sega!!!

    We weren’t allowed to have video games at my house when I was younger, so I would ride my bike to Danny Spelman’s to play Golden Axe 3 and Mega-BomberMan on Sega Channel.

    Then one Christmas the unthinkable happened. They caved! Yeah yeah, there were rules, only a-hour-a-blah-blah-blah – but whatever, they did it! I was the proud new owner of a used Sega Genesis.

    I can’t remember if I flipped out or not. I probably did. I do remember not sharing with my sister. Jerk move I know. But I was 11, competitive, and a boy. Give me a break.

    But my sister and I scored big.

    The lineup: Sonic 1 & 2, Fifa 96 (classic), Alladin (still not sure how to beat the last level), PacWoman (totally dominate), and Mega-BomberMan (still my mom’s favorite, she does that jumping thing with her hands when she holds the controller).

    I was in heaven. This had to be my favorite Christmas gift of all time.

    But why? Because I was deprived of video game gorging in my youth? Because I could play whenever I wanted? Maybe yes on both questions, but I think something else added to the gift.

    Preface: My dad reads all my blogs, and will most likely find his way to this one. What I say next is not to embarrass my dad but to show his character.

    Anyways…

    I remember two winters my dad took on jobs many people might looked down upon. I mean – he had an 8-5 job at Excel Energy in the communication’s department on the 20th floor in a downtown Denver skyscraper. But one winter he woke up at 3am to sort mail for the post office. Another winter he was a janitor for a local rec center at night, coming home around 10pm.

    Why’d he do it?

    We already had everything we needed and more. Food. Clothes. Shelter. I think he did it because he wanted to be extravagant in his love.

    See, he knew I wanted that Sega Genesis about as much as I wanted the United States to win the World Cup in ’94. I don’t know if my parents needed to pay bills with that money or if they wanted to get us gifts. But I am sure it was an act of love.

    I said there wasn’t a moral to this story. At least it started that way. I was going to tell a funny story about video games.

    Well I lied. There are two morals to this story.

    Number One: If our Dad on earth wants to give us good gifts, how much more does our Father in heaven want to pour out his love on you in extravagant ways?

    Number Two: If you ever get leukemia at the age of 11 like I did, you will quickly move in no time from having a Sega Genesis with 6 games, to having a PlayStation with 12 games.

    The End.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Nathan!

    • Patricia W Hunter

      I love how you made the connection between your father’s desire to give you good gifts and your Father’s desire to give you good gifts, as well. It sounds like you have many stories to tell.

    • Adriana Willey

      your last paragraph made me laugh. not because you had leukemia, but because of the way you framed it. all is beauty and you just can’t get away from it. glad that you didn’t 🙂

  24. Nathan Salley

    There is no moral to this story – but Christmas is involved.

    I was 11. I never wanted to play the piano. I just wanted a Sega Genesis. Saaaayygaa…Sega!!!

    We weren’t allowed to have video games at my house when I was younger, so I would ride my bike to Danny Spelman’s to play Golden Axe 3 and Mega-BomberMan on Sega Channel.

    Then one Christmas the unthinkable happened. They caved! Yeah yeah, there were rules, only a-hour-a-blah-blah-blah – but whatever, they did it! I was the proud new owner of a used Sega Genesis.

    I can’t remember if I flipped out or not. I probably did. I do remember not sharing with my sister. Jerk move I know. But I was 11, competitive, and a boy. Give me a break.

    But my sister and I scored big.

    The lineup: Sonic 1 & 2, Fifa 96 (classic), Alladin (still not sure how to beat the last level), PacWoman (totally dominate), and Mega-BomberMan (still my mom’s favorite, she does that jumping thing with her hands when she holds the controller).

    I was in heaven. This had to be my favorite Christmas gift of all time.

    But why? Because I was deprived of video game gorging in my youth? Because I could play whenever I wanted? Maybe yes on both questions, but I think something else added to the gift.

    Preface: My dad reads all my blogs, and will most likely find his way to this one. What I say next is not to embarrass my dad but to show his character.

    Anyways…

    I remember two winters my dad took on jobs many people might looked down upon. I mean – he had an 8-5 job at Excel Energy in the communication’s department on the 20th floor in a downtown Denver skyscraper. But one winter he woke up at 3am to sort mail for the post office. Another winter he was a janitor for a local rec center at night, coming home around 10pm.

    Why’d he do it?

    We already had everything we needed and more. Food. Clothes. Shelter. I think he did it because he wanted to be extravagant in his love.

    See, he knew I wanted that Sega Genesis about as much as I wanted the United States to win the World Cup in ’94. I don’t know if my parents needed to pay bills with that money or if they wanted to get us gifts. But I am sure it was an act of love.

    I said there wasn’t a moral to this story. At least it started that way. I was going to tell a funny story about video games.

    Well I lied. There are two morals to this story.

    Number One: If our Dad on earth wants to give us good gifts, how much more does our Father in heaven want to pour out his love on you in extravagant ways?

    Number Two: If you ever get leukemia at the age of 11 like I did, you will quickly move in no time from having a Sega Genesis with 6 games, to having a PlayStation with 12 games.

    The End.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Nathan!

    • Patricia W Hunter

      I love how you made the connection between your father’s desire to give you good gifts and your Father’s desire to give you good gifts, as well. It sounds like you have many stories to tell.

    • Adriana Willey

      your last paragraph made me laugh. not because you had leukemia, but because of the way you framed it. all is beauty and you just can’t get away from it. glad that you didn’t 🙂

  25. mariannehvest

    Here’s my entry – Marianne Vest

    Blue Christmas Lights

    Hearts were what the two sisters drew in the car. They pushed and crawled over each other to get to the window, where they blew steam on the glass and then wiped it away with their fingers, to make crooked hearts and stars, figures that melted away slowly, leaving a blank, black, window.

    Their father drove, smoking a Lucky Strike, though the Holiday traffic in Norfolk, looking for a good Christmas tree lot. The cigarette made the car smell good like a fire on the beach. There mother was beside him with her red curls bouncing on the back of the seat.

    “Don’t push me anymore, it hurts,” said Bridgett, the younger one.

    “Stop messing it up then. Use the other window,” said Anna Lee.

    Their mother looked around from the front and said, “Move back to your side, Anna Lee and both of you stop getting finger prints all over the windows. I’ve told you not to do that.”

    It seemed too much to ask that they ride idly all the way to the shopping center and all the way home. That’s what Anna Lee, thought. She liked to sing Christmas carols during the ride, but it was dark and raining, and her parents weren’t happy, so there would be no singing.

    They got to the tree lot and walked in the wet air through aisles of firs and pines. Anna Lee pushed up against the trees, bushing the needles so that her coat would be scented with evergreen. Bridgett was tired so her mother grabbed her up and carried her, leaving Anna Lee alone in the cedar scented corridor. Anna Lee thought about Jesus in the winter with holly and mistletoe and tangerines, and with sand and camels and shepherds. There was no problem in her child’s mind with having holly in a desert, no problem at all.

    On the way home, they went down Chesapeake Street, and as soon as Anna Lee saw the A and P Grocery Store, she knew they would pass the house with the blue lights. It was the fifties and just about everyone had Christmas lights up, the old kind of lights with the big bulbs that caused the whole string to go out when one of them died.

    “Jesus is happy because his birthday is coming,” said Bridgett. Anna Lee started to hum “Away in a Manger”.

    When they passed the white church, a block before the house with all blue Christmas lights, Anna Lee rubbed off the window with her mittens, and she and Bridgett put their faces up close to watch for the lights. Bridgett had to kneel on the seat to get a good view.

    They passed the house with the Santa and Elves made of white plaster. The Elves wore red bows at their necks and they stayed there all year. The plaster Santa and Elves were examples of tacky decorations. Their mother had told them that. Tacky was a very bad thing, not good for Jesus’ birthday at all.

    “The blue lights are coming,” said Laurie. “I like blue. Blue’s my favorite color.”

    Bridgett leaned close. She smelled like peanut butter, a good smell. Peanut butter, colored lights, and blue were all wonderful things, party things. The blue light yard was coming up, although It was just a yard that looked blank until you began to pass it. The yard with the cool-blue lights receded, dark, between the yards on either side of it with their bright-white lights. But when it they were right beside it blue was all you could see. Those light stood out in the darkness like no others.

    The sisters leaned together holding their breath and then the splendor was before them. They bounced forward together. They were diving into the blue light yard where young cedars were cones of blue, the hedge a checkerboard of blue, and the front door an ocean of blue over a tin-foil seabed. Anna Lee and Bridgett hugged a hug of celebration, a hug of delight.

    “Look at those ugly, tacky blue lights,” said their mother. Then their mother laughed at the blue lights.

    The sisters lost their rhythm. They let go of each other, and scrambled forward pulling themselves up over the front seat.

    “Who on earth would do that, use those awful lights”? said their mother.

    “I like blue”, said Bridgett. Her voice was jittery, and wet.

    “I like blue too honey, but Christmas isn’t blue. The Christmas colors are red, white and green.”

    Anna Lee pulled Bridgett’s arm and started to blow a great big steam ring onto the window. With her little sister leaning on her and shaking, Anna Lee drew a devil into the steam. The devil had a pointed chin and a pitchfork and horns, but no legs or arms. Bridgett added curly lines beside the devil’s face.

    They erased it together, erased the devil, both of them using their jacket sleeves at the same time in one big wipe. Then they sat side by side facing forward, and thinking or maybe dreaming. When they got home their mother lifted them out of the car, took them inside, helped them out of their clothes and drew a tub of warm water. She smelled like Jergen’s lotion, like sweet roasted almonds. She had eyes that were golden and green, their beautiful mother.

    She left them clean and dressed in warm pajamas and went to fix some spaghetti for dinner.

    Anna Lee and Bridgett loved their mother’s spaghetti and garlic bread. They knew that it was better than the garlic bread and spaghetti next door. The mother next door had blue lights on her tree, mixed in with the red and green and yellow and white.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Marianne 🙂

      Consider yourself entered.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      I grew up in the 50’s. I remember riding in the backseat without seatbelts and climbing over the back to the front. I also remember going for long rides through the neighborhoods to look at their Christmas lights. You brought back pleasant memories for me, Marianne.

    • Eileen

      Loved your story. I think this was my favorite line, “She smelled like peanut butter, a good smell. Peanut butter, colored lights, and blue were all wonderful things, party things.”

    • Two Pens

      I like the movement of the story in the narrator’s dawning awareness that what she thinks and what an adult thinks are two different things. The sly deviltry of drawing on the back seat window is this story’s high point for me.

    • Thundersnow9

      Loved this story for its nuanced many levels, realistic details and sensitive portrayal of how we as children learn about prejudice from our parents. Great piece!

  26. Marianne

    Here’s my entry – Marianne Vest

    Blue Christmas Lights

    Hearts were what the two sisters drew in the car. They pushed and crawled over each other to get to the window, where they blew steam on the glass and then wiped it away with their fingers, to make crooked hearts and stars, figures that melted away slowly, leaving a blank, black, window.

    Their father drove, smoking a Lucky Strike, though the Holiday traffic in Norfolk, looking for a good Christmas tree lot. The cigarette made the car smell good like a fire on the beach. There mother was beside him with her red curls bouncing on the back of the seat.

    “Don’t push me anymore, it hurts,” said Bridgett, the younger one.

    “Stop messing it up then. Use the other window,” said Anna Lee.

    Their mother looked around from the front and said, “Move back to your side, Anna Lee and both of you stop getting finger prints all over the windows. I’ve told you not to do that.”

    It seemed too much to ask that they ride idly all the way to the shopping center and all the way home. That’s what Anna Lee, thought. She liked to sing Christmas carols during the ride, but it was dark and raining, and her parents weren’t happy, so there would be no singing.

    They got to the tree lot and walked in the wet air through aisles of firs and pines. Anna Lee pushed up against the trees, bushing the needles so that her coat would be scented with evergreen. Bridgett was tired so her mother grabbed her up and carried her, leaving Anna Lee alone in the cedar scented corridor. Anna Lee thought about Jesus in the winter with holly and mistletoe and tangerines, and with sand and camels and shepherds. There was no problem in her child’s mind with having holly in a desert, no problem at all.

    On the way home, they went down Chesapeake Street, and as soon as Anna Lee saw the A and P Grocery Store, she knew they would pass the house with the blue lights. It was the fifties and just about everyone had Christmas lights up, the old kind of lights with the big bulbs that caused the whole string to go out when one of them died.

    “Jesus is happy because his birthday is coming,” said Bridgett. Anna Lee started to hum “Away in a Manger”.

    When they passed the white church, a block before the house with all blue Christmas lights, Anna Lee rubbed off the window with her mittens, and she and Bridgett put their faces up close to watch for the lights. Bridgett had to kneel on the seat to get a good view.

    They passed the house with the Santa and Elves made of white plaster. The Elves wore red bows at their necks and they stayed there all year. The plaster Santa and Elves were examples of tacky decorations. Their mother had told them that. Tacky was a very bad thing, not good for Jesus’ birthday at all.

    “The blue lights are coming,” said Laurie. “I like blue. Blue’s my favorite color.”

    Bridgett leaned close. She smelled like peanut butter, a good smell. Peanut butter, colored lights, and blue were all wonderful things, party things. The blue light yard was coming up, although It was just a yard that looked blank until you began to pass it. The yard with the cool-blue lights receded, dark, between the yards on either side of it with their bright-white lights. But when it they were right beside it blue was all you could see. Those light stood out in the darkness like no others.

    The sisters leaned together holding their breath and then the splendor was before them. They bounced forward together. They were diving into the blue light yard where young cedars were cones of blue, the hedge a checkerboard of blue, and the front door an ocean of blue over a tin-foil seabed. Anna Lee and Bridgett hugged a hug of celebration, a hug of delight.

    “Look at those ugly, tacky blue lights,” said their mother. Then their mother laughed at the blue lights.

    The sisters lost their rhythm. They let go of each other, and scrambled forward pulling themselves up over the front seat.

    “Who on earth would do that, use those awful lights”? said their mother.

    “I like blue”, said Bridgett. Her voice was jittery, and wet.

    “I like blue too honey, but Christmas isn’t blue. The Christmas colors are red, white and green.”

    Anna Lee pulled Bridgett’s arm and started to blow a great big steam ring onto the window. With her little sister leaning on her and shaking, Anna Lee drew a devil into the steam. The devil had a pointed chin and a pitchfork and horns, but no legs or arms. Bridgett added curly lines beside the devil’s face.

    They erased it together, erased the devil, both of them using their jacket sleeves at the same time in one big wipe. Then they sat side by side facing forward, and thinking or maybe dreaming. When they got home their mother lifted them out of the car, took them inside, helped them out of their clothes and drew a tub of warm water. She smelled like Jergen’s lotion, like sweet roasted almonds. She had eyes that were golden and green, their beautiful mother.

    She left them clean and dressed in warm pajamas and went to fix some spaghetti for dinner.

    Anna Lee and Bridgett loved their mother’s spaghetti and garlic bread. They knew that it was better than the garlic bread and spaghetti next door. The mother next door had blue lights on her tree, mixed in with the red and green and yellow and white.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Marianne 🙂

      Consider yourself entered.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      I grew up in the 50’s. I remember riding in the backseat without seatbelts and climbing over the back to the front. I also remember going for long rides through the neighborhoods to look at their Christmas lights. You brought back pleasant memories for me, Marianne.

    • Eileen

      Loved your story. I think this was my favorite line, “She smelled like peanut butter, a good smell. Peanut butter, colored lights, and blue were all wonderful things, party things.”

    • Two Pens

      I like the movement of the story in the narrator’s dawning awareness that what she thinks and what an adult thinks are two different things. The sly deviltry of drawing on the back seat window is this story’s high point for me.

    • Thundersnow9

      Loved this story for its nuanced many levels, realistic details and sensitive portrayal of how we as children learn about prejudice from our parents. Great piece!

  27. Jeremy Statton

    It was Christmas morning, and it was supposed to be a time to open presents and hand out hugs and remember all of the good things in life. And my body was actively engaged. My hands were untying ribbons and ripping open wrapping paper. But my heart was somewhere else.

    No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t forget her. I couldn’t get her piercing, beautiful, but sad blue eyes out of my mind.

    I didn’t mean to see her, and since that cold day, I often wished I hadn’t.

    I certainly wasn’t looking. My mind was set on other things. I was in another world, completely out of touch with reality. One in which all of the items stocked in the store windows I was passing by could actually satisfy the deepest desires of my heart.

    I do not recall what drew my gaze towards the small figure whose existence meant nothing to me. But the second my eyes met hers, I was ruined. I knew I would never be the same.

    Work had taken me and my family to Europe for the holidays. The city was beautiful. Rooftops covered with snow. The streets lined with the decorations of the season. Glass chandeliers hung out over the sidewalks sparkling with light. Larger than life ornaments, glistening with a red glow, draped overhead.

    It had been three days since her telling glance had melted my frozen heart. We were headed towards an outdoor Christmas market, filled with anticipation, imagining the warmth that would crawl down our throats, filling our stomachs, as we sipped on mulled wine. I could already taste the warm waffle covered in hazelnut spread while standing in a crowd, unable to understand the garbled German surrounding me, but content to be filled with the spirit of the holiday season.

    And that is when I saw her, hidden in the busyness of the pedestrians walking from one store to the next. She was curled up against the wall sitting on the sidewalk, the dirt that covered her clothing matching the dust of the street.

    She kept her face down, nestled between her legs. Partly out of a futile attempt to stay warm, but also out of a desire to hide her shame. The shame of hunger. The shame of cold. The shame of an addiction made necessary by the loneliness of living on the streets.

    But then she looked up, and our eyes met. And I was ruined. In a split second, her eyes told me a story. A story of love. Love that demanded her entire person.

    When I first noticed her crumpled body with it’s dirty hand holding an empty cup, begging for money, I hated her. I hated her irresponsibility and her laziness. I despised the filth that covered her entire body. I hated that she smelled like a dead animal left to rot.

    I hated her because I assumed many things about her. I assumed that being on the streets was her choice. If only she had made better decisions, if only she had chosen to stay in school, then maybe she wouldn’t need my money. Money that I had worked hard to earn.

    At first glance she appeared to be much older than me, but it was only an illusion, one created by the hardness needed to survive in her world.

    When her our eyes met, these eyes penetrated my own. I suddenly realized that there was much more to this young woman’s story than I could tell by looking at her clothing. It was much deeper and much sadder than the filth that covered her body let on.

    This life I so disdained, was not her choice. It had not been her plan. Difficult circumstances complicated by even tougher decisions had brought her here, to this cold, lonely place on the sidewalk

    She had chosen to do what she felt was right, despite the consequences. Despite the fact that her family disowned her. Despite the fact that all of her friends had abandoned her. Despite the fact that the church, which she felt so committed to in her heart, had rejected her.

    The unplanned, teenage pregnancy came. It had been a complete surprise. The boy said he loved her. He promised to stay forever. All lies. Lies revealed by a harsh reality of an unwanted pregnancy.

    Everyone told her to consider her options. You are too young. This is too hard. Move on. This child is unwanted. This boy is illegitimate.

    But the thought of ending the life that was hidden deep within her was something she could not do. The small baby, forming in her womb, had become a part of who she was. She realized that there was more than just a physical connection. To end the pregnancy would mean destroying a part of her own soul.

    So she finished the long 9 months. The boy was born. And then she gave him to another woman. To raise him. To feed him. To clean his dirty diaper. To teach him about the ways of the world. To be his mother.

    As I sat in our warm apartment, drinking coffee and opening presents. I realized that this young girl knew more about Christmas than I ever had. As we celebrated the birth of the Messiah, the one who died so that I might have life, I understood that she had given up everything so that she could give her life to her son.

    Where could she be? Did anyone reach out to help her? Had she given in to the cold and loneliness?

    I can only guess the look on everyone’s faces when I abruptly stood up, grabbed my coat, and left to go find her.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for entering, Jeremy!

    • Eileen

      Nice job. It really puts things into perspective

  28. Jeremy Statton

    It was Christmas morning, and it was supposed to be a time to open presents and hand out hugs and remember all of the good things in life. And my body was actively engaged. My hands were untying ribbons and ripping open wrapping paper. But my heart was somewhere else.

    No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t forget her. I couldn’t get her piercing, beautiful, but sad blue eyes out of my mind.

    I didn’t mean to see her, and since that cold day, I often wished I hadn’t.

    I certainly wasn’t looking. My mind was set on other things. I was in another world, completely out of touch with reality. One in which all of the items stocked in the store windows I was passing by could actually satisfy the deepest desires of my heart.

    I do not recall what drew my gaze towards the small figure whose existence meant nothing to me. But the second my eyes met hers, I was ruined. I knew I would never be the same.

    Work had taken me and my family to Europe for the holidays. The city was beautiful. Rooftops covered with snow. The streets lined with the decorations of the season. Glass chandeliers hung out over the sidewalks sparkling with light. Larger than life ornaments, glistening with a red glow, draped overhead.

    It had been three days since her telling glance had melted my frozen heart. We were headed towards an outdoor Christmas market, filled with anticipation, imagining the warmth that would crawl down our throats, filling our stomachs, as we sipped on mulled wine. I could already taste the warm waffle covered in hazelnut spread while standing in a crowd, unable to understand the garbled German surrounding me, but content to be filled with the spirit of the holiday season.

    And that is when I saw her, hidden in the busyness of the pedestrians walking from one store to the next. She was curled up against the wall sitting on the sidewalk, the dirt that covered her clothing matching the dust of the street.

    She kept her face down, nestled between her legs. Partly out of a futile attempt to stay warm, but also out of a desire to hide her shame. The shame of hunger. The shame of cold. The shame of an addiction made necessary by the loneliness of living on the streets.

    But then she looked up, and our eyes met. And I was ruined. In a split second, her eyes told me a story. A story of love. Love that demanded her entire person.

    When I first noticed her crumpled body with it’s dirty hand holding an empty cup, begging for money, I hated her. I hated her irresponsibility and her laziness. I despised the filth that covered her entire body. I hated that she smelled like a dead animal left to rot.

    I hated her because I assumed many things about her. I assumed that being on the streets was her choice. If only she had made better decisions, if only she had chosen to stay in school, then maybe she wouldn’t need my money. Money that I had worked hard to earn.

    At first glance she appeared to be much older than me, but it was only an illusion, one created by the hardness needed to survive in her world.

    When her our eyes met, these eyes penetrated my own. I suddenly realized that there was much more to this young woman’s story than I could tell by looking at her clothing. It was much deeper and much sadder than the filth that covered her body let on.

    This life I so disdained, was not her choice. It had not been her plan. Difficult circumstances complicated by even tougher decisions had brought her here, to this cold, lonely place on the sidewalk

    She had chosen to do what she felt was right, despite the consequences. Despite the fact that her family disowned her. Despite the fact that all of her friends had abandoned her. Despite the fact that the church, which she felt so committed to in her heart, had rejected her.

    The unplanned, teenage pregnancy came. It had been a complete surprise. The boy said he loved her. He promised to stay forever. All lies. Lies revealed by a harsh reality of an unwanted pregnancy.

    Everyone told her to consider her options. You are too young. This is too hard. Move on. This child is unwanted. This boy is illegitimate.

    But the thought of ending the life that was hidden deep within her was something she could not do. The small baby, forming in her womb, had become a part of who she was. She realized that there was more than just a physical connection. To end the pregnancy would mean destroying a part of her own soul.

    So she finished the long 9 months. The boy was born. And then she gave him to another woman. To raise him. To feed him. To clean his dirty diaper. To teach him about the ways of the world. To be his mother.

    As I sat in our warm apartment, drinking coffee and opening presents. I realized that this young girl knew more about Christmas than I ever had. As we celebrated the birth of the Messiah, the one who died so that I might have life, I understood that she had given up everything so that she could give her life to her son.

    Where could she be? Did anyone reach out to help her? Had she given in to the cold and loneliness?

    I can only guess the look on everyone’s faces when I abruptly stood up, grabbed my coat, and left to go find her.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for entering, Jeremy!

    • Patricia W Hunter

      A very poignant story, Jeremy.

    • Eileen

      Nice job. It really puts things into perspective

  29. sara choe

    [Psst, it’s spelled “Kwanzaa”.]

    Finally. Spring break.

    Her friends declared this one her nerdiest yet. Her roommates were already snorkeling off the Pacific coast of Panama, while she, the black sheep of Graham 333, was still in transit.

    Several two-hour naps and a mediocre in-flight movie later, she set foot down the stairs of the plane. This airport was old school — she had to walk to the gate of the airport. The sky was clear, a blue so pale and faint it was white.

    Lots of tan as the eye could see. She imagined the cityscape of her hometown — the vertical swatches of grey, black and silver — overlaying the palette of neutrals and earthtones. Bits of green came from the palm trees.

    She grabbed her backpack off the conveyor, hoisted it over her shoulders and marched through the sliding doors.

    She climbed into the taxi cab. The driver looked at her.

    “You want to go to Bethlehem?” he asked.
    “Yes,” she said.

    How did he know? she marveled to herself. They drove off.

    Her face was glued to the window. An endless sea of sand and low houses.

    Then, a hill.

    “Stop, please.” she said.
    “But we are not there yet,” he said.
    “I know,” she said. “Just for a moment.”

    He pulled over.

    She donned her tortoise-shell sunglasses and wrapped her canary yellow cotton scarf over her hair and stepped out. If Audrey Hepburn were an anthropology major, she would wear cherry red cargo capri pants and royal blue canvas slip ons, too.

    She jogged toward the hill, which felt more like a mound. Toward the top she stumbled; on her knees she climbed a little more.

    She stood up and looked over the vista, using her hand to shade her face.

    More buildings, white and Mediterranean looking, littered the landscape. “Mom & pop shops, I bet,” she thought. “Little cafes.”

    Trying to catch her breath, she said, pointing, “I think that over there… that’s the inn.”

    She took off her shoes. The sand between her toes, the sun setting before her eyes.

    She opened her canvas satchel, the one that once belonged to her dad. She had happened upon it years ago, while she was in high school, when her parents were still together. The satchel carried his camera when he served in the Army.

    She pulled out a compass and held it out. The needle swung. Just as soon as it found the north, the dusk seemed to give way to evening.

    She slipped the compass back into the satchel pocket. With both hands, she gingerly took off her sunglasses, which joined the compass.

    She shifted her body and looked up at the sky. With bated breath, she waited, afraid to blink.

    And there it was. Her charts and maps stayed folded in her satchel, moot; her gut told her, “that’s the star,” the very one that led those royal scholars to him many, many years ago.

    She sat, lied down, and stared intently at the deep sapphire sky. She splayed her arms. The sand’s cooler already, she thought.

    She was glad she had kept the collar of her white oxford shirt popped as her hands sank in, the grains of sand tickling the skin between her fingers. The star’s light made her shirt iridescent.

    “So this is Christmas,” she whispered.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Welcome to the contest, Sara.

      😉

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Wow, Sara! That’s quite a spring break!

  30. sara choe

    [Psst, it’s spelled “Kwanzaa”.]

    Finally. Spring break.

    Her friends declared this one her nerdiest yet. Her roommates were already snorkeling off the Pacific coast of Panama, while she, the black sheep of Graham 333, was still in transit.

    Several two-hour naps and a mediocre in-flight movie later, she set foot down the stairs of the plane. This airport was old school — she had to walk to the gate of the airport. The sky was clear, a blue so pale and faint it was white.

    Lots of tan as the eye could see. She imagined the cityscape of her hometown — the vertical swatches of grey, black and silver — overlaying the palette of neutrals and earthtones. Bits of green came from the palm trees.

    She grabbed her backpack off the conveyor, hoisted it over her shoulders and marched through the sliding doors.

    She climbed into the taxi cab. The driver looked at her.

    “You want to go to Bethlehem?” he asked.
    “Yes,” she said.

    How did he know? she marveled to herself. They drove off.

    Her face was glued to the window. An endless sea of sand and low houses.

    Then, a hill.

    “Stop, please.” she said.
    “But we are not there yet,” he said.
    “I know,” she said. “Just for a moment.”

    He pulled over.

    She donned her tortoise-shell sunglasses and wrapped her canary yellow cotton scarf over her hair and stepped out. If Audrey Hepburn were an anthropology major, she would wear cherry red cargo capri pants and royal blue canvas slip ons, too.

    She jogged toward the hill, which felt more like a mound. Toward the top she stumbled; on her knees she climbed a little more.

    She stood up and looked over the vista, using her hand to shade her face.

    More buildings, white and Mediterranean looking, littered the landscape. “Mom & pop shops, I bet,” she thought. “Little cafes.”

    Trying to catch her breath, she said, pointing, “I think that over there… that’s the inn.”

    She took off her shoes. The sand between her toes, the sun setting before her eyes.

    She opened her canvas satchel, the one that once belonged to her dad. She had happened upon it years ago, while she was in high school, when her parents were still together. The satchel carried his camera when he served in the Army.

    She pulled out a compass and held it out. The needle swung. Just as soon as it found the north, the dusk seemed to give way to evening.

    She slipped the compass back into the satchel pocket. With both hands, she gingerly took off her sunglasses, which joined the compass.

    She shifted her body and looked up at the sky. With bated breath, she waited, afraid to blink.

    And there it was. Her charts and maps stayed folded in her satchel, moot; her gut told her, “that’s the star,” the very one that led those royal scholars to him many, many years ago.

    She sat, lied down, and stared intently at the deep sapphire sky. She splayed her arms. The sand’s cooler already, she thought.

    She was glad she had kept the collar of her white oxford shirt popped as her hands sank in, the grains of sand tickling the skin between her fingers. The star’s light made her shirt iridescent.

    “So this is Christmas,” she whispered.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Welcome to the contest, Sara.

      😉

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Wow, Sara! That’s quite a spring break!

  31. Jim Woods

    The bitter cold went down my spine as I trotted down the snow-covered sidewalk. Red, green and blue colors danced around me. I dreamed of being next to the fire; familiar, warm and safe. A tidal wave of loneliness came over me; suddenly the sky grew darker. The lights around me dimmed slightly.

    I walked up the driveway and went into my slightly faded blue house. I strolled into the living room and fell onto the couch. I turned on the television and flipped through the channels. Twenty minutes later, I gave up. Hundreds of choices, but none were worth the time.

    I went back into the kitchen, and picked up a box of cereal. Cereal and soup were my two main staples. One was hot and one was cold. It was the best of both worlds. If only everything else were so simple. I stared out the window and was mesmerized by the falling snow. I thought of our first Christmas together; sitting by the fire, hot apple cider in hand and the feel of the gentle glow against my face. My heart beat a little faster.

    “Snap out of it,” I thought to myself. The phone rang.

    Her heart pounded as she stepped off the plane. The airport was complete chaos on day before Christmas. She wiggled her way through as quickly as possible.

    The conversations had blurred together; it was impossible to say who was to blame or what had really taken place. The lies had been blended together with the truth. She could call, but what could she say? Her mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Getting the words out would be difficult, if not impossible. She tried to walk faster in the moving sea of faces, but felt her heart sink as she saw a young family together with an infant. The father held his baby girl close in his arms. He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

    “That is what really matters,” her insides screamed as she inched through the terminal.

    “Hello,” I mumbled into the phone.

    “Hey man, where are you? The party started twenty minutes ago, and you said you would bring the ice!” said an irritated voice on the other end of the line.

    “Sorry, I’m on my way right now,” I said and hung up quickly.

    I ran out the door and hopped in my snow-covered car. Maybe some time with others is what I need. I stopped at the corner gas station to get the ice. I noticed the Christmas music playing gently in the background. It slightly lifted my spirits until I realized it was a song that we heard together last year.

    A few minutes later, I pulled up to my friend’s house. The cars lined the street, bumper to bumper. Snow fell steadily from the black sky.
    My friend Tom came to the door. “Where is your tacky Christmas sweater?” he asked.
    “Oh yeah, I forgot about that,” I responded.

    I walked into the house with the ice and went to a small wooden table where 2-liter bottles and punch sat next to some plastic cups. I grabbed a cup and held it up to my lips. The tart flavor of the punch made me gag. I used the cup as a blockade of sorts. I held the cup gracefully and acted like I was taking sips of the terrible drink. I began to scan the room to find a safe zone. I knew most men would be safe; I could talk about football and other sports. Women were to be avoided. I did not want any sympathy, empathy or uncomfortable questions.

    It had been almost six months since she the break-up. Maybe some of the others had forgotten and this could be an enjoyable night after all.

    I wasn’t really hungry, but I wandered over to the food table. I could use this distraction to further scan the room. I took some wheat crackers, a few squares of yellow and white cheese, and a couple star-shaped Christmas cookies.

    I noticed my neighbor, Pete, across the room. I knew he was the right choice. I went directly to him. We chatted about the weather, favorite Christmas movies, and of course, football.

    As soon as Pete walked away, an attractive twenty something blonde came over to me. She was already a bit tipsy.
    “Hey, you’re cute,” the girl said with slurred speech.
    I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or the lamp next to me. I chuckled a little at this thought.
    “Thanks, I’m actually leaving the party now.” I said.
    I simply did not want to attempt to have a conversation with this woman.
    “Well, do you wanna take me home?” she said.
    “Sorry, no thanks,” I said.

    I walked out of the living room and bumped into a co-worker, Rick.
    “Wow, I saw what just happened. Are you crazy?” Rick asked.
    “Maybe a little,” I answered.
    Rick said “I know you have had a rough time, why didn’t you take her home with you? She threw herself at you.”
    “I have enough problems already.” I replied.

    I walked away. I did not want to talk about this any further.
    “Sorry man, I’m not feeling well. I’ll catch you later,” I told my friend Tom on my way out the door.

    I knew the drunk girl would have been a quick fix. In fifteen minutes, I knew I would be a million times more miserable. I went out into the frigid air. Be with me, darkness. The pain lets me know I’m alive. I looked up at the pitch black sky that was sprinkled with snow. Hopefully, this agony was just a temporary phase; everything would work out with time.

    I began to drive home and suddenly felt a little comfort. An unexplainable feeling of peace came over me. I started to feel normal again; my insides were not as hollow. The snow began to fall even harder. White and black were the only colors on the landscape.

    As I pulled in the driveway, I noticed a strange car parked in the street. I figured one of the neighbors had a visitor.

    I walked up the driveway and noticed some footprints partially covered in the snow. As I looked up, I saw her standing by the door, as radiant as ever.

    Neither of us could speak. Tears filled our eyes as we threw our arms around each other and pulled tight.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry Jim! I’ll let you know who won Monday 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Very sweet story, Jim. I love happy endings.

    • Jim Woods

      Thanks so much Patricia! I really appreciate it!!!

  32. Jim Woods

    The bitter cold went down my spine as I trotted down the snow-covered sidewalk. Red, green and blue colors danced around me. I dreamed of being next to the fire; familiar, warm and safe. A tidal wave of loneliness came over me; suddenly the sky grew darker. The lights around me dimmed slightly.

    I walked up the driveway and went into my slightly faded blue house. I strolled into the living room and fell onto the couch. I turned on the television and flipped through the channels. Twenty minutes later, I gave up. Hundreds of choices, but none were worth the time.

    I went back into the kitchen, and picked up a box of cereal. Cereal and soup were my two main staples. One was hot and one was cold. It was the best of both worlds. If only everything else were so simple. I stared out the window and was mesmerized by the falling snow. I thought of our first Christmas together; sitting by the fire, hot apple cider in hand and the feel of the gentle glow against my face. My heart beat a little faster.

    “Snap out of it,” I thought to myself. The phone rang.

    Her heart pounded as she stepped off the plane. The airport was complete chaos on day before Christmas. She wiggled her way through as quickly as possible.

    The conversations had blurred together; it was impossible to say who was to blame or what had really taken place. The lies had been blended together with the truth. She could call, but what could she say? Her mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Getting the words out would be difficult, if not impossible. She tried to walk faster in the moving sea of faces, but felt her heart sink as she saw a young family together with an infant. The father held his baby girl close in his arms. He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

    “That is what really matters,” her insides screamed as she inched through the terminal.

    “Hello,” I mumbled into the phone.

    “Hey man, where are you? The party started twenty minutes ago, and you said you would bring the ice!” said an irritated voice on the other end of the line.

    “Sorry, I’m on my way right now,” I said and hung up quickly.

    I ran out the door and hopped in my snow-covered car. Maybe some time with others is what I need. I stopped at the corner gas station to get the ice. I noticed the Christmas music playing gently in the background. It slightly lifted my spirits until I realized it was a song that we heard together last year.

    A few minutes later, I pulled up to my friend’s house. The cars lined the street, bumper to bumper. Snow fell steadily from the black sky.
    My friend Tom came to the door. “Where is your tacky Christmas sweater?” he asked.
    “Oh yeah, I forgot about that,” I responded.

    I walked into the house with the ice and went to a small wooden table where 2-liter bottles and punch sat next to some plastic cups. I grabbed a cup and held it up to my lips. The tart flavor of the punch made me gag. I used the cup as a blockade of sorts. I held the cup gracefully and acted like I was taking sips of the terrible drink. I began to scan the room to find a safe zone. I knew most men would be safe; I could talk about football and other sports. Women were to be avoided. I did not want any sympathy, empathy or uncomfortable questions.

    It had been almost six months since she the break-up. Maybe some of the others had forgotten and this could be an enjoyable night after all.

    I wasn’t really hungry, but I wandered over to the food table. I could use this distraction to further scan the room. I took some wheat crackers, a few squares of yellow and white cheese, and a couple star-shaped Christmas cookies.

    I noticed my neighbor, Pete, across the room. I knew he was the right choice. I went directly to him. We chatted about the weather, favorite Christmas movies, and of course, football.

    As soon as Pete walked away, an attractive twenty something blonde came over to me. She was already a bit tipsy.
    “Hey, you’re cute,” the girl said with slurred speech.
    I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or the lamp next to me. I chuckled a little at this thought.
    “Thanks, I’m actually leaving the party now.” I said.
    I simply did not want to attempt to have a conversation with this woman.
    “Well, do you wanna take me home?” she said.
    “Sorry, no thanks,” I said.

    I walked out of the living room and bumped into a co-worker, Rick.
    “Wow, I saw what just happened. Are you crazy?” Rick asked.
    “Maybe a little,” I answered.
    Rick said “I know you have had a rough time, why didn’t you take her home with you? She threw herself at you.”
    “I have enough problems already.” I replied.

    I walked away. I did not want to talk about this any further.
    “Sorry man, I’m not feeling well. I’ll catch you later,” I told my friend Tom on my way out the door.

    I knew the drunk girl would have been a quick fix. In fifteen minutes, I knew I would be a million times more miserable. I went out into the frigid air. Be with me, darkness. The pain lets me know I’m alive. I looked up at the pitch black sky that was sprinkled with snow. Hopefully, this agony was just a temporary phase; everything would work out with time.

    I began to drive home and suddenly felt a little comfort. An unexplainable feeling of peace came over me. I started to feel normal again; my insides were not as hollow. The snow began to fall even harder. White and black were the only colors on the landscape.

    As I pulled in the driveway, I noticed a strange car parked in the street. I figured one of the neighbors had a visitor.

    I walked up the driveway and noticed some footprints partially covered in the snow. As I looked up, I saw her standing by the door, as radiant as ever.

    Neither of us could speak. Tears filled our eyes as we threw our arms around each other and pulled tight.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry Jim! I’ll let you know who won Monday 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Very sweet story, Jim. I love happy endings.

    • Jim Woods

      Thanks so much Patricia! I really appreciate it!!!

  33. Hazel Keats

    The Christmas Coat
    by Hazel Keats

    Three AM and I wasn’t the first one to arrive at the super duper store. The line curved all around the building but I had to get Dad the flat screen he wanted and it would be half price, a price I could afford.

    The woman in front of me wanted to talk about what I would be going for first. “Laptops, of course,” I lied. She nodded and then began typing into to her phone. I smiled, shaking my head knowing she was looking up the prices on laptops. I listened for an hour to the man and his teenage son behind me, make fun of the “different” people in the line.

    It was about twenty people back I saw the little pink jacket. I forced my eyes to focus at the six month old as she bounced in a sling on her mom’s hip.

    “No,” I thought. “Don’t bring her here.”

    Black Friday was dangerous for me, little alone a baby. I expected to be trampled on. What would happen when the crowd shoved forward? She could fall and at best case be walked around. It was a horror movie about to happen.

    When they opened the doors, I didn’t make a B-line for electronics but I held back and waited for the young mom to pass. I was coat to coat with her but when the crowd pushed forward, I braced shoving back. Following them into children’s clothing, I lost her for a second but found her grabbing coats. I stood next to her and asked if I could help.
    “Coats! Grab as many sizes you can!” She said and I did.

    Together we were able to collect fifty some coats and took them to the check out. I watched her checkout with her credit card. I was going to make sure she was safely out.
    As I walked with her to help load up her car, I told her about the TV I was getting for my Dad.

    “Yep, I saved up. No coffee houses or cafe’s for three months! Can you imagine?”

    “Well, I’m sure he’ll love it.” She smiled.

    “I can’t wait to see his face. So you have a boy at home too?”

    “No, she’s my only child.” She said confused.

    “But I noticed you grabbed a lot of boy coats.”

    “Oh, these aren’t for my family.” She smiled. “They’re donation for Coats For Kids.”

    “Oh wow!” I sucked in breath, surprised. “That’s really nice of you.”

    “I grew up watching some of my friends come to school without coats or even shoes and I vowed to donate those items at Christmas.”

    She closed her trunk and thanked me. As I watched her drive off I took my coat off and felt the winter wind blow through my body and I curled my toes seeking the warmth in my sneakers. Then I walked back into the store with the mindset of a child and bought my Dad’s Christmas gift.

    Almost a month later my Dad opened his gift he smiled and hugged me. I even saw his eyes water a little.

    The box I gave him wasn’t the size of a flat screen. The shirt box contained a pink jacket with an old picture of me by the monkey bars. At first he laughed asking, “what’s all this was about” and I told him the story about the woman with the baby. The money I had saved drinking my coffee at home had gone to a boatload of coats like the one he provided for me when I was a child.

    I thanked him for that and God. I thanked God.

    Reply
    • sara choe

      [heart warmed]

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry, Hazel 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Beautiful, beautiful story, Hazel.

  34. Hazel Keats

    The Christmas Coat
    by Hazel Keats

    Three AM and I wasn’t the first one to arrive at the super duper store. The line curved all around the building but I had to get Dad the flat screen he wanted and it would be half price, a price I could afford.

    The woman in front of me wanted to talk about what I would be going for first. “Laptops, of course,” I lied. She nodded and then began typing into to her phone. I smiled, shaking my head knowing she was looking up the prices on laptops. I listened for an hour to the man and his teenage son behind me, make fun of the “different” people in the line.

    It was about twenty people back I saw the little pink jacket. I forced my eyes to focus at the six month old as she bounced in a sling on her mom’s hip.

    “No,” I thought. “Don’t bring her here.”

    Black Friday was dangerous for me, little alone a baby. I expected to be trampled on. What would happen when the crowd shoved forward? She could fall and at best case be walked around. It was a horror movie about to happen.

    When they opened the doors, I didn’t make a B-line for electronics but I held back and waited for the young mom to pass. I was coat to coat with her but when the crowd pushed forward, I braced shoving back. Following them into children’s clothing, I lost her for a second but found her grabbing coats. I stood next to her and asked if I could help.
    “Coats! Grab as many sizes you can!” She said and I did.

    Together we were able to collect fifty some coats and took them to the check out. I watched her checkout with her credit card. I was going to make sure she was safely out.
    As I walked with her to help load up her car, I told her about the TV I was getting for my Dad.

    “Yep, I saved up. No coffee houses or cafe’s for three months! Can you imagine?”

    “Well, I’m sure he’ll love it.” She smiled.

    “I can’t wait to see his face. So you have a boy at home too?”

    “No, she’s my only child.” She said confused.

    “But I noticed you grabbed a lot of boy coats.”

    “Oh, these aren’t for my family.” She smiled. “They’re donation for Coats For Kids.”

    “Oh wow!” I sucked in breath, surprised. “That’s really nice of you.”

    “I grew up watching some of my friends come to school without coats or even shoes and I vowed to donate those items at Christmas.”

    She closed her trunk and thanked me. As I watched her drive off I took my coat off and felt the winter wind blow through my body and I curled my toes seeking the warmth in my sneakers. Then I walked back into the store with the mindset of a child and bought my Dad’s Christmas gift.

    Almost a month later my Dad opened his gift he smiled and hugged me. I even saw his eyes water a little.

    The box I gave him wasn’t the size of a flat screen. The shirt box contained a pink jacket with an old picture of me by the monkey bars. At first he laughed asking, “what’s all this was about” and I told him the story about the woman with the baby. The money I had saved drinking my coffee at home had gone to a boatload of coats like the one he provided for me when I was a child.

    I thanked him for that and God. I thanked God.

    Reply
    • sara choe

      [heart warmed]

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry, Hazel 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Beautiful, beautiful story, Hazel.

  35. Patricia W Hunter

    When Daddy grabbed the miniature Christmas tree off the table where I’d placed it by his wheelchair and crushed it with both hands, I was stunned.

    The little tree had been the centerpiece on my parents’ kitchen table for years. Crafted from dozens of tiny green and gold foil-wrapped boxes glued to an 18-inch Styrofoam cone, I’d hoped it would bring daddy a little joy and brighten his room in the nursing home. That he would destroy it was beyond my imagination, but then nothing about the day had unfolded as I’d expected.

    I’d stopped by mother’s room in the rehab wing first to leave the boxes of Christmas decorations I’d brought from their home. We’d known that daddy had Alzheimer’s for years, but mother’s rapidly declining health over the six weeks since daddy moved into the nursing home remained a mystery.

    When my eight year old daughter Emily and I walked into mother’s room, she was sitting in a wheelchair with her untouched lunch tray on the table before her – obviously needing more help than the staff had provided. I removed the cover from the dinner plate, spread a paper napkin across her lap and seasoned the food so she could eat. “I’ll be back after we check on daddy,” I assured her.

    We found Daddy asleep, slumped to one side of his wheelchair near the nurse’s station in the hall outside his room. He was a mess. In desperate need of a haircut and shave, his rumpled clothes hung loosely on his tall, bony frame. Both arms were covered with bruises and a bandage was wrapped around his right forearm. He’d bitten into one of his medications and the reddish-brown remains mixed with drool ran down the creases of his chin.

    Waking him gently, I wheeled him back to his room, washed his face and showed him the Christmas decorations we’d brought to decorate his side of the room. Daddy had worked hard – long past retirement age – to provide comfortably for my mother, my brother and me. I was deeply grieved that his earthly rewards had been reduced to a wheelchair, a hospital bed, a bedside table, and a small closet for his drab, baggy clothes. But we had to live with the way things were until we could create a space to care for both of my parents in our home.

    Even with Alzheimer’s, daddy was not combative. Except for the time he punched mother’s roommate when she wouldn’t let him through the door to see his wife, I’d never known daddy to be anything but gentle. It was totally out of character for him to destroy the Christmas tree as soon as I put it on the table next to him.

    “Daddy! Why did you do that?” I cried, prying his fingers off the now ruined centerpiece, but he only groaned and stared off into the distance over my shoulder.

    The nurses didn’t want to, but I asked them to please put daddy back in bed. “Maybe he just needs to rest,” I told them as they removed his shoes and tucked the covers around his frail, lanky frame.

    Before leaving, I leaned over the bedrail, kissed his forehead and whispered, “I love you, daddy.”

    There was a hint of embarrassment in mother’s smile when I walked back into her room – like a little girl caught skipping through mud puddles, she knew she’d made a mess. Orange tomato sauce was smeared all around her lips and down her chin from the food she had managed to get to her mouth. The rest of her lasagna and green beans were either in her lap or on the floor.

    Not wanting to alarm Emily, I chuckled, trying to pretend nothing was wrong, when clearly it was. I’d never seen my mother like this.

    “How was your father?” she asked when I returned from the bathroom with warm water and a washcloth to clean her face.

    On most days, someone from the rehab center would take mother to daddy’s room, or bring daddy to her. Today would not be one of those days.

    “I don’t think he’s feeling well today.” I told her, praying she couldn’t see the tears that threatened to spill or detect the lump in my throat.

    We stayed with mother as long as we could. Emily held her grandmother’s hand and told her what she was learning in school and what she wanted for Christmas. With tinsel garland, we framed the bulletin board on the wall by her bed and placed other decorations around her side of the room.

    We had not planned on staying overnight and it was a long drive home. After reading her Christmas cards and tacking them to the newly decorated bulletin board, we kissed mother goodbye.

    Stopping to check on daddy before leaving, I was relieved to find him sleeping comfortably. We grabbed the bag with the crushed Christmas tree, and left the room without disturbing him.

    It was the worst Christmas ever. Without waking up again, daddy died two days after we left him that day, and mother forgot how to brush her teeth. She forgot daddy died, how to feed herself, or that we had moved her out of the rehab center two days before Christmas and into the space we created to care for her in our home. Staying home to feed my mother and change her diapers, it was the first Christmas in over twenty years that I could not be with my family for Christmas Eve services.

    But it was also a pivotal Christmas – shattering many of my preconceived ideas of what makes Christmas perfect. It was the Christmas that my children learned the joy of putting the needs of others before their own, and the Christmas my expectations were replaced with an even greater appreciation for the everyday gifts of the moment and time with those I love.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry, Patricia. I was hoping you’d submit something.

    • Kevin Mackesy

      What a tough time that must’ve been. Alzheimer’s is no friend, that’s for sure.

    • Eileen

      You show the heartache of Alzheimer’s so well in this entry. I loved your last thoughts…”shattering many of my preconceived ideas of what makes a perfect Christmas.” And how experiences like this give us better understanding of what truly is important.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Thank you, Eileen. It was the worst, but probably the most meaningful Christmas ever.

    • Adriana Willey

      wow this was so vivid. it brought tears to my eyes, which i think is the most real, base sign of good writing. thank you.

  36. Patricia W Hunter

    When Daddy grabbed the miniature Christmas tree off the table where I’d placed it by his wheelchair and crushed it with both hands, I was stunned.

    The little tree had been the centerpiece on my parents’ kitchen table for years. Crafted from dozens of tiny green and gold foil-wrapped boxes glued to an 18-inch Styrofoam cone, I’d hoped it would bring daddy a little joy and brighten his room in the nursing home. That he would destroy it was beyond my imagination, but then nothing about the day had unfolded as I’d expected.

    I’d stopped by mother’s room in the rehab wing first to leave the boxes of Christmas decorations I’d brought from their home. We’d known that daddy had Alzheimer’s for years, but mother’s rapidly declining health over the six weeks since daddy moved into the nursing home remained a mystery.

    When my eight year old daughter Emily and I walked into mother’s room, she was sitting in a wheelchair with her untouched lunch tray on the table before her – obviously needing more help than the staff had provided. I removed the cover from the dinner plate, spread a paper napkin across her lap and seasoned the food so she could eat. “I’ll be back after we check on daddy,” I assured her.

    We found Daddy asleep, slumped to one side of his wheelchair near the nurse’s station in the hall outside his room. He was a mess. In desperate need of a haircut and shave, his rumpled clothes hung loosely on his tall, bony frame. Both arms were covered with bruises and a bandage was wrapped around his right forearm. He’d bitten into one of his medications and the reddish-brown remains mixed with drool ran down the creases of his chin.

    Waking him gently, I wheeled him back to his room, washed his face and showed him the Christmas decorations we’d brought to decorate his side of the room. Daddy had worked hard – long past retirement age – to provide comfortably for my mother, my brother and me. I was deeply grieved that his earthly rewards had been reduced to a wheelchair, a hospital bed, a bedside table, and a small closet for his drab, baggy clothes. But we had to live with the way things were until we could create a space to care for both of my parents in our home.

    Even with Alzheimer’s, daddy was not combative. Except for the time he punched mother’s roommate when she wouldn’t let him through the door to see his wife, I’d never known daddy to be anything but gentle. It was totally out of character for him to destroy the Christmas tree as soon as I put it on the table next to him.

    “Daddy! Why did you do that?” I cried, prying his fingers off the now ruined centerpiece, but he only groaned and stared off into the distance over my shoulder.

    The nurses didn’t want to, but I asked them to please put daddy back in bed. “Maybe he just needs to rest,” I told them as they removed his shoes and tucked the covers around his frail, lanky frame.

    Before leaving, I leaned over the bedrail, kissed his forehead and whispered, “I love you, daddy.”

    There was a hint of embarrassment in mother’s smile when I walked back into her room – like a little girl caught skipping through mud puddles, she knew she’d made a mess. Orange tomato sauce was smeared all around her lips and down her chin from the food she had managed to get to her mouth. The rest of her lasagna and green beans were either in her lap or on the floor.

    Not wanting to alarm Emily, I chuckled, trying to pretend nothing was wrong, when clearly it was. I’d never seen my mother like this.

    “How was your father?” she asked when I returned from the bathroom with warm water and a washcloth to clean her face.

    On most days, someone from the rehab center would take mother to daddy’s room, or bring daddy to her. Today would not be one of those days.

    “I don’t think he’s feeling well today.” I told her, praying she couldn’t see the tears that threatened to spill or detect the lump in my throat.

    We stayed with mother as long as we could. Emily held her grandmother’s hand and told her what she was learning in school and what she wanted for Christmas. With tinsel garland, we framed the bulletin board on the wall by her bed and placed other decorations around her side of the room.

    We had not planned on staying overnight and it was a long drive home. After reading her Christmas cards and tacking them to the newly decorated bulletin board, we kissed mother goodbye.

    Stopping to check on daddy before leaving, I was relieved to find him sleeping comfortably. We grabbed the bag with the crushed Christmas tree, and left the room without disturbing him.

    It was the worst Christmas ever. Without waking up again, daddy died two days after we left him that day, and mother forgot how to brush her teeth. She forgot daddy died, how to feed herself, or that we had moved her out of the rehab center two days before Christmas and into the space we created to care for her in our home. Staying home to feed my mother and change her diapers, it was the first Christmas in over twenty years that I could not be with my family for Christmas Eve services.

    But it was also a pivotal Christmas – shattering many of my preconceived ideas of what makes Christmas perfect. It was the Christmas that my children learned the joy of putting the needs of others before their own, and the Christmas my expectations were replaced with an even greater appreciation for the everyday gifts of the moment and time with those I love.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry, Patricia. I was hoping you’d submit something.

    • Kevin Mackesy

      What a tough time that must’ve been. Alzheimer’s is no friend, that’s for sure.

    • Eileen

      You show the heartache of Alzheimer’s so well in this entry. I loved your last thoughts…”shattering many of my preconceived ideas of what makes a perfect Christmas.” And how experiences like this give us better understanding of what truly is important.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Thank you, Eileen. It was the worst, but probably the most meaningful Christmas ever.

    • Adriana Willey

      wow this was so vivid. it brought tears to my eyes, which i think is the most real, base sign of good writing. thank you.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Thank you so much, Adriana.

  37. Ken Fallon

    I have to just enter this and not read anyone else’s entry, or I’ll be too intimidated. Here ’tis:

    The Christmas Tree Fiasco
    By Ken Fallon

    It only took about 100 feet of highway for my wife to shout, “Wait, honey, stop! It’s shifting!”

    “It” was the Christmas tree we had just tied to the top of our SUV. Wait, did I say “tied”? I really meant “set atop with tie-downs wrapped around it.” Because as quickly as that Noble fir threatened to drop onto the pavement, I can’t in good conscience use any verb that implies “secure.”

    This is a regular problem with me, one that has already caused mild heart failure one previous Christmas. I attribute it to the fact that I failed Boy Scouts. I was OK with Helpful and Friendly, but once I got to Thrifty (aka industrious), I was toast. I never learned a proper knot, so any time I need to secure something with rope I’m reduced to using a shoelace knot in repeated fashion, hoping that re-tying the same knot will strengthen it against highway acceleration, wind and my own ineptitude.

    This year, hoping to rediscover the inner Boy Scout in me, I resolved to Be Prepared by bringing a ratchet tie-down strap. I figured I could just hook it to both sides of the roof rails, wrap it around the trunk a couple of times, ratchet it tight, and away I’d go.

    Already, you people with an once of engineering smarts are realizing my error — that brilliant idea may keep it from rolling off the side, a la the Geico commercial, but it does nothing to prevent the tree from falling off the back as the G-forces of vehicle acceleration take hold.

    (Maybe this is just me, but have you ever noticed that the wonderful memories you had as a kid are much more difficult to pull off as an adult? Every year as a kid, we’d visit the same Christmas tree farm, scouring the landscape for The World’s Most Perfect Tree®. It didn’t matter what the weather, we knew we’d have fun, we knew mom would take forever to pick out TWMPT, we knew dad would tie it to the roof of the car, and we knew we’d soon be home hanging ornaments and drinking peppermint hot chocolate. Evidently, I never inherited the learn-to-tie-trees-to-the-roof gene, and I’m starting to have suspicions about the make-wonderful-memories-for-your-kids gene, too. But I digress — back to 2011.)

    Once the tree threatened to launch into the windshield of the car behind us, I took the first easily-accessible exit, which happened to be a weigh station. Thankfully, it was not operating at that moment; unfortunately, a state police officer had chosen that spot to create a speed trap. I was sure he would take one look at my desperate, pathetic excuse for secure tree transportation and haul me off to the the Island of Misfit Dads. Put me in the cell next to the dad who gave his kid the train with square wheels.

    What were my options? My wife suggested I leave her and the kids at the weigh station, throw the tree inside the car, take it home and come back to get them. Great idea, hon! It’s 36 degrees outside and the sun will be setting in an hour. You don’t mind if I make myself some peppermint hot chocolate before I come back, do you?

    I could put the tree inside the car with the kids. They wouldn’t mind a couple of branches in the face, would they?

    I could send them home while I stayed with the tree, and the wife could come back with my neighbor — surely he didn’t fail Boy Scouts. Besides, it would give me the chance to get to know the state trooper before he hauled me off. (Not once, until this very moment, did it cross my mind to ask the state trooper for help. What does that say about me?)

    Maybe I could flag down a passing car and ask if they had room on their roof.

    Having discarded all those ideas, I took the next logical step, the one I’d been putting off: I whined to my wife. Then, wondering silently if she was questioning her wedding vows, I untied the tree, removed the tie-down, and started figuring a way to secure it both side to side and front to back.

    Forty minutes later, we had a re-tied tree, two impatient children, and 10 frozen fingers. I’m sure there was a partridge in a pear tree in there, somewhere. But, we made it home without further mishap. It only took me 20 minutes to untie my spider web of ropes, tie-downs and tree branches.

    So the lesson? Next year, I’m getting a truck and throwing the tree in the bed.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Welcome to the contest, Ken. No need to feel intimidated. Thanks for joining in. I’ll be reading these and getting back to you on Monday.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Oh, Ken. That would be me. My poor husband, too, for that matter. My husband is the BEST, but when it comes to securing things for travel…..well, let’s just say he has his own less-than-stellar history.

      (BTW, I was intimidated, too.)

    • joco

      Next year look for TWMPAT. Problem solved. Good story.

    • H S Contino

      LOVED your story! Thanks for the chuckles! 🙂

  38. Ken Fallon

    I have to just enter this and not read anyone else’s entry, or I’ll be too intimidated. Here ’tis:

    The Christmas Tree Fiasco
    By Ken Fallon

    It only took about 100 feet of highway for my wife to shout, “Wait, honey, stop! It’s shifting!”

    “It” was the Christmas tree we had just tied to the top of our SUV. Wait, did I say “tied”? I really meant “set atop with tie-downs wrapped around it.” Because as quickly as that Noble fir threatened to drop onto the pavement, I can’t in good conscience use any verb that implies “secure.”

    This is a regular problem with me, one that has already caused mild heart failure one previous Christmas. I attribute it to the fact that I failed Boy Scouts. I was OK with Helpful and Friendly, but once I got to Thrifty (aka industrious), I was toast. I never learned a proper knot, so any time I need to secure something with rope I’m reduced to using a shoelace knot in repeated fashion, hoping that re-tying the same knot will strengthen it against highway acceleration, wind and my own ineptitude.

    This year, hoping to rediscover the inner Boy Scout in me, I resolved to Be Prepared by bringing a ratchet tie-down strap. I figured I could just hook it to both sides of the roof rails, wrap it around the trunk a couple of times, ratchet it tight, and away I’d go.

    Already, you people with an once of engineering smarts are realizing my error — that brilliant idea may keep it from rolling off the side, a la the Geico commercial, but it does nothing to prevent the tree from falling off the back as the G-forces of vehicle acceleration take hold.

    (Maybe this is just me, but have you ever noticed that the wonderful memories you had as a kid are much more difficult to pull off as an adult? Every year as a kid, we’d visit the same Christmas tree farm, scouring the landscape for The World’s Most Perfect Tree®. It didn’t matter what the weather, we knew we’d have fun, we knew mom would take forever to pick out TWMPT, we knew dad would tie it to the roof of the car, and we knew we’d soon be home hanging ornaments and drinking peppermint hot chocolate. Evidently, I never inherited the learn-to-tie-trees-to-the-roof gene, and I’m starting to have suspicions about the make-wonderful-memories-for-your-kids gene, too. But I digress — back to 2011.)

    Once the tree threatened to launch into the windshield of the car behind us, I took the first easily-accessible exit, which happened to be a weigh station. Thankfully, it was not operating at that moment; unfortunately, a state police officer had chosen that spot to create a speed trap. I was sure he would take one look at my desperate, pathetic excuse for secure tree transportation and haul me off to the the Island of Misfit Dads. Put me in the cell next to the dad who gave his kid the train with square wheels.

    What were my options? My wife suggested I leave her and the kids at the weigh station, throw the tree inside the car, take it home and come back to get them. Great idea, hon! It’s 36 degrees outside and the sun will be setting in an hour. You don’t mind if I make myself some peppermint hot chocolate before I come back, do you?

    I could put the tree inside the car with the kids. They wouldn’t mind a couple of branches in the face, would they?

    I could send them home while I stayed with the tree, and the wife could come back with my neighbor — surely he didn’t fail Boy Scouts. Besides, it would give me the chance to get to know the state trooper before he hauled me off. (Not once, until this very moment, did it cross my mind to ask the state trooper for help. What does that say about me?)

    Maybe I could flag down a passing car and ask if they had room on their roof.

    Having discarded all those ideas, I took the next logical step, the one I’d been putting off: I whined to my wife. Then, wondering silently if she was questioning her wedding vows, I untied the tree, removed the tie-down, and started figuring a way to secure it both side to side and front to back.

    Forty minutes later, we had a re-tied tree, two impatient children, and 10 frozen fingers. I’m sure there was a partridge in a pear tree in there, somewhere. But, we made it home without further mishap. It only took me 20 minutes to untie my spider web of ropes, tie-downs and tree branches.

    So the lesson? Next year, I’m getting a truck and throwing the tree in the bed.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Welcome to the contest, Ken. No need to feel intimidated. Thanks for joining in. I’ll be reading these and getting back to you on Monday.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      Oh, Ken. That would be me. My poor husband, too, for that matter. My husband is the BEST, but when it comes to securing things for travel…..well, let’s just say he has his own less-than-stellar history.

      (BTW, I was intimidated, too.)

    • TomDub

      Next year look for TWMPAT. Problem solved. Good story.

    • H S Contino

      LOVED your story! Thanks for the chuckles! 🙂

  39. Margaret

    A Christmas of Un-Tradition

    By Margaret Robbins

    When we lived in Michigan, my family used to do the traditional Christmas. Dad would go out every year and cut down a tree for us, dragging it all the way through our yellow house with black shutters. We decorated with family ornaments, put the star on top and the skirt on the bottom. Christmas Carols filled the air, and on Christmas morning, Mom baked cinnamon rolls while the kids checked the stockings for new goodies. During the day, if it wasn’t too cold, we would make snow angels outside and watch It’s a Wonderful Life in the evening.

    We still do these things, only without the snow, as I live in Atlanta and my parents have relocated to Texas. Yet now, we do them the day after Thanksgiving. We spend Christmas with a few presents and no snow on St. John’s Island in the Caribbean. Our days before Christmas are spend snorkeling and laying out on the beach with a new mystery, vampire, or beach book rather than shoveling a tree through the snow. An artificial tree awaits us at home, but on Christmas day, we are content to look around at palm trees and sand. Our presents are few and far between because we consider our time there a gift to all of us.

    Before both of my grandmothers passed away, we used to spend some years of Thanksgiving and Christmas at their houses. I still remember the way Eemie’s turkey, stuffing, and rum cake used to smell and the sound of all of my distant cousins talking in the background. During the day, since we usually didn’t have snow, my cousin Mary Drew and I would turn cartwheels outside. By the time dinner arrived, we had worked up an appetite for gravy and green bean casserole.
    Now that both grandmothers and two of my uncles are deceased, we do not go to North Carolina. Even though I still occasionally long for these memories by the fire and Christmas tree sprinkled with silver, the beach reminds me that change can be sad, but also positive if you look at it the right way. The family I spend time with is smaller now, but we are closer for it. The past Christmas and Thanksgiving seasons spent with larger family shaped who we are, but now, we need our rest and our imaginations stirred at the beach after we have worked so hard to serve the world with our creativity. I already look forward to spending Christmas day in a world under the sea that we sometimes take for granted. Silver ornaments have been replaced by rainbow fish, but all are figures of beauty that make my season bright.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks so much for your submission Margaret. Excited to read it 🙂

    • Margaret

      Thank you for the opportunity. I am hoping to have more time to write during my break from teaching school, so I am glad you are doing a different topic each month. I think variety can be helpful.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      You certain have a wide and rich variety of Christmas experiences, Margaret. I’ve always lived in Florida – never had a white Christmas. Growing up, we had a swimming pool and part of every Christmas Day was spent in our bathing suits. For a long time I felt like our Christmases were less than they should be because we didn’t have snow, but I’ve grown to embrace the delights and joys of a tropical Christmas.

    • Margaret

      Thank you, Patricia. I am glad you could relate to parts of it. 🙂

  40. Margaret

    A Christmas of Un-Tradition

    By Margaret Robbins

    When we lived in Michigan, my family used to do the traditional Christmas. Dad would go out every year and cut down a tree for us, dragging it all the way through our yellow house with black shutters. We decorated with family ornaments, put the star on top and the skirt on the bottom. Christmas Carols filled the air, and on Christmas morning, Mom baked cinnamon rolls while the kids checked the stockings for new goodies. During the day, if it wasn’t too cold, we would make snow angels outside and watch It’s a Wonderful Life in the evening.

    We still do these things, only without the snow, as I live in Atlanta and my parents have relocated to Texas. Yet now, we do them the day after Thanksgiving. We spend Christmas with a few presents and no snow on St. John’s Island in the Caribbean. Our days before Christmas are spend snorkeling and laying out on the beach with a new mystery, vampire, or beach book rather than shoveling a tree through the snow. An artificial tree awaits us at home, but on Christmas day, we are content to look around at palm trees and sand. Our presents are few and far between because we consider our time there a gift to all of us.

    Before both of my grandmothers passed away, we used to spend some years of Thanksgiving and Christmas at their houses. I still remember the way Eemie’s turkey, stuffing, and rum cake used to smell and the sound of all of my distant cousins talking in the background. During the day, since we usually didn’t have snow, my cousin Mary Drew and I would turn cartwheels outside. By the time dinner arrived, we had worked up an appetite for gravy and green bean casserole.
    Now that both grandmothers and two of my uncles are deceased, we do not go to North Carolina. Even though I still occasionally long for these memories by the fire and Christmas tree sprinkled with silver, the beach reminds me that change can be sad, but also positive if you look at it the right way. The family I spend time with is smaller now, but we are closer for it. The past Christmas and Thanksgiving seasons spent with larger family shaped who we are, but now, we need our rest and our imaginations stirred at the beach after we have worked so hard to serve the world with our creativity. I already look forward to spending Christmas day in a world under the sea that we sometimes take for granted. Silver ornaments have been replaced by rainbow fish, but all are figures of beauty that make my season bright.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks so much for your submission Margaret. Excited to read it 🙂

    • Margaret

      Thank you for the opportunity. I am hoping to have more time to write during my break from teaching school, so I am glad you are doing a different topic each month. I think variety can be helpful.

    • Patricia W Hunter

      You certain have a wide and rich variety of Christmas experiences, Margaret. I’ve always lived in Florida – never had a white Christmas. Growing up, we had a swimming pool and part of every Christmas Day was spent in our bathing suits. For a long time I felt like our Christmases were less than they should be because we didn’t have snow, but I’ve grown to embrace the delights and joys of a tropical Christmas.

    • Margaret

      Thank you, Patricia. I am glad you could relate to parts of it. 🙂

  41. Lillian Ortiz

    A Marine Christmas

    The first vestiges of the holidays started to appear that evening, as Christmas songs played on the radio, I asked my hyperactive genius if he wanted to hear a Christmas story. My son was older now so my story needed to be exciting. I heard a song on the radio about a soldier that season, and a Christmas memory story came flooding back.

    “It was the year I was stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. I was a captain in the United States Air Force Nurse Corps. It was during the holiday season that I sat down with an Air Force Major and brainstormed an idea that lead to a very special Christmas.”

    “We had heard through the grapevine that a platoon of marines would be stationed at the base. They would arrive a few days before Christmas and leave for Iraq the day after Christmas.”

    “Mom, what are Marines doing at an Air Force Station,” my son asked. I had his attention as I told the story while driving the van.

    “We found out after talking with the Marine commander, that the Marines would be sleeping on cots in one of the hangers on base, and not having much of a Christmas.”

    “What a lousy way to spend Christmas.”

    “I know that is why the major and I got permission from the Marine commander to recruit families to pick up the Marines Christmas Eve and return them to the base by Christmas Evening. So began operation “Adopt a Marine for Christmas” I said in a melodramatic voice.

    “We got lots of calls. One was a veteran who asked for 5 marines. They would sleep in his basement in comfortable beds; have plenty of food and holiday cheer. One call was from a church group, said they would send a bus to pick up 15 marines who would be adopted by their church family. The calls came in all week, and we had 45 Marines adopted by Dec 23rd.” I could tell the boys were losing interest so I quickly went on and used an emcee voice.

    “On Christmas Eve the major and I showed up to watch the Marines being picked up by base families, friends and community residents. The Marine Commander thanked us for taking care of his men and assured us all the Marines were off the base, but he was wrong.”

    “But mom, Marine commanders are never wrong,” my son argued.

    “Well, than how do you explain when the elevator doors opened up and Marines in camouflage uniforms poured out. And one young man stepped up, stood at attention, saluted and asked for Captain Zoller,”

    “That’s you, mom,”

    “I told the young Lieutenant that he had found Captain Zoller, and asked what I could do for him.”

    “The officer told me that they had arrived at the base late on Christmas Eve, and were wondering if I could find families to adopt them for Christmas. Their commander had arranged for pizza party, and that was all. They could not even go to the gym to take showers as it was closed, and there was nowhere on base to use the phone to call their families.” When they heard about what I had done for the other troop, they came to find you if I could do the same for them.”

    “Mom, did you?”

    “No, I could not, and I felt so bad, they were so young, and one of the men had a cast on his left arm.” I had my son’s attention now, as he sat up in his seat and leaned forward

    “However, you know I don’t believe in giving up, so I knew I was going to do something for these Marines to make their Christmas special. The Marines kept looking down at the counter which had a dozen or so pies and cookie trays left by grateful patients and our Colonel. So I offered all the goodies to the Marines in exchange for Christmas Cheer.”

    “I told them we need to cheer up the few patients we had on the ward, so could they sing some Christmas carols. They agreed and in a wink of an eye all the pies and cookies were gone. The next thing I know the Marines are going down the hallway singing Christmas songs.”

    “Mom, what happened next?”

    “Well, I called the base operator and she told me that the soldiers could use the phones in the empty rooms if they made collect calls as there were no place on base opened that had public phones. When the men returned to the nurses’ station I found out they had calling cards, and sent them off to call their families. They cheered and off they went.”

    I stopped to focus on the turn I was to make, and my son yelled to keep on with the story.

    “Well, I the next thing was finding a place for the men to take showers. I called several people but they had no idea. I remembered that the mental health floor was empty and went down to speak to the airman on duty.”

    “He insisted that the unit was locked up for the day and no one was authorized to use the rooms. I also told him I would take full responsibility. The airman was worried as the rooms had all been cleaned by housekeeping, and they were not working today. I teased the airman that the Marines would probably leave the showers cleaner than what they were at the moment.”

    “So did they?

    “Oh they did, and no one ever found out what we did, so don’t tell anyone that part of the story.”

    “I won’t.”

    “Now the only thing left was holiday dinner at the hospital cafeteria. Every year the hospital commander treats the staff that works on Christmas day by inviting them, and their families to a special dinner. There was only enough food for the people who were invited.

    “That is not right, mom.”

    “I know, so I told the sergeant I would give up my spot and get others to do the same so we could let the Marines have their special Christmas dinner. The sergeant reluctantly agreed”.

    “Yea.”

    “Later that evening I went down to the dining room to check on the Marines, the dining room it was packed. I had forgotten to call the other officers and airman to cancel their reservations.

    “Oh no!”

    “I went up to the food counter and the Sergeant is all smiles. He said the men were spooked because the night before they had done a count to make sure they had enough for 30 people and they just served 60 plates of food and there was still food left over.”

    “Wow, it was a Christmas Miracle!”

    “I know there were more Marines with the ones I met. The sergeant and I both laughed and then I heard a stern voice ask where did all these Marines come from?

    “It seems the hospital commander was standing right behind me, with his wife, and I was so scared because I had broken so many rules.”

    “Mom, did you go to military jail?”

    “No, the Commander’s wife stepped came over and gave me a hug. Then the commander padded me on the shoulder, said he was proud to have the Marines at his Christmas Dinner, and thanked me for making his Christmas memorable.”

    “That was a neat story mom.”

    I still had the touch.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Lillian. Entered!

    • Patricia W Hunter

      That’s a very sweet story, Lillian.

  42. Lillian Ortiz

    A Marine Christmas

    The first vestiges of the holidays started to appear that evening, as Christmas songs played on the radio, I asked my hyperactive genius if he wanted to hear a Christmas story. My son was older now so my story needed to be exciting. I heard a song on the radio about a soldier that season, and a Christmas memory story came flooding back.

    “It was the year I was stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. I was a captain in the United States Air Force Nurse Corps. It was during the holiday season that I sat down with an Air Force Major and brainstormed an idea that lead to a very special Christmas.”

    “We had heard through the grapevine that a platoon of marines would be stationed at the base. They would arrive a few days before Christmas and leave for Iraq the day after Christmas.”

    “Mom, what are Marines doing at an Air Force Station,” my son asked. I had his attention as I told the story while driving the van.

    “We found out after talking with the Marine commander, that the Marines would be sleeping on cots in one of the hangers on base, and not having much of a Christmas.”

    “What a lousy way to spend Christmas.”

    “I know that is why the major and I got permission from the Marine commander to recruit families to pick up the Marines Christmas Eve and return them to the base by Christmas Evening. So began operation “Adopt a Marine for Christmas” I said in a melodramatic voice.

    “We got lots of calls. One was a veteran who asked for 5 marines. They would sleep in his basement in comfortable beds; have plenty of food and holiday cheer. One call was from a church group, said they would send a bus to pick up 15 marines who would be adopted by their church family. The calls came in all week, and we had 45 Marines adopted by Dec 23rd.” I could tell the boys were losing interest so I quickly went on and used an emcee voice.

    “On Christmas Eve the major and I showed up to watch the Marines being picked up by base families, friends and community residents. The Marine Commander thanked us for taking care of his men and assured us all the Marines were off the base, but he was wrong.”

    “But mom, Marine commanders are never wrong,” my son argued.

    “Well, than how do you explain when the elevator doors opened up and Marines in camouflage uniforms poured out. And one young man stepped up, stood at attention, saluted and asked for Captain Zoller,”

    “That’s you, mom,”

    “I told the young Lieutenant that he had found Captain Zoller, and asked what I could do for him.”

    “The officer told me that they had arrived at the base late on Christmas Eve, and were wondering if I could find families to adopt them for Christmas. Their commander had arranged for pizza party, and that was all. They could not even go to the gym to take showers as it was closed, and there was nowhere on base to use the phone to call their families.” When they heard about what I had done for the other troop, they came to find you if I could do the same for them.”

    “Mom, did you?”

    “No, I could not, and I felt so bad, they were so young, and one of the men had a cast on his left arm.” I had my son’s attention now, as he sat up in his seat and leaned forward

    “However, you know I don’t believe in giving up, so I knew I was going to do something for these Marines to make their Christmas special. The Marines kept looking down at the counter which had a dozen or so pies and cookie trays left by grateful patients and our Colonel. So I offered all the goodies to the Marines in exchange for Christmas Cheer.”

    “I told them we need to cheer up the few patients we had on the ward, so could they sing some Christmas carols. They agreed and in a wink of an eye all the pies and cookies were gone. The next thing I know the Marines are going down the hallway singing Christmas songs.”

    “Mom, what happened next?”

    “Well, I called the base operator and she told me that the soldiers could use the phones in the empty rooms if they made collect calls as there were no place on base opened that had public phones. When the men returned to the nurses’ station I found out they had calling cards, and sent them off to call their families. They cheered and off they went.”

    I stopped to focus on the turn I was to make, and my son yelled to keep on with the story.

    “Well, I the next thing was finding a place for the men to take showers. I called several people but they had no idea. I remembered that the mental health floor was empty and went down to speak to the airman on duty.”

    “He insisted that the unit was locked up for the day and no one was authorized to use the rooms. I also told him I would take full responsibility. The airman was worried as the rooms had all been cleaned by housekeeping, and they were not working today. I teased the airman that the Marines would probably leave the showers cleaner than what they were at the moment.”

    “So did they?

    “Oh they did, and no one ever found out what we did, so don’t tell anyone that part of the story.”

    “I won’t.”

    “Now the only thing left was holiday dinner at the hospital cafeteria. Every year the hospital commander treats the staff that works on Christmas day by inviting them, and their families to a special dinner. There was only enough food for the people who were invited.

    “That is not right, mom.”

    “I know, so I told the sergeant I would give up my spot and get others to do the same so we could let the Marines have their special Christmas dinner. The sergeant reluctantly agreed”.

    “Yea.”

    “Later that evening I went down to the dining room to check on the Marines, the dining room it was packed. I had forgotten to call the other officers and airman to cancel their reservations.

    “Oh no!”

    “I went up to the food counter and the Sergeant is all smiles. He said the men were spooked because the night before they had done a count to make sure they had enough for 30 people and they just served 60 plates of food and there was still food left over.”

    “Wow, it was a Christmas Miracle!”

    “I know there were more Marines with the ones I met. The sergeant and I both laughed and then I heard a stern voice ask where did all these Marines come from?

    “It seems the hospital commander was standing right behind me, with his wife, and I was so scared because I had broken so many rules.”

    “Mom, did you go to military jail?”

    “No, the Commander’s wife stepped came over and gave me a hug. Then the commander padded me on the shoulder, said he was proud to have the Marines at his Christmas Dinner, and thanked me for making his Christmas memorable.”

    “That was a neat story mom.”

    I still had the touch.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Lillian. Entered!

    • Patricia W Hunter

      That’s a very sweet story, Lillian.

  43. MindyO

    A Pocketknife and a Flashlight by Mindy Odahlen

    “Rats! Applesauce, rats!”
    I walked along the icy streets whispering to myself as the snow crunched under my feet. Normally under such dire circumstances as these I would allow myself much more colorful profanity, but considering that Christmas was a religious holiday and since I needed any help God might be inclined to send, I didn’t want to risk offending him today.

    Aagh, but this was one of the worst days of my 12 year old life! I kicked a chunk of dirty ice across the street and allowed myself one satisfying “damn!” before I returned to muttering lesser oaths under my breath.

    For my young widowed mother in the heart of the Great Depression, keeping two growing boys fed was a challenge. Christmas presents were out of the question. During those lean years, my brother Jerry and I had two prized possessions: a pocketknife and a flashlight. On Christmas morning, we would trade them, pretending we had a new treasure. The next year, we would trade again. For the past year, I had been the guardian of the pocketknife.

    I had taken especial care of it all year, keeping the blade polished and sharp. And now, just two days before Christmas, I had lost it. “Gah!” The thought of going home to face Jerry was almost more than I could bear. I had spent the afternoon retracing my steps with no luck. At the thought of seeing Jerry’s disappointed face at my confession, I slowed my pace.

    I looked up from my thoughts to see the neighbor, Mr. Johnston, shoveling his walk. He was old and stooped over and it looked like the chore might do him in. I was afraid of the ornery old man, but eager for an excuse to stall my arrival at home, so I decided to give him a hand.

    “Here sir, let me finish that for you.”

    “You’re a good boy, Hank,” he said as he handed me the shovel and then he burst into a fit of coughing.

    “You should probably get inside, sir.”

    He nodded and I helped him up the few steps to his front door.

    As I cleared the snow from the walk to Mr. Johnston’s house, I tried to think of where the knife could be. The hole in my pocket was obviously to blame, but I couldn’t remember at what point in the day my load had become lighter. I had retraced all my steps and concluded that by now, my pain had become some other kid’s Christmas joy. I finished shoveling and walked up to lean the shovel against the house.

    “Hank,” I heard him call from inside the door, “come in for a minute, won’t you?”

    Tentatively, I stepped inside. The smell of a fresh pot of coffee wafted through the room, which was nearly bare with only two chairs and a small table. A small fire burned in the wood stove. Mr. Johnston looked fragile in the chair he had pulled closer to the fire for warmth. Thin wisps of white hair hardly covered the top of his head, but his bushy eyebrows seemed to be compensating by wildly growing in every direction.

    All these decades later, now an old man myself, I see this scene through both participants’ eyes. I remember keenly how my 12 year old self felt at that moment: sweaty from the exertion of shoveling, too warm in the small house, afraid of the Mr. Johnston, and overriding all of it, enormously hopeless and guilty for losing the knife and ruining my kid brother’s Christmas. I can also see the scene through the eyes of the old man: tired, beat down, grateful for the child who so willingly shoveled the walk, a task that could quickly invite the Grimm Reaper to one so sickly and frail. In my memory, I see the old man ask about the boy’s mother, the poor widow struggling to get by. Then I see the boy crying, blubbering on about a lost pocketknife, ruining Jerry’s Christmas, and pointlessly wishing his father back from the dead. The bleak situation then turns into the most magical moment of my young life. That dear, gruff old man slowly gets up from his chair, mutters some awkward apology about my father. Then, fishing into his pocket, he produces his own pocketknife.

    “Take it Hank,” he said, thrusting it into my sweaty hand, “it’s about all I have to give you. Heaven knows I can’t take it with me where I’m headed. Go trade it with that rascal brother of yours. Try not to lose it this time.”

    I don’t remember now if I properly thanked him. I was so shocked at this scary old man’s kindness. I do remember the feeling of total absolution I felt as I ran home, the pocketknife gripped tightly in my hand. We never spoke of the knife again, but I did shovel Mr. Johnston’s driveway faithfully for the rest of his life, which incidentally only lasted a few months into the next year.

    Now, as the end of my own life nears, I take out the old pocketknife and remember how Christmas was saved that year by an unlikely miracle worker, the crotchety and kind, Mr. Charlie Johnston.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry, Mindy 🙂

    • Kevin Mackesy

      That’s a good story

    • Eileen

      Enjoyed this entry.

    • Two Pens

      Hi there. The emotion in the story is its strongest point. There’s a lovely mini-portrait of Mr. Johnston in this line: “Thin wisps of white hair hardly covered the top of his head, but his bushy eyebrows seemed to be compensating by wildly growing in every direction.”

    • Jim Woods

      This is a fantastic story. I love it when a story makes a transition in time, from past to present. This story made me think more about long-term perspective; thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  44. Anonymous

    A Pocketknife and a Flashlight by Mindy Odahlen

    “Rats! Applesauce, rats!”
    I walked along the icy streets whispering to myself as the snow crunched under my feet. Normally under such dire circumstances as these I would allow myself much more colorful profanity, but considering that Christmas was a religious holiday and since I needed any help God might be inclined to send, I didn’t want to risk offending him today.

    Aagh, but this was one of the worst days of my 12 year old life! I kicked a chunk of dirty ice across the street and allowed myself one satisfying “damn!” before I returned to muttering lesser oaths under my breath.

    For my young widowed mother in the heart of the Great Depression, keeping two growing boys fed was a challenge. Christmas presents were out of the question. During those lean years, my brother Jerry and I had two prized possessions: a pocketknife and a flashlight. On Christmas morning, we would trade them, pretending we had a new treasure. The next year, we would trade again. For the past year, I had been the guardian of the pocketknife.

    I had taken especial care of it all year, keeping the blade polished and sharp. And now, just two days before Christmas, I had lost it. “Gah!” The thought of going home to face Jerry was almost more than I could bear. I had spent the afternoon retracing my steps with no luck. At the thought of seeing Jerry’s disappointed face at my confession, I slowed my pace.

    I looked up from my thoughts to see the neighbor, Mr. Johnston, shoveling his walk. He was old and stooped over and it looked like the chore might do him in. I was afraid of the ornery old man, but eager for an excuse to stall my arrival at home, so I decided to give him a hand.

    “Here sir, let me finish that for you.”

    “You’re a good boy, Hank,” he said as he handed me the shovel and then he burst into a fit of coughing.

    “You should probably get inside, sir.”

    He nodded and I helped him up the few steps to his front door.

    As I cleared the snow from the walk to Mr. Johnston’s house, I tried to think of where the knife could be. The hole in my pocket was obviously to blame, but I couldn’t remember at what point in the day my load had become lighter. I had retraced all my steps and concluded that by now, my pain had become some other kid’s Christmas joy. I finished shoveling and walked up to lean the shovel against the house.

    “Hank,” I heard him call from inside the door, “come in for a minute, won’t you?”

    Tentatively, I stepped inside. The smell of a fresh pot of coffee wafted through the room, which was nearly bare with only two chairs and a small table. A small fire burned in the wood stove. Mr. Johnston looked fragile in the chair he had pulled closer to the fire for warmth. Thin wisps of white hair hardly covered the top of his head, but his bushy eyebrows seemed to be compensating by wildly growing in every direction.

    All these decades later, now an old man myself, I see this scene through both participants’ eyes. I remember keenly how my 12 year old self felt at that moment: sweaty from the exertion of shoveling, too warm in the small house, afraid of the Mr. Johnston, and overriding all of it, enormously hopeless and guilty for losing the knife and ruining my kid brother’s Christmas. I can also see the scene through the eyes of the old man: tired, beat down, grateful for the child who so willingly shoveled the walk, a task that could quickly invite the Grimm Reaper to one so sickly and frail. In my memory, I see the old man ask about the boy’s mother, the poor widow struggling to get by. Then I see the boy crying, blubbering on about a lost pocketknife, ruining Jerry’s Christmas, and pointlessly wishing his father back from the dead. The bleak situation then turns into the most magical moment of my young life. That dear, gruff old man slowly gets up from his chair, mutters some awkward apology about my father. Then, fishing into his pocket, he produces his own pocketknife.

    “Take it Hank,” he said, thrusting it into my sweaty hand, “it’s about all I have to give you. Heaven knows I can’t take it with me where I’m headed. Go trade it with that rascal brother of yours. Try not to lose it this time.”

    I don’t remember now if I properly thanked him. I was so shocked at this scary old man’s kindness. I do remember the feeling of total absolution I felt as I ran home, the pocketknife gripped tightly in my hand. We never spoke of the knife again, but I did shovel Mr. Johnston’s driveway faithfully for the rest of his life, which incidentally only lasted a few months into the next year.

    Now, as the end of my own life nears, I take out the old pocketknife and remember how Christmas was saved that year by an unlikely miracle worker, the crotchety and kind, Mr. Charlie Johnston.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks for your entry, Mindy 🙂

    • Patricia W Hunter

      What a beautiful story, Mindy.

    • Kevin Mackesy

      That’s a good story

    • Eileen

      Enjoyed this entry.

    • Two Pens

      Hi there. The emotion in the story is its strongest point. There’s a lovely mini-portrait of Mr. Johnston in this line: “Thin wisps of white hair hardly covered the top of his head, but his bushy eyebrows seemed to be compensating by wildly growing in every direction.”

    • Jim Woods

      This is a fantastic story. I love it when a story makes a transition in time, from past to present. This story made me think more about long-term perspective; thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  45. Elizabeth

    Missed this one, perhaps will make the deadline for the next one. Great Idea!

    Reply
  46. Elizabeth

    Missed this one, perhaps will make the deadline for the next one. Great Idea!

    Reply
  47. Marsha Mauchley

    Hello there,

    How do I submit my Christmas story?  Is it all on-line?  Here is my e-mail.  Please advise.  mmauchley1@hotmail.com   
    @hotmail:disqus 

    Reply
  48. Marsha Mauchley

    Hello there,

    How do I submit my Christmas story?  Is it all on-line?  Here is my e-mail.  Please advise.  mmauchley1@hotmail.com   
    @hotmail:disqus 

    Reply
  49. William Teague

    A Christmas Tree in the Window

    The tree stood proud and strong. It’s an amazing tree thought the little boy. He held his little sisters hand as she whispered, “Do you think Santa will like it?” “Of course he will.” replied the boy.

    Decorated with old unique ornaments, the tree displays handmade balls of jeweled beads and satin. A tree, the kind Dad always carefully picked and brought home. Not a dense bushy tree but an old fashioned airy and spacious tree; a tree with a large wingspan which held plenty of room between the boughs. The Lionel train roars as it circles around the white felt base, blasting its whistle and spouting steam through its stack. Glistening against the artificial fireplace that pretends to crackle and emanate a clean smokey aroma mingled with the fragrant pine. With garland set deep and nearer the trunk, the lights strung with precision, the kind of lights that looks like little candles with bubbling water inside them. Tinsel was hung with patience, one strand at a time, just the way Grandma had always insisted. At center, is the handmade manger with the empty cradle awaiting the baby Jesus. A village is scattered throughout the hills and valleys created by the tree skirt. As the lights blinked on and off, their dappled reflections would sprinkle and fall onto all the carefully wrapped presents. Peeking out from a corner behind the tree is a sled – the kind the boy always wanted. On the other end is the bicycle his sister dreamed of.

    The children could see their reflections along with Mom by their side in the window and thought of Grandma baking cookies and making cocoa every Christmas Eve. ‘Silver Bells’ played as the snow began to fall outside. The mother gently grabbed both children’s hands and softly said, “C’mon guys, it’s time to go.”, as she whisked them away from the store’s window display.

    Later on, they all sat on one cot and the mother said, “I’m sorry about Christmas this year.” The little girl whispered, “We shouldn’t be sorry about Christmas, Mom”, as she looked upwards. Then the boy said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph were homeless too, Mom.”

    With tears in her eyes, she held the two close and tight in her arms, then closed her eyes and prayed, as the tears rolled out and onto the little ones’ heads.

    By William Teague

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi William,

      I’m so sorry but this contest page was for last year. I’ll have to make that clearer. You should definitely submit this story elsewhere though. Sorry!

    • William Teague

      No worries. Thanks Joe, Happy Holidays!

    • Joe Bunting

      You too, William!

  50. William Teague

    A Christmas Tree in the Window

    The tree stood proud and strong. It’s
    an amazing tree thought the little boy. He held his little sisters hand as she
    whispered, “Do you think Santa will like it?” “Of course he will.” replied the
    boy.

    Decorated with old unique ornaments, the tree displays handmade balls of jeweled beads and satin. A tree, the kind Dad always carefully picked and brought home. Not a dense bushy tree but an old fashioned airy and spacious tree; a tree with a large wingspan which held plenty of room between the boughs. The Lionel train roars as it circles around the white felt base, blasting its whistle and spouting steam through its stack. Glistening against the artificial fireplace that pretends to crackle and emanate a clean smokey aroma mingled with the fragrant pine. With garland set deep and nearer the trunk, the lights strung with precision, the kind of lights that looks like little candles with bubbling water inside them. Tinsel was hung with patience, one strand at a time, just the way Grandma had always insisted. At
    center, is the handmade manger with the empty cradle awaiting the baby Jesus. A
    village is scattered throughout the hills and valleys created by the tree skirt. As the lights blinked on and off, their dappled reflections would sprinkle and fall onto all the carefully wrapped presents. Peeking out from a corner behind the tree is a sled – the kind the boy always wanted. On the other end is the bicycle his sister dreamed of.

    The children could see their reflections along with Mom by their side in the window and thought of Grandma baking cookies and making cocoa every Christmas Eve. ‘Silver Bells’ played as the snow began to fall outside. The mother gently grabbed both children’s hands and softly said, “C’mon guys, it’s time to go.”, as she whisked them away from the store’s window display.

    Later on, they all sat on one cot and the mother said, “I’m sorry about Christmas this year. “ The little girl whispered, “We shouldn’t be sorry about Christmas, Mom.”, as she looked upwards. Then the boy said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph were homeless too, Mom.”

    With tears in her eyes, she held the two close and tight in her arms, then closed her eyes and prayed, as the tears rolled out and onto the little ones’ heads.

    By William Teague

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi William,

      I’m so sorry but this contest page was for last year. I’ll have to make that clearer. You should definitely submit this story elsewhere though. Sorry!

    • William Teague

      No worries. Thanks Joe, Happy Holidays!

    • Joe Bunting

      You too, William!

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