In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in debt. Collection agency calls came almost daily. I paid my house payment with the Visa card. We gave up a 1972 Cadillac convertible to settle a business obligation. The IRS emptied our meager bank account (without notice) to pay the overdue California sales taxes, resulting in bounced checks all over town.
Christmas came and we were in a bad way, financially. No way was there money for a Christmas tree.
My husband brought home a beautiful manzanita branch, mounted it on a base and decorated it with red Christmas balls. Not the traditional Christmas tree, to be sure, but pretty. We set our few presents underneath.
Hubby and I were prepared to deal with the substitute tree, trusting that things would be better next year. The kids hated it, calling it the Christmas Stick. They were embarrassed when their friends came to visit.
We muddled through that financial disaster, took a second mortgage on the house at 14% interest (true) and paid off all the debts. The next Christmas we were back on our feet and had a real Christmas tree.
I was thinking the other day that sometime in our life, we should all have a Year of the Christmas Stick. A year when we can’t afford to buy the children expensive gifts that break before New Year’s Day. A season where we do without the luxuries we’re used to, Christmas trees, lights in the front yard, presents and expensive holiday outings. A year when we become one with folks out there, by virtue of unemployment, natural disaster or illness, who are without a tree, without gifts, for that matter, maybe without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down.
It’s been over forty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. On Christmas Day, as our family stumbles from the table loaded down with turkey and all the fixings and we gaze at our ten- foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled high, we’ll laugh about the Year of The Christmas Stick. But we remember its message.
We are grateful for the important things. We are blessed with our families, our health, our faith, all gifts from God. We remember to share our bounty with those who are in need. Folks who might think they were blessed to have a Christmas Stick with a few presents underneath even if it was just sweaters and pajamas and sox, like my kids got that year.
I remember how hard things were when we closed the business and struggled to make ends meet, wondering how we could make good on our business debts, keep our home and feed our kids. We struggled and persevered and made do with a manzanita branch for a Christmas tree. Looking back, I remember and thank God for the Year of the Christmas Stick. We all learned lessons I hope we will never forget.
Saint Nicholas: During the 4th century, in Asia Minor, lived a Bishop of Myra named Nicholas who secretly gave his possessions to the poor. According to legend, St. Nicholas wished to provide dowry money for three daughters of a poor merchant. To keep his identity secret, he tossed bags of gold down the merchant’s chimney. Accidently, it fell into the girls stockings hanging by the hearth to dry. Thus, began the custom of hanging stockings by the fire filled with gifts, fruit and candy. Three gold balls used to decorate pawn shops, as a sign of merchants honoring their patron saint, Saint Nicholas.
St. Nicholas and his Reindeer: Originally, St. Nicholas rode a white horse in his native country of Turkey. As his popularity spread rapidly across Central Europe to the Scandinavian countries, having no horses, they gave St. Nicholas a reindeer-drawn sleigh instead.
Reindeer are relatives of the wild caribou, but are different from any other type of deer in that both male and female reindeer have branched antlers. Their habitat is now concentrated in Canada, Alaska and in the Arctic.
The Night Before Christmas: Both St. Nicholas and his reindeer became famous when Dr. Clement Moore published his famous poem in 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas, or The Night Before Christmas.”
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet. On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!
St. Nicholas was also given some of the characteristics of the Norse god, Thor, who rode through the sky in a chariot wearing a red coat.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot
In 1866, the political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, (who drew the characters of the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey for Harper’s Weekly magazine), drew a picture of St. Nick with his pipe, twinkly face and fur trimmed coat that has served as the model for the jolly old elf ever since.
He was chubby and plump, a jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself
A stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth
And the smoke encircled his head like a wreath
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.…
FatherChristmas: In the 17th century, a very old grey-bearded gentleman called Father Christmas also gave gifts to the poor. In the USA, the character of Father Christmas merged with the Dutch settler’s patron, St. Nicholas. He was called Santa Niklaus, then Sinter Klass and finally Santa Claus.
So, whether you call him Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas, the exchanging of gifts at Christmas dates back to these legendary characters. The Wise Men gave gifts to Baby Jesus. We all give gifts to our loved ones. This Christmas season we must not neglect sharing our good fortune with those who are in need, as was the original intent of St. Nicholas and Father Christmas. As we look around the world and around our own country, there is no shortage of people in need. My family gives to Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that responds world-wide, bringing relief and the story of God’s love wherever disaster strikes. At Christmas, I like to buy a goat and chickens for families in third world countries. How does your family celebrate the season? What ways do you acknowledge those less fortunate?
RATIONING: Rationing during the war affected every American citizen. The government spent a good deal of time and money promoting the idea that Americans should give up certain foods, clothing, tires, and other goods, and that doing so was patriotic and a worthy sacrifice. As most Americans had a son, husband or friend overseas, they readily accepted the deprivations.
COFFEE: During part of 1942-43, coffee was rationed. One pound every six weeks for each adult! This restriction was due to the blockade of ships from Brazil and other countries from bringing coffee to the United States, as well as the desire to send much of the limited coffee supply to the troops. Can you imagine buying only one pound of coffee every six weeks?
TIRES: A citizen was limited to purchasing only five tires during the entire war. This sounds like plenty by today’s standards, but remember, neither roads nor tires were as good back then as they are today. People were encouraged to car pool–not just encouraged, required is a better word. Bicycles and motorcycles were not uncommon.
SUGAR: Sugar was rationed and many other food items were available, but extremely expensive. Beef was costly as well as eggs, which resulted in many a chicken taking up residence in the suburban backyard.
Victory Gardens were encouraged and lawns and backyards were quickly converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Any vegetable that was a high producer in a limited space became the focus of the weekend gardener and provided bragging rights at the local USO where ladies volunteered to serve coffee and visit with the troops.
It became almost a requirement of a good citizen to purchase monthly war bonds to help fund the war effort. About 18 billion dollars was collected through the sale of war bonds meeting the government's goals.
People lived in fear of invasion and many men and women spent hours with binoculars pointed skyward, watching and reporting any aircraft that flew overhead. Remember, radar was in its infancy and not wide-spread.
Young people spend their Saturday afternoons at matinee movies where, for a few hours, romance or cowboy stories with happy endings could whisk them away from thoughts of war or fear for their loved ones.
In general, Americans accepted rationing willingly. They gave up their coffee, sugar, tires and many other luxury and common-place items so the products could be sent to the war effort. Our citizens felt that by their sacrifice, in some small way, giving up sugar or coffee or driving less might shorten the war.
I wonder how Americans today would react, if the same rationing were forced upon us. How would your life be affected if you had to give up drinking all the coffee you wanted and you could only purchase four gallons of gas each week?
We take so many things for granted. We wallow in luxuries and the ability to purchase whatever we desire. We have come to believe they’ll never be taken away. It happened once. Could it happen again? Something to think about, for sure.
One October weekend, Mom took Sissy and me to the Leger Hotel in Mokelume Hills, in the Sierra Mountains. She left us in the room while she went sightseeing. We stepped through the windows that opened onto the balcony where the prostitutes used to sit, according to the maid, advertising their wares.
Coming back inside, we could just make out the wispy outline of an old guy sitting on the sofa. His face was covered with gray whiskers and he was missing a front tooth. He waved a gnarled hand. “Excuse me. Could I trouble ya’ to help me move on to the here-after?”
My hair stood on end and my tail puffed up. “You’re a ghost! How can we help? We’re cats!”
“Maybe, you bein’ cats and all, you’se just the ones can help.”
Sissy glanced my way, her eyes the size of half-dollars. “Oooooh!”
“Stop being such a scaredy-cat !” I’m the thrill-seeking one. “Let’s hear him out.”
“Name’s Joe Harrigan. Me and my partner had a gold mine nearby back in 1876. They said I kilt him and they hanged me right outside that there windda’. I shoulda’ gone on to the here-after, but trouble is, I was innocent, see, so they couldn’t send me to Hell. But bein’ convicted of murder all official-like in a court a’ law, Heaven wouldn’t take me neither. I’ve been stuck here in this room in the in-between ever since.”
“How come you don’t ask a person to help?” I twitched an ear back, still somewhat skeptical.
“When folks see me, they runs off yellin,’ ‘I seen a ghost!’ and ask for another room. Sometimes they got a dog, but dogs is too stupid to pay attention. They growl and hide under the bed. I’m thinking maybe cats is more understandin’?”
Sissy and I exchanged glances. She nodded. “That’s true.”
The old guy’s aura faded. His hands trembled. “Look, girls, I’m about at the end of my rope…no pun intended. If I don’t move on to my final reward pretty quick, I might be stuck here forever!”
“But what can we do?” Sissy is always so realistic
“Before he died, my partner writ out his Will, tellin’ how he accidently shot hisself. I come to town to aggrieve his death. I hid George’s Will in the armoire, there in the corner before I went down to the bar. I told um’ George was dead and they got to thinkin’ I kilt’ him to steal the gold mine. One thing led to another which culsumated in a rope. Bein’ skunk-drunk, I plumb forgot to tell um’ about that air’ Will in the armoire. So they adjudged me guilty and hanged me dead.
“Oncet’ dead, my head sorta’ cleared and I remembered the Will, but it was too late. I’ve been ‘ahoverin’ ever since, hopin’ someone would find the Will and clear my good name. It’s doubtful I deserve to go to Heaven but I’d like a crack at it.”
Truffie and the Leger Hotel Ghost – Elaine Faber & Truffie
Sissy and I nodded. What kind of cats would we be if we didn’t help a fellow into the here-after given the opportunity? We scratched at the armoire door until it opened and Sissy clawed at the back paneling.
“That’s it! Give it all you got, girls.” Joe’s aura hovered overhead. “It sorta slides in when you push on it. There! See that air’ paper stickin' out? Go for it.” Sissy bit the corner of the paper and eased it out.
“Hurry! You did it!” Old Joe crowed. “I’m saved. Now, can you take it to the authorities?”
Mom came back about then and saw us pawing the paper. “What are you girls up to? What’s that?” Mom picked up the faded Will with teeth marks in the corners.
“Meow!” I explained that if the teeth marks were a problem, Sissy did it, not me…but I don’t think she understood.
Mom read the paper.
“Where did this come from?” Mom spotted the open armoire and the pushed in paneling.
With a faint grin on his whiskered face and a wave of his hand, Joe’s ghost faded and drifted out through the open window.
Mom carried us downstairs to the Manager’s office and showed him the Will.
“My cats found this up in room two. It looks like a holographic Last Will and Testament. Your Historic Society might be interested.”
“Indeed! Room two? Folks often complain of a ghost in room two.” The manager read the paper.
Joe didn’t shoot me. I done it kleenin my gun. I got no fambly and Joe Harrigan gets my shar a the mine. Syned July3, 1876 George Harris
The manager pointed toward the plastic skeleton hanging on the balcony “They hanged Joe Harrigan from that very spot. He’s buried up on boot hill. You folks should go see his grave.”
We drove to the cemetery. Old Joe’s tombstone read, Joe Harrigan Born 1818− Hanged July 1876.
I hear that Joe’s ghost was never seen again at the Leger Hotel.
Someday, maybe the courts will clear Joe’s name. Do you suppose St. Peter gave Old Joe a fair trial when he got to Heaven? I hope so. He sure never got one back in 1876 when the townspeople of Mokelume Hills hanged him by mistake!
They say the swallows fly 7000 miles from Argentina every spring headed for Southern California. Perhaps one day, on the flight south, Father Sparrow spotted the San Juan Mission located on the plains, next to the wetlands. “Whoa, guys,” he may have tweeted, using today’s vernacular. “Check out that pond full of mud, those orange groves over yonder full of insects, and the lovely bare mission arches. Let us, forthwith, suspend our travels and build our nests here.” And all the tired swallows flew down to feast and build their nests and raise their young. The weather wasn’t that bad, either.
So every year after, they returned to the mission on or about March 19th to spend a thrill-filled summer, raising a family and blessing the mission with lovely twittering songs until mid- October, when they headed back to Argentina.
Along came 1939, and Glenn Miller wrote a song, immortalizing the swallows and the town, bringing tourists to San Jan Capistrano to visit the Mission, built in 1776, to see the miracle of the swallows returning every spring on almost the same day. City fathers rejoiced, making merry with parades and souvenirs, food and song…and made money.
]When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That‘s the day I pray that you’ll come back to me.
Enter the development crews who noted the increasing public interest in the fair city. They drained the wetlands, built shopping centers and cut down the orange groves to build apartment buildings and housings. And the town grew. In 1990, the church noted all the expanding tourism at the mission. They decided to remodel those nasty old bare arches left standing after the 1812 earthquake, so they knocked down all the swallow’s nests to renovate…and the swallows stopped coming.
Despite frantic efforts to bring the swallows back to the mission, which now includes fake nests on the arches and piped in mating calls meant to woo the birds, it’s all for naught. Only a few sparrows come to the mission these days. Most nest under bridges or in the eaves of the taco stand down the street. They say it was a combination of knocking down the nests, draining the wetlands and taking away their food source. Do you think?
Authors: Don’t risk changing your writing from a genre that has been successful. “Forget Victorian Romance,” some may say, “Try Horror-Fantasy-Thriller-Sci-Fi. You’ll like it.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s not original, by the way. Stick with what you know. If you love writing Victorian Romance, forsooth, keep writing it.
Regular Folks: Remember family traditions. Bake the marble cake with lemon icing that your son always asked for on his birthday−even if he’s 40. Put up the manger scene at Christmas− even if the kids won’t be home this year. And don’t forget the note in your husband’s sandwich. One bite and he’ll find the note, saying, I love you. Don’t risk changing the traditions that made your memories beautiful. Don’t drive away the swallows. They may never return.
ONCE upon a time, or so the fable goes, there was a colony of mice who were tormented almost daily by the tattered old cat that lived down the way. Almost daily, as the less wary mice fell prey to the tattered old cat, the colony diminished in size. On a dreary day in the month of May, having heard yet again of the demise of another citizen, the mayor of the mouse colony called a town hall meeting to discuss this disturbing matter.
The mayor stood tall upon the top of a match box and shouted to his diminutive mouse constituents. “What can be done about this conundrum threatening our health and welfare?”
The towns-mice had no solution, having discussed the issue ad-nauseum and laying the blame to everything from feline over-population to unemployment.
One small mouse spoke up. “You all agree that the sly cat has made our lives miserable by the treacherous manner in which he sneaks around on padded feet. If there was a way we could be forewarned of his approach, we could scamper away and avoid his murderous attacks. Therefore, I propose that we break open the General Disaster Fund and purchase a small bell, string it to a ribbon and attach it to his tail.”
“Can’t happen,” said the Mayor Mouse. The General Disaster Fund is reserved against the day of a natural disaster, like a flood or famine. This is neither flood nor famine. We’ll have to raise a new tax to meet the demands of this monstrous issue.”
The towns-mice applauded and shouted in unison, “Let’s do that. Raise a new tax.” A motion was made and carried to tax each mouse according to his means, laying the highest tax on the worker-mouse as the wealthiest among them had tax breaks and the poorest received cheese subsidies. The motion was voted on and passed. They would announce a tax, purchase a bell and proceed with the plan. Faint music could be heard in the background as an old mouse stepped forward, “But who’ll tie the bell on the old cat’s tail,” said the wise old mouse. “Who’ll tie the bell on the old cat’s tail, so we’ll know when he’s around the house?”
The towns-mice, having no answer, and with meetings to attend, scampered away.
Then the old mouse said. “Foolish mice. It is easy to propose impossible remedies, harder to accomplish the goal, when you consider all the impediments.”
Author Corner: “I’m going to write a book about my life.” Foolish people. We laugh. Only another author knows what is involved between the plan and publisher. And then there’s the marketing! Only when one has a true calling to write can one devote the time, energy, commitment, perseverance, luck, and skill to begin, complete and sell a novel in today’s market.
Everyday Folks: If you have a seemingly insurmountable problem, try discussing it with someone with a different perspective. Then, listen to what they have to say. Now with all points of view on the table, you’ll have a complete understanding of the problem and be able reach a plausible solution.
WHAT MADE THE GRAND CANYON? The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and is over a mile deep. While the specific process and timing that formed the Grand Canyon are subject to debate by geologists, recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode the earth and form the canyon to its present day configuration.
A NATIONAL MONUMENT: President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of the preservation of the Grand Canyon. He visited it on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery. On January 11, 1908, President Roosevelt declared the massive Grand Canyon a national monument. It is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
VISITORS: Every year, a staggering five million people flock to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon’s sweeping views, hike the trails, shoot the rapids in rubber rafts and hop on a mule for a trip through the vast canyon.
MULE RIDES THROUGH THE CANYON: This summer, for the first time in more than 100 years, mule riders will be able to take in the breathtaking vistas while traveling along a new East Rim Trail built by the National Park Service.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE MOLLIES? A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. While mules can be male (Jacks) or female (Mollys), they cannot reproduce another mule. However, a female mule can be crossed to a horse which produces a Hinnies. Female mules are generally used on the Grand Canyon trail rides due to a more gentle temperament. While horses may tend to daydream as they walk along a trail, a mule knows exactly where they are going to put down each foot because their eyes are located on the outside of their heads, allowing them to see all four feet, which comes in handy on narrow trails, 6000 feet above the canyon floor.
Mules are the animal of choice for trail rides as they are more patient, sure-footed, hardy and long-lived than horses, considered less obstinate and more intelligent and possess a strong sense of self-preservation. I think there is a lesson here?
(For more information about mules in general, check this website: http://luckythreeranch.com/website/mule-facts/
AUTHOR CORNER: Keep an eye on all four feet around you. Keep a correct balance between your writing and your promotion. Don’t daydream like the horse and lose sight of your perspective. Keep an eye on industry trends, communicate with other writers and maintain your social media presence. Don’t be discouraged and take your eyes off the trail.
REGULAR FOLKS: Like the Grand Canyon mule, be steadfast, less obstinate, sure-footed, and intelligent. Maintain a sense of self-preservation. Keep informed of things around you. Don’t let the mundane things of life get in the way of your plans for the future. And if you ever get to the Grand Canyon, after you’ve hiked the trails, and shot the rapids, be sure and check out the mule rides along the East Rim Trail. Let me know if you’ve ever done anything quite as adventurous.