Today we have a guest post from a prolific romance and cozy mystery writer, Karen Rose Smith. Karen is also an animal lover.
Caprice De Luca, home-stager extraordinaire, loves her big Italian family--parents, two sisters, brother and Nana. She likes to cook, wears vintage fashion and is a retro music fan. But most of all, she is an animal lover.
There's a lot of me in Caprice. But never more so than when she's taking care of stray animals and finding them homes. Thirteen years ago, I brought home a very sick black kitten from a friend's family farm. Ebbie and I bonded those first nights when I stayed up with her, applying acupressure to her sinuses so she could breathe. She's been my constant companion ever since, more like a sister than a pet. When we brought her half-sister London home to live with us a few months later, my husband and I thought two cats were enough!
Then two summers ago, we found Zoie Joy in a bush in our backyard. The temperature was 100 degrees. She was dehydrated, starved and needed love and care. She weighed 1½ pounds. She's the baby of the house and lives up to her middle name every day. Because I worried about her mom in that big world without care, we> began leaving food in feral feeders. That brought a sweet yellow tabby to our door who needed love, care, and medical assistance. Lance was only with us a short while, but he wrapped himself around our hearts and gave us an appreciation for living each day to its fullest.
Animals are part of what I write because they're a huge part of my life. I care for them, but they care for me too. Their unconditional love and affection brightens my days and brings comfort when arthritis pain keeps me awake at night.
After writing romance for over twenty years, I'm enjoying branching out into mystery where I can delve into everyone's relationships as well as create an intriguing puzzle. Including my love of animals into my storylines invests my heart in an integral way that I believe brings a core honesty to my novels. In STAGED TO DEATH, the first Caprice De Luca mystery, you will meet her long haired calico cat Sophia and Dylan--a stray part Shiztu and part Pomeranian who is adopted by Caprice's best friend. Two yellow tabby kittens also make an appearance. In DEADLY DECOR—book 2, Caprice takes in a pregnant stray cocker spaniel. In book 3, GILT BY ASSOCIATION—February 2015—you'll meet Lady, a cocker who becomes Caprice's sidekick, as well as Valentine—a gray tabby kitten she finds on a cold winter night in her backyard.
I love to hear about animal rescue stories. You can share them with me anytime on my Facebook page KarenRoseSmithBooks, on Twitter @karenrosesmith or through email at my websites www.karenrosesmithmysteries.com and www.karenrosesmith.com.
STAGED TO DEATH is available on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble
DEADLY DECOR will be released on June 3. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon or on Barnes and Noble
Where did they come from? Folks often schedule visits to Washington DC in the spring time to coincide with the blooming of their famous Cherry trees. Have you ever wondered just why Washington has so many cherry trees?
3000 Cherry Trees In January, 1910, Japan sent 2000 cherry trees to Washington as a good will gesture. Sadly, upon arrival, they were found to be diseased and infested with insects. To protect American growers, President William H. Taft ordered the trees burned. Letters from the Secretary of State to the Japanese Ambassador expressed deep regret to all concerned. Good will was maintained and in 1912, Japan again sent more than 3000 additional cherry trees from 12 different varieties to Washington D.C. Two thousand trees were planted on the White House grounds, and the remainder planted around the city and along the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial south toward Potomac Park. They grew and blossomed each spring to the delight of thousands of Washington visitors.
War is Declared Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack in December, 1941, four cherry trees were cut down in retaliation by vandals. Letters poured into the National Parks Commission, calling for “cutting all the Japanese trees down and replacing them with an American variety.” Throughout the rest of the war, in hopes of preventing future damage and ill will, the trees were no long called 'Japanese' cherry trees, but referred to as those ‘oriental flowering cherry trees.’ The National Cherry Blossom festival, an annual springtime event since 1935 was suspended and did not return until 1947.
Cherry Blossom Festival At the Cherry Blossom festival, princesses and a queen are crowned. In 1957, a wealthy Japanese business woman donated a crown for the festival queen. It contains more than two pounds of gold and 1,585 pearls. The queen wears the famous piece for just a few moments when she is crowned. It is then replaced with a miniature crown of gold with a pearl topping each point. The queen wears this crown for the remainder of the evening and she keeps it as a momentum of the event.
The Japanese government generously donated another 3,800 trees to Lady Bird Johnson in 1965. Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan’s ambassador reenacted the original planting ceremony of 1912.
Cuttings from the Trees In 1982 and on several occasions since, cuttings from the original 1912 cherry trees were returned to Japan to replace trees destroyed during the war and when the course of a river destroyed a number of them.
Where are We Now? Private funds were donated between 1986 and 1988 to replant another 676 trees to restore the trees to the original number. Between 1997 and 2011, cuttings from the surviving 1912 cherry trees were propagated to ensure preservation of the 1912 trees’ genetic lineage. These will be used in subsequent replacement plantings both in Washington and in Japan. Thus, the original 1912 gift will ensure a cycle of giving between Japan and the United States.
• Reader is usually a woman who easily identifies with the protagonist.
• Often, protagonist is an outgoing, friendly woman, 30+ years old, with an interesting job or hobby. This provides the opportunity to solve a mystery she never asked for, but is obligated to solve.
• The setting is a community or location providing a sense of camaraderie and frequent contact with the population or patrons. (e.g., small town, college campus, coffee house, gymnasium, cruise ship.)
• Protagonist is an animal lover and often has a dog or cat. She has a sense of humor and a good deal of humor is mixed into the story line.
• She has a friend or boyfriend connected with the police department. This provides access to legal material and information.
• Cozies are frequently a series. Emphasis is on the plot and character development. Readers become emotionally attached to the characters and want to ‘go back’ and spend more time with that character and community. Readers often choose the series or author due to setting which may provide instructions, recipes or household hints. (e.g. knitting shop may give knitting pattern. Bakery or caterer gives recipes.
• No graphic sex. Any suggested sex is always behind closed doors. No explicit violence. Any death occurs off screen or in the past. We never harm a child or kill a cat. No profanity. The story is suitable for younger readers or those who prefer a clearer read.
• Multiple hints or clues (red herrings) are provided so the reader can play along as she reads and attempt to solve the crime with the protagonist.
• Murder with a lighter touch. Never a storyline or situation that lingers to trouble your mind or keep you up at night. Reading a cozy mystery allows you to escape from reality for a while, have fun and forget your troubles.
Black Cat’s Legacy: With the aid or his ancestors’ memories, Thumper, the lodge black cat, must help solve a cold case murder, but someone at the lodge will stop at nothing to hide the Fern Lake mystery. Elaine Faber Author
Kimberlee pulled her suitcases from under the bed and flipped them open.
“What are you doing, Mama?” (Amanda, four year old daughter)
“Let’s go now. We can visit the elephants tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t want to go,” Amanda whined, clasping Thumper to her chest in a death grip. “I don’t want to weave Fumper. He’s my fwiend. He woves me.” Tears puddled in her eyes. Her little mouth quivered.
Kimberlee put her arms around Amanda and the cat. “We were just staying for a little while to visit, Amanda, and now it’s time to leave. When we get settled, I’ll get you another cat, just like Thumper.” Her smile felt forced, but for Amanda’s sake, she’d do anything to make her smile.
“I don’t want anovver cat. I want Fumper.”
She tried to pry Thumper from Amanda’s arms. Amanda clung tighter. “Don’t you want to see the ocean and the wild animals in the park?”
Amanda nodded. “Yeesss.” She pulled away from Kimberlee’s grip. “But I wove Fumper. Can he go wif us, Mama?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. He belongs to Mrs. Herman.” Kimberlee stared at the cat, looking like a furry toy, his black tail swishing across Amanda’s tummy, his long fur spilling over her arms. As she stared, Thumper’s big gold eyes locked on hers. In that instant, he became the symbol of Herman’s Motor Lodge and Brett and the two-faced jealous twit, Dorian. She trembled.
Mrs. Herman’s ugly voice echoed in her ears. ‘There has always been a Black Cat at Herman’s Motor Lodge.’ She’d been so proud, her chest all puffed up like a turkey gobbler. ‘Why, I think we just might go out of business if we didn’t have our very own Black Cat.’ The old bat!
Kimberlee’s hands shook, her chest heaved. Her heart beat so fast, she thought it might burst through her chest. Go out of business? Hell. The place could burn to the ground for all she cared. Here was something she could do to strike a blow for all the pain they’d caused her. It would serve them right if their precious Black Cat disappeared in the night and the lodge went broke because of it.
“Good idea. Let’s go.” She picked up the two suitcases. Amanda clutched Thumper around his middle and waddled to the door. His long body hung loose, his legs reaching almost to her knees.
Kimberlee slammed the cabin door a little harder than needed and propelled her daughter toward the car. She flung the suitcases into the trunk with a thud and slammed the lid.
She snatched Thumper from Amanda and tossed him into the front seat.
She strapped Amanda in her car seat, slid under the steering wheel and slammed the car door. She glanced toward Brett’s cabin.
His cabin door blurred through her tears. Where was he? He might at least come out and say good-bye. Maybe try to stop her. Maybe not. But, could she blame him after the way she spoke to him? She wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve, turned the key and gunned the engine. Gravel flew, her tires spun as she barreled toward the street.
At the edge of the sidewalk, she brought the car to a stop. What about the motel bill? They had her credit card. They could charge her credit card for the blasted motel room. Her tires peeled rubber on the asphalt. “We’re going to Oregon.”
Kimberlee glanced in the rear view mirror. She caught sight of Amanda waving good-bye to the lodge. Hadn’t Jack told her about a little girl waving from the back of a yellow taxi? And now she understood how her mother could abandon her house, her friends, everything that Fern Lake represented. She, too, wanted to forget. Mother could not leave it behind. Whatever happened that night had followed her day after day until it destroyed her.
Would she ever forget her father’s sins? Probably not. Could she forgive herself for Jack’s tragedy? Not likely. She pressed the gas pedal to the floor and reveled in the roar of her engine, every minute taking her further and further away from Fern Lake, Herman’s Motor Lodge.
Kimberlee clutched the steering wheel, her head thrust forward, her eyes scanning the road, rocketing down the road toward the freeway and Oregon.
Thumper stood on the seat, his front paws on the window ledge. He leaped over the seat and snuggled down beside Amanda. His purr, a throaty purr, rattled through the car in a steady rhythm that sounded content. Perhaps he understood the symbolism he represented and had aligned himself with the Resistance. For, surely, he had gone willingly with his captors into the night.
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I opened my eyes this morning and found a black and white cat lying on my bed, casually washing first one large white foot and then the other. At first I didn’t think anything of it, and then realized it wasn’t our cat, Boots, but a cat that resembled him so closely as to be easily mistaken. It was Thumper, the cat from my book, Black Cat’s Legacy!
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “Thumper? What are you doing here?”
“I figured since Black Cat’s Legacy was due out next month, you should introduce me to your readers.”
For the past three years, I’ve researched, ate, laughed, cried and slept with this cat while working with three different teachers learning how to improve my craft and fine-tune the novel. Thumper flopped next to my hip. “What shall we talk about?” I scratched his back.
“Why don’t we start with my character and explain why I’m so important to your plot.” He lifted his head and blinked.
“Well, your cat family has lived at Fern Lake for generations. Apparently twenty-five years ago, your ancestor witnessed a murder, but the killer was never found. The Fern Lake cats made a pact, that one day, when the chosen one returned, they would help her solve the crime.
Sure enough, Kimberlee shows up at the lodge with her little girl, and your character realizes it’s his legacy to help her solve her father’s murder and unravel several other dastardly deeds that occurred so long ago.
But someone at the lodge begins to harass and make life miserable for Kimberlee with accidents and threats. If it wasn’t for Brett, the charming author she falls for, she would have hit the road the first day. Brett convinces her to stay and help him solve the case.”
“What about Dorian, the pretty cold case detective who also has the hots for Brett? She and her Search and Rescue dog join the investigation. They influence the story line as well. Should you tell about her? “Thumper licked his left shoulder.
“Dorian creates some angst in the story with her; I can’t get over my gorgeous self.”
“Tell that I help narrate the story and the reader gets to view the situation through my eyes.” Thumper pulled his whiskers back in a cat-grin. “We’re going to give Sneaky Pie and Midnight Louie a run for their money with our cat mystery. Where can the reader get the novel?”
“Black Cat’s Legacy should be available on Amazon before the end of March or folks can pre-order it now, directly from our website and get it autographed with my name and your footprint. www.mindcandymysteries.com The folks can send in questions if they want to know more about you or any of the other characters. Maybe we’ll do another interview. What do you think?”
“Sounds like a plan.” Thumper jumped off the bed. “When are you getting up? I’m hungry.”
Isn’t that just like a cat? Even imaginary ones.
To Purchase Black Cat's Legacy, go to the header BOOKs. Special price and free shipping within the USA
Recently I watched the movie, the Time Machine. At the end, as the hero returned to live in a world with no technology, he took along three books. The question was asked, “Which three books did he take back to his ‘new world?’”
Which three books would I want to inspire and teach a new world to become a community such as we have in the USA? (With all the good things we experience, freedom, good food, clean air; not the bad parts such as crime, nuclear threats or poverty). It is my responsibility, remember, to create this entire new society from scratch.
It was difficult to decide on just three books, as my mind went to at least ten ‘types’ of books I think would be necessary to create my perfect world.
1. FOOD: Something about crops, planting, nurturing, crop rotations, etc. Add animal husbandry-how to keep animals fed properly, with the addition of dealing with veterinary issues. To start with, we need at least four chickens, cows, pigs, horses, rabbits, fish, (all kinds) cats and dogs. Must have cats. What perfect world has no cats? Maybe the animal book is a completely separate book. (We are assuming we have means to grow crops, and access to tools, seed and all of our animal species).
2. COOKING – A basic cook book dealing with various ethnic foods recipes, including lasagna, chow Mein, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and a plethora of food choices. The book must have several recipes that heavily rely on chocolate. We want to know how to eat well to stay healthy, right? Our world will have access to all types of food, but we will have to learn to grow our own crops sooner or later…preferably later.
3. SURVIVAL SKILLS; We need a book relating to basic survival skills – building a fire, a shelter, getting water from point A to point B, First Aid, building a trap, a fishing pole, etc.
4. HEALTH: This book must teach about herbs and natural products to use for medicinal purposes. We have no Obama care in our world.
5. RELIGION: The Holy Bible – to build a faith- based society of Judeo=Christian values.
6. LAWS: A copy of the Constitution – We must have law and order.
7. ENLIGHTENMENT: A dictionary, thesaurus, school books to teach reading, writing, ‘rithmatic.
8. ART and SCIENCE: Several good books come to mind: You can only have three or choose your own. a. Don’t Be All Washed Up-Water Colors and You; b. Thrill at the Pottery Wheel; c. What was Einstein Really Thinking; d. Rembrandt–Not Just Toothpaste; e. Weather-Should I take My Umbrella Tomorrow? f. How to Create Electricity with a Potato; g Nuclear Fission-Better Not Go There; h. Was Picasso Really Crazy?
9. HISTORY: Digital Version of Encyclopedia Britannica with Smart Phone Reader.
10. INTERNET: Connections to Amazon and EBay with limited access, only for wise people over 35 for the purpose of ordering Cozy Mystery novels, and chocolate.
What kind of world would you create and what books would you bring if you had this opportunity?
BOMB DROPPED IN BROOKINGS, OREGON: In September, 1942, a Japanese submarine off the coast of Oregon launched a float plane loaded with two 76 kilogram incendiary bombs, which it succeeded in dropping in the Siskiyou National Forest, near Brookings, Oregon. A forest fire ensued. The fire was spotted by a fire lookout tower on Mount Emily and two rangers were dispatched to the site. They were able to control the fire throughout the night until a fire crew arrived the next morning. A recent rain had kept the area wet which helped the fire crews contain the blaze.
According to records reviewed after the war, the floatplane carried two bombs. Though both were dropped, no trace was found of the second bomb.
BALLOON BOMBS: Between 1944 and 1945, the Japanese hatched a new plot to attack and torment the American citizens. They launched more than 9,000 air-balloon bombs, 70 feet tall with a 33 foot diameter made of paper and filled with hydrogen. Each carried an anti-personnel bomb and two incendiary bombs. These were launched during the fall and carried across the Pacific Ocean in about three days via the jet stream at an altitude of 30,000 feet.
Three hundred sixty one of the balloons were found in 26 states, Canada and Mexico. Several were found in San Pedro, near Redding and near Santa Rosa, California. It is likely that more balloon bombs landed in unpopulated areas of North America.
CONSEQUENCES: Some of the balloon bombs were sighted by citizens and dispatched by fighter pilots. Others landed in populated areas and caused some degree of damage by igniting fires. One fatality and 22 injuries resulted from subsequent fires caused by the balloons.
TRAGIC RESULTS: In May, 1945, while picnicking, a balloon bomb was found by a woman and five children. A witness warned them away, but before they could retreat, the bomb exploded, creating a 1-foot deep, 3-foot wide hole and killing the woman and all the children. Their cause of their death was withheld from the public and stated “the six were killed by an explosion of unannounced cause.” Later the site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and a monument built. The six are the only known deaths in the continental USA as a result of enemy action during WWII. Japanese visitors have since visited the monument to plant cherry trees as a symbol of peace.
BLACK-OUT: Due to a press black-out during the year of the attacks, no evidence of the success of the program reached Japan and the mission was considered a total fiasco, thus the program was abandoned.
POST WWII: The remains of balloons continued to be discovered during the 1940’s and 1950’s and two in the 1960’s.
Do you know an interesting bit of history related to WWII? Can you share it on this site?
OWNEY –The Globe-Trotting Mail Mascot - I ran across an interesting story the other day about a little mutt dog that became the nation’s Post Office mascot from 1888 - 1897. Owney, a little mixed terrier, traveled for nine years across the nation’s railways on mail trains, always returning to Albany, PA, a key division point on the New York Central railroad system, one of the two largest railroads in the U.S. at that time. Over the years, he was given medals and citations by various organizations, as the country marveled at the little dog’s dedication to the mail service.
Once, it’s said, that a mail bag fell from a delivery wagon. Owney jumped off the wagon and guarded the bag until a postal worker missed him and the mail bag and returned to find him sleeping on top of the bag, preventing anyone from touching it except a postal worker.
OWNEY’S MEDALS: Over the years, post workers around the country where Owney visited, hung medals on his collar until he had accumulated hundreds of medals. It was necessary to give him a vest on which to pin the medals. He jingled like sleigh bells when he walked.
Occasionally, Owney would jump on an outbound train and disappear for weeks or months until he would reappear in the Albany post office. A train trip into Canada got him into trouble once, when he was detained by the Canadians and held for ransom, demanding charges for his board. The Albany postmen pooled their money and bailed poor Owney out of Canada. He was returned once more to the Albany post office.
EUROPEAN TRAVELS: It is documented that in 1895, Owney traveled via steamship and rail, riding with mail bags throughout Asia and across Europe. He was fed and tended by postal workers along the way. The Emperor of Japan awarded him several medals bearing the Japanese Coat of Arms. His triumphant return to American was covered by newspapers nationwide. He became world famous after the trip.
As the years progressed, Owney’s eyesight and health failed. On orders of the local postmaster in Toledo, Ohio, they detained him (I suppose they thought for his own good) and kept him tied in a basement. The report is that he became aggressive (probably from despair at being held against his will). He allegedly attacked a postal worker and bit him. He was shot and killed on June 11, 1897.
PRESERVED AND HONORED: The nation’s postal workers refused to bury their beloved mascot. They asked that the dog receive the honor of being preserved and taxidermied. His remains were sent to the Post Office Department Headquarters and eventually to the Smithsonian Museum. His remains required an extensive taxidermy makeover by 2011 when the USPS issued a stamp honoring Owney.
Owney has been the subject of five books. His remains now stand in a glass case in the Smithsonian Institute in the National Postal Museum atrium in Washington D.C., wearing his harness and surrounded by many of his tags.
The air grew crisper, the nights longer and the whisper of leaves falling on the roof began to awaken each Christmas tree bird from their yearlong slumber. They wiggled with joy, crinkling the crepe paper walls of their divided cubicles in the ornament box. Soon, the Christmas bird ornaments would be lifted from their crinkly crepe paper beds where they had slept in the attic since last Christmas.
As the special day grew nearer, the thrill of the season crept through their springy wire clips, their porcelain gold and silver bodies and their fluffy feather tails.
The youngest Christmas bird lay in the middle cubicle under Gold Bird, wrapped snugly in soft white tissue paper. “Christmas is coming!” He shook with excitement. Soon, he would be high on the tree with his Christmas bird friends and the round ones, who weren’t nearly as beautiful as his Christmas bird friends with their feather tails and pinchy clips.
He closed his little red eyes and dreamed of Christmas Eve. From the top of the Christmas tree, his family would gather by the fireplace. He could almost hear the music and smell the cookies.
“I’ve been thinking that I am the most beautiful Christmas bird,” he whispered to Gold Bird, who lay wrapped in tissue above him.
Gold Bird’s tail feathers quivered. “Really? What makes you think so? Blue glass bird is made of hand blown glass and has a lovely feather tail. Antique bird is missing his tail feathers, but he’s so fragile, you can see through his porcelain body. Most of us are much more beautiful than you.” He shook as he scolded the young bird.
“I don’t care. The Christmas tree wouldn’t be as beautiful if I wasn’t right near the top.” The little bird twitched all over.
Gold Bird huffed. “It would serve you right if you were left behind this year. You don’t know anything about the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t deserve to hang on the Christmas tree.”
The Christmas bird trembled. That he might not celebrate the season scared him a bit, but not quite enough. His voice trembled. “I didn’t mean to be conceited. It’s not that I think you aren’t very handsome, but my tail feathers are longer and softer and fluffier than yours, and… my… paint is much shinier−”
“Tut tut,” Gold Bird said. “I won’t listen to hear another word.”
For several days, the young bird lay in his cocoon of crinkly paper, haunted by Gold Bird’s words. “You conceited fellow, it would serve you right …” and he would shudder. Unthinkable! Not to be on the Christmas tree? Not to be part of Christmas Eve? He couldn’t bear the thought.
The days grew shorter and the nights longer. Snow blanketed the roof. The wind whistled through the trees, their bare branches just visible through the tiny attic window. The long days of November edged into December.
One morning, the Christmas birds awoke to footsteps clunking up the attic steps. The Christmas bird held his breath, not daring to wiggle. “It’s time! Soon we’ll be on the Christmas tree!”
One by one, his friends were lifted from the cubicles beside him. He heard them squeal as they were hung on the tree. Beneath his tissue coverings, he faintly heard the music. He could hear the children chattering; he could even smell the cookies.
“It’s nearly my turn,” he whispered. But, there was no answer.
Gold Bird’s fluffy tail no longer tickled his nose. He waited. The box was tossed into the corner; empty except for the littlest Christmas bird, hidden under the tissue in the middle cubicle.
His comfortable box now a prison, his beautiful body and fluffy tail lay beneath the crinkly tissue paper. A tiny plastic tear formed in his little red eye. Gold Bird was right. I’ve been conceited and proud, and now I’ve been left behind.
He lay alone in the corner through the entire month of December. The faint sounds of Christmas filtered through his tissue paper. The Christmas season was nearly over and he had missed everything.
On Christmas Eve, the Christmas tree bird imagined the tree with his Christmas bird friends hanging with the others, the ones he had scorned. They may not be as beautiful as I, but they are on the tree, and I’ve been left behind.
He heard the little girl’s voice. “They wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger.”
I’m wrapped in swaddling clothes, like baby Jesus. He imagined the tiny baby wrapped sung and warm, lying in the straw, surrounded by the cows. He imagined the shepherds bringing their sheep down from the hills to worship the babe. He thought of the Wise Men who brought gifts to welcome His birth.
He heard the daddy tell how Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby and if we loved and trusted Him, He promised to come again and take us to heaven and we would not be left behind. The Christmas bird blinked back a tear. I know what it’s like to be left behind. How terrible to be left behind from Heaven.
Then, the tissue paper lifted. “Look, Mommy! Here’s another Christmas birdie, all alone in the box. Oh, he looks like he has a tear in his eye! Can I hang him on the Christmas tree?”
The Christmas bird was whooshed up to the top of the tree where his hook fastened to a branch next to Gold Bird. Looking down from his lofty perch, he saw the family gathered around the tree. There was such love in the room! He even smelled the Christmas cookies! At last, he was exactly where he needed to be.
Gold Bird gave him a stern but loving glance. “Did you learn anything, my little friend?”
As he swung from side to side on the pine branch, the light from the fire reflected in the gold tear in the little bird’s eye. “I understand,” he whispered to Gold Bird. “Christmas is not about who is more beautiful or cookies or even the gifts people give to one another. The true meaning of Christmas is God’s gift to the world, the birth of Jesus Christ. When we accept God’s Gift of love, one day He will come back for his children and we will never be left behind.”
Gold bird swung around on his hook. “Welcome to Christmas, Christmas bird!”
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.