31
Dec

Remembering the YEAR OF THE CHRISTMAS STICK

Christmas Stick

In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in considerable debt. Collection agency calls were daily occurrences. One month, 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.

That Christmas, we were financially challenged (as they might say now). We said we were "broke." No way was there any extra 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, the kids had toys and we 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 walk in the footsteps of folks out there, by virtue of unemployment, natural disaster or illness, who are without a tree, and without gifts. For that matter, maybe some are without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down.

It’s been over fifty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. This Christmas Day, as our family stumbled from the table loaded down with ham and cookies and all the fixings and we gazed at our ten- foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled high, thought about the Year of The Christmas Stick. And we remembered 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. We remember that there are some 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 one year so long ago.

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 can't help but thank God for the opportunity to experience the Year of the Christmas Stick. We all learned lessons that I hope we will never forget.

25
Dec

Kitty's Blessing - A Christmas Story

Once, in a faraway land, on a crisp winter afternoon, Kitty strode across a hillside, a contented pussy cat, her tummy full and her breath pungent with the after-flavor of this morning’s breakfast mouse. She settled on a warm rock for a snooze in the sunshine near a group of shepherds tending their sheep. As the flock moved down the hillside, the bleating of lambs faded into silence. With her tail curled around her nose, Kitty fell asleep.

The twittering of a bird interrupted her catnap. Kitty’s eye peeked open. The tip of her tail drifted from side to side. What’s this?

She slipped off the rock and inched toward the unsuspecting after-breakfast snack. Kitty’s whiskers snapped to attention. Every hair on her head stood upright. She was a silent warrior armed with experience, girded with strength, clad with skill. The bird was within striking range; distance calculated (ten feet, six and a half inches); wind velocity (twenty-one and a half mph from the south-southeast); thrust computed; muscles poised. She leaped.

The striped instrument of death hurtled toward the beautiful white bird. At the last moment, she fluttered off the bush. Kitty seized her wing and pulled her to the ground.

The white bird shrieked. “Wait! Don’t eat me I’ll make it worth your while if you spare my life.”

Much impressed by the bird’s bravery, as misguided as it was under the circumstances, Kitty paused, curiosity being a trait of her breed, often quoted as being the method of her kind’s demise. “What can possibly change my mind, my pretty?” She tilted her left ear as she licked her lips and tightened her grip on the bird’s wing.

The white bird lifted her elegant head, and folded her one free wing against her quivering body. “If you set me free, I promise, ere the night is over, you will receive a great blessing that will bring honor to you and all your descendants.”

Kitty loosened her grip and pondered the bird’s message. If true, a blessing would be a fine legacy to leave her descendents. Much more likely, the blessing was a ploy to escape. But, what did she have to lose? Intrigued, and frankly, still burping this morning’s mouse, she agreed. “I’ll let you go this time, but if you’re fooling me, next time we meet, I’ll show no mercy.” She lifted her paw.

The grateful captive fluttered from her grasp. She circled, dipping low over Kitty’s head. “Remember! Ere the night is over! I promise,” she cried and disappeared behind a puffy white cloud.

“A blessing! Indeed!” Kitty shook her body from nose to tail, dispelling the idea that she had been foolish to believe such a story.

As the stars blinked across the night sky, Kitty returned to town. She came upon a cave where cows and a donkey nodded, warming the area with their breath. In the corner, a lamb curled next to its mother.

Kitty jumped into the box of straw near the cow, turned around three times and then curled herself into a ball. Gentle snuffles from the lamb combined with the cows’ warm breath created the perfect ambiance for a long winter nap. Kitty was soon fast asleep and dreaming. Dots of white sheep ambled down the dark hillside. Overhead, the white bird darted across a yellow moon as shepherds moved their flock toward town.

Gentle hands lifted Kitty from the straw. She opened her eyes and saw a young bearded man who set her gently on the ground. “Here, Kitty, will you give up your warm bed? It’s just the right size for the baby.” He laid the swaddled infant in the straw where Kitty’s body had molded and warmed a circle of straw.

Kitty lay down beneath the manger, curled her toes into a semi-circle, fascinated by the sudden activity in the stable.

The father heaped up a soft bed of straw for the mother. He hovered nearby, brought her water and covered her with his cloak.

Shepherds from the hillside entered the stable and knelt at the feet of the Babe.

Two white birds fluttered through the open door, circled and came to rest on the edge of the manger. Wasn’t that the same bird she had freed that afternoon? Wonder of wonders, a brilliant light shone above the manger. Where the birds had rested, angels now hovered on each side of the Baby.

In the later hours, three men dressed in fine colored garments came to worship the Baby and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When the worshipers had gone, in the stillness of the stable, the family slept, while the angels kept watch.

Kitty approached the angels and addressed the angel from earlier in the day. “Angel, I know this is the Promised One the world has waited for. I feel unworthy. The others brought gifts. I have no gift to give.”

“Kitty, Christ Child wants only the gift of our reverence and obedience. Tonight, you willingly gave up your warm bed for the Christ Child. In return you receive a great blessing you and your descendants can treasure for generations to come.”

Kitty curled her tail around her nose and began to dream of cat-things, naps in the sunshine, chasing mice, catching birdsperhaps she would forgo that pleasure in the future. One never knew when the bird might be an angelor when a good deed might turn into a blessing, but none as great as the blessing she had received this night. The chance to warm the bed of the Christ Child.

12
Dec

Remembering the Orphan Trains

In my soon to be published novel, Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, Agnes is asked to carry a package for Colonel Farthingworth to President Roosevelt. She rides a train from California to Washington D.C, convinced the package contains secret war documents. Along the way, she encounters perceived Nazi spies determined to steal her package. Of course, nonsense and misadventure prevails where ever Mrs. Odboddy is concerned and Undercover Courier is no exception.

Thinking about a cross country train journey reminded me of the abandoned children riders of the Orphan Trains during the late 1800’s and early 1900s.

Because of mass immigration, poverty, disease, and human tragedy, thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were ‘on the streets’ in New York City, selling matches and rags or stealing to survive. Older boys ran in packs and gangs, committing petty crimes or worse. The few orphanages were overrun with infants and small children.

In 1849, a Presbyterian minister, Charles Loring Brace realized the children needed permanent homes, work and education. Because workers were needed in the Midwest, he determined that the orphans and good Christian farmers could be united.

Between 1854 and 1929, a quarter million abandoned babies and ‘street rats’ (as the older children were called) were boarded on trains headed for new lives in the country.

As good as this plan sounds, the consequences were debatable. The plan was to have town committees, pastors and doctors oversee the applicants to assure a good match between the children and waiting adoptive families. In some cases this worked well, in others, little oversight or follow through was given, to the detriment of the children.

The boys and girls would board a westbound train in groups of up to forty, accompanied by several adults. Circulars advertising ‘little laborers’ preceded them to the towns. The babies and pretty infants had the best chance of finding a good adoptive situation. Upon arrival to a town, the children were cleaned up and paraded into a local building, stood on a stage where they took turns giving their names, singing a little ditty or ‘saying a piece.’ The farmers looking for free labor then had an opportunity to prod the boys, examine their teeth and determine how suitable they were for the task needed, much like a slave auction.

Boys under twelve were ‘to be treated as one of their own children in matters of schooling, clothing and training.’ Boys from twelve to fifteen were to be ‘sent to school a part of the year,’ and given a stipend when they turned twenty-one. Older boys often ran away if faced with abuse.

In many cases, the children were far better off than if left in the big cities where their chance of survival was poor. Records show that Andrew Burke and John Brady, two Orphan Train boys, grew up to be the governors of North Dakota and Alaska, respectively.

In other cases, the children taken to the mid-west farms suffered emotional and physical abuse. Many children were used strictly as slave farm labor. Other children found fine families that loved them, and educated them.

Only the circumstances of the individual child could determine if the Orphan Train program was a success. Surely, left to the terrors of the inner city streets with no means of support could only have resulted in disaster or death for each child.

The Orphan Trains run until 1929 when a foster care program was instituted in each state.

1
Dec

Fighting WWII From the Home Front

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Mrs. Odboddy–Hometown Patriot is available in e-book and print at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv

In my cozy mystery/adventure story,Odboddy–Hometown Patriot, is an elderly, eccentric woman determined to expose every villain and conspiracy threatening the home front during WWII. In addition to a charming story, we delve into life in the United States as citizens 'fought the war from the home front.' Agnes Odboddy was such a patriot.

Rationing:

American housewives willingly gave up their precious food, clothing, tires, and other goods to aid the war effort. Ration stamp booklets were issued and many items including sugar could only be purchased when accompanied with the appropriate stamp.

Just imagine how frustrating to find your coffee rationed to one pound every six weeks per adult. This was due to blockades affecting Brazilian ships attempting to bring coffee to the US (During part of 1942-43). The majority of the available coffee was sent to the troops.

Beef was in short supply and costly, as well as eggs, resulting in many resident chickens in suburban backyards. (Agnes obtains six chickens, but because she has no chicken coop available, she puts them in the bathroom. What could possibly go wrong?)

A limit to purchase only five tires during the entire war was put in place. By today’s standards, that sounds sufficient, but rough roads and poor tires were conducive to multiple flat tires. With a few exceptions for doctors and other public safety professionals, gasoline was rationed to four gallons per week, requiring folks to car pool, ride buses, use bicycles or walk. Speed limits of 35 mph were most common.

Victory Gardens:

To appear patriotic and reduce reliance on the limited supply of vegetables and fruit available, citizens were almost required to plant a victory garden. Suburban front yards were converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Any vegetable with a high yield requiring limited space became the main ingredient of Meatless Monday. Even Mrs. Roosevelt planted zucchini in the White House Rose Garden.

Watch Towers:

Ever fearful of another Japanese air attack, watch towers were erected every several miles along the California and Oregon coastline requiring volunteers to be the eyes and ears for the military. Radar was invented during the war but was in limited supply.

As Agnes’s fantasy mystery-adventure progresses, she experiences every phase of rationing, growing a victory garden and manning a watch tower. As a dedicated hometown patriot, she is determined to root out a ration book conspiracy, identify a perceived Nazi spy and prepare for a visit from Mrs. Roosevelt.

With the return of an old lover who wants to re-ignite their romance, things heat up. With chickens in the bathroom and a search for a million dollars in missing Hawaiian money, this hysterical romp through the WWII era is a fascinating novel like you’ve never read before.

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