11
Jun

Preview from Black Cat and The Clue in Dewey's Diargy

If you've been following my blog you know I have another novel coming this Fall - Black Cat and the Clue in Dewey's Diary - a dual tale of adventures in Fern Lake with Black Cat and Angel, and Dorian and Kimberlee as they ,pursue a lost treasure   in Austria and Germany. Kimberlee's adventures in Austria mimic my own experiences in 1987 when I visited the area. The church pictured IS the Hopfgarten church in the story. Here is an excerpt with Kimberlee, the day she leaves Dorian at her conference and strikes out on her own.

*****

On the outskirts of Salzburg, Kimberlee stopped at an endearing pension. She followed the path to the front door and rang the bell. A stout, older woman answered. “Wilkomen! Kumm in! (Welcome. Come in).

Kimberlee held up her overnight case. “Do you have a room?”

The woman smiled. “Ya. I hef nice room. This way, please.” She led Kimberlee to a room next to the garden filled with pink and yellow tulips and tall gladiolas. The room contained plain, solid wood furniture. A thick feather comforter and feather pillows lay atop the double bed. A vase of fresh flowers adorned the nightstand. French doors led out to the garden. “Is good?”

“Yes, it’s lovely. How many Euros?” Kimberlee pulled out several bills.

The hostess took two bills. “Is enough. Breakfast is 7:00 A.M.”

“Thank you. That will be fine.” Kimberlee set her overnight case on the floor. She opened the French doors, stepped into the garden, and was immediately enveloped by the scent of flowers. A green, carved wooden bench sat beside a fish pond where red and black koi fish bobbed. How she wished Brett could see this. Wouldn’t it have been better to wait and share this beautiful experience with a loved one? Her first day in this beautiful country had already presented so many wondrous sites.

She sat on the bench and watched the koi glide back and forth across the pond, nibbling at a mossy rock, pausing to bask in a ray of sunshine. Would she have experienced the day the same way if Brett had been with her?

The spacious, green, lush meadows, the sense of oneness created by the similarity of the houses, the tinkle of the cows’ bells and the serene agelessness of the castles high atop the hillsides. The way the church bells rang every hour. How the peaceful countryside had affected her! The violinist’s song had touched her heart. The fairytale town transported her to another time and place. In truth, the day’s events left her feeling as though she had stepped into another dimension. Her soul felt refreshed and her faith reaffirmed.

A sudden thought! Spending the day alone had provided such unexpected reactions. As pleasant as it would be to share with a loved one, would she have experienced it the same way? Perhaps, a day spent in solitude was as rewarding as when shared by another.

She revisited the events of the day, from meeting the little cat, to the musician on the church steps, to the castle on the hill, to the mists in the meadows and the cows in the field. And, finally, to a bench beside the koi pond, remembering each beautiful moment in the beauty and stillness of the garden.

She closed her eyes, breathed in the scent of flowers,. In the distance, a church bell chimed. Resolved not to forget a minute of the day’s events, Kimberlee picked up a pen and filled her journal with all she had seen and felt this wondrous day.

*****

Black Cat and the Accidental Angel is Free at Amazon June 12, 13, 2019.     http://tinyurl.com/y6vhxncq

 

21
Jan

Shoko Interviews Ling-Ling from Mrs. Odboddy Adventures

    Mrs. Odboddy And Then There Was a Tiger

Shoko, a lovely Canadian Siamese cat who writes a daily blog at CANADIAN CATS MEEZERS AT LARGE interviews Ling-Ling, the cat in the book Mrs. Odboddy And Then There was a Tiger
Ling-Ling - Interviewee

>

Shoko – InterviewerSurmising a rodent intruder in the package, I promptly extricated said rodent by tooth and claw, thus eliminating smelly threat level to zilch.
(a) Did you kill that thing in the package?
Unfortunately, no. It entered the house and in my ensuing pursuit, many household items were severely damaged and it got away. (Not my fault!)

2. Does Mrs. Odboddy's antics ever get in the way of her feeding you on time? Or providing you with enough attention?

Mrs. Odboddy knows better than to neglect my head scratches. But, on rare occasions, when Mrs. O. doesn’t come home at night, I must rely on others to provide my victuals.

3. What is it like living with an eccentric old woman who 'fights the war" from the home front? What makes her a hometown patriot? Feeling compelled to expose conspiracies and spies, and her multiple volunteer projects, Agnes is often away from home. Her amusing tales ‘after the fact’ almost makes up for it, though she is prone to stretch the truth when it puts her in a better light.

4. Since we are both Siamese, we sort of look alike. Is it possible we are related? Descended from royal blood myself, it is doubtful that we are related, though I suppose it is possible. Have you done a DNA test through Ancestry.com yet?

5. When your former mistress, Lilly, is released from Japanese Internment camp, will you go back to live with her or stay with Mrs. O.? Agnes assured me that after the war when Lilly comes home, I will remain here. Now that I’ve blessed their home for some time, I’m sure Agnes would miss my sparkling personality and humble nature.

6. If Mrs. Odboddy can't find a home for the tiger, Shere Khan, any chance she'll bring him home to live with you? How do you feel about that? Oh my stars! It’s one thing to bring a homeless cat into one’s life, but I don’t think Shere Khan would fit in our bed. I don’t plan to give up my spot any time soon.

7. Which of Mrs. Odboddy's three published books is your favorite? My biggest role was in Hometown Patriot (http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv), so I suppose that’s my favorite. When Mrs. O put six chickens in the bathroom, I did a pretty good job of messing with that project, if I do say so myself. MOL!!!

8. Should an elderly lady like Mrs. Odboddy have a boyfriend? Do you want her to marry Godfrey? How would you feel about calling Godfrey…”dad?” Every old lady should have a boyfriend, or a ‘friend-boy,’ as the case may be. Godfrey’s pretty cool but Mrs. O will never marry him. She’s too set in her ways and I expect Godfrey would cramp her style.

9. Why does Mrs. Odboddy keep getting in trouble with Chief Waddlemucker? Because she can’t keep her nose out of everyone’s business and the Chief often gets in the way of her shenanigans. In spite of it all, they are still friends.

10. What can you tell us about Mrs. Odboddy as a secret agent during WWI? Does she still consider herself a secret agent? If I told you all I know about her WWI activities, I’d have to kill ya’. Without a doubt, she’ll never stop tracking down Nazi spies and wartime conspiracies, even though I’d prefer her home scratching my head or knitting! Oh my! There she goes again, and it’s time for my dinner.

Mrs. Odboddy - And Then There Was a Tiger (http://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv)

Check out this and the two other Mrs. Odboddy books available at Amazon $3.99 ebook.
Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot
Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier

25
Dec

Remembering The YEAR OF THE CHRISTMAS STICK

Christmas Stick
This is a reprint of a post I wrote several years ago:

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 had to pay 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.

These days we would say we were financially challenged. We said we were "broke." No way was there 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, who had lovely trees with presents, 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. Over the next few months, we borrowed from a family member to pay off the mortgage and by 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 even without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down, such as this year, following the dreadful fires in L.A. and northern California.

It’s been over fifty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. This Christmas Day, as our family stumbles from the table loaded down with ham and cookies and all the fixings and we gaze at our ten- foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled high,we might remember the Year of The Christmas Stick and it's humbling 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 Christmas 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.

30
Sep

Halloween Memories Revisited


As I child of the 1950’s, I remember how my friends and I dressed as ghosts, hobos, cowboys or Cinderella at Halloween. Properly attired, we escaped out the door as soon as the sun went down. Invariably these trips were made alone or in groups of two or three, but without chaperones, since our parents stayed at home to dole out the goodies to other trick-or-treaters.

I recall how we tromped through the neighborhood, knocking on doors. Our decorated brown paper bags were soon filled with cookies, cupcakes, oranges and often, homemade fudge or even a candy covered apple. It wasn’t unusual to be invited in to show our costumes to other family members.

Overhead, at least the way I remember it, the moon was always big and round and yellow with the face of the Man in the Moon watching benevolently as we tromped the streets.

Halloween these days? Kiddies are still at the door, but there is always a parent hovering on the sidewalk to keep predators and kidnappers at bay. Good-hearted grandmas can’t offer cookies, unwrapped candy or cupcake treats because any such treat would be thrown away, suspected of Ricin poison or a razor blade hidden inside. Children wouldn’t dare enter a neighbor’s house to show their costume to an aged parent, lest there be some depraved, perverted felon lurking in a dark hallway.

Even the custom of trick or treating has come into displeasure and is often substituted with private school parties, church carnivals with tailgate trick or treating and prizes for all participants.

This blog is not the practices of Halloween yesterday or even today. Instead, it’s about that pesky full moon I thought I remembered shining down on every Halloween trek through the neighborhood. Apparently, my memory was faulty.

I began to wonder how often we had a completely full moon on Halloween. Imagine my surprise when Google research reported that the moon is actually completely full on October 31st only four or five times each century! Whoa! Who knew?

The last time we had such a Halloween moon was October 31, 2001, barely six weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center. The next scheduled Halloween full moon occurs on October 31, 2020.

Now, if I knew a whit about the sun, moon and stars, rotation of the earth, planets or the galaxy, I could probably give you a reasonable explanation for such a rare occurrence, but since I don’t, you’ll have to do your own Google research to understand the why of it.

Suffice it to say, children will celebrate Halloween this year differently than the Halloweens I remember. One more childhood memory bites the dust. One more pleasure that our grandkids will never experience, like riding my bike alone to the park, playing outside all day and not coming home until dark, or selling lemonade on the corner. These days, parents would be arrested for child endangerment if their child walked to school alone, and a City Seller’s Permit is required for a lemonade stand.

But, in just two more years, there will be another Halloween full moon. That’s something to look forward to. October 31, 2020. How should we celebrate?

18
Jun

A Peek Into 'Black Cat and The Key to the Treasure'


    From my Work in Process: Black Cat and the Key to the Treasure


Kimberlee travels alone in Germany while her friend attends a conference...
Salzburg, Germany: As Kimberlee passed through the countryside, the terrain varied as the road rose and fell through hills and valleys. Around every corner, another picture postcard vista appeared. With no particular agenda, Kimberlee frequently stopped to photograph a scene.

In a green meadow, the only sound was the breeze shaking the leaves on the shrubs alongside the road. The tinkling of shiny brass bells hanging from the collars of a flock of sheep or a group of black and white cows grazing nearby produced a stirring in the heart of a captivated tourist. In another place, the gentle terrain rose up through the pasture to where a fine mist clung to the hillside. The sound of tinkling bells confirmed more animals hidden among the distant trees.

Fewer vineyards dotted the hillside as Kimberlee approached Salzburg; the town where Mozart lived, played his harpsichord and wrote melodies. Several hundred years later, his name is still a household word and millions of people enjoy his music.

She reached the center of the city, parked her car, and began to walk. Ancient ivy-laden buildings with sagging tile roofs covered the sidewalk courtyards. Church spires peeked out from behind red tile rooftops. She passed a church with dates carved into the wall reading 1200-1400. How incredible! One church was said to be 1000 years old.

Faint music drew her toward the town square where a street musician stood on the steps of an ancient church played Ave Maria on his violin. While tourists clustered around the steps, pigeons flew from rooftop to rooftop, as though drawn by the haunting melody.

Kimberlee paused. The lingering notes echoed off the surrounding ancient buildings and filled the courtyard with music such as one might imagine in Heaven. Her thoughts drifted back to another time. She imagined the cobbled streets filled with horse-drawn carriages. Perhaps one held a princess and her ladies-in-waiting. Over there, a knight in shining armor on his trusty steed, ready to joust with a dragon.

The musician drew his bow across the strings, and the final note hung in the air. He lowered his hand. The audience stood motionless. Someone coughed, and the spell was broken. Generous visitors tossed money into the violin case at the musician’s feet before they wandered away.

Kimberlee opened her purse. “That was absolutely lovely! Thank you,” she said, as she dropped a few euros into his case.

She ran to catch a tram climbing to the top of the hill where a medieval castle overlooked the city; a cold and barren place with multiple staircases reaching in all directions. Inside the castle, armor, ancient guns, javelins, chains and torture devices covered the walls. Stepping out onto the balcony, the entire city and valley lay below. It was like peeking into the pages of a storybook.

Rainy mists on the distant mountains beckoned hikers upward into the cold crisp air. To the left–rivers, towers, cathedrals, graveyards, and church spires. To the right–cobblestone streets with horse-drawn carriages, and sidewalk cafes, musicians, and archways where street vendors hawked their wares beneath colorful awnings.

After wandering around the castle for an hour and taking dozens pictures, she returned to the city below.

She came upon a street artist, sitting on a short stool, his backpack and palette of paints by his side. He leaned into his easel and applied the finishing touches to a watercolor painting of the church, where the musician had played his moving aria on the steps. Could she be one of the colorful blobs that represented the tourists?
Unable to resist the appeal of the drawing and the memory of the thrilling experience, she purchased the picture. She would have it framed and hang it in her bedroom, a constant reminder of the poignant melody that had stirred her heart.

What a magical city! After a hearty meal and very strong coffee, Kimberlee returned to her car. She drove to the outskirts of town to look for a pension for the night. Brett would be thrilled to hear about all the things she had seen today. How she missed him and wished he was by her side.

23
Dec

Revisiting: Was There Ever a Real Santa Claus?

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. Thomsas NastHarpers Weekly

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, we donate money to Samaritan's Purse to send a goat and chickens to families in third world countries.

How does your family celebrate the season? What ways do you acknowledge those less fortunate?

19
Feb

Govt. Restrictions: One lb Coffee Every Six Weeks

Research while writing my WWII humorous mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, and Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, led to interesting facts about how folks lived during WWII.:

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 and fresh fruit could only be purchased with the appropriate ration stamp.

Due to blockades affecting Brazilian ships attempting to bring coffee and sugar to the USA during part of 1942-43, coffee was rationed to one pound every six weeks per adult. (This alone would be reason to go to war, wouldn’t it?)

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

Tires: A citizen only had ration stamps for five tires during the entire war. By today’s standards, that sounds sufficient, but bumpy roads and poor tires led to multiple flat tires even with speed limits of 35 mph.

Doctors and public safety professionals were allowed additional tire and gasoline stamps. Gasoline required ration stamps and folks were limited to only four gallons per week. Folks relied on car pool, buses, bicycles or had to walk. Men who worked out of town often had to board away from home for indefinite periods of time. (I am the result of my father’s weekend only visits while Daddy worked at the Vallejo, CA Mare Island shipyard. Whoops!)

Such shortages of food and other supplies led to black market ration books or ‘arrangements’ between friends willing to sell extra stamps for highly desired items. (Because of weekly trips to the USO to serve cookies, Agnes has to purchase a friend’s tire stamp. She also discovers a ration book conspiracy and sets out to expose the culprits.)

Victory Gardens: Many items in short supply were rationed. Citizens were almost required to plant a victory garden or appear unpatriotic. Suburban front yards were soon converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Vegetables with a high yield requiring limited space to grow 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 on the West Coast, and the limited availability of newly discovered radar technology, volunteers became the ‘early warning system’ in watch towers every several miles along the California and Oregon coastline. (Agnes has an exciting encounter while serving at the watch tower in Hometown Patriot. You won’t want to miss this! )

Can you share an account of a WWII event or experience? Are you acquainted with a family member with memories of WWII? Wouldn’t they enjoy reading my novels? Only $3.99 at Amazon. Guaranteed to produce a chuckle or your money back!

Mrs. Odboddy–Hometown Patriot -Available in e-book and print at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv Agnes attempts to expose a ration book conspiracy and deals with the return of an old WWI lover.

Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier –Agnes travels across country by train, carrying a package to President Roosevelt. She is sure it contains secret war documents, and NAZI spies will try to steal her package. Amazon – http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb

Next time, I’ll talk about another WWII event or experience.

11
Jan

Remembering Salzburg, Austria

In 1987, my daughter and I traveled to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I kept a diary during that two week journey. Here are the entries from Salzburg, Austria.

Walking through the streets of Salzburg is like walking back into history. One sees houses with flower boxes, painted scenes on the exterior walls of the buildings, church steeples, roofs of clay tiles and bell towers. The streets are cobbled and many of the windows are made of leaded glass.

There are vineyards up on a nearby hillside and an ancient ivy covered building with sagging tile roof across the courtyard lends a medieval flavor to the view. Church spires peak out above the red tile rooftops on nearby houses and unconsciously we scan the faces of the passersby, perhaps expecting to see Mary Poppins. Dates carved on the churches range from the year 1200-1400. One church is said to be 1000 years old.

A kitty sits atop a nearby rooftop, meowing piteously, as tourists peer up and try to decide if he is stuck, hungry, or just bored and teasing the tourists.

We drive along a river and follow a road up the side of a grape-laden hillside to the very top. Below us, a park follows the curve of the river. We can see the tiny train below and churches steeples scattered among the rooftops. A storm is brewing and the sky darkens with rain clouds as we stand atop the mountain, looking down over the city which for hundreds of years is unchanging.

Yes, as modern times came, freeways and electric wires approached the city, the merchandise sold in the stores has changed, and automobiles replaced the horse carriages, which once clip-clopped along the cobbled streets. The narrow lanes remain the same, the lovely churches, fortresses, palaces, and hillsides are unchanged. The city will tolerate progress but it will not give in to it. Our modern conveniences are an intrusion on its medieval splendor.

Visitors from the United States marvel at the unchanging and apparently timelessness of this beautiful country. The land stretches out unspoiled as we compare it to our familiar busy cities. The mountains beckon hikers upward into the cold clean air. Though there are industrial areas, much of the land is still in its wilderness state, as it was at the moment of creation, lush and green and seemingly immune to modern marvels.

In the town of Salzburg, there is a town square where a street musician plays Ave Maria on a violin. Above us pigeons fly from rooftop to rooftop and the music echoes around the courtyard. I let my mind wander and it is easy to imagine the town filled with people coming and going up and down the tiny cobbled streets in horse drawn carts. Over here would be a peddler selling vegetables, and over there a princess is escorted by her ladies-in-waiting. Over here a group of soldiers march down the street, straight and tall, tired from slaying dragons on the hillsides.

Another day and music might have filled this same courtyard, not from the church but from the house down the street where a thin young boy named Mozart plays the harpsichord and writes melodies that will one day make him famous, even several hundred years later.
Over there a beggar sits by the church wall and begs for alms. Many pass him by, even as today, so many hungry people walk our streets and though we call ourselves “more civilized,” how many of us are guilty of turning away?

A horse cart clip-clops by, bringing me back to today as the last beautiful strains of Ave Maria fade into the sky. We give the musician money and move off down the street where we buy a watercolor painting of the church from a local street artist.

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.

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.

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