2

  

May we always keep the true meaning of Christmas
in our hearts; and may we share the warmth and joy
of this glorious season throughout the whole year.





THE WONDER OF
CHRISTMAS







( YOUR mail goes here )





A SPECIAL CARD



The Monday before Christmas, I went to a cookie party at my friend Gayle's house. It was a special one this year, because it was her 20th year.  She shared an old Christmas card with us that she had received 31 years ago. Every year she put it on the mantel as a reminder of what the true meaning of Christmas is.

When she was 17, she was pregnant with her first daughter and working in a little diner.  It was 4pm Christmas Eve and she was just about ready to get off work, when a lady came into the diner.  She had been crying and was very upset.  Gayle asked her what was the matter, and she said her husband had picked up his check from work and took off.  She had no money for Christmas gifts for her 3 children and she just didn't know what to do. She had nothing for them.

Gayle reached into her apron pocket and gave her the $4 she had made in tips that day and said, "Here, it is not much, but use this."

The lady was ever so grateful, and said "Thank you so much," and left the diner and went to the Woolworth store down the street.

When Gayle got home that night, she told her husband and the family what she had done.  They all told her how stupid she was and she would never hear from that lady again.

A couple of weeks after Christmas, the lady came back to the diner with a box for Gayle.  She said it was not much, but she was so grateful to Gayle for helping her to give her children "something" for Christmas. Inside the box was a handmade card, thanking Gayle for her generosity at Christmas, and how much it meant to her and her children.  Without Gayle, they would have not had any gifts.

Gayle said there was nothing that lady could have brought her that would have meant as much as that card did -- knowing that she helped someone who really needed help.  There is nothing like the feeling of giving, that can make you feel so good inside.

When Gayle told us the story that night, it brought tears to everyone's eyes.  She said she always displays the card at Christmas and tells this story to remind us all of what Christmas is really about.

             -- Elaine Marty       



THE LITTLE PRESENT

It was a little present... that was underneath the tree.
Nobody even noticed it... it was so hard to see.
All the gifts were opened... and we thought we got them all.
We had missed the little present... because is was very small.

We did not see who put it there... it wasn't seen before.
It wasn't something one of us... had purchased at a store.
We didn't know who it was from... or to whom it should go.
There was no tag with writing on it... how were we to know?

I took the little present... to see what was wrapped inside.
And found a note addressed to me... the year my Dad had died.
My father loved surprises... even to his dying day.
I had a feeling this was one... here's what he had to say.

I don't know when you'll get this he said... in a year or two,
But there will be a Christmas Day... that I won't be with you.
So every year when you took down... and put away your tree,
I taped this little package on it... where you couldn't see.

I knew there'd be a Christmas Day... when I was not around.
I knew the tape would not hold long... the present would fall down.
Then on that Christmas Day... you'll see the present by the tree.
You'll open it not knowing... that the present was from me.

You know I love surprises... and I know you love them too.
I just thought some Christmas morn... I'd leave this one for you.
You know I'll always be with you... I love you very much.
I just thought I'd leave for you... this little Christmas touch.

I laid the note under the tree... and paused to dry my eyes.
My father always loved to give... the very last surprise.

           -- James "PoppyK" Kisner   <PoppyK1@aol.com>
PoppyK is a renowned poet and a Heartwarmer Gem.  His works can be found at
his website at: http://www.thelaughin.com/poppy.htm  
or at his Themestream location at:  http://www.aristatech.com/v

 

 

FAMILY TIES

Shivering, cold and frightened, five-year-old Tom stood outside a shack he knew as home.

Many nights his stomach had a gnawing sensation, due to lack of food, because his alcoholic father spent his meager earnings on liquor. At the time he didn't truly understand all that was happening.  Strangers were hovering around talking about taking he and his sisters to a strange place in Arkansas.

Everything had been a whirl of confusion since his mama died.   Now the landlord had thrown all their belongings out on the cold street.

This event happened to my dad 65 years ago, never to be forgotten. Using oxygen, struggling and gasping for breath, he slowly related to me this boyhood memory:

I moved to Arkansas to live with my aunt and uncle.  My older brother R.J., lived with our alcoholic father in a shack in Houston.  When I turned thirteen I longed to see my brother.  I lived with an irate jealous cousin, which finally caused me to pack a few belongings into a cardboard box, and hop a bus to Houston.  Humidity hung around me like a cloak.  The bus fumes made the ride exhausting.  Arriving in Houston I trudged the few blocks to my brother's house.

Not having informed R.J. that I was coming, I hesitantly approached the doorstep.  When R.J. opened the door I yelled out, "If you don't want me to live with you then I'll just leave!'"

My dad stopped his story at this point to compose himself from the painful memories.  I could hear the sound hissing from his compressor as oxygen ran through the hoses at my feet providing him with life-giving breath.  Slowly and deliberately my dad resumed his story.

My brother R.J. owned a large house and he and our father lived in the shack out back of the main house and rented the main house to the Harm family for extra income.  Later, after I arrived, R.J. made arrangements with them to feed me in exchange for their rent.  Since I was young, I couldn't understand why I always ate at the Harm's home.  I remembered
there was always activity in the kitchen, especially during the holidays. Light danced in everyone's eyes and steps were quickened with anticipation during the Christmas season.   Tacking up mistletoe and decorations, or wrapping gifts to put under the tree, kept everyone busy.

The crackling of the fireplace could be heard faintly in the background as Mrs. Harm laid steaming hot dishes on the table.  The Christmas turkey was golden brown, with all the fixings, and fresh vegetables were steaming hot.   Baked pies cooled on the windowsill.  Mrs. Harm stayed in the kitchen all day until finally she yelled, "Come and get it while it's hot!"  She was known in the neighborhood for her delicious meals.

After we said grace, with hushed tones and bowed heads, I piled helpings of food onto my plate.  The Harm children were finicky eaters, though, and after a few bites they jumped up to leave and yelled, "Tom, let's go!"   Reluctantly after eating only a few bites, I got up.

The Harms had four children and we constantly played together.   We left the house to explore the nearby town.

We had spotted the Western Flyer bicycle at a nearby store and all of us had fallen in love!  With wide eyes, noses pressed the window, our breath fogged up the pane as we said, "Look!  It has the American flag painted on the fenders and white mud flaps!"  We could travel far if we had one of those!  But being poor, I knew down in my heart that my brother would not be able to buy my dream bicycle.  If they got their bicycles, I wouldn't be able to catch up.   We walked wherever we needed to go.

Days later, on that memorable Christmas Day, Mr. Harms announced he heard Santa on the front porch.  We kids went running outside to find brand new Western flyers.  But my heart fell to my feet as I counted only four bikes on the front porch.  Joyfully they jumped on their newfound gifts and sped away, leaving me behind.  They yelled out, "Tom look at us!"

Dishearted, I turned to go back to the house.  Around the side of the house I spied my brother R.J. pushing a polished, new Western Flyer bicycle.  A sequence of brain waves happened in a split second.  This was MY bike!

Quickly, I jumped on the bike and sped off to catch up with the others.

In the days following, we excitedly rode 15 miles away and explored the neighboring countryside.  Our world opened up to new sights, smells and experiences.  Neighborhood dogs yelped.  The world whizzed by in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes.  Smells of cut grass and barbecue grills wafted into our nostrils.  Later, I found out the Harms children knew about my bike.

How did my brother afford that bicycle?  I knew my brother would not have sacrificed and purchased my bike except that the other children received theirs that special Christmas.  Out of compassion, R.J. realized what devastation it would have on me, his little brother, if I didn't own a bike of my own.  I don't remember thanking him for my bike.

As my dad finished his story, a serenity and glow settled upon his face.  The evening sun was falling across his bed.  The lines in his face seem to soften as he sunk deep into thought.  He finally verbalized his feelings of those days gone by which brought relief to his soul.  It stood as the very foundation of who he became and the values he held dear.  His very existence pivoted on the fact that family and home was so important.

In the twilight years of my dad's life, he has taught me the importance of family ties.  Devotion and love can transcend time.  It can provide a constant source of unlimitless direction and inspiration which will last a lifetime.

This truth has provided guidance to me and one that I will forever treasure and hold dear to my heart.  
-- Virginia Rodriguez  <nitewriter@home.com>

 


* An Award Winning Heartwarmer *

CHRISTMAS LOVE

Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience.

I had cut back on nonessential obligations -- extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending.  Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.

My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year.  It was an exciting season for a six year old.  For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's "Winter Pageant."  I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd be working the night of the production.

Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher.   She assured me there'd be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.

So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in 10 minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down.  Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats.  As I waited, the students were led into the room.  Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor.  Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song.  Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as "Christmas", I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment -- songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer.  So, when my son's class rose to sing, "Christmas Love", I was slightly taken aback by its bold title.

Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads.

Those in the front row -- center stage -- held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song.

As the class would sing "C is for Christmas", a child would hold up the letter C.  Then, "H is for Happy", and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, "Christmas Love".

The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her -- a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down -- totally unaware her letter "M" appeared as a "W".

The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one's mistake.  But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W".

Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together.

A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen.  In that instant, we understood -- the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities.

For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:  CHRIST WAS LOVE.

And, I believe, He still is.   
-- Candy Chand    <PatCan85@aol.com>

Candy says:  "This happened when my son was in Kindergarten, two years ago. There were a few hundred people in the audience -- teachers, kids and a few parents, who saw this happen.  The school is North Country Elementary School in Antelope, California, where we used to live."
- IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT ~~~ Just released! Candy Chand's new book of miraculous true stories is finally out!   "Under God's Wings" is a perfect gift -- for yourself or others!   Get is this convenient Amazon website or bookstore. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580624286/heart

 

 

A Cop's Christmas
An Original Christmas Story by Chip Ciammaichella

It was just after 11 p.m. when the call came over the radio. The reflection of the city lights made the falling snow look like a million points of light, drifting slowly toward the frozen ground. The cop debated with himself whether he should respond to the call; a burglar alarm at a nearby department store. His shift change was less than an hour away, if someone indeed had broken into the store; the paperwork involved would take hours.

Sal wanted to get off at a reasonable hour for a change, after all it was Christmas Eve and he still had to get presents for his kids. "The alarm was probably set off by an employee locking up." thought Sal as he maneuvered the well-used vehicle toward the department store.

"I'll never make it to the store, I guess I can just give the kids cash this year. They never like my presents anyway and Maria wouldn't appreciate me barging into her house at two in the morning anyway."

When Sal arrived at the department store, the building was dark and the area was quiet. As Sal circled the patrol car around the building, the falling snow swirled like a tornado through the beam of his spotlight. At the rear of the building, the spotlight's reflection was engulfed by the darkness of an open garage door. Sal radioed for backup, and exited the warm car to investigate.

As Sal approached the dark void of the open door, he noticed a single set of footprints in the fresh snow. The prints led into the building, but not out again. Sal clutched his large mag-light firmly in his left hand, while with his right he felt the inadequate security of his service revolver, holstered at his side. Sal began to sweat as his mind flashed back to another dark building, on another Christmas Eve.

Ten years earlier, Sal had responded to a break-in of a liquor store. As he entered the darkened store a bright flash blinded him. Sal heard a loud crack of a pistol as his body was hurled to the ground by the force of the bullet's impact into his chest. Although his kevlar vest had saved his life that night, the force of the bullet still cracked three ribs and knocked the wind out of the shocked officer.

Sal's survival instincts, honed by three combat tours in Vietnam, prevented him from losing consciousness and gave him the strength to bring his service revolver to bear. His last remembrance was of firing his revolver towards the flash, and unknown to him, killing his attacker.

The flashlight was discarded as Sal entered the department store. He crouched just inside the doorway and allowed his eyes to become accustomed to the ebony darkness of the store.

During Sal's seventeen years on the police force, this particular store had been burglarized on many occasions. As his eyes made out a dim outline of the store, Sal remembered where the main lighting circuit breaker was located.  As the officer carefully inched his way toward the breaker box, he felt a twinge of pain in his ribs where he had been shot ten years ago. He winced as he remembered being released from the hospital, and how the pain from his wounds paled in comparison to the heartache he felt when he found his wife and kids had left him.

Sal wasn't surprised that Maria had taken the kids and gone. Their life together had started badly and just gotten worse. Sal could never bring himself to share with her the horrors that tortured his mind, and she felt rejected. He felt that his experiences as a cop, as well as a soldier, were not understandable to anyone, even himself. Maria watched over the years, as Sal became distrustful and cynical. She watched, as he became more and more dependent on work and a bottle of Jim Beam for solace. By the time she had taken the kids and left, Sal and Maria were little more than strangers sharing the same house.

Sal reached the light box and threw the switch. When the bright lights illuminated the building, he heard the sound of footsteps running out the door he had entered. As he rushed back to the open door, another patrol car was just pulling up. While the other officers jumped out of their cruiser, Sal hollered, "Did you guys see anyone running away when you pulled up?"  One of the newcomers on the scene, a portly officer who had a reputation for enjoying more than his share of donuts, replied with a sneer, "No Sal, we didn't see nobody. Whats a matter, did the little punk get away from ya?"

Sal didn't reply as the other officers laughed and snickered. Angrily he turned his attention to the footprints leading into and out of the building. As Sal studied the details of the prints that were not his own, slowly his anger was replaced by a confident grin. "Maybe the punk got away, and maybe he didn't. You guys stay here until the manager arrives, I'm going for a little walk." As an afterthought, he looked at his fat cohort. "Why don't you make yourself useful and follow me in my car?"

As Sal followed the footprints embedded in the freshly fallen snow, he thought to himself, "Shoot, this is easier than tracking a wounded buck. Of course if I were trackin' a buck, I'd be better armed, and bucks don't shoot back."  The trail ended only about a block and a half away, at the doorway of a dilapidated bungalow. As Sal climbed the porch stairs, he noticed the same set of footprints had obviously exited the residence earlier in the evening as the snow now nearly covered the older prints. "Gotcha." Sal whispered into the cold night air.

Sal rapped sharply on the door then stepped back off to the side, revolver ready. Inside the house Sal could hear the whining voice of a boy followed by the sharp voice of an angry woman. He heard the rattle of the knob, as he watched the door open spilling light over the porch. A plain, tired looking woman stood in the doorway dressed in a tattered bathrobe, rollers in her mousy blonde hair. Behind her, with a look of horror and shame etched across his face, was a boy of about twelve years old. Before Sal could speak, the woman greeted him with a strained voice, "Merry Christmas officer, please come in."

As he entered the house, Sal noticed a garbage bag sitting against a wall. An expensive mink coat was visible at the top of the bag. As Sal's eyes became adjusted to the dim lights of the house, he observed more details about the house and its occupants.  The house was devoid of furniture, except for a well worn three legged couch. The bare wooden floors were covered with strewn clothing and garbage. Roaches climbed freely on the stained walls, and the stench of old trash permeated the chilly air. Sal glanced into the kitchen and noticed that the dented door of the rusted oven was wide open and the burners were all turned on, the only source of heat for the home.

As Sal turned to face the boy and the woman, movement from the doorway caught his eye. Peeking around the door were the doe-like eyes of three little girls. Sal winked at them as he addressed the woman. "Ma'am, I have reason to believe that your boy there forcibly entered the Sears store over on 110th Street. I'll bet my left eye that that stuff in that garbage bag there was stolen from that store."

The woman did not speak and tears began to roll from her bloodshot eyes. She turned to the boy and gave him an icy stare. The boy choked back sobs as he spoke. "I took dat stuff from dat store officer. My mama an' sisters needed presents for Christmas. My mama ain't got no money, and everyone knows dat Santa ain't real. I just figured that everyone else done already got their presents, and dat big store wouldn't miss a few things."

Sal steeled himself from the boy's innocent tear filled eyes. "Don't let the kid's words get you all mushy." Sal thought to himself, "Everyone's got a sob story, but it doesn't mean they're above the law." Sal gave the boy his most intimidating stare as he removed his handcuffs from his belt.  Sal continued his glare as he addressed the boy's mother. "I'm gonna have to take the boy to the station ma'am. If you can get a sitter for your girls, I'll allow you to go with him."  A look of horror came into the woman's eyes when Sal added, "I could always call Social Services if you can't get a sitter." The look in her eyes told Sal that the woman was more afraid of Social Services than of the police.

Before the woman could reply, Sal began handcuffing the boy, but before he was finished the three little girls rushed into the room with tears streaming down their cheeks. "Please don't take Martin to jail Mr. Policeman!" cried the oldest girl. "Santa won't take him no presents in jail." Sal could not look into the eyes of the girls and was relieved when their mother scolded them and herded them off into the bedroom.

As the woman tended to her children, Sal inspected the items in the garbage bag. It contained some dolls, girl's clothing, an expensive necklace, and the mink coat. Sal noted that not one of the items was something a teenaged boy would want. "The boy probably got scared off before he could get his own loot." Sal muttered under his breath.

When the woman reentered the room, she seemed to have regained her composure. As Sal took the boy by the arm to lead him out the door, the woman spoke. "Martin ain't a bad boy officer. He only gets onto trouble because he ain't got no man around to tan his fanny."  Sal asked, "So where is the boy's father ma'am?" As soon as the words were spoken, he wished he had kept his big mouth shut. "Now I'm gonna get the sob story." he thought as he turned to the woman and listened.

"Martin's daddy was a no good bum. He weren't ever good at nothin' but drinkin' and usin' drugs, and beatin' up on me. He seemed to try to be a good husbin after Martin was born, but his friends and da drugs made sure dat was short lived." The woman paused, then continued somewhat bitterly, "When Martin was only two years old, on Christmas Eve, his daddy was killed by the police while robbin' a likker store. Since then I been through dozens of men an' jobs tryin' to get by. I never took no welfare..."

The woman went on with her story but Sal was no longer listening. In his mind he remembered his own experience in a liquor store, ten years ago tonight. He remembered that he never even saw the person he shot and had refused to look at his mug shots afterward. The pain in his ribs returned, and Sal felt like he would vomit at any second. "It couldn't be the same guy." thought Sal, "Even if it was, he shot me first and I just shot at whatever shot at me." Sal had never even thought of the burglar that had injured him as a real person. Until now he had never contemplated the fact that the person might have had a life, let alone a family. The repressed feelings inside Sal seemed to erupt like a volcano. He turned away from the eyes of the woman and the boy, hoping that they could not read his thoughts.

"I fetched Martin's toothbrush. Can he take it with him?" asked the woman, her voice not much more than a whisper.

In that second, something inside of Sal snapped. All the pain, sorrow  and agony of his past seemed to be lifted from his heart, and he knew what he had to do.  "No." Sal replied curtly to the woman's question.  Sal turned to the boy and began removing his handcuffs. "I'm going to give you a break, boy." He exclaimed in his best command voice. "But if I ever catch you so much as spitting on the street, I'll lock you up and throw away the key."

Neither the boy nor his mother could say a word. They just stared at Sal with amazement and gratitude. Sal continued, "Now you take this key and put all of the stuff you stole into the trunk of my car outside, and tell my fat partner that I'll answer all of his questions later." When the boy hesitated, Sal barked, "Go on and do it before I change my mind!" As the boy ran out the door, garbage bag in tow, Sal reached into his pocket and turned to the woman. The policeman stared at the floor as he placed a wad of money into the woman's hand. "Ma'am, I want you to use this money to get you and your kids something nice for Christmas. I don't tolerate stealing, but it is Christmas and kids deserve to have a nice Christmas."

The boy returned giving Sal back his keys. The woman still had not spoken and Sal could not look at her. "Don't think that you're getting away with anything." Sal said firmly to the boy. "I'm going to be coming around here quite a bit to make sure you tow the line. I'm sure I can find a hundred chores around here for you to do to pay for your crime."

As Sal turned his attention from the boy, his eyes met those of the woman. Her eyes were wet with tears and expressed a mixture of gratitude, sorrow, and Sal even thought...pity. He quickly avoided the woman's eyes and started for the door. "Merry Christmas!" he bellowed as he walked through the door and out into the snowy night air.

As he walked to his car, Sal thought he heard the woman say, "God bless you," but the words were barely loud enough to overcome the thunderous beating of his heart.

Sal knew that he bore no responsibility for the state of existence of Martin and his family, but at the same time, he wanted to help.  "Maybe I want to help these people to make up for all the people I couldn't help," Sal said to himself as he got into his patrol car. "Or maybe it was just the right thing to do."

As Sal closed the door, he thought he heard the tinkle of sleigh bells overhead. As he looked up, he caught a shadow moving swiftly through the snowy night. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "Got to start sleeping better," he thought as the patrol car eased into the night. He gave his fat partner a look that made it no secret that questions were not welcome, as they made their way through the snowy Cleveland streets back to the stationhouse.

When the patrol car pulled into the underground garage of the police station, Sal took the keys and went to the trunk to retrieve the stolen merchandise, as the fat man made a beeline for the cafeteria. As he put the key into the trunk, he glanced at his watch and grimaced.  "Damn, all the stores are closed by now...guess the kids are gonna have to get cash this Christmas."  His mood darkened, because he knew that his son had wanted Ninja Turtles, and his daughter wanted a boom box presents he had promised Maria he would buy.  "Just call me Father of the Year, I guess," he mumbled as he raised the trunk.

As he pulled the trash bag of stolen goods from the car, he noticed two additional packages also lay in the trunk; packages that were not part of the stolen goods, and not there when he went on duty earlier that evening. His face turned bright red as he noticed that one was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action set, and the other a small Sony portable stereo/tape player. At first he thought that his fat friend may have actually thought of something more than donuts and gone to the department store for him as he reclaimed the stolen merchandise, until a note attached to the boom box caught his eye.

You did a family a great service tonight, and I hope you will do one for me as well. I am way behind this year, so could you please deliver these to your children for me. Merry Christmas. Kris Kringle

A few moments later, two officers just coming on duty were dumbfounded as they found Sal lying on the concrete floor, laughing hysterically and singing jingle bells as if he had been drinking. They were even more shocked when he jumped up and hugged them both, screaming "Merry Christmas!!" before running into the station house like a madman, a twinkle in his eye that he hadn't had in years. 
-author unknown -

 

 

The two missing verses of Longfellow's poem

CHRISTMAS BELLS
by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, 1864

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
  And wild and sweet
  The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
  Had rolled along
  The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, swinging on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
  A voice, a chime,
  A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South
  And with the sound
  The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
  And made forlorn
  The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
  "For hate is strong
  And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
"God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
  The Wrong shall fail,
  The Right prevail,
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"





WITH MY FAMILY

Growing up in a Jewish family on Long Island, we celebrated the usual major Jewish holidays of the year -- Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Passover.

We also celebrated Christmas.

Not in the way that Christians do; there was no Christmas tree in our home, no attendance at Church on Christmas morning, no excited anticipation waiting for Santa Claus to arrive down the chimney.  But celebrate Christmas, we did.

On Long Island there was a long standing tradition for the local Jews, something I looked forward to every year.  On Christmas day, we would gather together with many of the other Jews in town at the local Chinese restaurant, which did a brisk business.  It was the only time of the year when we could look around the restaurant and feel like the majority, because except for the occasional Oriental face, most of the faces we gazed upon were decidedly Jewish.

After consuming our meal, we would head to the other big activity of the day the movie theater.  Every year on Christmas day, the movie theater would open as usual, attracting large crowds of Jews who would pour through the turnstile for their afternoon's entertainment.  Since going to the movies as a family was not something we ordinarily did, I looked forward to Christmas day movies probably almost as much as some of our Christian neighbors looked forward to presents underneath the tree.

One Christmas day stands out in my memory...

I was seventeen and in the throes of adolescent rebellion.   I was stuck at the hip to the current love of my life, a blond haired blue eyed hunk named Ken MacDonald.  He was without question, not Jewish.  Much to my parent's dismay, I'm sure, none of my boyfriends were even remotely Jewish.

On this particular Christmas, I announced to my family that I would NOT be partaking in the usual family celebration of Christmas.  I had better things to do with my time I would be joining my boyfriend Ken with his family for their Christmas holiday.  Now, understand, this was not just like I was saying to my folks, "I won't be home tonight."  We had celebrated Christmas together as a family since I was born.

Out the door I marched, to spend the day with Ken and his family.  I wouldn't be surprised if my mom or dad had a tear in their eye as I went, but they stayed silent.  I planted myself on Ken's couch and watched the Christmas festivities all around me the opening of the presents, the festive meal, and so on.  And... I was miserable.

All I could think about is what my family was doing at that moment, and how much I missed being with them.  This feeling surprised me at that tender age, when I scarcely wanted to be with family at all.  What could compare to spending the day with the boy I was gaga over?

Suddenly, sitting right on Ken's sofa, I broke out in tears. I babbled something incoherent to Ken about realizing that I really needed to be with my family on that special day.  I'm sure he really didn't understand.  I'm not sure that I did.  I swallowed my pride and called my parents, meekly asking if it was too late for me to accompany them on their Christmas day venture.  Of course they were delighted to hear from me and immediately included me in their day.

I don't remember the movie we saw that night, or the Chinese meal I'm sure we enjoyed.  But now, twenty-four years later, I still remember the feeling of knowing that I belonged with my family on this very special holiday.

              -- Azriela Jaffe    <azriela@mindspring.com>   [story reprint courtesy of http://www.heartwarmers.com/]
Azriela Jaffe is the editor of the Heartwarmers books and the author of a brand new book, Create Your Own Luck, which can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580624154/heart

 

 

EASY-BAKE CHRISTMAS

[courtesy of http://www.heartwarmers.com/]

In 1968 I was the only 8-year-old girl on the block without an Easy-Bake Oven.

While Mary Lynn created cakes with fudgy chocolate frosting, and Lori popped out a fresh batch of tiny sugar cookies, the only things I produced were pouty lips and crocodile tears.

"An Easy-Bake Oven is nonsense," Mom lectured, "you can help me bake cookies in the big oven."

"It's not the same," I'd scowl while yanking the hair on my blond Barbie doll.

This went on for four years.  Finally, at age 12, my friends were allowing their Easy-Bake ovens to collect dust, as boys and Bobby Sherman records took over our lives.

Now, as an adult, I've come to realize what a great childhood I was lucky enough to have.  There was no divorce, violence, or tragedy to overcome from my growing up years.  We lived a middle class life with a nice home and plenty of food, clothes, and toys.  I realize that many of the things I took for granted while growing up, would be seen as luxuries to a child from a poor, violent, or broken home.

I've also come to appreciate that while I didn't get everything I asked for as a child (back to the Easy-Bake oven again.) I was lucky enough to get love, time, and attention from my parents and siblings.  In light of that, I was kind of surprised by my own reaction last Christmas when my boss mentioned he was buying an Easy-Bake oven for his little niece.

It kind of made me jealous!

Of course, as I relayed the tale of my Easy-Bakeless childhood, he was falling on the floor in laughter.  "Fine," I thought, "no one really understands me."

Guess what, I was wrong!

Fastforward to this past August when I was just a little bummed out about the advent of my 40th birthday.  Do you blame me?  Let's face it, 40 is getting old!

Anyhow, I walked into the office that day to have my boss greet me with a box wrapped in purple Snoopy paper.

"How sweet of him to get me a present," I thought as I ripped into Snoopy and Linus.

As the paper came off, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, as there before my big green eyes stood the lovely pink and purple box containing an Easy-Bake oven!

That gift truly made my day, but believe it or not I haven't baked a tiny little cake yet.  In fact, I've asked my boss if he'd mind if I donated the gift to the local "Toys for Tots" program this Christmas.  He told me to do what feels right, so of course, I'm going to march down to the "Toys for Tots" box and proudly add my treasure to the collection.

It warms my heart to know that this Christmas some sweet little girl will have her cake... and eat it too!
    -- Darlene Buechel

 

 

[courtesy of http://www.heartwarmers.com/]

REUNION

"How are you feeling today, Pops?" I say to my grandpa as I bend over and give him a kiss hello.

"With my hands," he says.  I smile like I always do, as if I didn't know that was coming.

That conversation took place on one of his good days.  He had them every now and then.  With cancer in his lungs, maybe elsewhere, he had a long road ahead of him.  Grandpa didn't want any further testing or biopsies.  Nobody could blame him.  None of us wanted to see him go through anything he didn't want to.  The doctors gave him six months to live.

After my grandmother suddenly passed away, we all thought he would stop fighting and let go.  He didn't.  His three daughters and two sons, who lived in the area, took shifts each day to care for him.  The grandchildren, including me, would come in the evenings to watch him.  It was a battle for everyone.  Especially for grandpa.

"Who are you?" he asked me one evening.  "I don't know who you are." Surprised, I told him my name, gave him a hug and walked away so he wouldn't see the tears in my eyes.

When I was younger, it was always a treat for me being at grandpa's house.  Waking up to the smell of french toast in the air, he'd make more than enough and would always say, "Eat some more!"  Later in the evening, I would sit on the floor in front of his rocking chair and he would scratch my back as we watched television.  I had always felt special around him.

One day, he started calling me, "Bunny," a nickname that stayed with me during the years.  And each time he called me that, I would feel the easiness of a little girl at grandpa's house, sitting on the porch, him reading his newspaper and me coloring pictures for him to hang on his refrigerator door.

When he began to lose weight, it frightened me.  At 87 years old, grandpa's once large stomach was gone.  But he continued to eat his meals and take himself to the bathroom.  Even when he couldn't hear that well, he watched ball games on television.  "You control the remote," he'd say to my husband, "And you answer the phone if it rings," he'd instruct me.  Always in charge. Always making me smile with his kidding statements.

It was hard on him because he didn't want to burden anybody.   And it was tough on the family too, arranging schedules so somebody was there at all times.  It became especially difficult for my aunts and uncles to spend the night with him and leave their own families at home.  But nobody complained.  Everyone loved him and they were going to stick by him, thick or thin, until it was his time to go.

But then on Christmas Eve, his time came.

Although he lived 12 months longer than the doctor's expectation, it was still painful to see him go.  I had visited him the day before.  By then, my aunt had moved him into her house to make it easier on everyone. The tall Christmas tree stood in the corner of the living room, tightly wrapped presents lay snuggly under it, and her fluffy cat tried to stay out of sight.  I sat with grandpa, took his hand into mine and rubbed it gently.  Occasionally, he would squeeze my hand, or try and talk to us, though at times, it was difficult to understand him.  That day, he didn't know who I was and I felt disappointed, though I knew it wasn't his fault.

"You know who this is?" my aunt yelled to him.

"You're one of my daughters," he said as more of a question than an answer.  Maybe he saw my mother in me.  She died when I was six years old of leukemia.  He told us that she was waiting for him in heaven. There's no doubt in my mind that she was.

I sat there with him until it was time for the nurse to feed him.   Out visiting with my other relatives, we'd reminisce of days long ago with him. No matter what the memory, we'd always be laughing in the end.  I left that day knowing I was never going to see him again.

Late in the evening I got the phone call that grandpa died. And as I hung up the phone and wiped the tears from my eyes, my husband said, "It'll be a good Christmas present for your mom and grandma."

And he was right.

I never would forget the hurt I felt that day.  I was going to miss him more than ever.  Yet now, I could see my grandma and mother with him celebrating, and that thought made me smile.  His being able to spend a Christmas with my mother again was something he had to wait 19 years for, and that was a reunion long overdue.
            
-- Lynn M. Lombard     <douglynn1@juno.com
Lynn is a Heartwarmer Gem and is a legal administrative assistant.  Writing has been a love of hers since she was a young girl and she has been published in The Buffalo News, True Romance, True Love, The Rose and Thorn, and with Blue Mountain Arts.

 

[courtesy of http://www.heartwarmers.com/]
We've got to build a better person,
before we can build a better society.

A WORKING HOLIDAY

The grocery store is common ground for most of us.  The difference is the uncommon stories we carry in our hearts as we go about the business of shopping for our daily bread.

On my last visit to the local grocer, an elderly lady said, "Excuse me," and asked if I knew where she could find the ground pork.  As I helped her scout the meat cooler, she told me she needed the pork to make her annual meat pies.

"I'm making them early this year.  My two children and their families are going away for Christmas."

Our search for the pork slowed down as our conversation progressed. Her husband, Jack, had passed away in the spring.  The children wanted to cancel their holiday vacation and stay home, but she insisted they go, and made Christmas plans of her own.

"I'm not having a tree or putting up decorations.  I've had more good Christmases than any one person could ever hope for.  This year, I'm giving back."

The week before Christmas, she's going to help a couple of organizations distribute food and gift baskets to the needy.  On Christmas Day, she's going to serve food at the Downtown Mission.  Her eyes were firm and clear as she spoke.  No sign of the sadness you'd expect to see in the eyes of a person about to spend their first Christmas alone after forty-one years of marriage.  I soon found out why.

"I'm giving myself as a Christmas present this year," she announced, and promptly burst into laughter.  The sound of it was contagious.  I laughed with her.

Then, making me privy to a delightful conspiracy, she whispered, "Everyone pats my hand and feels sorry for me.  They think I'll be all alone, that Jack won't be with me."

One look at the sparkle in her eyes, and I knew Jack had never left.

"He's had it pretty easy these last six months," she explained, "While he's been resting on his laurels and shootin' the breeze, I've continued to work my way through the days.  Look at me right now, trudging through the grocery store looking for pork."

Another round of laughter ensued.

"Fair's fair.  I'm putting Jack to work over the Christmas holidays."

We found the pork, eventually, and parted company.

So much love, life and laughter in one little lady the memory of our encounter will stay with me always.

I thought of her husband as I stood in the check-out line, and stifled a sudden urge to laugh.  "I hope you're getting plenty of rest Jack. You're definitely working this Christmas."

          -- Terri McPherson     <tmcphers@mnsi.net>
Terri lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.  She has two wonderful children, a five-year-old grandangel and a terrific husband.  She works as a Writer / Web Designer / Production Assistant for a local production company and teaches advanced clogging classes for the Border City Cloggers

 

 

 

As a single mom on a tight budget, I had begun my holiday shopping well before Christmas, collecting gifts for my two small daughters little by little.  As I accumulated clothing items, I hid the boxes underneath my bed.  The toys I shoved into the back depths of my dark and rather forbidding looking (thank goodness) closet.

Well, one day the girls got together and went on a hunting expedition to find their gifts.  Karen, my oldest, must have been about nine or ten at the time.  Always a wise little one, she led her younger sister Kendra, on the scouting trip through the house, exploring any and all nooks and crannies that might prove to be a suitable hiding place.  It didn't take them long to find the cache under the bed, whereupon they proceeded to sit on the floor and take out each little outfit, admire it, and replace it so neatly, I was none the wiser.  Just before Christmas, I carefully wrapped each and every article, never suspecting they'd already seen them all.

Christmas morning arrived, and these two crafty little girls kept up the charade.  What a couple of little actresses I had!  They opened the gifts and Ooooh'ed and Aaaah'ed, looks of surprise and delight so well rehearsed I still didn't suspect a thing.  I never would have known if I hadn't overheard Kendra say to her big sister later that afternoon, "See, I told you there really is a Santa.  We only found clothes, but we got toys too!"

I developed a healthy respect for my daughters' resourcefulness that day, and made sure from then on I was a little more imaginative when hiding their gifts!

             -- Jane Bumpus    <jbumpus@ti.com> [courtesy of http://www.heartwarmers.com/]

 

 

THE PEEKER

Looking at her you would never suspect she was capable of such deeds.

A silver-haired Iowa woman of great style, impeccable manners, and a great-grandmother of five you normally don't expect someone her age to be one.  It is usually the young, cherub faced child that succumbs to the temptation, not the "little old lady" gnarled by arthritis who is afflicted with "sticky fingers".

But, alas, a "sticky fingered" peeker she was.

It all started several years ago during the holiday season.   Unable to make it home for Christmas, we decided to send my husband's 92-year-old grandmother a box which held twelve presents representing the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Labeling each present with a particular number, Grandma was instructed to open each on the prescribed day.

Things went well the first couple of days.  "I love the soap.  It smells so nice, like my Grandmother's own rose garden," she exclaimed in delight.

It wasn't until the third day that things began to seem amiss. "The candle looks so nice in the living room," she said. "It matches the color of the walls."

Odd, I thought.  The candle was gift number seven.  Oh well, maybe she just slipped up and opened it by mistake.  Just in case, I reiterated that she was to open each gift on the day marked.  For safe measure, I asked with the sternest voice I could muster, "You're not peeking, are you Grandma?"

"Who me?" she laughed.  "You don't really think I am capable of such a thing, do you?  Why, Santa's been coming to my house for 92 years because I've been such a good girl.  I'm sure he wouldn't come and visit me for Christmas if that were so.  No, I wouldn't dare chance such a thing, would you?"

Somewhat reassured, I was relieved when day four came and went without a hitch.  She loved the little silver bell engraved with the names of the grandchildren that would eventually become the centerpiece of her collection.

Day five arrived cold and bright.  "I really love the bedside light," she said with glee.

Strange, I thought.  I'm just sure that light was day eleven's gift. Obviously, a gotcha plan was in order.

The next day I called her and casually asked, "So, how did you like the scarf we sent?"

"Oh, it is so beautiful," she replied.  "It reminds me of all of the colors of fall."

Thoughts swirled around in my mind.  The scarf was present number ten but today was day six.  It just didn't make sense... and at her age.  She wouldn't... she couldn't... but indeed it appeared that... Grandma was a peeker!

"Grandma," I exclaimed.  "You've been peeking haven't you?  There's no sense denying it.  Today's present was supposed to be a picture of our family.  I've caught you with your hand in Santa's cookie jar!"

"Oh, all right.  I guess I must confess," she said with a sigh.  "I'm a peeker.  But what do you expect?  I'm 92 and may not live long enough to open all these gifts.  It would be a terrible waste of your time and money if I didn't get to enjoy all of this.  But don't worry.  After I opened all the presents that first day, I wrapped them back up so I could surprise myself all over again.  At my age my memory is not as good as it used to be so I get double the joy two presents for the price of one you might say. You should be happy that I've had this much fun.  Why, you can't even tell that the paper has been unwrapped and the tape has been moved.  Besides, it's kept me off the streets and I've done a pretty good job if I do say so myself."

So to all you shoppers out there who are giddy with anticipation of the forthcoming holiday season, I have a bit of advice.  Double wrap and use double-sided tape in order to lift the fingerprints of your own potential peeker.

For you just never know what form they will take or where they might lurk.

             -- Cheryl L. Dieter    <dieter@iafalls.com>
Cheryl lives in Alden, Iowa with her daughter Kylee and husband, Dave.  "We are in the midst of building a small winery so things are very busy in this neck of the woods.  When I read Grandma this story she giggled and told me "I never thought I would become famous for being a peeker.  What a thing to be remembered by!"

 

 

 

Life is changed,not taken away.
To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.




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