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Happy Christmas!

‘It is just a little over two weeks until Christmas…and we are woefully behind the production,’ Herman the Head Elf over Toy Production said. ‘The staff tells me that we needed more mallets and the trucks are delayed from our satellite facility in England,’ Margie said. ‘What is causing the delay,’ asked Santa? ‘The Elves who produce the toys want additional sick days…they say that with Covid that three days a year are not adequate, Margie answered. ‘I thought that we had provided unlimited paid sick days for Covid and health insurance to cover all of their medical needs,’ Santa asked with a concerned look. ‘Well you did…but your lieutenant Hortence stopped the order and changed it to three days sick leave and a two thousand dollar deductible…with no additional consideration for Covid, Margie bemoaned. ‘I saw Reuben this morning and he was coughing his head off…I gave him some Mucinex and told him to go home and get in his bed and to turn on his vaporizer,’ Santa said. ‘Hortense told me that the stockholders will not tolerate a drop in their stocks and thus she reduced your benefits package to fit their wishes,’ Margie said with a tear in her eye. ‘If my Elves are not happy…I am not happy…call a meeting,’ Santa roared with an angry glare!

Beauford spoke first at the Elves and Santa labor meeting. ‘Santa we love you and Mrs. Claus…you are like our mom and dad…and we love the children around the world…but we are hobbled by the Pandemic…and we are Elfian and we have feelings, Beauford said. ‘I have been riding my bicycle to work through the snow…and you know how much snow there is at the North Pole… the corduroy coat that you gave me twelve Christmases ago is threadbare…and I am cold all of the time,’ said Beuford.

Backster added, ‘Santa…do you how frigid it is when I am checking the Zip Lines for the gifts for the Kids… ‘I travel all over the midwest and south working with love in my heart for you and my colleague…and most of all for the children…but I became ill with Covid and now I am paying my medical bills on the installment plan…and you did not come to see me when I was in the hospital. ‘I keep telling the others that you must not realize the shape we are in…and you have often told us that we are essential employees…and you must not realize that we are treated like interlopers and visitors in our own Toy Factory,’ Backster added.

‘I speak with weeping mothers and sad children each day who do not believe in you any longer due to having received nothing for Christmas…and I tell them that you love them and that you see them and know of their requests…but I doubt the words that I am saying in my heart,’ Helena the Elf in charge of North Pole Public Relations said. ‘I have assured the sad parents and the lonely children that you will make a special visit to each of their homes this year…we Elves need your consideration and you and Mrs. Claus love to fulfill the awesome task…we have all worked silently…waiting for you to see us and hear us and know how much we love your mission and Christmas,’ Helena said in a whisper.

‘First I want all of the families that I have missed to be brought to the North Pole for a special Christmas Eve with Mrs. Claus and me…immediately there will be a pay raise of 50% for each of you and sick days will be taken from 3 to 30. with unlimited sick days for Covid or any serious disease…each of you shall join Me and Mrs. Claus in Florida in January…all expenses paid…and Hortence you are being reassigned to the factory floor and Reuben shall be the Head Elf over Finance.

There was joy at the North Pole at the changes that Santa had made. Untold numbers of families laughed and sang and had their hopes renewed when their own personal Elf sleigh driver came to their homes and chauffeured them to the North Pole to meet and enjoy Christmas Eve dinner with Santa and Mrs. Claus. They could not believe their good fortune when toys and great baskets of food and even money for medicine and heat…especially the families of the United Kingdom…and the Christmas Promise of more to come as they required additional funds to see them through the difficult winter.

Love Unspoken

The Holiday Season is in full bloom. We are scurrying about in the noble attempt to get everyone a Christmas Gift. From sizing rings to Vintage Santa Claus…it is Noel Immersion. Yes, we are thinking of those who are less fortunate and know that this is the epitome of the giving season. Christmas parties are abundant. We must have the perfect outfit for the joyous event. Hopefully, we can be clever and fluent in dry humor and appropriate quips. I remember with great pleasure this time of year when I was working at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. The time off from work was plentiful and greatly appreciated. For a number of years, we attended our friends’ Christmas Parties. Jo Ann and Peter knew how to throw a Christmas Party. They had the most glorious of Christmas Trees each year and vintage ornaments adorning them. Their parties were catered by Tom’s Place, a superb local restaurant with an award-winning chef. I strove to be a silk purse made out of a sow’s ear… The madrigal revelry was compelling…but the highlight of MJ and my visit was the few moments that we were able to spend with our friends…and the mutual affection that we had for each other.

I received my crown this morning, not for my head…but for my tooth. Dr. Jenny told me how much she enjoys looking at the photos I display on Facebook. Her heartfelt words made my day! Later this morning I texted my friend of over 50 years and told him that the photos that he sent MJ and me reminded us of the lovely time that we spent with them over Thanksgiving Week. Jeff wrote that he and Margo loved us…and I replied that MJ and I loved them as well and that old friends are the best.

There is no substitution for telling your family and friends how much you love and appreciate them. We want to…but we do not want to appear flaky or silly or have a blank stare returned to our loving gaze. Yet the Bible says that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver… I promise you that you will not receive a Christmas Gift that will touch your soul more than the words from the soul…the heart…of someone that you care about.


Genuine words of commendation and praise and affection can lift depression…give hope…and illuminate the path for 2023… You can be lonely in a crowd. You can feel forgotten and unseen and unheard in the midst of a throng of humanity. Soon we all will leave this mortal coil. We will discover the Big Secret…that none of us currently understands. Words of praise are melodious at funerals. People come that you would not have dreamed of coming…and they utter what the deceased person meant to them. I hope that somewhere they are listening…because they will be as surprised as anyone…

Perspective

I typed my first blog today on the Writing Porch…and it was much too cold to write the second from the December Chill. So I have been thinking about who is watching you and me. We often feel that we are islands in the sea of humanity and no one is noticing us or caring little about what we do. I read a study the other day that said that we live in our heads more now than we ever have. With IPads and iPhones and laptops and computers, we are preoccupied with our own world that is private before our eyes. Have you noticed that first-run movies spend a sparing amount of time in the theatre? They rapidly are moving to pay-per-view or Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. When you do make the somewhat dangerous journey to a restaurant for the fellowship of other customers and staff…and of course your friends or family…you may observe tables full of people who are all magnificently obsessed with their smartphones.

Perplexed I was many years ago when a fire alarm would sound in one of the Campus buildings when students seemed to not hear it and paid no attention to it. I would go from classroom to classroom to verbally warn the lethargic academics that a fire alarm was peeling and thus they must exit the building. Often the students would say that someone probably pulled the alarm as a prank and that it was no doubt a false alarm.

Watch what we do as life passes us by on our screens. Suffering and death and war and famine meld with computer games and Hollywood movies. Reality does not phase us if we do not feel it. We pass by the hungry and the cold and think about getting home to eat and warm up from the chill.

Perspective is everything. I have noticed when I am photographing an area that I have taken pictures in before that if I change my perspective I see an entirely new portrait. When I was a supervisor and then a manager/administrator at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale I strove to see colleagues’ points of view from their vantage point. Many times things appeared one way from the Superintendent’s Office and quite another way from my friends working in the University buildings. Rules and requirements seemed common sense as I comprised them from my office…but onerous and silly in the field.

Christmas brings us an opportunity to change our perspective. What is happening on our doorstep…who is suffering in our family…who is hungry and cold and lonely in our community.

Love is the answer…but we must first understand the question…

The Experiment

‘Well here it is the fifth of December and I still do not have my Christmas shopping done nor my holiday menu prepared…pour me another glass of Merlot,’ Neva J. announced. ‘I like the idea of having Christmas Dinner with the homeless at the Lions Club…first, we help prepare the feast and then we sit down with them and enjoy Christmas Dinner together,’ said Chet. ‘We all could go; Grandma A. and aunts Wanda and Vema and Guelda…along with cousin Gene and cousin Brenda,’ said a happy Billy B. ‘We could perform a Christmas Play for them…with props that were used last year in the Christmas performance of the It’s A Wonderful Life…there is still a lot of fake snow left,’ said Jane. ‘Dad has a Santa suit and a long white beard that stays on with glue,’ Daryl added. ‘I think that we should include the rumors that Santa was actually seen last year at Debbie’s house…she swears that she not only saw him but that they enjoyed milk and cookies together,’ Chet noted. ‘Poinsettas will be needed…and a lot of them…they add so much to the ambiance of the holiday,’ Neva J. laughed as she poured another glass of Merlot and one for each of the collaborators.

‘Did you hear that Cousin Freds is closing…and all of the staff are being laid off just before Christmas,’ Jane asked? ‘Cousin Freds is a great store…why they have a little bit of everything…a bit like Wal-Mart…which has not been realized as yet,’ Chet responded. ‘What will those poor people do…there is nowhere in our little town or the surrounding region that is hiring,’ Daryl mused. ‘Let us invite all of the laid-off Cousin Freds staff to join us in the Christmas Play and for Christmas Dinner at the Lions Club,’ Neva J. said with a hearty laugh! ‘We will have turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and pumpkin and pecan pie…and that is just for starters…the wine will flow and hot apple cider and a little Jack Daniels to help us through our celebration,’ Rosie proclaimed!

‘I would love for us to have a tribute to JFK…before the Play begins,’ said Rosie in view of his assassination just a few weeks before. ‘We not only will do so but we want you to read your poem that you wrote about what a wonderful President that he was,’ Neva J. said with a tear in her eye.

Christmas Day was here and Billy B. and Chet, Jane, Neva J., Rosie, and Daryl were busy at work in the kitchen of the Lions Club. They were assisted by Cousin Fred’s displaced staff and some little people dressed as Elves. Now, these little people that were dressed as Elves…did not break character…they spoke in the Elfian Language and answered in English only when requested. They moved so rapidly that it was difficult to follow their movements. They laughed and chittered a bit like squirrels. Chet heard one say something like ‘The Old Man will be here soon.’

As Rosie read her poetic tribute to JFK there was not a dry eye in the house.

‘I have not had such a fine Christmas Feast since I was a boy,’ said Earl who was homeless. ‘Back in those days we even had roasted chestnuts and Christmas Pudding…but then again I was raised in York, England,’ Earl continued. ‘Mum brought me to America and we lived with her Mum and my Grand Mum in Eldorado when it still had three Movie Houses…I worked in the Coal Mines…until they closed,’ Earl said with a deep sigh. ‘My wife left me and she took our little daughter with her…they moved to Chicago…and I have not seen them in some time,’ Earl said in no more than a whisper… ‘What I would give to see them again and tell them that if we had stayed together I believe that I could have found another job…and that we would have been alright,’ said Earl.

‘I hear that you are looking for Santa Claus said the ‘rotund little man with the pipe fastened securely between his teeth and the smoke encircling his head like a wreath…I have come to hear everyone’s Christmas wishes,’ the amazingly authentic Santa Portrayer said. The Cousin Freds staff noted that they were all out of work and that they did not know what they were going to do… Santa said that he had spoken to the Cousin Freds owners and showed them how to keep their budget in the black and that they were so happy that they were going to hire everyone back on Monday…the day after Christmas.

‘Earl…I have someone who wants to say hello to you…,’ Santa said. There was Earl’s wife and daughter and they ran to him and embraced him. ‘I am hiring you and anyone of the homeless who wants a job as Santa’s helpers in 1964…you can stay in Eldorado and work throughout Southern Illinois…as there are more than enough people that need your assistance,’ Santa laughed so hard that his ’round little belly shook like a bowl full of jelly!’

Suddenly Santa was gone and an angel was in the room. ‘Santa has many other stops today…but he says that if you need him he will be back,’ the angel said with a benevolent smile.

‘I know that this sounds impossible but I swear that I saw Santa change into the angel,’ Chet said…

The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth

The church service was lovely this morning. I have been zooming service for so long that I feel like a visitor when I am physically in the sanctuary. First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale knows how to do Christmas right. I will never forget my first year…24 years ago…when I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the Hanging Of The Greens and the majesty of all of the wonderful Christmas decorations throughout the building. That year Pastor Richard preached a Christmas Eve service that was reminiscent of Dickens London. I swear that I saw Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchitt sitting in the corner on the front row. I tend to feel a bit out of touch having been attending Zoom Church for so long due to our Pandemic. But there was Wendy who came up to Jonathon and me and greeted us so warmly that it felt like I had never been away.

When MJ and I and Aaron and Jonathon began attending First Pres in 1998 we were all younger…although I thought that I was old even then. The kindness of the congregation and their interest in our children and their demonstrated dedication to serving God and keeping their commitment to Christ…was exemplary! Age did not seem to matter to the Presbyterians of First Pres. Some walked with the aid of canes and others with walkers…and some had to hold on to each pew to facilitate their walking without assistance. When I was on the Stewardship Committee a few years ago my colleague Barbara B. was at the church every day and worked alongside me in our manual labor Stewardship endeavors. Barbara neither complained nor grumbled about the workload but actively sought out issues that we needed to address. Indeed there is a reason that little churches survive and thrive… they have a dedicated congregation of members who have servants’ hearts.

Now MJ and I are the age of many of our fellow congregants when we arrived so many years ago. My friends in our church are reminiscent of many Parisians that I saw when we were there in 2012. Nothing seemed to stop or deter them from living their lives. Many walked haltingly with walkers and more with simple little canes for mobility assistance. The good things in life are worked for and sweated over and struggled to obtain by the Meek Of The Earth…the humble and the quiet and the precious people who are motivated by an unquenchable fire in the furnace of their souls.

Christmas Dreams

December 3rd was a cold day in Eldorado. The Lions Club had prepared numerous Christmas Baskets for all children who attended the Christmas Matinee at the Orpheum Theatre. The Matinee was A Christmas Carol with the Scottish Actor Alistair Sim portraying the role of Mr. Scrooge. The theatre’s only auditorium was packed with happy and excited kids full of the Christmas Spirit. Times were tough for many of the families of the Orpheum audience. Eldorado had been a booming coal mining town in its day…but that day had passed. There were churches all over town but no taverns…Eldorado was dry. There was a Billiard Hall where a young man could sow his proverbial wild oats as long as the sowing did not involve more than the Hidden Smoker Cigarette. Billy B. and Dennis W. were accustomed to purchasing a pack of Marlboros for the Old German Ticket Taker and one to split between them…between shows. Mr. Scrooge was in a wonderful form that afternoon. As Scrooge began to speak with the Ghost of Christmas Past…Billy B. and Chet fell asleep from the Peppermint Schnapps that Lanny W. had given them before entering the Orpheum…while they were still in his hot rod car…and both drank lustily…

‘Take hold of the skirt of my garment and we will explore your past Christmases,’ extolled the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge and Billy B. and Chet grabbed some cloth and off they flew through the cold night air of Victorian London. Suddenly there was Billy B. looking in at his house in Sauk Village near Chicago, Illinois. His Dad and Mom were laughing and he was on top of his Dad’s shoulders and the Christmas Tree must have been ten feet tall… Nat King Cole was singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Neva J. was dancing with him and his Dad.

Chet was seeing a totally different Christmas scene. As he and the Angel of Christmas Past and Billy B. and Scrooge peered into the window of his little home in Parrish Addition…there was his Dad laughing as his Mom read the Christmas Story from the Bible. Chet’s Dad said that truly the birth of Christ was the greatest gift that man had ever received and he laughed some more in spite of himself.

Then the three Christmas Time Travellers were inside the Methodist Church. It was grand with the hanging of the greens and the candlelight Christmas Eve Service. The congregation began to sing Silent Night and in the front pew were Carol and Thelma Brooks…Chet’s parents…and Neva J. and Bill Brooks…Billy B.’s parents. The look on all of their faces was angelic. ‘How can this be…Angel of Christmas Past…you must know that my Mom and Dad are divorced and I have not seen my Dad in years…and Chet’s Dad is deceased…, asked Billy B?

The Sun was brilliant on December 3, 1963. After Billy B. and Chet had received their massive Christmas Gift Baskets from the Eldorado Lions…there was Bill Brooks smiling and holding out his arms for Billy B. to jump into them and ride on his beloved Father’s shoulders…and there was Carol Brooks laughing and motioning for Chet to join him in some Christmas Cookies and Hot Chocolate…

Moving Forward

It was brisk in the Woods this morning. For our part of the country, December through February is meteorological winter. I try to acclimatize to each change in the seasons but it gets more difficult as I become older…but then again what doesn’t. In days gone by our University Mall would be packed with holiday shoppers. Now it is a shell of its former self. The retail environment has changed…as the Amazon delivery man who met Santa on the rooftop said…’Well, this is awkward.’

We, humans, are compelled to move forward…as bad as we hate to. Christmas tells us that another year has passed…’And what have we done…,’ John Lennon asked us. The groceries that we purchased in 2021 did not feed us in 2022…unless you really like to stock up!

We have things that distress us. Deterioration of our town and a reduction of students at our University. Churches are losing members in a rapid manner. Our church has lost members. Our Pandemic and Wars and Rumors of Wars surround us and have become a new reality in our lives. Money equals power and power corrupts. The rich and powerful rejoice while the poor watch with tears in their eyes.

Mister Roger’s mother told him when he was a boy that when disaster or difficult times come that he should always look for The Helpers. The answer to our distress is to become a Helper. The best feeling that can be had in this life is the feeling that you obtain when you help someone in need. A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas Story! The account of Mr. Scrooge and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchitt warms my heart every time that I think about it. Christmas is primarily about change…Christmas is about Moving Forward and improving the lives of others. Christmas is thinking of others before you think of yourself.

Mary and Joseph were not narcissists. They did not raise a little narcissist. They were like the Blue Brothers…they were on a mission from God… I told my dear friend Michael T. the other evening when he and I and Jeff L. were speaking on a conference call that Christ and his message of love and acceptance had been a throughline for me for nearly 55 years. Whatever I have done and wherever I have been…Jesus’ love and message of loving my neighbor better than myself have captivated my imagination.

Believing in others and trusting in your family and friends and neighbors is not a lost art…it may have a little dust on it from where it has been sitting on the shelf… alongside the elf…but it is as true today as it was in the stable with the animals surrounding and the wise men and shepherds…and the humble mom and dad of the one for whom our upcoming celebration is named…

Ask many questions. Jesus asked a lot of questions. Perhaps things do not have to be as they are…if we will Move Forward and be The Helpers…

Christmas Hunger

The storm clouds are rolling in. Sixty-one degrees and windy. Christmas shopping is in full Elf-Assisted mode…with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus working nonstop in the Toy Factory with Howard the Super-Foreman. Howard says that there are more poor children than ever before as well as more who are food insecure…or as we old folks commonly term it…hungry. Santa is determined to do something about the hungry kids. Suggestions have been numerous and varied…from gift cards to Panerras or Cheese Baskets from Harry and Davids…to Food Vouchers from the North Pole that can be cashed in at any participating restaurant in the North Pole Food Voucher Program. Howard told Santa that already schools are the primary food providers for many children in America. The School Food Programs began with hot lunches in the days of Billy B. and Chet and Jane. Now the schools provide breakfast as well and many of them have their students stay for a light supper that is provided. It was discovered several years ago that during the weekends and the holidays and the summer break…kids went hungry or were at least…food insecure. The combination of reasons for this terrible sin was many, such as single moms without jobs or with two or three jobs in the endeavor to put food on the table. Dads and moms who were captive to addiction were another more prevalent reason for the suffering of their children. Of course, the lack of sufficient jobs or economic opportunities was a strong contender for the hunger of kids in the midst of their families. Howard the Super Toy Factory Foreman went on to inform Santa that many of these hungry kids had uncles and aunts and other family members that turned a blind eye to their sunken eyes and listless demeanor due to their selfishness.

‘This year…2022…we will deliver food along with the toys to every little girl and little boy,’ Santa said. Mrs. Claus hired a nutritionist to advise her on what were the most nutritional foods that could be delivered to each child with their rocking horses and toy trucks. ‘Santa’s Food For Kids will be distributed each month by hundreds of thousands of his helpers across the world. ‘It will be similar to the Commodity Program that Billy B. remembered so well when he was a kid in the early ’60s,’ Santa proclaimed! ‘The only difference is that Santa’s Food will be distributed with love and not with disdain for the poor and the hungry,’ Howard added.

‘Twenty-twenty-two will be the beginning of the end of hunger on earth,’ Santa laughed so hard that his belly shook like a bowl full of jelly. ‘I have been talking to precious children all year who climb upon my lap and when I ask them what they want for Christmas…they tell me some hot dogs or a hot bowl of Malt-O-Meal,’ Santa noted with a tear coursing down his cheek.

Howard smiled a satisfied smile. He had seen the hungry kids firsthand. They liked toys…but toys did not feed their hungry stomachs. Many of them were waiting up for Santa on Christmas Eve and when they caught a glimpse of Howard…as almost no one ever catches Santa…they would ask for a cookie or a piece of pumpkin bread. Howard had inspected the refrigerators of the hungry kids and found beer and mold and fermented eggs. He understood that things could not continue like they were.

‘How do kids go hungry in the richest country in the world,’ Santa asked?

Home For The Holidays

We have simply had a lovely week with our good friends Margo and Jeff from the United Kingdom. When they left yesterday…MJ and I and Aaron and Jonathon were sad to see them go…Mylo was low as well. He and Margo bonded over the week and he has looked longingly for her since her departure. Mylo is our Maltese. We had the fantastic opportunity to see our old friends Thelma and Brent as well as Brent’s daughter Hannah and her daughter Jules. The years melted away and I remembered Brent and my camaraderie and our time not only installing carpet together but also our time working on building our church in Elkville, Illinois.

Thanksgiving Day was great with Tara, Mike, Paige, Tyler, Ron, and Ira Kaye joining us. I learned the efficacy of drinking a shot and then one more Jack Daniels…for the young folks’ enjoyment. Brent told me at one point that many years had passed…and I asked him if he ever wondered where they went. I shared that sometimes I feel like I must be Rip Van Winkle and have subsequently slept part of my life away.

It seems surreal that Christmas is less than a month away and it seems that yesterday was Labor Day. Often we are so focused on making a living that we forget to make a life. We worry about our possessions and our bank account as we march toward the grave. We fret over missed opportunities when others look at us and wish that they had been afforded the opportunities that we have taken a bit for granted.

Christmas brings hope and peace…a reset for the coming year. How kind can we be in 2023? Focusing on one person at a time…how can we make their lives better…and make them feel seen and heard and appreciated.

Hungry people need food. Lonely people need another human to take the time to know them. It does not happen over a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It does not happen during a Christmas Eve Church Service. It happens over days and weeks and months and years. It is somewhat like raising a puppy that you receive as a wonderful and exciting Christmas present. When the cold winds of January blow…many Christmas Puppies are returned or forgotten…and so it is with the broken souls of our neighbors and friends and indeed our family.

Heart Healing is the gift of the Maggi. A vision for love conquering loneliness and suffering and ultimately death.

Fried Egg Sandwiches

It is Black Friday again. Last year we visited the Lemp House and stayed the night in its haunted confines. This BF we are enjoying our friends Margo and Jeff and we are soon to have some birthday cake for Jeff’s Birthday.

Jeff and I spoke with Michael T. last evening. Michael T. is such a kind and considerate gentleman. As I was listening to his voice I transported in time 50 years ago when we first met. He is one of the most positive people that I know. It is an encouragement to just hear him speak and his kindness to me so many years ago has never been forgotten.

My Buddy Brent looks just like I remembered from our days of installing carpet out of his old Checker Cab. The Cabs headlights were malfunctioning thus if our installation job ran after dark…I shined a flashlight out of the passenger window in order for us to stay on the road and not cross the center line. MJ would make Brent and me a fried egg sandwich for our lunch and often Brent would inquire as to whether MJ had made the egg sandwiches. When I answered in the affirmative he suggested that we eat the fried egg sandwiches for breakfast and that he would buy our lunch…and so we did…with gusto. One morning MJ accidentally put a lot of salt on the sandwiches. As Brent drove us down the road to our first job he began to munch on his favorite breakfast…his face began to flush and his eyes to moisten. Upon my taking a bite of my sandwich…I immediately understood the problem. When I asked Brent how his sandwich was…he responded that it was just like he liked it.