Monday, November 22, 2021

The Old Christmas Story From "The Last Storyteller" Now on Audible!

 The Old Christmas Story

Would you like to hear a good Christmas story? Settle into a cozy chair with a warm cup of cider, embrace the words and we will go there together. Can you see that house over there, the one with red brick walls, white shutters, and a large oak tree towering in the front yard? Inside that house, there is a young girl who has lost hope this Christmas season. Her grandmother also lives there; this is her story, this Christmas story you hold in your hands. Can you see that window just to the right of the oak tree? That is the kitchen window. The girl and her grandmother are in there now. If you go stand by the tree, you will hear her story. I will go with you if that’s okay. The grandmother has propped the window open just enough to cool the Christmas pies. You can enjoy their sweet, enticing aroma as you listen; you will think you entered Heaven’s bakery! But you mustn’t touch. Just listen.


“What do you wish for most this Christmas?” Her grandmother asks.

Carmen thought for a moment. She didn’t want to hurt her grandmother’s feelings, but Carmen already knew this Christmas would not be like the ones of the past. Grandpa had died in the spring of the year, and her grandmother had moved in with her family. Grandma living with them really wasn’t so bad—Carmen had to share a room with her little sister so that Grandma could have her own room—that wasn’t too bad, her little sister looked up to her; Carmen kind of liked that. And Grandma was a good cook, making something out of nothing was her specialty.

In August, her father had lost his job. That was a big problem. He was working now, but not making as much money. Mom said they had fallen behind on so many bills it would be well into the new year before they caught up. Carmen knew to have a nice Christmas was more important for her little sister, Beth. Beth was only seven years old and not old enough yet to understand words whispered by her parents—past due bills, making ends meet, robbing Peter to pay Paul...pawn tickets.

Her parents had never discussed things like finances with her. They were always very careful to speak about such things only if the children were not in the room, even when things had still been good. Her dad was always saying, “Let kids be kids. No reason to make them grow up too fast.” Mom thought he was being over-protective. Dad said that was his job. If they knew how many nights, she had stood in the hallway listening, they would have been upset. 

Carmen turned thirteen this year. She was a teenager! When her mother had sat down to talk about this year’s Christmas, telling her how difficult it would be to surround the tree with gifts, but carefully avoiding the reasons why, she had felt very mature. Very grown up. (And just a little sad.)

Carmen thought about her grandmother’s question. The truth—she wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all. If she could have anything she wanted for Christmas, she would want things back the way they were. Life as it was before grandpa died; before her dad lost his job. Carmen wanted her parents to answer the phone without fear that it was another bill collector calling. She wanted a pizza that didn’t come frozen in a cardboard box. She wanted the whispering to stop, the secret listening to end. She wanted her own room back. “I don’t know Grandma; I haven’t thought a lot about it.” Sounding nonchalant., Carmen offers her best smile.

Her grandmother smiles back, taking in her oldest grandchild. She admired Carmen’s long dark hair that flows past her shoulders. Her own hair had been like that so many years ago. Now it was short and silver, very grandmotherly like.

“How about a really nice brush? Your hair is so beautiful, and you should care for it with the finest of brushes.”

“That would be nice Grandma. But I have a good brush. Besides, you shouldn’t be spending money on such things. Dad said we should all be saving in case the unexpected comes again.”

“Your father is just like his father. Penny-wise to the last breath.” She told her. “But it is Christmas! A time to embrace the expected. A time for joy. A time for putting smiles on the face of children.”

“That’s right, Grandma…children. I’m not a child anymore, you know. I am thirteen, remember? Besides, I can’t get excited about Christmas this year.”

“No!” her grandmother cried. "Don’t say that, Carmen! Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Not just for the presents and Christmas music. Not because of the decorated trees or family reunions or the wonder it brings. Every year, Christmas marks a new beginning. It brings us hope for the future.” Her grandmother had walked over to the kitchen table and sat down across from her granddaughter.

“Christmas is for children. But children come in all shapes and sizes…and ages.” Her grandmother’s smile fades just a little.

“Mom said there won’t be a lot of hope in the New Year. She said it will be sometime before we get caught up on things. It hasn’t been a very good year Grandma.” Carmen sighed, playing with the waffles on her plate. She felt little like eating.

“Your mom may be right, only time will tell. But that is not the kind of hope that I am speaking of.”

A puzzled look came over Carmen’s face.

“The hope, the sincere hope I speak of, is the hope which came with the very first Christmas.” Her grandmother picked up a fork and stabbed a piece of waffle from Carmen’s plate, “Someone has to eat it.” She said plopping the morsel into her mouth.

Carmen knew what was coming next. Grandma could find a reason to talk about the Bible in just about any situation. Every Sunday, since she had moved into their house, Grandma invited the girls to come to church with her. Carmen’s parents didn’t attend church very often, maybe Easter and Christmas. But they didn’t mind Grandma extending her invitation. Carmen’s mother did tell her it was the children's decision to go or not. Beth went with her grandmother every Sunday and sometimes on Wednesdays too, if she didn’t have homework. Carmen had only been a handful of times, but she had attended Vacation Bible School over the summer…that had been loads of fun. But getting up early on Sundays to go and listen to someone talk about things she didn’t understand, just wasn’t for her.

Just as she knew she would, her grandmother began speaking about — “Carmen, do you remember the story of the first Christmas?” She asks.

“Yes. I have heard it many times. You tell it every Christmas Grandma.” Carmen said matter-of-factually.

From the stove. a tea kettle whistles a tune.

“Ah, the water is ready,” Grandma said, “Would you like some hot chocolate? It is a perfect morning for a nice warm treat.”

She didn’t wait for her granddaughter to answer; walking to the cupboard she removed two Santa mugs from the shelf and made the chocolate drink. Carmen could see the steam rising above the ceramic Santa cap.

“Marshmallows?” She asked.

“No thank you.”

The little round lady with the silver hair returns to the table sitting one hot mug in front of Carmen.

“Now tell me, what do you remember about the Christmas story?”

Carmen felt irritation trying to surface. She didn’t want to be rude or short towards her grandmother. All she wanted to do was to finish her breakfast and then go find her friends outside. It had snowed enough to have an epic snowball fight—boys verse girls!

“Grandma I have heard that old story so many times. It’s about a baby, his parents, no room at the inn, and about three old men bringing gifts. Blah, blah blah…”

As soon as the third “blah” left her lips Carmen regretted it.

“I’m sorry Grandma,” she said, “it’s just that the stories from the Bible are hard to understand, with all the “thee’s” and “thou’s”. I guess maybe when I am grown up, I will understand them better.”

“That may be true, Carmen. But did you know that old story is about children?”

Carmen’s brow crinkled with wrinkles, looking amazingly like her father deep in thought.

“I know there is a baby…”

“Well, there were two babies. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a cousin named Elizabeth…”

“Just like my sister!” Carmen exclaimed.

“Yes, just like your sister. Well anyway, an angel named Gabriel appeared before Elizabeth’s husband, his name was Zacharias. Gabriel told Zacharias Elizabeth would have a baby, a boy. Their son would be called John.”

“I don’t remember there being a baby called John,” Carmen said.

“Well, there was. But the Bible tells us his story after he is all grown up; that would come much later. Gabriel, the angel, told Zacharias, “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.” And he did! He was called John the Baptist.”

“I remember reading about him.” Carmen chimed. “Were there any other children in the Christmas story?”

“Oh yes!” Grandma said, snatching another bite of waffle from the plate. “There was Mary.”

“Mary? Jesus’ mother, Mary?” Carmen asked.

“The very one.”

“She wasn’t a child, Grandma.”

“But she was! Historians believe she was just fourteen or fifteen years old. Mary was just a little older than you Carmen.”

“That is very young to be a mother, isn’t it Grandma?” Fine lines of concern cross the young girl’s brow.

“Well, things were much different then, Carmen. I do know this; God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus. And that is all I need to know.”

“Two babies and Mary. Were there more children, Grandma?”

“There was. But let’s not get there too fast.” She stood to top off her cup of hot chocolate. From the counter, she spoke—

“You remember Carmen; Joseph and Mary had traveled to a city called Bethlehem to pay taxes to Caesar. Many families had also come to the city to be counted in the census. The town was very crowded, Joseph and Mary could not find a room in which they could spend the night.”

“I remember, they had to stay in a barn!” Carmen called out.

“Yes, a barn or a stable,” Grandma replies, returning to the table with a fresh mug of hot chocolate.

“That must have been awful for them Grandma.”

“You would think so, wouldn’t you? But it was that night, in a dirty old stable, God brought into the world a very special baby. A baby who would change our world forever. There in that old stable, with the animals as witnesses, Mary gave birth to a baby boy. Then gently, she laid him in the manger to keep him warm. She would name him Jesus.”

“We have a nativity under the Christmas tree, Grandma.” 

“I know, I saw it. It is quite exquisite. It reminds us of the reason we celebrate Christmas.”

“You said there were more children in the story.” Carmen’s earlier reluctance to talking about Bible stories seems to have faded away.

“And there were. In a field, not too far away from Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their sheep. They would keep watch the whole night through to make sure no uninvited beasts would harm the flock.”

“Oh, what kind of beasts? If there were children in the field, they must have been so afraid. Were there children there, Grandma?” Carmen had scooted to the edge of her chair, clasping her hands together.

“Yes, there were children, and they were afraid. But not how you might think. Many of the shepherds were very young, like you Carmen. From an early age, the boys were taught by their fathers to protect the family’s flock. And on that night, over two thousand years ago. the Angel of the Lord appeared before them. Oh, those young boys were so afraid. They had never seen such a sight.” Carmen’s grandmother pauses, sipping her chocolate, looking out the kitchen window at the snow falling from the gray skies, the flakes dancing for just a moment on the chilly air before descending to the snow-covered ground. Her eyes sparkling at what she sees.

“What did they do Grandma?”

Returning her attention to Carmen, “They listened. The angel spoke to them saying, “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Reaching across the table, she closes her wrinkled fingers around Carmen's hand. “Oh, my dearest granddaughter, can you imagine what a sight this must have been for those young lads. In the dark of night, an angel appears and tells them that the Christ has been born!”

“What happened next Grandma?” Carmen asks.

“Suddenly, the sky filled with angels, heavenly hosts, singing praise to God—peace on earth and goodwill toward men.”

“Do you hear the bells they’re ringing?” Carmen sings, “I know that song Grandma, we sang it in choir this year.”

“And it was wonderful.” She replies. “After the angels were gone, the shepherd boys knew they must go to Bethlehem and see the baby who would be a King. Leaving their sheep, wasting not a moment, they ran to Bethlehem.”

“Did they get to see him? Did they see the baby Jesus?” Carmen was sitting on the edge of her seat again.

“Well yes, they did. So now Carmen, tell me—what have you heard so far in this old Christmas story?”

“What do you mean Grandma?” Carmen asked.

“Did you hear the hope?”

Carmen sighs, “Hope? No, I don’t think so.”

“Well let’s look closely. Joseph and Mary had to leave their home…just like I did. Only for a very different reason. Regardless, leaving home is terribly difficult. You see, Carmen when you leave home, you leave behind the things memories are made of. Joseph and Mary didn’t even know where they would stay when they arrived in Bethlehem. But God made them a way. And certainly, new memories. Incredible memories. Just like he did for me.”

“Here, in our home!” Carmen said.

“Yes! And now I will make new memories! Joseph and Mary would never forget that night, I am quite certain of that.”

“Did Joseph lose his job like my dad?” The young girl asks.

“I don’t know about that. Joseph and Mary had to travel all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem by foot. That’s almost eighty miles. Now during their journey, which probably took about seven or eight days, Joseph wouldn’t have been working. So that young couple would have depended on God to provide for them. Just as He does for you and your family!”

“Wow!” Carmen exclaims.

“You see even when we go through challenging times, God still provides us hope. If we believe in Him. If we trust.”

Carmen sits silently, thinking. Tilting her head, she asks, “What about the barn animals? Did they have hope too?”

Her grandmother smiles, patting Carmen on the head. “Not like us.” She thinks for a moment, choosing her words, “I do believe they knew something special was happening. A new King was to be born. They gave up their room just like you did for me. They moved away from the young couple and watched silently as a miracle was born right in their midst.”

“Wow! Pretty cool.” Carmen smiles again.

“The animals accepted the infant King into their home just as we must accept Him into our hearts.” She blinks away a tear.

Carmen was looking across the room, thinking, “What about the shepherd boys, Grandma? What about their hope?”

“Well, I didn’t finish the story now did I?” Smiling, she wipes her cheek, "The shepherd boys traveled all the way to the City of David, Bethlehem. When at last they saw the baby Jesus, they were so amazed.” Her Grandma pauses—looking at her grandchild.

“And when they had seen, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”

“What does that mean Grandma?”

“It means, my dear child, they traveled everywhere telling everyone the good news—a child had been born in Bethlehem, a child who is Christ the Lord.”

Her grandmother pauses again. “It is only with hope…Christmas hope…that one could carry such a message. And it is only with belief that one can have such hope!”

The old woman stands up from the table and stretches her arms high above her head. With a little yawn and a quiet smile, she looks out the kitchen window, over the pies and to the old oak tree —smiling, she asks “Do you believe?”

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Whisper Dancing

 Whisper Dancing, the third collection of short stories in The Last Storyteller trilogy is available in paperback and electronically. The Audible edition will be available October.

Whisper Dancing

Follows is an excerpt from the title story-

The child was ill most of time, perhaps the cold floor took more than it gave. One year, Patricia Mae fell ill with pneumonia. Her mother had saved pennies, hiding them away in an old milk jug, in hopes Christmas morning would include candy for her children. Carrying the milk jug under one arm and little Patricia under the other, Emma trudged through the muddy streets of Eastie with her head bowed against the wind and stinging sleet, to the only physician practicing in East Boston. A gentle man of sixty (maybe seventy), bent at the waste, wearing wired spectacles balanced on the tip of his bulbous nose. His hair as white as snow, and his voice barely a whisper. The good doctor waived his customary fee when presented with the milk jug half-filled with pennies. His nurse, a young girl from Scotland, calmed the small child, Patricia, by making silly faces and singing nursery rhymes while the doctor administered care. The young nurse, Ailisa Barrie by name, fascinated the small girl. Patricia Anne giggled at her Scottish accent and silly faces. Secretly, Patricia wanted to be just like Ailisa. A dozen years later, her dreams come true. She realized the only way out of Eastie and the crowded two-room apartment (although by that time only four of the seven children stilled resided there) was to go to nursing school. Massachusetts General Hospital had opened a nursing program a year earlier. Patricia worked diligently and was accepted into the program on the eve of her 16th birthday. Four times a week, she woke before the sun peeked over the Atlantic, and walked the dark streets of Eastie to catch the first ferry to Boston, home of Massachusetts General Hospital. The night sky was her only companion when, after a long day of learning the skills of Florence Nightingale, she boarded the last ferry back to Eastie. It was during a return trip home she met the young man she would marry, Thomas, “Red” Quinn.

Quinn, riding the ferry every day to work in the booming textile industry, possessed the same determination to escape the poverty of East Boston as his future bride did. The textile industry paid twice the wages of that of a boat builder and promised futures not more boats.

Each evening, as the ferry crossed the harbor, he would stand next to Patricia, holding onto the rails, secretly hoping her hand would brush against his. Gazing across the water and sharing his dreams of one day attending Harvard and hers of becoming a nurse, Thomas Quinn fell in love with the girl from Eastie.

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