The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

The purloined gift

Hillary IbarraFirst of all, just as Dickens declared that Marley was as dead as a doornail in “The Christmas Carol,” I must emphatically state for my little Christmas story that the theft I’m about to disclose wasn’t premeditated.

I will also add that you know you love someone when you’re willing to stuff your couch for his Christmas visit.

It took place before Matthew and I were married. After talking to each other on the phone for a few months we had met and dated in San Antonio, thanks to my sister Annie introducing us. Now I was back at my parents’ home, preparing for Matthew to come up for our first Christmas together.

One afternoon Dad and I laughed hysterically together, because I was up to my shoulder in the back of our overturned couch, trying to re-stuff it to an acceptable point of cushioning. It was well-used or well-loved, if you’d rather. But I didn’t think it had the right amount of oomph, so I was shoving old (clean, mind you) clothes into the back of it, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed when my beau showed up. If I had been smart, I would have scented those clothes with lavender spritz from Bath and Body Works. Then while Matthew and I canoodled on its lumpy but cushy surface, he might suddenly have said while staring deep into my eyes, “What is that heavenly scent my nose doth detect in your presence?” I, of course, would have answered, “It is me, and you are in love!”

It’s funny that this is one of my best memories of those last few months in my parents’  home — Dad and I laughing our heads off over the little details that matter so much when you’re infatuated with someone, like a well-proportioned couch.

Another great memory has to do with that little matter of the theft.

The soon-to-be-purloined item arrived in a Christmas package from Virginia, a package full of thoughtful gifts from my big sister Vinca who always remembered everyone. This year she had remembered Matthew. She knew my guy was coming to Idaho for his first visit with our folks, so she had gotten him the best gift she could think of — lacking a background check on him, a list of his childhood hobbies or a network of relatives to report on his daily habits. She had gotten him chocolate, and Bravo! There is no better gift that says, “I don’t know you, but you’d be a fool not to enjoy this.”

But curiosity killed the gift — Dad’s and my curiosity, you know. We just couldn’t figure out why Vinca would send a present to someone she didn’t know and who wasn’t officially a part of the family. I mean, really, I hadn’t actually married the guy yet…and even then Christmas gifts are kind of probationary for the first year or two.

Dad and I studied the rectangular package beneath the tree for a couple of days until we just couldn’t stand it anymore.

“We should see what’s in there,” said Dad.

“I agree.”

I don’t remember who did the honors of ripping off Vinca’s impeccable wrapping job of tasteful, quality paper. Of course we were going to make it right. We just had to peek, that’s all….

Oh, no! Chocolate! It was a box of chocolates. From that moment I think we both knew what was going to happen, but we intended to fight our naughty chocolate-foraging instincts.

We laid it carefullyon the kitchen bar, just so we wouldn’t forget it.

“We’ll wrap it back up nicely later,” said Dad. “Or put it in a festive gift bag.”

Sure, but until then we walked past it several times that day wondering what kinds of fillings were in it. A cordial cherry or two, perhaps? Ooh, maybe a few truffles. And who doesn’t like those crunchy little nut-flaked ganaches? Yum-yum. Were there any dark chocolates in the picture on the box?

“Matthew will never know,” Dad said to me that evening as we stared at each other’s pinched faces.

“He wasn’t expecting anything!” I responded too loudly. “He doesn’t even know Vinca. Maybe by name….” But a Vinca by any other name is still the sister of just a girlfriend.

The voice of reason was there: Mom.

“Shame on you guys! Don’t do it,” she admonished. “Vinca sent that for Matthew. He needs presents under the tree, too.”

“I got him something,” I pointed out.

“I’ll get him something,” said Dad, smirking.

We looked at each other. Then we slid the chocolate off the bar, ripped off the cellophane packaging, and while sitting on the newly overstuffed couch together, pigged out happily on our purloined chocolates. We had warm feelings for Vinca’s thoughtfulness that day.

Did I tell Matthew about his absent gift? Not that Christmas, no, but I did a few years later when I suddenly remembered and had a good chuckle by our own Christmas tree. Okay, yes it was very wrong…but wrong never tasted so sweet.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

10 steps for soon-to-be-parents

Julia ArnoldThis just in: A mandatory 10-step training course has been implemented for all soon-to-be parents. If you skillfully and successfully endure the various challenges involved, while being tethered to a lifelike, hungry doll that cries often, you will be prepared for bringing home a newborn. If you fail, good luck to you.

Expectations:

1. Sleep Deprivation: All participants will experience a level of sleep deprivation the likes of which they have never known before. You will occasionally be allowed 40 minutes of sleep at one time, but you will be quickly roused by the wails of your lifelike doll.

2. Women: Overnight, your breasts will enlarge to twice their size and become sore and hard as rocks. They will leak throughout the day and night. There is nothing you can do to prevent this.

3. Men: You are not allowed to enjoy said enlargement. Not only has the sleep deprivation taken its toll on you and your spouse, but one of you is always tethered to the crying, hungry doll.  You will have to wait [at least] six weeks to express prolonged physical affection.

4. Entertainment: On a beautiful Saturday evening, you will be forced to walk by several of your favorite bars and restaurants. You will be hungry, tired and in need of a strong drink, but in order to successfully complete this task, you must keep walking, with the doll strapped to your chest. You will go directly to Babies ‘R Us and deposit your entire month’s paycheck there.

5. Diet: You are allowed to eat only the following items: granola bars, frozen pizza, crackers and brown casseroles brought to you by elderly neighbors. All food will need to be consumed standing up, hunched over the kitchen counter, as fast as you can, while enduring shrieking cries from your practice doll who is waiting to be fed again. Bonus points will be awarded for participants who hold the doll in one hand and eat with the other.

6. Bathing: Neither adult participant is permitted more than one shower for the duration of the training course. During this shower, the doll will remain in the bathroom with you and begin crying as soon as the water starts. To complete this task, you need to bathe as fast as you can to get out and comfort the doll; this means no shaving, no deep conditioning and, for heaven’s sake, no shower gel.

7. Attire: Keep the clothes you are currently wearing as clean as possible because you will not be provided with fresh, new clothing at any time. You will need at least 10 outfits for your practice doll, however, as it will expel simulated poop and spit up on its clothing like clockwork at every single feeding.

8. Toileting: Every time a female participant sneezes, she will pee a little. Depending on the neediness of your practice doll and your tolerance for screeching wails, going to the bathroom may or may not be your only alone time in any given day.

9. Grooming: All participants will quickly notice more gray hair sprouting from their heads. You are permitted to use tweezers on these new strands, but you will likely be too depleted (see #1 and #5) to use them.  No haircuts, no make-up and certainly no toenail trimming will be tolerated during the training course.

10. Escape Route:  There will be times when you want to run away with your hands in the air, laughing like a lunatic, or hide in a dark closet tucked into a fetal position, but remember this:  there is no turning back. Despite the practice doll’s powerful life-sucking abilities, you will come to love it more than you thought possible, and you might even get used to having spit-up on all of your clothing.

We wish you the best of luck.

Sincerely,
Parents Everywhere

— Julia Arnold

Julia Arnold lives in Minnesota with her husband and two young children. In her world, the counter is always sticky, and the floor is never clean. She writes about “the less glamorous side of motherhood” on her blog, Frantic Mama.  Her work has been featured in various publications, such as Mamalode and What the Flicka, as well as in the recently released humor anthology, Clash of the Couples.

 

Full disclosure:
I’m not telling the whole truth

Con ChapmanYou can tell that a writer is trying to hide something from you when you run into one of those “Full disclosure” parentheticals in the middle of an article. Example: “Full disclosure: My views on the monetary roots of inflation have been tempered since supermodel Heidi Klum smiled at me in line at an ATM in New York.”

The trick to the “full disclosure” rhetorical device is to reveal too much and too little at the same time. Parsing the subtext of the above disclosure, one can translate it thusly: “Full disclosure: My knowledge of the American banking system is limited to the balance on my ATM slip, and the last time a woman came on to me was when Paula Ferguson handed me a note in 8th grade that said ‘I think you’re a dreamboat.’”

The full disclosure/non-disclosure trick is common in financial advice columns. “Full disclosure,” the stock market analyst writes. “I hold shares of Acme Techinfotronicsmatrix in my IRA.” What he doesn’t tell you is that he’s the love child of the CEO and Wanda Turner, a woman who temped at the company 35 years ago, and is looking to dump the stock like a hot rock as soon as suckers like you buy it.

The political “full disclosure” is usually intended to puff up the credentials of the writer as someone who is so close to the white-hot blast furnace of Washington power that his plastic “Fred Thompson ’08” water bottle melted. E.g.–“Full disclosure: While I was not actually alive at the time of the 1945 Yalta summit, my ideas have generally been credited as the inspiration for Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech and the theme song of The Pinky Lee Show.”

Scientific “Full disclosures” are often little more than attempts to intimidate potential critics of the writer’s views. “Full disclosure,” writes a proponent of the controversial “cold fusion” theory — “I am the spawn of shape-shifting mud vipers from the planet Glzorp, who have been cross-bred with blood-sucking humanoids. So watch it.”

Once you understand the sinister intent behind this highly deceptive device, you’ll be better prepared the next time you bump up against the left parentheses of a “Full disclosure” scam to plumb the author’s hidden agenda.

Full disclosure: Web “Cookies” have been implanted on your computer while you read this article, and I have applied for a Home Depot credit card in your name.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Surviving holiday guest drop-ins
with style

Alexandra RosasThe month of December is one of my favorite times of the year.

I love the beauty of the holidays when homes are bedecked in their Sunday finest of red velvet bows and twinkling lights that festoon every open inch of space in a house, transforming the simplest of abodes into charming and inviting.

The weeks leading up to December spent dusting, wiping, cleaning and gussying up the house for the season of joy remind me of when I was exfoliating, exercising, dieting and highlighting my tresses for my wedding day. Finally, the big day arrives, we’re married off or our holiday visits begin, and the hours of deep-down cleansing pay off. Our audiences are pleased.

Every year, I pull off getting my house nutcrackered and garlanded in the 11th hour. Exactly like the three pounds I lost by 10 p.m. the night before my wedding. I breathed the same sigh of relief at the sight of my flat tummy behind the princess-cut yoke as I do when I gaze upon my holiday spirited home. Just as I did then and do now, I congratulate myself with a tumbler of Irish Crème in my hand on a job well done, even if delivered under the wire.

The season of good tidings and cheer is inescapable, and so is the drop-in company that inevitably rings our door bell. I say let the season surround us, surprise visits and all, although that is something a lot easier to say when my house looks ready for the unexpected guest. Which is for all of 24 hours since I have three children who fail to recognize the days spent in holiday house preparation. Exactly 25 hours after I have done the work of no less than three sugar plum fairies on my own, my house is back to being a storage closet for our winter garb. Moving from living room to bathroom is back to being a deft dance of foot forward, push debris aside, next foot forward, push more debris aside. We eventually make it across the kitchen to the bathroom, but it’s much faster and painless if we have our slippers on.

When company stops by after Day One of maybe standing a chance to be seen in House Beautiful, the surprise visits become mildly sweat inducing, depending on who they’re from. When it’s five days post-holiday decorating and my household is ankle deep in half-started Rainbow Loom projects, math homework graphing paper and torn-open Lego Advent calendars, well, that’s when you can count on the quick fixes listed here to whip that home back into one that’s ready to face the shouts of Surprise! from your front porch.

Start with Quick Fix Number One: Accept the state of your home. Your family is in the thick of the holiday season, and your attitude can be contagious.Welcome people into your house as if what they see before them is the most normal thing in the world, underwear and pajamas and athletic socks abound.

Proceed to Quick Fix Number Two: When the door bell rings, instruct everybody in your house to hit the sofa and chairs. Have blankets at the ready and throw them over yourselves. The one drawing the short stick has to answer the door just a wee crack, hoarsely whispering that you’re all sicker than you’ve ever been and the doctors at the ER were very interested in your cases. No worries; your company will be on their way just like that. (I can’t take credit for this one, it was my mother’s favorite go-to.)

Now is the time to believe in magic: Believe that the one at the door just really came to see you and nothing else. Close your eyes and click your heels and believe that your company is the type who will not see the madness around you. This is the true reason behind the wooden placards covered in glitter that you can buy at every craft store in town that read BELIEVE.

Next hat trick: Open the door. Say “Pardon the mess but we have had to turn this house upside down looking for the diamond pendant my husband gave me last Christmas. It was his grandmother’s and I don’t know where it is and it’s been lost for two days now and we are looking under every nook and cranny…but Grammy Wilson wouldn’t want us to give up!”

Greet your guests with a look of relief on your face: No matter who it is say, “Oh, thank God, I was hoping it was you because you, you over anybody else in the world, understands and would never mind a mess! It’s why I love you so …”

Take your guests aside after you let them in: Side whisper of the bout of mental exhaustion you’re recovering from after the holidays spent with your relatives and how you did have an appointment for this morning, an emergency one at that, with your therapist, but she canceled and it’s all you can do today to just get out of bed. This works best if you laugh and cry at the same time.

Hand the surprise visitor a glass of wine in exchange for the glasses on their face. Or beer if you’re in Wisconsin. Place a Zinfandel in their hand and don’t even wait for their gloves and coat to come off. When they get up to go and trip on the box of your winter socks and they say it must be the wine they had, don’t disagree, and wink while reassuring them their secret’s safe with you.

When all else fails, resign yourself. You’ve survived worse things than a messy house. The holidays are truly a wonderful time of the year. This is a special season that charges in and leaves your house looking like a beautifully tinseled hurricane. There’s nothing shameful about that, so let the perfection go and the visitors come. Let those that must, and there will always be those that must, say what they will. You just go about your merry Elfen way, enjoying the special magic of the fleeting moments of this time of year. The evidence you see around you, bits and pieces of a family living together in anticipation of welcoming those we love into the bosom of our 3,000-light-lit-up home, give the season its meaning. So, embrace this once-a-year joyous opportunity to let your house shine inside out with the love we feel for one another.

Happy holidays to all!

— Alexandra Rosas

Alexandra Rosas is a storyteller for the nationally acclaimed The Moth, as well as a contributor to several anthologies and weekly columns. You can follow her on twitter @gdrpempress and on her blog.

Fear, freedom and a fight club quote

Abby HeugelI have a funny post to share with you, but that will have to wait a couple more days. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I did that annoying vague status update thing about something rather life-altering happening Friday, and not in a good way, and that I might need a little time to regroup my funny.

While I never do things like that, for once I needed support and you guys came out in such a way that I was actually emotionally touched, which rarely happens. And even though I owe you a “thanks” and not an explanation, you’re getting both instead. Plus, writing is my therapy.

*Here’s where you can click away if you don’t want to read a ramble and instead come back next time for normal neurosis (waits for the room to clear.)

quoteOkay. Let me start with a little story…go grab a drink.

I don’t talk about it a lot, but when I was much younger I was in a relationship with an older guy for more than five years. He wasn’t a bad guy, but it was a very bad relationship for me that left me feeling trapped and has contributed to many of the issues I still have today. At a time in my life when that should have been carefree and fun, I was miserable.

I cried myself to sleep way too often.

So why did I stay in a situation that I knew was wrong, that was making me sick and unhappy? Because at the time, I was naïve and craved that stability and safety. Even if it wasn’t ideal, it was something that I could depend on. I would finish college, get married, have financial stability and the “normal” that we’re told we need to achieve.

When we finally broke up, I was devastated. I mean, I was “cry your eyes out the world is going to end” devastated but not for the obvious reasons. It wasn’t that I was going to necessarily miss him as a person, but rather that the stable future I thought I could depend on was gone.

I panicked. I cried. I did the normal 20-year-old freaking out thing.

But you know what happened? In less than a week, I woke up and everything was fine. In fact, it was awesome. For the first time I had the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. I got a job as a cocktail waitress and had the best summer of my life, making new friends and doing things that made me happy — for me. It took losing who I thought I had to become to finally learn who I was — as much as you can know at age 21.

What does that have to do with me now?

Friday I lost my job.

I’m still a little in shock and I’m sure it hasn’t completely sunk in yet, but the enormity of the situation is obvious. My benefits run out at the end of the month and I have to apply for unemployment all while trying to pay my mortgage, bills, etc. all on my own. That’s huge. Enter panic and “oh my God the world is going to end” initial reaction.

But while you don’t need to know the details, I will tell you that the situation was not healthy and in fact bordered on abusive on several occasions.

And I know I was damn good at my job. Hell, two months before I was told I was great and my job was mine as long as I wanted it, which is why this was a surprise (but not unheard of, seeing as they’re a small company and more than 20 people had come in and out of that office in six years.)

But more than external praise, I know how hard I worked and I’m proud of the quality that I produced, the effort that I gave and the way that I conducted myself, despite an unhealthy situation. So while right now I’m trying to decide how to decorate the cardboard box I might end up living in, there’s also a small sense of…unfamiliar relief?

Although it’s still raw, there’s a sense that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and that maybe this is just what I needed to find something that is healthier for me — physically and mentally. Maybe this will allow me to actually do something that means something to someone other than the only person making the profit.

Because much like that relationship mentioned above, I felt stuck in this job, but yet I never left because I didn’t know what else I could do even though what I was doing wasn’t making me unhappy.

So I’m taking this as a sign.

If I wasn’t going to  seek out the respect and fulfillment I deserve, the universe decided it would step in instead and throw a high-speed curve ball at my head. Now I have no choice.

That’s not to say I’m not scared, that I won’t miss my coworkers or that things are going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Right now there’s a little bit of fear. There’s a little bit of panic. There’s this whole long ramble nobody probably read. But there’s also no walking on eggshells. There’s no sitting at a desk and counting down the seconds on the clock.

With my security stripped, there’s also an unfamiliar freedom.

Maybe it will take losing who I thought I had to become to finally learn who I am — as much as you can know at age 33.

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer who runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

Holiday drama

Aline.Weiller“Can I just be the video guy this year?” my husband Mark said last December 25. He was referring to his role in my family’s annual Nativity re-enactment. Mark’s been a willing participant for a good quarter of a century and wanted a reprieve from the spotlight.

“You know the deal…everyone’s in the play. Just go with it,” I said.

Mark didn’t respond, but instead was in hushed conversation with my European brother-in-law, Luigi, who seemed to share his sentiment. My mom saw their hesitation and caved — she allowed Mark to film the show and dubbed Luigi the narrator, who later delivered a distinguished prelude. The two of them hail from quieter Christmases and preferred their involvement not require a wardrobe change. Conversely, Dan, my remaining brother-in-law, is a trooper — an only child who enters into the fun.

My family is a creative bunch. Raised by a drama teacher and lawyer, we are a verbal brood. We revel in holiday happenings and each Christmas, my mother directs a home pageant, complete with authentic costumes and a loose script. Improvisation is encouraged. Guests often marvel at our production. This theatrical display is our norm — just another day in the life of our family — but for outsiders, it’s deemed uncommon.

A usual holiday boasts a minimum of 25 relatives, a few friends and the occasional new spouse, significant other or child. We have a rolling admission policy — visitors are welcome year-round; at our Christmases, there IS room at the Inn.

Presents are exchanged up front, then the play begins between the main course and dessert. It is a palate cleanser of sorts, the sorbet of entertainment. I bring costumes and props that have been housed in my basement for a year — shepherd’s garb and angel wings, among the dormant outfits. We then sardine into my mother’s living room for the distribution of colorful attire — striped ponchos, sturdy staffs, earth-toned scarves, and headgear to include herdsman’s hats fashioned from draped fabric and rope. I scatter stuffed animals amid the makeshift manger.

My mother appoints the roles and most graciously accept, with the exception of a few last-minute trades among the disappointed. The younger actors are told to get in costume, stand on the stairs and wait for their cues, giving more weight to their entrances. Mark, the pleased documentarian, takes backstage footage rife with hammed-up poses and faux interviews in a “VH1 Behind the Music” vein. Perfect fodder for a “best of” compilation.

“The townspeople and Wise Men were off in the distance, peacefully making their journey to meet the newborn Savior,” my mother may say, in an effort to quiet off-stage chatter.

With six grandchildren — five of whom are boys — we’ve been flush with baby Jesuses over the years, but they’re now teens and are beyond fudging it. My sons, Grant and Cameron, took rotating turns and had a good decade run. The new understudy is an American Girl doll named Madison, nabbed from my niece, who I swaddle in a timeworn Gymboree blanket.

With long brown locks, I’ve reprised my role as Mary several years running, and my two sisters, make for spirited angels, one who can actually sing on high. They even don their wings pre-show to get into character; they’re full-on method.

My brother, with his built-in beard, is usually Joseph, and the nephews and sole niece vie for the power-trip worthy Three Kings’ spots. It’s all about the crowns. First we had those of the paper Burger King ilk, but they’ve been replaced by plush, bejeweled numbers akin to those that magically appear in old Imperial margarine commercials. The kings also sport fur-lined, velvet Lillian Vernon capes for added street cred. Last year we went Hollywood and sprung for Santa and Mrs. Claus suits, commercial characters we now incorporate at the show’s close.

My mother, Gloria, is a storyteller at heart. One drama class in graduate school changed the course of her life — and in turn, that of her offspring. Still vibrant at 76, she is a dark-eyed, dark-haired Colombian who carries herself with a quiet elegance and love for play. She revels in fun. My father died 15 years back, but was always game for a repeat performance. He saluted my mother’s efforts and was often head shepherd in residence.

With age, some relatives have grown a tad less enthusiastic about our production, now eagerly offering to take pictures or be stage hands, but are guilted into, at the very least, a villager’s part. The grandchildren still willingly join in, but it’s the first-time guests — like a cousin’s girlfriend — who double as scene stealers; they approach their portrayals with refreshing fervor and have been known to use an old timey accent and dramatic gestures for added effect. They relish their newfound fame; perhaps to seek redemption for not being cast as the lead in a grade school play. Or maybe it’s an experience that’s escaped them altogether. Regardless, they want in. And my mother, who prompts our lines, knows how to bring out the best performance in everyone and affirms our delivery.

“Then Joseph questioned the Inn Keeper…” she’d say.

She’s a director’s director; everyone’s a star on Christmas.

Our holiday pageants take on a different spin each year, some are marked by surprise bloopers, others by poignant moments. One year we spontaneously broke into song — a heartfelt rendition of Little Drummer Boy — when my Uncle Johnny kept a steady beat with newly unwrapped toy bongos. Our annual renditions, unique but at the same time similar, are sealed in the albums of our memories.

A teacher first, my mother has a penchant to educate with an artistic flair; the holidays take on the aura of a play-based preschool. Our productions themselves are touchstones, constants upon which we can rely. They are the very essence of home. So, too, our plays provide the comfort of routine, rooted in tradition. They are, at once, the core of our gatherings — the means by which we celebrate not only the season, but also our collective talents and the force that is our family.

After the show, I gathered costumes haphazardly strewn about and glimpsed Mark giving the dessert crowd a proud preview of his newly minted film.

— Aline Weiller

Aline Weiller is a journalist, essayist and guest blogger whose work has been published in Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, Mamalode, Scary Mommy, Grown and Flown, Skirt and Your Teen, among others. She also the CEO/Founder of Wordsmith, LLC, a public relations firm based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

Suburban haiku: wrap up

Peyton PriceThis time of the year
don’t forget what’s important:
Scotch tape and scissors.

We do not bag gifts.
We wrap our gifts with gift wrap
‘cause that’s how we roll.

Won’t this be charming?
Gift wrap made by my children.
(“Keep stamping. No breaks.”)

Here, let me show you
how to cut out a snowflake.
“We YouTubed it, Mom.”

One more gift to wrap.
Oh wait! One more gift to buy.
One more gift to wrap.

Bless them, every one.
I’m praying for those poor souls
pinning “Gifts to Make.”

— Peyton Price

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, or looking for the Scotch tape.

Confections and miracles

Anne BardsleyIt was Christmas Eve of 1958. I was 6-years-old. I’d woken up in the dark to pull up my covers closer. The wind was howling as the tree branches smacked against my window.

“Dear God, please don’t let Santa freeze tonight,” I prayed. I prayed for everything. Sister Mary Matthew, my first grade teacher, said this was a good thing to do. Just as I finished my prayer, a blazing light shot across the sky. “Was that Santa?” I sprang out of my bed to see.

The girls at school were spreading rumors that Santa wasn’t real. “Wait until I tell them I saw his sleigh.” I shook with excitement and scooted back under the covers.

The next morning, my 4-year-old sister, Pat, woke me early. She’d already gone down the stairs and peeked under the tree. She was bouncing on my bed screaming for me to “wake up! wake up!” I was rubbing my eyes when I noticed there was white stuff on my bed.  It looked like snow.  How did that get here?  There were footprints on my carpet, too. We followed the prints down the stairs, through the dining room and into the kitchen. That’s when we saw it.

“Uh–Oh!  Somebody is in big trouble,” Pat said seriously.  There were cookie crumbs all over the table and the floor. Gran’s favorite miniature Irish tea cup from Donegal was on the table, too. We were never allowed to touch that cup in case we broke it. It was a treasured possession all the way from Ireland. My little sister’s high chair was pulled up to the table. Three phone books were on the seat.

What the heck was going on?

Mom and Dad came into the kitchen as we chimed in “We did not do this! And we didn’t touch Gran’s tea cup either.” Mom was looking at us with a doubtful expression when my dad said, “I did it last night.”  Oh, he was so brave to admit that! Pat didn’t care. “Let’s open presents!” she shouted.

My dad said, “Okay if you don’t want to hear about the elf that was here last night, go right ahead.” I couldn’t believe my ears! An elf?!? An elf was in my house?!?! “Tell me! Tell me!” I jumped up and down.

Dad said he was driving home late from work when he saw something moving in the snow. He thought it was a dog, but as he got closer, he was shocked to see it was an elf.  “He was cold and scared. His leg hurt really bad, so I took him to Doc Morrison and he put a bandage on it.”

I had so many questions.

“Where did he come from?”

“How big was he?”

“What was he wearing?”

“What is his name?”

“Dad! Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“I did try to wake you up. You must have had sugar plums dancing in your head. You didn’t even feel Charlie kiss your cheek.”

This was too much for me! “I’d been kissed by an elf named Charlie?” First, I saw Santa’s sleigh and now an elf had come to my house and kissed me! Wait until I tell the girls at school!

Dad continued to weave his tale. “Blitzen must have leaned too far to the left, and the elf just slipped off. I guess he didn’t notice and kept on flying with the other reindeer. The poor little guy was so scared when I found him.”

Mom suggested we open some presents and talk more about the elf at breakfast.

At breakfast, Dad talked more about Charlie, the elf. He told us how he rode on our puppy, Towzer. “Dad,”I said, “elves don’t ride on dogs.”

“Well this one did, ” he said. “Then he had some hot cocoa and cookies. He loved snickerdoodles! Blitzen came back for him at two a.m. I heard a tapping on the window. Boy, was I suprised to see a big reindeer at the window. Charlie was so happy to see him. I helped him back up onto Blitzen. He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Thank you, Jimmy. I’ll try to stop by again next Christmas. You have yourself a Merry Christmas.’”

Later that afternoon, my dad was falling asleep on the couch. The Christmas lights twinkling. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” played on the radio. I leaned over the top of his head, so we had upside down faces. I kissed his forehead and whispered, “This was the best Christmas of my whole life.” He smiled and said, “Mine, too, Anne. Mine, too.”

Some gifts you just can’t buy in a store or online. Merry Christmas everyone!

P.S. This tradition has continued with all my sisters and our kids — and now their kids. Every Christmas Eve we buy a 10-pound bag of confectioners sugar and dip a doll’s foot in it to make the prints. I’m sure my Dad is smiling in heaven every Christmas Eve.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

Reflections of Erma