Saturday, December 15, 2007

“Stories of the Season”



c. 2007 Rod Ice
All Rights Reserved
(12-07)

It was a brisk morning at the Icehouse. I had just stepped outside with Quigley and Riley, our canine companions. Both were eager to run after a night of slumber and rawhide-treat dreams. The pair tumbled off our porch with gleeful abandon!

I balanced my coffee mug while negotiating the front yard. A careless wind dusted our footprints with whirls of winter white. Everywhere, treetops were bent and sloppy. But it was only the beginning… months of cold were yet to come!

Riley kicked the snow at his Pomeranian brother. This sent Quigley into a barking tirade. “Yap yap yap!”

I sipped my caffeine brew. “Boys! Take it easy!”

The Pom was our senior pooch by several years. Riley had only just reached the playful age of nine months. But being a black Lab, he towered over the other pets.
This disparity had the household in an uproar!

I shoveled the entrance ramp while dogplay continued. Chilly clouds of frost seemed to watch us, from overhead. The daylight grew dim.

“Boys!” I called at last. “It’s freezing out here. Let’s get back inside!”

My wife was waiting in the kitchen. She still wore pink pajamas from the night before. Her hair spilled in every direction.

“Rodney,” she whispered. “This was our morning to sleep in. What are you doing awake so early?”

“Awake?” I said. “You mean still awake.”

Liz squawked. “Still? You’ve been up all night?”

My response was dry. “I’ve been working…looking through my files.”

She giggled. “Of course.”

I yawned with fatigue. “It seemed like a simple task – to find my favorite old story of holiday cheer for the newspaper. But as I read, the hours slipped away…”

“And you were touched by the true spirit of Christmas?” she mused with a smile.

“No,” I replied. “By a wet puppy-dog nose. Riley needed to go outside.”

Liz snorted. “Yikes!”

We moved to the household office. I gestured toward a heap of yellowed manuscripts. “There is plenty of material here. But which tale really tugs at your heart strings? I can’t decide…”

She sifted through the heap.

“Here’s one about Christmas Day of 1967!” she squeaked.

My face went red. “That was when Santa brought my first two-wheeler. It was a Schwinn Banana-bike, painted red.”

“Hmmm,” she continued. “Okay, here’s a story about Christmas of 1984. You were working at Fisher’s Big Wheel, in Chardon?”

I nodded. “That’s a sketch of Geauga as it was… I was pitifully broke in those days. We all were. Yet our holiday spirit was strong!”

My wife grinned. “Here is the ‘Pink Noel’ you wrote, last year!”

“That’s Soccer Fairy’s favorite,” I said. “She loved the part about pink fuzzy slippers…”

Finally, Liz uncovered one last column. It was a personal tale of seasonal magic.

“Here’s a story… about your brother?” she chirped with puzzlement.

I paused, silently. The search was over.

Softly, she began to read the manuscript:

Just before Thanksgiving, I was at work in one of the county’s bustling food retailers. My mood followed the hectic pace of customer activity. I spun like a traffic cop on the sales floor, offering directions, greetings, and laughter. Masses of familiar folk crowded our aisles. Everyone was in a hurry to finish shopping chores, and be gone!

The festive moment provided a rehearsal of sorts for holidays yet to come. Christmas and the New Year were now undeniably certain to arrive. Festive hints of cinnamon, egg nog, and good cheer hung thick in the air!

As I worked, a husband and wife duo struggled to negotiate this rush of humanity. ‘He’ rode in one of the electric carts provided for handicapped patrons. ‘She’ pushed a grocery cart loaded with colorful treats. Both looked to be in their early fifties. They wore creases and shadows left by hard work in a rural setting. Yet each smiled over the wandering multitudes of people. They seemed joyful to possess the gift of life.

I was wheeling a rack of fresh bread through this maze, when the fellow spoke. His voice was humble, and friendly. “Are you the manager here, Mister?”

I nodded, dutifully. “Yes, sir. May I help you?”

His ruddy face wrinkled into a gentle look of satisfaction.

“I just wanted to compliment your store,” he said quietly. “We’re buying for ourselves, and our family. This is wonderful, to have so many choices…”

I had to take a deep breath. The praise caught me with pleasant surprise. “Thank you, kindly!”

The customer patted his round belly, playfully. “Of course, I didn’t get like this by being picky!” Something familiar in his voice made me pause, and listen even more intently. It was as if I had known him, before.

Our conversation turned toward the holiday season. He spoke about new health issues that were making store visits slow and difficult. It was an unhappy adjustment he lamented. With a quiet nod, his wife affirmed their changing lifestyle. Personal challenges were everywhere. But they retained a good-natured outlook.

As our interaction ended, I realized what had caused echoes of déjà vu to reverberate in my mind. The humble man looked very much like an older version of my own… brother!

Sadness filled my eyes, as I thought of my kin.

We had not spoken for many years. But by accident, he had been returned to me in this moment of chance. The image was powerful. Had I been a witness to tomorrow?

That night, I lingered in front of the computer with a cup of coffee. It was impossible to forget the encounter in Chardon. I felt moved to write ‘Little Bro’ a letter. We had drifted apart, as siblings sometimes do, through a series of unforeseen circumstances. Over the years, I had tried to heal this rift, without success. Time faded reality, until I couldn't remember what had caused us to ignore each other. But the divide continued to exist.

In the glow from my PC, I mused over thoughts of lost traditions. Soon, the brew in my coffeemaker had boiled down to a thick syrup of black.

What could I do?

The answer, of course, was to put my thoughts on paper. As my page filled with text, I felt the presence of hope. Suddenly, it had become a season of promise!

“Dear Brother, Newfound friends at the store have helped reveal the true meaning of holiday cheer. Love is truly the greatest gift of all. So I bid Season’s greetings to you. I ask your patience, forgiveness, and understanding in this special time of the year. But most of all, I pray that you will remember… though distance and pride may separate us, you will always be in my heart!”


My wife wiped a tear. “Did he answer your note?”

“No,” I replied. “But sharing those words brought a sense of calm to the frantic holiday season. I felt glad, inside.”

She snuggled close, with the wrinkled paper still in her hand. “I think you’ve found the right story, Rodney.”

At last, my X-mas search was complete.

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