Friday, November 26, 2021

THE ANSWER And Other Christmas Stories

This story is dedicated to every parent, family member or friend who has no earthly idea how to answer that extremely difficult question which often crops up at this time of year. I call it "The Answer"


Well, now. That is a good question. And an important question, too. And I suppose the best way to answer it would be to tell you a sort of a story. Is it a true story? Hmm…well, let me tell it first and then…well, let me just tell it…

 

Imagine that a very, very long time ago, there lived a man. A good man. A kind man. A man with a heart full of love and compassion for others. Now, imagine that this kind, loving man lived in a small village, far, far away from here. Life was hard in this little village. The people were poor, the winters were brutal, and they had to work hard just to get by. There wasn’t much time for fun or playing in this small, northern village.

Now, our kindly friend…his name? Well, let’s call him “Nicholas.” Anyway, he felt sorry for his neighbors, but mostly he felt sorry for the children. Their lives were cold and dark and they had very little to smile about. Nicholas loved all children, even though he had none of his own. And it broke his heart to see their sad faces.

But what could he do? Nicholas wasn’t a farmer, so he couldn’t grow more food for the hungry village. He wasn’t a herdsman, so he couldn’t raise cattle or oxen, or even the large, hairy deer that lived nearby to provide food and pelts. He couldn’t make the winters milder, couldn’t ease the burdens of the villagers.

The only thing he could do, the one thing he had always been very good at, was carving wood.

Yes, Nicholas was a carpenter. And a good one, too. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t fasten out of wood. That was how he made his living. He made tables and chairs and things in his workshop and sold them to the villagers. Or he would repair things for them. He was very handy with his tools. And it occurred to Nicholas one day that it might make the children of his village just a little bit less sad if they had some toys to play with.

So, one winter’s night, Nicholas spent a few hours in his workshop making toys. Carving little animals out of leftover chunks of wood. One for every boy and girl in the village. Then, he put on his heavy red coat and tiptoed all over the village, leaving the toys on the children’s windowsills so that they would be the first thing they saw when the awoke the next morning.

But, he had taken longer than he had meant to, and the sun was coming up just as he delivered the last toy—a little black kitten with green eyes; he was giving this one to a girl he knew whose real pet had died not long ago. The rays of the rising sun woke the little girl and she saw Nicholas, just for a fraction of a moment. But, with the light coming from behind him, she couldn’t make out his face. All she saw was a large, bearded figure in a red coat. And Nicholas ran away before she could get a better look.

Why did he run away? Why did he sneak around town? Why didn’t Nicholas want anyone to know that it was he who had delivered the toys? I don’t know for sure. Maybe he felt that a true act of charity should be anonymous. Maybe he didn’t want a lot of attention. Or maybe he was just trying to bring some magic into the lives of these poor children, by letting them wonder who it was who had brought them gifts in the night.

If that was his intention, it certainly worked. The next day, all the children of the village would talk about was the Mysterious Toyman who had brought them such lovely toys and then disappeared without a trace…or, almost without a trace.

“I saw him!” said the little girl with the little black kitten. “It was a big man with a beard and a big red jacket!”

For days and days afterward, the entire village was talking about the Toyman, wondering who (or what) he could be. All sorts of crazy stories grew out of that one little girl’s description. From a big, bearded man with a red coat, the Toyman became a giant, or an elf, or a wizard, or an angel. It was all Nicholas could do to keep from chuckling anytime anyone mentioned the strange and mysterious giver of gifts.

If I’m being honest, I think some people probably knew who it was. I mean, Nicholas was a big guy with a beard and people had seen him wearing his red coat. And, after all, who was a better woodcarver? But, if anyone had guessed Nicholas’s secret, they kept it to themselves. The mystery of the Toyman was more exciting for the children than the truth would have been.

Of course, the biggest question the children asked about the Toyman was “When will he be back?” Nicholas hadn’t really thought about this. But the whole thing had felt so good and brought so many smiles to the faces of the children, he felt like he had to do it again. Frankly, he would have been happy to do it every day for the rest of his life. Make the toys during the day, deliver them at night, he would have been contented. But, that would not have been too practical. After all, he had his own work to do. Giving away toys is all well and good, but a man has to eat. Not to mention that giving the children a new toy every day would likely make them spoiled.

So, Nicholas decided the Toyman would return on the same night every year. Which night? Well, it wasn’t hard to choose. What better night to give from the heart and add a little magic and wonder to a cold, dreary world than Christmas Eve?

The years went by and the Toyman became a legend. He was woven into the mythology of the little village, which was slowly growing into more of a small town. The first children to receive his gifts were grown up and had children of their own, so the story was passed down to them. And, as with most stories, it changed a little with each retelling.

“He flies across the sky.”

“His magic sack is always full, no matter how many gifts he takes out of it.”

“His beard sweeps the ground.”

“He’ll come this year, if you’ve been good.”

“He won’t come if you’re not asleep.”

Of course, Nicholas heard all of these stories. It only warmed his heart to hear his legend growing along with the town. But the bigger the town, the more people there were. Which meant more children, more gifts and more stops on Nicholas’s route. Being the Toyman was getting harder and Nicholas was not as young as he used to be. His full, thick beard was turning whiter by the day. He was slowing down, losing his strength. When he had started, he’d been able to fit all the toys he’d needed into a large sack which he carried on his back. Now he needed a sled to carry all the presents through the snow.

(And, just between us, he was putting on a bit of weight, too. I mean, he was always a big guy, but, you know, as you get older, it’s harder to…well, never mind)

The good news is that he wasn’t alone anymore. He had some friends to help him. Young people from the town who had figured out the Toyman’s identity, felt inspired by what he was doing, and wanted to be a part of it themselves. So, Nicholas taught his “little helpers” how to make the toys, how to guide the sled (which later became a large sleigh, pulled by some of those big, hairy deer) and, most important of all, how to do it without waking the children

The Toyman’s legacy continued to grow along with the town and the stories people told about him.

“He lives underground and he only comes out once a year.”

“He’s king of the elves and all the other elves help him make the toys.”

“His sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer!”

“He has an evil brother who punishes bad kids!”

Admittedly, some of the stories were less plausible than others.

In any case, Nicholas kept going, year after year.

Even when his hands could no longer grip his tools…

Even when his eyes began to fail and he couldn’t steer the sleigh at night…

Even when he got so old and frail that he couldn’t get into or out of the sleigh on his own…

Through it all, he kept going. Every Christmas Eve, without fail, for as long as he lived.

But no one lasts forever.

Nicholas passed away, peacefully in his sleep, his heart full of love and pride, secure in the knowledge that, during his life, he had thought of others before himself and that, in his own humble way, he had left the world a happier place than he had found it. And that is the most any of us can hope for when our time to depart had come.

Now, you might think that this is the end of the story…but it’s not. Because that very next Christmas, the children of the large town (more of a small city by now) once again awoke to see toys left for them by the Kindly Old Toyman.

How? How could Nicholas have left those gifts if he was no longer alive? Well, of course, he couldn’t…not physically, anyway.

It was his helpers who had really made those toys and delivered them, the way Nicholas had taught them to. They did it just the way he had, and they did it in his name, to honor his memory and to keep his spirit alive.

Because, the fact of the matter is that people die. There’s no getting around that. But ideas can live forever. Dreams can live forever. And love lives on, even when the ones we love are gone. So, even though Nicholas was gone from this world, the Toyman would live forever.

And he has.

Because the people of Nicholas’s town began to travel. To leave the town behind and make their homes elsewhere in the wide world. And, wherever they settled, they brought their own version of the Legend of the Christmas Toyman. They shared the legend with their children and they kept it alive by giving them gifts on Christmas Eve. Where had it come from? Who had brought it?

Why, the Toyman of course.

Or Pere Noelle…or Sinterklaas...Kris Kringle…St. Nicholas…Father Christmas…Santa Claus.


Is this what happened? Can the person we know as Santa Claus really be traced back to some altruistic carpenter who lived goodness knows how many years ago? I have no idea. It’s doubtful we’ll ever really know where it all began. Someone gave someone a gift without taking credit for it, someone else made up a story to explain it, that got mixed up with a few historical figures (there really was a St. Nicholas, after all) and then a guy wrote a poem about the Night Before Christmas and another guy drew a picture of a fat guy in red for a soft drink company.

But, that’s not the point. The point is that it doesn’t matter how much of this story is true, or if any of it is. It doesn’t matter what we call him, or if he even exists. The point is that every time a person gives of themselves, gives with a heart full of unselfish love, just for the sheer joy of giving…then that person is Santa Claus.

So, if you’re asking me “is there an immortal fat guy who lives at the North Pole, flies around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, squeezes down chimneys and subsists on nothing but milk and cookies?”…then, no. Of course not. There couldn’t be such a person.

On the other hand, if you’re asking me “is there a Santa Claus?” Well, yes. Of course there is. And there always will be.

THE END


Or, rather, not quite the end, because I've written some other Christmas stories...

NOTHING FOR CHRISTMAS is about two old friends who are down on their luck, but won't let anything (not even reality) stop them from having a happy holiday.

Here's another story which strives to answer a puzzling holiday question: DO TURTLES HAVE CHRISTMAS? 

THE TRIBULATIONS OF MISS ELLA FUNT is a video story I wrote/illustrated a few years ago with the help of my local branch of Toys For Tots (an excellent cause, I might add)

And, finally, there's my play, THE WORKSHOP, which is all about Santa and his elves working hard to make Christmas magical. 

Thanks for reading/watching and have a Merry Everything!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

POEMETRY

“It isn’t Brain…because You Know Why, Rabbit; but it comes to me sometimes.”

—A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Winnie the Pooh and his friends have always been a great inspiration to me as a poemer. In fact, the first poem I ever wrote was about Piglet. I was six years old and it went a little something like this:

SMALL

I am a little guy.

I know I cannot fly.

If I were very big,

I’d be much taller than a twig.

But I am very small.

And I am not so tall.

But there’s one thing that shows I’m big

At least I’m taller than a twig!

I love reading and writing silly poems for kids of all ages (except 83 1/2). Would you like to read some? You can! Here's how:

STORYBERRIES is a great site for teachers, parents or aardvarks. It's overflowing with FREE stories and poems for the kids. Here you can read poems I wrote about the seasons, elephants, bunnies, moms, ghosts and gooses. 

Or take flight with THE DIRIGIBLE BALLOON! This is a newer site but it's already got a lot of great poems (also FREE) by writers from all over the world. My contributions include a treatise about ants, the tale of an unusual ballerina and over one (1) additional poem!

If you like what you read, tell seventeen people! If you don't like it...what am I even saying? Of course you're gonna like it! Who wouldn't love a poem about a dancing cow? Nobody, that's who.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

THE REINDEER FILES

INTERWORKSHOP MEMO

FROM: Willie, Chief Stable Elf

TO: Santa

CC: Rodney, Head Elf; Cindy, Assistant to Head Elf


Dear Santa,

Here are the files on those reindeer who are applying to be on the team this year. Lots of diversity, which I for one think is a good thing...up to a point.

Ever since Rudolph, we've been getting a lot more applicants who are--in one way or another--different, unusual, or unconventional. But, let's face it: not everyone can have something as useful as a luminous nose, and while I admire their spirit and tenacity...well, see for yourself:

CRISPIN THE NEAR-SIGHTED REINDEER

Crispin is a fine specimen, physically. Very fit with tremendous stamina, both traits we look for in a deer. His only real problem is that he's legally blind at night. And, while I know we do our best to be accommodating...I mean, it's very much a night job, pulling the sleigh. I might recommend him for a training position. Something that takes place during daylight hours.


HERMIA THE AGOROPHOBIC REINDEER

She's really very keen, and she even went to school with Comet, and he's vouched for her work ethic. But she's absolutely terrified of heights. She's pretty confident that she can overcome this fear, if it means pulling the sleigh, but we had to do the interview outside because she was afraid to climb the steps to get inside, so I have my concerns. 

STAN AND OLIVIA THE TWO-HEADED REINDEER(S)

In many ways, I can see where having a two-headed reindeer on the team could be a positive thing. But, this is a team and Stan and Olivia do not work well together. They spent most of the interview bickering over which one was the front and which one was the back, and whenever they turn their heads to face one another, their antlers get tangled. Hard pass. 



TOMAS THE INVISIBLE REINDEER

He pointed out that what you do requires stealth, and he's got a point. But I think you have to weight the advantages against the downsides. And, considering the fact that I literally lost him three times during the interview, I'm convinced that the cons outweigh the pros with this one.


GUSTAV THE VERY-NEARLY-DEAD REINDEER

I mean...well, it's in the name, really, isn't it? I just don't think a very-nearly-dead reindeer is going to be able to pull the sleigh without...what? Oh. Oh, I see. 

And, I've just been informed that his condition has changed. He is no longer very nearly dead...So...yeah, probably best if we just move on.

ARTURO THE ONE-LEGGED REINDEER

I want the record to show that I am not ableist. I would have no qualms whatever about hiring a three-legged reindeer. I could even see us hiring a two-legged reindeer, providing they were able to keep up with the requirements of the job. But I think, if we're being honest, we can all agree that one leg is just plain not enough. 



And then, of course, we have all the usual Rudolph copycats. They don't seem to understand that it takes more than a red nose to be part of the team. They seem to think all they need to get a song written about them is an oddly colored body part. So, this year, we had:

BONGO THE BLUE-EARED REINDEER

He doesn't have any kind of enhanced hearing or anything. His ears are just very, very blue.

VALENCIA THE GREEN-FURRED REINDEER

Fairly sure she used paint.

CALPERNIA THE BROWN-EYED REINDEER

She just...she just has brown eyes. That's not even a thing.


So, yeah. There ya go. Nice enough guys, but I just don't think there's room for them on the team. 

Sincerely,

Willie

Saturday, November 7, 2020

NOVEMBER 2020

Remember, remember,

The Third of November,

In the year of two-zero-two-oh.

I’m quite sure we’d regret

If we ever forget

The day Don was defeated by Joe.

----------------


It had been four long years

Full of anger and tears

Thanks to Russians and racists and crooks

Who had made their selection,

And caused the election

To be one for history books.

 

It just didn’t make sense

That a schmuck so immense

Could have made it to DC at all.

But we stopped asking why

When folks started to die

And our national pride took a fall.

 

We were mad, we were scared,

At the monsters who dared

Show their face in the broad light of day.

Now that Trump was in charge,

They were all living large.

Neo-Nazis could now have their say.

 

We complained, we beseeched;

Yes, we even impeached,

But his cronies defended him still.

The result was no soap.

We were all losing hope

But there is a way, if there’s a will.

 

When that role Biden filled,

True, we weren’t all that thrilled,

But when Sanders and Warren, et al

Failed to get the top spot,

We all shrugged, said, “Why not?”

And declared Mr. B was our pal.

 

In the days that preceded

The third, we all heeded

The words of our heroes and friends.

That the polls are all phooey

(Like when Truman beat Dewey)

And that we could decide how this ends.

 

And—oh boy!—what a night!

As we huddled in fright,

The polls closed and they started the count.

One for Don, one for Joe.

Not one soul seemed to know

Who’d end up with the proper amount.

 

So, we all went to bed,

Our hearts heavy with dread,

And we hoped, come the morning, we’d know.

But when next rose the sun,

Seemed the count wasn’t done.

Neither one had hit two-seven-oh.

 

Remember, remember,

The Fourth of November,

And watching the states which might swing.

First AZ, then MI

Fin’ly went to our guy.

Yes, eternally, hope seems to spring.

 

As the long day wore on,

Things looked lousy for Don.

It seemed sure he was headed for sorrow.

But the count in NV

Was a slow one, so we

Once again had to wait till tomorrow.

 

Remember, remember, the FIFTH of…

No, on second thought, don’t bother.

Pretty much nothing happened all day.

Moving on.

 

Now, the sixth, I will say

Was a memorable day,

Because two states that once had been red

Quickly shifted to blue;

Now the whole wide world knew

That this thing had been turned on its head.

 

Then, on day number seven,

Month number eleven,

(Four days later, for those taking notes)

Came the end of this mania,

Thanks to old Pennsylvania

And their twenty electoral votes.

 

Yes, the darkness had passed,

We saw daylight, at last,

And the Trumpers were fresh out of luck.

Cuz their bigoted hero,

Far from two-seven-zero,

Would go down as a one term lame duck!

---------------- 

 

Remember, remember,

That fateful November,

And states marked in red or in blue.

Things turned out how they ought…

But it can’t be forgot

That we still have so much work to do.

Friday, October 30, 2020

WITCHES' SESTINA

In honor of Halloween, I offer this poem. It was inspired by two of my favorite poems by Neil Gaiman and is my first attempt at composing a sestina. Each verse tells the story of a different witch or witches.


All I ever did was to give you a home.

You could have told me if you found it cold.

He said he loved you, so you let down your hair.

He had you then; your love game him his power.

I was your mother—in name if not in blood.

Tell me, little one…what was wrong with my love?

Some will say I am bereft of love

But I will be mistress in my own home.

They all will bow to my beauty and my power,

Despite your snowy skin and ebon hair.

They’ll say twas jealousy that turned my heart cold

And made me ask the Huntsman for your blood.

 They plan to wash away my sin with blood—

No other way I might regain His love.

My shivering was not from fear, but cold.

I feel the flames now; smell my burning hair.

I have faith that, in death, I will find my way home

To bow before His mercy and His power.

 My Lord, your future is within our power.

We toss into the cauldron eyes and blood,

A tongue, a toe, a lock of mottled hair.

The cauldron boils; the fire warms our home.

How many more must die to please your love?

Words give heat to the breath of deeds too cold.

 Behold my world! Perfectly white and cold.

The forest is completely in my power.

Even the Lion with his tales of hope and love

Is no match for the magic in my blood.

I ride my mighty sledge back to my home,

And feel the winter wind blow through my hair.

A little girl with a puppy and braided hair

Does not exactly make my blood run cold.

There were four of us, strong in magic and blood.

She robbed me of my sister. Of my love.

But that was chance; she has no real power.

She’s not a threat. Just a kid who wants to go home.

 

They think they know us; Think us vile and cold.

They run from us or cry out for our blood.

They hate us for our magic…for our power.


Thursday, September 24, 2020

MY QUARANTINE POEM

I was trimming my beard the other day when I asked myself, "Why am I doing this? Why am I putting so much effort into maintaining this beard when no one can see it?" The end result of that thought process was this poem.


Looking in the mirror,

Study my reflection.

Brushing the tiny hairs,

Carefully clip and trim

The mustache and the beard.

I wish it were thicker

(And that I saw less gray),

But I think it looks good.

One last look to make sure.

Then I put on my mask

So I can go outside

Into a world that’s changed.

 

Our lives are different now.

This virus has taken

So much from all of us.

Kept us from each other.

Forced us to cover up

Each time we go outside.

No one has seen my face

In such a long time. But

What happens to that face,

Underneath the paper,

That still belongs to me.

The virus can’t have that.

 

This virus has taken

So much from all of us,

But can’t take everything.

So, yes, I trim my beard

And clean up the mustache

To remind myself that

The world hasn’t ended.

That the face I see when

I look in the mirror

Has not vanished for good

And the day will come when

We’ll all take off our masks.

 

And,  maybe, on that day,

I’ll meet a pretty girl

Who’ll think that my beard makes

Me look like Iron Man…

What? It could so happen!

(You don’t know!)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

SOME LIMERICKS, WHY NOT?

A limerick is a light, comic verse form popularized by Edward Lear. No one seems to know why they are named after a county in Ireland as they seem to have no connection thereto. In any case, I happen to like them and they're super fun to make up, so here are some of my goodest limericks:

A GROWNUP'S ADVICE TO CHILDREN
As I age, I expand in the middle,
And my bones are increasingly brittle.
There’s more work and less play,
I can’t hear what folk say,
So, if I were you, I would stay little.


ROSES AND VIOLETS: A REBUTTAL
That some roses are red is quite true,
But if I may be quite frank with you:
Some roses are white,
Pink or yellow. I might
Also point out that violets ain’t blue!


AUTO-INCORRECT
Many times, when I text with a friend,
It comes out different than I intend.
Thanks to autocorrect,
I can’t always select
How my message is going to Enid.


THESE ONES DON'T HAVE TITLES:

My Auntie, who comes from Peru,
Came down with a terrible flu.
She said that a hug
Was by far the best drug,
So I hugged her. Now I have it too!

My Uncle, who lives in Tibet,
Has an ostrich he keeps for a pet.
He’s hoped for an egg,
But the bird is called “Greg”
And it hasn’t laid anything yet.