30 December 2010

The Year The Queens Saved Christmas

It was a very cold Christmas Eve, and Santa and his elves were about halfway around the world when Santa gasped, "Oh no! Oh no!" Tears sprung to Santa's eyes.

"What is it Santa?" his worried elves questioned. The reindeer had stopped mid-flight and suspended themselves in the air to await Santa's reply.

"I...I forgot to pack enough toys for all of the girls and boys. I meant to grab one last stack of things on my workbench but I forgot them. We don't have enough time to go back to the North Pole because if we did, Christmas would be ruined for all of the rest of the kids in the world."

They were quiet for a moment, when the reindeer looked down at the earth below them. They were above a home with many deer eating outside. The reindeer used their magic to talk to them and explained what was happening in the stars above them.

"Well," the deer responded, "There are some lovely Queens that live in this house. Why, they leave us food out all the time. They might be happy to help out Santa, but you'd better ask the cats outside."

Santa quietly landed his sleigh in the backyard of the Queens and walked up to the stray cats eating outside. "Well, Santa," they said, "The Queens that live here are very special people. They make sure we have food and milk at night. They probably wouldn't mind helping you out."

Santa, his elves and the reindeer whispered among themselves. Their whispers sounded like the softest of breezes drifting through the trees.

Santa used his magic to open the door to the Queens home, for he was very sad to have to do what he had to do and his magic only worked on chimneys when he was jolly. He and his elves quietly began to collect the Queens things that would make other children very happy.

Hank and Erin looked up at Santa and asked him what he was doing. Santa explained his mistake to them and the dogs looked at one another with sorrow in their eyes. They knew that the Queens would be sad to see their things go, but agreed that they would want to save Christmas.

"Better explain that to Babe and Ruth," they said, "Because those cats are mean and they might attack you." Santa found the cats perched on a shelf, waiting to pounce. He explained why he and his elves were in the house taking things instead of leaving presents for the Queens. Babe and Ruth climbed down from the shelf and curled up on the couch, hugging each other as they thought of their Queens.

Santa and his elves gathered up enough things to save Christmas for all of the other boys and girls in the world and walked back out to Santa's sleigh. They were racing across the sky when an elf cried out, "Santa stop!"

Santa stopped his sleigh and looked at the elf. "I made a mistake, Santa. I was just playing with it and meant to put it back, but I was so busy that I forgot." In his little elf hand, he held a baseball.

When Santa reached out and took the ball, a great silence and sadness overcame Santa and his elves, for when Santa held the ball in his magic hands, it allowed those on the sleigh to see what was inside.

They saw ballpark lights, a field with a "D" on it, children on their stomachs in front of TV's, families cheering in stands, sisters jumping up and down with joy, orange pennants and posters on walls and wonderful memories. They saw a childhood inside of that baseball and they knew that the Queen's mom would be very sad that the baseball was gone.

Santa held it for a moment and said, "There is only one thing that I can do, for we cannot stop or else we won't be able to save Christmas."

With that, Santa held the baseball out in front of him in both of his hands and it slowly rose above him, twirling magically. As it began to spin faster and faster, the elves and reindeer watched in wonder as the blue ink spun off of the ball and turned into the blue of the skies and the waters of the earth. 

The white on the baseball wove itself into the clouds in the skies and the snow as it fell like a blanket on the earth. The red thread of the baseball intertwined with the most beautiful sunsets and amazing sunrises and the skies when they turn a pinkish red that the Queens love so much.

"Now we've given it to the universe, and the universe will decide if the baseball will make it back there or not. If it doesn't make it back, I'm sure the Queens mom will look out around her and remember all of the good things that were inside of the baseball and smile."

The elves and reindeer felt better and were very happy when they finished delivering the last present to the last family on Santa's route. They all made it back to the North Pole, and although they were tired and cold and couldn't wait to lay down in their beds and stables to sleep for a few days, they were very glad that all of the girls and boys had gotten presents that year. Then they thought of the Queens and made a special place for them in their hearts where they would stay forever.

And that is the story of The Year The Queens Saved Christmas.
When I finished reading this to Little A and she realized what it meant, with tears streaming down her sweet cheeks, she put her hands on my face and said, for '"Well, if Santa needed 'demda other kids, 'dat's OK with me." She gives me more faith in humankind than I can express.

29 December 2010


"Looking for something?" The white blazer pulled up alongside me, two elderly men sitting next to each other, awaiting my answer.

"A baseball," I replied with a smile.

One of the men punched the arm of his friend next to him with a warm familiarity, "I told you. I told you that's what she was going to say."

They both looked back at me. "Going to be tough to find a baseball out here." He paused as I nodded, "Snow and all."

"Right," I said. "Did someone tell you they threw it out here? That it's out here in the ditch?" I shook my head no and looked down at my foot as I made a circle in the snow.

I picked my head back up and told them that my plan was just to look for imprints in the snow that resembled a baseball. They looked at one another for a moment; I could sense that within their glance, they were silently deciding which one would talk next and that neither of them wanted to be the one to speak.

"It's going to be really tough, not even knowing if the ball is out here, you know? It's cold, maybe you should head inside."

I was hoping that my smile might belie my tears when I told them that I'd seen a lot of things that I wouldn't have believed possible.

"You're awful young to have seen something that big," the man closest to me responded softly. I could see the genuine concern in his eyes and I thought, for a moment, of my grandfather, of how he would tell the story of the crazy lady he talked to on the side of the road, looking for a baseball in the snow.

I laughed and said one of those things happened in 1984, in the bottom of the eighth inning and was cut off mid-sentence as the driver said, "I still can't believe they threw to him." "I know," I said, "I was doubled over with hope and fingers over my eyes when everyone in the house was yelling, 'They're not going to walk him! They're not going to walk him!' " Our laughter danced in the freezing air for a few moments.

Then he nodded slowly toward the land in front of me, "Better let you get back to looking, then. Never know what you're gonna find."

27 December 2010

Holding Hope

"I don't want to give you any hope," he said as he looked down at his report. He glanced up at me and then away again. I would have wanted to avoid my eyes as well, I know.

I smiled and nodded my head, unable to speak any further. "I wish I could think of something to tell you, something to say, I have kids too, you know, I wouldn't know how to explain this."

"I'll figure it out." I opened the door for him and wished him happy holidays and watched as he got into his police car and drove away, shut the door, locked it and sat down and wept.

For the first Christmas in five years, I was planning to go see my family and stay there for the entire holiday season. My sister and I were nearly giddy with the thought of time, real time for our kids to play and to sit and just be together.

I had grasped my grandmothers hand on Christmas Eve and told her that I'd be out to see her soon, because the girls and I were staying for a while.

While the girls and I were away, others were in our home. Uninvited, unwanted and most seemingly, utterly uncaring.

I wonder still, sitting here, what they were thinking as they unhooked the Wii, how they felt taking all of their games, their toys, their electronics. What was going through their minds as they took Little A's piggy bank and emptied the contents.

This year for Christmas, the Queens and I talked; we had a small season for each other and instead purchased gifts for those less fortunate than us; there are many--there still are, I know this.

I had asked my family to send money to those that I knew were in need rather than purchasing me gifts this year. On Christmas Eve, I was upset to see a gift with my name on it and looked at my sister accusingly. "It was too late," she said, "I couldn't take it back. I still mailed the money; I wanted to mail the money." When I opened her gift, I nodded and wept. A DVD collection of the Detroit Tigers history and crucial games, including their series win in 1984. I whispered thank you and tried to reign myself back in. I think I've told you before that if childhood could take shape, mine would be in the form of a baseball?

It is here, probably selfishly, that I am sobbing still. Sitting on the top of the bookshelf made from wood from my grandparents barn, in front of a photo of my grandparents, sat a worn baseball on which was scribbled, "To Jennifer, Go Tigers, Kirk Gibson". Not much from my childhood made it through the water damage and then the fire this year. Like most everything else from my youth, now that baseball is gone, too.

Because of the two insurance claims this year, I cannot make a claim for this. Rather, I can, but then I won't have homeowners insurance. I left my daughters with family to come home and try to sort out what to do, but there really is no sorting to be done. I look over at one of their three presents, a wii game and look to the empty spot and try to figure out how to tell Little A that we don't have her things anymore.

Big A, of course, compiled a list of everything we had from 200 miles away. Strong, steady, enraged and only a little broken, with her touch of sarcasm, "I bet you feel really bad about not getting us anything now, don't you?" I love her. She and I will make this OK, somehow.

But the thought of telling Little A what happened; I cannot do that. Her heart is too good; her belief is too sincere. She waited and waited and waited all year for Christmas. She swears Santa is her best friend. She, who halts and averts her eyes from strangers, ran onto Santa's lap and hugged him. I will not tell her that on Christmas, someone came into our home and took her belongings, so I'm planning to lie. Or rather tell her a story. She loves stories; always each night, "Momma, will you tells me a story from when you was a little girl?"

I looked up the prices for a Wii and controllers and laughed. I looked up the prices to the games that we'd had and cried. I walked by the bookcase and outright sobbed.

"When they realize that the baseball is worthless to them because it has your name on it, they are probably going to....get rid of it," the policeman said. I remember a noise actually leaving my throat when he said that, but I quickly put my hand on my chest and smiled. I didn't know what else to do.

When he told me that he didn't want to give me hope, I didn't respond because I didn't think I could get the words out or get the quote right. I wanted to tell him that he didn't need to give me hope, because, for whatever reason, inside, I've always had it. After he left, I went to look up the exact words:
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. ~George Iles.

I don't have to look back too far to be grateful for what we do have, this year alone we've seen a lot of our possessions ruined by either water or fire. We still have a home, still have each other, still have our pets. And, I suppose, in some way, I still have that baseball, wrapped up tightly with the memories of my youth, barring a few scratches and a worn, red thread.

20 December 2010

How To Change The World

For any of you that wonder if anything that you do makes a difference at all....it does.

Living proof, right here, right now, of the possibility within all of us, and you still have time to help.

A fellow blogger decided to offer gift cards to twenty people in need this holiday season. When her personal limit was rapidly met, someone else jumped in, saying they would help the next person in need, and then someone else offered to help the next person in need. As of this morning, in less than a week, $22,000 in gift cards have been sent to total strangers around the world who didn't know how they were going to make it through the holidays.

As of this morning, there are still people in need and you still have time to help. It doesn't just make any difference, it makes all the difference.

Please, go here and do what you can.

Thank you.

19 December 2010

A Letter to My Grandfather


I know that once I showed you this place, I'd often check my sitemeter for the clicks that were yours. Did you know it was possible to miss an I.P. address? I'm sure you didn't and if I'd told you that, you would have shook your head and said something like, "I don't get kids anymore", even though I'm not a kid and haven't been for some time now.

It's this time of year when I think a lot about being a kid, which of course makes me think about you and Gram. About magic. About mystery. About faith and belief and about what now remains.

The Tigers continue to walk to the edge and collapse, so there is that constant. I couldn't watch them, you know, after you were gone. I want to instill the passion for baseball and sports into my kids, but that year was too much. 

Like when you've left the water on a brisk day, and when you were in it, you were fine, but once out--the challenge of going back in seems crazy, dangerous even. You could get hypothermia in there. You could get a cramp and be unable to make it to shore. You could begin to weep and be unable to stop. So you don't go back in.

That's probably why, I think, I haven't been to your grave. It's hard to write that here, for I'm sure the first reaction of those that read it is my reaction within myself: selfish. No time to even go there and visit your grandfather's grave? I think you wouldn't think that, because of the things that I hope but do not know for sure, is that you hear each time I think of you and understand that I am visiting you in those moments.

A baseball game, blue skies, an orange push-up, a dirt road, a work truck, a piece of wood, a bad play during a game where someone wasn't "using their head", Silent Night, Amazing Grace, blue eyes, laughter.

I wish I'd recorded the sound of your laughter. I wish I'd recorded your singing. Big A asked me not to laugh before we went into a basketball game where she wanted to make a good impression. I'm not sure if the tears that stung my eyes were because it hurt me, or because I thought of you.

My dogs left, not long after you. You were right; they were like kids; they had souls; I won't be able to think of them and not feel like there is a rock in my heart. I remember our trips in the work trucks, the animals we picked up and saved, the cats you fed and sheltered. I've begun leaving cat food out at night for the strays out here. There are three that come now. They look in at me and I look back at them and I hope they trust me. (I really hope they trust me because my vet has agreed to spay them once I lure them into a cage.) I like being the place where the most innocent of souls know they can find a bit of food and some shelter. I know you know what I mean.

Big A is the athlete that we'd suspected she'd be. More so, than I'd thought. She doesn't have the patience to listen when I try to explain the logic, the thinking behind the plays; she doesn't want to hear it from me. I wish you were here to tell her. I know she wishes that, too. She's grown, nearly as tall as me. She's bright, brighter than me. She's harder around the edges and she doesn't like to show emotions and that's difficult for me and more so for her, I suspect.

Little A is growing and has a soul that is thousands of years old. She knows things she shouldn't possibly know, says things beyond her years; beyond the years of many. She crosses her fingers one over the other, picks at parts of herself until she bleeds, smiles fake smiles to cover fear, has to stand to do her work and doesn't like bright lights, loud noises, new people or new things, but she fiercely loves what she loves and when she feels safe she is the most alive and funny person I've ever met. I'm terrified of people crushing her. Terrified. She remembers you, which most would think odd, but not me. She recalls the last time you two shared a meal before Christmas. She remembers the bench you sat on. She remembers your plate and your discussion of what good food is. She says, "I remembers his voice, ma." And her blue eyes cloud over when we talk of you in Heaven now, but then she will say that she knows that Smoosh and Jessie are with you and I believe her.

Gram is a lifetime older. It breaks me each time I see her, which isn't enough. Her voice is distant and her letters are sad and it makes me remember the day as a child that Dzia-Dzia and I were swinging on that green swing in the gardens and he said that if he could have anything, he would leave the world with Busi at the same time. I didn't understand it then. I do now. Gram swears that she hears you and feels you; I believe that she does. I believe that we all do.

This month is hard for most anyone, I think. It was hard on Thursday when I finally sat down that night and looked at what the date on the calendar actually was. Your birthday. I choked back a sob. I keep waiting for the grief to not be so sudden and violent, but it still is most times when it sneaks up on me.

I'm blessed, I know. My life is good; I am doing a job that I love, my children are well, I have many wonderful friends. I feel like I should be happier, but I don't know how; I don't think that the idea of happiness that I have will come back again. Pure happiness, in my heart, is a girl with her head stuck out the window of a truck, grinning from ear to ear, remnants of an orange push-up getting glued to her face, the Tigers on the radio. I'm trying to create that girl for my girls; I think that is the only way and I wish that you were here to tell me I were right or that I think too much.

I love you still and miss you madly.