Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Norman's Rocky Bottom

This is a photo given to me by my friend and classmate, Norman Jeffcoat. It features the bridge spanning the Edisto River where we all learned to swim and where we hung out when we were young. Norman died in November but I think he would be pleased to know that his lovely bridge picture made it to Facebook and beyond.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fly Me To The Moon

This is a small book with nine short chapters intended for parents and grandparents to read to children during the holidays. While it deals in part with gender equity and stereotypes, it is a triumphant story for all ages that will also make you smile. Please feel free to download it and read it aloud to those you love. Enjoy!

Chapter I

Rudolph sat with Santa in the Claus’s oversized den while a roaring fire blazed in the oversized grate. Rudolph had come to hand in his resignation as Head Reindeer.
“I’ve been doing this job for over fifty years, Santa, and I’m ready to retire.”
“But, Rudy,” Santa argued, “Reindeer simply do not retire! That’s not the way it’s done in the North Pole.”
Rudolph stood and began to shift from one foot to the other, to the other, to the other. He and Santa had been going at it for almost an hour. Santa couldn’t understand that Rudolph was bone tired. The honor of being head reindeer no longer interested him. He was hoping Santa would choose another reindeer to take over his reins.
He sighed deeply and looked the jolly man in the eye. “My job used to be easy. But that was before physical fitness became a household word. Now all we reindeer ever do is workout, train, and workout. The thing is, my body doesn’t jumpstart the way it used to, Santa. Surely you can understand that.”
Santa nodded. “Tell me about it.”
They were quiet for a while, two old friends recalling the days of their youth when life was much simpler.
Rudolph cleared his throat. “My happiest days now are the ones I spend on the ice. Fishing. It’s quiet out there, and catching a fish is a whole lot of fun, Big Guy, even if I do throw them all back. There’s another thing, too.” Rudolph took a deep breath. “Ruby’s complaining that I don’t spend enough time with her and the kids. You know how it goes. We’re not getting any younger and what with the children all grown now…”
“But I don’t have a replacement for you!” Santa lifted his hefty body from the tight fit of his favorite, oversized rocker. He began to pace.
“I can’t trust just any reindeer to guide my sleigh on the most important night of the year. Besides, you can’t walk out on all the children. They’re depending on you.”
“It’s not me they’re depending on, Santa. It’s you. Look, I decided long ago that when the time was right, I would turn my harness over to my son Randolph.”
“Randolph,” cried Santa. “Randolph?” Santa’s mouth flew wide open. “You cannot be serious. Why, Randolph is a baby. He’s still wet behind the antlers.”
Rudolph laughed out loud. “You need to get out more, Santa. Randolph Rednose graduated last year second in his class.”
 “Humph,” Santa retorted. Then putting his finger aside of his nose, he asked, “If Randolph finished second, then tell me who was it that finished first?”
Rudolph puffed up his chest. He was proud of the fact that the two top honors had both been won by the Rednose Family. He held his head very high.
“My daughter finished first, Santa. I’m sure you remember her, don’t you? Randy’s twin sister, Jingle?”
“Oh,” said Santa. “That’s very nice —for a girl.”
Santa finished warming his backside by the open fire and slowly moved away to reclaim his well-worn chair. He sat down with a SHWAAAT. A loud creek echoed from Santa’s groaning chair as he squirmed side to side, trying to find his most comfortable, worn-down spot. Presently, he began to rock back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Rudolph kept quiet, thinking that he would be in a much better bargaining position if he allowed the Big Guy to complete his thinking process.
By and by, Santa said, “I’d like to meet that boy of yours, Rudolph.”
“Yessir. Anytime you say. Anytime at all.”
“Can you bring him around to see me first thing in the morning?”
Rudolph stood and straightened his shoulders. “Would nine o’clock be okay by you, Santa?”

Chapter 2

Randy Reindeer was way past the point of coming unhinged.
“Dad, please tell me you didn’t set up an appointment for me with Santa with talking with me first!”
“I most certainly did.” Rudolph stared at his open-mouthed son. “He’s expecting us tomorrow morning at nine o’clock. And we don’t want to be late.”
Seeing his son’s terrified look, he added softly, “Now, Randy, there’s nothing to get so worked up about. I can’t understand why you’re upset. Santa is quite a nice fellow. Jolly as can be. Everybody says so.”
“But, but…” Randy could not make his words form into sentences.
“But nothing,” Rudolph interrupted. “It’s settled. We’ll drop by, have our little chat with Santa, then I’ll begin your training. By Christmas Eve night, you’ll be in top flight shape, the newest and brightest reindeer on the Santa Claus A-Team. And oh, my boy, you are in for the time of your life! Yes, indeedy.”
Humming loudly and off-key (he was getting a little deaf), Rudolph strode out of the room with a wide grin on his face. There were repairs to make on his icehouse before the season officially began.
Poor Randy stood rooted to the spot where his father had left him. Cold fear ran up and down from the tip of his very, very red nose to the tip of his very, very white tail.
“What am I going to do now? I can’t lead the A-Team all by myself. I’ve got a huge problem. HUGE!”
Randy needed someone to talk to. Someone he could trust.
“Jingle!” he exclaimed. And somewhere deep inside, he began to feel a little better.

Chapter 3

Jingle Rednose lay curled atop her comfortable bed, a soft blue blanket wrapped loosely around her delicate, long legs. The reading glasses she wore slipped down her nose from time to time, but she hardly noticed. Each time a word looked blurry, she would reach up and gently push her glasses in place. She was almost finished reading a book about the Russian Revolution. She was so caught up in descriptions of that beautiful snow-draped land that she barely heard her twin brother calling her.
“I’ll be down in a minute, Randy!”
Before she knew it, Randy Rednose was standing in the doorway of her room with his front hooves on his hips, a disgruntled expression on his face and his back hooves tapping on the floor.
“Are you deaf?” he demanded. “I’ve been calling and calling. Why didn’t you take your nose out of that book and answer me?”
Jingle sighed deeply. Looking at her brother, she saw the anxious expression on his face and was immediately sorry she had ignored him She put her long arms around him.
“I’m sorry, Randy. Do you need me for something?”
She smiled and when she did, her nose brightened up, casting a warm glow all over the little room. The red nose was a family trait. Like her father Rudolph and her brother Randy, Jingle’s nose was bright enough to light up the night sky.
Neither son nor daughter, however, had a nose quite as large as Rudolph’s. And Jingle’s was temperamental! Although it glowed all of the time, it glowed brightest when she was happy. Everything in its path would turn a beautiful shade of warm, rosy pink.
Randy sighed, “I’ve got a huge problem, and you’re the only one who can help me.”
Jingle looked at her brother with new concern.
“Well, come in and sit down. Tell me everything.”
Randy sat on the edge of Jingle’s bed and hung his head. She was always a good listener and he was immediately relieved that he had come to her.
“I am so embarrassed,” he said. Jingle thought he might cry.
“Now, now. Nothing could possibly be that bad, could it?”
“Dad is taking me to see Santa in the morning!” he blurted.
Jingle shrugged her delicate shoulders. “So, what’s the big deal? You’ve been there lots of times.”
“It is too a big deal, Jingle. A VERY big deal!”
Jingle frowned. “No it isn’t. Don’t you remember how we used to go over there and watch the elves build toys when we were fawns? And how about those delicious apple cookies with raisins on top that Mrs. Claus baked and sent home with us for our cookie jar? Remember those?”
“Of course. She gave me the recipe. But this is different. Santa asked for me.”
Jingle frowned and wondered what her brother had done to get in trouble with The Big Guy. “What did you do wrong?” she asked.
“I didn’t do anything. Dad did, though. He told Santa that he wants to retire from the reindeer A-Team. And he wants me to take his place.”
“Oh, Randy,” Jingle cried. “That’s wonderful! How exciting. I am so jealous!
You’ll get to see all of the places I’ve always dreamed about. You are so lucky!”
Randy looked at his sister and cried, “Lucky my left foot! I don’t want to go!”
They both stared at each other until Jingle said, “You can’t be serious.”
“Oh yes I am. If I take Dad’s place, that means I’ll have to fly.” Randy’s voice was little more than a whisper.
“So what?” Jingle asked. “Reindeer fly all of the time. It’s what we do.”
Randy began to pace. “When was the last time you saw me fly, Jingle?”
She thought for a minute. “Just last week. You and I flew over to the Vixen’s to visit Gypsy. Don’t you remember?”
“Yes, I remember it. But we were together, you and I. You have never seen me fly all by myself, and you never will! I can’t fly unless you are with me.”
It was Jingle’s turn to be surprised. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Are you telling me that you have a flying phobia, Randy? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Randy continued to pace. Back and forth. Back and forth. “It’s not something
I’m particularly proud of,” he said to his sister.
“All the same,” Jingle said, “I’d have expected you to say something about it before now. Anyway, I think you’re blowing this whole thing way out of proportion.
You need to talk to Dad, tell him the truth. He’ll help you figure this out.”
“Don’t you get it? Didn’t you understand a word I said, Jingle? Dad is depending on me. Without me and my big fat red nose, he won’t be able to retire and go ice fishing. I don’t have any choice. I have got to lead the team. I can’t disappoint Dad.”
Jingle squinched up her brow, a sign that she was deep in thought. After a minute or so she said, “With the proper training, Randy, you can get over your fear. Dad is a great teacher, and I’ll bet when he’s through with you, you will be as brave in the air as any of those old fuddy-duddy reindeer he hangs with.”
Randy was not completely convinced, although Jingle was usually right. He would go with his father to see Santa and he would try to be brave. In the long run, trying was all anybody could be expected to do.
“Randy, if you don’t want to be the lead reindeer on the A-Team, then what do you want to do with your life?”
“I want to be a chef,” he said. “The greatest chef in the entire North Pole.”

Chapter 4

Jingle and her mother Ruby talked quietly as they put the finishing touches to the supper they had cooked together. Everything was ready although they would not eat until Rudolph returned home from the reindeer playoff games.“
“What book are you reading now, Jingle?”
The daughter smiled and her nose, sensing her happiness, began to glow. Reading never failed to bring joy to Jingle.
“I’m nearly finished with it, Mother, and it’s such a good story that I don’t know whether to be happy or sad. The book has become a good friend and I’ll miss it when I turn the last page.”
Jingle told her some of the things she had learned in the book and Ruby listened. She so wished that her daughter might someday travel to the places Jingle so loved to read about. It was not likely to happen since female reindeer were supposed to raise a family and keep the home fires burning for their men. They were never, ever to leave the North Pole.
Jingle turned to her mother and said, “Mom, something is bothering me.”
“What is it, dear?” Worry lines formed on her sweet face.
“I don’t think it’s fair that Santa’s A-Team is male-dominated. Not one female “equally as well. Maybe better. But Santa never gives us the chance to prove ourselves. The rest of the world has entered the new millennium, but here at the North Pole we’re still in the Dark Ages. Doesn’t that bother you, Mom?”
Ruby looked kindly at her daughter. “No, it doesn’t bother me because what good would it do? Some things never change. Live with it.”
“It’s so unfair, I could find my way to any place in the world with my eyes closed.” Jingle began to pace. “In fact, I know more about geography from the books I read than that old Dasher or that prissy Dancer or all of the rest of the guys on the A-Team.”
“I’m sure you do, dear. But we don’t make the rules, we just follow them. We are does and our place has always been here at home. That is not going change, Jingle. Now, be a good girl and pour us all some milk. Your father will be home pretty soon.”
As Jingle poured, she began to think how different her life might have been if she not been born a female reindeer. Her thoughts strayed to the astrology books she most often read, since it was her favorite subject. She had long ago memorized the names of all the constellations. On any given night, while others were gazing about trying to find the Big or Little Dipper, Jingle was studying the astral movements of one of the more difficult to locate constellations. Eridanus, Cygnus or Uriga.
Jingle’s ability to navigate as well as an astronaut would not do her any good. Like her mother said, she was only a doe, and a doe was all she would ever be.
Ruby interrupted Jingle’s thoughts. “Does this veggie lasagna look done to you? I am never sure.”
Jingle took a long fork and stuck it into the middle of the concoction and watched as tomato juice spilled over the sides of the dish. She shook her head.
“You didn’t follow Randy’s recipe, did you?”
Ruby ducked her head, embarrassed. “Well not exactly. I didn’t think it should bake quite as long as he said it did.”
“Mom! You know that Randy is an expert when it comes to cooking. If he tells you to bake something for an hour, then for sure it has to bake for a solid hour.”
Her mother made a clicking noise with her tongue. “I can’t believe my son wants to tell me how to cook! That boy would take over my kitchen entirely if I let him.”
“So what’s wrong with that, Mom? Cooking food is Randy’s way of making others happy. It’s all he’s ever wanted to do and if you and Dad weren’t so stuffy, you’d let him go to a cooking school and become a famous chef.”
Ruby rolled her deep brown eyes and said, “That’s not going to happen Jingle, and I don’t want to hear another word about it. Randolph, the Rednose Reindeer will take over for your father so he can retire. Rudy will never agree to send his only son off somewhere to learn how to cook.”
A great sadness sweep over Jingle. Her brother was the sweetest, gentlest reindeer she knew and he could cook rings around their mother. “What a shame that being born male means you’re not supposed to cook and being born female means you’re not supposed to fly.” She muttered the words, but there was passion in her voice.
Depressed, she left the kitchen. She had hoped that by pleading her brother’s case, it would capture her mother’s support for Randy’s dream of attending the North Pole Culinary Institute. Now things looked less than hopeless.

Chapter 5

Rudolph and Randy stood outside the house where Santa and Sadie Claus lived.
“Stop fidgeting, Randy or Santa will think you’ve got fleas.” Rudolph rapped on the door using the solid brass knocker that was fashioned like a teddy bear and even looked a little like The Big Guy himself. “Stand up straight,” Rudolph ordered his son.
When Mrs. Claus opened the door, Randy could smell the delicious aroma of wonderful things baking and simmering in her kitchen. He almost swooned.
“Come in, Rudolph! How nice to see you. Randy, just look at you, all grown up. Where have you been keeping yourself, son? You haven’t been to see me in a while.”
Randy shrugged his mighty shoulders. “Oh, I try to keep busy.”
“Are you still friendly with Vixen’s pretty little daughter? Gypsy's her name, isn’t it?” She giggled aloud and her fat tummy jiggled. “The two of you make a darling couple. I expect we’ll be hearing wedding bells before much longer.” Her cheerful voice sang throughout the little house.
Randy blushed. Gypsy had been his girlfriend for a long time and everyone thought they would get married. Randy loved Gypsy, but he couldn't think about marriage until he solved the flying problem facing him.
Rudolph told Sadie Claus that Santa was expecting them and she led them into the den where Santa was chomping and smacking his lips in front of a platter of cookies.
“Santa!” Sadie’s hands flew up in the air. “How will you ever lose that fifty pounds if you keep filling your tummy with cookies?”
Santa smiled sheepishly. “My, dear,” he said as he crunched down on a perfectly formed oatmeal raisin cookie, “you’re such a wonderful cook. How could I resist?”
Sadie Claus stifled a grin. “Go along with you now,” she said and left the room.
The meeting went well. Santa laughed merrily at almost everything, which put both Rudolph and his son at ease. They stayed only long enough for Santa to reacquaint himself with Randy before they left.
“Time to start training you for the Big Top.” Rudolph swelled with pride as the two Rednoses galloped away from the gingerbread home of Santa and Sadie Claus.
“Yessir,” mumbled Randy while fear crept over his body.
His father said, “We have only a few weeks left before Christmas Eve, but I don’t need to teach you how to fly since you already know how. So we’ll begin with ground training. But let me warn you, you will need to study very hard.”
Relief surged through Randy as he listened to his father’s words. He had been afraid Rudolph expected him to fly that very day and he was not yet ready to face his phobia. Lucky for him, his father had never noticed that Randy only flew with Jingle at his side.
For the umpteenth time, Rudolph told his son the story of that famous foggy Christmas Eve when Santa asked him to lead the A-Team. He had known nothing about navigation, Rudolph said, but his nose did. It guided him that night as though it had been doing so forever. After that night, Rudolph made it his quest to learn as much about the art of flying as he possibly could.
“I’m much more confident today than I was then,” he said to Randy. “That’s why I want you to learn things from the ground up. By Christmas Eve, you’ll be more than ready to lead the team. But instead of having to fly by the seat of your pants like I did, you’ll know exactly what to do and why you are doing it!”
The thought occurred to Randy that maybe Jingle was right. With proper training, it might be possible for him to conquer his fear of flying after all.

Chapter 6

Santa was not in a good mood. The idea of Rudolph Rednose wanting to retire in order to ice fish his life away was simply too much for The Big Guy.
Mrs. Claus allowed him his grumpiness throughout the night. After all, he was such a jolly man most of the time, so she thought whatever was bothering him would pass. When his mood had not improved by mid-morning, however, she confronted him.
“Santa, why are you so grouchy? What is your problem?”
Santa threw up his hands. “You wouldn't be in a good mood either, if you had to deal with my problems day after day.”
She smiled and gently guided him to his favorite chair. “Sit. Now tell me what’s troubling you, dear.”
“Rudolph wants to retire!” he exclaimed. “And he wants to train his son to take his place.”
Mrs. Claus nodded thoughtfully. “Santa dear, what's wrong with that? Where is it written that Rudolph must always be on your team?”
Santa Claus grunted. “You know I don’t like change. It throws everything off.”
“Well, Randolph is a fine young reindeer. Why, we’ve known him since he was born. He and Jingle are both bright, strong and thoughtful. Good as gold. Randolph will make a fine replacement. Is that all you’re worried about?”
Santa grunted. “What if ll the rest of the reindeer start talking about retirement, Sadie? Then what? Where will that leave me so close to Christmas Eve? I still have toys to make and I’m already behind schedule. I don’t need any more distractions.”
Sadie Claus placed her finger beside her nose, a habit she had picked up from her husband. In a minute, her face brightened and she exclaimed, “If that happened, then you would have a whole new generation of reindeer to pull your sleigh just as well as the old team did.”
Santa remained unconvinced. Since he never seemed to age, it was always as shock to him when others did. He remembered grownups the way they looked when they were children. It was nearly impossible for him to realize that his reindeer’s youngsters were turning into adults.
Gently, Sadie reminded Santa that Dasher’s strapping big son, Skipper, would make a wonderful addition to the team. “Dancer also has a son,” she said. “Zipper is a fine young thing. And don't forget Orbit, Comet’s son, or little Dodger. He’s Donder’s oldest boy, you know.”
Santa grunted.
“My dear, there are some very good replacements waiting in the wings just hoping to be a part of that special Christmas Eve flight. You have nothing to worry about.”
Santa grunted again. Clearing his throat, he said, “You are probably right, Sadie. As usual.”

Chapter 7

In the following weeks, Rudolph and his son calculated charts and weather patterns. They studied every possible rooftop angle and Rudolph instructed his son in many different landing patterns. Although Randy’s confidence in the technical area of flying grew as he gained more knowledge of aerodynamics, his fear of flying through the air alone remained a huge problem for him. Huge!
He had nightmares in which he caused Santa’s sleigh to crash. Toys tumbled through the air harum-scarum and broke into a gazillion pieces. Santa and the elves flew out of the sleigh down, down, down ... before Randolph would wake up.
Eventually, the lack of proper rest became obvious. His eyes were bloodshot and droopy and he had no appetite for the food he loved so well. Randy having no desire to cook or eat was something worth worrying about.
Sensing his anxiety level, Jingle kept a close watch on her twin. Instinctively, she knew he needed to work through his fear of flying alone. His struggle to conquer it would have to come from within.
On Christmas Eve morning, however, her brother was a mess and she could keep quiet no longer.
“Randy!” she cried. “You look awful. Did you get any sleep at all last night?”
He was so weary that he merely gazed at her and shook his head.
“Oh, my poor brother. You have to get some rest. Tonight is your big coming out party.”
He hung his head and stared at the floor, feeling even more sad and distressed.
Jingle convinced him to go back to his bedroom and get some sleep. “I’ll bring you a hot breakfast but you must promise to rest.”
While a mug of milk was warming, she toasted an English muffin so that all the nooks and crannies were extra crisp, the way Randy liked it. Then she added the last of the elderberry jam that she and Ruby had put up in early autumn. She placed all of the food on a tray, but when she took it up to him, she found him asleep. Like a good sister, she set the food down on his bedside table, covered her twin with a soft, fluffy blanket and then slipped quietly out of his room.
Randy slept until another nightmare overtook him. Seated on the side of his bed breathing hard, he barely heard Jingle when she came back in to bring his lunch.
 “You’re awake,” she cried. “Look at this nice tray I fixed. A peanut butter and elderberry jam sandwich and a bowl of mother’s veggie soup that you love.”
Randy, who so adored food, had no appetite. She could have brought him a water sandwich and he wouldn’t have noticed. He barely acknowledged his sister and the lunch she had made especially for him.
“Oh, Randy!” Jingle exclaimed. “Tell me what’s going on. I’m so worried about you.” She put the tray of food down and sat next to her twin on the edge of his bed.
He was still breathing hard as he told his sister about the nightmares and how he had hoped his fear of flying might disappear with his newfound knowledge of air travel.
“Instead of conquering my phobia, I only succeeded in making it worse! Now I’m out of time, Jingle. Dad is counting on me to lead the reindeer team tonight. You should have heard him bragging to Mr. Dasher and Mr. Comet about how smart I am and how fast I learned the dynamics of landing and how brilliant my nose light will be tonight.”
“That’s great, Randy.” Jingle patted her brother on his wide shoulder in hopes that in some small way it would comfort him. “If Dad has confidence in you, then you can have confidence in yourself.”
“Well, I don’t and I’m not likely to pick it up in the next few hours!”
Randy gave her a look and as he did, he seemed to gather more conviction than he had felt in weeks. He said, “Jingle, I just realized what I have to do. I need to find Dad and tell him the truth.”
“Which is?” Jingle asked.
“That I cannot replace him tonight or any other night. Nobody can. He is Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer. He's famous all over the world and he can’t quit and go fishing, for heaven’s sake! He has to lead the A-Team whether he wants to or not.”
Randy stood on wobbly legs, determined to go find his father.
“Wait!” cried Jingle. “Don’t do anything yet. I might have a solution!”
Her brother froze in his tracks before slowly turning to face his sister.
“There’s no way to solve this, Jingle. Even if I am Rudolph’s son, I can't fly without you. If you were a boy twin instead of a girl, things might be different. We could swap places and nobody would notice. But a girl without a rack? No way.”
 ”Listen to me, Randy and don’t interrupt.” Jingle put that determined look on her face that he knew so well.“
“Okay, but make it quick. He sat down on the overstuffed chair that Ruby had slip covered for her son’s room.
 ”What if we go together to explain things to Dad? We’ll tell him how all of our lives we’ve done practically everything together. He’ll understand that. Then, you tell him the truth about the flying fear. He loves you, Randy, and nothing will change that.”
Jingle’s brother gazed at her for a long while. “I know he loves me, but that doesn’t change anything. He's still thinking I can fly tonight in his place.
“That’s the beauty of my plan, Randy. By telling Dad the truth, he’ll learn the whole truth. We won’t hold anything back, including the fact that I want to be on the A-Team and I’m qualified to be there. All that stuff Dad has been teaching you? I've known it for years.”
 “What’s that got to do with anything, Jingle? You're still a girl and you still can’t be on the team,” Randy exclaimed. 
“So what,” Jingle exclaimed. “Amelia Earhart was a girl. Sally Ryde, the first female Astronaut? A girl. I think it’s time Santa brought the North Pole up to speed, don’t you?”
Randy smiled. “What exactly is your plan?”
“Simple. We both lead the A-Team tonight. Twice the strength; twice the speed, twice the light. You don’t have to be afraid of flying all by yourself, and I’ll be the first female reindeer on the A-Team. Sweet!”
Randy’s smile widened. He liked it. He liked it very much.
“But then, what about next year?”
Jingle was prepared for his question. “By then, more girls might want to try out for the team. I know for a fact that Venus, Sparkle and Trixie would like a shot at it.”
Randy perked up. “Yeah, and I’ll bet Gypsy would too. With both of us on the team, we can go ahead and get married. Jingle, if we hurry, we can find Dad before it’s time to take off.”
The twins gave each other a good luck hug and Jingle said, “It’ll work, Randy, and you want to know why? Because it’s a perfect plan.”

Chapter 8

And so it was. Rudolph’s first reaction to a female on the A-Team was not immediately positive, but he warmed to the idea the longer the twins talked. By the time they had finished explaining to their father how they felt about things, Rudolph was ashamed to have been blind to his son’s discomfort. He had always been proud of his daughter, her good grades in school and her remarkable navigational skills. Now he could be doubly proud.
“Both a son and a daughter following in my footsteps,” he said with pride. “How great is that?”
Rudolph gave the twins a fierce hug. “I think,” he suggested, “we had better go right now and speak to The Big Guy. Time's a wasting.”

Chapter 9

A surprised, but eventually agreeable Santa, hitched not eight, but ten reindeer to his sleigh that memorable Christmas Eve night. How fortunate that was since the expected fog became unexpected mushroom soup. With two Rednoses pulling the Santa sleigh, however, it was as Randy later described it, ‘A piece of cake!’
Randy’s brilliant red nose entirely lit up one side of the sleigh while Jingle’s spread a warm pink luminescence that spread for miles around on the opposite side of the toy-filled sleigh.
When the A-Team took off on their annual trek to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys throughout the world, the sun had still been high in the sky. Rudolph stood proudly next to Ruby as they waved goodbye to their offspring. Ruby wiped tears from her eyes but Rudolph pretended not to notice. Jingle would finally realize her dream of flying all over the world and Ruby was very proud of her daughter.
She had made it a point to speak to Rudolph about their son’s passion for cooking and his desire to attend the North Pole Culinary Institute. It made perfect sense. He would only need to fly one night a year, plus the required monthly training. That wouldn't be a problem for a strong, young buck like Randy to handle. The rest of his time he could devote to being the best chef in the entire Northern Hemisphere.
After the wedding, of course.

Just before the moment of takeoff, Sadie Claus, while waving to Santa and the elves, noticed that Jingle was gazing directly at her. Their eyes met and fastened tightly on one another.
Sadie Claus grinned a wide, toothy grin and then gave Jingle a big thumbs up. “You go, girl,” shouted Sadie. And GO is exactly what Jingle Rednose did. 

So now you know the story of why ten happy male and female reindeer line up to pull Santa's sleigh every Christmas Eve night.

~ The End ~

© 2013 Cappy Hall Rearick

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ben Stein's Everlasting "Last" Column

About once a year Ben Stein’s Last Column circulates over the net. The title is, How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?

In 2003, Ben Stein wrote his last bi-weekly column, Monday Night At Morton's. In it he wrote about the disproportionate attention given to celebrities. The column was written at Morton’s, the overpriced steak hangout for the rich and famous in NYC. In Stein's opinion, celebrities we ought to focus on are not the Hollywood actors and other entertainers, but those people with more to offer than celluloid characters. Ergo, people with real character.

Stein wrote a compelling piece and his point is well taken. We should be more cognizant of the sacrifices made by others in our behalf, be it soldier, fireman, policeman or doctors and nurses. In addition, shouldn't we take every opportunity to be there for those we love as well as for people in need?

I can't argue with that kind of thinking.

But … if he had asked me, a humor writer, I would have said that the world needs both sides of that coin. We are better people because we laughed with Bob Hope as he joked with "our boys overseas" and made them feel less homesick. Watching Bob Hope Christmas Special each year our eyes filled with tears as we looked into the faces of young men and women who should have been home for Christmas with their families. Instead, they were laughing along with Hope … the entertainer capable of giving the gift of escape, if only for an hour or two.

Laughter is a good thing and it has the power to counterbalance the extremism of radicals, both Left and Right. The world needs to escape from time to time into fictional drama, mystery and intrigue, whether it be in the form of books, stage, film or the silliness of a standup comic. Escapism is what helps us to remain sane in a world gone crazy.

Stein writing about an actor chewing on a chicken bone at Morton's in no way compares with the courage of a war journalist reporting from the Middle East. Nevertheless, writing a column celebrity antics also provides a service.

After spending twelve long hours underground, a weary coal miner comes home and is subjected to a media blitz of bad news. Does hearing it or watching it on TV help him to relax? Does it make him eager to wake up the next morning or does it make him feel depressed?

I don’t read the tabloids, but people in nursing homes probably do. They read them cover to cover. For a little while, they lose themselves, their loneliness and their surroundings to the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood. Hearing that more people were killed on any given day in the name of peace does nothing to lift their spirits. Reading about the rich and famous, however, allows them to pretend that they are wining and dining at Morton's with The Donald.

We need to stay informed, but we should not forget to play. We should never lose sight of those men and women who put their lives on the line each day, but neither should we forget how to laugh, how to be pleasant or how to care for and about others. When someone finds a profession he loves, be it acting, directing, writing or soldiering, we should never forget that he has the right to do his thing.

Ronald Reagan, whose sense of humor is legend, was at one time a mediocre actor who rose to great heights as one of our most beloved leaders. He was also famous for using levity as a source of strength. President Reagan did not forget that humor has the inherent power to connect individuals, as well as nations.

So I wish Mr. Stein all the best when once again his column will be resurrected once again this year and re-read in homes across the nation. I applaud his quest to make the world a better place by being there for those he loves and others he has the resources to help. I admire him, for he must be a good man.

But if he should ever write another "last" column, perhaps he'll take a hint from Bob Hope or Ronald Reagan and give credit to those who try to make the world a better place by sharing laughter.

Cappy Hall Rearick

Monday, May 27, 2013

Only A Quarter

The creamy silk kimono slipped over my head and slithered down my straight-as-a-stick body. Goose bumps popped out on my arms making me shiver. The fabric was soft, intoxicating. It lapped me up in cool luxury so different from the utilitarian cotton normally worn during the war years. The mirror was hung high on the wall and I had to stand on a chair to see myself. The reflection put a grin on my face.

The kimono was cherry bomb red. Embroidered oriental designs flitted like butterflies over the top and down the sleeves. Black satin frogs attached themselves to the front of the bodice as if marking a territorial lily pond in the silky-smooth fabric.

Only the day before Uncle Jimmy had burst into our house loaded down with presents brought back home from Guam where he had been stationed. His gift to me was the tiny silk kimono that perfectly fit my five-year-old bones.

I was ignorant of the war then raging in the Pacific  and in Europe. I had no way of knowing that more body bags were sent back from overseas than miniature silk kimonos or other souvenirs brought home to kids by those in the military.

To my child's way of thinking, red silk pajamas as light as the breast down of a wren, were much more glamorous than the heavy blackout curtains Mama lowered each time an air raid siren broke through the peace and quiet of home. Softer, too, than the wartime cotton fabrics she sewed to make my dresses. It was more fun to play dress-up than to ride on the handlebars of my brother's skinny black Victory bike.

World War II would be over before the end of that year. Peace treaties would be signed and reconstruction begun on a war-ravaged continent. Even so, young boys in neighborhoods all over the country would keep on playing Army. Strutting ramrod straight, they swung souvenir bayonets taken from dead Japanese soldiers or wore helmets left behind by a dwindling German army.

My silk pajamas however, were kept safe and pristine inside a mahogany chest of drawers. In years to come, they would remind me that beauty can always be found, even in the midst of chaos.

My earliest years were spent listening for air raid sirens; watching Mama count out food rations; wondering who Gabriel Heater was and why he was so angry.

I ate silently because children were seen and not heard back then, while Mama and Daddy spoke quietly of a distant relative who had lost a leg in the war or a neighbor's son who had lost his life.

I watched from my window as my brother and his friends morphed into pint-sized soldiers yelling "Geronimo!" before mowing down the pretend enemy with pretend Tommie Guns.

When the war was over, we watched movies about men who were tortured by the other side, fingernails torn out with rusty pliers, bamboo stakes driven into their ears. Incomprehensible horrors to any sane person.

We cringed into our theater seats during those movies and after going to bed at night, we experienced one nightmare after another, if we slept at all. Even so, the next time a war movie came to town, we went to see it. We stood in line for however long it took, holding a quarter tightly in our sweaty palms, eager to plunk down the cost of learning how to hate.

Twenty-five cents was all it took.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hands That Rocked The Cradle

Old age sneaked up on me last night while I slept. In eight seriously short hours, my hands morphed into those of my mother’s.
While gazing at the reflection in my bathroom mirror I saw that my kneecaps had crawled up to reside forever underneath my eyes. My teeth were yellow and they were not like that yesterday. I would need to use half a box of baking soda to get them white again. Since Clorox is not an option, I just won't smile all day. Who knows, I might not crack my yellow teeth again for the rest of my life.

Ten extra pounds appeared on my scales this morning. Ten pounds! That’s a whole dress size. I’ll be sipping cranberry juice and taking up residence in the bathroom until the mortician comes to claim my bones.
Wasn’t it just last week that I was folding baby diapers and making formula? Okay, so maybe that’s stretching it, but it seems like last week. It seems like I dropped the kids off at school, went to my exercise class, played three sets of tennis, did the laundry and then cooked a healthy dinner for a family of four all the while grinning like a Cheshire Cat. With white teeth. 
My hands — my mother’s hands —are useless to me. They refuse to do what I tell them to do. When I order them to pick up the newspaper from off the floor, to wash the breakfast dishes or to pick up the comb and rake it through my tangled hair, they totally ignore me. Why should they pay attention when these hands do not belong to me.
The awful truth is, I don’t want to comb my hair because I don’t relish going anywhere near a mirror. Lord knows what other changes might be waiting to jump out at me.
If my hands would function the way they ought to, I would email my kids today. I haven’t heard from either one of them in a while but they are busy with jobs, families and their own issues. Still, I miss them a lot today, more than usual. Maybe I will call them tonight when I won't have to eat up my minutes if I can get my decrepit fingers to manipulate the miniscule numbers on my iPhone.

I saw an ad for a cream that makes age spots disappear. I might buy some when I go to the drug store ... if I ever leave my house again. I may decide to stay put and watch my teeth turn even more yellow. Mama slapped all kinds of stuff on her face every morning, noon and night and she always brushed her teeth with baking soda. It didn’t help her any. Not only did she get age spots and yellow teeth, obviously, she passed them on to me.
Thanks a lot, Mama.
If I start dieting today I could lose the ten pounds I gained before Christmas. But what if my extra weight is water retention? I would have starved myself when all I needed was a fluid pill.
I don't have anything thawed out for supper, but so what? We can catch an Early Bird somewhere. Our meals are coming around earlier and earlier. Pretty soon, we'll be eating supper at noon. Cooking for two doesn’t pay when Early Birds are cock-a-doodle-doing on every corner.
It would be nice if talk shows would occasionally cover important issues like age spots, drooping flesh, flabby thighs, wiry gray hair and hearing aids. An entire week could be devoted to women caught up in the process of aging. But they won’t happen. They will showcase models from Victoria Secrets or actresses with skin so tight they resemble the Sears Tower gargoyles in Chicago. Don't they know that we women of a certain age do not do Victoria Secrets? We're too busy looking in the mirror and finding a stranger when we're not staring at our mother's hands attached to our own wrists.

Heads Will Roll

I loved the sound of my mother’s voice. It was pure Southernness, magnolia smooth. I heard it as she was wheeled into surgery. She told me not to worry, that she would be back. She was wrong.
One day last week while grocery shopping, I heard her voice again. She told me to buy brown sugar. As clearly as if she had been wheeling the cart herself, she said, “Go over to aisle six and pick up some brown sugah.” When she wanted to, my mama could smooth out the end of a word and cradle it in mid-air for five minutes. Listening to her talk was akin to taking a snooze in a Pawley’s Island Hammock.
Right after the brown sugar episode, I heard her singing an Irish ballad one day while I was making up my bed. I remembered that song from my childhood — a sad tune. I used to go to bed with tears in my eyes after she had sung it to me. But last week, when I heard the familiar soprano melody drifting through the house like elevator music, oddly enough, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I felt like I had just slipped my feet into a pair of old Weejuns.
Cooking supper that same night, (chicken and dressing, butter beans, rice and sliced tomatoes), I heard her voice again. She told me to put more sage in the dressing. So! We were back to the Seasoning War, were we?
The next morning while driving to Savannah, she broke into the Oldies But Goodies I was listening to.
“Turn around and go home.” The voice said it as if asking me to pass her some more of that cornbread dressing (the one that needed a touch more sage).
Up to that point, I had not responded to any of this odd communication from my mother. After all, she had been dead for ten years and besides, I didn’t talk back to her even when she was alive. But the idea that I should deep-six my shopping trip to Savannah based on a voice only I could hear? Well … that wasn’t going to happen.
I told her to bug off.
For the rest of the ride, her voice Xeroxed itself in my ears. Go back home! Go back home! Go back home! By the time I got to the Savannah Mall my head was spinning from the pounding in my eardrums.
Glancing in the mirror at Macy’s, I saw that I was turning green around the gills, so I started to think maybe I should forget shopping and go home. The thought of wrapping up in the cocoon of my own little nest began to feel right, so I left the mall and headed back to St. Simons without any of my proposed purchases.
I boogied down I-95 thinking Ibuprofen thoughts washed down with a chilled martini when Mama’s voice suddenly blurted out again.
“Slow Down!”
Since I was doing a bit over eighty, I said, “Yes ma’am.” But my headache did not slow down when the car did. Can’t win ‘em all.
I closed my eyes for only a moment and when I opened them again, the first thing I saw was an overturned eighteen-wheeler only a nanosecond in front of me. I braked as fast as I could and was barely able to avoid broadsiding a truck full of iceberg lettuce.

I watched in horror as hundreds of small green heads rolled off the truck and down I-95, gaining momentum as they bounced up and onto unsuspecting cars. Grateful that my own head was still attached, I gulped air (lots of it) while my heart did a Myrtle Beach shag step.
Later back at home as I snuggled down in a fetal position, I thought about what had happened. That got me thinking about Guardian Angels. Could they be real?
Had Mama come back to be my personal G.A.? Well, anything is possible, I supposed. Hadn’t I been saved from becoming an Interstate Tossed Salad by a voice from … from out of the blue?
So now whenever I hear a voice, any voice at all, I listen up. For all I know, it could be my Guardian Angel hovering over my shoulder with winning lottery numbers.
Even angels know that writers don’t earn squat.

Don't Forget To Brush

Don’t Forget To Brush
By Cappy Hall Rearick

My ultra-independent mother died a good many years ago. Until she got sick, Mama would have eaten dirt rather than ask anybody for help. Imagine my surprise when she called me to housesit for her while she was in the hospital and asked if I might stay on for a while afterwards. Her cancer diagnosis was not good.
I was happy to be at home again, but the days were long with nothing to do until she was discharged. That's why I decided to organize her house. Lord knows it needed it. I threw out half-empty cold cream jars in the bathroom, old dusting powder boxes and hundreds of rusty Bobbie-pins. She never used up an entire bottle of shampoo, but neither did she throw away the little dab always left in the bottom until it was the consistency of lard.
When I finally brought her home from the hospital, her bed was turned down and ready. I had made it up myself with freshly starched, sweet-smelling sheets. Her pillows were fluffed. It was a Southern summer day, hot outside but cool indoors thanks to the blessing of air conditioning. I helped her into her gown and in no time she was sleeping as one can only do in one’s own bed.
What a perfect time to clean out the kitchen cabinets, the Martha Stewart side of me suggested.
Besides being a clutter bug, Mama was a sucker for gadgets. She had QVC on speed dial and the number of her credit card was posted in their VIP file. She had many sets of cookware so old that they were sticky with baked-on grease. There were enough can openers in her kitchen to lift off a space shuttle.
I sat down on the floor and began to sort through drawers crammed with gadgets, many of which seemed to have no purpose whatsoever. A niggling voice intruded from time to time telling me to stop what I was doing. It implied that my time would be better spent reading a magazine or taking a long walk. But I ignored that voice. After all, what I was doing was necessary, important.
I so wish now that I had listened.
Mama ate hardly a mouthful of scrambled eggs and only sipped at her coffee the next morning.
“Heartburn,” she said and headed toward the bathroom to freshen up.
“Do you need my help with anything, Mama?”
“I’ll be just fine,” she called over her shoulder. “My teeth feel like they haven’t seen a toothbrush in over a year. I can't wait to brush them.”
After she assured me she could manage on her own, I put the uneaten scrambled eggs in the garbage disposal and filled the dishpan with sudsy water. Less than two minutes later, she called for me to come.
Fearing the worst, I took off down the hall on legs that felt like I was wearing hip boots filled with mud. I imagined blood all over the bathroom and Mama on the floor helpless and scared to death.
When I reached the bathroom, the door was standing open. There was no blood and my mother was not lying on the floor unconscious. Grasping the rim of the sink for balance, she stared at me with a perplexed expression on her pallid face.
“What is it? Are you alright?”
“I can’t find my toothbrushes.” She looked as though she had wandered into Oz and didn't know how to click her heels and go home again.
“Right there.” I pointed toward the sink. “Hanging in the holder.”
While cleaning the bathroom the day before, I had carefully examined all of her six toothbrushes. Most of them were pretty shot. That’s just like Mama, I had thought as I tossed five of the over-the-hill brushes into the trash.
“I don’t see but one of them,” she said, clearly exasperated. “Where are the rest?”
 “Are you talking about those old toothbrushes? Those ratty looking ones you have had since FDR was President?”
In no mood for my brand of humor, she made a face. “What did you do with them,” she asked.
“I threw them out, Mama. I know how you hate to clean, so I got rid of them for you.” I paused, beginning to feel seriously uncomfortable about the whole thing. “Were you saving them for some reason?”
Mama fixed me with a look that I will never forget. “I’m not dead yet,” she said.
My heart plummeted. I opened my mouth to explain that I was only trying to help but the words got stuck in my throat. The look she gave me had ripped out my heart and those three words of hers stomped it to pieces.
After what seemed like a long time, I repeated, “What were you saving them for, Mama?”
She shook her head. “I don’t like using the same one every time I brush my teeth. Now, it looks like the only one left is that new one and it’s not even broken in.”
She let out a heavy sigh before slipping past me and climbing back in bed on her own, as if to say she wanted or needed no assistance from me.
She must surely have felt her life slipping away just then, out of her control. Not only had cancer invaded her body, seized her energy, health and longevity, but even the idea of cancer had snatched away her smallest possessions.
The idea of cancer and that she was going to die soon was at the root of my so-called good intentions. At some level I had know it. Worst of all, she knew it right away. By ignoring that niggling voice in my head, I forced my mother to look at her mortality before she was ready to do so on her own.
I lied to myself with all that phony baloney business about keeping busy. In actuality, I was trying to get a jump on things. I knew I would be the one responsible for sorting through all of her QVC purchases and I would be the one to call Goodwill.
Now, every time I brush my teeth, I am reminded of my callous disregard for her rights of propriety. I wish I could undo my over-zealous plan to organize her personal space; the shame of it burns my soul anew each time I squeeze a tube of Tartar Control Crest.
However, like my mother before me, I am now a proud collector of toothbrushes. Four different colors and shapes hang side-by-side in the holder above my bathroom sink. I double-dog dare anybody to throw one of them away before the final “Amen” is said, before the last shovel of dirt has been heaped upon my eternal resting place.

If I have learned anything, it is that a person’s stuff, no matter how insignificant it may seem to me, is worthy of my respect.