My Favorite Holiday Stories…

DSC_1206Every year about this time, I like to dig out and re-read my favorite stories with holiday themes. I never tire of going back to them, and they, more than anything else, provide the impetus to move me into the spirit of the seasons. Today’s post will mention a few of my favorites.

Of course, anyone who knows me would say that all things Dickens is at the top of my list. A Christmas Carol and its theme of human kindness and redemption is what makes it a true classic, and one I look forward to reading in the days leading up to the big day.

But there are others as well, if not as well-known. For instance, O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” has always been a good Christmas story with it’s ironic twist of Jim and Della each giving up something that was truly precious to each in order to purchase a gift for the other. I’ve always liked O. Henry’s characters and the hardships of which they try to cope, and this short story is a rather excellent example of unselfish love and what true giving is all about.

Another O. Henry favorite is “The Cop and the Anthem,” although not specifically a Christmas tale. It is, however, set in the heart of New York City, with the chill and unforgiving winds of winter arriving. A homeless soul named Soapy prepares for his annual winter trip to the Island—Riker’s Island—where he can be taken care of at the expense of the taxpayer—warm meals, warm beds, and a roof over his head. Of course, every attempt to get arrested results in just the opposite, frustrating Soapy immensely. Finally, hearing the beautiful strains of a church choir singing inside the church, Soapy thinks of his mother and has an epiphany and decides to turn his life around before it’s too late. Before he can do anything more, though, he is collared by a policeman for loitering and dragged off for sentencing! Love those O. Henry trademark twists!

I remember reading Lincoln Steffens’s “A Miserable Merry Christmas,” in fifth or sixth grade as a pre-Christmas assignment. The little tale runs the gamut of the young boy’s emotions from complete despondency, when he discovers an empty stocking and no pony—the only present he wanted—on Christmas morning, to total rapture when the delivery person shows up—hours late—riding the aforementioned pony. For whatever reason, I somehow was able to relate to the boy, although I never received a pony for Christmas.

file5161265801247There are others, of course, and I look forward to enjoying them late at night, after the writing is finished and the rush of the day is over. There will be a fire in the fireplace to add a festive holiday flavor to the occasions. The winds and swirling rain, sleet, or snow will be up to no good on the outside, while I’m comfortably ensconced within our cozy living room.

What favorite Christmas stories do you have?

Take some time…write a Letter!

Yesterday, with the break in the weather–the milder temperatures and melting snow–I set out to unplug our outdoor Christmas lights on the back deck and those out on the tall evergreen in the far corner of the yard.

Since the dwindling snow made it rather easy to get out and about, it was pretty simple to roll up each of the orange extension cords and get them dried out in the garage until it will be time to return them to their designated Rubber Maid storage container for another year. The lights themselves will come down soon, but now they rest out there, dark and lonely.

POTD - heavy duty extension cord (basement pho...
POTD – heavy duty extension cord (basement photo so it must be a Sunday) (Photo credit: amyvdh)

It didn’t take me long, that little task, but it got me to thinking about how quickly our holiday celebrations come and go, passing into memory almost before we realize it. And I then began to recall the past few weeks and the wonderful gifts of having our kids and grandkids around, if but for a very short time to help us celebrate the season.

And so the “dismantling” of Christmas has begun and besides all of the taking down and putting away, there remains one other major ritual: Writing post-Christmas letters, thanking one and all for the thoughtful gifts, spending time with us, and sharing their holiday spirit in doing so.

For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid letter writer, and I’ve always felt that there is no better time than after the Christmas holiday to write and send letters from the heart–the old-fashioned way! No, I don’t mean handwritten by pen (my penmanship is frightful!) but typed out, printed, sealed in an envelope, postage stamp attached, and dropped in the post office to be sent on their merry way.

In this age of instant messaging, texting, and e-mail, most people fail to see much value in old-fashioned letter writing any more. But I’m not one of them. Receiving a written letter in the mail from a friend or relative has always been one of life’s greatest joys for me.

I must admit that I love all of the modern technology that has made texting, e-mail, cell phones, and other forms of social networking so readily available in our lives. Yet, all of this, I’m pretty sure, has pretty much rendered the practice of letter writing a forgotten art form. Perhaps one of the most disturbing things that speaks to the current state of communication is that many people with Facebook, Twitter, texting, and all other forms of social media don’t even e-mail anymore! To say the least, it makes me wonder where we’re going in our ways of communicating.

Still, I often write letters to friends and relatives for their birthdays, anniversaries, or to wish them congratulations for some achievement, get well wishes, or simply to send along family updates. And I know the chances of receiving any kind of reply or acknowledgement that my letter was received are pretty slim. Yet, I take great satisfaction in the simple act of taking the time to write and mail the letter.

And so I must ask: Readers, what are your feelings about the art of letter writing? Is there a place for it in our world of human communication? Or am I just romanticizing about a lost art from a lost time?

Letter Carrier Delivering Mail
Letter Carrier Delivering Mail (Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution)

In some small way, I’ll do my very best to keep the practice of letter writing alive. If anyone reading feels as I do, and would like to correspond via the “old-fashioned” way, mention so in the comments section, and we can get the ball rolling.

This idea kind of brings back memories from long-ago school days when we’d have Pen Pals. Now, as back then, it would be a fun, learning experience. Regardless, if nothing else, take some time and write a letter to someone soon. It’s a good feeling–for sender and receiver! :-)….CortlandWriter

*Note: On my “Must Read” list is a new book by Simon Garfield titled To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing (Gotham Books)

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Christmas Weekend–2011

(11:00 a.m CST)
All of the gifts have been unwrapped, the kids and grandkids have fled to other gatherings and celebrations, and the realization that the rush and anticipation is finished for another year has begun to settle in. And we’re totally OK with that! It’s just Carolyn and me here now, enjoying the calm and peacefulness, with Christmas tunes providing a background soundtrack for this day. 

Our daughter and her husband arrived from Michigan on Thursday evening, so we had “Christmas” with them and our son’s family on Friday. Before they had to depart for his folks’ place in Park Ridge, Illinois, It was a wonderful morning and afternoon. Soon, the usual gathering up of “stuff” and loading the car began, signaling the end of another all-too-brief visit. But I’ve learned over time that it’s best not to worry about things over which we simply have little or no control. Once we fully realize that it’s best to cherish the time we do have to be together, the more special these events become. Growing older certainly has a way of pointing this out to us, I’ve discovered. The laughter and good times will show themselves in future gatherings, it is our hope, and the quiet moments on Christmas Day, now, will give us a chance to think and appreciate once more the terrific family we have.

And so it is, as I type these words on my trusty MacBook, looking out upon another crystal clear, brilliant, sunshine-filled day–Christmas Day, 2011–I feel good and proud of my son and daughter and their spouses (spice?) And, of course, my two grandsons are a real centerpiece of the goodness and love shared during our few days of Christmas celebrating. Oh, to hold these moments and memories for a long time! If the good Lord’s willing, we’ll be back for another Christmas together next year. God bless us, everyone!…MLA

Hitch-hiking Tale of Long Ago…

Sitting at the MacBook, desperately trying to make my current story “work,” I got to reminiscing  (as frequently happens as I gracefully age), and my old memory bank clicked in on one completely unrelated–and foolish–“adventure” that happened during the Christmas/New Years holiday back in 1972, when I was a student at Kent State. At the time, I was student teaching in Warren, Ohio, and living with a friend who was part owner of a bar. (The trouble that stemmed from that fact, is reserved for another post!) Suffice it to say now, all these years later, that I was damned lucky to have made it through my student teaching experience, let alone 35 years of a teaching career!

That being said, the memory involves what happened beginning the day after Christmas, in a cold and blowing snow, in northeast Ohio. A very rare and unheard of event was scheduled to take place in just a few days: Kent State’s Golden Flashes football team was actually going to play in a bowl game! And it was going to be in the sunny climes of Orlando, Florida! Anyone who is familiar with Kent State football certainly knows that even coming close to qualifying for any bowl game is as rare as members of Congress getting anything accomplished for the benefit of the people they represent. But in the fall of ’72, Kent State had some pretty good players: Jack Lambert, who went on to a Hall of Fame career as a Steeler; Nick Sabin, successful coach at many places. Plus, the Flashes’ coach at the time, Don James, would move on to big-time fame at the University of Washington. For whatever reason, Kent State simply had the players–and a good coach–and the unexpected happened.

And so it was that my friend and bar impresario came up with the idea for him and me to hitch-hike down to the Tangerine Bowl (predecessor to the Citrus Bowl) and enjoy some holiday fun and sun. Of course, I jumped at the chance, although I was a bit concerned about the distance (1,044 driving miles from Warren to Orlando…I checked it out just now!) But of course it would mean being away from my family for the holidays, and I knew that they would never be comfortable with the idea of me hitch-hiking.

With that thought in mind, I created a “tale” (LIE) that included several of us fraternity brothers traveling down to Florida in a rented RV and that we’d be back in plenty of time for the start of classes after the holidays. I was, after all, twenty-two years old and could make the decision. Call me wimpy, but I wanted–needed–my parents’ support. I’ve always felt a bit guilty and just a little sad, too, that I wasn’t able to be “up front” with them. But I think, over the years, they learned the truth about the whole adventure anyway. Well, I’m sure they don’t know all the details, because only my friend and I truly know those. And there’s material enough for a book that’s still working away in my mind. (Stay tuned for that one!)

We were ready to go early on that snowy December 26. As it happened, we were going to ride along with another friend who was returning to Duke University, stay overnight at his place, and then set out in hitch-hike mode the next morning. In my mind, I pictured us being just a hop-skip-jump to Florida. Wasn’t North Carolina just a blink away from the Sunshine State? I would learn just how far those hop-skip-jumps really were! Once it was just him and me out there on an entrance ramp to I-85, I realized that the “adventure” was on. Little did I know then that so many strange and curious things would come our way in the next twenty-four hours. Those things will be explained and discussed in the story I’m writing about our adventure.

Sitting in my cozy writing room today, thirty-nine years later, I have to smile and give a deep sigh of relief at the memory of things that seemed pretty frightening at the time: Getting picked up by a South Carolina State Trooper; seemingly freezing to death while standing alongside I-75 near the Atlanta airport in the wee hours; getting picked up by a drunk who promised us a place to stay in his small office in Macon, Georgia. Then he sobered up the farther he drove down the interstate and would eventually change his mind; delivering rural newspapers somewhere in the Georgia darkness, with some old guy in a rickety pickup, off the interstate completely! The bank of incidents we experienced is full–as I said before, stay tuned for the rest of the story!

For now, know that my friend and I made it there and back, with lots of unplanned side adventures.  And just why this particular “moment” in my many holiday memories should pop up now is a mystery this morning, especially since the weather is more November-like than late-December. It’s foggy, gray, snowless, and rather mild all over. Not even close to the cold and snow of that day long ago! It’s a most curious road I tread today. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, fellow travelers!…MLA