Thursday, December 22, 2011

This year's Christmas short story.

Maggie's Christmas Mircacle

Up until the time my sister Maggie destroyed the baby Jesus, Mom was the one who made sure we always went to church twice on Sundays, once on Wednesday night, and a whole week in the summer. Vacation Bible School they called it. Vacation my foot.

    Daddy missed out on all this. The man had issues. I never knew what they were, and he didn’t seem to want to be asked. I didn’t fault him for it, though. Envied him.

     The church on Fern Street was the best gathering place for the sad and angry that one could find. If anything appeared the least bit enjoyable it was a sin. It was almost as if the elders were trying to scare us and bore us at the same time. The longest prayers, the driest sermons and the worst singing in the history of mankind resonated in confines of that building.

    Daddy would have nothing to do with it. He read his Bible and made sure we prayed before every meal, but he couldn’t abide church. Organized religion can draw the Spirit right out of a person. I heard him say something like that to Mom once.

    Dads slant on church seemed magically transformed after the Christmas Party at Aunt Rae and Uncle Bill’s. Aunt Rae was Daddy’s sister so he was committed to show up. Daddy liked parties about as much as he liked going to church.

 Things went well at Rae and Bill’s up until the time of the accident. Could’ve happened to anybody. My sister Maggie was trying to pull a throw pillow out of my hand at the same time I let go of it. I thought it a cool trick.

As luck would have it, Maggie’s momentum landed her against Aunt Rae’s cabinet… the one that had the ceramic nativity scene on it. A fragile display it was. Sheep, camels, shepherds… every object resting atop the thick cotton base went flying. 

A few of the pieces had yet to reach the floor before Maggie started bawling. All the grownups ran over to console her. Aunt Rae told her it was a cheap display that she just got it out for the party. Nothing to worry about.

Mom was slow to arrive on the scene. She sat and stared at me for about 3 hours. Fire came out her eyes. Literally. Mom’s glares could cut particleboard.  All I could do was shake my head and point at Maggie. Hey, she would’ve done the same to me.

Turned out, all the figures ended up relatively unscathed. Oh, a nick here, a scratch there, but not near what one would expect. Unfortunately, one of the wisemen did get decapitated. But, it was a clean break. A little glue and he would be the picture of health… except for some serious nerve damage.

Daddy soon had all the characters resting atop cotton. All except for the baby Jesus. The figure was no where to be found. Aunt Mae ordered everyone back into the living room, but Maggie wouldn’t stop looking. I don’t know what got into her. It was like she had lost the real baby Jesus. She looked in and under everything in the dining room.

Mom finally had to take her to the hallway for a talk. I tagged along for moral support. Hey, Maggie would’ve done it for me. Mom went on and on about how the doll wasn’t really Jesus and how it was silly to get so upset. Just a little ceramic doll, and she was treating it like an idol, and that if she didn’t quit crying she would give her something to cry about.

    On the way home, Maggie was still whimpering. I even patted her on the arm a time or two, ‘cause she was beginning to scare me. Finally, Daddy said, “Maggie, did you ever stop to think that maybe you couldn’t find the baby Jesus because God took him to heaven?”

    What a load of hoo ha! I had to hold back a laugh. But, my little sister swallowed it. Feathers and all. “Really, Daddy? You think I didn’t really lose the baby Jesus, that God took him to heaven?”

    Daddy said, “Yes, I do, Maggie. I believe Jesus is in heaven.” Well, that changed everything. Maggie beamed, I snickered and Mom just shook her head. 

I thought that would be the end of the whole baby Jesus story, but Maggie wouldn’t let it go. Kept telling anyone who’d listen about the miracle that happened at Aunt Rae and Uncle Bill’s. Mom told her that whatever she did she was not to mention it to anyone at church. Something about Jesus not being born on December 25th, and that people might get the wrong idea. Now it was Daddy’s time to shake his head.

On Christmas Eve something really weird happened. After supper Daddy told us all to get dressed up, that we were going to the Christmas candlelight service at the church downtown. I hated the idea, but Mom hated it worse.

Maggie was excited as all get out. “Really! What’s a candlelight service, Daddy?” Daddy told her he didn’t know, but that we were going find out. 

That Christmas Eve I had the best church experience I’d ever had. And, it wasn’t even Sunday… or Wednesday night. We each got our own candle and got to light it in church. I didn’t think it possible. And then we sang some happy songs. Christmas carols even.

At one point, as we all stood holding our candles, I heard Mom whisper to Daddy, “Thank you, darling.”

After Christmas, our church life went back to normal. Change can be a hard thing. Eventually, though, the church on Fern Street split over a technicality. The whole concept was pretty fuzzy in scripture. The stuff of controversy for those in search of one.

By the time I started high school, Mom was taking us to the church downtown. And, over time, Daddy started going with us.  

I don’t know what one is to gather from all this, if anything. But I do know that my sister sees God’s hand in it all.

Last July, as Maggie and I we were going through all the family stuff after Mom passed away, I opened the old box of Christmas ornaments. We had all personalized decorations over the years. Snug in one end of the box was a wadded paper towel. I pealed it back and saw a fractured ceramic baby Jesus. Daddy had apparently made a futile attempt to glue the swaddling clothes and torso together, but it was a mess. And the head was shattered and beyond the semblance of repair. 

“What is it?” Maggie asked, noticing that I had been quiet for too long. I smiled and said, “Oh, just the clothespin reindeer that I made in, what, Christmas of ’73”? I gripped my hand around the wadded paper towel and returned it to its place in the box.

 The discovery of the missing figurine did nothing in my mind to diminish the power of Maggie’s Christmas miracle. But, I thought it best to let her in on the finding another day. Like maybe this Christmas.


To view Mark and Brad's review of Tailgators Pub and Grill, click on pic below.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Claus at the mall

“Real Santa”

    I’m proud to say that my countdown for Christmas can now officially begin. I had to wait for Kay and me to make our trip to the mall. Happened yesterday. I’m festive as all get out.

    Truth be told (and shouldn’t it be?) I actually enjoy visiting the mall during the Christmas Season. I act like I don’t just to keep my brothers from scorning me. The brothers do good scorn. – “So, you enjoy the crowds, decorations and Santy Clause? Okay nobody talk to him. Go ahead and hit him, Al.” – Since Mom passed away, those boys aren’t afraid of anything. It’s been open season on Mark.
    Had they seen me at the mall yesterday they would’ve really let me have it. I couldn’t help it. I saw the real Santa Clause. He even waved at me.

I don’t know how The Woodlands Mall managed to book the real Santa, but he was there all right. No mistaking. The guy on the corner in the red suit and waving the big apartment opening sign? No Santa. Not close.

At the Mall, Santa wasn’t even wearing his awkward, thick, red jacket. And, he was hatless… ‘cause he was indoors and sitting next to a fireplace! Why would the real Santa wear a coat and hat indoors?

At the Mall, Santa wore a plaid shirt and baggy pants with suspenders. His hair is really white and his beard is curly and long. Not so thick as on a Santa actor.

And, there was none of this “ho, ho, ho!” stuff. There was no acting like Santa . This guy was the real deal. The kids could tell right off. There was not a crying kid in sight. Most of ‘em were even reaching for him. I’ve never seen that before. And, they’d hug him before leaving. He was like a universal Grandpa figure.

Oh, and like I said he saw me in the crowd, and waved. At me. I didn’t know how to react, but Kay motioned at him to see if it was all right for her to take his picture with her cell phone. He nodded big and then his best Santa pose. Big smile, hand up in a wave.

I know I’m carrying on a bit much over this. At no time in my life do I ever remember believing in Santa. And, never did I even contemplate sitting on the lap of the Sears and Roebuck Santa in Pasadena. That was one scary-looking dude. And, with that deep “ho,ho,ho” voice, it was like a giant monster clown was trying to grab you. What youngster wouldn’t want that?

The real Santa is nothing like that. In fact, if the line hadn’t been so long, a framed eight by ten of Kay sitting in his lap would be hanging over our mantel.

Bottom line, take your kid or spouse to The Woodlands Mall to see Santa. I imagine the real Santa doesn’t work a complete shift, so they may have a stand-in for him. You’ll know the real one when you see him, though.

Oh, and word of warning. As you’re making your way to Santa, be very careful not to catch the eye of the salespeople at the kiosks. You know those booths of specialty stuff? If someone tries to hand you a free sample of soap or cosmetics, don’t take it. If you do, they own you.

Most, if not all, of the beauty product salespeople are French or East European. Maybe Norwegian. Hard for me to tell. The girls are beautiful as all get out, and they speak fast and quiet in broken English. They’re sirens with soap. If you take a sample you’ll feel like a real chump if you don’t buy something. There is one Slovakian lovely who thinks I’m the mayor of Chumpville.

Santa loves me, though. Waved at me, he did. I think he could tell that I had been nice all year. Most of the year. Maybe a week or two in May.

NOTE: Kay's phone photo of Santa didn't take. Spooky. Further proof that this guy is the real deal. 


Click on pic below to view review of Mi Cocina restaurant in The Woodlands.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Already got my gift

“Chair prints”

    I already got my Christmas gift for the year. See if you can tell what it is. – No, not Scotch Tape. Look, Ernie, if you’re not going to be serious, we’re quitting this game right now. – It’s the chair! See? New desk chair.

    Boy, did I need a new chair. Several of you complained about how much the old one creaked. I oiled it, tightened the bolts and adjusted the big knob on the bottom. The mystery knob. Nothing. Over a period of 15 years it evolved into a creakazoid.
A Creakazoid lookalike 

The relic is over there in the corner. What do you do with an old, noisy desk chair that’s got your seat print branded on it? If I could convince someone that it was JFK’s seat print, I could sell it for a bunch of bucks. But, that would be wrong. Would that be wrong?

    Speaking of which, the new chair has touched the rear ends of others. I don’t know how many. Sixty-three maybe. It was a display model at Office Depot. We visited O D to find a desk lamp for Kay. I’m not good at looking for Kay stuff. Whatever I pick out is always wrong. Not sometimes wrong. I can’t even pick stuff out for me.

    Back at Office Depot, Kay told me to quit playing with the LED curly necked lamp, so I decided to get out of her space and go look at the desk chairs. Told her I wouldn’t mind if Santa got me one for Christmas.

    Do you know how many desk chairs they’ve got at Office Depot? It looks like the layout of the interior of a 747 with all different seats. I sat in half of ‘em. Some chairs you can tell without sitting that they’re all wrong. The expensive ones were all comfy. I don’t know how that works.

    Kay joined me just I was trying out the center section, aisle eight. “Did you sit in this one? How ‘bout this one? Oh, look over here.” Kay was all over the place. Had no idea that I had developed a system.

She settled on the $80 chair. It was reduced from $170. That’s a technique Grant’s Five and Dime started back in 1953. Did it with a set of stick horses that weren’t selling. Put up a sign that read -- “Fifty cents! Reduced from $4.75.” It was the most expensive stick horse I ever owned. A little skittish at first, but fast.

Kay wanted to buy the chair right then and there. I thought we should wait for Christmas, but she feared the sale would be over. Talked me into it. I was going to wheel the chair out, but Kay said we needed to get one in a box. It cost more to get it assembled. She said the chair would be easy for me to put together. I knew she was mistaken ‘cause I’m the one who assembled the creakazoid.

Kay has an exaggerated view of my mechanical aptitude. If you don’t believe me, go look at the toilet in there. Just needed a new flapper. New flapper, my hairy toes! I may have it back in running order by Christmas.

Back at Office Depot, it turned out that luck jumped on my back and road me like a five-year-old on a four wheeler. The Home Depot girl said that the demo model was the only cheap chair they had left. The things had been selling like, uh… reduced from $170 chairs.

Then she told me that since it was the floor model I’d get $10 off the price. Do you know what that means? Any idea? No, be quiet, Ernie. It means that they paid me $10 to assemble my chair for me. You can’t beat a deal like that.

So, here it is. Santa came early this year. Not for Kay. I’ve still got to find something for her. She says she wants a bicycle. Wants one for me too, so we can race away from neighborhood dogs together.

The bicycles she wants for us are at Academy. She thinks I should get ‘em and assemble ‘em between now and Christmas. Christmas 2011. What a joker girl.

To view Brad and Mark’s review of Yucatan Taco Stand, click on pic below.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rough Night

“Try not to think about this”

    How well did you sleep last night? Feel invigorated, do you?  Or did you have a bad night? A research team at Loyola University recently reported that 93 percent of those polled don’t care to hear about your night’s sleep.

I wish Virginia had read their findings. This morning she tried to tell me all about her bad night. I didn’t want to hear it. I decided to interrupt and tell her the story of my bad night. One-upped her is what I did.

It’s hard to one-up Virginia, but it can be done. On this occasion, I didn’t even have to exaggerate. By the time I was through, she forgot all about her lack of snooze time.

Begs the question, on the nights you can’t sleep, how long do you usually stay in bed fighting it? Minutes? Hours? The whole night?  -- No, not all at once. Sheesh, I actually came up with a relevant topic --- insomnia. I occasionally amaze even me. 

Okay, here’s the deal. For just today I need you to pretend that you’re among the seven percent who care to hear about the bad nights of others. Got it?

All right, now let’s return to my bed at 11:30 last night. -- Yes, you can keep your shoes on. Cute. -- I tossed and turned for three hours. Actually, I was just turning. I don’t remember ever tossing. Kay says I toss, but she makes up stuff. A lot of stuff.

Bottom line, I couldn’t sleep. Around midnight I decided to try the universal cure for insomnia. I relaxed my face and tried to make my mind go blank. I’m sure you realize that thinking of nothing will make you pass out. -- Maxine? Maxine! Well, we lost her.

Unless you have the thought pattern of, say, Maxine, it’s not easy to put everything out of your mind. I can lose worry, dread and anger. Those are three major sleep stealers. Not the worst. But, major. Unfortunately, last night I was in the grip of sleeps worst enemy—stupid stuff.

Right before we hit the sack, Kay and I watched a taped episode of “Body of Proof,” a who-done-it with Dana Delany playing a medical examiner who wears really tight clothes, six-inch heels and has really long hair. Hair that falls all over any dead body she examines. That alone is enough to keep me awake for 40 minutes.

Here’s what happened in the episode we watched: A bartender/oyster-shucker at an airport bar was upset because he had a crush on a cute pharmaceutical rep who started talking about a doctor she was having an affair with. The bartender oyster guy got jealous, so he stole an African Gaboon Viper that had been confiscated by airport security and stuck it in a bag of oysters that he gave to the girl. She ended up sticking her hand in the bag while at a beach house with the doctor she was sleeping with. After that things got silly.

I defy you to extricate something that convoluted from your brain in under two hours. And, I saw the entire episode.

Once I stomped out that ludicrous thought, an equally ludicrous one surfaced.  It was something I read in the “Ask Doctor K” column. In explaining how to treat a nosebleed, Dr. K writes that you should pinch the front of your nose and hold it for five minutes. “And remember,” he says, “To breathe through your mouth.”

One can only imagine how many lawsuits were averted by that warning. – “I’m holding my nose like he said, only something’s not right. I can’t breathe! Help meeeee! Somebody heeel--” Plop. 

That’s the kind of stuff I was trying not to think of.  At 3:30 I went downstairs and started reading on my Ken Follett novel. The real thick one that I was reading at the auto dealership when Troy the service supervisor guy told me I had a squirrel nesting under my dashboard.

Oh, what a night. And, I doubt tonight will be much better. Tonight I’ll probably do some actual tossing. And, I don’t even know what that means.


Watch Brad and Mark’s restaurant review of Montgomery’s Pizza Shack by clicking on pic.