Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas short story

“The Sparrow, The Pelican and The Bear: A Christmas Tale”

by Mark Hayter

Piper was a sparrow as out of place as a sparrow could be. She was lost and alone and standing on the railing of an ice-covered pier at the edge of a frozen lake. Getting herself there had taken about all the stamina she had. She barely had any strength to shiver.
Taking a last look, she closed her eyes to sleep her last sleep, when she was suddenly startled by the sound of a loud "Plunk!" followed by a "Flop!" Piper looked down at the lake, tilted her head slightly and focused her gaze on a rather large and very old pelican. She thought he was dancing on the ice, but he was actually just trying to stand up.

    The pelican finally stood long enough to ask, “Why are you here, little songwing? Can’t you see it’s long past spring? The wind’s so brisk, your skin so soft, you’re liable to freeze your tail-feathers off!”

    Piper laughed as an old memory began to surface. She hadn’t found a memory since flying headfirst into the windowpane of a house in a town that she couldn’t remember. She said, “You’re a Flybag! I remember seeing you once. It was over large water and you were flying in a bunch!” 

    The pelican, dancing again, thought hard on the words before saying, “Flying in a bunch? We usually fly in a ‘Vee,’ And, there are so many of us, I doubt one was me. By the way, I am Bogart, that is my name. If you don’t mind awfully, would you share with me the same?"

    Piper said, “My name? I don’t remember mine. I flew into a window at a house in the pines. Oh, and Mr. Bogart, could you tell me, please, why are we talking in rhyme? It’s not fun for me.”

    The words caused Bogart to slip and land on his rear with a thud. This time he just stayed seated. “You mean this is not a storybook story? We don’t have to rhyme?”

Piper informed Bogart that she had never heard of a storybook, and if she were in one, she’d just as soon leave it. Bogart was so relieved. He hated talking in verse. He had been in two stories and in one he was cursed. – Sorry. Rhyme is hard to leave.

    The pelican saw that Piper was near frozen and completely exhausted, so he suggested she jump down into the sack of his beak and let him fly her to a small enclosure that sat atop an old church building. “There are lines of lights strung all over the building and a nice scene on the ground of statute people standing around an open boxed bed,” he said.

    “There’s a small person inside the bed, and all the people and animals seem to be happy about seeing him,” Bogart said. “It’s really a nice thing. So, come on, jump down.”

    Piper wasn’t sure. “Do flybags eat songwings?” she asked. Bogart said that he never had, but he was so hungry that he probably could eat a songwing. However, he promised that he would not. Piper couldn't remember if flybags were trustworthy, but she knew it would be warm in Bogart's mouth if only for a few seconds. She smiled at her only friend and said, “It’s okay, Mr. Bogart. You can eat me, that’s all right. That way I can find out if there is anything at the end of time.”

“Don’t talk like that, Little Songwing,” the Bogart said. “Now, jump! Or drop down here and I’ll catch you.” Bogart made a great catch of Piper, and as soon as he closed his long, bagged-beak the sparrow fell asleep.

The old pelican started out in a walk across the frozen lake. The walk soon became a trot and eventually turned into an all out charge. Bogart left the ice three times before managing sustained flight. By the time he made it to the old church building he was panting just like an old pelican flying around on a frozen night.

After flying once around the building, Bogart realized that he was not going to make it to the belfry. He didn’t feel well enough to negotiate a balanced slide over the roof and a safe dismount into the small enclosure. He had so hoped to save the sparrow. His only recourse was to slide to a landing on the snowy road in front of the church.

Bogart had no idea how far he would have slid had he not hit the snow bank heaped around the town’s only public mailbox. The pelican was done in. He didn’t know how he was going to explain it to the sparrow, but he knew there was no hope for either of them.

 The jolt at the mailbox awakened Piper, and she began pushing against Bogart’s beak until he opened wide. “Are you okay, Mr. Bogart?” Piper asked. “You’re not broken or anything are you?” Bogart explained that he was not broken; he was just old and cold and too weak to save either one of them. But he asked that she let him stay with her until they both found the end of time.

The little songwing, nodded and thanked her near-savior for trying so hard and for caring so much. “By the way,” she said, “During your landing, another memory hit me. An important one, too. My name is Piper. And I know where I’m supposed to be, and I know it’s too far away to reach. But, I am happy that I get to be with you.

It’s hard to tell when a pelican is smiling or crying, but Bogart was doing both. The sparrow nuzzled against the pelican’s wing and yawned a small yawn. Bogart nudged her under his wing and closed his eyes. That’s when the roar came. Such a roar that Bogart thought it would wake the entire town.

Bears look much bigger the closer they get. This one was huge even before he was near. “What are you doing on a snowy road at night?” said the bear. “It’s way past spring; why haven’t you two taken flight?” Bogart explained to the "clapperclaw" (That's what animals call bears.) that they weren’t in a storybook, so they didn’t have to rhyme. The clapperclaw was very glad to hear it. He had been in only one story, and it was humiliating for a clapperclaw.

 Piper explained how Bogart and she both had problems that kept them from flying south. She then asked, “Mr. Clapperclaw, what are you doing awake this time of year.” The bear explained that he didn’t care to be called “Clapperclaw,” that he preferred the name humans gave him. “When humans see me, they always holler, ‘Bear!’ So, I’m a bear by the name of Taber.”

Taber said he had trouble sleeping, so decided to visit the town. He told them that he had eaten so much in preparation for hibernation, that he probably wouldn’t eat the both of them. He seemed to be joking, but Piper wasn’t sure.

When Bogart explained that they were both waiting for the last sleep, the bear said, “Nonsense! I think I can get you out of this.” He went on to explain that many humans are nice. They just get mean and thoughtless on occasion. He told Bogart and Piper to grab hold of him, that he wanted to show them something.

The bear dragged the pelican and carried the sparrow to the old churchyard, and stopped in front of the nativity scene. He said, “You two get over there next to the opened wooden box with the little person-doll in it. No matter what you see or what you hear, do not move.”

    A strange command, but neither bird cared to question
Taber. Neither  of them had ever seen a clapperclaw try to help a flyling.  Piper sat on the edge of the manger, and, on the eighth try, Bogart managed to sit atop a fake donkey. Then they waited. Taber stood in the middle of the road, drew a deep breath and then let out a roar that could be heard all the way to Willow Avenue. He waited for a moment before taking a run for the snowdrift in front of the mailbox. When he plowed into the drift, snow went flying everywhere. The last thing to hit the ground was the mailbox. Once it landed with thud, Taber started pounding on the metal contraption, all the while roaring.

    The lights in the nearby houses started coming on one by one.
Most of the humans took time to cover themselves with suitable materials before coming outside, but one man came out wearing only striped thin clot with a flap on the back which appeared open. Piper heard Bogart mumble, "This is getting curiouser and curiouser."  Several of the humans, including the one with his pink backside showing, came out with rifles. They each started shouting, “Bear! Bear!” Taber led the people into the churchyard, and ran right past the nativity scene. As he passed by the pelican and sparrow, he yelled, “I just may get sleepy after this!” The crowd never made it past the nativity scene. They stopped, looked and wondered about what they were witnessing.

    On the morning of Christmas Eve, the front page of the Timmins Daily Press, had a picture of a large pelican sitting atop a snow-covered fiberglass donkey, and a tiny sparrow resting on the edge of the manger. The town people had been made aware of the
spectacle while chasing a huge bear that was trying to demolish a mailbo
x. The story that accompanied the photo explained that the bear got away, but the old pelican and the sparrow were easily captured and placed in the back of Esmer's Western Feed and Supply on the south side of town. The two would have a warm place with plenty to eat, and they would stay there till spring

    Bogart and Piper located Taber in early spring. By that time, all the critters in the wood had heard the miraculous story of the sparrow, the pelican and the bear; and how the little toy person in the wooden half box had inspired a town to spare the bear and give two birds some much needed care. – The tale became a favorite Christmas Story for animals and children all.
Piper, Bogart and Taber were never aware that not only had they become heroes in the animal kingdom, but they had also become famous as characters in a Christmas tale -- a tale that served to instill the sense of hope, peace and goodwill for all. And the Christmas tale didn't even rhyme.  – Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


                                                          Who are "They" kiddin'?

    ROOFTOP – I apologize for the sudden call for a roofsit. I do appreciate you band of brothers and sisters who came to sit with me so readily on this month or so after St. Crispin’s Day. (It gets better from this point on.)

Two things drove me up here this evening. One of ‘em was “sea salt.” When I got home from watching Dennis and Larry’s softball teams play one another for the championship, I was tired and hungry. It’s so confusing when you have to yell for both teams.

    So I finally make it home where I start looking for something to snack on before supper. Atop the fridge I spy a partially eaten bag of HEB Central Market Multigrain Chips. (It’s the chips that were atop the fridge, not me.) I bought the chips a couple of weeks back because the bag was so attractive. You can’t judge green peas by the can, but you can judge chips by the bag. Been my experience.

    Not only did the bag look cool, it had something printed on it that was a big selling factor… for someone. I just bought it because of the nice-looking bag. At the bottom of the bag in large print were the words “Sea Salt.” That didn’t bother me at the time, but a little while ago it touched a nerve.

    How on earth did the origin of salt become a buying incentive? Am I supposed to think – “Not salt from a mine or desert, but salt from the ocean! It has the taste of salt! It’s the best salt money can buy.”

Apparently, it’s not even close to being the best. An acquaintance of mine has one container of salt in the house. It’s called Himalayan Pink Salt. Himalayan pink costs more than other salt because it contains 84 different minerals. And -- get this -- it’s advertised as the PUREST form of salt on the planet. Not only does it have salt in it, but it also has 84 other minerals. Leaving one to wonder, how many minerals are found in less-pure salt? And, how on earth is there any room for salt in the salt?

    Oh, and pink salt is hand gathered from ancient sea salt deposits. It’s an older salt. You add all this stuff up and you’ve got an expensive small chunk of salt. And, people buy it, ‘cause they trust the one who came up with all this info.

    I don’t have a great deal to base this on, but I believe that salt is salt. It comes in one flavor, and three portions. The flavor is “salty.” The portions are: too much, not enough, and about right. Anything other salt “fact” is beyond my Zone of Concern.

Nor do I care to get all wound-up about what is supposed to be the most widely consumed drug in the world  -- Caffeine. Some coffee drinkers purchase only decaf coffee, because they fear caffeine. Truth is, decaf coffee also has caffeine in it. Only uncaffeinated coffee has no caffeine, and there’s no such thing as uncaffeinated coffee. Prunes are an example of an uncaffeinated substance. You don’t have to worry about prunes giving you the shakes. It will likely give you something else, just not the shakes. 

    The FDA does not require companies to list the amount of caffeine in decaf coffee. What they have done is announce that decaf coffee should be 97 percent caffeine free. To eliminate that much caffeine from a coffee bean costs a great deal of money. That’s apparently why the FDA doesn’t require coffee companies to label how much caffeine is in their decaf. 

    Like I said, I don’t choose to worry about the caffeine in my coffee. About three years ago, I read that three to four cups of coffee a day does not hurt the normal person. Look at me. I’m as close to normal as you can get without opening your mouth. After reading the good-coffee-report, I haven’t read anything else on the topic. I refuse to read anything else.

    The only one in our family who drinks decaf is Dennis. If I choose to invite the family over, I must have some decaf on hand… for Dennis. Unfortunately, there has been a time or two when I didn’t care to buy decaf just… for Dennis, so I poured him the real stuff. He didn’t notice. He trusted that it was just good-tasting decaf.

Was I concerned for my brother’s health? Somewhat. From a moral standpoint, I had no concern for my big brother, because over the years, that guy has tricked me a million times. Remember the Fanner Fifty holster? The cardboard football helmet? The oiled baseball glove? Well, a couple of you might. Dennis swindled, hoodwinked and flimflammed me so many times when we were kids.  

He was able to do that because I trusted my big brother more than anyone on the planet… except for Elsie. If Dennis recommended I do something, I did it. A smart person sees that as vulnerability. He was able to swindle me so many times, because I was a trusting dumb person.

Yep, in youth and in adulthood, we make many decisions based on faith. Occasionally, our faith is misplaced. (D’uh.)  Is sea salt better than ordinary ol’ salt? Is Himalayan pink God’s gift to Saltdom? Is coffee slowly killing me?

    More importantly, did we really need to sit on this roof to better address life’s complexities? Some would think not. But, who are you gonna believe? Me, or a person who not only looks, but also sounds normal? – Uh, strike that last part. – Next time.


 Old Church and Sunday Glooms

    For most of my life, Sunday was my least favorite day of the week. Mom considered the day sacred as all get out, to the point where we had to go to church twice that day. It was a practice that was never explained to me, at least not to my satisfaction… as if anyone cared about the fifth child of seven being satisfied.

The argument for a morning and evening service on Sundays had to do with the rule that you’re supposed to attend church any time the doors are open. Truth is, the doors were never left wide open at the church building. So, technically, I should’ve been able to say, “Oops, the doors are shut, Mother. That means we must go home and watch Walt Disney World.”

    I could’ve argued that point as accurately as the guy who decided we had to go to church twice in one day, but kids didn’t argue all that much back then. When Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…” He meant we had to really SUFFER before we could come to Him. That was pretty much the implication of the message as it related to us.

    Back then, Sunday was known as the day of rest. God rested on the seventh day, so we were supposed to rest on the first day of the week. Another one of those things that confused the daylights out of kids. Well, at least it did to me.

    In Texas, as in many states back in The Day, to rest on Sunday meant that stores should not be opened. Laws were passed to make it a crime for certain stores to remain open on Sundays. They were called Blue Laws. The laws were called “Blue” because… I have no idea. (Even scholars can’t agree on the reasoning.)

    The blue laws evolved over the years. Man didn’t evolve, but his laws did. After awhile, stores could open, but they could only sell certain essentials. They could sell bread, but not toothbrushes. Hammers, but no nails. An ear of corn, but not a pot to cook it in. Most stores just stayed closed on Sundays, ‘cause it got too complicated to figure out what was lawful to sell.

Nowadays you can sell just about anything on a Sunday, except beer from a liquor store, or a car from an auto dealership that was open on Saturday. If you sell cars, you must pick either Saturday or Sunday to be open, but not both… in Texas. I don’t know what they do in the normal world.

Today, stores that close on Sunday are the exception, not the rule. “Chick Fil A” and “Hobby Lobby” come to mind. The owners of those establishments are well respected among religious groups all over the country for their decision to close on Sundays.

However, when churches let out around noonish on Sunday, people leave the parking lot and head for Luby’s or Whataburger or Golden Corral. We may respect the daylights out of Chick Fil A, but, at the same time, we are a reasonable people. Eating out Sunday is part of the church-going experience.

    This is just some of the stuff that gets people upset with religion. People might agree on “faith,” but we will never all agree on the methods for expressing our faith. With that in mind, I have likely upset many readers by giving my view on faith vs religion. The topic is not only controversial, it’s way too serious for me. Last week I wrote about “Shoes” and this week I’m writing about religion. So, before closing, I’m going to take the religion out of Sunday, and tell you the main reason for my dread of Sundays past.

    There was a time when I always had to do schoolwork on a Sunday night. I was not among the few, the chosen that finished their homework Friday night, so they’d have the rest of the weekend free. That was pretty much lunacy to me.

It took me 12 years to get a high school diploma and seven years to get a couple of degrees. I mention that as a way of bragging and as a way of expressing that for 19 years worth of Sundays, I worried about schoolwork that was due on Monday. On each one of those non-summer Sunday nights, I started my homework at around 7:30, but I dreaded it the entire day. I carried dread around like a refrigerator full of hammers.

After my school days, guess what? I became a teacher. That gave me 26 more years worth of Sundays where I had to prepare lessons, grade papers, study up on the Electoral College and Marbury vs Madison and the Federalist Papers, just so I could give the impression to some teenagers that I knew what I was talking about. I was a good actor.

Magically, when  I retired, Sundays became the best of days. I actually enjoy going to church now that I don’t have to. And, Kay and I usually go out to eat after church. How good is that?

During Sunday afternoon I’ll watch football in season and non-sports stuff when football is over.  At some point I’ll take a nap. And, get this -- There’s seldom anything I really need to do to prepare for Monday.

So, my dread of Sundays has vanished with age. My age. I’m dreadless, yet, full of guilt. Guilt for having it so good. That’s a part of my religious upbringing. It ties into that “Suffer the children…” thing. That’s hard to get out of your mind, you know that?