Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas short story

It’s time once again for Mark’s annual Christmas Short Story. The story, characters, and incidents portrayed in this piece are fictitious.

“The Night Before Christmas Shoot-out”

            The scene was of three cowboys sitting around a small campfire at the edge of a forest. Large branches from a fallen pine reached up above the blanket of snow that covered much of the campsite and all of the valley for as far as you could see… which wasn’t all that far because it was still snowing.

            An old tin coffeepot rested awkwardly at the edge of the fire. The cowboy seated on the fireside of the fallen tree was holding a coffee cup in his gloved left hand. His right hand was tucked cozily inside his heavy, woolen coat. He held the cup close to his lips to shield his face, and to capture what little warmth emanated from the metal mug.

            His hat was covered with a thin layer of ice that gave it a grey velvet appearance. Its brim was pulled low, hiding his eyes from the careful inspection of his two apparent guests. The cowboy sitting across to his right was wearing a heavy bear-skin coat and fancy-looking, heavy leather boots that were likely taken from some rich guy who prided himself in boot wear. From his mangy skunk-skin head-topping, to his poorly sewn rabbit skin gloves it was obvious that nothing the hombre had on his person or in his manner matched the quality of his boots. It added an unsettling air to an already tense situation.

            “So, you said we could share your coffee? You gotta cup?” The stranger informed Nice Boots that he only traveled with the one cup. The cowboy seated next to Nice Boots said, “I’ll get the one out of your bedroll, Vargus.” He started to stand, but Vargus told him to sit, that he’d get it himself.

            With that, Vargus casually removed the glove from his right hand and while standing in a stoop, reached inside the opening of his bear-skinned coat. Without disturbing his coffee cup, the cowboy pulled his Colt from inside his coat and shot Vargus right at the base of his skunk-skin hat. Before collapsing, Vargus staggered in a stoop one step forward and three back.

            “And, cut!” the director yelled. “That’s a take! Meryl, you are so smooth, man.? And, Frank, your expression at the sound of the gun was so realistic looking.” Frank, the third cowboy, told the director that the gun shot was so much louder than in the other scenes, that it startled him. The director had a way of doing stuff like that to add to his actors’ reactions. After four takes, it’s often hard for an actor to look convincingly surprised.

            Meryl, the fast draw cowboy, helped his friend up and swatted the snow from his coat. “Sam, how many times do you figure I’ve killed you over the years?” he said. Sam believed it was at least five. He had been shot too many times by too many named actors to keep count. Meryl was his favorite person to get shot by. Just nice and considerate as he could be. He never put on airs around the crew or stand-ins or extras. He was genuine.

            Martin said that while the crew set up the camera, sound and lights for a close-up on Meryl and Sam on the same scene, the actors needed to go to the tent and get some coffee and try to warm up. He’d call for them when he was ready. 

            Sam and Frank had been enjoying the warmth of the tent for about an hour when they got the “On Set!” call. Meryl was a short distance away from it all, staring at the glitter of the snowflakes as they met the lights inside the perimeter of the set. He was brought back to the reality of place and time by a yell from Martin. “Meryl! Get on set!”

            The scene began just as it had the five previous times. Frank had just told Vargus that he would get his coffee cup for him, and Vargus ordered him to sit. Vargus then began his stoop, but was stopped when he heard a command from the cowboy with his hat pulled low. “Sit back down,” the cowboy told him. Sam maintained his stoop as he looked to the monitor where Martin was seated. Martin shrugged and then nodded. He had witnessed stuff like this on several occasions, but generally by wacko actors or the ones so stuck on themselves that they seemed to delight in going on a tangent and messing everything up. But, Meryl? This was the first time Martin had ever seen or heard of Meryl taking liberties. It made him curious as to what was to happen next.

            Sam sat back down. “Thanks,” Meryl said. “Before shooting you, I just felt the need to say something. While I was staring at the snowfall, words from a real smart guy came to mind. It goes like this: -- ‘What you have is greater than what you want. And what is urgent is not always what matters.’* -- Let me ask you. Do you realize that tomorrow is Christmas?” Sam didn’t know if he was supposed to stay in character or not. He decided to play it safe. “You mean we’re still in December?” he said.

            “Barely,” Meryl said. “I’ll have you know that I have been away from my wife and two girls for the last three Christmases. As often as I can, I take ‘em with me, but here we are in Montana, 30 miles from the nearest road and 110 miles from the nearest town… which is in Canada!

            “And, you know what’s pathetic? I act like it’s no big deal. I get so caught up by everything that’s happening to me that I lose sight of the important stuff. My wife. My kids. My God. The misplaced birthday of someone I consider to be my hope in this life and in the next one. At sunrise it will be Christmas, and I’m out here with you two yahoos. Don’t get me wrong. You’re good company. Cowboy Number Three, I don’t know a lot about you, but I consider the guy who’s playing you a true friend. As for my buddy here who’s playing Vargus, I’ve gotta say that you’re acting your butt off, because I happen to know that you’re one of nicest persons I know.

            “But something is missing here. And, if it’s okay with y’all I’m going to say a prayer about it.” Frank and Sam cautiously glanced at Martin and received the go ahead nod. “My heavenly Father,” Meryl started. “I have been so tied up with ME, that I too easily lost sight of the best that you’ve given me. This career of each of those present, and all the acclaim we undeservedly get is too short-lived to earn the priority we’ve given it.  But the promise you’ve given us through Your Son is beyond all of that. It is forever. And for that I’m truly grateful. Thank You, for the birth of Your Son, for His life, and His death that set us free. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it, and I’m fairly sure I never will this side of heaven. But, you’ve made me to believe it.

            “I ask that you bless my friends here. Help us all to see the wonder that light creates on falling snow. Bless my family, my kiddos and my darling Charlotte. And, please forgive me for the neglect I’ve given You and to those who mean so much to me. It’s in Your Son’s name I pray. Amen.”

            There was about three seconds of silence, but Martin let the cameras roll. “Okay, Vargus, let’s do this thing,” the stranger said. Sam nodded, took the leather glove off his right hand and reached under his coat as he began to stand. The stranger’s gun sounded at the same time a small plastic bag of red syrup exploded near the bottom edge of Vargus’ skunk hat. The outlaw stumbled two short steps forward, three back and then collapsed. -- “Cut!”

            The movie was a big success. The most popular part was the scene at the end that followed all the credits. It was where the three cowboys were seated around the campfire, and the stranger said a prayer. The scene made it to YouTube even before the movie went to Red Box. The prayer endeared Meryl to many of his fans, but it did chase away a few. And, some of those who didn’t know enough not to like Meryl, now knew enough. Seems Christianity has taken a hit from a number of argumentative believers who merely act the role.

            Meryl’s career slowed a bit. He quit Westerns all together. His wife and kids and parts of both families spent the following Christmas at a ranch house near Alpine, Texas. The food was good, the coffee great, and it snowed on Christmas Day.
* Max Lucado was the author of the quote.

You can contact Mark at

hope for the holidays

“Hope for the Holidays”

            Sometime between now and Christmas Day I hope to attend as many local Holiday events as I can stand. I’m taking Kay with me, too. Just seems like a good idea.

            Unfortunately, we’re getting a late start. We’ve missed tree lighting ceremonies in every city, town, hamlet, courthouse, doghouse and outhouse in a four county area. I may drag Kay to one or two of the Christmas tree un-plugging and take-down ceremonies in late March. I imagine they’ll have snacks and drinks provided.

            I would really like to get a room for Kay and me in one of the hotels in The Woodlands. Spend a day or two just looking at all the lights and stuff, and eat at a couple of the nice restaurants in the area.  Of course, I don’t want to take away anything from Friday’s six o’clock “Movie in the Park” in Conroe, but the movie is “The Elf” and I’m just not a big Will Ferrell fan. If Benicio del Toro was the Elf, I’d be there. I like anything he’s in.

            The one big event of which I’m committed, takes place on Saturday, Dec 15. It’s big, like really BIG. It’s a production called “Hope for the Holidays” and will be performed in the more than ample auditorium at College Park High School. H for the H is a Christmas stage production modeled after one of those Bob Hope or Andy Williams type Christmas shows. Most of you are too young to remember stuff like that, so it’s your big chance to find out what you missed.

            The production was written and produced by the lovely and talented Jodie Schrier from The Woodlands. I knew her as Jodie Domengeaux when she was in my class at McCullough High. I must not have messed the girl up too much, or else she wouldn’t have asked me to co-host with Dori Barber, a lovely and charming young lady who works with a massive assembly known as The Woodlands United Methodist Church. I believe the nearest Disunited Methodist Church is located somewhere in Tennessee. -- Why can’t we all just learn to get along?

            Comments like that are what make Dori’s role as co-host so crucial. Dori Barber has a quick wit, and promises to be a good stabilizing force for me. Jodie made her promise to keep her old teacher in check. I have no idea who is supposed to control Dori, because that girl is way out there.

            The good thing about being co-hosts is that we don’t have to sing or dance. Everyone else who appears on the stage will be doing one or the other. Some will do both. You will get to hear solo-vocalists who are among the best of the best in the county… if not the world. David Troth, Michelle Brown, Gary Lynn Floyd, Alyssa Smith and JR Smith will absolutely hate me for putting that kind of pressure on them. (They made me say that.)

            You will see toy soldiers marching, flowers dancing, pianists piano-ing and other fun Christmas stuff like that. Afterwards, you’re going to want to walk home in pretend-snow singing “O’ Holy Night.” Jodie refused to let Dori and me sing “O’ Holy Night” so somebody ought to get to sing it. If there is any dead time, Dori and I may try it anyway. Hey, we’re not getting paid for this gig. --  And, that’s the joy of ”Hope for the Holidays.”

            You see, all proceeds – every cent from each ticket -- goes to a charity called “Cassidy Joined for Hope.” The foundation was created by Kim and Jud Hess whose 16 year-old daughter Cassidy Jade Hess, a junior at College Park High School, took her life at home on the afternoon of December 20, 2015. There was absolutely no indication that Cassidy was having any trouble. She was doing well in school, was active, well liked, and showed no discernible signs of depression. The Hess family will never fully recover from that horror, but they are doing what they can to change a trend that is happening time and again in families all across the county.   

            Kim and Jud Hess favored the name “Cassidy Joined for Hope” for the charity, because it incorporates their daughter’s initials – CJH – but it also instills the thought of HOPE in the lives of young and old alike. The mission of the charity is to make us all aware of the ever increasing number of teen suicides in this county, and to train mentors, provide speakers, and “partner with community leaders and churches and other non-profit organizations to offer more youth outreach programs.” All of these descriptive words sound good as all get out, but more than that, they are being put into action by all of those involved in “Cassidy Joined for Hope.”

            Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the door or on-line at “  All of the production costs have been taken care of by individuals and businesses in the community. If you’re able to attend one of two performances – either at 2:00 or 6:00 -- on Saturday December 15, you will be dazzled by the talent, and you will have helped to reveal the hope that seems hidden to too many of those among us.  

            We do so hope to see you there. – And, please know that I was just joking about Dori and me singing “O’ Holy Night.”

oger hid phone

Found the phone!

            Christmas came early this year. -- Are you ready for this? – I found my cell phone. Some of you may remember that I lost the thing back in July. I had every confidence it was still in the house.

             I supposed a gnome got it. Now I’m thinking a troll. I have no respect for those things. The reason one must come to the conclusion of the involvement of supernatural villain, has to do with where the phone eventually showed up.

            I was sitting in my Lay-z-boy swivel rocker recliner getting ready to end a swivel and go into a recline. Kay was at the dining table just behind me and yelled, “Stop! You’re about to crunch your phone.”  I understood the command, but the reasoning was all wrong. I seldom put my new cell phone under my rocker.

            Turns out it was the old phone. I knew immediately because my phone replacement has a blue backing and my lost one is red. Kay didn’t catch onto to that because she didn’t share my heartache for my lost phone. All along I thought the thing would show up the day after I had replaced. The troll waited five months before putting it in the open.

            The scary part of this is that I not only checked on the sides of the cushions, sticking my hand down in sticky places I don’t even like to talk about. But, I have turned that chair upside down no less that 12 times since losing that phone. One of the times was to search for the phone. Two were to double and triple check.  I’m a relentless searcher of things. Everybody tells me that. 

            The other nine occasions for flipping the chair was to locate the source of a maddening squeak the thing has. At no time did the phone show itself . And, I’ve got to tell you, there are not that many places to hide underneath a Lay-Z-Boy. There are places really hard to get to, but you can clearly see where it is you need to get.

            Well, Kay had a great idea a few days ago to move the living room furniture around. It’s a woman thing. It was shortly after the furniture move that the phone showed up on the two-foot diameter wooden base on which the swivel rocker recliner sets. Or sits. I don’t know what a chair does.

            So, now I have a spare phone. I don’t need it. Probably won’t be able to find it when I do. Somewhere in this house is a gnome, troll, or phantom laughing its rear off. It’s taking all I’ve got hide my anger over the hoax. It’s been my experience that the more fuss you make over a practical joke, the more pleasure the jokester receives, and the more likely he, she or it is to perform again.

            I am quite proud of Kay for noticing the phone immediately before the chair smashed it. I seriously doubt that was part of the apparition’s scheme. Kay was such a catch for me. Don’t you think? A couple of weeks ago we had our 47th anniversary. I knew it was coming, I just forgot when it showed up.

            It was in the late afternoon that Kay started laughing. And, I hadn’t even said or done anything remotely comical. She said, “You know what today is?” I didn’t. “It’s our anniversary,” she said. The fact that she was laughing made it okay for me to laugh about it. Isn’t that great? 

            It’s really no big deal, because it turns out that the proper gift for a 47th anniversary is a book. Kay buys a book on-line or at Sam’s almost weekly. The chance of me finding her a book that she hadn’t already read would be a challenge that my skills of discernment would lacking.

            The male gift for a 47 year anniversary used to be a radiator cap. In ’64 it was changed to a rubber mallet. Kay could find more use for a rubber mallet than I could. But, the anniversary gift exchange is now moot. Just as well. They’ve probably come up with a better 47 year anniversary gift for a husband. If it’s one of those salt shooting, fly killer guns I’d be just a tad upset over Kay not remembering our anniversary.

            And, speaking of gift giving, who is that crazy, bearded, wire-glasses wearing, red-coated and red-trousered wearing, plump, jovial guy that’ll be showing up soon?

            I believe I’ve made it clear as crystal that at no time in my childhood did I ever believe in Santa Claus. Part of that was due to my keen sense of reason. The other part was due to the fact that Dennis was three years older than me. No way was he going to let me put up with any of that Santa Claus nonsense. I owe him for that. I never told Mom or Dad who let me in on the Santa fabrication. Oddly enough they never asked.

            Like I said from the beginning, Kay has already given me my Christmas gift. – The lost phone! Remember? – I’ll need to get her something, but have not a clue. Probably should give her a bookcase.          

Traditions do die

“Everything has a last”

  I remember well Thanksgiving of 2017. Kay and I stopped in mid-afternoon at a Furr’s Cafeteria in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The place was packed. We were in line for at least an hour. Maybe three.

The food wasn’t all that good, but there was a lot of it. It wasn’t a self serve buffet, but a guy kept coming by to ask if he could get us anything. I couldn’t believe it; there were about—Excuse me a second. “Kay, how many people do you think were at Furr’s when we were in Santa Fe. -- “Two million!”

I don’t know if you’ve caught on yet, but Kay can get real surly sometimes. It’s her way of telling me to leave her alone. Right now she’s in the living room watching “The Wizard of Oz” with Jill. I have half a mind to go in there and tell them how it ends.

Kay and I hosted the family Thanksgiving this year, and Jill stayed over. I couldn’t get her to leave. -- That’s a joke. Her stay was pre-planned. She made sure to bring a scary movie with her.

Excuse me a second. – “Jill, what’s the name of the movie you brought with you?” – “Two million!” -- I get absolutely no respect around this house. Or out of this house, for that matter.

This rude behavior has gotten me off point. What I wanted to tell you from the get-go was that Thanksgiving this year was void of anything that would cause me to remember it a year from now. Give me a minute. – “Jill, how did you describe this year’s Thanksgiving?”— “Uneventful! Now, leave us alone! The flying monkeys are getting ready to attack!”

You heard it. “Uneventful.” Kay and I worked our buns off, and for what? “Uneventful.” I guess I should’ve come up with some games. Jill actually purchased two board games for us to play. At one point she got out all the pieces for one of the games and started studying the rules.  None of us said a word about it. We were afraid to encourage her. I haven’t played a board game since I graduated from High School. I can live with that.

So, all we did was sit around and talk about the same stuff we always talk about. Unfortunately, some of the stuff I had forgotten. The fact that Al went to Southmore Junior High was like a big surprise to me. I thought he went to San Jacinto just like the rest of us. The crazy thing is, it wasn’t long ago I knew stuff like that.

Jill recommended I get me some Lego’s. “They can help old people.” That’s what she said. Jill is three years younger than I am and she’s telling me I need help. She did tell me that she bought a set of Legos and they helped her. She never explained what they help her with, but they help all right.

She pulled up some pictures on her phone to show me what she built with her Lego’s. She built a four-wheeler, a lifeguard stand, and a camper. I had completely misjudged Lego’s. Jill had a coffee pot, a stove, headlights and wheels, all of which were not made of Lego’s. They were pieces included in the Lego kit. I considered that cheating. I assumed everything had to be made out of rectangular or square Lego.

After the fascination wore off of the Lego topic, from ou to the blue, I mentioned that when Kay and I pass away there will nobody to take charge of the funeral or anything. My grand-niece Dusti said, “Somebody will take care of it, Uncle Mark.” I said, “Thank you, Dusti.” She immediately told me that she wasn’t volunteering herself; she was just saying that somebody will probably take charge.

Yep, that put the icing on the donut for me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the last holiday gathering. It may sound rather sad, but I’m good with it. After all, there is a last time in everything you do. 

Unfortunately, watching a scary movie with my sister isn’t one of them. I believe the “Wizard of Oz” is over. Time to put in the scary movie and watch some nitwit get decapitated after entering a room without turning on the lights. You ask me, some of these scary movie characters deserve what they get. 
You can contact Mark at