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[NOTE: This is the story about the night I was born. The words the mother speaks to the baby at the end are the words I spoke to my daughters at their births. And yes, my parents really are named María and José, although they both use their middle names because they feel their names are too common. I have heard the story over and over again over the past 60 years. My mother swears it was 11:52 PM but my birth certificate says I was born at 11:19 PM. In any case, I was my mom’s Christmas baby!]

María lay in bed exhausted, yet unable to sleep. She’d had an endless day and had just finished putting out the gifts for her four children. Tomorrow would be filled with joy and much activity. The kids were sure to waken by seven, anxious to open their gifts and play with their new toys. There would be lots of cooking to do, too.

Just a week ago things had looked quite bleak. They didn’t have much money and her heart had ached at the thought of disappointing her children on Christmas. Somehow, José, her husband, had managed to work a few days and had brought her enough money for groceries and a couple of modest gifts for each of the children. They had even gotten a small tree to decorate.

He had come through and María appreciated it. It allowed her to push back the memories of all the times he’d come home late, drunk, and smelling of dime store cologne.

María thought about her life. They lived in a tiny two room house with no heat and no indoor bathroom. They were far from town. The car was always either broken or out of gas. Her husband worked in the fields during the season and at odd jobs in the winter. Her children never had new clothes. She had to accept old clothes from her neighbors and her comadre’s. María’s beautiful little girl had to wear boys’ clothes. Her boys needed shoes that didn’t fall off their feet when they ran so they wouldn’t fall and get hurt. She was very familiar with the second-hand stores where José took her to shop when the boxes of clothes from her comadre didn’t fill all of their needs.

She had given birth four times in five years and was now nine months pregnant with their fifth child. She wondered how many more times she’d give birth before José tired of her and left her alone or ended up dead on the highway on his way home from the cantina he always managed to visit, even when he said they could afford nothing else.

Sometimes things were alright. José could be thoughtful and attentive if he wanted to be. He loved playing with his children. He even helped María with the housework when he wasn’t working. He had taught María how to cook when they had married. José was a hard worker and always managed to provide his family with what they needed.

María loved her children. Sometimes they were all that kept her going. They needed her. They loved her. She loved to see their happy faces and feel their sticky kisses and tight hugs. She liked being able to console them when they were hurt and crying.

María thought about the baby inside of her that made it impossible for her to find a comfortable position. She hoped this one would be another girl. When her first child had been born, she had wished for a girl, only to get a boy. She had cried but soon she loved him so much that she had wished for sons when she had become pregnant for the second, third, and fourth times. When God gave her a daughter for her fourth child, she had cried with disappointment, only to grow to love her so quickly that now her wish for a second daughter made her smile as she rubbed her swollen belly.

She wondered what the future had to offer this innocent child. María feared that perhaps it was a sin to bring children into the world when she and José had so little to offer them. Her exhaustion finally gave way to sleep, as the infant inside of her womb settled down also.

The next morning the children woke their parents asking eagerly if they could go open their gifts. They were happy with what Santo Clos had brought them. They were not used to getting toys or new clothes. The boys had each gotten gun sets–belts, holsters, guns, and even tin badges. José’s boss had given him a small cowboy hat for one of the boys and María had found a couple of bandanas at the segunda. They had also managed to get their hands on three tricycles for the boys. José had worked on them late at night, fixing and painting them to look like new.

Their little daughter was busy playing with her life-like baby doll that had moving eyes, hair, and drank from a bottle. María’s comadre had sewn a small brown bear for her. The last trip they had made to the segunda had provided them with toy dishes for the little girl and a warm coat of red velvet.

After opening the gifts, the children had breakfast. Their mother had fixed huevos con chorizo and fresh tortillas. While she cleaned up after breakfast, María turned on the radio. She tuned to her favorite station. The announcer was excitedly bragging about how his wife had given birth to a baby daughter shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve. She thought to herself how wonderful it would be to give birth on Christmas day!

When she finished with the dishes, she sat by the tree to watch the children at play. It was cold and damp outside so they had to stay indoors. María looked at the tree. They had only a few glass ornaments on it. They were painted shiny, bright colors with dainty designs that looked and felt like fuzzy snowflakes. María could see her reflection in them. She had cut a silver star out of an old pie plate. The plain, simple star now stood guard on top of the little tree. María hoped that maybe next year they would be able to get some colored electric lights like her comadre had on her tree.

All day she waited for the pains to begin. She couldn’t believe how crazy it was that she was actually looking forward to the pains that she had dreaded so much the other times. She felt that there was something special about this child and certainly it was God’s blessing to have a baby born on Christmas day and so she was almost eager to feel the pain that would threaten to tear her apart from the inside out. She dozed for a while, as the children played and she listened to the gentle rain falling outside.

Later that afternoon María was wakened by the thunder outside, crackling loudly. It had begun to rain violently. The house was dark. The wind was deafening as it threatened to blow the tiny house away. The rain fell as if being poured directly over them from a pitcher. The sky had darkened prematurely.

The children were scared. They gathered near their mother. The radio announcer reported that many roads had been closed and that the reservoir was threatening to overflow. At this, María turned down the volume and went into the bedroom to tell José. She was frightened. Their house was just about a half mile from the reservoir. If it overflowed, their small house would be washed away. It was time to load up the car and get as far away as they could. They had friends in town. Their compadres were sure to let them stay for a night or two.

José came into the room and listened briefly to the radio reports. He told her to gather their things and get the kids into the car. They would go into town for the night. When they were all in the car, José could not get it started. He got out and tried everything he knew to try to get the old car going. Nothing worked.

The children, sensing danger, cried softly and obeyed every order given them by their parents. They seemed to know instinctively that their cooperation was an absolute necessity. Even the youngest acted like an angel.

After some time of futilely trying to start the car, José began walking the half mile to the nearest neighbors to get help. When he arrived, there was no one there. He continued to walk toward the road to look for help for his family. It was very difficult to walk against the oppressive rain and wind which seemed to be concentrating their joint efforts on keeping him from reaching the highway.

As José neared the main highway, he could make out flashing lights. He quickened his step and waved his arms, even though he knew they couldn’t see him. It was about nine o’clock and the night was black, except for the lights that flashed from the highway. Finally, as José reached the road, a Highway Patrolman spotted him.

“What are you doing out here? It’s very dangerous. We’ve evacuated the place and have road blocks to keep people out of the area. How did you get back into the restricted area?” asked the Patrolman.

“I live back there. No one evacuated us. We heard the reports on the radio and tried to get out but our car won’t start. My family is stuck back there. We need help,” answered José.

“Your family? We thought we had everyone out of there. How many people are back there? How far? Where exactly are they? Are there any others still back in there, besides your family?” quizzed the Patrolman rapidly.

“It’s about three miles back. Right up against the dam. My wife and four kids are out there. I didn’t see anyone else on my way out here,” explained José.

The Patrolman sent two cars back to get the family and some of their belongings. José rode along in the lead car to show them the way.

When they got to the house, they found the car empty. Inside the house, the only light was the flicker of a candle. When they entered, they found María in hard labor, the children gathered around her with wide, frightened eyes.

One of the Patrolmen took a single look at thescene and started to give orders. “Officer Taylor, help me get this woman into my car. I’ll take her directly to County Hospital. You can stay here with this man and help him get the children to safety, then you can bring him to County.”

They quickly and carefully carried María into the car and rushed inside the house to get the kids without waiting for the first car to drive away.

An hour later, José rushed into the Obstetrics Ward at County Hospital to ask about his wife. “She’s in labor. She’s not quite ready to deliver. You can wait downstairs. I’ll call down when there’s any word,” instructed the pretty nurse with a sympathetic smile on her face.

In the Delivery Room, María gasped for air. “Please Doctor, you have to help me deliver my baby now. It’s almost midnight. My baby has to be born before midnight. Please help my baby come now. What time is it? What time is it?”

“It’s about 11:30 María. Don’t be in such a hurry. This baby will come when it’s ready. I can’t do anything about it. Relax. It’s almost here. On the next contraction, push as hard as you can!” the young intern smiled at María reassuringly.

After pushing through three or four more contractions, María felt the baby being born. She heard the strong crying. The doctor gladly announced “It’s a girl, María! You have a beautiful, healthy baby girl!”

“What time is it?” asked María. “Did I make it? Is she a Christmas baby?”

“It’s 11:52. You made it! You have a Christmas baby! Congratulations, María.” The intern smiled as he continued to examine both mother and baby. “Why was it so important to have a Christmas baby anyway, María?”

“Because this baby is special. She is my gift to the world. She’s going to be a very special person,” beamed María as she put her arms out to take her baby.

Later, when she was in the ward, after José had come in to see her and the 5 pound little girl María held in her arms, María spoke to her daughter with complete adoration: “You are my hope for the future. You are a gift. A gift to me…to our family…a gift to all the world. You will bring good things into this world. I know you will be a special daughter. You bring me hope that out of the darkness of my life, something beautiful will come. Joyful, beautiful, and wonderful things will follow you wherever you go and everyone you touch will be blessed with your joy. You are my joy today, tomorrow, and always.”

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Just me and my mom, around May,1956.

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Re-posting an old favorite:

One of my fondest Christmas memories is also one of the saddest.  It happened in 1978, the year I got married.

My mother lived in Long Beach, California and my husband and I lived in Santa Monica.  His parents lived in Mexicali, Baja California, which is about a four or so hour drive from where my mom lived.  I had never missed a Christmas at home.  It was very important to me that I not miss being home, not just for my sake but for my mother’s.  I knew she wanted me to be home.  So we consulted with everyone and figured out a plan where my husband and I would drive to Mexicali a few days before Christmas.  We would have an early Christmas lunch after opening presents with his family, then we would leave there and come across the border by one in the afternoon or so.  We would then drive to Long Beach and be there for a late Christmas dinner and opening presents with my family.

We were staying on the U.S. side of the border, in Calexico, at my husband’s grandmother’s house while we were down there.  On Christmas Eve when it was time for bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I talked for hours and hours.  My husband heard about every one of my Christmases that night.  I think I was nervous about being with my new family (I had just met them two months previously and had not spent much time with them) and also nervous about the timing of the drive to my mom’s house.  I didn’t want anything to go wrong that would keep us from spending a part of the holiday with my family.  They were all waiting for us, including a number of nieces and nephews who weren’t going to open presents until we got there. So I went on and on about Christmas and about birthday cakes (my birthday is on Christmas).  I think I recalled every single gift I had gotten in my 22 years!  Finally, I let him fall asleep at what was probably about three in the morning.   I stayed awake after he fell asleep.

The next day, everything on his family’s end of the planning went well.  By nine we were finished opening presents and our lunch was being prepared.  We ate by noon and even though I offered to stay and help with the clean up, we were ushered out of there so we wouldn’t be late getting to my mother’s house.

To get on the road, we had to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.  The road we took to get from my in-law’s to the border, was the fastest route.  It had businesses on one side and a very high fence on the other side, which served as the division between the third world country and the richest country in the world (at least in those days).  As the road approaches the border, the last mile or two, the fence is just a cyclone fence and you can see right through it, (at least in 1978 you could; I’m not sure what it’s like now).  We slowed as the road ahead of us narrowed from four lanes to the two border patrol booths that were open.  It was not a long wait but to me, it was way too long.  Because there was little traffic that day, there were no cars between us and the cyclone fence, giving us full view of the “dividing line.”  As I sat there, I looked over and watched as families congregated at the fence, exchanging gifts through the openings in the cyclone fence.  Once I realized what it was that they were doing, the excitement I felt about being on my way home left me along with my breath.  For what seemed like forever, I couldn’t breathe.  I was riveted to the scene before me.  There were mothers and their children passing crudely wrapped gifts from one side of the fence to the other.  On both sides of the fence, people were smiling and chatting as they exchanged Christmas gifts.  It seemed to be normal to them, and I’m sure it was.

I was struck by the fact that these families could not embrace or pass any gift bigger than three or so inches to the other side.  The families’ economic differences were clear.  The ones on the Mexico side of the fence were very poorly clad, especially for what was a crisp December day with the promise of rain in the sky.  The ones on the U.S. side were better dressed and wore shoes and coats appropriate for the weather.  The families although together, were very far apart in many ways.  Before I knew it, I was crying.  My chattiness was gone and we drove home to my mother’s house in almost complete silence.  When we arrived, being there with my family, in the same piece of earth, was more special than it had ever been.  I could hug them and kiss them and hold them near to me.

That was the Christmas in which I left my childhood innocence behind in many ways.

 

For a lighter Christmas Story, click on the link:

Baby Jesus Bridge

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The morning of my appointment the skies were clear and the snow was all but gone. I had made the appointment for 3 in the afternoon. The drive was supposed to be only about an hour. I’m the forever early type of person and figured I would allow myself time to drive there then sit and have something to eat and maybe stop in at a used bookstore I had read about. The plan was to get there and relax until my appointment time then head back down the hill to my Ashland motel and then head for home on Wednesday. That was the plan anyway.

In the motel, the last thing I did was finish watching a news report about a California family that was missing after leaving and heading south back to the bay area. It was believed they had taken a bad road and were now missing for more than a day. I left the motel and headed for the tire store to buy chains for the car. They sold me cables and I made sure there were instructions. The clerk even walked me through it. I didn’t need them but I was trying to be cautious because I didn’t know what the weather was like up the mountain. It was about 10 am or so. Off I went into the wild blue yonder! So I thought.

I only got about fifteen minutes away before it started to snow. And it came on heavily. About five miles later, it was obvious that I needed the cables on the tires. I found a chain up area with several other vehicles stopped. I tried to figure out how to put the cables on but I wasn’t able to do it so I went up to someone putting them on their truck and asked for help. The man came over and put them on for me. However, he did show me that there was a longish part that should be cut off with wire cutters but he didn’t have any so he had just wrapped it around part of the cable on the tire. I thanked him and off I went. The going was very slow. I didn’t mind it. It gave me time to enjoy the beauty of the mountain in the snow. The tall evergreens on either side of the road, covered in snow, were amazing. It was like driving through a snowy tree tunnel. For awhile I was right behind a snow plow. That wasn’t too bad as long as I kept far enough back so I didn’t get all of the snow blow back, or whatever you call that!

Then I came to a crossroad and wondered. That was the road I was supposed to take off on to cut twenty minutes off of my trip. Or so I thought. I debated a bit because everyone was going the other way. But the only directions I had were to take that road. So I did. Big mistake.

After only about a mile, the snow accumulation was such that the road was only wide enough for one car. Not one in each direction. Just one car. I could not even figure out how to turn around and go back. I would have had to put the car in reverse and go back. I was following the GPS and it showed there were a few side roads nearby and I thought maybe I could turn around there. I forged on. It was still beautiful yet I was  beginning to feel like there might be something unbeknownst up ahead. However, I really didn’t have a choice but to go on. As I passed the roads shown on the GPS, I couldn’t see any roads. All I saw was snow all around me.

Then I started to hear something that sounded like scraping on the car and I thought I might have caught a tree branch under the car. I stopped, put my four way flashers on (although I hadn’t seen a car for a long time) and got out to investigate. I saw that the extra wire from the tire cables had come unwound from the cable and was scraping on the inside of the front driver’s fender. I tried to wrap it back around the cable but I had no gloves and my frozen hands got cut. I got back in the car and went on. No choice but to do that. The scraping continued and unfortunately I didn’t think anything would happen so I went on. I really didn’t have a choice. I had a cell phone with me and thought maybe I could call auto club but there was no signal. The GPS showed nothing anywhere near me. I had to go on.

I went through, at about 15 mph, that road and finally got to the main road. Just as I merged onto the main highway, I felt and saw something fly by and hit the side of the car. I pulled over right away. I got out and found a huge hole in the side of the car. It was the fender that the wire had been scraping against. The scraping had caused it to wear away and the whole thing flew off. I saw the piece a way behind the car. I walked over and picked it up and put it in the trunk. I knew I was only about five miles from the doctor’s office so I went on, figuring I could find some help there. As I drove into the small town, VERY small town of Chiloquin, I realized everything was closed. I made it to the doctor’s office about thirty minutes before my appointment. The supposed-to-be-drive of one hour had taken over four and a half hours of time and about one hundred per cent of my nerves and stamina. From the waiting room, I was able to use the office phone to call Avis only to be told they could do nothing for me until “the day after tomorrow” and suggested I call my own auto club to see what they could do for me. I called auto club but they said they couldn’t help until the morning. They suggested I find a motel for the night and they would get to me first thing in the morning.

I saw the doctor. He took extra time with me because it had been so long since I had seen a doctor for anything. I agreed to wait while he saw other patients so he could spend that extra time for me. I had nowhere to go anyway so I waited. It was a good wait. They kept me entertained, bringing me magazines and a snack (I hadn’t had breakfast or lunch). When all was said and done, the doctor had stocked me up with about six months worth of sample packages of three of the prescriptions he wrote for me. He knew I had no insurance and one of the medications was not available in generic form and was over $150 for one month. We had a long, long talk. He asked about the kids and I was able to fill him in on the little kids who were now grown, two of them out of the house. I showed him pictures of them. He had his staff try to find me a motel nearby but everyone was completely full. They found the nearest to be in Klamath Falls, about twenty miles away. So off I went. By this time, it was about 6:30.  About seven or so miles later, remember I was only going about twenty or so miles per hour because of the road conditions, I heard and felt another loud noise and the car came to almost a complete stop on its own. I stopped it completely and wandered out to see what was going on. By then, it had been dark for several hours and it was quite a bit colder. Upon investigation, I found the problem. The tire cable on the front passenger side had snapped and wound itself around the axle. I wasn’t going any place. The car was just not going to go any place. I tried to call auto club but for about a half hour I couldn’t get a signal.

Finally, I was able to get a weak signal and I called auto club. The problem was then that I couldn’t tell them where I was because I didn’t know the area and the snow banks were so high that I could not see any signs. I could only tell them the road I was on and where I had come from and where I was headed, oh and that I had passed the casino. That gave them enough info to come try to find me, after the tow driver finished another job. By this time, the battery on the cell phone was almost dead but I wanted to talk to my kids. I had the feeling that I was going to end up lost like that family I had heard about just before I left my motel room in Ashland that morning, which seemed like days, not hours. I called one daughter and couldn’t reach her. My son didn’t answer either. I did manage to get in touch with my oldest daughter and, trying not to alarm her, gave her a short recap of what was going on. I hung up to preserve the phone battery in case I had to call auto club again. I still had not eaten all day and it was close to 8. I had a banana in the car and a can of Diet Coke. Both were frozen solid so that was no help.

Eventually, I got a call from auto club saying that the tow driver couldn’t find me. They patched the call through to the driver who was a local and I was able to repeat where I had been and where I was headed and the road. He thought he knew where I was. Yay! Finally, he found me! He ended up having to tow me into Klamath Falls and leave me and the car there. He had more cars to go rescue. He said he’d be back at 8 the next morning to take me and the car to Ashland.

Finally safe, I fell apart in my room. I put the thermostat on full blast and although the room warmed right up, I could not warm up. I was freezing from the inside out. It had been -3 degrees out there and my hoodie and cheapo boots couldn’t cut it. I called room service and had them bring me food and coffee. They were no longer doing room service and wanted me to come to the restaurant but I just didn’t have the energy to calm myself, stop shaking, and go to get my food. So they made an exception and brought me my food and a whole, big, pot of coffee.

All along, while I was out in the elements, I found it ironic that I had finally gotten myself out of my depression and made moves to improve my health and here I could die out there. It had been a long day of trying not to think of the worst but still having it just at the back of my mind. And at times, I was sure I was going to die. I also found out that the road I had taken off of the main highway was a seasonal road. It is only used in the summer months. That’s why I never met up with another car the whole time I was out there.

I was so shaken up that instead of driving back to Santa Rosa the next day, I wasn’t able to shake the feeling and I ended up staying until Saturday morning, four days later than I had planned. I didn’t leave my motel room in all that time, in fact, I didn’t get out of bed except to take warming showers several times a day.The woman who owned the hotel had become sort of a friend because I had stayed there a number of times. She kept checking on me and brought me food and warm beverages. In fact, they charged me a very reduced rate for those extra days.

That was my first exposure to driving in the snow. I think that probably tells you why, when it snows, I don’t even think of leaving the house.

We’re still very icy here. Wednesday’s snow has not melted because we haven’t gotten any higer than 31 degrees. In fact, we are supposed to break a record in the overnight hours (I’m writing this at almost 1 in the morning on Saturday)…to about 17 degrees. Saturday afternoon, more snow! I’m not going out in it. Not a chance.

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When I lived in southern California, I had a wonderful doctor. Dr. Cohen was our family doctor. He had been my doctor until he switched to family medicine and we all started seeing him. I loved going there. Once, when one of the kids was sick but not too sick, I just wasn’t sure about taking them in but I wasn’t comfortable doing nothing so I called his office and talked to the nurse. After conferring with the doctor, she told me to bring them in. When I got there, Dr. Cohen said that his staff had a standing order that if I called, get my kids in right away because I was not one of the mothers that ran to the doctor for any little cut, scrape, or cough. That made me feel good! Then there was the time that I sat in the waiting room for over an hour past my appointment time. He told the staff not to collect my deductible because my time was just as precious as his and he didn’t want me to have to pay for just sitting. Not many doctors do that!

In any case, he sold his practice and moved to Oregon around 1999. After that, I struggled with other doctors in the building. For those that don’t know, there are certain experiences in my past that make it very difficult for me to trust new people. It makes it very difficult to start a new doctor. I have a very difficult time having to disrobe at the doctor’s office, let alone letting them examine me. Then in 2002, I lost my health insurance so I didn’t see any doctors. That was bad because I am diabetic so my diabetes went untreated for years. I got over some other problems and moved to northern California in 2004. Finally, I got to thinking about finding Dr. Cohen. I got online and searched and finally found him. I called his office to make sure it was him and it was! He was practicing in a small town near Klamath Falls. I started working to save money to go see him then I made an appointment. It was crazy to drive fourteen hours to see a doctor but I knew that I had to because I wasn’t going to see a doctor otherwise. So the Monday after Thanksgiving, I rented a car from a friend who  had an Avis franchise and agreed to rent a car to me without a credit card. And I was off to Oregon!

The trip started out on a bad note. Although I had checked traffic and weather before leaving, when I got to Redding, the radio was reporting that there was a storm headed for southern Oregon. I hadn’t prepared for that so I didn’t even have a coat. I stopped in at a K-Mart in Redding and bought a hoodie. I didn’t have a lot of money with me and I had to save what I had for the motel I was staying in for a couple of nights, before and after my doctor visit. So that’s all I had. A hoodie, some cheapo non-weatherized boots, and myself. No gloves. No scarf. No hat. But for this California girl who had not been in the snow previously, it didn’t really grab my attention and off I headed for Oregon.

Then, as I was about five miles away from my gas stop in Yreka, I saw a CHP car coming fast from the other direction and I figured he was after someone. That’s when I realized that I had not checked my speed in a while. I was going 97 mph! Wow! He was after me! Sure enough, I got a speeding ticket and a lecture. The guy was nice though and wrote me up for going 85 so I could qualify for online traffic school. So that was something but if you have ever been pullled over by the police, you probably know that it leaves you shaky and breathless and maybe disoriented. So I stopped in Yreka and sat in the car for awhile then got out and went to Denny’s for coffee so I could just settle my nerves a bit. I didn’t want to stay too long because I had the Siskiyou summit to head over and that is always dicey. With the weather turning worse by the minute, I didn’t have too much time to settle my nerves before heading toward my destination for the night, Ashland.

By the time I got up to the summit the weather had really changed. It was not only pitch black out but there were snow flurries and then snow all over the road. The big semi trucks were keeping the speed down to about 25 mph. Just as I got almost down the mountains, I could see the Oregon State Patrol behind me. Not after me this time. They had closed the road behind me. I was the last car through. I got  into Ashland and warmed up in my motel room and relaxed a bit. There was no snow there yet. After an hour or so, I looked out the window and realized it was snowing. I was so excited! I hadn’t ever seen it snow!. So I got bundled up (in my hoodie and cheap boots) and headed outside. I took a walk in the fresh snow. It was beautiful. There was no one out, even though it wasn’t very late (about 9 pm).It was calm. It was silent except for the sound of my feet crunching the freshly fallen snow. It was beautiful. I was only out for about ten minutes then I went back inside. The next day I was heading for Klamath Falls so I settled in for the night, watching a bit of TV and working on my NaNoWriMo novel.

That’s the set up. Come back for part 2 and read about Corina against the life threatening elements.

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The Gift

Note: This is one of my new stories. It appeared on Solveig Werner’s blog on Sunday. Only a couple of my readers have made it over there to read it so I thought I would post it here. It is a rewrite of an old story; I changed the point of view and I think it’s a much better story. I hope you enjoy it. 

 

Vince had hidden the package from his wife for over a week. He was so excited to finally be able to give her this special gift. He had been so afraid that she would find the package that he had asked his compadre, Roy, to keep it at his house for him. Roy had gladly taken the package home with him and his wife, Jenny had offered to wrap it for him, gladly agreeing to his idea for the wrapping of this special gift.

Finally it was Christmas Eve and his comadre and compadre had come to the house to make tamales. Before they left, Roy had found a way to get the package to him without Bea seeing it. Mission accomplished! When bedtime came around and all the kids were put to bed, Vince found a way to get the package under the Christmas tree without Bea knowing. He put it in the back of the tree where it was hidden by the all the gifts for the kids. He went to bed and then he got nervous. What if she didn’t like it? Maybe he should have taken her to the store to pick it out for herself. But he had wanted it to be a surprise. She loved surprises. She was like a little girl when he treated her the way she deserved and he realized that he didn’t always treat her that way. Life had been very difficult for them for the past eleven years since they had married. There had never been enough money and there had always been all the kids, one new one each year. They had seven in all and he was pretty sure there would be no more. At least he hoped because although he loved each and every one of his children, he also wanted to be able to give them all the things he had never had when he was growing up and for that, he needed to be sure there were no more. Seven was enough.

On Christmas morning, they managed to keep the kids out of the living room where the Christmas tree was set up in front of the big bay window. The older kids knew the rule, no going in to see the presents until their parents were up and said it was okay. So the older kids, all boys, made sure the girls stayed out. They were all crowding at the door to the living room anxiously awaiting their parents’ appearance so they could get to their presents.

When their parents appeared and gave them the okay, they burst through the living room door to see all the presents. There were so many! The gifts were passed around to the right owner and opened, one by one. Each package brought glee to the owner. As the gifts were opened, the large box at the back of the tree began to show. Each of the kids wondered if the package was for them. The older ones dared to look for a tag on it but didn’t find one. When the gifts were all opened, there was still the last one, a big square box wrapped in shiny silver paper and topped with a big fancy white bow. Who did it belong to? There was no name on it. Everyone had gotten their presents except one person. She didn’t always get anything for Christmas because of the money so she had learned not to expect anything. Surely this package could not be for her but for who?

Finally, Vince smiled broadly and passed the gift to her. She looked at him with a puzzled look. This couldn’t be for her. She knew there hadn’t been any extra money but he was pushing the box at her and telling her to open it. He looked so happy this morning and she was glad that he was happy and sober and hoped that it would last at least a while but she knew that on most holidays he would be drunk before dinner.

“Open it. It’s for you,” he beamed at her.

“For me? Really? What is it?” Her eyes were smiling at him.

“Just open it. It’s a surprise. I can’t tell you what it is!”

She took the box and held it for a minute, trying not to shake it. She said it felt light. Was it a dress or a blouse, she asked? He looked at her and just said, “open it!”

She carefully un-taped the wrapping paper, not wanting to rip it because she always reused the paper for gifts throughout the year. When the paper was off and carefully folded at her side, she lifted the top off of the box and found a lot of strips of newspaper. She looked at Vince with hurt in her eyes.

“It’s a trick! It’s a mean trick. There isn’t anything in here.”

“Look around. There’s something in there. It’s not a trick!”

She moved the paper around and found another box, also wrapped in the pretty paper. She opened it carefully only to find more newspaper strips. Not willing to believe either that there was a gift in there or that he would trick her like this, she moved the paper strips and found another box which was also wrapped and contained more strips of paper and another box. She kept going until she got to a very small box wrapped in shiny gold paper with a silver metallic bow almost bigger than the box itself. She carefully opened it and found another box in there. She looked at this box, which wasn’t wrapped. She held her breath. The box was from Kay Jewelers but she didn’t dare think it was actually a piece of jewelry. She lifted her eyes and looked at her husband with disbelief. Could he be mean enough to trick her and give her an empty box from the jewelry store? Her eyes filled with tears as she hesitated before opening the jewelry box. When she did, all she could do was look at the contents with disbelief and an open mouth. She looked at her husband and asked “How? How could we afford this? You have to take it back!”

“I am not taking it back. I saved up money for weeks; a few dollars each week. I paid for it. I didn’t get it on credit. It’s for you. You deserve to have it. I only wish I could have bought it for you when we married. Take it out! Put it on. See if it fits. They can fix the size if it doesn’t fit.” His eyes were also tear filled and his face was taken up by a huge smile!

The kids looked at the parents, not knowing what was going on, yet knowing it was something good. Their parents were happy. They weren’t fighting. They were happy and so the kids were happy, too. They watched as their mother took two rings out of the little black box. She took her silver band off and put the two new rings on. She looked at the rings and then waved her hand around so the kids could see. Her cheeks were wet but she was happy, not sad.

The kids asked why she had taken off her silver ring and she explained to them that the new rings were “real wedding rings” and the one she had taken off was a ring their father had made for her out of a silver quarter. And the kids remembered the summer day a few years before when their father had gotten the quarters and worked in the back yard all day long, tapping the middle of the quarters over and over again with a small hammer he had borrowed from a neighbor. It had been like magic to see the flat round quarters slowly turn into rings. He had made their mother’s ring thinner than his but they matched. And he had shown the kids how he had left the year on the inside of each band and how he had chosen a quarter with their mother’s birth year and one with his own birth year. Their mom had been wearing the band for a few years. Now they looked at it inside the little box the new rings had been in. Their mother held the box in her right hand as she looked at the new rings on her left hand. She got up and hugged their father. He asked her if she liked the set and if they fit and she assured him that they fit and that she loved them. Again she asked him if he was sure that they could afford this extravagant gift and he repeated that she didn’t have to worry about it. They were hers to keep. They were paid for. They didn’t owe anyone for them.

That was a happy Christmas for the family. They were all happy on that day. Happy and hopeful that their futures would be bright and happy. There were lots of tears that year as the kids were happy for their mom and happy that their father was in a good mood. They were happy it had been a very good year for their gifts but soon they ran off to play with new toys, leaving their mother and father to go on with their life together, thinking happiness was in the bag.

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Yesterday I told you about a near disaster involving World Series tickets in 1978. Today, another ticket mishap.

It was, probably, the summer of 1979. We lived in Santa Monica and were attending a rare day game at Dodger Stadium. We got all the way to the stadium and into the parking lot and a parking spot. When my ex grabbed for the tickets, they weren’t in his pocket. He checked the glove box of the car. Not there. Behind the visor? Not there. He asked if he had given me the tickets. Nope. He had forgotten them at home. Luckily, I didn’t get blamed for it. Tickets were his responsibility. So there we went, driving back to Santa Monica for the tickets. And because it was a weekday, in the very early afternoon, there was no traffic so we were able to make it back to the stadium in time to catch the bottom of the first inning.

After that, it became kind of a joke. Before leaving home, I always asked, “Do you have the tickets?”  Chuckle. Chuckle.

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My ex-husband has always been an avid sports fan. He follows baseball, football, and basketball. At least when we were married that was all he followed. Of course he also watched tennis and golf and every other sport on TV, but as for attending games and really following on the radio (ooohhh what’s that?) and TV, it was baseball, football, and basketball. We lived in Los Angeles (Santa Monica to be exact) so we were Dodger fans. He still lives there and is still a huge fan with season tickets and all that. I still love the Dodgers, too.

I remember going to as many games as we could afford. We went in triple digit heat, in rain, in wind; we went all the time! As soon as there was a hint of post season play, he would mail in the postcard to win the chance to buy tickets. And he would use every name he could think of, his, mine, his sister, his niece, his brother-in-law, friends, on those post cards so he would have more chances of winning the right to buy the tickets. One year, I think it was the first year we were married, 1978, he got tickets to the World Series against the Yankees. He invited his father to drive up for the game. It was a huge thing to have his dad come. Hid dad was a big fan too so he really appreciated the chance to go to the game.

So the day of the game arrived. His father drove the three hours that day and was in town in the early afternoon. When the time arrived, off the two went to the game. Then a couple of hours later, I got a phone call. It was from a pay phone (no cell phones then). It was my husband. He was out of breath and upset. I think he called me just to vent because there was nothing I could have done. It seems that his dad was holding the tickets and put them down to buy a program then forgot about the tickets (his dad was elderly, tired from the drive, and excited about the game). When they got to the gate, they had no tickets. They retraced their steps but the tickets were gone. Stadium police were called and because my husband had looked at those tickets so many times since they had arrived in the mail, he had memorized the section and seat numbers. So Stadium Police (and they are definitely Police, not just security, with the right to arrest and their own jail inside the stadium) went to the seats, got the people out of the seats. They didn’t have the right ID. The stadium had a record of who the tickets had been mailed to. So the people that were in the seats were taken away by the Stadium Police and my husband and his dad got to watch the game in their seats.

It’s one of those things that sticks in your mind and pops up every so often. They were lucky that he remembered the seats and had the receipt in the envelope in his pocket to prove he was the rightful owner of the tickets. They missed the first inning and a half but that was okay, they were relieved to be able to enjoy the rest of the game…a World Series game…against the NY Yankees!

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