Extraordinary Stories

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The "Gingerbread Fantasy II" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Sitting in the employee's parking lot of Reese, Lower, Patrick and Scott (RLP&S) with my wife, daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters waiting for Jim to appear.  About a week or so ago I wrote a story about my visit to the architectural offices of RLP&S to visit with a former student of mine, Jim, and see their new digs as well as take a look at the gingerbread village that they make every year.  This year's edition is titled "Italian Ice" and resembles the town of Venice, Italy.  After my first visit I asked if I could return with a few members of my family to see the display after dark.  Jim told me that the day after Christmas he would be there from 5-7 PM for visitors, but if I wanted to come about 15 minutes earlier he would let us in early to avoid the crowd of about 400 or so that were expected.  All of a sudden Carol says "There's someone waving to us from the walk back there."  Out we hop and head in Jim's direction.  He escorts us through the employee's entrance and into the large room were the display is located.  Now, I have seen this about a week ago and I know what to expect, but when my family sees the display…… they are awestruck!  And, if you care to look at photos of "Gingerbread Fantasy" scroll back to December 19th for a look. The photos I am about to post are evening shots when the room is beginning to get dark and the lights of the display are illuminating the village that is made of just about anything sweet that is edible.  So, I hope you enjoy my evening shots as much as my family enjoyed the display.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  PS - click on photos to enlarge.Gingerbread

Family members from left: Camille, Brynn, Courtney and Dave.
Inside one of the windows is a small Christmas Tree. 
This is the #1 choice of clients who voted.  Called Flurriano's Ristorante.
Closer view of the people (all made from dough) in the restaurant.
A diver preparing to enter the water.
This is the Abbey which is in the center of the island and was made by a number of employees.
Closer view of the Abbey.
This is a chocolate fountain that actually worked.
This is the North Star Villa's stairs leading to the water.  Here someone is walking two dogs. 
Another of the many villas that circle the Abbey.
Villa al Mare. 
Looking inside the Cobbler's store.
This is one side of the Fish Market.  Inside you can see the display of fish for sale.
Above the display is an aircraft made of pretzels.
This is a view of the Fish market from the water's side.  It is right alongside the beach that has many umbrellas raised. 
And yet another Fish Market view.
An overall view of the display looking toward the Abbey.
This is the fruit and vegetable market.
Final villa along the waterfront.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The "Putting the ole guy to rest" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Just opened a Christmas gift from my three children.  Big package that when I ripped the wrapping paper off of it revealed a new Lawn Boy lawnmower.  My youngest son, who feeds our cat, checks on the house and mows the grass when we go on vacation a few times a year decided that I needed a new mower after using the old Lawn Boy for the last few years.  It was back in 1965 that I worked for one Merle Peachey at Fairview Avenue Rentals in the south-west end of the city of Lancaster, PA.  I was a junior at Millersville State Teachers College and worked part-time for him at his rental business.  Handled the upkeep and maintenance of his lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed trimmers, etc.  Had to sharpen, chain the oil, wash and keep everything in good working order for the customers at the rental store on Fairview Ave.  After the first summer working there I noticed that he sold the dozen Lawn Boy mowers that he had purchased at the beginning of the season.  Wanted to have new mowers to start the new mowing season the following year.  Did the same thing every year he pointed out to me.  So, the following season, my senior year in college, I kept one mower in the back of the shop and only sent it out as a last resort.  At the end of the summer I asked Peachey, as we all called him, if I could buy one of the left-over mowers.  Yep, $20, same as the customers paid.  
My new Lawn Boy on the left.  The 46 year
old Lawn Boy in still in great shape and my
brother said he will put it on eBay and get
$200 for me.  In the rear you can see one
of the many hills on my property that I mow.
 That was a fair, but now cheap price for the top of the line Lawn Boy mower back in the mid-60s.  So I pushed the slightly used mower out to my car.  He walked over to the car and asked where I got "THAT" mower.  Told him it was one of his used ones like the rest.  Then he understood what I had done and got a good laugh out of it.  Hey, he still made as much money off of them as he would have anyway.  Anyway, he liked me since I was always early to work and worked my butt off for him.  That mower has been in use by me since that time.  47 summers of grass it mowed.  Always started on the first pull every time.  Pumped the primer half a dozen time, pulled the cord and off I went. Only one time did I have any trouble with it.  Stalled out on me a few times and my cousin, who works on Lawn Boy mowers, looked at it and determined that the small cardboard disk under the gas cap that had a hole in it to allow for gas flow had swollen shut.  Tool a nail, made the hole larger, and I was good again.  Bugger worked like a workhorse for me.  Only problem was that it wasn't self-propelled and I have a few banks on my one acre property that are close to 45 degrees and it can get tough to mow at times.  My son told his mom that, "Dad shouldn't be pushing that mower up those hills anymore."  So, he and his brother and sister chipped in and bought me a new one for Christmas.  "You need a rear-wheel powered one for the steep banks the lady at the mower shop said," he told me.  So, that's what I got.  Gonna be tough to put the ole guy to rest after 47 years.  I knew every adjustment, every nut and bolt and every little quirk of that mover.  But, as I approach my prime years, the self-propelled Lawn Boy will be a god-send.  And, I'm sure he will enjoy mowing for me a whole bunch more.  I'm going to have to write to Lawn Boy and tell them how good the ole guy worked all these years.  Did send them a letter after about 25 years telling them about her and they sent me a thank you letter along with a hat and shirt, which I gave to my son.  Wonder what I'll get after this letter!  You can be sure you'll know!! It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The "Mind Blowing Crossword Puzzles" Story

My graphic's test for you to try.
Click on image to enlarge.
It was an ordinary day.  Leafing through the Parade Magazine that comes with the Sunday newspaper and saw something that reminded me of when I taught graphic arts and photography at Manheim Township High School in Lancaster, PA.  For many of the tests that I gave to check for comprehension of the topic we were studying I would make a crossword puzzle.  Kids loved it since I would give them clues as well as perhaps a few of the letters in the answer if they had answered other parts of the puzzle beforehand.  I did make it fairly tough by not giving them the exact name of an item, but it was still fairly close.  I was able to make these crossword puzzles by going to www.supercrosswordcreater.com and following the directions.  You could give quite a few words and definitions and then hit the create button and viola, you had a crossword puzzle.  
1st crossword puzzle ever to
be printed in the newspaper.
This was a quick way to check on a daily or weekly basis what they were comprehending and what needed to be emphasized again.  Tough going for a few weeks, giving a test, and realizing that something two weeks ago they never understood.  Most everything from that point on had to be retaught.  Well, my story today happens to coincide with the 100 anniversary of the crossword puzzle this month.  The American pastime was born on December 21, 1913 when the New York World published the first "word cross," created by journalist Arthur Wynne, in its Sunday Fun section.  Parade Magazine gave the link to the original puzzle which I have printed for you to try.  The answers naturally follow.  Oh yeah, I created a puzzle for you which deals with the old time platen press and letterpress printing.  Anyone at all able to solve it?  Answers to that also appear at the bottom.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

My solution.

Newspaper solution.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The "The Indians Are Coming!" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Sitting on a an
Indian Chieftain in the Hernley Indian Motorcycle of Lancaster County showroom. Brought back memories from years ago when I sat waiting for my blind date on my Honda motorcycle.  She eventually became my wife and the cycle became history shortly after.  Anyway, for quite a few months I have been writing stories on my blog about the use of Indian names and how disrespectful some can be.  I must admit, when I walked in this store and saw all the Indian motorcycles, jackets, shirts, wallets, hats, table coasters, and a bunch or other items carrying an Indian head on it, I was a bit worried.  
The Classic in another variety of the Indian.  Check our
the classic leather saddlebags.  Really cool ride!
 But, I must admit that this product and the way that the Indian logo is used is nothing but a positive way that people of Indian ancestry can be proud to have as a legacy.  The Hernley dealership told me that they are very aware of the negativity that has been brought to the Native Americans through sports teams and are sensitive toward the advertising that they use to promote their product.  The Chieftain that I am sitting on is a remarkable piece of engineering.  The 
This is a 1946 Indian Chief in Seafoam Blue.  It has a 74 CI,
1200 CC engine.  It is on loan from a customer.  Check out
the seat on this beautiful Indian motorcycle.
rich history of Ameri- ca's first motor- cycle com- pany dates back to the early 1900s.  The Indian Motorcycle played a big part in WWII as well as supplying motorcycles for some of our nation's largest city police forces.  But, in the early 1950s the Indian Motorcycle Company struggled with re-entry into the public market and by 1953 was forced to halt production.  
Check out the neat logo on the front wheel-cover.
 It wasn't until the mid 2000s that the brand name started gaining some attention.  The Polaris Company added one of motor- cycling's legendary names to their stable of Victory Motorcycles when they bought the rights to Indian Motorcycles.  The new era of Indian Motorcycles will bring the Thunder Stroke 111 engine to the forefront and was unveiled to the public this past August at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.  
The Thunder Stroke 111 engine.
 What a fitting place for the introduction of the bike that I once thought I had to have.  Well, sitting on the bike brought back that feeling …… but I'm afraid that the cost and my age might have nixed that thought.  Still really special to visit the Hernley dealership and look at the variety of motorcycles they carry.  I must admit that I didn't wander away from the Indian models over towards the Victory model which at one time was one of my favorites.  As I sat on the Chieftain I asked Gregg if he could take a photo of me on the cycle to show to my wife.  While talking to him he told me he was here today to pick up his new Indian he had ordered.  I followed him out the front door and there, in all it's bright red glory, stood his Indian Chieftain.  
Gregg with his new Indian Chieftain.
 What a thrill it must have been to drive it away from the dealership.  I did get a nice photo of him and gave him my blog address so he can see what it looks like.  Well, since I couldn't afford a new Indian, I had to at least buy a t-shirt.  Shucks, the one I wanted was sold out of my size.  Gave the lady at the counter my phone # and size I wanted and hope to make another trip back to the dealership in the near future.  Thanks to Duane, the owner, and Jim for the nostalgic time I  spent at their shop in Elizabethtown, PA.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The "The Before and After" Story

The "Before"
It was an ordinary day.  Hectic, joyous, fun, amusing, enjoyable, etc.  You can add your own words to Christmas Day 1913 when my 3 kids showed up with my 3 grandkids and 1 dog.  To some that is just a drop in the bucket while to others it is way too many, but to Carol and me it is pure heaven.  What can be better than Christmas with the family.  The TV was playing Christmas Carols, the tree was twinkling and the presents were ready to be opened.  That was at about 11:30 AM.  Then everyone started to arrive and the fun began.  Carol always has appetizers prepared that everyone can munch on as we open the presents.  We all sat in the living room around the tree and someone suggested that we take turns opening an sharing the gifts that we received.  That lasted for one gift, than everyone grabbed their stocking and began opening the gifts that were small enough to fit into it.  Then the larger boxes were opened …. and within 20 minutes there was wrapping paper everywhere.  Fun?  You bet it was fun watching everyone opening their gifts at one time.  
The "After"
Only bad part about that was it is hard to see the look on everyone's face as they open that special gift that I wrapped for them.  Then someone suggested that Tampah, that would be me, open his large box that took up the entire area directly in front of our entryway.  I grabbed a piece of the paper and peeled away.  "Wow, what's this?" I said as I saw a printed picture of a lawn mower on the one side of the box.  "A new Lawn Boy," I said as I opened the large box.  My youngest, Tad, said, "I told the rest that I couldn't see how you could get that old mower up the hill on the side of the house without killing yourself, so we all chipped in and got a new one for you."  I looked at them, all with big smiles on their faces and tried to figure out how I could possibly thank them.  "Rear-wheel drive they told me you should have to get up the hill easier," Tad said.  He helped me unpack the new mower and we assembled the few parts that needed to be added.  Really thoughtful gift!  Made me think back about 15 years or so when they chipped in and bought me a neat three-piece suit, since they were tired of seeing me in the same old suit I wore all the time.  Well, the day is over and all are happy as well as well-fed.  Only thing left to do tomorrow is clean up the wrapping paper and look at the gifts I got.  Not hard to find my favorite!  Still sitting in by the front door.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The "NEWSFLASH …… Major Medical Problem in Paradise" Story

It was an ordinary day.  One that is making me think quite a bit.  And, you know how well old brains tend to make a mountain out of a molehill for no reason at all.  Ever hear that one before?  Well, last year I reported on the Dengue Fever being rather prevalent in the Caribbean and how concerned I was that I may contract the fever while making my yearly visit to St. Martin.  I don't want to say that I was fearful of what could happen, but I certainly was concerned.  I took along plenty of spray with deet and had no trouble on my trip.  Now today I open up Travel Talk Online (TTOL) and there in front of me on the bright yellow page in blue ink is a thread titled "Chikungunya  Virus."  Uh-oh!!  Seems that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel notice for St. Martin as Chikungunya cases have reached 10.  Why is it that the place that is your favorite for relaxation and fun is the only place in the Western Hemisphere that is mentioned?   
The Chikungunya disease is carried by this mosquito.  Too
bad it isn't this size for it would be so much easier to sight.
The CDC notes that the mosquito that carries the Chikun- gunya virus is the same one that carries the Dengue fever.  It can bite you during the day as well as night, both indoors and outdoors, and often lives around buildings in urban areas.  Kinda means that you can't escape it, doesn't it.  Last year we saw almost no mosquitoes on our visit after the warning was posted, but the warning was for the Caribbean area as a whole.  This warning states: "Travelers who go to St. Martin in the Caribbean are at risk of getting Chikungunya."  The island has two sides, one being the Dutch side titled Sint Maarten, and the French side titled St. Martin.  Now I know the mosquitoes can't differentiate and stop when they get to the border, but the warning is strictly for the French side of the island.  And, you can guess which side we have rented a villa for our trip this year.  Yep!!  Seems there is no treatment for Chikungunya and no preventative vaccine for the viral disease.  Supposed to cover exposed skin, use insect spray and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms or use a bed net if outdoors.  Well, our villa will be air-conditioned and no way will the buggers survive the low 60s at which we keep the temperature, but covering up will be a huge problem.  Are trip is timed with our yearly need for Vitamin D and for that you need sun and skin.  Plenty of it!  The area called Orient Beach where we stay and visit the beach has been sprayed for the mosquito and I suspect will continue to be sprayed so we have the knowledge that something is being done.  This disease has infected over a million people in India and is characterized by an abrupt onset of fever accompanied by joint and muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.  Some people on TTOL have reported that they contracted Dengue in the past and it is hell to get out of bed at all for a few months.  Just what I need!  Of all places in the western hemisphere it has to pick our favorite island.  It's not like there are hundreds of cases though.  NEWSFLASH ****  December 16, 2013 …..  TEN more have been biologically confirmed with four more probable.  CBS radio also announced that people should stay away from the French side.  I can tell you that if the bug is found on the Dutch side, near the town of Philipsburg where all the cruise ships arrive, something radical will be done to stop it.  Cruise ships bypassing this island could cause a major upheaval in the economy of the island.  Well, the only good thing about this entire situation is I haven't purchased my airfare yet!!  It's going to be a waiting game.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The "A Trip On Ephrata's Shortline" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Traveling with my grandson Caden in the Mountaineer.  He has passed the weight limit for sitting in the front seat and it is so much more fun to have a front seat passenger than one behind me.  Saw a few notices in the newspaper lately
Columbia's "O" gauge Lionel Railroad.
about train displays in a few local com- munities and today the two of us are going to check them out.  The first stop is in a town only about 10 minutes from his house.  Place called Columbia and the display is in the Columbia Historic Preservation Society building on Third St.  Stopped for lunch first at a McDonald's then headed into Columbia from the east end of town.  Caden saw the sign first that said we were on Walnut and Eighth Streets so he told me which way to head to find our destination.  In the distance we could see the Susquehanna River and he figured that would be Zero Street if we reach that point.  He thinks like his granddad, so he does.  Turned left on Third and found that the parking lot was on the side of the building, but by the time we discovered that, we were already past the entrance to the lot.  Went around the block and this time, as we made the turn onto Third, we discovered the alley into the lot was one way coming towards us.  Another trip part-way around the block and in from the rear put us right were we wanted to be.  
Photo by Caden at Ephrata.  You can see the reflection in the
plexiglass of the penguin that was on his shirt.  My wife thought
it was a logo on the building in the background.
Walked in the door and to the left we saw a wounded soldier in a wagon and an Indian standing above him on the second floor landing.  Then I saw the 1863 Civil War Recruiting Poster and realized we were in for some fun.  Gave a donation and headed towards the trains.  Five minutes later we both found that the civil war relics were much more enjoyable than the train display.  The "O" gauge Lionel Trains were nice, but the
One of the many bridges on the Ephrata layout.
layout was very small with just one rectangular piece of plywood and a few buildings to it.  Spent maybe 20 minutes in the building and headed to the car for our next stop.  Forty minutes later we turned onto Sugar Alley in the town of Ephrata, PA (pronounced F-ra-ta). The Short Line Model Railroad Club, started in 1980s in a storage unit in nearby Brownstown, is now located in the basement of a building off State Street.  
Caden takes a shot while I capture him in action.
All HO-gauge trains and really neat layout.  The fluorescent lighting has green drapes around it so it doesn't interfere with the ambiance of the train layout, if that's possible!  You can tell right away that the scenery is the star of this layout rather than the trains.  Caden was using my fixed lens Sony digital camera while I was taking shots with my larger DSLR Sony.  
This shows some of the scenery as well as coal cars.
I think I can tell what he will be getting for Christmas next year from his grandma and me.  The 60' x 36' layout was developed to look like the coal region of Pennsylvania.  Boy, did they do a nice job.  Even though the layout is still in the construction stage, as my friend Jerry in State College tells me that's the way all layouts are, it had remarkable trees and foliage on the steep mountains with tunnels that ran through them.  
Young boy who was one of the train club members.
There were supposed to be 8 or 9 trains running on the 1,000 feet of track, but I think they exag- gerated both the numbers somewhat.  One item that was really unique that I read about on their web page, but didn't get to see since the owner of the item wasn't there today, was a new train car called an iCar.  Something brought about by Apple I assume that was placed in front of the engine and would hold an iPhone.  
Another bridge with fisherman in the stream.
As the train traveled throughout the layout you became a passenger and saw exactly what the train engineer would have seen.  The video I have added will give you an idea what it can do.  Well, after about half an hour and at least 200 photos from the two of us, we left feeling much better about our day's journey into the world of miniature railroading.  On the way home we both agreed that the professional display at a place called The Choo Choo Barn in Strasburg, PA is so much more that any amateur display we could ever visit.  But our trip was a huge success.  After heading to my place we downloaded the SD cards onto my Mac and enjoyed the day all over again, this time with Amah (our grandkids name for my wife).  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  PS - a few more photos and the video from the iCar.

Photo by Caden of a train rounding a turn.
Smoke can be seen coming from the engine in this shot. 
This is Caden's favorite shot that I took.
More scenery.
The Pennsylvania coal region is well represented in the Ephrata's club layout.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The "A Touching Tale For Christmas Eve" Story

It was an ordinary day.  That is until I opened my email and read a story that was forwarded to me by my neighbor Tom.  I try not to use too many of the emails that are sent to me, but this one actually had me in tears by the time it was over.  Three minutes and fifty-eight seconds!  That's all it took to bring me to tears.  As I type this I'm wiping the tears knowing that I'll have to add the story at the end of this post and I'll probably watch it again.  Three minutes and fifty-eight seconds of heart-warming charm from a retired state trooper.  Merry Christmas from my family to your family on this Holy evening.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  


Monday, December 23, 2013

The "First Christmas Joke" Story

It was an ordinary day.  And ….. in our house Christmas is celebrated in many different ways.  The "Festive Way" occurs with the traditional decorated Christmas tree and the Christmas decorations outside our home.  The "Celebratory Way" occurs with the exchanging of gifts that have been placed beneath the Christmas tree or brought by Santa Claus from the North Pole.  The "Inspirational Way" occurs with the traditional family church service at St. James Church and the CDs playing in the car with all the Christmas music.  The "Replenishing Way" occurs with the family gathering round the dinner table to share good food and holiday memories.  And last, but not least" the "Merriment Way" occurs with laughter, fun, joyfulness, pleasure and lastly JOKE TELLING!  Heard any good Christmas jokes lately?  Well, my wife sent me an email from the Parish Resource Center (PRC) today that I just must share with you.  You have to remember that the PRC is a non-denominational place where communities of faith, churches and religious institutions come for learning and leadership.  Since it came from the PRC, the joke must be worthy of its title and calling.  At least I thought so until I read it.  Ready?
First Christmas Joke

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates.

'In honor of this holy season' Saint Peter said, 'You must each possess something that symbolizes
 Christmas to get into heaven.'
The Englishman fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. 'It's a candle', he said.
 'You may pass through the pearly gates' Saint Peter said. 

The Scotsman reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, 'They're bells.'
Saint Peter said 'You may pass through the pearly gates'.
 The Irishman started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.

St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, 'And just what do those symbolize?'
The paddy replied, 'These are Carols.' 
And So The Christmas Season

 By now most of you probably know that my wife's name is Carol.  She assures me that the punch line has absolutely nothing to do with her, but with Christmas Carols.  "Why would I have forwarded it to you if it did?" she said. Yep!! It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The "Grandma and Santa Claus" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Reading the TTOL (TravelTalkOnline) forum to check out all the news from the Caribbean.  So, I clicked on the SXM People Talk link and there was a post titled "Long Santa Story."  OK, I have some free time so I started to read it.  Began with …. I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma.  By the time I was finished I was drying off my keyboard.  Really a neat Christmas story.  After reading it I sent a "Private Message" to the poster asking if I could use his story on my blog.  He returned the message telling me it wasn't his personal story, but one that he had read online.  OK, therefore I don't need permission to share the story with you.  But, just in case you have read it before, another reading of "Grandma & Santa Claus", as it's officially titled won't hurt you during this joyous season.

Grandma & Santa Claus

     I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"
     My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.
     Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted...."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let's go."
     "Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.
     I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.
     For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.
     I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!
     I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that. "Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."
     The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.
     That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa's helpers.
     Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."
     I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.
     Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were – ridiculous. Santa was alive and well and we were on his team.
     I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.
     May you always have LOVE to share, HEALTH to spare and FRIENDS that care...

     And may you always believe in the magic of Santa Claus!

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  Have A Merry Christmas.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The "The Dreaded Four-Letter Word" Story

It was an ordinary day.  With Christmas coming soon my wife asked me to make a Christmas list so she could pass it along to our kids when they asked.  Grabbed a piece of paper and pen and sat down to begin my list.  Across the top I wrote "Xmas List".  Then I thought about it and decided to start over with a new piece and write "Christmas List" instead.  
Ladies Home Journal Advertisement from 1950s.
How do you feel about using the X instead of writing out the word Christmas?  I'm sure there are many who frown upon using just the X, but you know there really isn't anything wrong with that, except maybe being "politically correct" in today's society.  First, you have to realize that using "X" wasn't made up by secular heathens who wanted "Christ" out of Christmas.  It is, and has been since the 16th century, a common abbreviation.  Early manuscripts of the Greek New Testament used "X" as an abbreviation for Christ and helped manuscript writers fit more words on a page which reduced the time and cost of producing the texts.  
Chi Rho - 1st 2 letters of the Greek Alphabet
The "X" is also reported to be the Greek letter "chi" and has been used since the first century for the name of Christ.  In 1436 Johannes Gutenberg began work on his printing press and in four years was printing with movable type (individual pieces of metal) and the abbreviation "Xmas" became an acceptable way of printing Christmas.  In the late 1800s Xmas appeared on postage stamps and postcards as well as advertising.  I think that today the abbreviation is avoided whenever possible since it appears in TV commercials and newspaper ads and is starting to be associated with the commercialization of Christmas.  
Chi Rho on the roof of the Basilica St. John's, Rome
Some Christians now take offense every time they see it and consider it distasteful.  If they only knew the real truth they might have a different opinion on the use of Xmas.  The Catholic Church has no formal policy on "Xmas", according to the bishop of Harrisburg, PA, but they still would prefer that the spelling of Christmas with Christ in it.  
Early Christmas Card
My church, St. James Episcopal, uses the Chi Rho symbol, or the X and P intertwined, in our services as well as throughout the church proper.  Chi Rho are the first two Greek letters of the word Christ.  For printing purposes the P was dropped, hence Xmas developed.  To many people, no matter what you tell them, still consider the use of Xmas as a dirty four-letter word.  So, instead of getting so upset when you see the use of Xmas, let it remind you of the person that the X really stands for, Jesus Christ.  Now, since I have solved that problem, I have to get busy on why they are using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas and why Santa is being emphasized more that Jesus on his birthday.  It was another extraordiary day in the life of an ordinary guy.