Contemplating Goodness

I often write for fun and because I really like to goof around, but the combination of Nelson Mandela’s death and the coming holiday season has me thinking about serious topics.  There are many songs that I find inspiring, such as From a Distance by Julie Gold and also Soon Love Soon by Vienna Teng.  There are short stories that mean a lot this time of year such as Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and of course, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  My sister wrote one that continues to inspire me called Onward:  A Christmas Journey, and then there is a rather obscure but classic kid’s story called, The Mole Family’s Christmas.  I’m sure you have your own favorites.

So there’s our challenge.  Whether it’s a poem, song, story, bit of family history, anecdote, or some creative nonfiction—share an inspiring piece to carry us into the holidays on a high note.  While references to other inspiring stories are welcome, I hope to see your writing here.

39 responses to “Contemplating Goodness

  1. Well, how appropriate is this prompt and my following story to this season and to this day in particular.

    The Christmas Star

    There were rumors, of course, but no way to know for certain. If you read the pundits or listened to the politicians on the radio, you could believe anything you wanted to believe, or fear anything you wanted to fear.

    They were young and in love. We don’t know for sure if they discussed the rumors, but almost certainly they did. Perhaps their love gave them the courage to surmount the rumors, or perhaps it was because of the rumors that they wed on the last day of November, 1940.

    On their first Christmas together they purchased a simple red aluminum foil star for the top of their small tabletop Christmas tree. In the snapshot they stand on either side of the tree, he handsome with curly dark hair, wearing a suit, and she pretty in a sequined dress. The star has a large hole in the center, obviously meant for a light to be inserted from the back.

    Their first anniversary came on a Sunday a year later and once again we can believe the rumors and threats were not foremost in their minds, because they held a new life in their arms that day. Their first child, a girl, had been born the previous Sunday. Now they were parents with an infant to love and protect.

    A week later it all changed. A week later, Dec. 7, 1941, when their daughter was exactly two weeks old, the Japanese launched a sneak attack against the United States by bombing and strafing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The young father did not have to go to war immediately, but instead worked in manufacturing plants in Detroit

    Again the red star adorned the top of the Christmas tree, though this holiday season was fraught with worry and concern. America was having a difficult time in the war and the country was responding to help in the effort at home.

    On their third Christmas the black and white photograph shows them with their year-old daughter between them, in front of the tree topped with a red star.

    Eventually the father was called and found himself stationed in the Philippines. The mother moved from the duplex in downtown Detroit to a large house in a more rural area of the city, where her sister lived with her five children. While the men were gone to war, the women stayed home and raised their children as best they could. Letters arrived sporadically from the men, sometimes taking months.

    Each time a vehicle slowed in front of the large house, the women would watch anxiously, hoping it would not stop, hoping that bad news would pass them by. There are no photographs for several years of a tree topped with a red star. We know it was there only through oral stories, the decorated tree with the red star.

    The men came home from the war but jobs were hard to find. Soon the young couple moved to Alaska to begin a new life in a territory far from home. The photographs began again and every year the same star graced the family Christmas tree.

    One season the mother brought home a beautiful angel in a white gown trimmed with gold, decorated with spun glass. She placed it atop the Christmas tree and set aside the old piece of red foil. The eldest of the four children objected and the younger ones added their concurrence. They wanted the old red star back on their tree. The angel disappeared.


    This evening, more than seven decades after it first was placed on top of a tree in the home of a hopeful, newly-wed couple facing threats of world war, it was once again fastened to the top branch of an evergreen, though it is now a miniature light that pierces its center and allows it to shine. It bears the signs of its age, creased, wrinkled, and flattened. The young couple is gone now. The youngest of their three daughters also is gone, well before her time.

    The second child, a son, also went off to war and returned. He now has two sons and a daughter. The third child, a daughter, herself has two daughters.

    And I, that child born two weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I am the one who placed that battered star in its place of honor. As I did, I thought of my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews. We who remain are scattered from one side of the country to the other. Like that star, we bear the signs of age, faces creased and hands wrinkled with age, hopes and dreams pressed with the realities of life.

    I wonder which of the nieces or nephews will take the star when I am gone. Which of them will someday say, “This star has shone from the top of our family tree for exactly one hundred years.”

    Emerging under a threat of war, strengthened in a move to a frontier land, unscathed by accidental fire, wounded by untimely death, tempered by love, rewarded with allegiance, this star has seen it all. There’s a lifetime of stories in its crinkles and creases. They give it character.

    Courage, strength, survival, loss, love, dedication and above all else: hope. That is the significance of this old red star atop the Christmas tree.

    • It isn’t too often I get sucked into one of those heart-warming, tear-jerker, let-me-make-you-feel-terrible-and-good-at-the-same-time stories. But, that right there – was one Great Story!

    • The best kind of family history, built around what became a family icon. We never quite know what small object will carry the important memories, but it’s good to notice, and even better to write the story.

  2. Lovely

  3. Damn you Gullie, you made me cry.

    • Aww, poor Jeff. How about I cheer you up with a politically correct Christmas song sung to the tune of Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas?

      Please, Santa,
      Don’t come down my chimney,
      I’m afraid that you will fall,
      The pitch is steep, the snow so deep,
      And the rooftop is so tall.

      I’ll leave the side door open.
      You’d best come in that way.
      It’s closer to the Christmas tree,
      and less liability.

      Please Santa,
      Don’t come down my chimney,
      It’s a woodstove, don’t you know,
      There’s a handle for to seal it well
      And the pipe is very small.

      There’s a catalytic converter
      To burn the smoke away.
      It’s not there to break your fall,
      But because of EPA.

      Please, Santa,
      Don’t come down my chimney,
      I’m afraid that you’ll get stuck.
      The fire’s hot, the coals are deep,
      And screams disturb my sleep.

      I didn’t leave the milk out,
      It’s best there in the fridge,
      ‘Cause the FDA would sue my butt
      If warm milk made you sick.

      Please, Santa,
      Don’t come down my chimney,
      And leave your pipe at home.
      We all know your second-hand smoke
      Will shorten my life span.

      There are hand wipes in the entry,
      I insist you use a few
      So you don’t leave the germs that spread
      That terrible swine flu.

      Please, Santa,
      Don’t come down my chimney
      Before you’ve read my blog
      It’s where I left my Christmas list
      Of all the things I wish.

      I put away the cookies
      That were on the side table,
      Lest the IRS says they’re fringe benefits
      And makes them taxable.

      Please Santa,
      Don’t come down my chimney,
      And about your reindeer team?
      It’s the methane gas that they all pass
      And global warming.

      I’ll leave a cup of chocolate
      But it won’t stay hot too long.
      You can nuke it in the microwave
      If you like it best that way.

      Please, Santa,
      Don’t come down my chimney,
      Just mail my gifts to me.
      I’ll pick them up and spread them ‘round
      My plastic Christmas tree.

      I posted this on my blog two years ago, along with some photos I took around Moose Pass. Here’s the link:

  4. It was the icicles. The tinsel we hung with care on each branch of the tree. That is my earliest memory of Christmas. That would have been 1951, maybe 1952. I was too young to help string the lights and too small to hang the ornaments, at least very many of them. But the icicles.

    Perhaps some will remember the ones I remember. They were heavy. Softly metallic, like lead, and somewhat corrugated. Not at all like the flimsy, stringy plastic things that dance about with the slightest breeze. No, these icicles had substance.

    My mother would open the box with care and remove the carton insert on which the icicles hanged. I would watch her slip a finger beneath several and perch them on her finger, like a parakeet. She would then tell me to stick out my finger, and she would transfer them to my small hand.

    One at a time I would select an icicle and drape it over a limb. If the limb was thin and light, it would begin to bend under the weight as they accumulated. I had to be careful not to put too many on one branch. I think I could have stood around the tree for hours draping each icicle with care. The bottom third of the tree always bore more icicles than the upper branches.

    Oh, yes. There were the lights too, the big ones with aluminum star reflectors. These were needed to keep the bulbs from touching the tree needles. Mom and dad were cautions about this and in their daily checking to make sure the tree stand had water every day.

    When Christmas was over, each ornament was carefully removed and wrapped in tissue. Light strings were unwound from the tree, coiled, and stored in the appropriate box. And finally, each icicle was removed from the tree, re-hung on its cardboard holder, and slipped with care into its box for use the next Christmas.

    After hanging or removing the icicles I remember the dark stains on my fingers from their lead content, and I would have to wash my hands.

    I did a quick internet search to see if these are still around. I found one offering of six boxes at one place, fresh and unopened, clearly marked ten cents on the box. The price of this nostalgia was one hundred and twenty dollars, plus shipping. For a moment I was tempted to try to buy a box, but I didn’t. What if they didn’t feel the same? And would anyone else really care?

    So tonight, I sit and type, and in my mind I hang icicles, one at a time as I did like a child. But tonight I don’t have to wash my fingers.

    • One small item; one large memory. It’s fun to think of the way this also takes us back to an era, and also the way it felt to be so very very young. Christmas certainly seems to involve family traditions. I find that my kids are militant about these traditions, and if I change something, they get angry.

    • Jeff, you brought that old heavy tinsel back to life for me. I had forgotten that we always took it down and saved it for the next year by folding over the cardboard holders.
      Simpler, better times.

  5. Krystyna Fedosejevs

    The Path His Shovel Took

    At my front door a middle-aged man did stand.
    A thin, torn jacket covered his meagre frame.
    He held a worn snow shovel in one bare hand,
    jittery words spewed from his frosty breath.

    The man asked if he could shovel fresh-fallen snow
    on my driveway, the sidewalk, the narrow path
    linking that sidewalk to the shimmering warm glow
    of holiday lights strung over my door.

    Was I to welcome this stranger into my world
    where sublime comfort shadowed such hardship?
    Was I to trust this seemingly wretched soul’s word,
    a person with a will to survive life’s adversities?

    Partially hidden behind a window shade,
    shielded from winter’s cursed indifference,
    I watched the motion of the snow tool’s blade
    as a stranger cleared a path between him and me.

    I paid the man gratefully when the job was done.
    Warm drink declined, a granola bar he accepted.
    The path his shovel took begged compassion, no pardon,
    as it united strangers in a neighbourhood.

    • I round this very touching. It works well as a poem. Good rhyming scheme to help us get in the mood and enjoy the humanity going on here.

      • Krystyna Fedosejevs

        Thank you, Ann, for your goodness-filled comment.
        I was asked to read this poem at a university multi-faith centre.

  6. The Christmas Rock

    The Christmas Rock was born billions of years ago near the outer surface, known as the crust, of the still very hot planet Earth.

    The outer surface is a relative term however, and it took our little rock nearly 7 billion years to finally see the real surface. And what a surface it was. Unlike being in the ground where it’s always dark and the temperature rarely varies, the true surface both freezes and bakes. There are seasons, and the phenomenon of weather is reflected these seasons, and the wind and the rain would caress the little rock until he became smooth and polished. And a very handsome rock was he.

    Relaxing in his little spot for a few million years, the rock could hardly have known that a bus stop had been constructed nearby. In fact, it wasn’t simply a bus stop, it was a whole school. The Arthur Gordon Linkletter Elementary School to be specific, and on a Wednesday two weeks before Christmas, Billy Schnitzel spied the handsome little rock while getting off the bus.

    Bill’s original idea was to throw the rock at Jim Mets, a bully, who’s parents were widely believed to be supporters of C. Estes Kefauver, but upon seeing the principal patrolling the bus line, he placed the rock in his pocket.

    Things were certainly looking up for the little rock, but his fate was sealed during fourth period art class. Mrs. Williams instructed the class to make something for their parents reflecting the holiday season. Bill couldn’t draw, and had great difficulty with complex media such as paper, string, and cardboard. So, what could he do? What indeed! He would make a drinking straw into a candy cane using a red Sharpie.

    Unfortunately, drawing the required spiral proved difficult, and on the tenth straw, the red Sharpie was out of ink. Bill was stuck. As he sat at his desk with no plan, God bestowed upon Bill the best gift a kid can ever get.

    It was at that very instant that Jim Mets was passing Bill’s desk to “get supplies” and casually smacked Bill as hard as he possibly could on the back of the head. Instantly Bill had the rock in his hand and was winding up for the pitch. Fortunately for Mets the smooth little rock slipped from Bill’s hand to fall harmlessly on the floor. Bill looked down at the rock as it spun ever so slowly. For an instant, and just an instant, he saw it glow.

    Now, armed with red and green paint, Bill created The Christmas Rock. He wrote “Mom” on the side of it using the black Sharpie, which still had ink. He was pleased that even if the rock were displayed upside down, it would say “Wow.”

    That Christmas at the Schnitzel household was unlike any other. As each member of the family gave gifts to others, Billy waited patiently for his turn. “This is for you Mom!” he proclaimed as he pulled the rock from his pocket, his best form of presentation, not being good with paper, string, or cardboard.

    Obviously, his mother loved it. “It even says Wow on the side.” she said admiringly. Bill let that one go. His Mom took the rock and placed it on the fireplace mantel. A spot it would take for the next forty Christmases. The Christmas Rock would see Erector sets, Hula Hoops, Chemistry sets, Lionel trains, and a very long line of the things that keep kids up on Christmas Eve.

    But, time changes everything, and The Christmas Rock certainly understood time. The elder Schnitzels needed the security of assisted living, and that meant downsizing their possessions. Certainly the tree-topping Angel and the expensive Avon ornaments could come along. But there could be no room for a painted rock, and to the flower garden the Dean of forty Christmases went.

    The Christmas Rock spent the next three years in the flower garden. That was until the new owner was planting one spring and discovered the rock. She called to her husband, “Honey, look at this. This was a child’s present to their mother. So sweet!” Yet, not knowing exactly what to do with the rock, she placed in in the wheel barrow with the other rocks, sod, and weeds. Two weeks later, the contents were dumped on the pile at the back end of the lot.

    That might have been it for The Christmas Rock, except, that fall, a storm which would ultimately become a category five hurricane developed in the South Atlantic. When it arrived, it swept away not only the home, but the pile of rocks and yard debris at the back of the lot.

    And what of The Christmas Rock? Don’t fret. He’s perfectly safe at the bottom of the Hudson River, where he will likely remain for billions of years, waiting for another chance to sit atop the mantel, and be, The Christmas Rock once more.

  7. (This one is long, but it’s still a nice Christmas story filled with good memories.)

    Zitherklang Interlude

    The weather gods are messin’ with us again. They had the mercury in the thermometer stuck in the vicinity of zero for more than a month, until they unleashed their latest mischief. There’s an upside to that, of course. We don’t have to shovel the feathery hoarfrost on the tree branches, and the clear night skies provide an infinite canvas on which the Aurora Borealis choreographs a ballet in greens and reds.

    The gods let it warm long enough to drop a half foot of snow, then they sent the mercury to the nether regions once again. Now, and I can almost hear their muffled chortles of glee, they have the mercury on a yo-yo string, bouncing it up and down and keeping us on our toes. I mean that literally. When you stretch those rubber ice grippers over your shoes or boots, you have to walk with your weight forward so the little cleats can stick into the ice and grab hold.

    Yesterday warm Chinook winds blustered in and the temperature shot to forty degrees, melting all the snow and turning my driveway into a five hundred foot long skating rink. Gray light, gray skies, gray rain washing over gray ice. Gray, gray, gray.

    Thus, with a feeling of, well, grayness, I pull the truck from the garage, move the lever to four wheel drive, and drive six miles to the post office in Moose Pass. I can hear the studded tires scratching for purchase on the ice and the gray silty slop from the road sand coating my truck.

    I have a few manila envelopes to mail, and the postmaster and I exchange greetings and money. Then I walk around the corner where the banks of gray numbered boxes wait with their window envelopes, junk mail, and catalogs proclaiming the holiday season. .

    Right on top of the stack is something odd: a small gray and blue bubble mailer measuring about seven inches square. I turn the envelope around to look for the return address. “Hermann,” it reads.

    Carefully, almost reverently, I withdraw the small plastic box from its mailing vessel.

    It is, it really is: “Zitherklang auf Weihnachten.”

    I don’t have a clue what that means.

    But I know what is on the silver disc inside that sparkling box because, there on the front panel, looking oh-so-sophisticated in black tux with red and green bow tie, is the silver-haired German we know as Hermann. Forty years ago in the small ski village of Girdwood where I then lived, the music from Hermann’s zither and from Polka Dan’s concertina created a special world for a group of us. We became as close as family, and those ties endure today though the pathways of our lives have scattered us around the country.

    Out the door I go, up the highway towards home and the CD player. Through the silver light, under the silver skies, watching the silver rain washing across the silver ice. Silver everywhere and magic in a little plastic box with my handsome friend in a black tuxedo on the front.

    Which is my favorite track, I wonder, as the sounds of the Christmas season fill my house? Surely it is “O Holy Night,” I decide. I sing along with the music, and Pablo the parrot stares in bewilderment at the strange noises coming from my throat.

    No, wait. That haunting Czech carol, “The Little Drummer Boy,” stays with me long after the tune ends. Just the right phrasing, just the right register. Maybe that’s the one.

    But what about “….fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….” How can I not say that isn’t the favorite?

    What about the “Zitherklang auf Weihnachten?” Down from the shelf comes the German-English dictionary. Its corner is a bit ragged, as if a sharp beak has been nibbling on it.

    The Zither part is easy, and “klang” means sound.

    “Auf”: on, upon, in, at, of, by.” Okay, we have multiple choice there.

    Then “Weihnachte”. Great! Only one definition: Christmas. That one is easy.

    All this reminds me of a famous writer who locked himself in his study to write every day, agonizing over each and every word. One day a friend found him distraught and asked after the cause. The author replied that he’d written eight words that day, to which the friend responded, “Why, for you, that’s great! What’s wrong with that?”

    And the famous author answered: “But I don’t know in what order they go.” I feel his pain.

    The sweet strains of zither music continue and I’m seventeen years old, dressed in a black robe, unsteady on new high-heeled shoes, holding a new black folder filled with sheet music, and standing on the risers of a stage under bright klieg lights. Tears come to my eyes and my teenage school friends are beside me once again, standing on risers on the stage of the Anchorage High School auditorium as we watch Miss Horton wave her arms and baton in the hope that we will follow her direction. The high school concert band and orchestra are assembled in the pit, the auditorium jammed with proud parents, teachers, and fellow students.

    Look closely and you can see me in the second row, between the altos and tenors, eyes sparkling as I sing my heart out:

    When I was a child, I do believe
    we decorated de house on Christmas Eve,
    with trinkets and tropical fruit, for you see,
    in de island we had not a Christmas tree.

    Sing, hal-le-lue, Oh sing Christ-o,
    hal-le-lue, Oh sing Christ-o,
    hal-le-lue, Oh sing Christ-o,
    it’s Christmas in de tropics.

    The Calypso tune loosens us, takes away our stage fright and performance anxiety. The audience enjoys the bouncy, humorous song that speaks of Santa in a Panama hat and white linen suit, hanging stockings on the bed post tree.

    After the applause dies and the lights dim, the combined band and orchestra begin to play andante maestoso, slowly with feeling, the music to words penned more than two hundred and fifty years ago by a French wine merchant.

    The soprano soloist, alone in the spotlight, her voice pure and effortless:

    O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
    it is the night of the dear savior’s birth…

    Soon the full choir of sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, and basses are singing the chorus with majesty:

    Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
    O ni-ight di-vine! O night,
    when Christ was born,
    O night!_di-vine!____
    O night,
    (poco rit) O-o-o-o-o night di-vine.

    Eyes, music, words, all sparkle with silver. Zitherklang auf Weihnachten.
    Divine, indeed.

  8. BOY 12

    Christmas was approaching, and food was delivered to our back kitchen door by a charitable organization of some kind. Canned goods, mostly. And rice. I hoped that my younger brothers and sisters didn’t see the forlorn look on my face, as I realized just how bad things were this time. And I hoped that mom and dad wouldn’t start one of their fights.

    Somehow they managed to get a tree, and we decorated it with our old hand me down decorations from years past. I don’t think we even had lights on it.
    But, to my surprise, there were brightly wrapped gifts around the tree on Christmas morning. As I looked at them closer, I saw the tags read “Girl 3” “Boy 8”, and so on. I finally found one that said “Boy 12”.
    “This must be mine?” I asked warily.
    “Yes, son, be thankful that you have anything,” said my dad, “There are kids out there that are getting nothing for Christmas.” I tore open the wrapper and found a small magnetic number puzzle. It had the numbers one through fifteen scrambled in four lines, with on blank space. The idea was to slide the numbers back and forth and try to arrange them in correct order from one to fifteen, and end up with blank space at end. I figured it out by the end of the day, and actually became quite good at solving the puzzle. I even took it to my fifth grade class, and showed my new friends how accomplished I was at solving this puzzle.

    Today, most of my friends and even members of my own family assume that I have always been well-to-do. I was fortunate enough to finish High School, spend four years in the Air Force, and then have a very successful thirty-five year career with a major U.S. Corporation. I try to relate stories of my youth to them from time to time to keep things in perspective.

    My wife of thirty-two years, loved the story about that Christmas morning.
    So it was with a great deal of planning and love that she placed a small package in my Christmas stocking last December, marked with a tag, “Boy 12.” As I tearfully opened it, I found that it contained a small magnetic puzzle she had purchased in an antique store some time ago. I couldn’t wait to show my grown sons how good their dad was at solving that damn puzzle.

  9. Sweet! Good to sed you posting, seems like its beena while

  10. I have a short short story online at Boston Literary Magazine,

    To read it click QUICK FICTION at the bottom left, and scroll down to my writing.

  11. Have aliens zapped Ann? Car 54 where are you??

  12. I appreciate the kick in the pants, Jeff! It does help. While Gullie is right, and my eyes are at half mast given major Christmas visits on the way and the unrelenting postings at BWW, EBW, WRE, each night I read your good writing and try to find some sort of cleverness, creativity, or just plain good manners so I can dive in. Seems these qualities are in short supply right now. They come and go. I believe Gullie mentions that her muse hides under her bed, waiting until Gullie is sound asleep until suddenly the ideas come quick and strong. I’ve had a couple good ideas lately too, thought to write them down, but didn’t. I guess they are now lost in the Christmas wrapping paper. Completely annoying.

    I have always thought of this blog as my recess, and I will come to play soon.

  13. I have a second short-short story (100 word) published this month at DOGZPLOT. Its the sixth item. The photo was not a prompt, but a damn dramatic photo anyway.If anyone cares to read.


  14. Here is a 100-word place that uses a photo prompt. I have three submissions so far. This place takes anything you throw at them, so if you would like the challenge of crafting emotion/impact into a 100-word format, why not give it a shot. Krystyna has one there too.

    • How coincidental. Friends of mine have a guided horse ride business in interior Alaska, in some beautiful country near Denali Nat’l. Park. This week I rec’d a photo showing two horseback riders on the crest of a hill. In the far background were snow topped mountains. They asked if I could write a poem to capture the moment, indicating it held special memories for them. Up popped the missing muse and by the next morning I had this:

      Lost in thoughts of the everyday kind,
      I travel a vast and untamed land,
      Find hardscrabble purchase as a hill I climb
      And pause to rest at the crest.
      Before me are valleys I’ve yet to explore
      And sunlit mountains under snow-white duvet.
      Captured by splendor, I am scarcely aware
      My thoughts—and my breath—have been stolen away.

      I had mentioned to them that I found it difficult to write metaphorically, but when the above was finished, I realized that almost every line was a metaphor for a stage of life, and the whole a metaphor for life.

      So, if Ann’s too busy to play, we’ll just have to entertain ourselves here.

      Merry Christmas to all of you.

  15. A friend’s email mentioned haiku and a poet William Carlos Williams. I looked him up, Here is a quote attributed to him:

    “Forget all rules, forget all restrictions,as to taste, as to what should be said, write for the pleasure of it…”

  16. My first haiku:

    Feathers puff
    maternal clucking to her unborn –
    my hand finds my breakfast.

  17. At a writing site, SHORTBREAD STORIES, a SS competition has closed for submissions of stories based on the photo prompt THE LADY IN THE BAUBLE. Krystyna and I both have entries. There are some excellent stories, diverse in their approach. Voting is open to the public; I think it requires a quick registering with the usual name and email info. If you have time for some quick reads I’m sure the authors would appreciate a read, a comment and especially a vote. Jeff

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s