Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book 8 of 2015 Charles Dickens: Some Short Christmas Stories

I found this when looking for A Christmas Carol and since it was free I decided why not take a look.

IT is a set of 6 short stories (though some of them are decidedly short on narrative) and only some of them are Christmas-y.  I liked the last three stories best personally.  For a free book it was ok. But while A Christmas Carol iz certainly a classic, these stories are pretty much forgettable.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Christmas Snail

Each year the girls buy Christmas Tree ornaments at the Ten Thousand Villages sale here in town.  This year Eldest bought a snail, and dad was given the challenge of writing the story of the Christmas Snail.  Here is what developed:
They didn't even see me. But then I am used to that. Nobody ever sees us snails. Or when they do the make rude noises and squish us or run away as if we were some disgusting monster. I think only spiders get treated worse than us.

At any rate I saw it all. From beginning to end I was there. Unlike those uppity other animals you might hear about I don't think I had anything to do with what happened. I just watched it. And I will never forget it. I don't really understand, because I am only a snail. But I will never forget it.

It almost made me run and jump. But, well, you know, snails aren't really great at that.

Do you want to hear my version of the story?

It was a strange day. There I was in Nazareth, creeping along, trying to stay moist, when this foot just missed me. It was a man leading a donkey. Then the donkey hoof just missed me on the other side. Around then I decided maybe I would stay still. You know, to recover from the fright. But fate, it seems, had other plans.

As the donkey's back hoof came by it kicked me forward. At the same time a bundle of cloth fell off the donkey's back. The bundle and I landed together in a heap. Grumbling about how far they had to go and the delay and the time, the man stopped and bent over to get the bundle of cloth, and of course I got scooped up along with it. Before I knew it I was stuck on the back of the donkey, heading who knew where.

That was a horrible journey. Day after day in the hot sun! I was sure I would get fried. Luckily there were lots of nooks and crannies in the baggage so I could find a place to hide. And between the morning dew and the donkey sweat and the occasional splash of water while the man and woman were drinking I got just enough moisture to keep from totally drying out.

I had no idea where we were going. It appeared they did not want to go but they said that they had no choice. The woman was very pregnant. The man was very worried. The donkey was smelly and tired. The woman was tired. The man was getting anxious. The donkey just wanted to stop, the man had to keep urging it forward.

Finally we came to another city. Bethlehem I think the man said its name was. It was late in the day. Thankfully the sun was almost down and it was getting cooler. I was starting to shrivel up. The man sounded much more relaxed when he said:
“Tonight we will have a real bed in a real building. No more sleeping on the hard cold ground. And maybe a real meal for a change. I still have family here, I am sure one of them can take us in.”

In her gentle voice the woman said:
“That will be nice.” Then suddenly she groaned with pain. “Joseph, I think the baby is coming, my water just broke.”
By that point I had started to slide down the donkey. And suddenly I was almost washed off by this rush of fluid that came at me. I was able to hold on, and to be honest I was very happy for all that refreshing moisture.

The man made the donkey go even faster then. He led us from one house to another, asking if he and the woman could stay there. They all said no. Finally he turned to the woman and said:
“Its no use Mary, none of my cousins remember me or my father. I guess we will have to try that inn over there”
And so he led the donkey across a square to an old inn. It sounded very busy. There was lots of light pouring out the windows and doors. The man left us on the walk and went up to the door. I could just barely hear him pleading with the innkeeper, saying that his wife was having a baby and they needed a place. He was gone a long time. All the while the woman kept groaning. It seemed she was about to fall off the donkey.

Finally he came back. He didn't sound happy.
“Well they say they are full, and I don't have enough money to change their minds. But they told me we can go out back and stay with the animals.”

The woman said:
“That will be better than the middle of the street. Hurry Joseph, I need to get off the donkey. It is almost time.”
So the man Joseph led us around behind the building. There was a little shelter back there with a few animals tied up inside. Joseph helped the woman off the donkey and settled her on a pile of straw.
“Is that ok Mary? Are you going to be alright?”
All the woman could do was grunt.

Then there were voices approaching. Women were coming. When they got to where we were one of them said:
“Thee innkeeper sent for me. I am the local midwife. I am here to help. Let me see how things are going.”

I sort of lost track for a while then. Joseph started to unload and brush off the donkey and in that process I got flung off into a corner. But at least there I was safe. Nobody would step on me over there. While I couldn't see anything, I could hear everything.

It appears the woman was having her baby. It seems much easier to just lay eggs like us snails do. But apparently that is not how it happens with humans. There was a lot of screaming. The woman who called herself midwife kept trying to calm Mary down. Meanwhile I found a nice little puddle in my corner and settled in.

Still I listened. I heard Mary say that this was a special baby. She talked about a visit from an angel who told her that the baby was God's baby. It didn't sound like the midwife believed her. Joseph talked about a visit he had from an angel who told him the same thing. They talked about how this baby was going to change the world. I have to admit I didn't really know quite what they mean. After all, I am only a snail and really don't know much about the world.

Then it was done. The baby was born. Did I mention that laying eggs seems much easier? Anyway everybody was very happy. The baby let out a loud scream and then quietened down. But there was something odd.

From my corner I saw this bright light shining. And I was sure I could hear music. And for some reason I felt just so happy. Everybody's voices had gone quiet, and all the animals too. At that point I knew I had to see the baby. So I started to move over toward the light.

As I crept over toward the manger two things happened. The light got brighter and the music got louder. At first I thought it was just music but as it got louder and clearer I could hear voices. Sweet soft voices singing the baby to sleep. The pigeons in the rafters joined in the song. I can see why. You just couldn't help but sing when you heard that song. It drew you in somehow.

And the light. How can I describe it. Normally when you spend your life so close to the ground you see a lot of shadows. All the lights are up high and blocked by people or objects. But this was different. The light seemed to just be there, no shadows. I think it was coming from the baby but even then there was no shadow from the manger. The light just shone through everything and everybody.

Just as I started to get closer to the manger, almost close enough to start thinking about climbing up one of the legs, there was a new noise. A bunch of shepherds came rushing up yelling and shouting. They were very excited. And they had big clumsy feet. I had to slide under a piece of wood to avoid getting squashed.

The shepherds rushed in, but as soon as they saw the baby they stopped dead. They just stood there in silence for a while. Then they told a story. They talked about angels appearing to them. They said they had been told that this baby was the Messiah. They said that they had been told to find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped up in bits of cloth – just like this baby here.

The shepherds started to sing “Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on earth, good will to men”. They said this is what the angels had sung to them. They stayed and watched the baby sleep for a while. Eventually the sheep came wandering in and laid down beside the manger. Then the shepherds gathered the sheep and headed back out of town. I could hear them singing and shouting as they went, telling everyone what had happened that night.

Still there was the music and the light. Making things seem so calm, so special.

Just as dawn was breaking I finally got to the top of the manger. And I could see the baby. Even with all that light shining, light that should have blinded me, I could see him. And looking at him I was sure that somehow things would be alright. Even for us snails.

I slid down into the hay he was lying on. And just sat there looking at him, listening to the song, and feeling very content. But it was exciting too. I knew why the shepherds had been singing and shouting. I wanted to dance and sing! Sadly I can't do such things. So instead I sat there and watched and listened.

After a few days the family left. I stayed behind. I had had enough traveling for the lifetimes of many many snails. But every time a new animal comes in, as we rest in the night, I tell the story of the Baby. And sometimes, as I tell it, I hear the song again and the manger seems to glow a little bit...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book 7 of 2015 -- A Christmas Carol

Many years ago (like 36) I was in a play for the first time.  The play was A Christmas Carol and I was playing Scrooge.

Over the years I have seen various productions of the story -- everything from Alastair Sim's classic to Henry Winkler in An American Christmas Carol to Mickey Mouse to the Muppets.  And a few years ago I took art in a staged reading of it.

ANd then I found a free copy of it for my KOBO. (I also found a free book of short stories for Christmas by Dickens which is next in my reading plan)

So I thought that maybe I should start a new tradition of reading it each year.

It is a nice little read.  ANd there are bits that you always miss when it is put to the stage/screen.

A story of redemption, a story of what we might do if we knew for sure how people would remember us after our death, a story of social conscience.

Maybe I should broaden my new tradition to not only read it but read it to the girls....