It has been a year since I stopped in at SERENDIPITY with this “A Family Plus One Holiday Tale,” and for some reason Marilyn Armstrong has allowed me to come back once a week since then.  I am grateful for her support and the opportunity to share some stories on her blog site. Here again is my Christmas short story.

Rich Paschall of SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG has graciously agreed to collaborate with me on Sundays. You will get a taste of his rich and beautiful prose, some of which you have already seen here because I love his work and have reblogged quite a bit of it over the past year. But it will also give me a much-needed day off. I’ve been writing every day for almost a year and I admit, I could use a day to recharge my aging batteries. It’s a win-win. You get some great new fiction — or whatever Rich is in the mood to offer you — and I get to enjoy a little breather.”

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A Christmas Surprise

A family plus one holiday tale

by Richard Paschall

Tree Lights 14

Kyle was coming home for Christmas. He was bringing with him his college roommate. The boys met during freshmen year and became fast friends. Somehow they maneuvered the dorm manager into assigning them to be roommates for sophomore year. There was no one on earth Kyle would rather spend time with than Michael. So he was glad Michael agreed to come to dinner on Christmas Eve. This was in exchange for Kyle agreeing to go to Michael’s parents’ house on Christmas day for dinner. Michael was going to make a big announcement to his parents and of course Kyle just had to be there.

Kyle’s father had slipped into a den on the east side of the house. All of the family noise was a bit more than his reserved nature could take. Kyle’s sister, Mary, who was 8 years younger than Kyle, was louder than usual and no matter how many times grandma told Mary to “quiet down,” things did not get any quieter. The threat of Christmas carols by Mary and Uncle Roy was enough to drive dad into the den. There he immediately made haste to the bar where a glass of sherry seemed to be in order. Dad only drank a sherry on special occasions and this certainly was one of them.

It was dark now and the neighbors across the street had turned on their Christmas lights. Almost everyone on the block had a nice display so the street was well-lit. Kyle’s dad was drawn to the window to see the lights, look at the gentle snow flurries and enjoy a moment of peace. As he stood there sipping his sherry and waiting for Kyle to appear, he finally spotted his only son walking quickly down the street with another young man right behind. As they got to the walkway that led up to the house they stopped to exchange a few words. Then a sight took dad’s wondering eyes totally by surprise. Kyle kissed the other boy. It was not a short kiss, but long and passionate which they both seemed to enjoy.

Soon Kyle rang the doorbell just to announce their arrival before he put his key in the lock and opened the door. Off the entrance way on the left was a door to the den. Kyle’s father was standing in the doorway just staring at the two. Kyle’s mom came through a big archway on the right that led to the living room. Mary was close behind and eager to see her brother and his friend. Uncle Roy and grandma did not vacate their seats. They knew the rest would join them soon.

First Kyle walked over to his father and said, “Dad this is my room-mate, Michael.” The roommate held out his hand and the father shook it. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Kyle says such wonderful things about the family.” Kyle’s dad just sort of nodded at that, while studying this stranger in his home. The silence was out of character for the head of the household and a bit of a surprise to everyone except Michael, and that is only because Michael did not know him.

Then Kyle introduced Michael to his mother and his “little brat sister” Mary. Michael held out his hand to each in turn but the little brat held out her hand instead as if he was supposed to take it and kiss it, so he did and she squealed and ran from the room. At that Kyle’s mom offered to introduce Michael to the others. Kyle’s father then announced to all, “We will join you in a moment.” With a more serious tone, father said, “Kyle, would you step in here for a moment, please?” This was not a question but rather a command of the type Kyle knew was not good. As the father retreated into the room Kyle followed. Before turning around dad said, “Close the door.”

Kyle only took a few short steps in before his father turned around. He looked at him as if he had never seen him before. It was the strangest look Kyle had ever seen from his father. “Kyle, is there something you should be telling me?” the “official business” dad said in an odd businesslike tone. Kyle figured it was some sort of trick question but knew he should answer it anyway.

“No, dad. I don’t think so.” This clearly was the wrong answer. His dad did not say a thing but his body language spoke volumes and Kyle became as nervous as a first grader who has been caught stealing Oreos from the kitchen. Now the master of the den, the commander of the car keys and the payer of his tuition walked slowly to the window, looked around the outside and turned to Kyle.

“You know, son, that there is a great view of the neighborhood from this window. You can see all of the beautiful Christmas displays across the street. You can see a nice Christmas snow flurry. You can see everyone walking down the sidewalk and turning up the walkway toward the house.” At that Kyle’s father fixed his sights squarely on Kyle and said, “So now is there anything you should tell me?”

Kyle stood motionless as his dad threw a stare at him that went right through and hit the door behind. It took Kyle almost an entire minute before he realized what his father had seen from the window of the den. All the while, that whole long minute of time, Kyle’s father stood there waiting. Kyle wanted to begin “I’m sorry dad…,” but nothing came out of his mouth. He was so nervous and so afraid of his father’s reaction that he could say nothing. It is not that he wanted to be silent, he just couldn’t speak. Fear of saying the wrong thing paralyzed his tongue for the moment. Finally Kyle’s father just nodded that same nod he gave Michael when he was introduced, walked around Kyle, opened the door and walked across the foyer to the living room.

Kyle was knocked off his spot when his mother’s voice came floating into the room. “Kyle, don’t be rude. Come join your guest.” Kyle shuffled across the hall and searched around the room for Michael. He did not look at anyone else as his eyes avoided everyone but Michael. At that moment, with a room full of family, he had no way of telling his mate that he needed a hug and he thought he might need to cry. After a little small talk by grandma and Uncle Roy, Kyle’s mom asked them all to go to the dining room. Christmas Eve dinner was ready.

“Michael, you sit right there next to Kyle and Kyle will sit next to me. I have this end of the table and Kyle’s father will carve things up at that end of the table. Uncle Roy will be there next to you and grandma and Mary will be on the other side.” At that the little brat sister ran around the table and dropped herself on the chair opposite Kyle. She looked at him with a smirk as if she knew his little secret and was going to blurt it out if he did not stop calling her a brat.

Everyone sat in silence until Kyle’s mother looked down the length of the table and said to her husband. “Sweetheart, will you say grace for us?” There was a long, awkward pause before he said, “No. Tonight Kyle will lead the prayer.” At that instant Kyle prayed that something, anything that made sense would come out of his mouth. All eyes were on him as he began, “Bless us, oh Lord…” The words that fell out of Kyle’s mouth were for blessing and thanksgiving, but in his heart he was praying for acceptance. That became the only gift he truly wanted for Christmas this year.

Being alone

“When you’re alone and
Life is making you lonely
you can always go…”

Where? Where can you go when you feel lonely? Of course, there are just times you want to be alone. That’s different. People sometimes like to be by themselves. Perhaps they just want to read or listen to music. Perhaps they just want to meditate or pray. Perhaps they just want to close their eyes and relax without the distractions of sound all around. Perhaps some feel that yoga is best practiced in solitude. There may be many reasons that someone wants to spend a little time alone. In today’s super connected, social media charged world, you may just want to get away for a while. I recall going camping years ago to remote places where there was little to disturb the peace. We did not worry about getting a cell phone signal, simply because there were no cell phones. We did not feel lonely when seeking peace and quiet, but sometimes we were just alone.

What if being alone also translates into loneliness? What if you would like to be connected, but you are not? What if you have no cell phone, no desktop, laptop, or tablet? What if there is no cable, no satellite dish, no high-definition, no 3D, surround sound spectacular to “wow” your friends? In fact, what if there is a general lack of friends and family?

“When you’ve got worries
all the noise and the hurry
seem to help, I know…”

For some there is little social contact and many worries. What if you have to choose between the rent and your prescriptions, your electric bill and your phone bill, new shoes on your feet or something to eat? Will all the noise and the hurried-up modern world help? There may be moments when the bright city lights and the activities all around can steal away the worries, if only for a moment. What will there be to help after that? Are there enough social programs to help when loneliness and worry takes hold?

“Just listen to the music
of the traffic in the city
Linger by the sidewalk where
the neon signs are pretty…”

How can you lose? In a large city how can one possibly be lonely? The city itself is alive and enticing. There are beautiful parks and museums. There are theaters and concerts. There is nightlife every night of the year. There are sports teams and sports bars. There are those, however, who can not partake. A life event may have robbed the resources and the energy. As the baby boomer, post World War II generation ages, and their new age government works hard to limit their benefits, many have, or will, find themselves alone and lonely. Partners get sick and die. Friends move away. Family forgets. Jobs are lost to the economy or perhaps just to age. Retirement is not satisfying, and there is no one to catch everyone when they have nothing to fall back on.

“So maybe I’ll see you there,
We can forget all our troubles,
Forget all are cares and go…”

The organization AARP reports that 40 per cent of people over 65 live alone. A changing life event, failing health, disability, lack of funds may leave many of them lonely as well. What is to be done? I know what many of you are thinking. “He is NOT going to advocate the government fix all of this, AGAIN!” No, I am not. The plain fact of the matter is they can not fix it all. No matter how much of a safety net they try to build into society (and they should try), they simply will not be able to catch everyone. Besides, what resource, exactly, will help those who are alone and feeling lonely?

This is where we come in, literally. This is where we come through the door and make a difference. Loneliness can be dispelled by making sure our friends and loved ones are not alone all the time. That they have a social network. That they have family who will include them, even if it is just the “extended family.” We did not spend a lifetime attending family events and socializing with friends to leave them high and dry when they could not get out or could not afford a cab or even a bus to get somewhere. In the busy lifetime of starting a career, making friends, getting married (or getting a “life partner’) or raising a family, can we forget about those who raised us? The family and their friends who picked us up and put us back on our bikes should not be forgotten when they can barely walk.

As I firmly believe that what goes around, comes around, I should have enough motivation to help out. If I can answer someone’s prayer, maybe someone else will answer mine. I also have the feeling that a sense of duty has been lost by many of my fellow humans. There certainly was a time when family helped one another at all stages of life. The increasingly mobile society, of course, has put miles, states or even oceans between loved ones. So, I guess the bottom line is that we are in this together and should not leave any one of us completely alone or lonely. (Yes, sometimes you need to leave when the party is over, that’s different.) Perhaps now is a good time to reacquaint yourself with a family member you have not seen in a while or an old friend who has been out of touch. Treat them to something nice. It does not have to be expensive. Maybe you can just go Downtown.

“The lights are much brighter there
you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares…”

“Downtown” by: Ernest Drummond William, Tony Hatch
Copyright: Welbeck Music Ltd., Warner/Chappell Music Ltd, Sony/Atv Music Publishing (uk) Limited

The Wearing of the Green

Amateur Night II

English: Picture of a beam in the Guinness Sto...

English: Picture of a beam in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Taken by me on 22 May 2007. Text reads, “Everyone’s Irish on March 17th”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Year’s Eve generally brings everyone out to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  In truth it is just another day, but we have turned it into a national day of drinking for the vast majority of the over 21 crowd as well as some who are not quite there.  Of course, we are not the only ones.  Much of the so-called “civilized world” is out celebrating.  That makes the perfect opportunity for news crews to get out and record the mayhem.  The problem with all this revelry is it brings out people who do not normally go out and party to excess.  These greenhorns and newbies become a menace to themselves as well as the general public.  With a national average of 140 traffic deaths on New Year’s, this truly is a bad night to take to the roads even if you were not drinking.

Peer pressure certainly has a lot to do with people going out to do little more than drink past the point of intoxication.  Everyone is going to a party or bar, so “What are you doing on New Year’s Eve?” is a popular question.  You feel the need to have a good answer weeks before the actual event.  “I am going to McDrunk’s Bar and Grill.  They are having a live band.  The Intoxicators go on at 10 and play until 2.”  Since there are so many people at the party, it is often referred to by people who frequent the bars as “Amateur Night.”   This is so scary to some people who get out plenty of times during the year, that they elect to stay home rather than run the risk of getting run down by the drinking neophyte.

While St. Patrick’s Day is not the second deadliest night of drunken driving fatalities for the year, it is the second time in chronological order that the learners and nonprofessional drinkers go out to drink.  This time they may pour down some Irish ale, green-colored beer or other refreshment they are not used to having.  Since everyone thinks they are Irish every 17th of March, or whatever day the local bars are celebrating it, everyone seems to thinks it is Amateur Night 2.  For many it also turns into Hangover 2 or “Dear God, I promise never to do that again, I’m begging you just make me well.”  Since God is not making deals with you, the day after your personal Irish Fest is another day to lay around feeling like you should not move or a time for calling off work.  If you do not show up at your job, however, we can only come to one conclusion.

There are other Amateur Nights as well, nicely spaced throughout the year.  Next up for most will be Memorial Day.  For some it is the entire 3 day weekend.  Beware of those that try to cure a Friday Night amateur hour with a follow-up “hair of the dog” cure.  It is not helpful to cure your drinking with more drink.  According to a past Forbes ranking our third attempt at suicide by alcohol only ranks 4th on the list.  The scary thing is the three-day time span that allows freshmen drinkers to hit the bars and maybe a few cars too.

As everyone puts on something green to pretend they are dressing up for the holiday, they should try to keep in mind that the novices are out there too. So take heed.  If you ae a learner at the art of partying, I can pass along some advice that you will no doubt ignore.  It is best to learn that moderation is a good thing.  Designated drivers are a good thing. “Pacing” yourself is a good thing.  Do not be the one who has to call friends the next day to find out where your car is or to explain why you got your face slapped by someone you do not even know.  Perhaps you need to go to a karaoke bar and sing a lot.  You won’t be drinking while your singing and you will find that everyone thinks your off-key melodies sound great after they have been there a while.

If you survive these amateur festivals of alcohol worship all the way to Thanksgiving you will find that you can give thanks the beginners did not get you.  Rejoice in the fact that St. Patrick’s Day turned into a pleasant evening.  Be thankful that your friends and family survived too, but do not get too comfortable.  While taking your wine or beer with your turkey and football do not forget the amateurs.  Caution may be the key word not just when you are wearing a silly green hat.  Thanksgiving, not St Pat’s, is the deadliest holiday time of all the Amateur nights.  Beware the Ides of March too, as well as the days that follow.

Note:  There are a lot of deadly holiday lists on the web.  While they tend to include all the same holidays, the rankings vary from list to list.  The good news is that St. Patrick’s Day does not even make many of the Top 10 deadliest holidays.

Bo and family

What seems like eons ago in cyberspace time, I had a Windows Live Space.  I think it was the MSN version of what MySpace used to be.  In 2008 I posted the video below on that space.  I thought it was funny then and I still do.  It is early Bo Burnham and not high quality video.  You can find better later and somewhat more explicit versions on You Tube from the comedian and singer.  A lot of his comedy centers around the piano and the comedy songs and routines.  His complete recent comedy show “what.” can be found in HD on You Tube.  The boy is just a little off-center, and very funny.  Enjoy his early work below:

My Whole Family Thinks I’m…