Christmas For Strangers

Mr Ivy mailed ten greeting cards, each to a person who was a stranger to the others.  None of them had ever met, and short of this greeting card, they may have never made contact.  The man who mailed them, did a few unusual things to ensure that did not happen.

In each card, on the inside, the man included the name and address, of one of the other people in each card, with the edition of one word.  His plan, was to gently nudge these people to connect with one another.  After mailing the cards, he got in his red suv, and left town.

In addition to this, he did include one other thing, an explanation.  It was that incentive, that insured the people would reach out to one another.  It was the promise that if all the people came together, and put the phrase in the right order, they would find a fortune to share.

The first person the man reached out to, was Sam, a former accountant, in a difficult time of his life.  His company had went bust, he had lost everything, and was planning on spending a very sad Christmas.  That’s probably why he was the first person to reach out.

He mailed a note to Edna Haynes.  She was a waitress with two children.   A widow, she had lost her husband in the military.  The hope of something better caused her to reach out, but not to Sam.  

The name in her card was Charlie, a retired postal worker on a limited income.  He volunteered in the community, and was happy.  Charlie didn’t care about money for himself, but he knew that a fortune, even a part of it, would help a lot of people. So he reached out to Grace.

Grace was a teacher, just starting out.  She had a huge amount of student loans to deal with, and a world to conquer.  She was bright, optimistic, and totally exhausted.  Extra funds would help, so we she reached out to Clara.

Clara was the owner of a small beauty shop, and a grandmother.  The money could take her and the family on a much needed vacation.  She reached out as well, to Heather.

Heather was a detective.  She worked long hours, and worked hard, but she was lonely.  Like Clara, she could use a vacation.  Also like Clara, she didn’t have the money. So she reached out.

The others were Ken, a librarian, Deborah an insurance agent, Mike a contractor, and Paul a young Minister.  Each had a reason to reach out to the others, and Harry knew it.  Soon, all of them had gathered for a meeting. 

They put the ten words together, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave…” Obviously the phrase fit this way, except it didn’t lead to a fortune.  They wondered if someone was playing a practical joke on them.

Heather, the detective, while skeptical, had a gut feeling.  “I know it sounds like a joke, but if it is, what could they hope to gain? How are we all connected? If we can’t find a common thread, maybe we just need to play around with the words.”

Paul, the Minister agreed.  “I think she’s on to something, on both counts.  It would be good to find out if there is a common thread, but there’s something out.  Near the Church, there’s a street called First Love.  Maybe it’s a location.”

They talked for awhile.  Ken discovered that he and Grace had went to the same college.  Charlie had delivered mail on Clara’s street for years, but they had never met.  

Mike dined at the restaurant where Edna worked, being a bachelor who didn’t cook.  Finally Deborah and Sam lived in the same building.  So there was some connections, but they couldn’t find anything, or anyone who connected them all together.  

So they began to work on the ten words again.  If First Love was a street, then that left “On the day of Christmas my true gave.” Sam smiled, “Isn’t there a clothing store called ‘True’ on that same street?”

Deborah agreed. “That’s right. The owner’s a nice guy.” Heather rearranged the words again. “On first love the day of Christmas, true my gave.”  “Gave could be a play on words for gift.  In other words, on first love street, the day of Christmas at the store called True, is my gift.”

The ten agreed, and asked each other what they should do until Christmas Day. While they were tempted to go the next day, they all agreed that most likely, whatever was going to be available, wouldn’t be there until Christmas.

“Do not open til Christmas. That sounds like those stickers I used to see on the packages I delivered.  Well, I guess this time, something is going to have a delivery for all of us.”  

The funny thing was, while none of them went to the store early, they also didn’t go back to their individual lives.  Paul and Heather ended up talking for awhile, and exchanging numbers. They told themselves it was to keep a lookout for any strange sightings near that area until Christmas.

Sam and Deborah seemed to notice each other more when they ran into each other at the apartment building.  Charlie showed up at Clara’s shop to cut his hair, and asked her out.  He said he was too old to make a big excuse, he wanted to see her.

Mike and Edna talked every time he went in the restaurant.  Ken and Grace started talking too.  The original topic of conversation had been the mystery gift.  The more time each of them talked, the more they found in common.  Before they knew it, each found something in the other that they realized they were missing.

By Christmas Day, where there had been ten individuals, there were five couples.  The Minister and the Detective had started dating.  Everyone at Paul’s Church was glad to see the new visitor sitting on the back row, and watch as she moved a little closer each week.  They also noticed the smile when Paul looked that way.

Along the way, love wasn’t all that happened.  Mike hired Sam to help with his books.  Edna, her kids, and Mike started volunteering with Charlie’s charities.  Ken and Grace both bought insurance from Deborah.  In fact, the group ended up connecting with love, business, friendship, and faith.  

Deborah wasn’t the only one that Paul welcomed into his Church.  Over time, because each liked Paul, they found their way to the Church. Even those who had resisted at first, found themselves wanting to go to hear Paul.

With the group’s blessing, at the special Christmas Eve Service, he even told the story to the Church members of how they met.  As he was telling it, he hit upon the one thing that none of them had taken time consider.

“On Christmas Day, I don’t expect the store to be open.  I don’t know how we will find anything, or even if we will.  We haven’t really talked about that part, but I know this.”

“We have already been given a great gift, each other.  Now we are not strangers.  We have been united by a single message, given by someone we did not yet know. Isn’t that The Message of Christmas? That One we did not yet know, was born on a street in a little town, and gave Truth to the world that He loved, before they even knew Him?”

After Christmas Eve service, they all went to dinner.  During that dinner, it was decided, they would arrive at the store at noon.  Each had plans for Christmas, Sam was meeting Deborah’s friends.  Paul was introducing Heather to his parents.

Charlie and Clara were serving Christmas Dinner at the shelter.  Mike was taking Edna and the kids on a sleigh ride.  Each couple had plans, and they weren’t going to make Christmas about greed.

So at noon, actually a few minutes late, they all gathered to the front door of the store True.  They looked around for anyone, or anything, and at first, they saw an empty street.  After about ten minutes, it was starting to snow pretty well, and they were almost ready to leave.

That was when, they heard sleigh bells.  The sound came from one of those video doorbells that had become popular.  When they looked towards the door, they heard a voice, and a click.  “I promised you all a gift, and I meant it, come on in, it’s unlocked.”

Paul turned the knob, and the door opened.  They all filed in, and on the counter, was one of those tin, red Christmas mailbox decorations.  It had a little sticker, “Open, It’s Christmas.”

In it were ten greeting cards, nearly identical copies of the ones they had previously received.  The one difference, was each had been given a check for 25,000.  The ten just stood there, flabbergasted.  

Each of them recognized the name on the check. They called out to see if anyone answered, but no one did.  There was no one hiding in the store.  So one by one, they wrote a thank you note, put it in the box, and left the store.

The ten of them went out for lunch.  Heather had the precinct run the name of the person, and her suspicions were correct.  Edward Ivy was the owner of True.  He had packed up, and moved to Alaska the first of December, after selling his store for a huge profit.  

Charlie had been his mailman.  Deborah was his insurance agent.  Paul was his Pastor.  He knew he was moving, but they hadn’t talked about Edward’s store.   Like Mike, the widower dined where Edna worked.  Sam used to mow Edward’s yard when he was a teenager.  

Edward had taught a business class at the local college, where Ken and Grace had both attended.  Like Charlie did now, Edward got his hair cut at Clara’s.  Heather had once helped catch a thief once that burglarized Edward’s store before she was a detective.  They all had been strangers to each other, but not to Mr. Ivy.

They never knew what sparked the old store owner to take interest in them.  Or how he convinced the new store owners to let him play Santa on Christmas Day.  What they did know was this, he had made their lives better, asking nothing in return.   

Edward Ivy knew why.  He had wanted to give these people, who he had seen kindness and determination in, a Christmas present. He had been blessed, and wanted to bless others, especially on the day all remembered The Greatest Gift.

He did wonder one thing. Maybe one day he’d send them a card and ask?  Did any of them notice the little partridge in a pear tree, engraved on the door of that little decorative mail box? 

Oh well, Edward didn’t have too much time to think about it.  He had to get ready for a first date.  With the realtor who sold him his new place in Alaska.  He sang the first few lines, as he walked out the door,“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” 

My Son’s Gotham Christmas

When I was a boy in England, prepping for Christmas involved writing lists, and dreaming of what was under the tree. In Gotham City, things are a little different. 

Oh I buy Bruce, and the boy’s gifts, decorate the tree, and plan the Christmas festivities. Of course with Bruce, or Master Bruce, as I call him in public, Christmas events are better planned as Christmas brunches. Like Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, he tends to work nights.

This Christmas, it all started with an auction. I don’t know if you’ll ever read this Commissioner, but I’ve always suspected you figured out long ago who we all are. You’re too good a detective not to, especially since my adopted grandson is in love with your Barbara.

I suspect that one day, between Bludhaven and the watchtower, they’ll be a Grayson Gordon Wedding. Once they discover they’re biggest nemesis might be commitment, and not Deathstroke. They’ll get there, probably before my Bruce.

I had finished orchestrating a Wayne Foundation dinner, while Lucius Fox stepped in for Bruce. All I had to do was whisper “Nigma is loos”e, and Lucius understood. I said goodbye to the caterer, clicked on my Bluetooth, and checked in on Batman. “Where are you now?”

“Not a good time Alfred. Riddler has got me pinned down. I should be free in a minute, if I can just reach the blade in my belt.”

“Click the left thumb, I refilled the acid canister this morning. Riddler always likes to tie you up. He thinks it shows he’s smarter than you.”

“Thanks Alfred. Did you place the bids I asked you too? Will they be in on time?”

“Your welcome. I did. Do you have to ask? Though I think Dick would prefer the suede jacket, Barbara prefers black to cashmere.”

“That means you ordered the black already. Which Chess set did you get for Tim? I hope it was the Lithuanian one? What about the others?”

“I got both sets, you can give one to Clark’s son. Also, the lightning cuff links for Mr. Allen, the painting for Mr. Queen, and the vintage camera for Mr. Parker.  As for the others, I got them all. Bruce, have you picked up the Commissioner’s gift yet?”

“I tried, but it was sold out. I’ve been all over trying to find it. I hate to get him the same thing as last year.” The rest of the conversation was about one of your gifts, which you know about by now. A book, and a hunting rifle that belonged to Teddy Roosevelt. 

He burnt the ropes through while we were talking. Then he slipped into the river, defused Riddler’s chemical weapon before it released the water toxin. Next he climbed onto the helicopter, and deposited Riddler in Arkham.

The few nights which followed were just like it, typical Gotham events. Scarface, Freeze, and the Tweedles. December 15 was unusual, nothing happened. Bruce had a night off, and it was driving him crazy.

If the boys had been home, it would have been fine. Superman had called Nightwing in to consult on a case involving one of his old foes Luther had hired. Tim was off world fighting Brainiac with the Titans. 

Bruce made a remark that his boys were growing up. I agreed, secretly glad my boy, for all his amazing talents, still needed me to keep him company. We wrapped a few gifts, played some chess, and watched Miracle On 34 Street again. He’d never admit it, but he loves that movie.

I tried to get him to go to bed, since he could actually rest, but he couldn’t sleep. I knew it would be at least two in the morning before he would actually accept the city didn’t need him for one night. So I brewed some coffee.

Finally about 1:30, I almost suggested he pay you a visit. I figured you were up too, Gotham was too quiet. About 1:45, he passed out. I covered him with a blanket, and slept in the recliner, just in case he got a call, or a signal.

The rest of the nights were busier, and by December 24th, everything was ready. The boys were scheduled to be there Christmas Day. You had scheduled the bachelors overlapping shifts, because you knew Batman had a special mission on Christmas Eve.

He started at midnight, at the Orphanage. Stockings, toys, game systems, clothes, and coats. Next, the shelters, the neighborhoods, and the docks. He met you to exchange gifts and a cup of coffee at 2:00.  

Later I asked him if by chance, he heard sleigh bells, or saw Santa in the night. He said, “No, not unless you count the Commissioner. Minus the red outfit, and the beard, he’s the closest I got to Mr Moore’s description. He was the only one I talked to tonight that has never giving me a reason to dread.”

Next on the agenda, he headed for the Iceberg Lounge, Blackgate, and Arkham, and a man, who physically at least, more closely resembled the right jolly old elf. 

“Wack, Batman! Couldn’t you at least knock on Christmas? I gave all but fifty of them the night off.”

“Me knocking is sort of like you using a parka instead of an umbrella. It’s bad for the image. How’s your Christmas Penguin?”

“Quiet. I fed the boys, the birds, the dolphins, and the polar bear. Even read through to Ebenezer delivering the goose, all while waiting for you. I even wrapped your gift this year instead of a bag and tissue. Merry Christmas Batman.”

“Merr Christmas. Thank you for my gift, here is yours. I hate to ask, but is mine safe to open? Should I scan it first?”

“Not on Christmas. Besides Blackgate serves turkey on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grandmother was English, I prefer goose on Christmas. Open it here, if it was deadly I’d say ‘do not open til Christmas Day.’ Wack, wack.”

It was the a first edition of Audubon’s Birds Of America. In it, for a bookmark was card, the same color as a Chance Card in Monopoly. It had a picture of a death trap with an X through it. 

“It means in our next battle I won’t try to kill you. It’ll make it more interesting. Plus, if you want to return the favor with a get out of jail free card, it would always be welcome.”

Batman smiled. “Thank you for the gifts. I didn’t get you a card, but I think you’ll like each of my choices, you might say they’re birds of a feather. Merry Christmas Oswald.”

“Merry Christmas Bruce. Give my regards to Alfred. Also, share greetings with Harvey, Victor, and Edward.”

Batman didn’t wait for Cobblepot to open his gifts, it would have been too embarrassing. In addition to a rare bird statue Bruce owned, which Cobblepot once tried to steal, he had found some archival news footage from one of the local tv news stations Wayne Enterprises owns. It was decades old.

A community piece, several neighborhoods in Gotham had been filmed.Caught on camera was a young Mr and Mrs Cobblepot putting up the sign to their pet shop. She was holding little Oswald.  

I suspect it had the rare ability to make Oswald speechless. Yes, he figured out years ago who Batman is, but Batman saved his son’s life. Batman never told anyone Oswald had a son, and Penguin promised to never share the secret of Bruce’s identity with anyone. He even helps now and then, when forced too.

Everyone in Bruce’s Rogues Gallery got a special gift, as Batman did every year. Two Face got a rare Prussian two headed eagle coin. Selina, a cats eye opal necklace. Mad Hatter, a baseball cap from Joe DiMaggio.

It was the most dangerous stop that proved interesting. Joker was brought up from his cell in the second basement, to the first level basement. “Howdy Bats. Is it that time of year again? You know I don’t like gifts.”

Batman smiled, which always worried Joker. “This isn’t for you, it’s for Harley. Christmas dinner with her fella. I got you a Netflix subscription, once you get your tv privileges back in June.”

“Whatever you say Bats. At least I know I’m your last special stop. Your Arch nemesis is your final stop. Hahahaha.”

Then Batman started laughing. “You’re not even my next to the last stop Joker. Hush, Riddler, and Clayface are the last on my list.”

Joker looked, not angry, not maniacal, but hurt. Batman may not be Santa Claus, but it was Christmas. “Relax Joker, you are the only one I got this gift for you.” Joker smiled at the black wrapped box.

“Batman, Mr J actually looks happy.” Harley smiled. She was happy too.

“Well Of course. Harley, isn’t the Joker supposed to be? You know him best.”

“Supposed To Yes, but not usually. He’s sad most of the time. Especially when Mr J is bored.”

Batman watched him open his gift. A pull apart Batman stress doll. Which made both Joker and Harley laugh. Batman knew his cue, he left them laughing.

“Hello Thomas, Merry Christmas.” Hush looked at him with disdain. “Keep the mask on. I like it better when I don’t see your face. I like it better when I don’t see you at all.”

There was no present for Batman, but there was one from him. What do you get a man who dislikes both your identities?  You give him something he does care for. Thomas Elliott is a surgeon, so Batman gave him a doctor’s bag once owned by Joseph Lister. 

For Riddler, it wasn’t so much what he gave him, as how he gave it. Batman had the first few years of Riddler’s riddles published, giving Nigma the rights, and the profits. He gave it to him in the form of four riddles. Riddler laughed hysterically.

Clayface, the actor Matt Hagen, received a portrait of Edwin Booth, another famous actor. He also got something else, an early pardon. Bruce arranged it. Clayface had stopped a crime spree, to save a child’s life. 

Bruce fought hard to open the doors of Hagen’s cell, and the papers came through on Christmas Eve. Batman doesn’t talk much about his Christmas visits, he lets me eavesdrop at Christmas because I insist, on the count of the potential danger. Still, he did remark the next day, “Hagen smiled, and shook my hand.”

I always greet, my unofficial adopted son, though wholly mine in my heart, when he returns Christmas Day morning. He jumped out of the Batmobile, the flawless Caped Crusader. After he removes his mask, he is an extremely tired Bruce Wayne.

I hugged him, wished him a Happy Christmas, and handed him a hot cocoa. Just as I have every Christmas morning since he was a boy. Then I gave him his pajamas, robe, and slippers. He slept til breakfast was ready. 

Dick was in a hoodie and jeans. Tim was in sweats. We laughed, ate, I told stories, and we had a good Christmas brunch. Every year, before opening the presents, Bruce has me read the Gospel Of Luke Chapter Two. An each time, after I read it, he smiles and bows his head.  

You may not think Batman a believer, but I’ve seen him pray. I’ve seen him pray as a child, when he had a thousand questions. I’ve seen him pray as a young Father, when one of his boys were in danger. I’ve seen him pray as Batman, who everyone expects him to have all the answers, and he didn’t know what to do. Yes, Batman believes, he knows this world could not survive on its own, he’s seen man’s frailty. 

I know, I’ve prayed with him. I’ve prayed through bullet wounds, dastardly plots by crazy men, and nightmares of events long ago. To know, we can look higher than ourselves, has held us both through many a dark night.

I mentioned gifts he had me buy some presents he picked out, but Bruce doesn’t only rely on me for all of the boy’s gifts. He picks out one very special gift for each of them. Bruce gave Richard a small box, in it was a watch of Thomas Wayne’s. He told him, “Every Wayne for four generations has been given that watch on the Christmas after their twenty fifth birthday, Merry Christmas son.”

Tim was given the deed to an apartment in Paris. “Every crime fighter needs a place to get away. The city of light seemed a good choice for yours.”

Bruce’s gift to me Commissioner, brings me back to you. He said he wanted to give me something he greatly admired. He gave me Clark Kent’s first biography. Bruce had suggested the subject to Clark. It is the life of Commissioner James Gordon. That’s the book I mentioned, besides your rifle. Batman wrote the forward. 

“People call me a hero, I’m just a fighter.

Heroes are selfless, men of quiet strength, and kind.

They are men of integrity, conviction, and hope.

Heroes are men like James Gordon.”

You Commissioner are not only one of my son’s heroes, but one of mine. He may watch over Gotham, but you help me watch over him. You make it possible for him to take Christmas Eve off, to do the work he wishes he could do all year long. Thank you Commissioner, for making possible, my son’s Gotham Christmas.

Retreading Christmas

I never thought I’d find Christmas in a tire store, but then I didn’t realize I had lost it. It  was December 1, and a flat tire was the last thing I thought I needed. I was broke, and I was trying to get to a new city to start over. 

Thankfully I had stopped to spend my last two bucks on two candy bars, which would be lunch and dinner for awhile. In the same parking lot, a little further away, was the tire shop. On top of not having the money to repair it, there was a line ahead of me. 

It looked old, but clean. I debated on whether or not to stay, and probably would have left, had it not started to snow. It was warm, and there was free coffee. They said there was free WiFi, but my phone had been turned off. I was a mess inside.

“You need help sir? It looks like you’ve got a flat tire there. We have retreads, pretty cheap. I’m John Holly, I’ll be glad to put it on for you, free labor.”

I wanted to say something smart, or even sarcastic, but he seemed too nice. “I’m afraid I don’t have any money, even if the tire was two dollars I don’t have it. I’m sorry I’ll get out of your hair.”

That’s when he took his hat off. “That’s where you’re in luck, I haven’t got any hair, so you’re not in it. That means you can stay awhile. Plus, you’re car looks like the same size as one in the back somebody left here. You can have a tire off of it.”

My pride said to say no, but like I say, he was a nice man. I think it was his smile. “Thank you, I can work it off.”

John looked at the crowd, and the empty coffee carafe. “Tell you what, why don’t you make the coffee for me. I think they’re getting restless waiting. I’ll go check on the technicians.”

“Hey Bill, Mark, Pike, how’s it going? I was hoping to get everything wrapped up to let y’all off a few hours early.”  They said they were working as fast they could, and John went back to the group. I heard all this while making the coffee.

John went back to the people, and started telling them what else I heard. “The guys say they’re working as fast as they can, but the weather is making things slower. That old garage isn’t insulated. We could never afford it.”

A man I learned later was Vince Crenshaw spoke up.  “You had money to do it…” When he paused, I thought he was a jerk, until he finished. “You just used it to help fix the school gym when it flooded back in 87. We can wait Mr. Holly.”

John seemed embarrassed and grateful all at the same time.  He looked like he was hoping someone would say something. A lady did, they told me she was Vanessa Beck. 

“John Holly you take your time. If I were home, I’d have to start prepping a dinner for twent five. I’m in no hurry for all that. Just keep the coffee hot.”

John laughed. “You heard that young man. I’ll open the vending machine, there’s plenty of pastries and stuff. Wilbur can you help me pass them out?”

No, we weren’t stranded, and yes, there was a grocery store across the lot. John didn’t want them to have to go out in the cold. Then he walked over to me. “Young fella, I didn’t ask you your name.”  

“It’s Zachary Walker… No, no it’s not. It’s Emmett Walker. I was trying to be an actor, and I didn’t do so well. Now, there’s a job offer for a drama professor in Adamstown, New Jersey. I’ve got a job interview there next week, if I can get there.”

“How would you like a job here? It’s not a college, just a high school. It’s probably not as much money, but my wife works at the school. She’s the principal, and our last drama teacher took another job. She could use someone who knows their stuff.”

I was tired, I was hungry, and I was desperate. “Do you think she would hire me? I’ve got a decree. It’s just a small college in Boston, but I made decent grades.”

“She’s her own woman, but she also doesn’t relish the thoughts of another production of Richard III. Her last Richard got on stage, and plunged himself into the audience on opening night. He said he thought it would make them understand him more. Now he understands what a broken leg feels like. So does the Grandmother who broke his fall.”

I went home with him, wondering if I can handle teenage actors. My stomach and billfold were whispering I could do it. Their agenda made me doubt their sincerity. 

Karen seemed to like me. She checked on my references while John cooked supper. Afterward Karen offered me the job.

John was a good cook. “Emmett, we’ve got a spare room. Until you’re on your feet, you can use it. It’s got its own entrance, kitchenette, and bathroom. My Mom used to use it, until she moved to Florida.”

“Thank you John. I’ll pay you as soon as I can.  Dinner was great. It was the first real meal I’ve had in awhile. Thank you both. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab some sleep, before tomorrow.”

I didn’t know it then, but later John told me what they talked about. “Well John, you’ve picked up another retread haven’t you?” 

“This one’s got potential I think. He seems like a good kid. Besides, it’s my fault the last one quit. I owed you a new one.”

The next few days were quiet. I met the kids, and found out what their talents were.  They weren’t all that great, but they were all that bad either. 

There wasn’t time for a big production before Christmas, but the parents deserved something. So I tried to figure what we could do, that hadn’t been done. I wrecked my brain to try to find something.

That Friday afternoon, Mrs Beck walked in to pick up her grandson Tom. “Mr Walker, I’m going to call you Emmett. Tom told me you’ve been toying with the idea of a Christmas program. Look young man, there’s not time to beat around the bush. Here’s what’s going on, and here is what you need to do.”

In case you think she’s bossy, she wasn’t. In fact, she turned out to be very kind. John and Karen had spent their lives helping people. They had promised the local hospital to have a special Christmas performance to raise money. 

“When the drama teacher left, they had to cancel. They’ve already told the hospital, I’m on the board, but it hurt John bad. He won’t ask you, because he doesn’t think it’s fair, but it would mean a lot to them, and the hospital children too.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Why did the other drama teacher leave? What was so important that they couldn’t stay to help a hospital?”

“She got a part in a series in Hollywood. Some big break. Don’t blame her though, she was going to turn it down. They wouldn’t wait on her, production costs. Karen and John insisted she take the job, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. They’re good people, please try.”

I said I’d do my best, and was struggling with what to do. Finally I decided on an old idea, a toy store come to life. All the kids would do small pieces, Christmas poems, songs, skits, etc. All would build to the hopes and dreams of the toys on Christmas, waiting for Mr Claus to give them to a child.

We advertised on the internet, there wasn’t a lot of time to waste. We had a few setbacks. The toy soldiers got in a fight during one rehearsal. His Doll Princess had to have an emergency Gaul bladder surgery, which meant replacing her with an understudy. 

I would close it as Santa Claus, with a short monologue as Santa paused to recharge.  I practiced getting the voice just right.

“Don’t worry little toys, I’ll see that each of you get delivered to your new home. By morning, you’ll be as happy as any child on, well Christmas Day. Only you’ll be happy, not for the gifts you receive, but those you give.”

“That’s why I spend most of the year preparing for this trip. Toys are more than paint, and plastic, just as Christmas is so much more than wrapping paper and string.”

Finally when I felt I got the voice just right, we did a full dress rehearsal. Before I knew it, one of the students Mike Branagh, streamed a video of his monologue. When I turned around, I saw the phone.

Almost playfully I winked, and nodded. “Let’s save something for opening night guys.” With that Mike shut off the video, and no one there thought much of it.

Until that night, when Mike ran in. “Mr. Walker, you went viral! Your monologue is up to 100,000 views.”  

My only response was stunned silence. I had been on camera for maybe a minute and a half. The words were simple, they were only designed to wrap up the show.

I put it out of my mind again, tomorrow night was the show. It went great. All of the kids, even the ones I was worried about did incredible. The parents and guests, gave us a standing ovation.  On top of it all, and most importantly, we raised fifteen thousand dollars for the hospital! 

It was after the curtains went down that something odd happened. A lady introduced herself as Whitney Rhodes. “You put together an incredible show, even worked out Mike’s stage fright. It’s a better show than I had planned.”

“You’re show? You’re the old drama teacher? What happened to Hollywood?”

“It’s still there, and so am I. Mr Walker can I talk to you? I think I might have an opportunity for you to tread the boards on a little brighter stage.”

Ms Rhodes offered to buy me a coffee. Once all my kids were taking care of, and everything put away, we met at Van’s Coffee. She was very pretty.

“Mr. Walker, I’m in a spot. My costar got into some trouble. So much so, he’s not my costar anymore. The producers are telling me they need a replacement fast, or they may pull the plug.”

I laughed. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Ma’am, I said two, very plain paragraphs. You can’t expect me to think they want me after that?”

She sat her coffee down. “It’s not just the performance, it’s the publicity. First they ‘discovered me’, and now I go back to where it all happened, and ‘discover you’.”

I just looked at her. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All those years of working anywhere I could. Memorizing Shakespeare, doing commercials, a Little disc jockeying, anything to keep going. Now two paragraphs and a Santa suit get me a shot at a series?

She looked at me. “I admit it’s all marketing. You’re probably like me. Odd jobs, and hard work. Then you end up in a little town with nice people. They take a chance on you, give you a chance, and then everything you ever wanted happens.”

“You pack up, you say goodbye to John and Karen, thank them for making your big chance possible, and never look back.  The it all falls apart over someone else’s stupid antics, and your back to the drama department to try and salvage your career.”

I still didn’t say anything. “Think of everything you’ll have a chance to do. The roles, not having to be nice to someone else to survive. You finally get everything you’ve ever wanted.”

“Here’s my number, I’m crashing tomorrow at the hotel. I’ll need an answer tomorrow night before I fly out. It’s a great opportunity, and the Holly’s will understand. They won’t stand in your way. Think about it.”

She smiled sweetly, paid the check, and left. I didn’t move. My mind was racing. Jobs I had, nights going hungry. John and Karen, Mike Branagh, Molly Scott, and the students. They had already lost one teacher. 

“I don’t know what to do.” I didn’t realize I said it out loud. The barista looked at me. “She didn’t seem to have any doubts.”  

I looked at her. Even as dazed as I was, I remember thinking she was attractive. She was smiling, and had a concerned look on her face. “Are you ok?”

I looked at her. “I don’t know. Until about thirty minutes ago, I thought I was happy. Now I’m just confused. I’m sorry, I guess it’s about time for you to close. I’ll get out of your hair.”

“Relax, I own the place. All I have to do is turn the lock. I’m Josie Ward.” I introduced myself, but must have still seemed foggy. “Did you drive here?” 

“No ma’am, she drove me. I guess she forgot. I’ll call a cab to my car.”

“Why don’t you let me drive you back to John and Karen? Its a small town, everybody knows everybody. They can drop you off at the school in the morning.”

I thanked her, and we headed to her truck. I was quiet most of the way home. When we got there, she looked at me. “Can I ask you a question?”

I smiled. “You can ask, I’m not sure I’ll have an answer.” I was confused, but there was something else, and I had no idea what it was.

“Did you notice, she barely mentioned the kids? Shouldn’t a teacher have brought them up first? I know it’s a great opportunity for her, but it’s like that was all that mattered to her.”

Part of me wanted to defend Whitney, but I couldn’t. That was part of what was bothering me, but still, there was something else. So rather than look like a jerk, I was just smiled, and thanked her for the ride.

An hour before, I would have passed out. Now I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned all night. Finally I set straight up at three in the morning. 

I realized what was bothering me. It wasn’t just that she didn’t seem to care about the kids, though I had noticed that. Or the fact she didn’t care about how it would affect John and Karen, especially after they had been so good to us both. 

All of that mattered, but it was one final thing. For all of her opportunities, she didn’t seem happy.  Her eyes didn’t sparkle once. 

Here was an actress who, quite possibly was about to have everything she wanted, and the lady in the coffee shop was happier than she was.  Josie was also more considerate than the big time actress who left me stranded…stranded.

I remembered John and Karen. I had been stranded, until I met them. They had given, both Whitney and I, the key that opened this door. I couldn’t slam it in their face.

I didn’t care how great an opportunity it was, I wouldn’t run out on them. Also, I wanted to do something for them. Show them some small thank you, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

The first thing I did the next morning, was set John and Karen down. In case someone told them about my meeting, I wanted them to know where I stood.  As kind as they were, they tried to talk me into going, but I told them I was home, and I was happy.

“That’s what sold it for me. I’m happy, and she isn’t. I’m sure other people might enjoy the opportunity, but if the person I’m working with is miserable, and selfish, I’m guessing the people she works with, aren’t happy either.”

They didn’t say it, but I think they were relieved. Next, I went to find Josie. I told myself it was because I needed  a business person, but I wasn’t believable in the part. 

“So you want to throw together a Christmas festival to raise money to heat his garage? You know next Wednesday is Christmas right? Are you sure you’re not trying to prove to yourself that staying is the right thing to do?”

Normally that would have irritated me, but I had already asked myself the same question. For once I had the right answer. I wasn’t distracted by anything, except maybe Josie’s smile. 

“I asked myself that too, and it’s something I would do, but not this time. I explained to John, Whitney isn’t happy, I am. This isn’t about staying, it’s about saying thank you.”

“Plus, it’s not a Christmas festival. It’s another one night event, only this is a reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Or in this case, a reasonable facsimile. I had to memorize it in college, the readings kept me from starving in college a couple of years. Tickets will go to the garage heat.”

She agreed, and we went along to all the businesses in town. Josie was a good business woman. When sentiment, and emotion didn’t work, she pointed out how much quicker winter repairs would be for delivery trucks.

We got Mrs Beck, and Vince Crenshaw to talk to different people in the community.  Knowing them better than I did, they reminded everyone of the sacrifices that John and Karen had made through the years.

By Monday night, enough seats were bought to pay for the garage, and some improvements to the office itself, like better insulated windows. Josie walked back stage to tell me about the turnout.

“You look incredible ‘Charles’. Can I have your autograph?” She looked beautiful. “My Dear Lady, you honor me, though I suspect my humble signature would not mirror the respect of the original.”

She laughed. “I don’t know about that. I don’t know about the guy you’re playing, but a man who turns down fame and wealth for a small town drama department. I think you’re pretty impressive.”

“Josie, after this, could we grab dinner together? Do you think you might want to hang around an actor for awhile? We can be fun.”

Her response was, “I’m not too impressed by actors.” My heart sank, then she grinned. “I really like teachers though.” As she grinned, I kissed her.

Mr Crenshaw brought in John and Karen, who were only told about the reading. At its end, Josie and I brought them up on stage. They didn’t have a clue.

“John, Karen, I started this, to say thank you for what you did for me. Along the way, in talking to people, I learned what all you both have done for the people of this town. They decided they wanted to say thank you too.”

I handed the microphone to Josie. She had knew them all her life. Josie began a quick list of the wonderful things the Holly family had done, and the lives they had impacted. I listened until one story in particular stopped me.

“When I wanted to start my own business, I didn’t have enough money. The only thing I had was a car that my Aunt had left me, and it wasn’t great. The only thing good about it, was the tires.”

“John asked me how the fund raising was going. The next day, Karen came to me, to buy the car. I asked her why, and she gave me some answer about having a loner car for people to use when John was working on their car.”

“As far as I know, that car never moved from the time I parked it, until today. I think it looked so bad, nobody would drive it. It’s still behind his shop.” With that she hugged them, and handed me the microphone. 

I looked at John, and he winked. Then I finished up. “The tires have. John put them on my car the day I had a flat. I needed one to get buy, but had no money. He didn’t just give me a tire, he gave me a road to find my way.”

“In acting, there is something called treading the boards. When I got here, I didn’t have any tread left. John took care of that, in more ways than one.” Josie reached for my hand. 

I reached right back. Six months later, I asked her Dad for her hand. Our little boy Zack will be eight his next birthday. John and Karen are retired now, at least from their first careers. 

He’s taken up painting, and he’s pretty good at it. John even won a few competitions, and is selling his work. Karen tried a thing or two, and she settled on acting in community theater. 

I’ve directed her once and twice. Tonight she debuts as the lead in a play Josie wrote. Josie bout John’s business when he retired. She runs it, the coffee shop, and writes. 

Whitney Rhode’s series didn’t turn out, but she’s okay. After that, she rekindled a romance with her college sweetheart, they’re married too. She left Hollywood, and opened a restaurant. It’s a huge hit, and they say she’s really happy now. 

Me, I dabble with community stuff, but I’m a teacher. I love teaching, I love this town, I love these kids. They teach me stuff. Like the other day, I ran across the word retread in the dictionary. 

Did you know it also means to retrain a person for a new work.  It’s appropriate. I know that December I got more than fresh tires, I got a new lease on life, Merry Christmas!