A Coal Car Christmas

Johnny bought it at Mr Hanks store. His Momma couldn’t figure out why he had saved his money for two months, to buy another train. Still it was his money, and she didn’t say a word, soon she was so glad she hadn’t.

“Mom this is the exact one Grandpa talked about. Can you help me paint it blue? It’ll be perfect.” She had to ask, “Perfect for what lil bear?“ 

“Grandpa used to work on a train years ago. He’s told me all kinds of stories. It was an old one, the kind that still used coal. He said it was that royal blue color Dad has in the garage. They called it Mountain Climber, because of the route, and the steep climbs.”

Martha almost teared up then and there. Her baby wasn’t buying another toy, he was making a gift for her Dad. She knew all about that train. Dad has told her all those same stories when she was lil bear’s age.

Dad had been just a young boy , about the same age himself, when he helped his Dad. Her Grandpa had given him and Uncle Justin the job of feeding the furnace. She was so caught up in her thoughts Johnny had to ask his last question twice.

“Mom, where are we going to get coal for the coal car? It has to be real coal. It just has too.” As he giggled too himself.

“We’ll see if we can find some. Worst case I can coat warm marshmallows in chocolate cookies crumbles to make coal. It’ll look good, and be tasty too.”

She knew it wasn’t good enough for her lil bear, and his mumbling, “It’s not the same…”, confirmed it. Still, for all the talk of it at Christmas, she had no idea where to find coal in this day and age.

Jason came to the rescue. “You can order real coal online. People get it for practical jokes, fake gifts to hide the real gift underneath, or nostalgia. It’ll be fine.”

She didn’t seem convinced. Jason sold it very well, but he also paid to rush delivery, just in case.  It got there on time, but everyone was nervous until lil bear placed it in the freshly painted coal car.  He had even converted three of his Daddy’s old action figures, two different sizes of course, to reflect Great Grandpa, Grandpa, and Great Uncle Justin.

When Christmas arrived, lil bear started talking about opening gifts, before even breakfast. Finally, about lunch time, when he couldn’t wait a second longer, they agreed. Only Grandpa was surprised when the first package wasn’t for Johnny, but Grandpa Kurt.

“Here Grandpa, it’s time to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. Whether you get a gift, or a lump of coal!”  The only lumps were the ones in everyone’s throat when they saw the look on Grandpa’s face as he opened the present.

He hadn’t played with toy trains in years, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of it. So much so he had to brush away the tears off the paint at least twice.  Grandpa and Johnny played with it all the rest of the day, and for days to come. 

As Grandpa put it. “It was a Coal Car Christmas. Only this time, coal had made the nice list.”

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.