A Few Gifts for You

 A couple of silly poems:



When there is something: a bit of nut lodged between

teeth, a cold sore on a lip, or in this case, a flap of skin 

that formed high on my gum after  a mouthful of

too-hot lasagna, my tongue is like a very curious kitten.


Once aware of its presence, Tongue Kitten goes to 

work exploring every accessible facet of the intruder. 

It is relentless. Probing, approaching from every available 

angle, working to dislodge the thing, or at least annoy it.


As the wound progresses, Tongue Kitten discovers roughness

where once the flap was.  A new exploration ensues. 

Frequently. Very frequently.  When I am speaking, it darts 

Over between words to verify the wound’s continued presence.


Often, I must wait for TK to relax to utter the next word,

which makes my offering less than compelling — attention 

spans being what they are these days — so I teeter on 

nonsensical and sound like a doddering old man — again.

A few nights ago I noticed Carol scratching her side so I asked, "Got an itch?"

Answer — "No it's a stitch."  Hence the following poem:

A stitch is a stitch

it's a pain not an itch

and scratching a stitch

Doesn’t work


If it was an itch

It could not be a stitch

So don't scratch a stitch

Like a jerk.


It’s like chopping wood

With a straw, if you could

And believing it did any good

Which it won’t.


So you know that you would

Scratch an itch when you could

But scratching a stitch ne’er you should

So please don’t.

In homage to the season, here are two Christmas tales I wrote years ago:

                                                                    Small-town Santa

Jimmy Stevens examined his freshly trimmed almost white beard in the tack room mirror.  He could hear Ezra Hyde outside talking to the two dappled-grey Percherons while he harnessed them to the old red sleigh.  Adjusting his pillowed belly, Jimmy took one last look, turning first left then right.  Satisfied, he donned his Santa cap and walked into the frigid evening. 

“Watch where yer steppin’,” Hyde warned.

Jimmy hopped over the steaming pile and surveyed the cargo area behind the ornate seat.  It bulged with two large cloth sacks, one red and one white.  “Which one’s the girls again?”

Hyde clipped the last trace to the doubletree and straightened, pressing his hands against the small of his back.  “White’un.  Dora says jes remember little girls is pure as snow.”

In front of the team, Jimmy stopped to stroke Boots and Socks on their soft noses. “Ezra, why do you harness both these fellas?  Either one of them could pull the whole stable into town.”

“Ayup, but they’s so purty t’gether, ‘n they like the kiddies.”  Hyde sorted the reins in his gnarled fingers while Jimmy climbed up and sat, gasping as his butt hit the cold seat.  Ezra snorted, “Hell, Jimmy ye’ bin at this nigh twenty year ‘n you ain’t figured t’ wear long johns?”  

“You’d think,” Jimmy answered with a shrug.  He pulled on his white gloves and accepted the reins from the old farmer.  Flicking them lightly on the two huge rumps, he released the brake and eased down the snow-packed dirt road.  He dragged the heavy blanket across his lap then urged the team into a trot.  

Counting back, he reckoned it was actually twenty-two years since he took over from his father as town Santa.  Now at sixty, he owned a tractor sales business, a bad knee from an exploding tire, and his Santa suit.  He sighed and shook his head.  

Soon, the canopied darkness of Hyde’s woodlot opened onto broad snowy meadows and uncountable stars stretching across the sky.  “Kinda pretty, isn’t it fellas?”  Socks tossed his head, which Jimmy took as a “yes.”  A quarter mile on he turned onto the narrow road through the cemetery.  

At the far end Jimmy tugged the reins, whispering, “Whoa.”  Both horses bobbed their heads and snorted.  “Quiet guys.”  His gaze drifted up to the Stevens section atop the hill before adding “It’s not time yet.”  Soon Margaret Reed’s beautiful contralto wafted up from the village with his cue - Here Comes Santa Clause.   

When other voices joined in, he flicked the reins, moving the team out at a smart trot, shiny brass harness bells jingling, down the long gentle slope of the old carriage road that opened onto the flat behind the Presbyterian Church.  Jimmy guided them around the building, grinning at the applause and squeals that built as the town square came into view.  He called out “Ho Ho Ho,” and waved. 

At the center of the decorated square, he halted and locked the brake then stepped out and slung the two bags over his shoulder.  He “Ho ho’ed” his way toward the unpadded stone bench while parents and children formed a ragged line behind Willard Evans in an ill-fitting elf costume.  Sucking in his breath he sat on the cold seat then nodded toward Willard.  The procession began.

In a bit more than an hour every child had a gift from Santa and people began leaving.  Jimmy stood by the sleigh, “Ho ho’ing” and waving until only remnants of the choir and a few volunteer firemen on cleanup detail remained.  

“Great job, Santa,” Margaret called as she handed songbooks to Pastor Ellis.  

Jimmy smiled.  “Thanks.  Guess I’d better get my reindeer home.”  He fiddled with the traces, checking each element of the harness, talking softly to the big horses while he worked.

“I thought you were leaving.”  He looked up to see Margaret standing beside Boots’ giant head, stroking the soft nose.

He grinned.  “Pre-flight check.”

 She laughed then let out a soft sigh.  “I love this night.  You know, it’s been thirty-four years!”  She nuzzled Boots with her cheek.  “I started singing here the same year I began teaching.”  She closed her eyes.  “The only year I missed was when Harvey died.”   She shook her head, her hair caressing Boots as she did, and laughed again.  “I was big as this horse with Ginger in ‘74 and I still sang.  Your Dad was Santa back then.”  

Her grey hair, longer than Jimmy remembered, lay soft against the horse’s jaw.  He nodded.  “Your hair, it’s the same color as Boots,” he said, flushing a bit.  “I kinda miss hearing you sing,” he added.  He hooked his arm under Socks’ head, resting his hand on the horse’s nose.  “About all I hear now is Here Comes Santa Clause.” 

“I still sing in church every Sunday.”  

“I don’t get there much.”  He stroked the horse’s soft muzzle, returning her smile until the silence got uncomfortable.  “Guess I’d best be going before Ezra thinks I stole his babies.”  

Margaret gave Boots one last pat, took a few steps toward the church then turned back, tilting her head.  “Want company?”

Jimmy hesitated.  “It’s pretty cold.”

“I’m prepared,” she said, opening her choir robe to reveal a snowsuit and boots.

He laughed.  “Lot’s better than I am.”  He helped her up to the seat then followed.  She spread the blanket across their laps while Jimmy released the brake.  He flicked the reins lightly, keeping the team at a gentle trot back to the carriage road.

Margaret moved closer tucking the blanket around them.  “Why do you have both horses?”

“Ezra says they’re pretty together.”

“That’s surely true, and they have great rhythm with the bells.”  She hummed a little Jingle Bells and leaned her head on his shoulder.  They climbed the hill easily and kept the pace back through the cemetery.   After a few minutes silence Jimmy thought she had dozed, but suddenly she sat up.  “May I ask you a personal question?”

He glanced at her.  “Long as I can refuse to answer.”

“Why didn’t you ever marry?”  He chuckled shaking his head.  “What?” she added.

“I wonder why women always ask that.”  He slowed the team to a walk as they entered the woodlot.  “I proposed once, remember Lucy Boris?  It was just after college.  We both worked at dad’s shop.  She turned me down.”

“Did she say why?”

“Said she needed more.”  He sighed and tugged a little on the reins, as the horses, sensing the direction home, tried to hurry things up.  “She never said more what.”

“But that was so many years ago.”  

“Thirty-seven to be exact.”  

“Didn’t anyone else come along?”

He stopped the sleigh and turned toward her.  “I guess I got involved in the shop and time just kind of slipped by.  Now I’m playing Santa for other people’s kids.”

“That’s sad.”

“Not so much.  I’ve had a pretty good life.”  He flicked the reins and the team broke into a trot.  “I’ve just been alone a lot of it.  But there’s a kind of freedom in that.”

Ezra was waiting at the stable door when they drove up.  Jimmy tossed him the reins, hopped down and reached a hand out to Margaret.

When they were clear, the farmer walked his team around the corner of the building.  

Jimmy headed into the stable.  “I’m gonna change.”  Glancing back, he said.  “You want to wait in the truck?  It warms up pretty quick.”  

She stepped up beside him.  “I’ll be okay.”  

         He stopped at the tack room door, pointing.  “My clothes are in there.”  

“I guessed that,” she smiled.  “Go ahead, I’ll wait out here.”

Jimmy changed and slung the bag containing his costume over his shoulder.  

“Santa’s gone for another year,” he said as he opened the door.  “Let’s head back to town.” At the far end of the stable, Hyde was busy removing the harness from the team.  “Until next year, Ezra,” he called.  The farmer waved.

Jimmy tossed the sack in the truck and hopped in.  He started the engine while Margaret settled in the passenger’s seat.

They were silent all the way into the village until they turned onto Vine Street.  “Are you warmed up yet?”  Margaret asked. 

“Gettin’ close.”  He stopped in front of her house.  

“I have some buttered rum makings simmering, just waiting for the rum.  Interested?”

Jimmy nodded, “That might just do it.” He opened his door and stepped into the snow.  He helped Margaret over the snowbank the plows had built, caught her when she slipped, and kept his arm around her waist while they negotiated the snow-dusted front steps.

Inside, she hung the choir robe on an empty wall peg.  Nodding toward the dark hall, she said, “Take off your coat and wait in the kitchen.”  Jimmy shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the next peg.  Margaret kicked out of her boots.  “I’ll be right down.”  She padded up stairs in her red wool socks and snowsuit.  He kicked off his own boots then followed the scent of the buttery brew to the kitchen.  Flicking the light switch, he scanned the kitchen, gave the simmering brew a quick stir then sat at the small white table.  

He folded his arms, left over right, right over left a couple of times then straightened his legs, crossing them at the ankles.  Ten minutes or so later, as Jimmy was flexing his bad knee, the door to the back stairs opened and Margaret appeared in an ankle-length wool skirt that matched his checked flannel shirt, a red sweater, and red socks.  

At the foot of the stairs, she opened a cabinet and drew out a bottle of dark rum.  “Do you like your drinks weak or strong?”

         “Middlin’ to strong, I guess.”  

Pulling two dark blue mugs from pegs above the white sink, she poured generous dollops of rum then opened the lid on the cast-iron pot and ladled each full.  “We’ll forego the whipped cream.”  She sprinkled nutmeg on top then handed Jimmy one and sat facing him.  “Merry Christmas.”  They tapped mugs.  Jimmy sipped the steaming brew feeling the warmth slide down his throat.   

They warmed their hands on the drinks and laughed at how silly Willard looked stuffed into Mary’s homemade elf costume. 

“What a perfect snow that was,” Margaret said, “drifting down in huge fluffy flakes.” She chuckled, shaking her head.  “Did you see Jake and Nora’s boy trying to catch one on his tongue?”

Jimmy nodded.  “I think he did, too.” He took another swallow.

Margaret finished her drink.  “Jimmy?”

He drained his.  “This another personal question?” 

She rose to replenish their drinks.  “Who’ll be Santa when you’re gone?”

 He grew pensive.  “One of other firemen, I guess.”  

“I didn’t mean to imply …”  

“No, it’s a reasonable question.  I’ll be at it a while longer, I hope.”

 “Me, too,” she said.  Returning with the steaming concoctions, she put his in front of him.  “Want me to sing for you?”  


A Christmas Story


Ozzie climbed out of the dumpster.  Stuffing two torn checkered tablecloths into the lining of his old overcoat, he ambled down the alley behind McGinty’s.  He was reaching into the nearest trash barrel when McGinty’s alley door swung open.  Ozzie shrunk into the shadows as someone struggled through with another barrel.  The man looked up and smiled.  “Hey Oz! How’s it hangin’?”

Stepping out of the darkness, Ozzie flashed a gap-toothed grin.  “Shriveled, Gonzales.  Too fuckin’ cold.  Me ‘n Mae shoulda headed south.”

“Gotcha man.”  Hector Gonzales set the barrel next to the one Ozzie had been about to explore then wiped his hands on his soiled apron.  He faced Ozzie.  “Hey man, I got somethin’ for ya’.  Hang on.”  When the young Mexican stepped inside, Ozzie hurried over to the new trash and pawed through it.  He found a soggy, half-eaten loaf of Irish bread and stuffed it his pocket just as the door reopened.  Gonzales glanced at the disturbed kitchen waste.  “You don’t hafta do that, amigo.  Here, I snuck some goodies for you ‘n Mae.”  He handed Ozzie a bag containing a couple of smaller bags and a re-corked bottle of red wine.  “Felice Navidad, amigo.”

Ozzie nodded and shuffled down the alley toward the street.  He entered the next alley, squatted against the cold brick wall and opened the wine.  Reflections from the amber streetlight danced on the green bottle as he emptied it in several large gulps.  He tossed the empty into the darkness, startling a scavenging cat that yelped and hissed before scooting away.  Opening the large sack, he pulled out one of the smaller bags.  He reached in, scooping handfuls of corned beef hash into his mouth.  When it was empty, he tossed it deeper into the alley then tore open the other one.  The still warm bread inside was a little dry going down, making him wish he still had some of the wine.  While he chewed, his free hand explored the empty care package then tossed it away.  

As he struggled to his feet, he spotted a candy cane still wrapped in plastic, next to the dumpster.  Shoving it in his pocket, he hurried two more blocks to a boarded-up building, looked in all directions then slipped down the alley to a side door and pried it open.  He heard Mae coughing as he slipped through.  “Ozzie?”

“Yeah.” Pulling the door shut, he made his way to their nest of newspapers and old coats.  He pulled the two tablecloths out and spread them over Mae then sat beside her and fished the soggy bread from his pocket.  She ate between coughing bouts then moved closer, leaning against his shoulder. 

 “I got somethin’ else,” he said and pulled out the candy cane.  He tore off the wrapping and broke it just below the crook.  “Which piece you want?”

“The curve.”  She grinned and hung it in her mouth.

“Merry Christmas,” he said and wrapped his coat around them both.


Until Next year,