Gateway to the stars
Door to continuous learning
Within easy reach
Requires some effort
Gateway to the stars
Door to continuous learning
Within easy reach
Requires some effort
Gwyneth loved living at Euclid Retirement Home. It was clean, comfortable and she was well cared for. The staff was kind and helpful. Her room wasn’t large, but she didn’t have to share it with anyone, unlike friends she knew who lived in other, not quite so nice places.
Her favorite thing about Euclid, though, was how pleasant everyone was. There were no grumpy people among the staff or the residents. Everyone walked around with smiles on their faces. Even those whose communication skills were limited smiled all the time. It was as if Gwyneth had fallen down the rabbit hole and landed in the land of happy.
Before she moved in, she was sad and lonely. Her children lived in other states, far away, and seldom came to see her. Her friends had moved on, either through death or a lack of independence, so she had no one to pal around with.
Her days were the same: get up, eat, eat some more, read, watch television, go to bed. Sometimes she went to the movies, but it wasn’t the same as when she would go with her husband or friends. Who do you discuss the movie with when no one was there?
Sometimes she’d treat herself to a meal out, but then she was a sad, lonely old woman sitting in a booth by herself. She’d bring a book and read in order to have something to do, but it wasn’t the same as sharing conversation over a good meal.
Her life was one big lonely day after another.
Until she heard about Euclid. A friend discovered it first and moved in when an opening appeared. Nancy loved the place and spoke highly of the wonderful staff. Nancy bragged about how much better she felt shortly after moving in, that she no longer looked forward to death, and in fact, enjoyed every single day.
She invited Gwyneth over for lunch one day so Gwyneth could see for herself how happy everyone was. And she was right. The residents sat around the large dining room table with smiles creasing their eyes. The staff sang and danced as they delivered the food, and sang some more as they cleaned up afterward.
The atmosphere was so low-keyed that Gwyneth was surprised that anything got done, but the residents were clean, their clothes were spotless, and her friend Nancy’s room was dust free. The furniture in the common room was a bit dilapidated, but still comfortable. The walls and floors were clean, and when Gwyneth had her tour of the facilities, she was pleased with how sparkling clean the kitchen and bathrooms were.
It was so perfect that Gwyneth inquired as to whether or not there was an opening. There wasn’t, of course, but there also was no one on the waiting list. Gwyneth completed the necessary paperwork and that was it. All she had to do was wait until someone either died or moved out.
Meanwhile she sorted through the stuff in her home. She went through closets, drawers and cabinets. She got rid of clothes she hadn’t worn in years, blankets that had sat in cabinets waiting for company to need them, and excess silverware that she wouldn’t need. Placemats and matching napkins…gone. Tablecloths, even fancy ones, stuffed into giveaway bags.
Even the piles of cookbooks disappeared. Anything she wouldn’t be able to take with her to Euclid left the house. She kept enough furniture to live with, enough pots and pans to cook basic meals, and the clothes she wore every day. Well, a few good dresses, but that was it.
Her son helped her find a realtor and arranged for an appraisal of the house. Once she knew fair market value, she put it up for sale, thinking that if all worked out, an opening at Euclid would magically appear when she had no place to live.
And it did. No sooner had a buyer made a reasonable offer for her house, not just meeting the sales price, but adding an additional $75,000 as enticement, than a room became available. Gwyneth would move in her new place just as the buyers were taking over her house.
Even though she wasn’t sure she’d like living in a home, Gwyneth’s mood improved after the first meal. She felt calmer, more relaxed and happier than she could ever remember feeling, even when her husband was alive and her kids still lived at home. That night she slept well, with no nightmares chasing her thoughts.
She enjoyed being with those residents that were able to converse. Every night they had pleasant discussions about the current political mess in Washington or movies or happenings in the news. After dinner they competed against each other to get the answers on Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Sometimes they played card games, which were rollicking bits of pure unadulterated fun.
Gwyneth knew she had made the right decision because every day was the same. Happy people, happy staff.
The only complaint that she had was that one resident, Lawrence, a grizzled old man of about eighty, seemed to have an unusual amount of company. Day in and day out people came to the door. Lawrence would take them to his room, and within a few minutes the visitors would be gone.
The staff seemed to like Lawrence more than the other residents, which was also bothersome. They also visited the man’s room quite frequently throughout the day, then would bustle into the kitchen. Amid the sounds of cooking would be giggles and loud guffaws.
One day the police walked through the door, dressed in what Gwyneth thought of as combat gear. That caused quite a stir. The residents were abuzz as the police searched the kitchen, opening every cabinet and drawer. They went through the massive china cabinet that stood in the dining room. They opened the envelopes that contained residents’ prescription medications and examined the contents of every bottle.
The cops went down the hall while the residents were sequestered in the front room. Another hour went by, while everyone speculated about the purpose of the visit, what they might be searching for.
Eventually the cops conferred with the manager who had been called to the home. Shortly after that, Lawrence was taken out in handcuffs and all the police officers left.
There was great speculation as to why he was arrested. Someone thought he was running a secret gambling operation on the computer in his room. Another guessed that he was a pedophile who was collecting images of children.
But no one would ever have guessed the real reason for his arrest if the manager hadn’t sat down with everyone and explained what had happened.
Lawrence had been buying and selling marijuana over the Internet. The police found over $20,000 worth of the drug in his room along with a stash of money, hidden between his mattress and box springs. He was being accused of selling drugs to the staff, to residents and to those non-residents who dropped by to visit him.
Gwyneth had wondered why anyone as popular as Lawrence would live in a home. After all, he seemed to have a goodly number of family and friends that came by, day after day. Well, now she knew that they weren’t family, but customers.
The next day there was an account of the arrest in the local paper. The police suspected Lawrence after seeing him approach a red sedan at the corner of Thornton and Fremont Boulevard, a sedan that was under surveillance for possible drug dealing. They followed Lawrence home and staked out the house for several days. After witnessing the number of strangers who came and went, they sought a court order.
And that’s how they caught him.
Everyone at the home was dismayed. Lawrence was a happy man and a good conversationalist. The staff members that were arrested were also good people. One was a mother of several small children and another was a cook who babysat her grandkids on weekends.
It was a shame. Lawrence’s arrest brought a great sadness to the home. No longer were the residents happy. Long gone were the pleasant conversations. No more did they compete over the game show for answers.
And the replacement staff wasn’t nearly as happy, either. Many of them were downright grouchy and seemed to resent working with a bunch of old folks. Slowly the house fell apart. Things weren’t as clean as before. There was grime in the bathroom and dust built up in the corners. The carpets were seldom vacuumed and the quality of the food disintegrated.
Gwyneth and Nancy organized the residents in the writing of a letter of protest, begging that Lawrence be allowed to return once he had served his time. They saw him not as a drug-dealer, but as the catalyst of all things good about Euclid.
Months later, when Lawrence was released from jail, he returned, but without a computer and without his car. He was restricted to the home and no longer did countless visitors walk through the doors.
But the mood slowly changed. It began with the staff. All of a sudden they were happy to be there. They changed sheets and diapers with smiles and laughs. There was giggling from the kitchen and guffaws as meals were served.
And then the residents began to smile again. And talk again. And compete over game show answers.
And Gwyneth was happy to be alive.
Majestic mountains with snow-capped peaks
touch a baby-blue sky dotted with puffy clouds
like fingers brushing God’s eyes, cleansing air.
White dusted pines march up and down slopes
erect as soldiers, as still as statues bearing arms,
free from smoky campfires and slow-moving cars.
Half-frozen lakes rimmed with white ice,
idle now from summer’s pleasures,
enjoying peaceful rest and rehabilitation.
Winter-tolerant birds call quietly, snug in nests
hidden in tall trees, protected from wind’s chill blasts.
Fragile-boned winter-thinned deer huddle under low branches
ever watchful, ever dreaming of green fields and sunny days.
Bright white hares frozen in place, noses twitching, on alert.
Silence broken by crunching footsteps marking time,
clapping gloved hands, and occasional muffled words.
Breath steams, creating human-bred clouds that rise
to greet the day, the mountains, life-giving air,
giving substance to dreams that otherwise vaporize
into nothingness, dispelling fears and chasing away
omens of ills that might come to the unwary.
Blessed mountains with snow-capped peaks
reminders of the glory, the majesty, the grandeur
of the world entrusted to our hands to keep, to protect,
to save for generations and generations to come.
I was quite small when I first learned of the New Year’s tradition of making resolutions, or setting goals for oneself for the upcoming year. The idea intrigued me. Just think, by choosing the right goals, and sticking to them, in one year I could be a better person!
While memory fails me, most likely my early resolutions had to do with keeping my mouth shut and staying out of trouble. I was not a bad kid, but I had a tendency to speak up and defend myself when falsely accused, and in my mind, I was frequently targeted by siblings and parents for things I had not done.
Unfortunately my determination to improve was weak and so my goals seldom survived more than a few hours.
I remember one particularly rocky period in my life when I was fourteen. I shared a room with my younger sister, who was a bit of a slob. I got angry when my parents informed me that it was my responsibility to keep her side of the room clean. I spouted off and got punished. When New Year’s rolled around, I was still smoldering, so I promised myself that I would sit in my room and keep quiet.
It didn’t work because instead of calming me down, my insides churned with barely suppressed rage. I told myself, over and over, to keep my mouth shut, but the words inflamed my feelings of being unjustly singled out to the point that when next lectured, I exploded and suffered the consequences.
I tried setting other goals for myself over the years. For example, to lose weight. This was during my late teen years and I was tired of being the fattest girl on campus. I chose carefully what I ate, walked as much as possible, but stayed the same. I quickly gave up, considering myself a failure yet again.
I learned, after repeated failure, that I was incapable of sticking to a resolution and so gave up setting any goals for myself. It was a self-fulling prophecy which I allowed to dictate my life for decades.
To this day I do not choose resolutions, even though there are many that would be good for me to master. I accept the fact that I am weak-willed, so rather than dooming myself to repeated failure, I avoid the tradition altogether.
Resolutions are just not for me.
Stan Ellis stuffed the last of his purchases into his camper shell. Smiling proudly, he strode to the driver’s door, unlocked it, and climbed behind the wheel. The engine started immediately, and so after giving it an extra shot of gas, Stan threw the truck into reverse.
Careful not to hit anyone, he backed out of his spot. He cranked up the volume on his favorite country station just in time to hear a Christmas tune by George Strait. Smiling, Stan sang along, tapping his hands on the wheel to the rollicking beat.
On Main Street he merged into the slow-moving traffic. It seemed as if the whole town was out shopping. With just three days before Christmas, it came as no surprise. Stan didn’t care how long it took to get through town, as he was full of the holiday spirit. He was going to give his grandpa a special Christmas surprise.
It had been many years since they had decorated the house. His grandmother loved to hang lights, put ornaments on the tree, and bake cookies that filled the house with the sweet smell of vanilla. Christmas music soared throughout the house, his grandma’s golden voice blending with the singers on her favorite records.
Every meal was special, with at least one holiday favorite on the table: stuffing with raisins, carrots covered with a glaze, ham and pineapple, sweet potatoes drowning in a marshmallow topping.
After her death, Grandpa refused to celebrate. No decorations were permitted, no music, no special foods. It was hard on Stan, for he loved Christmas. He missed the gaily-decorated packages, the tinsel on the tree, and the joyous feeling that permeated life day and night. Among his friends, he was the only one who did not celebrate the holidays. Sometimes one of them invited him over during winter break, and Stan would drop in for a brief visit, but each time his soul sank like a rock in water.
Determined to bring cheer into their lives, Stan had driven into town. The ads shouted deep discounts on everything needed to brighten a home. He never knew there were so many kinds of lights, nor variety of ornaments. He was surprised that garland came in the form of plastic candy canes, neon M & M’s and strings of imitation popcorn. Looking for the sales, Stan chose the best items.
Home Depot had a few trees left, so Stan bought one of them as well. It wasn’t as much fun as climbing the hills on the ranch and cutting down a live tree, but he made the most of the experience. He remembered that Grandpa loved Noble firs, elegant with their evenly spaced branches, so that’s what he got.
Once home, Stan took the tree to the barn, got down a saw and cut off a good chunk of the trunk. He removed the lowest branches to prevent them from dragging on the hard wood floor. The trunk fit perfectly into the new, sturdy stand. With pride he carried the tree into the house.
His grandmother placed the tree in the front window so that the lights could be seen shining on the darkest of nights. To her, they were a beacon, calling her family home. Wanting to recreate the last Christmas he recalled, Stan would have to move a lamp and table that sat in the designated spot. He carried them upstairs, into an unused bedroom, and then returned to move the tree into place.
Keeping an eye on the time, for his grandfather was expected back before dinner, Stan carried in his bags of decorations. He opened boxes of lights and strung them on the tree, around the windows, and over the mantle. He hung ornaments, strategically placing them so as to balance color and design. Garland went on last, a sparkling silver stole gracing the tree.
One box left. Stan opened the lid and pulled out a figurine. He gently unwrapped the Virgin Mary. Next Joseph and the Baby Jesus, followed by Wise men, a shepherd, two sheep, a donkey, and a cow. Lastly the crèche, a wooden structure with hay glued to the roof.
Stan staged the scene on the credenza in the front room. He kept out Baby Jesus, just as his grandmother did when he was young.
Brushing off his hands, he admired his work. Bursts of color filled the room, and the smell of pine tree tingled his nose. The crèche filled his eyes with unexpected tears. For some reason, Stan felt compelled to fall to his knees.
He gave thanks for his grandfather who loved him, his girlfriend, his teachers, and his life. Stan crossed himself, as taught, then stood in time to hear his grandfather’s truck rumble up the road.
He went outside to help carry in the groceries that would be in the back.
“How did it go, Grandpa? Were you the high bidder on the stallion?”
“Naw. Josiah Turner beat me by fifty bucks. I did get a pretty filly, though. She’ll produce beautiful colts when mated with Silk.”
Both men grabbed handfuls of bags. Walking side by side they strode up the wide steps and onto the porch.
“What the heck have you done, boy?”
Stan fought hard to hold back a grin. “I thought it was time that we got back to celebrating Christmas.”
“Take it down! Take it all down!” Grandpa dropped his bags and literally ran down the steps, across the yard, and into the barn.
Disappointed, Stan carried put the groceries away. He turned on the radio, and after finding a station that played Christmas music, prepared dinner. He peeled, sliced and fried potatoes, browned a couple of pork chops, opened a jar of applesauce and placed it on the table, all the while singing along to joyous tunes. When everything was ready, Stan opened the back door and rang the bell, the call to dinner. He stared at the barn, hoping to see his grandfather emerge.
When the door did not open, Stan sat at the table. He said grace and then dished out his meal. He ate alone, the only other voice that of the radio commentator. When finished, he cleaned up. Leftovers went into the fridge, pots and pans scrubbed, rinsed, and dried.
Heartbroken, Stan stepped into the front room to enjoy the bright lights by himself. He walked over to the tree and fingered the needles. He loved the firm, rubbery feel.
“Watcha doing, boy?”
Stan’s heart flew into this throat. Turning, he saw his grandfather’s figure seated in a recliner on the far side of the room, half-hidden in darkness. “I…I was just checking to see if it needed more water.”
“Have a seat. We need to talk.”
Stan sat on the floor at his grandfather’s feet. This is where he always sat when there was a story to be told.
“Do you know why I was angry?”
“I think so. You miss Grandma. So do I. I miss her terribly. But we have to live, Grandpa. She wouldn’t like us to live in sadness.”
“You should have asked me first, Stan. That’s why I was angry.”
“You wouldn’t have let me go shopping.”
“You’re right about that. That’s not what made me angry, though. It’s the shock of seeing all this.” His hand swept around the room, indicating the tree, crèche, and lights. “Your grandmother was a very religious person. She loved Christmas, as it made her feel close to God. She worked hard to bring His love into our lives. Nightingale was my Christmas gift, the best one I ever got. There is no way that Christmas will ever be the same without her.”
“I know that, but I miss the lights. Can’t we enjoy Christmas like everyone else does?” Stan’s tear-filled eyes reflected the disappointment that was dragging him down.
“I don’t know, boy. I just don’t know. Looking at all this makes me miss her all the more. Can you understand that?”
Stan’s chin hit his chest and sobs shook his shoulders. His large, calloused hands covered his face. “I’m sorry, Grandpa. I’ll take it all down,” he said as he wiped the tears away with the tail of his gray flannel shirt.
“No. Let it be,” his grandpa said as he strode into the kitchen.
Stan moved into the newly vacated chair. He looked at the tree with its lights, ornaments, and garland. Nothing seemed as beautiful as it had earlier. In fact, it all seemed garish, even the cheap wood crèche with its plaster figurines. What was I thinking?
While Christmas tunes continued to float through the house, they didn’t seem so gay anymore. The words spoke of gifts, Santa, snowmen, and kissing under the mistletoe. There was little mention of the Christ child or of God’s love for His people. Christ is missing. That’s what’s wrong. That’s why Grandpa’s upset.
Stan stood, walked over to the tree, and pulled the plug. He turned off the stereo. An eerie stillness came over the house. I’ll take it down in the morning, Stan told himself as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom.
Sleep did not come easy. Most of the night Stan’s eyes stared at the darkened ceiling. Memories of his grandmother came unbidden. Even the smiling faces of his parents, dead for many years now, floated in a mist-like cloud above his bed.
When dawn turned the sky a dusty gray, Stan arose and dressed. He walked to the head of the stairs and stopped. What the heck? Stan’s eyes opened dinner-plate wide, for before him was an amazing sight.
Teddy bears covered every flat surface. Tinsel dangled from ropes of garland that stretched from one side of the room to the other. A toddler-sized Santa and sleigh sat near the door, and a Rudolph with blinking nose stood guard. Stan’s crèche was gone, and in its place sat a hand-carved Nativity scene, created by his grandfather, long ago, as a gift for his grandmother. On one wall hung a tree-filled picture frame that his grandmother had filled with old jewelry that she had gathered from relatives.
Dazed, Stan slowly went down the stairs. His store-bought ornaments were gone. In their place hung homemade ones. He fingered lace snowflakes, felt stockings, cloth-covered Styrofoam balls, reindeer made from clothespins. Everything was beautiful. Everything was just as he remembered.
Even though he knew his grandfather was in the room, Stan did not turn to face him, for embarrassing tears poured down his face. “It’s wonderful, Grandpa. Why did you do this?”
“To make you happy, boy. While I ate my dinner last night, all I thought of was that unhappy face of yours.”
“Thanks, Grandpa. This means a lot to me,” Stan said as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Next time you get an idea to surprise me, will you talk to me first?”
“Yes. I promise,” he said. Stan stood behind his grandfather and draped his right arm over his shoulders.
“I used to love Christmas, too,” his grandfather said. “Nightingale filled the days with so much love that her happiness filled me as well. When she died, I thought I would never feel that way again. I swore that no Christmas decorations would ever come in this house again, to protect and honor her memory. It wasn’t fair to you, Stan.”
Stan patted the muscle-bound shoulders of his grandfather.
“When I saw the tree, my heart broke into a thousand pieces. The only thought that came to mind was to run away and hide. Then I snuck inside while you ate. Looking at the tree reminded me of Nightingale. After you went to bed I did some thinking. That’s when it came to me. I’ve been wrong all these years. I wasn’t honoring your grandmother’s memory at all. She would have wanted us to continue her traditions. So I went out to the barn and got out her things. It’s funny, but as I unpacked the old decorations, I felt as if Nightingale was helping me. I swear I even heard her singing.”
Stan planted a kiss on his grandfather’s rough cheek. “That’s the way I felt. It was as if Grandma was with me at the store, helping me decide what to buy. All I wanted was to bring Christmas back into the house. I’ve missed it, Grandpa.”
“So have I, boy. So have I.”
Stan sat in the chair that used to be his grandmother’s and watched, with his grandfather, as the rising sun filled the sky with a golden color. There was no more need for words.
By the time Stan Ellis was finished mucking out the stalls, his seventeen-year-old body was exhausted. After a full day at school followed by band practice, it was a lot of work. He made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pulled out his homework, and began studying for a Physics test the next day.
Just as he finished reviewing the final chapter, Grandpa Ellis, a seventy-year old rancher, came in the kitchen. He still smelled of the outside, despite the shower he had obviously just taken.
“We’re having spaghetti tonight. Is that okay?” he asked as he pulled a pot and lid out of the cabinet.
“Sounds great,” Stan said. “Can we have a salad too?”
“If you make it.”
Stan opened the refrigerator and pulled out lettuce, radishes, and cheese. He got a tomato off the counter and bacon bits from the pantry. “So, Grandpa, are you going to give me the money or not?”
“Can you explain it to me again?” Grandpa dumped a handful of spaghetti noodles into a pan of boiling water, and then wiped his hands on his jeans.
“I’ve got to turn the money in tomorrow,” said Stan, “or I can’t go to Disneyland.”
“Why’re you going there?”
“I told you three months ago,” Stan said as he finished assembling the salad and flopped into a hand-hewn kitchen chair. “I’ve asked over and over, but you haven’t given me a dime.”
Grandpa Ellis stirred the noodles with a wooden spoon. “Well. Let’s see. What extra jobs have you done around the ranch to earn the money?”
Stan sighed and ran his hands over his lanky brown hair. “I dug the weeds out of the pony pens and I trimmed the bushes along the drive.”
“That’s your job,” Grandpa said.
“According to that line of reasoning, then anything I do around here is my job,” Stan said. “Look, Grandpa, I really want to go. I’ve got to pay the full amount tomorrow or I’m out.”
Grandpa slipped a loaf of French bread out of its wrapper and laid it on the cutting board. He picked up a knife and sliced off four hefty pieces. “Explain again the reason behind the trip.”
“The band’s marching in the Main Street Parade and performing on the stage in Tomorrowland.” Stan leaned his chin on his hands and looked at his grandfather with sparkling eyes. “I want to go.”
After popping open a jar of sauce and pouring it into a pan, his grandfather sat down. “How much are we talking about?”
“We’re flying, so that’s about $300. No hotel costs because we’re going to sleep in a gym at a local school. They’re feeding us breakfast and dinner. Admission to the park is about $100. The only other cost is for my lunch.”
“So about $500?”
Stan shrugged. “Yeah.”
“I don’t have that kind of money.” Grandpa walked over to the stove, poured a little oil into the water with the noodles and stirred the sauce.
“You sold a foal last week to Mr. Newton for over a thousand dollars.”
“I paid bills with that money. We still owe Smith’s Hay and Feed over two thousand and Bill’s been asking for his money since he fixed the truck last week.”
“But, Grandpa, everyone else is going. It’ll look funny if I don’t go,” Stan whined as he flopped his head down on his crossed arms.
“Set the table. We’ll be eating in about five minutes.”
Stan stood, shuffled to the cabinet, and with seemingly superhuman effort got down two plates and glasses. With an audible sigh, Stan set them on the placemats.
“Quit making a big show.” Grandpa Ellis strained off the water from the noodles and then dropped in a slice of butter. He tossed the noodles, poured in the sauce, and carried the pan over to the table. “Sit down and let’s talk.”
Stan scooped a mound of spaghetti onto his plate and sprinkled on a heavy layer of Parmesan cheese. “It’s during Spring Break so I won’t miss any school. You filled out the permission form and I turned it in. Mr. Hayfield’s already paid for my plane ticket. I can’t back out now.”
“I can’t recall filling out any form.”
“Well, you did.”
“What was I doing when you handed it to me?”
“Washing dishes. You told me to put the form on the table, so I did. When you finished, you filled it out and handed it to me.”
“You tricked me or I’d never have signed. You can’t go, Stan. I’m sorry.”
Without finishing his meal, Stan got up from the table and ran to his room. The slamming of the door shook the whole house.
After wiping off his mouth Grandpa cleaned up the kitchen and then went into the front room. He unlocked the small safe in his desk and pulled out a wad of money. Slowly he counted the bills. When finished, he locked the safe, closed the door and went upstairs.
“Can I come in?” he said after knocking on his grandson’s door.
Grandpa extended his right hand. “Here’s the money.”
“Really?” Stan’s face glowed with surprise.
“Yeah. I was hoping that you’d changed your mind and didn’t want to go all the way to California. Just in case, though, I put the money aside. I’m going to sell Misty to Steve Carlson this weekend. I’ll use that money to pay off bills.”
“Thanks, Grandpa! You’re the best!” Stan, even though he was a little too old for hugs, jumped up off his bed and wrapped his arms around his grandfather.