Howitzers and Cannon at Ft. Ticonderoga
Fort Ticonderoga and Veteran's Day 2019
Bob and I had a most wonderful time on our trip to New York and the Maine Coast. We had no real agenda other than visiting his daughter in Manhattan, seeing a few New York sites, including the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream in Vermont and, of course, the Whistlepig Distillery and Fort Ticonderoga.
My parents were museum people and Dad was especially interested in our American History. Growing up in Ohio, all school children were well studied in the Revolutionary War, French and Indian War and Civil War History. I recall many visits to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the Changing of the Guard. The Civil war Battle Fields. Listening to the stories from both the Union and Confederate Soldiers and Civilians.
My age group (neither baby-boomer nor part of the "Great Transition", as my friend, Steve Spurgin, calls that second gap) were most exposed to the Vietnam War. My brother went to Vietnam the year I started Kindergarten. When he came home on leave that year I took him to Show and Tell in his dress blues. Teachers led their classes in daily prayer for our soldiers and our country. We were given time in class to grieve with our friends who lost family in Vietnam. We wept many tears together. Some days, when there were multiple losses in our school not much else was accomplished. We wrote to soldiers as a class so they would get mail, a full packet of mail. When a soldier wrote back we were so excited and thrilled. We made cookies at home and sent them to family over seas. We were all in the war together.
When I saw that Fort Ticonderoga was on the way for this no agenda trip, I had to see it. As a child and young adult I had read so many stories and documents about the Revolutionary War, but I was not prepared for the emotional reaction I experienced on approaching the Fort. Stopping to read the brass plates of names on the outside wall, the tears welled up. Maybe some of it was the cold wind and my not wanting to be so effected that the tears came. But, I was effected. Watching the Living History Docents in their struggle to light a fire to prepare lunch and squint eyed efforts to clean a flintlock rifle by window light on a cloudy day. What today are simple tasks we accomplish without much thought or energy, in the days of Fort Ticonderoga were necessary for survival and took much work and planning. I hope your children are made aware of what their ancestors did for them so they can have this life they now lead. That your children and grandchildren are humble and thankful for what they have because they are taught what life was like in the beginnings of Our America, and why we are here in the first place.
I hope you take the time to reflect on our Great History, our Great America and the soldiers and the civilians who have made it possible to have the life we enjoy. I hope when you see a Military person you are grateful in your entirety for who they are and what they do for you daily, minute to minute.
Some years ago I was sent a poem and asked to set it to music. Bury Me With Soldiers, I was told, was anonymous. A tune came to mind immediately and I set about locating the author, and found Father Charlie Fink, in New York. I asked permission and he said yes. If you would like to hear this song, I will be performing it at the Sunday Brunch this week at Monterey Court in Tucson. The words and music are now protected by ASCAP for Charlie and me, so please ask permission if you want to use it other than live performance.
September 5th, 2019
My friends, Matt and Kelly, had offered me the use of their cabin on Mt. Lemmon several times over the last couple of years. I was always going to make a time to go up, but, there was so much going on and I let too many other things get in the way and it did not happen. So, when Bob's birthday was just around the corner, and we were both pretty tired from our respective road trips here and yon, we decided it was the perfect place to go.
We arrived on Saturday to a lovely cabin, immaculately cared for, everything we needed right down to measuring spoons and a spice rack. We loved every minute of the cool air, windows open, rain showers, pine cones thumping on the deck, lightning shows and walks in the woods. We played our guitars and sang, we cooked and laughed and ate way too much of Bob's dutch oven fare. Monday came and it took us all day to make our way down the mountain. As much as we knew it was time to go home, we lingered in packing and dragged our heels leaving, stopping multiple times on the drive down to take photos and look across the spectacular vistas. It was evening before we finished the two hour drive.
We will be going back up as often as they will have us. I will be going back to write "Abby's Song", the sequel to "Autumn's On Its Way" . Yes, the manuscript for "Autumn's On Its Way" is finished and the search has begun for a literary agent.
Actually, I have already started Abby's Song. I was forced to start writing the sequel in order to finish Autumn's On Its Way. The sequel is requiring far more research than "Autumn" did. Maps of all kinds, weather charts and histories, books on archaeology, which lead to reading several of Craig Child's works. Craig's books are wonderful adventures and studies on the South West, her ancient sites and our relationship with this mysterious desert we choose to live in. Abby's Song is as closely knitted to this relationship as "Autumn" is. I am learning more about my own relationship each step of the way. It is a relationship which I find weaves it's way into almost everything I write, song or story. This place, this desert holds my heart and soul like no other place. "La Jineta", a poem I wrote some years ago, is one of my first explorations of my relationship with the desert. From that epic poem has sprung a series of songs and shorts which continue the learning, getting down to the grains of sand.
I hope you will continue with me on that study, and perhaps find some of your self in the stories, songs and poems. The ride is not always kind, there are lions and tigers and bears out there. Well, not tigers, except for this one that escaped from, oh, but I digress.
See you on the journey!
There are Song writing books and classes and formulas aplenty. Advertisements show up regularly for song writing, E-books guaranteed to get me noticed in Nashville. Festivals and music gatherings host workshops by writers great and small. While all of that may help get you started and inspired, or re-inspired if you are feeling dry, in general those approaches provide little enlightenment on the real process.
So, here is a dose of cold, hard enlightenment....No matter what you are writing, be it songs, stories or poems, you have to write and write and write some more. It requires work and sweat, lots of paper ( For me anyway. I still use paper and a lot of it), head scratching, deep sighs of resignation, staring off into space, shaking one’s head in perplexity, falling asleep in your soup, regularly getting accused of being moody and distant, longs walks, coffee, a good thesaurus and dictionary because you just think you know what that word means smarty pants, and now that it bubbled to the top, thought. Yes, you gotta think about what you are doing.
People are complex and unique. People write songs, therefore songs are personal, and arise from complex feelings and unique inspirations. Just as there are no two people just alike, there is no one, sure fire method to write a song. So, when Major asked me to write about song writing, I was thrilled and humbled and excited.
Then, I said to my self, “Okay, now how you gonna do this?” After considering all of the above, the best way is to share with you how I go about writing a song and hope that some idea or concept in this little missive will ring true for you. So, let’s go!
There are just a few principles I employ when I write;
What’s the point?
Be honest with your writing.
Know your words.
What’s the Point?
Know what your story is, where you want to end up and aim to hit it. Don’t leave your listeners wondering “what the heck was that all about?” Now, I must admit, there are songs that just take over and assume a life of their own and I feel as though I am no longer in control. When that happens, I just go with it. I can always return to the original idea later. Which reminds me to insert a most important point; take notes, write down ideas, call your self and leave a message, call a friend and leave a message ( my friends understand when I leave strange unfinished thoughts on their voice mail, you will have to clue your friends in, however ) but don’t delude your self into thinking you will remember it later. Because you won’t and you will be really sad. Promise.
A good number of my songs start as pages long stories that have to be cut and sliced and red inked. Autumn’s On Its Way is a perfect example. It was five pages front and back before I pared it down to “just the story”. That is how I make sure I can get to the “point”. It also lets my characters and scenes develop and evolve, providing me with multiple choices on what to use and what goes on the cutting room floor. Sometimes, the hard part is all the red ink, and when I can’t bring myself to cut and slice until blood flows, I hand the story off to a song writing friend to begin the process. After it’s started, I can usually see the way through.
Once in a while I’ll have a song develop in proper order, and, after adjustments for meter and phrasing, they are close to being finished. “A Breath of Spring” is one of those songs.
A Breath of Spring lyrics were written in about an hour and the music was complete another hour later. I wrote it during a time of intense transition, when I was seeking to receive, and be, fresh air, kindness and tenderness in my relationships, with the world and with my self. That yearning fell down onto the paper with honesty and simplicity and tears. It’s a good song. I call it “good” because it touches those same needs and yearnings in the listener; the need for soul rest, the need to be touched tenderly, to have the great powers surrounding us; wind, water, mountains and sun as metaphors for people and events in our lives, to be kind to us, seek us out to love and edify. In performance, I am witness to a response in the audience that says the song plucked a common thread between us. It is good.
The chorus for Where the Wind Blows a Different Song came to me first ... “someplace I’ll find, I know it’s not far, where the wind blows a different song....” and I built the verses around that concept. It took three years to complete and in the meantime, rattled around in my head and changed shape on the page more times than I can count. But, conveying the intent of the song was utmost and I wouldn’t let it go until it said what I needed to say.
I’ve heard the shush of the wind by the ocean shores, its soughing through pines and aspens in the high mountains, its bellowing in deep canyons and its screaming through crevasses. On the desert floor, when it blows through the cholla, sage or Saguaro, it takes a different tone and timber for each, and its sound further changes if it’s rolling over a mountain or across the flats first. I chose to write from the viewpoint of a boy just starting out on his own and, as he faces life’s training ground and grows to be a man, he associates the voices of the wind with life altering, pivotal moments.
My good friends Joe and Sandy Bear were the first to hear this song and instantly proclaimed it a Madrigal. I’d never heard of a Madrigal and had to look it up to see what they were so excited about! It’s a Madrigal. I’m not sure how I did it, but, I can say “I wrote a Madrigal!”
The point in these three quick expositions, is when I write from a vantage point of knowing exactly what I want to say, check and double check my honesty and intent, and use the best words I can use, I get a song that rises up, speaks out, and can be interpreted through the listener’s frame of reference, allowing them to relate it to their own world and life.
Be Honest with your writing.
Oh my, this is so important. Honesty. You’re going to hit home when you are honest. If you are not feeling it, neither will your audience. Don’t pretend your feelings, or that you know all about a subject, because if you do, it’s guaranteed to show up as a great big, black hole in your lyrics. If you’re not honest with yourself, your song will be flimsy, meatless and unmemorable. Worst of all, if you are not genuine and “all in” when you write, your audience is going to know it and feel cheated. Even if they don’t know exactly what experience they are expecting from your song, they know when they are being lied to and they expect to not be treated like fools. There are writers who are exceptions, however, and they seem to be master manipulators of emotion and the use of hypnoses via repetitive use of the same theme, melody line and chord progression parenthesized by glamour, smoke and flashing lights.
Honesty? In a made up story? You betcha! You can write the most silly, made up song and if you know your point (story line), are honest (yes, this could really happen, even if only on some far off, strange planet...), it’s fun and silly ( it even makes you laugh when you sing it) and seek the best words possible to convey your story, you are going to have some great lyrics!
Know your words
Words have power. Big power. They can edify and they can tear down. Never was a phrase so wrong as “words, words, words, only words.” Words can hurt and words can heal. Once you say them, sing them, or record them, you can never take them back.
A single word can evoke the perfect imagery, or create the wrong imagery. A well turned phrase is made up of the perfect words, perfectly placed Make sure you use the right words. Use them wisely and well. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy and use them. Let your words soak on the page a few days, or months even, and see if they are still the right words, still delivering the message you want delivered. Ask a trusted some one to read what you wrote and tell you what it means. You will know if you hit the mark.
Don’t ever stick in a word or phrase purely because the word rhymed or the meter fit. If word or phrase don’t continue the thought process seamlessly, you are cheating. Cheating your self and your audience.
Oh yes, music! I hope you play an instrument, or have a good friend who can transpose your humming.
Music, of course, plays a crucial role in song writing beyond the obvious. Imagine, if you will, one of your favorite songs set to, oh, let’s say, a nursery rhyme! Okay, now how does that change your favorite song? Well, there you go.
Music is as powerful as words and can reach into the very marrow of the soul and move heart and mind and spirit. Music calling for words is pitiful, like a hungry child, and it’s desperate parent will sound like a pauper begging for alms, “Got any spare words?” “You’re still writing, aren’t you?”
Music can enhance or cover your lyrics. Choosing the right melody, tempo, rhythm, is as important as choosing the right words. So, here again, think about it. Honor your creation by being conscious of how you are putting it all together.
In my song Autumn’s On Its Way, I deliberately created a melody and tempo distinctly different than what the story line seems to call for because I wanted to make a point. The woman who is telling the story in the song is from a time and place where women did not generally ask a man to stay around, especially a man she has only known a short time. Even this strong woman, who is obviously independent, does not rely on the opinions of others to make decisions and has a reputation for firing a man on the spot, even this woman’s sensibilities are framed by the moral standards of her day. She feels she needs to justify her position, so she quickly tells her story then blurts out her question as the last line of the song, “would you stay on through the winter, keep the canyon winds at bay? If there’s love here in the Springtime, there’s nothing left to say.”
Pick any particular song out there today that moves you however it moves you, take it apart and study it. Pick another one which moves you differently, study that one. You will learn from other writers if you look at how they wrote the song.
If you would like to hear any of the songs I have mentioned in this short primer, Email me and I will send you an MP3 of one or all to dissect, and hopefully, learn from.
I hope if you learned anything here, it is to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and get busy writing. Go and write and then, write and write some more. A song will come.
What a wonderful weekend it was! My friend, Margaret, spent the weekend with me, sharing music and laughter.
Friday night we met James Ellis and RuAnn Hooks at A latte Vino in Casa Grande to listen to the music of Luis Story. I had never been able to catch his shows in near twenty years, it was always just bad timing. I was just thrilled to hear his duo with Steve Frances on piano, Luis's original music and his fun versions of covers of EVERYBODY. And, it was s real treat getting the opportunity to speak with him for a few minutes about a particular song his with history pertinent to this little town.
Catalina State Park is always a dream concert. The audience comes ready to engage, they are excited and focused on the music and stories. If an entertainer can have a packed house at an open air, unconstrained venue, this was it. We had a great time sharing environment as well as the music. The Humming Birds and Cardinal's singing along and the parade of ants carrying popcorn and chips kept us laughing. Even a vole came out to see what the heck was going on!
Having the Martin back to health and in my hands to play has opened doors to tones and sounds for tunes. My friend and author, Amy M. Hale, says this about Martin, "That guitar has a male voice, beautiful, evoked by your touch. he blends in harmony with your sweet voice, and the damage was healed by a woman with vision. It captures me, this story. The masculine wound healed by the feminine, and then set free to sing again. It is a beautiful story with no beginning and no end." Thank you, Amy. I hope you, dear reader, will explore some of Amy's writing on her website https://www.amyhaleauker.com and she is on social media with her stories and poems and wonderful photos of her cowboy life with her husband Gail on the Spider Ranch. One day, Amy and I will get the opportunity to share the stage.
This summer I am heading out on the road for some short tours and a long one, maybe two. In August, I will be in Deming, New Mexico for my first concert at the Luna Rossi Winery hosted by Totsie Slover. Then, it's off to Arvada, Colorado for a show at the Old Towne Picking Parlor with Jon Chandler and Ernie Martinez. It is sounding like Ismael Barajas will be making several of the shows with me, including the Tumbleweed Festival in Richland, Washington.
The road is calling, wanting me to bring you the new album, Tall Tree. I am so pleased and proud of Tall Tree, and Ismael is already charting out the next project, By Moon or No Moon.
Please, visit the calendar to see performance dates and times, and come say hello, introduce your self if we have never met. I love to hear from you, too. You can comment on the videos and on the photo page. I hope you do.
When I was five, I was defenseless and blameless.
When I was thirteen, I had been "trained", "brainwashed", and so, defenseless and blameless.
When I was sixteen, I began to wake up. But, perception had been skewed, and though a hazy grasp of right and proper was hovering in sight, it remained always just out of reach, obscured by the ever present reality of history.
These days, at 60 years old, I will sometimes reflect on what a'kins to a long ascending climb on a slick and scrabble strewn trail, slipping and sliding, not always making much progress. But, I never stay there in that frame of mind, I don't wallow in the sewage, I just don't do it. I don't let the many adventures, accomplishments and joys in my life be minimized by another person's evil doing.
And, I will not waste a single moment of my precious time taking revenge, getting even. It is not even a option. There is far too much collateral damage in getting even, not even a fragment of peace will be found in the resulting carnage, and nothing from the past will ever be changed.
People ask about forgiveness. I suppose it was instantaneous because I never thought about it, nor harbored real anger. It's my understanding that only God has the power to forgive, I do not have that power on my own. He forgives for me, so I do not have to try to do the impossible. It would be an impossible task because Forgiveness is already done, "it is finished" as Christ said, once and for all. The Supreme Court of Heaven will take care of evildoers, the burden is not mine. I am told to forget what is past and press forward, and so, I shake the dust from my shoes and go on with my assignment, "to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ."
Perhaps some of the stories you find here will help you press forward and grow in grace. That is my hope.
(C) Sonoran Desert Sage Publishing 04/27/2019
A Crazy Horse
A crazy, crazy horse lives inside of me,
She's mostly blue, sometimes she's gray
She's got red paint splattered here and there,
And rainbow feathers tied in her hair
She goes buck and snort all around my ribs,
Sayin' "Don't you forget who you really is!"
She tells me, you are the whirlwind and the softest of sighs
You are good, you are smart, you are strong, you are wise
You are pinion smoke and snowflakes in a starry sky
You are wild and never tame and you know you are right
You are a seed in the earth, you are a song on the wind
You drink your whiskey from a teacup while you're dancing on the brim
Her heart is made of sky where songbirds fly,
Lightning and Thunder live behind her eyes
When I can't remember who I'm s'posed to be, I look into the mirror and she's looking back at me
She goes buck and snort all around my ribs, Sayin' "Don't you forget, who you really is!"
She tells me
You are the smallest flower on the highest peak, You are the secret on the morning breeze
You are the oak that bends, you are the Eagles flight, You are leather, you are stone and a sweet lover in the night
You are young, you are old, you are God's perfect prize, You are diamonds, you are pearls, you are danger in disguise
This old world can get the best of a girl, Make you feel like the swine, instead of the pearl
When I can't remember who I'm s'posed to be, I look into the mirror and she's looking back at me
And she goes buck and snort all around my ribs, Sayin' "Don't you forget who you really is!"
A crazy, crazy horse lives inside of me, She's mostly blue, sometimes she's gray
She's got red paint splattered here and there, And rainbow feathers tied in her hair
She goes buck and snort all around my ribs, Sayin' "Don't you forget who you really is!"
C Nancy Elliott 2014 All rights reserved, no use without permission.
The Radio Flyer
She went to the window for what seemed the hundredth time that day only to have her suspicions confirmed as many times. It was still raining.The big picture window went from floor to ceiling, and except for a few inches at the bottom, it was nearly fogged over. She leaned forward and pressed her forehead against the cool of the window, then, remembering it was something she would get after the kids for if they did it, she pulled away and smiled at the impression left of her forehead and the snaky squiggles from her wavy hair. Suddenly, two rivulets of moisture ran through the middle of fog-face and raced to the bottom of the window sill to join the puddles already there. She used a washcloth from the laundry she was folding to wipe the fog and evidence of her crime off the window.
Hearing a door slam she looked up to see one of her neighbors dashing from her car to her house, arms full of packages. She looked down the road the other directions, and it seemed maybe the sky wasn't so grey and maybe there wasn't so much water running down the road.
It was a week before Christmas, and the weather was typical for the years Elizabeth had lived in the Dallas area. Rain at Christmas and ice for New Years followed by more rain. Plunk...Plunk...Plink...Water dripping off the roof caught her eye and she watched as it fell into the small lake forming in the Radio Flyer the girls had left on the porch. In warmer weather, the girls would be splashing their dolls around in the "private swimming pool" the rain and their imaginations had created.
She remembered now the girls hadn't played out side all week and she hadn't gone grocery shopping either because of the weather. The kids were fighting the sniffles and the wagon being the closest thing to transportation she had, they had stuck pretty close to home. But, now the cupboard was bare and she hated to ask for ride, it was embarrassing.
She kept watch until the rain slowed to a mist, then to nearly nothing. "Get your coats girls! We'll make a run for it!" Just grab a few things before I have to come back and get ready for work, she thought to her self as she dumped the water out of the wagon and brought it inside to dry it out. She spread a trash bag over the floor of the wagon and tucked two more in her coat pocket. Midst excited chatter and clapping of hands they were soon bundled up and ready to roll. With a look to the sky and a deep sigh, she carried the wagon down porch steps and the kids climbed in.
Cory, with her hopelessly un-tameable hair and deep brown eyes that gave away her secret she was always up to something, was the youngest at two years old. Today she managed to get to sit in front. Her sister Shannon was four. Blond hair and the bluest laughing eyes set her apart in appearance from her sister, but they played off each other like a comedy team. Letting them both ride, they could each hold a bag of groceries on the way home.
They headed down the street for two blocks then turned west for two more to cross the street at the light and into the grocery store parking lot. In the door and dry as a bone! Not a drop of rain! Bread, milk, eggs, cheese, tortilla flour, chicken and stars and alphabet soup, chicken legs, fish sticks and frozen corn. "I think we have enough for now, what do you say?"
"Can I get a Pixie Stix, Mommy?", Shannon asked.
"Me too!" Cory chimed in her head bobbing up and down.
"Sure, let's go." And that's when they heard the thunder roll and the rain beating on the roof of the store.
"Oh, Mommy, it's raining again!" cried Shannon.
"I know, sweetheart. We'll wait out front for it to slow down."
But even after waiting in the checkout line and standing on the porch for a bit, the rain hadn't slowed at all. A few minutes later, worried she would be late for work she called her sister.
"I can't get away right now. Sorry." She called her brother and got no answer. "I knew that", she said to her self.
She couldn't be late for work, still had to feed the girls, put away the groceries, get to the sitter....she made one more call to arrange for her taxi ride to work. "Some day, I will get a car and a phone." Suddenly the rain slowed up and they made a run for home.
Each of the girls was seated behind a paper bag of groceries and each held a trash bag over her head as an umbrella. It began to rain hard again as they reached the light and waited for the green. Shannon and Cory were having a big time laughing and giggling in the wagon. As the light changed, Elizabeth pulled up on the tongue of the wagon and eased it down off the curb and in to the run off in the gutter. The water nearly rose over the wheels and the kids howled at the thought of it splashing over them.
They were nearly to the other side when the light changed again. The car near the curb waited only until they had just cleared its bumper then it began to move. Elizabeth waded into the water and turned around to ease the wagon up on the sidewalk. Cars were splashing by at normal speed in spite of the water in the road, and she was irritated at their rudeness and lack of caution around the children. She lifted up on the wagon tongue and felt it start up the curb, then stumbled backward and sat down hard as the tongue came away from the axle and the wagon dropped into the rushing water. Cory squealed as it rushed over her in the wagon, soaking her and the groceries in her bag. Elizabeth threw the wagon handle on to the grass and dashed back into the water to grab first one child then the other, one under each arm and place them on the sidewalk. All the while cars were splashing by, sloshing water over them and never slowing down.
She set the girls on the sidewalk then turned back to the wagon and watched her loaf of bread floating away, then the fish sticks, headed for Main Street and the flood ditch. They would end up in Dallas somewhere, finally in the Trinity River. She glared at the passing cars, wondering if they would have slowed any if it had been the children floating away.
Stepping back into the water she pulled the wagon and what was left of her groceries on to the sidewalk. The girls were standing together quietly, wide-eyed, soaking wet. She knelt down and hugged them both at the same time. "You guys okay?"
"I'm cold Mommy," Shannon said through chattering teeth.
"Is it broken Mommy?" asked Cory
"Yeah, it's broken." Elizabeth was thinking she would have to get the kids home and leave the groceries when someone yelled.
"Hey, you need a hand?" She turned to see that a pickup had stopped in the street behind them and without waiting for an answer, the driver began to load wagon parts and soggy groceries into the back of his truck.
"Get in the front," He said, closing the camper door. "I saw what happened. Can't believe no one would stop to let you get out of the road. Where do you live?"
"Go that way," Shannon directed as they all piled in the cab. "Then go six houses on this side," she waggled her right hand. "That's where we live."
Elizabeth could see he was wearing a work I.D. badge from LTV Vought Coproration that said "FRED"
"Okay," Fred chuckled. "I just don't understand people these days. Is this your house? I'll help you carry this stuff in."
They all climbed out of the truck cab and into the rain again. Elizabeth took the kids to the door and they ran off leaving a trail of wet footprints in the carpet. She took the groceries from Fred at the door and carried them in while he went back for the broken wagon. She met him on the porch. "Thanks," she said. "Thanks for helping me. I didn't know how I was going to get all this and the kids home too. Thanks a lot!"
Fred put the wagon on the porch. "It looks like it's got a lot of miles on it, but you could probably get it fixed real easy."
"Yes, I will." She hadn't thought at this point what they were going to do without the wagon. The girls were peeking around her legs. They were wrapped in big towels, their hair tangled dripping messes.
"It was scary for a minute," said Shannon. "But it was fun getting wet!"
"Yeah, it was fun!" giggled Cory, still shivering.
"Thanks again." Elizabeth held out her hand.
Fred took her hand in both of his and gave it one gentle shake as he smiled. "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" Shannon and Cory sang together. They stood in big picture window and waved as they watched Fred drive away.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was the usual happy hour scramble when Elizabeth got to work that night. From four til seven the bar was full of the manager types from the local aircraft engineering plant. The Dirty Dozen she called them, although they did have one honorary female member that brought their number to thirteen. The good natured cajoling and kibitzing went on until the last one drifted out, turning the bar and the evening over to the cowboy crowd.
Week nights such as this were always short lived and by eleven o'clock the staff of seven was reduced to one bartender and two waitresses. Things were slowing down and she kept her self busy by cleaning tables and helping LaVern, the bartender. Sometimes she stopped to watch the band and the few dancers that were still hanging in. With two hours left in the night only about fifteen customers were seated, not counting what Vern had at the bar. The other girl had gone home early, even though it was Elizabeth's turn. She couldn't see paying a taxi when the bartender or one of the band would be going that way. Besides, it gave her a chance to make more tips.
She wrote an order on a ticket and placed it in the ticket rack, then began a preliminary count of the evenings profits. The wagon breaking came at a bad time. Too close to Christmas and always so many expenses with two little girls to raise on her own. But, a new wagon would make a good gift for the kids. She knew she needed the wagon, she couldn't afford a car yet. She would just have to find the money. Having a car was the real answer, but it just wasn't possible, not yet.
She wondered if she was doing enough for her daughters. She worked all the time, had no car, too many bills. The girls wore mostly hand made clothes and their cousin's hand me downs. The negative thoughts began to roll over her and she stopped them right away. There was always so much to be done, and it was her job to see to it. There was always a way to make things good, make things right. Things always worked out. Like having a Christmas tree. Last year, they had taped sheets of white typing paper on the wall, then drew a tree on it. Shannon and Cory had decorated it with ornaments cut from colored construction paper. It was hard to take it down after the holidays because it was so pretty.
Things were getting better all the time, they had even moved into a larger and nicer home. So, this year she determined there would be a real Christmas tree, with a new Radio Flyer underneath!
The wagon that now sat in parts on her porch, had been her Christmas gift to Shannon when she was still two years old, but it soon became an integral part of their lives, a trusted and reliable friend. The bright red wagon was a bed for dolls, stray puppies and kittens, pet Guinea pigs and often for Cory when the kids played house. Shannon had even been known to take her nap in the wagon with plenty of blankets over and under, her favorite stuffed animal at her head and her legs hanging over the end. It was a wheeled laundry basket, hauling hand washed clothes from the bathtub to the line out back. It was even a moving van when they came from the duplex four doors down the street. It was a go-cart and a grocery cart, making several trips each week. When there were too many groceries someone would have to walk, and that was usually Shannon. Cory was too little to walk far and she got to ride in the baby back pack most of the time anyway. If you had to walk, that meant you had to pull some, and to Shannon, there was as much honor in pulling as there was in riding, if not more.
Not having a car was a pain. But, Elizabeth made the best of it and tried to make it fun. She was paid each Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings were always full of excitement. They got up early, scrubbed and dressed, the girls in their bonnets. Cory was settled in to the baby back pack and Shannon rode in the wagon all by her self. Then, they would walk to town, making sure to start early enough to cross the tracks just a few minutes before the train, then stopping to watch it pass. The engineer and the caboose man would always wave and blow the whistle for the girls. They would laugh and squeal and clap, Cory jumping up and down in the back pack tooting like train. Elizabeth believed the kids made the railroad men's day as much as the railroad men made the kid's days. Then, it was on to the bank down town, such as it were, paying bills and running errands, taking their time making the circle to head back home. The walk home was the best, that was treat time.
Elizabeth never cashed in her change tips. They all went home and got chucked into an old Hershey's Cocoa tin. Mad money. It was for Happy Meals at MacDonald's or burger's and a soda at the Drug Store fountain. But, most often it was for the buffet at Pizza Hut where the kids got to eat for only twenty cents for every year they were old. She knew they ate much more than that in chocolate pudding and Cherry Jello, let alone the pizza they consumed, and had to laugh when she thought about how it probably was her kids who were the reason the children's price was raised from fifteen cents.
While they ate lunch the wagon waited patiently at the door, loaded with the day's bounty of pretty rocks from the fountains at the water company, white feathers from the park, the occasional friendly bug and other odds and ends, all treasures from the trip. Then, it would be on to the Five and Dime. The kids would sit contentedly in the wagon parked in front of the hamster cages and goldfish tanks while Elizabeth did her shopping. A trip down the candy and toy isle, then it was out the door to home. Empty out the wagon, then head the other way to the grocery. How many miles in two years?
She realized she had been daydreaming when LaVern reached over the well with the bar spoon and tapped her on the shoulder. "Last call Hun. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go home!"
"You mean we're still here?" Elizabeth waved her hand in a circle over her head to signal the band to wind it up, and made her final rounds as they announced the end of the night from the band stand. In another thirty minutes they were all out the door.
It had turned cold after the rain stopped and she was glad LaVern had offered her a ride home. They sky was clear and full of stars, it would be a beautiful day tomorrow.
"Do you need to stop at the store?" Vern asked.
"No, thanks. We did that adventure this afternoon. Boy, did we get wet, too! The wagon broke on the way home. Hey, you work at LTV, don't you?" LaVern nodded in reply. "Well, this guy stopped to help us get our stuff out of the water when the wagon broke, and he gave us a ride to the house. His name tag said "Fred" but I couldn't read the last name because the print was smaller. It was real nice of him. No one else would even let us get out of the way. They just kept driving by, splashing water on us."
"If it's the same Fred that works in my crib, he and his wife are real nice people. What he did doesn't surprise me at all. You need to pick up the girls?"
"No, they are staying over at the sitter's because of their colds. I might even get to sleep in if she brings them home late." LaVern pulled up in front of the house and Elizabeth jumped out. "Thanks a lot for the ride Vern. I'll see you Friday night!" she called over her shoulder as she went up the sidewalk.
It was really cold now, she could see her breath as she stopped at the door to take a look at the winter sky. Her heart was a bit heavy as she turned to go in the door, and her breath hung in a mist about her head as she knelt on the living room floor to light the free-standing gas furnace.
The sitter would bring the girls home at nine in the morning. She lived behind and kitty-corner from Elizabeth, so she often just handed them over the fence, like this morning. That meant a whole six hours of sleep instead of the usual three or four when the girls would get up at the crack of dawn. She still slept in the big chair in the living room though because she worried she wouldn't hear them knocking from the bedroom. And, it was closer to the heater.
The next morning Elizabeth could hear the girls giggling and chattering in their bedroom as she sipped her coffee and studied a new sewing project. Her sister was a terrific seamstress and made wonderful stuffed dolls and animals. She even did some piecework on custom curtains and bed covers, and Elizabeth wished she had that kind of patience her self. It might mean a few extra dollars here and there. That thought brought her back to the wagon. What would she do? She decided she was just not going to think about it right now. She had made up her mind last night. And, there was always plenty to do to take her mind off her troubles and she was going to get to it.
It was beautiful morning just like she thought it would be. She went out to the still soggy back yard to hang some laundry and noticed the girls at the back window making faces at her. She made a face back at them and turned to hang a shirt, but when she looked back at the window they were gone. Something made her start for the door. Cory met her at the back porch, bare feet dancing on the frozen concrete.
"Ooooohhh Mommy! Come see!" she wiggled and squirmed as Elizabeth scooped her up and hurried into the house.
"What's going on? Where is your sister?"
"He's here, Mommy! He's here!" Cory had her mother's face in both her little hands, nodding and emphasizing "HE".
"Him, him. Looook!" As Elizabeth came to the door, she saw Shannon standing on the porch with Fred. She was bouncing at the knees, both hands covering her mouth like she always did when she was excited. Fred looked up at Elizabeth and smiled as she stepped outside to see the cause of all the excitement.
A bright red Radio Flyer was on the walk. It had to be twice the size of the one that had broken, and it was shiny and new looking.
"Oh," Elizabeth said. She caught her breath and looked up at Fred. "You shouldn't...you didn't.."
"I told my wife what happened," Fred said. "We had this old wagon in the garage from when our boys used to have a paper route."
"But, it looks new!"
"Well, they didn't have the route long. You know how kids are sometimes, they lost interest. They were too old to play with the wagon, so it just sat gathering dust in the garage. When I told my wife about what happened yesterday, she said you should have the wagon."
"Oh, I.." She was watching the girls who were already in the wagon measuring it for size, fussing over who would get to pull first. "Thank you. I never expected this, never at all." She looked at Fred. "I was just so tickled you gave us a ride home."
Shannon and Cory got suddenly quiet, they were watching their Mom, eyes dancing. She hadn't exactly accepted the wagon yet, but Fred didn't give her a chance to turn it down.
"Well, there it is," he said to the girls and they bounced out of the wagon to hug his knees. "Merry Christmas, girls!" he laughed as he bent to pat them on their heads. He looked back at Elizabeth and saw tears in her eyes. "Merry Christmas to you, too!" he smiled at her then turned to get back in his truck.
She smiled through brimming eyes as they stood on the porch and watched him drive away.
The End, but not really.....
The Ruby Handled Knife
This knife was my grandfathers near one hundred years ago,
He took it from a pirate whose sordid life he did forego.
When he rescued a fair maiden from the hold of that black ship,
with this singing blade he cut her bonds, and in the water they did slip.
When they washed ashore at Dunbeath after three days in the sea,
He knelt right there and she answered him "Of course I'll marry Thee!"
So, he brought her to America, a new country rough and raw,
and she used this Ruby Handled Knife to cut the cord on my dear Pa.
This Ruby Handled Knife is worth far more than all its gems.
The treasure is its history, how through our lives it wends.
Its jewel encrusted beauty will a crying baby charm,
blade and point, hilt and shaft keep us safe from harm
When Grandpa passed he gave this knife to his first son, my Pa.
Now Pa is gone this knife is mine and I often am in awe,
How this blade has played a stellar role in daily mundane life,
lending magic and enchantment to a lowly rancher's wife.
My Ruby Handled Knife marks the first calf each spring gather
and it's the only knife to carve the roast upon the Christmas Platter
My Ruby Handled Knife pares mid -summers' premier peach
And, it's been used a time or two, to extend a desperate reach
It's a comfort here, kept at my side, when faced by bad outlaw,
Why, it saved me from a bloody end at the panther's deadly paw.
It cut the throat of a favored mount when no bullet could be spared,
and freed me from my stirrup when I became ensnared.
This Ruby Handled Knife can shave a callous or double as a spade
and its marked our name to each beam and post throughout this home we made.
It counts the years since my husband died at each April's bright full moon
and it's cut the cords on all my babes... and my will grandchild's, soon
This Ruby Handled Knife will one day pass from my hand to my son's
He, too, will keep it at his side until his race is run.
You see, this Ruby Handled Knife steadfastly intertwines
our History with our future, ever on through spans of time.
Nancy Elliott C 2010