Courage, compassion, sacrifice, redemption and resurrection are recurring themes in the 24 short stories that make up "Stories for the Seasons" -- tales that take place at Christmastime, Easter, Valentine's Day, Halloween, and during the days of summer.
Locales and time periods in these stories range from Southern California, the Middle East, ships at sea and Mexico to Biblical times, post-Civil War Missouri, medieval Europe and early 1900s small towns.
Facing the challenges life thrusts upon them are assorted protagonists, including a Mexican boy and a donkey he rescues from the desert, a quiet cowboy who shows hidden strengths among a group of strangers, a sailor whose love of music reaches across the Pacific Ocean, a former Confederate cavalryman forced to face his tragic past, a simple-minded field worker whose life is enriched by a friendship that lasts two-thirds of a century, a lonely widow victimized by Halloween pranksters, a sidewalk Santa Claus for whom Christmas takes on a new meaning, a European immigrant confronted by town bullies, an over-the-road truck driver who unexpectedly finds love, the shadowy resident of a mysterious mansion, an elderly school cook who offers an unexpected gift at a graduation ceremony, and a pair of animal friends that befriend a miraculous stranger.
The stories in which these characters and others appear were first published in a weekly newspaper column in
Discover the characters in "Stories for the Seasons" and rediscover within yourself the strengths they display: courage, compassion, sacrifice, redemption and resurrection.
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Stories for the Seasons24 tales of - courage sacrifice compassion redemption resurrection
By CHUCK WARZYN
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Chuck Warzyn
All right reserved.
* * *
Gifts for The Child
(The inspiration for this short story was an item I read in a newspaper many years ago that quoted a man on a Christmastime city street who approached a sidewalk Santa Claus and asked how much it would cost for the Santa to come to his home and tell his daughter she was pretty. Over the years, I wondered what that question might have entailed, and so decided to expand on it and write this story. I invite the reader to identify the literary device I use in the middle of the story to suggest the magical powers of this special and holy season.)
* * *
"How much y'all charge to say 'Ho ho ho' to my little girl an' tell her she's purty?"
The sidewalk Santa Claus stopped ringing his bell and stared at the man shivering in a denim jacket and ball cap. Around them, last-minute shoppers hurried between stores. Cars crept through the courthouse square, searching for elusive parking spaces.
The man saw the hesitation in the sidewalk Santa's face.
"She's a good kid. She just ... she always been kinda plain ... not even plain, I guess. We ain't lived here long and kids at school been teasin' 'er. She's feelin' right down tonight of all nights, an' got a cold too, and I thought mebbe ..."
"Well, sure;" the sidewalk Santa replied. "Be glad to. But I gotta stay here for a coupla more hours. If you can come back ..."
"We don't live that far away," the man said in a weary voice. "Look, I'm parked right over yonder. We can put your gear in the back o' my truck. Won't take 20-25 minutes."
He reached for his wallet, pulled out a bill, and handed it to the Santa Claus.
"Look, I'll be glad to pay ya."
The Santa glanced at the money. It was a $20 bill. He smiled, took the money, and stuck it into a pocket in his costume. Picking up his collection pot and tripod, he smiled. "I'm your man. Let's go."
The Santa and the man walked to a rusting pickup, lifted the pot and tripod into the back, and climbed into the cab.
They drove along a highway leading off the square and turned onto a dead-end street lined with crackerbox houses, trash-filled yards, and carports cluttered with cardboard boxes and sagging furniture. A car up on cinderblocks in one yard reflected flashing colored lights strung from nearby houses.
The truck pulled into one of the smaller houses toward the end of the street. As the two men walked up the sidewalk to the front door, the Santa Claus looked at several painted plywood figures — the shepherds, wise men, animals, and Mary and Joseph kneeling by a manger holding the baby Jesus.
The man held the door open for Santa Claus. "I'll be right back," he said, and disappeared down a hallway.
Santa looked around the living room. A tree with ornaments and lights stood in a corner. Several boxes wrapped in what appeared to be Sunday comic strips sat under the tree. On the wall next to Santa hung a faded photograph of a man and woman holding a baby.
The man poked his head around the corner. "OK," he said. "I told her she got a special visitor. Come on back."
In the bedroom, a table lamp shone a circle of light on a girl propped up against a pile of pillows. Several books and stuffed animals, and a box of tissues clustered on the blanket around her.
The girl gasped when she saw Santa Claus, and her eyes shown wide. Santa had to keep from staring at her. He understood now why her classmates teased her.
The man had walked over to the girl and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.
"Honey, Santa said he weren't so busy tonight, he couldn't come by an' say howdy to you."
He looked back at Santa Claus with an expression that mixed concern and hope.
Santa glanced out the window onto the front lawn, onto the plywood scene of that special night in Bethlehem centuries before. He looked back at the girl. Slowly, he walked over to the bed, sat down next to her, and gently took her hands into his.
The child stared up at him and whispered, "Hello, Santa Claus."
Santa asked, "What's your name, little angel?"
"Carol," she murmured, looking down and then back up again.
"Carol," Santa Claus repeated. "Like a Christmas carol?"
The girl giggled and Santa responded with a "Ho ho ho!"
The girl began sneezing and reached for a tissue. She blew her nose as Santa reached out and patted her shoulder.
"Well, Carol; you are a very sweet, little Christmas angel," he said softly. "I wish I could stay here and visit longer with you. But, I gotta lot o' things to do before my reindeer an' me make our trip 'round the world."
"That's OK, Santa," she whispered. "I done told Daddy what I want for Christmas."
Santa Claus glanced over at the man, who nodded slightly and winked.
"Well, Christmas Carol," Santa said; "you are a very, very special young lady, and between me and your daddy, we'll see to it that you get what you want."
"Thank you, Santa Claus," she replied.
Santa gave her hand a final squeeze. Leaning forward, he kissed her forehead. Standing up, he followed the man out of the dimly lit room. He paused at the doorway, looked back at the girl, and smiled.
"Merry Christmas, Carol."
"Merry Christmas, Santa Claus. I love you."
Santa started, raised his hand in farewell, and followed the girl's father down the hallway toward the front door.
The man and the sidewalk Santa drove back to the town square in silence. Snowflakes began to fall. The dancing flakes shown like silver confetti in the beam of the truck's headlights.
The man helped the Santa unload his pot and tripod, and place them back on the sidewalk. The man gripped the Santa's hand tightly and said in a tight voice, "Thank you. You don't know how much that meant to her. And to me."
The man turned, walked back to his truck, and drove off in the night air muffled by the falling snow.
The Santa Claus looked down at his hand that the man had shaken. It contained a $5 and a $10 bill. He stuffed them into his pocket and felt the other money already nestled there. He took out all three bills, stared at them for several seconds, and placed them in his collection pot.
The snow began to come down faster. The clock in the courthouse tower chimed out the new hour as the sidewalk Santa's voice rang like a crystal bell across the town square, "Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas, everyone!"
* * *
Antonio And The Christmas Angels
"Just a moment, Antonio."
The boy walked back to where his mother had stopped in front of a store window. He put down the two shopping bags and looked at the ornament-covered tree. Clustered on shelves around it were framed pictures, china figurines, animals of crystal and wood, and assorted brass items.
His mother pointed to a brass piano lamp. "Wouldn't that look just lovely on my old pump organ," she said. She leaned toward the window and adjusted her glasses. "But, my land, $69. Close to $75 with tax. Who can afford such a price?" She stood back up and smiled at her son. "Why would I want anything else for Christmas when I have a strong young son to help me as much as you do?"
Antonio looked around quickly. "Oh, Mama; someone might hear. Can't we just go on home now?" She laughed as they continued along the sidewalk toward the projects. "Don't worry, son. I don't think any of your homeboys were around to hear me."
That evening, walking home from the movie theater with his sister, Antonio paused to look at the brass piano lamp. What a great Christmas present for his mother. But he had only $20 left hidden in his bottom drawer from his job last summer helping Uncle Desmond clear out more land for his cattle.
"What you lookin' at, 'tonio?" his sister asked. "It's cold. I wanna go home. I'm tired."
"Hush your mouth, Toya," he snapped. "You oughta be glad I let Mama talk me into takin' you to the movie. Come on." The girl ran to catch up with him, and grabbed his hand. "Don't go so fast, 'tonio." He shook his head. "Girl, you a real pain, know that? Come on. I'll give you a piggyback ride home."
Antonio waited until the following evening, when his mother had gone to choir practice, before phoning his uncle. "Sorry, boy," Desmond said. "I'd like to help you out, but there just ain't any work around here now for you. Don't worry, though. Smart fella like you; you'll figure out a way to get that piano lamp for Marcella."
Middle school was out for the holidays the next day. After his mother had left for work, Antonio put his $20 into a pocket and headed for the rows of stores and businesses on the highways leading into town. The usual Saturday morning group was gathering at the basketball court as he walked by. "Later, man!" he replied to their shouts to join the game.
His first stop was the shop with the brass piano lamp. "I don't ordinarily put items on layaway, young man," Miss Claiborne said. "However, I know your mother, and I believe you when you say you'll have the rest of the money before Christmas, so I'll put the lamp back into storage. Only until Christmas Eve, though. I've noticed other people looking at it."
The boy's next stop was the garage where he had worked a previous summer. "I'm sorry, Antonio," Mr. Weston said. "You're a good worker but I've already hired someone to sweep and keep the place picked up. Good luck, though. I'm sure you'll find something."
At a shop across the highway, the owner looked up from the engine block he was working on. "No, can't say I'm hiring right now. Not that I couldn't use some extra help. But I'm a bit short on money, you know? Got some extra bills I need to clean up. Sorry. Hang in there."
By midday, Antonio had been to more than a dozen stores, shops and garages. They either didn't need any extra help, or already had it. He stood at the edge of the square, kicked at an empty paper cup the wind sent skittering past on the ground, then decided it was time to try the town's handful of restaurants. Two hours later, he had heard several variations on the third reason for being turned down — "13 years old? I'm sorry, we can't hire anyone that young."
So, that was it. He couldn't get the piano lamp. The boy stood at the edge of the highway, his hands in his pockets. Across the way, a dog sniffed around the dumpster next to Weston's Garage. Its ribs showed and it acted hungry. Antonio ran across the highway, a passing truck blaring its horn as he darted past. Mr. Weston came out of the garage as Antonio crouched next to the dog and patted it. "I was hoping you'd come back by, Antonio. Guy I hired last week called in to say he's going out of town with his family. Looks like I can hire you after all."
He reached down and patted the dog on the head. "Don't know where this dog came from. Showed up a couple hours ago and been hanging around since. Skin 'n' bones. Here's a few bucks, kid. Run over and buy some bread or hot dogs or something. Feed this little gal and give her some water. Then you can start cleaning that storeroom back there."
The rest of that day and the following three days, Antonio worked at the garage cleaning, sweeping, stocking and running errands. The church choir was practicing every evening for Christmas service, which meant he had to baby-sit Toya while his mother was at church. Every afternoon after work, he stopped by the antique shop and left what he had earned that day. The morning of Christmas Eve, he was short only $17. Mr. Weston closed the garage at noon and gave the boy his final wages. "I'll see you the 26th, Antonio. I hope you and your mother and sister have a nice Christmas." "Thanks, Mr. Weston. You, too."
Antonio ran the several blocks to the antique shop. "Here's another eight dollars, Miss Claibourne. Can I pay you the rest after Christmas?" The shop owner shook her head as she reached into the cash register and withdrew an envelope containing the money the boy already had given her. "I'm sorry, Antonio, really I am. But I've had other inquiries about the lamp. They're ready to buy it now. I have to be fair to all my customers."
"Yes, ma'am. That's OK." Antonio took the envelope, jammed it in his pocket, and walked out of the shop. Mrs. Claibourne sighed as she reached for the phone.
Antonio took the long way home. He went into several stores but didn't see anything that could match the brass piano lamp. At least he already had bought gifts for his mother and Toya. He would just have to think of some other way to spend the money he had earned for the lamp. Maybe he could buy another dog for Mr. Weston. The garage owner had wanted to keep the little stray but she had disappeared shortly after they fed her.
Marcella and Toya were just sitting down at the supper table when he walked through the door. "Antonio, where have you been?" his mother exclaimed. "We've been worried about you."
But all the boy could do was stare at the old pump organ in the corner of the living room. Perched on the organ above the rack of sheet music was the brass piano lamp.
"Mama, where you get this lamp?" he asked. He walked over to the organ and switched on the brass lamp. It poured a soft glow onto his mother's sheets of Christmas music. Marcella walked in from the kitchen and put her arm around Antonio.
"Isn't it beautiful, son? Sister Thomas brought it over just before supper. She said it was a gift from the church for all the playing I've been doing with the choir and for weddings and funerals and such. She said they wanted to give it to me sooner but the shop owner had it in layaway for a time for another customer. Why, son; what's wrong?"
"Mama, I wanted to give that lamp to you," Antonio blurted out. "It was me who asked Miss Claibourne to hang onto it. I just couldn't get together enough money in time to buy it for you for Christmas." His voice broke and his mother gathered him into her arms.
"Oh, honey, I know you wanted to buy that lamp for me. I know how hard you were working."
He looked up, fighting to hold back his tears. "You knew? How?"
"Oh, you teens aren't the only ones with your networks, you know. We old folks aren't complete fools. Let's just say some Christmas angels let on to me what you were doing. And you know something, son?" She reached into her apron and dabbed at his eyes with a tissue. "As far as I'm concerned, my beautiful lamp is from you just as much as from the church members. You tried so hard to get it. And that means so much to me."
Antonio squirmed as his mother gave him a squeeze. "Mama, I'm hungry!" Toya shouted from the kitchen.
"Supper is getting cold and your sister is getting impatient, Antonio. Let's go eat. After we do the dishes, I'll play the organ and we'll sing some Christmas carols."
* * *
The Christmas Rose
I was just a little tad in knee britches when my pa went off to join General Beauregard and fight the Yankees. My memories from those first half dozen years of my life up to that point include totin' Pa's and Grandpaw's lunch pails to them when they was plantin' cotton and soybeans in the fields that stretched out toward the Loosahatchie bottoms. I remember the fine smells from the kitchen when Grandmaw was cookin' up a batch of cornbread and bacon. I also recollect sittin' on the ground beneath the clean wash wavin' in the breeze, and passin' wooden clothespins up to Ma. Sometimes me and my big sister, Iris, would chase after the chickens when none of the big folks was watchin'.
Most of all, though, what I remember from those years before the war was how Pa showed what a wondrous place this world be. One cold night, he come and fetched me and Iris from our beds in the loft, bundled us up, and carried us out to the barn, where we watched a little calf bein' born. "Look yonder, kids!" he whispered. "A new life comin' into this world. It's a miracle!"
Excerpted from Stories for the Seasons by CHUCK WARZYN Copyright © 2010 by Chuck Warzyn. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Gifts for The Child....................3
Antonio And The Christmas Angels....................7
The Christmas Rose....................11
Christmas Call for a Lonely Buckaroo....................15
The Carpenter Who Loved Children....................20
The Shepherd and the Centurion....................25
The Animals' Christmas Gift....................31
A Christmas Trinity....................36
El Burrito de la Navidad....................48
Jubal Kinkaid's Christmas Odyssey....................55
More Precious than Gold....................63
The Missing Piece of Valentine Candy....................66
Dummy's Sixty-Eight Year Valentine....................69
Loosahatchie Love Across The Pacific....................74
Dreams That from Cupid Fall Gently....................82
Why a Rabbit Delivers Easter Eggs....................91
The Specter by the Woodpile....................99
The Pumpkin Man....................103
Widow Gray's Halloween Surprise....................106
The Day Big Dietrich Taught The Town A Lesson....................113
The Chief's Greatest Love Affair....................117
Miss Eugenia's Graduation Day Dragons....................121
The Policeman Who Cried....................126