Synopsis for The World’s Greatest Rock Star And Other Short Stories
Isn’t it great to dream?
Dreaming is something all of us do. This fact poses a natural question. If conditions were right; would we actually be able to live out those dreams?
The answer is: “Probably so.”
The case of Milton Livingston has its own way of illustrating this point. His early life had its share of cruel obstacles; but fate would change all of that. More questions would soon be raised. Did his changed state of mind merely Create a fantasy where he could finish out his life in; or did his tragic accident intentionally change his world and allow him to be what he was meant to be?
You be the judge.
One thing for certain: there is a bit of Milt Livingston in all of us. When we escape the tensions of reality and find our solitude; we become the star that secretively lives within us.
The Honeycomb Cafe (Read Entire Story Scroll Down)
The Fiji Family (Read Entire Story Scroll Down)
Chase: A Special Person
The Discovery of Teddy Downing
Frank Loves Vyerl
( By Matt Shea )
When an imaginary line is crossed, a feud could result. If such a battle were to take place; would there be any ground rules and what could be used as arsenal?
The answer is gossip escalating to rumors; with the local newspaper batting clean-up.
The result? That pull needed to decide who would be elected. It would also dictate which members were deemed upper crust and who would be outcast.
Marge Stewart stumbled across such propaganda when she discovered an archive of old newspapers. This finding rekindled the glory days of her family and the scandal of others. Unbeknownst to her, the seventy-six-year-old opened a can of worms. A battle that ended long ago would resurface; having to be settled one last time.
Marge Stewart walked down First Street as she braved the cold. The woman wearing black leather gloves and a wool navy blue coat with matching neck scarf leaned into the November wind. The senior had lost a step in recent years, but still held her feisty spirit as she marched with determination. Long tattered ends of the scarf fluttered in the wind as her right hand pressed down on her floral hat. Her left hand clenched a matching floral purse as she stayed warm in pursuit of her destination.
Marge was making her morning trek to the same landmark that her grandmother used to take her and her mother to. In fact, it was the very one she had taken her daughter and granddaughter to many times; the Honeycomb Cafe. Despite the attrition rate effecting older family members, the widow still had loved ones to dine with. They were old ladies just like her that knew the pain of loneliness.
She approached the landmark. The small wooded structure stood dignified as it continued to serve yet another generation. Like ‘Little House On The Prairie’, the rustic structure seemed to be an oasis out in the middle of nowhere. Signs of life were visible with its iron stovepipe producing smoke.
Marge was now standing in front of the faded white door that gave access to the restaurant. This served as a gateway to the past. Her first date, night of the prom and virtually all family celebrations took place right here. The original brass door knob seemed to be an extended hand from an old friend.
The old woman felt a sensation that reinvigorated her youth. She anxiously took off her gloves and placed them into her purse. Marge then took off her hat exposing her stylish short gray hair. In one motion she opened the door and entered the cafe, closing the door behind her.
Like herself, Marge’s friends were also creatures of habit. Three familiar faces sat at their traditional corner table upholding their usual seating arrangements; with one empty chair remaining. The glow of life projected through weathered faces that still personified beauty. They looked up displaying smiles of relief; Marge had arrived. There was a peace of mind knowing that their quilting circle was still intact, with all having survived another day.
“Well there you are,” called out Ella Ray. “I was afraid that I was going to have to go outside to find you, girl!” The first round of laughter had been initiated.
“Let’s wait until there’s two feet of snow out there first!” replied a quick witted Marge. Taking off her coat, she turned to the coat rack that adorned the winter clothing of her friends. She draped the garment and scarf on the remaining arm. Using her hat, she balanced out the makeshift Christmas tree by placing it on top of the sturdy pole.
“Nice job, Margie!” cheered Mary Pierce.
The final member of the quartet smiled back as she walked towards her vacant chair and sat down. The golden girls were assembled once again.
Joan Wakeman pointed at Marge’s place setting. There was a menu with fresh coffee steaming out of a cup. Joan leaned towards her friend and whispered, “I knew you’d be here.”
Marge said, “Thank you, dear.” She picked up the warm cup and took a sip. Reading glasses were pulled out of purses with open menus waiting. The table became quite as each woman compared options to what they normally ordered.
One by one, menus were closed with glasses being folded and put away.
The tempo picked up when a gracious voice broke the silence. “How nice to see that you could make it today,” said Glannis Anagnos.
Marge looked up and saw the Greek entrepreneur smiling at her. The foreign born man held the charm that was the trademark of his culture. His defined features with sincere brown eyes further accented his ethnicity. Silver hair combed back with a cultured mustache perfected a final touch. The women adored him.
“Why, thank you, Mr. Anagnos,” replied Marge as she blushed.
“Please call me, ‘Glannis’, he said with his rich accent. Looking at the four women he asked, “Is everyone ready to order?”
Each woman gave their order with Glannis knowing to use four separate tickets. Once finished he gave a slight bow and left for the kitchen. The ambiance was now in control as each woman took a sip of coffee. They looked around the room knowing that it was the town’s oldest structure with its oldest memories.
Marge eventually glanced through the window next to her then looked downward. At that moment she noticed something that compelled her to take a closer look. Just beneath the bottom corner of the windowsill, the wall had an obscure hole about the size of a penny. A closer look showed a faded yellow object inside that resembled a rose budding. Stress marks surrounded the hole; illustrating that more separation was occurring. It was obvious that the wall was slowly deteriorating and that the hole would eventually increase in size.
“But what was inside it?” wondered Marge. Leaning over she scraped the tiny hole with her fingernail as a two inch piece flaked off. The hole was much larger and now she could clearly see what was inside. It was a rolled-up piece of old newspaper. She meticulously pinched the exposed end of the paper and in one motion, slowly pulled it out. “Well look at what I found,” she said to the table. “It’s a page from an old newspaper.”
The other women leaned towards Marge with curiosity. Bewildered expressions looked at the finding and wondered if it was of any importance. “Why don’t you open it up to see how old it is?” suggested Ella.
Marge looked at the sparkling eyes staring back. The excitement of mystery caused the girls to get a little giddy as youth pumped through their veins. It was like the stories they shared at slumber parties many years ago. “Open it,” encouraged Joan.
“Yes, open it!” exclaimed Mary.
Marge held the paper off the side of the table and shook off the dust. She then leaned over and took an added measure by blowing on all sides. Looking at her friends she placed the newsprint on the table and slowly rolled it out. Like an old pirate’s map, a crinkling sound illustrated how easily it could tear. Finally it was spread out on the table with four energetic seniors surrounding the tabloid. What was unveiled was astounding.
Looking straight at Marge was a picture of her great grandmother at age seventeen; being crowned Harvest Queen!
“Well,” said Marge. “Will you look at that!” The Buckley Gazette proudly chose that story to be their feature article over one hundred years ago.
Ella, Mary and Joan looked bug-eyed at the front page. They knew of Marge’s great grandmother; she was a close friend of their great grandmothers.
“I will take this home and get it framed,” vowed Marge. She carefully folded the paper like a road map and placed it in her purse before leaving. On the way home, Marge passed an arts and craft store that agreed to frame the newspaper article while she waited. She was just warmed up from the cold when the project was complete. That evening she hung the memorabilia above the fireplace. Later she called a few friends and told them about the article she found in the walls of the Honeycomb Cafe.
The next day Marge bundled up for her daily breakfast at the Honeycomb cafe. Before leaving her front door she took one last look at her great grandmother above the mantle. “It just runs in the family…” she said to herself.
When Marge arrived at the cafe something was different. There seemed to be more customers. Furthermore, they were all seniors that grew up in that town. Ella was also sitting in Marge’s usual seat. Her fingers were reaching into the hole that Marge had found the day before.
Ella had jumped Marge’s claim. There was already two sheets of wrinkled yellowed paper on the table. Apparently she was panning for gold; with no luck. Then she extracted a cancellation prize. It was an article about Mary’s great uncle being indicted for miscounting votes in an election. It was a scandal that almost prevented Ella’s great grandfather from being the town’s Agricultural Commissioner.
“So goodness prevails after all!” said a smug Ella as she showed the article to Mary. Immediately there was counterattack from the opposite corner of the room.
“Are you referring to your grandfather being sentenced two days in jail for his third offense on drunk driving?” said an interrogating voice. Ella looked across the room and saw non-other than Elsie Baylor. Years ago, Ella beat her out for the last spot on the high school cheerleading squad. Elsie had apparently found a new vein that was a gusher; allowing her to tip the scales even.
Bewildered, Mary read a few newsworthy lines about her family’s past and left the cafe in disgust.
Glannis’ distinct whistling could be heard leaving the kitchen. Like a cat’s bell; it gave the mice just enough time to cover their tracks. Potted plants and curtains were slightly moved to hide the inconspicuous holes. The restaurateur smiled as he entered the room full of friends. Like a school teacher entering a classroom; all faces smiled back at him.
The following month the cafe’s clientele increased dramatically. Glannis and his wife, Adonia were proud that their tiny business was constantly busy. In fact; there was now a line to enter their establishment before it opened. They did notice however, that it was just the seniors from that town that were dining there. What was more peculiar was that they would only sit next to a window, leaving the center tables abandoned. Another oddity was also occurring: the heating bill was starting to go through the roof…
“Something strange is happening here,” thought Glannis. “My customers look at me funny when I enter the room. They all just stare at me as if there is a problem. They don’t even visit with one another like they used to.”
Glannis’ older brother, Kostas also had a cafe that bordered the next town. Kostas and his wife, Chara were summoned to see if there was anything they could do to address the skyrocketing heating bill. Kostas would spend an hour at Glannis’ cafe to insulate the doors and caulk every window.
On that windy day, Anna Fry was sitting near a window and cautiously surveyed the room. When the Greek brothers left the building to do exterior work, she opened up her purse. Anna pulled out a coat hanger that was stretched out like a metal rod with a hook on the end. This had become the tool of choice since the wells were beginning to run dry. Ingeniously, she inserted the extension in the hole allowing her to excavate at ground level.
The scraping of metal against old mortar fragmented the primitive foundation. When the Anagnos family heard the noise, those on watch would tip off the prospectors before they entered the room.
Glannis would glance over the room to see his customers looking back with their hands in plain view. He would eventually leave scratching his head. The moment he left, Anna broadcast a headline that she extracted. “Well, well, well,” she said as she held up the tabloid from last century. Those present held their breath wondering who was going to get it. “They even had fishing derbies back then,” she said. The woman on social security held up the paper for all to see. It was a picture of her great grandfather holding a three pound rainbow trout. That year Anna;s grandson had won the local tournament. The Buckley Gazette did commemorate the event by placing his picture on the front page. The boys in both pictures looked like twins. Everyone in that room had grandchildren that participated in that derby; and ancestors in the ones years back.
Things weren’t as rosy for Anna as she had thought. Her moment of glory was short- lived; having walked into an ambush. “Forgive me, Anna,” said Hubert Godfrey. “I thought you were referring to this.” He displayed a faded yellow paper over his head as he slowly turned back and forth facing his audience. The headline read: ‘Robbers Caught’ in bold print. Below it had pictures of the ‘Fry Gang’; cousins of her prominent great grandfather. The pictures covering the front page clearly showed a family resemblance of the boy that won the fishing derby that year.
The crossfire continued.
“All I know is that a man expresses himself on the golf course,” announced Fred Harvey. Fred stood up and held a vintage article about his grandfather winning a tournament. It included a picture of him swinging a golf club.
The frenzy escalated with old newspaper articles promoting some families and incriminating others. It was all-out war.
Then something happened.
The wind picked up and began to whistle under the molding above the floor. It blew particles of dust, paper and dirt evenly across the room. The arguing came to an abrupt stop as everyone watched. A strip of molding outlining the floor started to loosen from the wall. It freed itself tumbling with the wind. The force got greater as the wind began to circulate in the room like a small tornado. A wall slightly vibrated and started to loosen another wall adjacent to it.
“Everyone get out, now!” yelled a man’s voice. Sheer panic filled the room as the entire cafe vacated. The occupants had no time to get their belongings and ran across the street.
They were now huddled together under an awning from a laundromat. Like survivors from the Titanic, they watched the destruction of the cafe from a safe distance.
The old structure started to bow and flex from all sides. It continued to pulsate as they watched in horror. Then all at once it blew apart like a deck of cards in the wind. The Honeycomb Cafe was gone!
“AY!… ay.!.. ay!” muttered Glannis in a soft voice as he shook his head in disbelief.
The violent wind died down with the debris settling. All was quiet. What was once the hot spot of the entire county was now rubble. The party glared at one another realizing that an era had come to an end. In their own rite, they were the last of the Mohicans. Tears ran down faces with hugs following. Nothing had to be said. Their lives seemed to center around the cafe until its very last minute. But it was all over now.
Cautiously, they walked across the street to examine the ruins. At that moment others migrated to the site. Soon a reporter from the Buckley Gazette arrived with a local television crew following behind. This would be the story of the year.
Glannis and his brother mulled through the wreckage and spotted several open purses that held the old newspapers inside. An unraveled coat hanger was found next to a purse. It was picked up by Kostas and inspected. This was the ‘smoking gun’ that they were looking for. It was easy to figure out that his customers were stripping the walls of their insulation. Kostas looked up at his brother and in their foreign tongue asked, “Why would they be interested in old newspapers? They only have bad stories about other people.”
Glannis gave an explanation in their Greek language. “Because they are Americans!”
Kostas nodded with the understanding.
Purses, coats and other personal items were retrieved by their rightful owners. The police arrived and roped off the area with caution tape. The crowd was interviewed by reporters with a collection started for Glannis and his wife, Adonia. Soon the activity slowed down with the crowd beginning to thin out. By nightfall everyone had returned to their homes to watch themselves on the news.
Life had changed in the town of Buckley. The restaurant of choice was now the Woodsman Cafe; the town’s lone diner. By some standards this was an upgrade, being a much newer structure that was only forty-years-old. It was also larger and in compliance with current building codes. Another plus was that the Anagnos family owned it. This meant that Glannis and his wife, Adonia had a job.
The Woodsman Cafe implemented a new policy that all had to comply with. The brothers thought it was best to play it safe and have Kostas’ restaurant senior proofed. The walls would now be barricaded with plants, statues and anything that could protect them. The seating was now exclusively towards the center of the building. It was also apparent that certain guests were to be watched.
The seniors of Buckley were glad that they at least had a cafe. Still; there were those that were carrying a cross. Their digging for old newspaper articles resulted in the destruction of the Honeycomb Cafe. Their findings also caused hard feelings over petty events that were forgotten decades ago.
Marge Stewart felt that this travesty was all her fault. She took the incentive to schedule an informal town meeting for only those that got caught up in this whirlwind.
She sent out the requests, begging everyone to meet at the Woodsman Cafe on Wednesday night at eight-o’clock. It was understood that a formal apology would be given to Glannis and his family along with a bouquet of flowers. Then an open floor would be held to come up with any ideas on how to erase the hard feelings that were created.
Marge was delighted that everyone responded upon reading their letter. All were in agreement to meet Wednesday night.
Wednesday night arrived with the closed sign displayed on the front door of the restaurant. Familiar cars were parked out front with those invited seen inside. It was now time to ‘righten what was wronged’.
Marge approached the establishment holding the beautiful flowers. She tapped on the door which was immediately opened by Chara Anagnos. Chara gazed at the arrangement as Marge handed it to her. Marge entered the cafe to see that the tables were arranged end to end like the Last Supper. All were now present with hugs and handshakes being exchanged. Everyone sat down with Marge speaking first.
Marge went into great detail explaining what the Honeycomb Cafe meant to her life. She gave countless stories of the many meaningful moments her family has had there. She carefully explained that when she saw the old newspaper peering through the wall her curiosity took over. She merely wanted to see how old it was. When she saw that it was an article about her great grandmother; she justified taking something that wasn’t actually her’s.
“I was overwhelmed when I saw my great grandmother’s picture looking at me,” said Marge. “I stopped thinking and simply took it home with me as if it were mine.” Heads nodded up and down with the understanding on how someone would have handled that situation the way she did. She pointed out that she didn’t take any more paper out of the wall. Marge told how it was a mistake to frame the picture and tell everyone where she found it. “Naturally others would go there to search for their family history,” she concluded.
The others present shared similar stories to the Anagnos family. Soon everyone had apologized.
Glannis was leaning back in his chair with a big smile. “I guess it’s my turn,” he said with a chuckle. “What you did to my restaurant actually helped me.”
Everyone looked puzzled at Glannis. They wanted to hear what he had to say.
“As you know, my cafe was very old,” said Glannis. “The state was giving me work orders to meet the fire code among other things. If I didn’t get the modifications done; I would have been fined and shut down by the state. I was also taking business away from my brother, Kostas’ cafe.” He continued. “When my business got destroyed; I not only got insurance money for it; but also received a lot from the collection the community took up for my wife and I. That, along with our savings allowed my wife and I to retire.” The proud man stood up pointing his finger to the sky. “Now my brother’s cafe is doing better and my wife and I can help them.”
The customers leaned back in their chairs in relief.
Glannis continued. “Now all I have to do is get that mess cleaned up.”
“You should make a big pile out of it and set it on fire,” said Marge. “That way I can take that framed article I stole and throw it in.”
The room was stunned. Heads slowly turned and looked at one-another. “I have some old newspaper articles that I would like to burn up,” said Ella Ray.
“So do I,” said Fred Harvey.
“I think I can find some to get rid of myself,” commented Anna Fry.
“How about having a community bonfire at the old Honeycomb Cafe this Saturday night?” suggested Mary Pierce.
“That’s a great idea!” said Joan Wakeman. “All in favor say, “aye!” she motioned.
The entire room stood up with everyone raising their hand and shouting, “Aye!”
“We can make an event out of this,” exclaimed Elsie Baxter. “We can call it: A farewell to the Honeycomb Cafe.”
“I will have no trouble posting fliers throughout town and telling local businesses,” said Marge.
“I have a bulldozer and will make a haystack out of it,” volunteered Hubert Godfrey. “When it’s all done; I will haul the remains away in my dump truck.”
The room was bonded by vowing to give the Honeycomb Cafe a grand send off.
Saturday night had arrived with the entire town surrounding the mound that was once the famous landmark. All at once a lit torch was thrown on the gasoline-soaked pile. A whoosh sound accompanied the rolling flames that engulfed the entire stack, making the township cheer. Long wooden sticks held hot dogs and marshmallows near the dancing fire.
Marge Stewart was waiting for this moment. She took her framed newspaper article and threw it into the inferno, generating an applause. Ella Ray made paper airplanes out of her newsprint and flew them into the fire, causing laughter. Next, more hands were throwing more yellowed paper into the bonfire.
This was a small town where news traveled fast. Peter Williams might have only been a forty-year-old youngster; but he still he knew what was right. Holding his wife’s hand, he marched up to the fire and threw in his divorce papers. His children cheered as the family united with a hug.
Professor Walden took the failing grades of his pupils and tossed them into the open flames. “I just have to teach better!” he proclaimed.
A teenager that wore a controversial jacket that implied gang activity took it off and threw it into the flames. His parents ran out to hug him.
A movement had started in the town of Buckley. Anything that suggested hurting the community was being destroyed on a voluntary basis. It seemed that the more disgrace thrown into the fire; the more harmony that came out.
Marge had a warm feeling as she watched the flames dance towards the heavens. Looking up at the stars she thought about her great grandmother’s life. She remembered all of the stories she had told her about the people from that era. They too, had differences that had to be settled. It was as if those ancestors had intervened with their current problems. Marge wondered if past residents intentionally made themselves known through the walls of the Honeycomb Cafe. A visit designed to establish a truce that would upgrade the town with love and respect.
It was plain to see that Buckley was going through a change. It would once again be that little town where everyone cared and looked out for their neighbor.
( By Matt Shea )
James felt threatened. At one time his family owned almost the whole valley, including a neighboring resort off of a pristine lake. Through the years, their numbers had dwindled with land being sold. Only he and his mother now remained. The loyal son felt outnumbered by a new race of people that purchased the resort. James felt that they were pushed into a corner and needed to fight back.
Like a hillbilly protecting his property, James held up his binoculars to take a closer look. He shook his head in disapproval. The rustic cabins that were once part of his family heritage were now at the hands of strangers.
Cabin number four was the pick of the litter. It had three rooms with a bathroom, kitchen, running water and a wood stove. The cabin also had the best view with the lake just yards away. The mother and son combination always chose to stay in that cabin whenever possible. The retired woodsman in the red flannel shirt gritted his teeth in anger. “I will do what it takes to protect my mother from those savages taking over!” he vowed to himself…
He turned his head and looked at his home. Then he looked up a steep hill where his mother’s house rested. It was his duty to provide and keep her safe.
Without warning James’ solitude was disturbed. “You seem to be upset today.” It was the calm voice of his neighbor, Pete Rainwater. Pete seemed to be a part of nature and moved within it in silence.
“I am afraid that I have some bad news,” said James.
“What bad news?” asked Pete.
“Our community is being taken over by Samoans!” cried out James. “They are not even from here,” exclaimed the fourth generation Faulk. “They don’t even look like us!”
Pete Rainwater stood motionless deep in thought. Finally the Native American responded. “Ah, yes. I remember my great grandparents telling me stories that their grandparents told them. They talked about strange looking people from foreign lands moving in on their territory, as if they owned it.”
“Then you know how bad this is!” said James.
Pete remarked, “It can be very bad, but I don’t think that they are a problem. They are the Fiji family and they came from American Samoa. They seem like very nice people.”
James didn’t understand what Pete meant by that comment. The white man turned to look at his neighbor only to find that he had vanished.
James looked down the valley and fumed. His family use to own that land and that’s where he grew up.
The snow continued to fall.
James noticed that it was beginning to get dark. It was time to drive up the trail that led to his mother’s home and check in on her. He got into his car and started the engine. He put it in drive and attempted to climb the hill, but the tires could only spin in place. The slick surface offered no traction. He made several more attempts, but to no avail.
James got out of his car and could see his mother’s house. There was smoke coming from her wood stove and the living room light was on. “She should be good tonight,” he thought to himself. He walked to his home and tried to call her on the telephone. The line was dead. “The snow must have broken a line somewhere,” he thought as he scratched his head. Still he had signs that suggested that she was alright and would wait until morning.
The snow continued…
The following morning a knock on the front door awoke James. He put on his bathrobe and answered it. It was his neighbor Pete. “We have a problem,” he said. “All of the electricity is out and your mother is scared. Don’t worry; I hiked up there with some firewood and warm food to make sure that she was fine. I got a good fire going in her stove and fed her. I told her that the snow is going to get worse and that she needs to pack her bags. She understands that we will come by later to bring her down.”
James was grateful to Pete. “You always know what’s happening around here before anyone else,” he commented. “Thanks, Pete!”
James had to start thinking. How could he get her down from up there? His car wouldn’t budge in the snow, she is far too old to hike down the snow and a sled would only cause a disaster…
In desperation he changed into his winter clothes and went to his tool shed to get a shovel. James had the notion that he could dig an uphill road for his car to drive on. Guided by tunnel vision the sixty-year-old man went to his car and began to dig around the wheels. He then got in front of the car and aimlessly shoveled snow out from its path.
Pete Rainwater watched James from behind and chuckled. “You are not making any headway doing that,” he said. “The snow leading to your mother’s house is only getting deeper. Why don’t you ask your new neighbors if they can help you?”
“Not on your life,” said the man with false pride. “That would only serve as a weakness and then they will try to take more.” James kept shoveling as he huffed and puffed.
Pete threw his hands up in the air and said, “We are all neighbors, and that makes us family!” He turned and walked away in disgust.
James spent the next hour digging and taking breaks. He was slowing down more and more. Finally he stood up and clasped his blistered hands on the shovel. He looked up to his mother’s house to see that there was no more smoke coming from the stove pipe. He did not eat breakfast yet and was hungry. He was also getting cold, just as his mother would be. He evaluated the situation, and thought about what Pete said. Then he heard the cavalry…
Like Whoville, the grace of human voices could be heard singing around a campfire down below. It was the Fiji family. Their harmony carried across the land with a spirit that united their family with God. It also carried far enough to serve as a beacon for James. His stubbornness tried to fight this spiritual invitation. But the message was also compounded by the sweet tantalizing aroma of a Polynesian barbeque; further weakening the hungry man.
James looked down at the family, and looked up at his mother’s house. He looked back down and smelled what was the most welcomed food in his entire life. James looked back up to the isolated structure that was gradually getting buried. He realized that it was time to swallow his pride and ask the Fiji family for help.
James dropped the shovel and trudged downhill in the ankle deep snow. As he approached the resort he could feel the heat from the bonfire. A heat that would aid his mother’s life. The Fiji family was shielded from the snow by a large tarp that was tied to trees, suspended high above the fire pit. They silenced as they saw their disgruntle neighbor appear from the flurry. “We need help,” said James in a surrendering voice. “My mother is stranded in her house and I can’t get up there.”
“We have taken care of that,” said Mr. Fiji. The father pointed at his jeep. The wheels were fitted with chains as it pointed towards his mother’s home. James stared at the modified Ford Bronco and grinned. He realized that if anything could make it up the hill; it would be that!
He looked at the family and saw a circle of caring faces gazing at him. He noticed two empty chairs next to Mr. Fiji and realized that they were meant for him and his mother.
“In this community we are all family,” proclaimed the dad as he extended his hand to shake James’.
“That’s right!” said Pete.
“My name is, Phili, and we are your neighbors,” said Mr. Fiji. “If there is ever anything that we can do for you, please let us know. And now we will get your mother.” The elder turned and addressed his three oldest sons. “David, Ben and Shaggy, you know what to do.” The sons stood up and walked to James introducing themselves and shaking hands.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Faulk,” said David. “We will get your mother and bring her back to you.”
James looked at David and placed his left hand on his shoulder, shaking hands with the other. With tearful eyes he said, “I am grateful for this.”
The sons were on a mission. Their father ordered them to rescue Mrs. Faulk. It was understood that she would be revered as more than just a neighbor; she was regarded as family.
David, Ben and Shaggy climbed into the jeep, started it and with determination began the treacherous ascent. The engine revved with high acceleration as chains clanked, digging into the snow. Immediately, traction was secured and the rescue party was off. The jeep burrowed through the snow as if it were a motor boat leaving a trail of mist. They made it up the first hill with ease. The all-terrain vehicle was now put to the test. It weaved to maintain its course as the chained four wheel driven monster crawled up the second hill. It steadily clawed all the way to the top where the eighty-year-old widow wrapped in blankets shivered in fear. The family cheered the heroes as the jeep leveled off and drove to the front steps.
The trio got out of the jeep and knocked on the door. The curtains moved as a wrinkled face with baggy eyes peered through the glass. A relieved David smiled back. He then looked at his brothers and winked at them with a smile. “Mrs. Faulk,” he cried out. “Your son sent us here to bring you to him. He has saved our entire family and sent us to get you. Because of him we are all warm and safe; please join us.”
The feeble old woman opened the door to meet the friendly savages. “Thank God you came to get me,” she cried out. “I don’t think that I would have survived the night.”
Three sets of compassionate brown eyes stared at the senior. Finally Ben spoke up. “Not on our watch!” The mammoth islander gracefully picked up the woman in blankets and carried her to the jeep. He placed her in the front seat where heat blew all over her chilled body. Gretta leaned back in comfort absorbing the warmth. Shaggy looked inside the front door and saw a suitcase that seemed packed and ready to go. He picked it up and walked to the old woman. “Do you want to bring this with us?” asked Shaggy as he displayed the luggage.
“Yes!” said Gretta. “I had that packed for my son to get me.” The brothers looked at one another and nodded in approval. They each raised their right hand and gave a ‘high five’ in recognition that they had accomplished their goal. They entered the jeep with the suitcase and closed the doors. Slowly they drove down the snowy slope honking the horn and flashing headlights in victory. James, Pete and the remainder of the Fiji family stood up and cheered knowing the Gretta Faulk was saved!
The jeep pulled up to the gathering and parked. James opened the door and assisted his mother out. She was escorted to the chair next to him and sat down.
Phili’s mother sat in the other chair next to Gretta and served her a cup of hot cider with a heavenly smile. “My name is Hana,” she said in a loving tone.
“My name is Gretta,” she replied. Then the women hugged and sighed with the new friendship.
Phili reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He handed them to James saying, “Cabin number four is ready and will be home for you and your mother until this weather clears up. I think that it’s best to simply live here until spring. The mother and son looked at each other with excitement. It was like the good old days!
James looked at Phili and said, “I can pay you the rent right now.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Phili. “This whole community is one big family and we will survive this winter as one. And now, it’s time to eat.”
With bulging eyes James looked back at his mother. They were starving and could smell the food. Gretta nodded in approval.
Phili continued, “We will now say grace.”
All stood up in a circle and held hands. With heads bowed, Phili gave thanks to the Lord for the meal they were about to have. He expressed how grateful he was to have his family as well having Pete, James and Gretta in their lives.
The women began serving the delicious food from the homeland. Conversation broke out with laughter as James and his mother got acquainted with everyone.
Gretta looked at her son, James. He was smiling the way he did as a child whenever they camped there.
James Faulk looked around at the falling snow. He saw a lone snow flake flutter underneath the tarp dropping towards him. James extended his tongue to catch it and swallowed the Arctic water. He stared at the bare branches that held precious white snow and marveled at its beauty.
James looked at his mother. She was comfortable in front of the fire and being fed. Gretta was happy talking to new friends that also mothered children. The best moments of James’ childhood was being revived on the very property it took place on; with the same family values he was raised by. James’ spirit was back.
He looked at the circle of loved ones and smiled at each one individually. This precious moment would stay with him for the rest of his life. James was a simple man that loved nature; especially when he could share it with his mother. All he wanted now was for this moment to last forever.
James turned and saw Pete Rainwater staring at him with a satisfied expression. He smiled back at him and motioned to get closer. Pete got out of his chair and got close to James. James put his hands together with an opening on both ends. He placed them in front of his mouth, as if to tell a secret. Pete leaned until his right ear was surrounded by James enclosed hands.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” whispered James. “We have the Fiji family for neighbors!”
( By Matt Shea )
Harold and Mary Barton felt fortunate as they counted the days to their retirement. This milestone would be bittersweet due to the fact that they loved operating their famous doughnut shop. It was their wonderful customers that helped make it so special. Soon the retirees would start their golden years, with something missing…
A young nephew by the name of Teddy Downing traditionally spent part of his Christmas holiday with the elder couple. Teddy was consumed by an identity crisis. He was an adopted child who didn’t know his parents. This made him feel outcast; as if he was never supposed to be born. What he was about to discover was that he did belong in this world. He would also unveil his aunt’s secret pain and cure it. She was approaching old age and felt that she failed not having children of her own.
Mary Barton bent over to open the industrial size oven. Her padded kitchen gloves grabbed the first sheet of glazed doughnuts. She carefully removed the hot treats and placed them on the counter above.
Mrs. Barton looked up and saw a wool mitten wiping off frost from the shop’s window. It moved in a circling motion until a smiling face with red cheeks could be seen peering through. Soon, many huddled in front of the small opening like a choir ready to sing.
The Bartons were the most loved, charitable people in West Hill. They seemed to be the town’s ‘Ozzie and Harriet’. Each wore wire-rimmed glasses with short, lively gray hair. Reddish cheeks accompanied their patent smiles. Every morning their first tray of warm doughnuts was shared with those waiting at the bus stop. Hot chocolate and cider would also accompany this act of goodwill.
Their kindness didn’t stop there. Often, their small dining room was opened for those that were too cold to wait outside. As always, a fresh warm doughnut and hot drink was provided, free of charge.
The kind old woman put on her coat and picked up a tray full of fresh doughnuts. Her husband donned his jacket as he took a thermos of hot cider along with Styrofoam cups, joining her. They opened the front door to their shop and went outside. It was time to serve their first customers of the day, with the news out on the street that they were about to retire. Eager hands in leather gloves and woolen mittens surrounded the happy couple.
“Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Barton,” said an eleven-year-old girl. “I am sure going to miss you.” The child hugged Mary Barton around her waist.
“You are very welcome and we will miss you,” said Mrs. Barton. “I hope this keeps you warm.”
“Thank you so much Mr. and Mrs. Barton,” said John Hightower, a middle aged African American man. He gracefully accepted a warm doughnut and a steaming cup of cider. “We are sure going to miss you when you retire.”
“Why thank you, John,” said Mr. Barton. “We will miss you and everyone else very much.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Barton, I appreciate this very much,” said fourteen-year-old Jay Turner. “You two have been great to everyone ever since you opened your shop. We are all going to miss you two.”
“Thank you, Jay,” said Harold Barton.
Many hungry mouths were filled with the treats for the final time. This was always the best part of Harold and Mary’s day. It was now time to return to the shop and focus on their last day in business.
Upon entering the shop Harold made a distracting sound by clearing his throat. This intentionally got Mary’s attention. The husband pointed at the calendar on the wall. Using his index finger, he pointed at the following day. She nodded her head with an understanding. That was the day when they would start their golden years. There was also another treat they were looking forward to. That morning they were expecting a visit from Mary’s sister, Elma and their nephew, Teddy. It was an annual tradition to have Teddy spend this week with his aunt and uncle.
The business partners started to roll dough and prepare pastries for the oven. The rhythm of their production was interrupted by a jingle sound.
The bell on top of the door signaled its opening. The aging couple looked over at the lobby to find a heavy set twelve-year-old boy bundled up in a wool coat with matching neck scarf. His short sandy brown hair was exposed despite wearing ear muffs. He was holding a vintage plaid suitcase and had an enormous smile. A gray haired woman in her sixties was dressed identical, standing beside him. Teddy and Elma had arrived.
Teddy placed his suitcase on the floor and yelled, “Hi, aunt Mary and uncle Harold!” He ran behind the counter and hugged both of them at once. “Can I help you make doughnuts today?” asked the nephew.
“Why sure you can,” answered Mary.
Harold and Mary walked over to Elma and gave her a hug. “It’s so good to see my sister again!” said Mary.
“I missed you too,” said Elma.
The guests took off their heavy coats, neck scarfs and earmuffs and placed them on a coat rack that occupied a corner of the lobby. The four sat at a booth in the dining room and visited until an oven timer sounded. “I have to get back to work,” said Harold. The sixty-five-year-old man got up and went to the kitchen.
“I need to get back there too,” said Mary. “Please have some doughnuts with something to drink,” she offered. The aunt got up and went behind the counter. Teddy’s eyes were wide open as he rolled his tongue across his lips in anticipation. Mary arrived in a minute with a tray full of pastries and two cups of milk. The relatives thanked her and began to eat the warm treats.
Afterward the sisters visited for a half hour while Teddy assisted in the kitchen. Harold pulled double duty as he worked with his helper and served customers.
It was getting close to eight-o’clock in the morning with Elma commenting that she had appointments that day. She said that she had to leave and would return by the end of the week to get her grandson. Elma hugged Mary and Harold and thanked them for having Teddy over that week. “He has so much fun when he’s here with you two,” said Elma.
“We love to have him here!” said Harold.
The grandmother bent over and addressed Teddy. She hugged him saying, “I am going to miss you!” She kissed him on the cheek and said, “Have a wonderful time with your aunt and uncle.” Elma went to the coat rack and put her winter garments on. “Good-bye,” she said as she waved her hand. The sixty-two-year-old woman open the door and left.
Teddy looked at his aunt and uncle saying, “Hey, we need to make doughnuts!”
They laughed at their nephew with Harold responding, “Your right, boss!” They went behind the counter and instructed Teddy what to do as a constant flow of customers were being served.
Throughout the day, Teddy heard customers express to his aunt and uncle how happy they had made them through the years and how much they would miss them. Everyone who entered the shop congratulated them on their well-earned retirement. At one point flowers were delivered that had a large balloon that read; Happy Retirement. They were signed ‘from your happy customers’. Teddy saw his aunt and uncle get teary eyed as they marveled at the thoughtful display.
The Doughnut shop had a busy day with their five-o’clock closing time moments away. The last customer had left the establishment a half hour ago. With the utensils having been cleaned, it was now the final ten second countdown until quitting time. The old clock on the wall that a flour vender donated to the shop over thirty years ago ticked the final ten seconds. The trio held hands and counted the last ten seconds out loud. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!”
Immediately Mary turned the cardboard sign that dangled over the front door from; ‘open’ to ‘closed’ and locked the door. Harold turned off the majestic red neon sign on the roof that read, West Hill Doughnut Shop. The forty-year enterprise that became a landmark was officially closed.
The married couple that weathered all those years with their hard work hugged in relief. They challenged the American dream and got it! Teddy could hear the sniffling of tears as they embraced with the realization of what they had accomplished.
It was time to count the money in the register, empty the safe, clean counters and sweep floors. Like clockwork, they quietly attended their assigned chores. In twenty-five minutes they were finished. It was now the simple task of gathering their coats, jackets and other apparel, turn off the lights and lock the back door.
Once they were outside Harold inserted the key into the deadbolt that protected the back entrance to the shop. He turned it smoothly and secured the metal door. Looking down the block he saw a light on the top floor of a highrise apartment. That was home and it served as an additional surveillance for the family business.
It was time to celebrate with dinner out on the town. Teddy’s favorite restaurant was selected and there he would have his favorite meal; a bacon-cheeseburger with French fries. The nephew was also paid for his labor. “Thank you, uncle Harold!” said Teddy as he received the token of appreciation. Dinner was enjoyable as life’s stress and anxiety left the Barton’s life. Home would be the next stop.
It was eight-o’clock in the evening when they entered the apartment on the top floor. Teddy was accustomed to staying in their guest room. He entered the dwelling with his luggage and closed the door. Moments later the bedroom door opened with Teddy entering the living room in his pajamas. His Aunt lit up the Christmas tree lights making the room festive. The happy nephew sat on the sofa and admired his surroundings. He was always grateful to be staying with his aunt and uncle. There were even times when he wanted to stay there forever with his grandmother included.
“Teddy, would you like some hot chocolate before bedtime?” asked auntie Mary.
“Mmm, I’d love that!” exclaimed the excited boy.
“So would I!” remarked Harold.
Teddy was warm, happy and simply enjoying a quiet ending to a great day. His auntie Mary returned with three cups of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. She placed three coasters on the coffee table and rested the hot cups on them. The three picked up their cups and made a toast to their retirement and having Teddy staying with them. The precious moment was savored with funny stories rotating amongst them. Soon the thick white porcelain mugs were empty and it was time for bed.
Teddy went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. He returned to the living room and hugged his aunt and uncle good night. The tired guest went to his room and climbed into bed. He said his good night prayers and fell fast asleep.
Mary woke up at four-o’clock out of habit. She was quiet being hopeful that she wouldn’t wake up her husband. He too was already awake trying not to disturb her. Each became aware of the other and laughed.
“Well, I guess we’re up,” said Mary in a humorous tone.
“I’ll make some coffee,” said Harold.
Mary put on her bathrobe and slippers, following her morning routine. She would first go to their deck and brave the cold morning. She slid open the glass door that allowed access and stepped on the deck, closing the plate glass behind her. Mary leaned over the railing and looked at the aging brick structure on the corner. Harold slid the glass door open and joined Mary, closing it behind him. He arrived with two cups of hot coffee, handing one to her. Together they hugged and looked at the glistening Christmas lights that lit up the neighborhood. Their doughnut shop was now just a dark silhouette.
This was the best time of the day where silence reigned. The only activity was a gust of wind swaying branches and the scratching sound of dried leaves whisking on the icy pavement below. Soon the haze of dawn would greet a new day.
This morning would be different with no schedule to keep. The retirees could have another cup of coffee, kick back and relax. It was now five in the morning; the time when their shop usually opened.
A movement down below caught their attention. A car slowly pulled in front of their shop and stopped briefly. Its driver must have read the sign on the front door, reading; “Out of business due to retirement“. It quietly drove away.
Soon the regulars gathered at the bus stop. A scout left the party to carefully look through the dark windows of the vacant pastry shop. There were no signs of activity inside. Slowly, the dejected pedestrian returned to confirm the bad news. The small gathering at the bus stop seemed to have changed. They appeared to be individually secluded and impersonal.
Harold and Mary didn’t know how to feel at that moment. It wasn’t that they didn’t like to bake or get up early in the morning.
Unbeknownst to them, Teddy was also up and watching them from the living room. The mature boy felt that they were going through an adjusting period and knew to respect their privacy.
The sun began to rise over the distant mountains with the city coming to life. Traffic lights on the roads leading to town increased as the noise of the city began to take over. It was time for the elders to go inside and start breakfast.
“Good morning, Teddy,” said his aunt with a surprised tone. “Did you sleep well last night?” she asked.
“I slept fine, auntie Mary,” said the nephew.
“I bet you would like a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar,” said Harold.
That was Teddy’s favorite meal for breakfast. “I’d like that a lot!” answered the boy.
Breakfast seemed more quite than usual. Teddy noticed that his aunt and uncle seemed to be running out of things to say to each other. It seemed that they wanted something to do, but didn’t know what. Whenever Teddy made a comment it seemed to perk them up.
After breakfast each went a different direction. Teddy went in his room, changed into his clothes and watched the television set provided there. Harold went into the living room and watched the news. Mary got out all of her old high school annuals and photo albums. The lonely senior placed them on the dining room table and started to thumb through the memories.
This first day of retirement didn’t seem significant at all. In fact, it was boring. The couple did their daily chores as mundane conversations arose. It was as if they had nothing to do, or worse yet; nobody to share anything with. Teddy sensed a depression developing between his aunt and uncle. He noticed how they would stare at one another as if they were trying to ask, “Now what?”
Teddy was already fighting a depression of his own. It was the holidays and he could only notice the happiness that normal families were having. He saw parents playing with their children and felt all alone. He felt denied not knowing his parents and questioned if he was even meant to exist.
Teddy decided to soul search. He knew the neighborhood and many of the shop owners. He would take a walk and wisely reach out to seek advice. He asked his aunt and uncle if he could go outside and walk the neighborhood. He promised to be back before dinner time. “That’s alright, Teddy,” said his aunt. “Make sure that you bundle up and stay warm.”
“Be sure to stay safe, Teddy,” cautioned his uncle.
Teddy was enthused now that he had something to do. He knew that such visits usually brought a touch of adventure and taught lessons. “I promise to stay out of trouble,” said the responsible nephew. He hugged his aunt and uncle, put on his coat and earmuffs and left.
Teddy’s journey started by walking down the street and evaluating himself. He knew that he was different from all the other kids. He felt awkward being bigger, heavier and only being able to afford cloths from thrift stores. He felt a stigma being raised by his grandmother, without any contact from his real parents. It also bothered him that they often had to relocate to cheaper housing to survive on her fixed income. This always put him at the status of being ‘the new kid in school’.
The young man was in deep concentration over these hardships. All at once his thoughts were interrupted by someone yelling out his name.
“Teddy!” called out a familiar voice. It was, Gregor, a local rock and roll musician that worked at the gas station across the street. Gregor had a gift for relating to younger people like Teddy. He would be the perfect guy to get advice from.
Teddy was at a corner with no cars traveling nearby. He crossed the street and in a loud voice said, “Hi, Gregor!”
Gregor was happy to see Teddy. The long blond haired man with rich brown eyes and barreled chest gave Teddy a man’s handshake. “I was hoping that you would come by to see me,” the grown man said. “I know that you always stay a week with your aunt and uncle this time of year.”
A black air hose that laid across the lot had a car drive over it, signaling a bell. This alerted Gregor that a customer had arrived. “I have to go for a minute,” said Gregor. He approached an old Pontiac driven by a gray haired sixty-six-year-old woman wearing a flowered hat from the 1950’s. “What can I do for you today, Mrs. Willows?” asked Gregor.
The spunky woman answered, “I need three dollars of regular gas.” The senior handed Gregor three dollars and leaned back in her seat.
Teddy watched Gregor pump gasoline into her gas tank as the revolving numbers kept pace with the amount owed. The three dollar figure was passed at maximum speed with more fuel being pumped into the gas tank. Gregor randomly stopped with the balance at seven dollars and fifty-eight cents.
“We’re all done here, Mrs. Willows,” said Gregor in an accommodating tone.
The grayed haired woman on social security started her car and leaned towards the fuel gauge. “Mercy!” she exclaimed. “I have more gas then I realized.”
“Well good!” remarked Gregor. “You have a nice day, Mrs. Willows.”
The woman was smiling and said, “You do the same!” She cautiously drove off.
Teddy looked at Gregor nodding his head in approval. “You bought Mrs. Willows extra gas because she needed it,” commented the boy.
“Well, not exactly,” said the tenant. “My boss will cover that, but I do extras in return.” Teddy focused on his older friend and wanted to hear more.
“This is a small town and we need to help each other out a bit to survive,” said Gregor. “If you go a little further to make things nicer for someone, it makes everything better for everyone.”
The forty-two-year-old man bent over and looked at Teddy. “It’s like your families doughnut shop. They are known for caring for everyone in this neighborhood. In turn, people go out of their way to pick up any litter that’s around it. They also shovel the snow off of their walkway during the winter time and they are always seated first in any restaurant they go to around here. It’s called respect and doesn’t always have to cost money.”
Gregor continued, “I always wanted to be a famous musician. My dream got to the point where I forgot about caring for others. That made me go nowhere. Now, I am actually a member of this community and have a job. I also get to play my music at weddings, parties, street fairs and taverns. People even give me small change when I perform. I actually achieved my goal as a musician when I accepted that I would never be rich, but could still care about others.”
Teddy was absorbing this lesson. It reminded him about his own life and what he had to accept. Gregor had more to say. “Do you want to know what I do with the money I get for playing music?” he asked. Teddy nodded his head up and down. “I spread it around, just like your aunt and uncle do,” said Gregor. “I tip the barmaids in the taverns I play at. If someone needs a small handout, I might be able to give a bit. I even take my boss out to dinner sometimes as a way to thank him for having this job. There were times when I was broke in this town, but I was never hungry or homeless.”
Another car drove up to the pumps. Gregor said, “I have to go now. It’s been nice talking to you and I hope you come by again.” He patted young Teddy on the shoulder giving reassurance. With dignity, the musician approached his next customer.
Teddy had food for thought realizing how important it was to care about others. He continued down the street to the malt shop to visit another friend; Walt Evans.
The visitor needed no introduction. “Teddy!” called out the proprietor, “I heard you would be in town this week. I am so glad that you dropped by.”
Teddy loved Walt, and trusted the short, jovial man with the crew cut and waxed mustache. He took the fight to Walt.
“Walt, can I share a problem with you?” asked Teddy.
Walt erased his smile and walked up to his young friend. With sincerity he got close to Teddy and patted two bar stools that faced his counter. The shop had no customers and the setting was perfect for a heart to heart. They sat down next to each other and swiveled the stools facing one another. With direct eye contact the shop owner whispered, “What is it?”
Teddy began to explain that he always felt different from all the other kids. He used his appearance as an example.
Walt said, “I think I know what you are talking about.” He asked Teddy to turn around for a moment. The boy followed the instructions. “Now turn back,” said Walt. Teddy spun one hundred eighty degrees and faced the malt shop owner. Walt was leaning over with his hands pressed firmly on the counter. His paper hat was shifted off to one side covering his left eye. “What color are my eyes?” asked Walt. Teddy stared at his right eye and saw a blue eye concentrated on him.
“Blue,” said Teddy.
“Now turn around until I tell you to look at me again,” said Walt. Teddy followed the instructions and spun the opposite direction and stopped.
“Now turn around,” said Walt. Teddy pivoted around.
This time his hat was repositioned, covering his right eye. “What color are my eyes now?” asked Walt. This time Teddy was staring at a brown eye.
Teddy said, “Brown.” The boy realized that Walt’s eyes just changed color, or so he thought. “How did you do that?” he asked with a puzzled look on his face. Walt removed his hat giving the answer. His eyes were different colors!
“You see, Teddy,” explained Walt. “In one way or another we are all different; and that makes all of us the same.”
Teddy was amused by the demonstration. It also made him feel better about who he was.
“Now I have a problem that I need to share with you,” said the kind man.
“What is it?” asked Teddy.
“I need to get rid of some ice cream,” said a happy Walt. “Why don’t you help me with this problem and let me make you a sundae.”
Teddy sat up tall with a smile. Walt continued, “If my memory serves me correct; you like hot fudge.”
An anxious Teddy nodded his head up and down.
A hot fudge sundae was served with a pile of swirling whipped cream topped with a cherry. It also had a small candy cane sticking out of it. “Thanks, Walt!” exclaimed Teddy.
“You are quite welcome, my friend,” said the jolly man. “I want you to enjoy that while I make an important phone call.”
Teddy savored the treat and finished it just when Walt returned from his call. “I have another surprise for you,” said Walt.
“What is it?” asked Teddy.
“Do you know the Heyden twins?” he asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Teddy.
“You know Sam, don’t you?” asked Walt.
“Sam the barber?” asked Teddy.
“Yes,” said Walt. “Sam also has a twin that’s visiting him at this very moment. I shared with them the problems that you and I have about feeling different. They feel the same and want to share their story with you.”
Teddy got excited and said, “Neat!”
A flock of customers entered the ice cream parlor. “I am going to leave now, Walt,” said Teddy. “I will visit you again this week.”
“Thanks for visiting me,” replied Walt. “You are always welcome here. Bye, Teddy!”
“Bye, Walt!” said Teddy as he walked out to the sidewalk. His trek would only last a few seconds because Sam’s barbershop was only two doors away. It appeared that another wise-old friend would give guidance and share advice.
Teddy entered the barber shop to meet the Heyden twins. The room was empty except for a woman that was visiting with Sam. “Hello, Teddy!” exclaimed Sam. “Do you want a haircut today?”
“No,” said Teddy. “I just dropped by to visit. Walt told me that you have a twin and that you wanted to share a story with me. Is your brother here?”
“I don’t have a brother,” said the barber.
“But Walt told me that you have a twin,” stated the puzzled boy.
“I do,” said Sam with a smile, “and she’s right here!” Sam pointed at the woman. “This is my twin sister, Samantha.” Teddy had a confused look on his face.
“I thought that you would have a twin brother,” he said.
“Don’t women count?” asked Samantha.
Sam spoke. “A boy can have something sacred like a twin, but it doesn’t mean that your twin can’t be a sister.”
“Or a brother,” added Samantha.
“You see, Teddy,” explained Sam. “Everyone, and everything is different; and that’s not always a bad thing. I do have a twin, and she’s the best sister I could ever have.”
Samantha reciprocated, “And my twin is the best brother I could ever have.”
The twins with matching sweaters looked at each other with respect. They were always family and proud of it, just like Teddy and his grandmother. Teddy felt warm inside.
It was getting close to dinner time and Teddy needed to start walking home. “It was great to meet you, Samantha,” said Teddy.
“It was nice to meet you,” she said. “I’ve have always heard wonderful things about you.” Teddy blushed.
“It’s nice to see you too, Sam,” said Teddy. “I have to go home now.”
“Thank you for seeing us Teddy,” said Sam. “Don’t be a stranger.”
Teddy walked towards his aunt and uncle’s apartment and saw the old doughnut shop. He noticed a familiar car parked in front. It was a small station wagon with ‘Choi’s Bakery’ on the door. It was his friend’s father, Benard! He ran down the street as he saw Benard getting into his car. Waving his arms frantically he yelled, “Mr. Choi!”
Benard recognised Teddy’s voice and turned around. “Teddy, is that you?” he answered back. “What are you doing all the way out here?”
Teddy was now with Benard and leaned over to catch his breath. He explained that his aunt and uncle owned the doughnut shop and that he was staying with them that week.
“I didn’t know that,” said Benard. “I saw an ad in the paper about a doughnut shop being for sale in this town. I called the number and agreed to meet your uncle here to see if I wanted to buy any of his baking utensils. He even gave me this box of old things that he wanted to get rid of.” Benard looked at the young boy staring down into the box. “Why don’t you take a few items as memorabilia?” suggested Benard. “They will always remind you of your aunt and uncle.” Teddy nodded his head up and down and took their old aprons, kitchen gloves, a rolling pin and a tarnished set of keys.
Teddy realized that Benard was a good man that always gave good advice. He asked if he could share a problem with him.
“Why sure you can, Teddy,” said the compassionate soul. “You can always talk to me about anything.” There was a picnic bench in front of the vacant shop. Benard pointed at it and said, “Let’s sit over here.”
Teddy sat with Benard and looked down as he gathered his thoughts. He then explained the pain he felt not knowing his real parents. He went further and questioned if he should consider himself a part of anybody’s life.
Benard understood the feeling and had something to say. “Much of my family lives in Korea, including my mother. When I finally got to return home to visit her, it was as if we never had a gap in our lives. Our phone calls, emails, letters along with our memories kept the closeness alive.”
Benard had more to say. “When I arrived, it didn’t even seem that far away; even though it was on the other side of the world. I realized that it didn’t matter how much time had passed since I last saw her. It doesn’t matter if there is a mountain range, or even an ocean that creates distance from any loved one. That love keeps you close for life, as if you were seeing them every day.”
Teddy was taken by this discovery. He did have a different type of upbringing, just like Benard, and others. He was starting to feel pretty good about himself.
Benard then said something that broke Teddy out of his depression. “The same holds true with all people. You don’t have to be related to anyone if you want to be family with them.”
That statement served as the last antidote needed to cure his identity crisis. It occurred to him that he was just like everyone else in this world; and it felt wonderful! Now it was time to shed the light for his aunt and uncle.
“I have to go home, now,” said Teddy.
“Okay,” said Benard. “It certainly was a pleasant surprise to run into you, Teddy; and Merry Christmas!”
They said their good-byes and parted opposite directions. Teddy no longer thought about his complex; it didn’t exist anymore. He could only think about his aunt and uncle, and the happiness they deserved.
Teddy realized what was missing in their life. It was loved ones. They didn’t however, need children of their own; everyone in that community was family! It was now his turn to spice up the holidays, and he knew what to do.
The nephew returned to the apartment hiding the artifacts under his coat. He knew that the Christmas wrapping paper, bows and ribbons were in the closet of his room. His desk also held tape and scissors in the drawers. He would wrap them up immediately and secretively slide them under the back of the tree.
He was greeted by his aunt and uncle. “Did you have a good walk through town?” asked Mary.
“Yes I did,” said a reinvigorated Teddy.
“I bet you ran into old friends,” remarked Harold.
“I did!” exclaimed Teddy. “This town is as nice as ours is back home.”
“We have another surprise for you,” said his aunt. “Tonight we are having spaghetti and meatballs.”
“Yummy!” said Teddy. The youth ran into his bedroom and closed the door. He took off his coat and placed the gifts on the floor. He got out the wrapping paper, bows and ribbons along with the scissors and tape. He quickly wrapped the presents and opened his door slightly to see where his aunt and uncle were. They weren’t in view, but the Christmas tree in the living room was. Like a cat, he quietly entered the living room. Teddy then got on his knees and slid the gifts towards the back of the tree. Next he raced to the bathroom and washed up for dinner.
“Dinner will be ready in five minutes,” called out Mary.
The dining room table was set for a feast. Spaghetti and meatballs was served with salad and garlic bread. Once again, it was Teddy’s presence that added life to their evening. The married couple started to communicate openly with laughter. It was obvious that they felt empty when left alone for too long.
Teddy learned a lot that day from his older friends. The nephew conjured up a strategy that would direct their life to the happiness they once knew. After dinner Teddy made his move. “I have an idea,” he said.
Harold’s eyes lit up as he asked, “What is it?”
“I think that we can invent a tradition that will last forever,” said Teddy.
The adults sat back and wondered what he was thinking. “What’s your idea?” asked Mary.
“We can bake Christmas cookies shaped like Christmas trees and sprinkle colorful sugar on them,” said Teddy.
Harold thought and said, “That idea has been done everywhere for years.”
“But we will have a rule attached,” said Teddy. “These cookies can’t be eaten by the person we give them to; they can only be eaten by who they give it to.”
The elders sat back and digested the idea. It was brilliant! It emphasized the concept of giving during the holidays. It would start a tradition, right there in that very town.
“That’s a wonderful idea!” exclaimed Mary.
“I have to agree.” said Harold.
“We can start baking right away since we know so many people in this apartment,” said Mary.
“I have another idea,” suggested Teddy.
“What is it?” asked Harold.
“I’d like you and auntie Mary to open up a few gifts I got you. It didn’t cost me anything and I’d like you to have it now.”
The request intrigued the elders further, bringing excitement.
“That sounds fun!” said the aunt.
Teddy got out of his chair and ran to the living room. His aunt and uncle followed. The excited boy got on his hands and knees and crawled under the tree to retrieve the presents. He pulled out two small gifts that were beautifully wrapped in blue paper with silver ribbons and bows. He handed them to his aunt and uncle. “Go ahead and open it up,” exclaimed Teddy.
Like excited children on Christmas morning they opened their first gift. “Ohhh!” came the response. They each held up their gift to display it to the other. They were holding the aprons from the doughnut shop that they wore for the past forty years.
The couple then looked at one another holding the heirlooms and kissed.
“How about another gift?” asked the nephew.
“Well, alright,” said Harold. Teddy crawled under the tree and fetched two more gifts wrapped the same.
“Here,” said Teddy as he handed the gifts out.
The intrigued couple looked at each other and began to open the gifts.
“Ohhh!” came the response. Mary was holding a rolling pin from their bakery, and Harold was holding two pairs of used kitchen gloves.
“We need to start baking Christmas cookies,” said Mary. “There are so many people in this apartment complex to make them for. This will keep us up all night.”
“I know where a much bigger kitchen is that would serve a lot more people,” said the nephew. “This would even make more people happy!” He presented another gift that was in a small box. It was wrapped in white paper and had red ribbons with a matching bow. “I want both of you to open this together,” instructed Teddy.
The aunt and uncle sat together and opened the small gift. It was the original keys to the doughnut shop.
Teddy made a comment. “I saw you two this morning watching everyone pass by the shop. They all seemed sad.” Teddy’s wisdom continued. “It’s as if they lost the mother to this entire community,” he injected.
Mary’s face slowly grew into a warm smile; she was that mother. It also occurred to her that she had left her post.
“Let’s go there first thing in the morning and bake Christmas cookies!” said Mary.
“That sounds good!” agreed her husband. They embraced realizing what they always had.
Teddy remained quiet as he gleamed at his aunt and uncle. They were cured!
“We need to get to some sleep,” said Mary. “We are going to have a busy day tomorrow.”
They each changed into their nighttime clothes and prepared for bed.
The next morning everyone got up before their alarm clock. Mary made a quick breakfast and within twenty minutes the trio left for the doughnut shop.
The short distance allowed them to arrive at the back of the shop moments later. Harold unlocked the back door and they entered the small building. He turned on the kitchen light with everyone knowing their stations.
Harold immediately turned on the heat and the industrial sized oven. Mary spread cooking sheets on the counter as Teddy started to grease them.
Dough was being rolled in flour with Christmas tree cookie cut-outs brought out to commemorate the holidays.
At the bus stop, life carried on with a pall. On occasion, a head would turn to look at the empty doughnut shop. Tim Rollins, a fifth grader took an extra hard look at the empty shop. Its dark windows seemed to make the streets colder with familiar faces becoming strangers. “There’s no use looking over there,” said John Hightower. “The Bartons have closed up shop and gone away. All good things come to an end,” he said with sadness. The child felt disowned as he looked up to the tall man in despair.
“Do you smell that?” asked Jay Turner.
“These streets will always have that wonderful scent that the doughnut shop left here,” said John. “It will remind us of how wonderful the Bartons treated everyone.”
“But it smells as if something is baking in there,” insisted Jay.
“That’s all in your mind,” said John. “We will all smell that faint smell that was here every morning for the rest of our lives. Everyone would love to have a warm doughnut, cookie and that hot cider they always gave us. More important, it would be great just to say, “Hello,” to Mr. and Mrs. Barton.”
The red neon sign started to flicker with a low buzzing sound. All at once the landmark glowed to life as its light pierced through the early morning fog. It served as a beacon for those who felt abandoned. The streets started to fill with the unmistakable sweet aroma that only their ovens could produce. Brisk faces with cold hands felt a renewed spirit as the West Hill Doughnut Shop opened its doors again. Like a peace march, the spirited masses walked in unity towards the corner of Main Street and Forty-Second.
The soul of that corner had returned with the smell of fresh baked cookies carrying for blocks. Noses were awakened by the sweet smell as ice-cold faces broke into smiles. It was five-o’clock in the morning and the West Hill Doughnut Shop was open for business.
Mary had made thermoses of hot cider as the kitchen timer dinged. Teddy operated his portion of the assembly line by sprinkling red and green sugar on the hot cookies. The first batch of Holiday Cookies was complete with additional trays being placed in the oven.
Harold made a grunting sound to get Mary’s attention. She looked and saw him pointing to their shop window. Small porthole-like patterns covered all across the moist glass with happy faces peering through. The trio kept baking cookies until the counter was full of hot cookie sheets. It was now time to introduce the Holiday Cookies to the community and the custom that would go with it.
The bakers donned their coats and prepared for the masses. Harold rolled a small table on wheels and placed five thermoses of hot cider on top along with many Styrofoam cups and napkins. Mary placed the many cookies in a large wicker basket that was outlined with a white cloth that folded over the baked goods. She would carry them when she marched out of the shop. Teddy was given the honor to unlock and open the front door. He would also introduce the sparkling shortbread cookies to the community and the new custom that went with it.
Like Hollywood celebrities arriving for an awards ceremony, they were flocked by their fans. Teddy led the procession with Mary following and Harold rolling the table behind.
Teddy took charge. “We have a new tradition that we want to share with everyone,” he announced.
Everyone silenced with all eyes on Teddy. The proud boy reached into the basket of cookies and pulled one out. He raised it in the air and like the town crier continued. “These are our ‘Holiday Cookies’, but you can’t eat it.”
Everyone looked at one another with a puzzled expression. Again, they stared at Teddy. “The rule is that you have to give this cookie to someone else, and they get to eat it. When someone gives you one, then you can eat it.”
The crowd shook their heads in understanding. The many smiles showed that they liked this new concept and cheered with approval. At once a line formed in front of Mary as she passed out cookies to her children. The spirit of giving took off like wildfire as those that received; immediately gave. It started a frenzy with “Thank you,” and “Oh, how sweet,” traveling around the community.
The news spread quickly by word of mouth. Practically everyone in town made their pilgrimage to the famous West Hill Doughnut Shop that day. Harold baked continuously as Teddy roved back and forth helping his aunt and uncle. Mary was in her glory, serving the many that congregated around her. Regular customers, familiar faces and old friends paid a visit, thanking them for their everlasting kindness.
Teddy felt a light tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see his friend, Gregor handing a cookie to him. “This is for you, Teddy,” said Gregor. “Happy holidays, my friend!”
Teddy had a cookie in his hand and reciprocated. “This is for you, Gregor,” he said. “Happy holidays to you too!” They each bit into their gift, savoring the warm sweetness.
Teddy saw Sam and his twin sister, Samantha approach his aunt in matching hats and jackets. He saw each sibling accept a Holiday Cookie and hand it to the other. The brother and sister team looked at one another and took a bite at the exact same time. Teddy laughed to himself as he remembered what they told him about, everyone and everything being different.
An amusing figure walked by Teddy. It was a man wearing a hat off to one side, exposing his lone brown eye. The malt shop owner winked at Teddy as he walked by. Minutes later he passed from another angle with his hat tilted to the other side. The man with the lone blue eye smiled as he held his Holiday Cookie up high in victory.
An old high school classmate of Mary’s approached her. The woman hadn’t seen Mary in many years. She accepted a Holiday Cookie and gave thanks. A brief conversation arose. “I thought that you two retired and would probably spend the rest of your life close to your children,” said the assuming woman.
“We are retired,” said Mary, “and we’re doing just that!”
The adopted nephew felt the same realizing that it didn’t matter where he was. All that mattered was who he was. He was Teddy Downing and recently discovered something special that he had in common with his aunt and uncle. As long as he was loving and giving; he would always be family with anyone, anywhere.
Teddy stood back and admired the harmony that his aunt and uncle had with the entire neighborhood. He was also grateful to be a part of it. Like a young child at a carnival, he just wanted to join in with everyone else. He weaved through the small crowd and continued helping his auntie Mary hand out their Holiday Cookies.
It did Teddy good to see someone who was a little hungry and a little lonely join in. They were guaranteed to receive a cookie from a new friend they haven’t met yet. It would serve as that little push needed to introduce themselves and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.