Monday, December 29, 2014

The Christmas Tree That Lives Forever: The Story of Annabelle Cunningham and Her Evergreen

Early Christmas Eve morning, 12-year-old Annabelle Cunningham sprang from bed and ran into the living room.
“Dad, it’s time to get a Christmas tree!” she said at the top of her lungs, hanging her stocking by the fireplace.
Her mother had been in the kitchen baking all morning and would be there all day.
“I don’t want to spend the money. We don’t need a Christmas tree,” her father said, drinking eggnog in his armchair. “Christmas is only one day. I already arranged my Santa Clauses on the living room shelf. That’s enough decorating.”
Her father’s obsession with Santa had started years ago, and he owned every Santa in the county.
He had short and tall Santa’s with big tummies, small tummies, red coats, green coats, sacks, and sleighs.
“Yes, we will get a Christmas tree and decorate it, whether you want to or not!” Annabelle said.
“Fine, fine, but the Christmas tree is coming down the day after Christmas–lights and all," her father said.
“Try to remember that your father never had Christmas growing up,” Annabelle’s mother whispered to her.
“He doesn’t know how to celebrate it. Now just go get a Christmas tree and try to be kind to him.”
Annabelle threw on her winter jacket, wool hat, and boots, and headed to her father’s green pick-up truck.
As she waited for her father in the front seat, she admired her mother’s red and green holly bushes.
Earlier in the week, Annabelle had hung a wreath on the front door and strung garland on the porch.
Her father meandered to the truck with his brown jacket, slammed the door shut, and started the engine.
“The truck probably won’t make it to the Christmas tree farm,” her father said, pulling out of the driveway. “The roads are slippery. I spent all morning shoveling the snow from the driveway, and you never know when you’ll hit ice.”
Annabelle hummed “O Christmas Tree” to herself on the car ride, ignoring her father’s humbug.
“That’s my tree!” Annabelle said, jumping from the truck as her father pulled up to the Christmas tree farm.
She pointed to the largest Christmas tree in the lot and ran to its side in knee-high snow.
“How did I let you talk me into this?” her father said, shaking his head as he got out of the truck.
He swung an axe over his shoulder and kicked the snow with his feet as he walked toward Annabelle.
“Timber!” her father yelled as he swung at the base of the tall, plump evergreen tree.
“Let me help you with that!” said the manager of the Christmas tree farm. He wore heavy work gloves.
As the tree fell on its side, he grabbed the trunk and pulled it all the way to the pick-up truck on a sled.
“I can’t believe you made me cut down a Christmas tree!” Annabelle’s father said, handing the manager a wad of cash. The manager threw the Christmas tree on the back of the pick up truck and tied it down with ropes.
“Scrooge was visited by three ghosts because he was so stingy,” she said to her dad, climbing in the front seat.
Annabelle hummed “O Christmas Tree” all the way back to her house, remembering Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
When Mr. Cunningham stopped in the driveway, Annabelle swung open her door and ran to the evergreen.
“I’m going out back to chop wood for the wood stove. Two days from now I’ll be chopping your tree," her father said.
“This will be the Christmas tree that lives forever!” Annabelle called to him, climbing on the back of the truck.
“My beautiful evergreen Christmas tree is not going to burn in your stupid wood stove in the basement!” she said.
“Oh, let me help you with that, honey,” Annabelle’s mother said, walking out the front door with her gardening gloves.
Annabelle and her mom pulled the tree into the living room and propped it up on its side until they attached a tree stand.
Then Annabelle watered the tree stand and carefully arranged the red tree skirt at the base of the evergreen.
As she strung caramel popcorn and cranberries through a needle, she watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on TV.
“Sam the Snowman saves Christmas!” she said, singing along to “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold.”
“I feel like I’m saving Christmas,” Annabelle said, eating a few more popcorn than she strung on the string.
By dinnertime, Annabelle had perfected her Christmas tree with every type of decoration imaginable.
She hung toy soldiers, Christmas balls, snowflakes, tinsel, angels, white and colored lights, and a star on top.
The Christmas tree stood proud and tall all Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day without losing a limb.
It hovered over presents as they were wrapped and unwrapped and re-wrapped to give away to someone else.
Of course, Annabelle would never give a Christmas gift away, but Mr. Cunningham was another story.
Since he was too stingy to buy Christmas gifts in the first place, he re-wrapped presents given to him to give away.
One year, Mr. Cunningham re-wrapped the gift that Annabelle gave him to give back to her—a singing reindeer head.
She felt sad that her dad didn’t keep the gift and hid it under her bed for the annual holiday season.
Since the singing reindeer head could be programmed to say anything, Annabelle had it greet her neighborhood friends.
Similar to the Christmas tree, her father thought the reindeer made too much noise and frequently took out its battery.
“I’m throwing the Christmas tree in the wood stove first thing tomorrow morning,” her father said, turning off its lights.
“You are not burning my Christmas tree to a pulp!” Annabelle said, throwing up her hands.
Then her father moaned, grabbed his axe, and went in the back yard to chop wood until his hands bled.
Her mother went into the kitchen to bake another pie or cake or cookies for the neighbors.
“I’m going to save Christmas once and for all,” Annabelle whispered to herself after her parents left the room.
Early the next morning, before her father woke up, Annabelle carried the tree into the front yard.
She planted the Christmas tree with all its decorations right in front of the house for everyone to see.
Then she ran an extension cord from the garage to plug in the shining Christmas lights.
“Snow will water you until it rains,” Annabelle said to the Christmas tree, watching the neighbors gather round.
“Are you kidding me?” Mr. Cunningham said, walking out the front door with his axe.
“Put the axe away!” the neighbors said to Mr. Cunningham. “It’s only the day after Christmas.”
“The electric bill to light this tree is going to be enormous!” Mr. Cunningham said, slamming the door.
“It’s going to be Christmas all year long, and that’s the only way it’s going to be!” Annabelle said.
Her father sighed, looked at her and the neighbors in utter disbelief, and went back inside the house.
From then on, Annabelle decorated her evergreen as the seasons changed throughout the year.
She hung glass hearts at Valentine’s Day, four-leaf clovers at St. Patrick’s Day, Easter eggs at springtime,
American flags at the Fourth of July, Jack-O-Lanterns at Halloween, and Turkeys at Thanksgiving.
Annabelle celebrated Christmas all year long, and so did her Scroogey father, even if he didn’t like it.

Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters

Dedicated to my dad, John Waters, who likes to drink eggnog, read Dickens, collect Santa Clauses, plant Christmas trees in the front yard, and re-gift singing reindeer heads.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Lewis the Christmas Bear: The Story of a Teddy and His Girl

There once was a brown bear named Lewis who was sewn together by Mrs. Santa Claus.
Of course, this was a very special bear, and Mrs. Claus only had time to make one bear like him a year.
“Love is sewn in every stitch of your fabric,” Mrs. Claus said to Lewis, patting his tummy.
“Now go find the children who need you the most on Christmas Eve,” she said with a chuckle.
No one but Mrs. Claus, not even her husband, knew that she had sewn magic healing power into his nose.
If Mr. Claus knew that she had done this, he would insist that she do nothing but make healing teddies.
Mrs. Claus had a laundry list of essential duties to keep the toy factory running and prepare for Christmas.
She even had to clean up after the elves that tended to leave projects half-finished and unpainted.
Between the hustle and bustle, she hardly had a moment to have a cup of tea or a Christmas cookie.
However, she knew that the world needed at least one magic Christmas teddy a year to spread healing.
Any child who had sickness or loneliness would only have to hug Lewis and be well.
If Lewis rubbed his nose on a child’s cheek, magic healing tingles would go from the child’s head to toes,
And the child would be healed by morning, good as a new bouncing ball.
On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus snuck Lewis into her husband’s big, crimson toy sack.
“There is a special someone waiting for you,” Mrs. Claus whispered to Lewis.
She winked at him as she tightened his bow tie and brushed his fabric one last time.
Then Mr. Claus grabbed his sack and swung it over his shoulder on the way to his sleigh.
“Ho, ho, ho! I can’t keep Rudolph waiting any longer,” Mr. Claus said, kissing Mrs. Claus on the cheek.
As the sleigh took off into the crisp, snowy air, Lewis peeked at Rudolph’s shining nose.
Peeking a little longer than he should have, Lewis almost fell from the sleigh into the night sky.
He grabbed the tassel on the red bag and pulled himself back into the sack, only to be crunched by a soldier.
“Ouch!” Lewis said. “I’m only a teddy bear. Please be gentle with my fluffy body.”
One house after another, Mr. Claus jumped down the chimney, and Lewis remained stuffed in the bag.
Mr. Claus picked a train, puzzle, doll, or even a picture book for the children in each of the homes.
When Mr. Claus grabbed Lewis, he looked at him and said: “Ho, ho, ho! Aren’t you last year’s model?
How did you get in here anyway? I can’t give you out again this year. Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!”
Despite Lewis’ tender cotton skin, Mr. Claus shoved him back into his large red sack.
Lewis sat on the bottom of the sack, wondering if he would have to wait until next year to meet any children.
Rubbing his tummy, he felt like he had failed Mrs. Claus, who had carefully crafted him.
When Mr. Claus landed on the last roof of the night, it appeared to be a large building with many rooms.
As Mr. Claus crawled from the fireplace, Lewis spied from a hole in the sack, realizing it was a hospital ward.
From the corner bed, Lewis heard a girl crying and praying: “God, please send your angels to heal me.
My family is so sad that I am sick at Christmas, and they don’t know what to do. Please help me feel better.”
Lewis didn’t wait for Mr. Claus to take him from the sack and give him to the pale-sickly girl.
He pulled himself up the side of the red bag an inch at a time until he finally reached the top.
The teddy bear jumped from the sack, tiptoed over to her bed, and crawled into her tiny arms.
As starlight shone through the window, her tears covered his body, but slowly she started to feel better.
“My name is Lewis,” the teddy bear whispered to the girl as he rubbed his velvet nose on her cheek.
“My nose is full of Christmas magic that makes all children feel better,” he said to his girl.
Her body tingled from head-to-toe, and she became warm all over, like a big cup of cinnamon apple cider.
“You’re going to feel a lot better in the morning,” Lewis said to her, wrapping his arms around her.
“My name is Bernice. I'm 10 years old,” she said to him. “I already feel better, much better than I have in days.”
By the time Mr. Claus finished passing out the toys to the children in the ward, Bernice was fast asleep.
Mr. Claus climbed up the chimney and returned home to Mrs. Claus with an empty pack and tired reindeer.
In the morning, doctors and nurses gathered at Bernice’s bedside with raised eyebrows.
“Mr. Claus brought Lewis the Christmas Bear to me last night. Lewis told me I would be well," Bernice said.
No one knew what to say, especially Bernice’s parents who cried tears of joy at her complete healing.
“I’m going to share Lewis with all the children in the hospital ward, so they can feel better, too,” she whispered to herself.
By Christmas evening, Lewis had rubbed his magic nose on every child’s cheek in the hospital ward.
Bernice had made sure that all the children were well and kept the Christmas magic in Lewis' nose a secret from the grown-ups.
The day after Christmas, she went home with Lewis tucked in her knapsack, promising to feed him rice pudding.
“Do you have a sweet tooth? My mom makes the best cinnamon rice pudding. It doesn’t take long to make.”
"Thank you very much indeed. I would like to have a tummy full of pudding," Lewis said, patting his stomach. 
Every month after that, Bernice visited the hospital ward with Lewis, rubbing his nose on children’s cheeks.
She was so glad to be his girl and for him to be her teddy; she would love him forever.

Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters

Dedicated to author C.S. Lewis for his baptized imagination. 
Inspired by Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy" and his love for rice pudding.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Turtle Who Became a Princess: The Story of Starfish that Fell Straight from Heaven

Once there was a turtle that had a very heavy shell.
She wore the shell on her back everywhere she went.
It was there since the first day she was born.
Everyone told her that she needed it to protect herself.
More than anything, she wished she could get rid of it.
Then one day the turtle met a mermaid on the beach.
“I was once a turtle, but lost my shell on the ocean floor,” the mermaid said.
“Some days, I wish I had it back. It’s easy to hide in a shell.”
“I would give anything to lose mine,” the turtle said.
“Well, if that’s the case, swim to the bottom of the ocean,” the mermaid said.
“Any turtle can change if he or she wants to change . . .
Eat as many starfish as you can, and you’ll surely lose your shell.”
“Why starfish?” the turtle asked, wondering what made them special.
“Long, long ago, starfish fell straight from heaven in a meteorite shower,” the mermaid said.
“Since they were once shooting stars, they hold great and mighty magic . . .
But you must be warned, there are sharks in the ocean who want their magic, too, for evil reasons.”
“It can’t be that hard. How many starfish does a turtle have to eat?” the turtle asked.
“I wanted to become a princess, but gave up,” she said, flopping her mermaid tail on the ground.
“At least I tried, but I wasn’t determined enough and only ate enough starfish to become a mermaid.
Being a mermaid is better than being a turtle, but if I had legs . . . then I’d be able to run and climb.
Instead, I’ve been stuck in the ocean my entire life, never to walk on the sand.”
“Then I’ll eat as many starfish as I can, and I’ll never give up!” the turtle said.
So, the turtle dove into the raging ocean waves, remembering the mermaid’s fate.
Despite the fierce ocean, the turtle swam to the sea floor in search of the pointy fishes.
She ate one sparkling starfish after another, even when she wasn’t hungry.
When the sharks came swooping past to eat the starfish first, the turtle hid in its shell.
After the turtle ate every starfish in sight, she paused, wondering why she still had her shell.
Then she saw one last starfish from the corner of her eye and dove to catch it.
As she caught it in her mouth, a shark chomped on one of its many pointy legs.
Scared of being eaten by the shark, the turtle wanted to swim away and forget her dream.
Looking at its great white teeth, the turtle remembered its promise to the mermaid to never give up.
With all her strength, the turtle wrestled with the shark and wished to shed her shell once and for all.
The last thing the turtle wanted to do was die in the mouth of an evil shark.
Then a sudden gush of water sent the turtle spinning across the ocean floor with the starfish in its mouth.
The wave sent the shark spinning in the other direction, giving the turtle enough time to eat the starfish.
She swallowed the starfish, and then stared in the direction of the shark.
As she looked the shark straight in the face, a light rose from her back, blinding the shark.
The light was so strong that it broke off her shell, and she grew a human body with long arms and legs.
She used those arms and legs to swim as fast as she could to the top of the sea.
When she got to the shore, she stood up straight and tall, running to the mermaid.
“I’m free of my shell! I never gave up. I ate every starfish on the ocean floor!” she said.
Her long blond hair blew in the wind, and she breathed deeply.
“I’m sure I’m a princess. Now I must find my prince,” she said, sighing.
“Or maybe he’ll find you,” the mermaid said, nodding to an admiring sailor docking his boat.
“Tell him your name is Princess Yeruti and that it means turtledove.
Your shell became almost like wings—to free you to soar for your dreams.”
“Beautiful lady, would you like to ride the waves with me?” the gentleman called.
“Yes, I would like that very much,” the princess said to the suitor.
“I will never forget you,” the princess whispered to the mermaid. “Thank you so much.”
Princess Yeruti and the handsome sailor set off into the sunset, hand in hand.
She tried to tell him that she was once a turtle, but he never believed her for a second.

Copyright 2017 Jennifer Waters

Friday, November 21, 2014

Angel Food Cake Ice Cream Truck: The Story of Celeste Peterson and a Crowd of Strangers

“Oh no! The ice cream melted!” said the father of 11-year-old Celeste Peterson.
On the warm December day, John Peterson leaned against the door of his rainbow-painted Ice Cream Truck.
It sat in the driveway of his brown brick home, dripping with desserts.
The wiring in the freezer had frizzled and left him with nothing but a river of cream and sugar.
“I’m the Ice Cream Truck Man! My ice cream can’t melt away,” he said, adjusting his red-striped hat.
Celeste shrugged her shoulders, licking two melting popsicles at once.
“Now I have nothing to sell to the children today,” Mr. Peterson said to Celeste.
“It’s already harder to sell ice cream in the winter. It’s usually so cold outside!” he said, enjoying the winter sunshine.
“It’s going to cost me a bundle to pay to fix the freezer. There will be no money left for Christmas gifts.”
Every Saturday afternoon, neighborhood children gathered at his truck when they heard its jingle.
“Well, Dad, the next best thing to ice cream is angel food cake,” Celeste said.
“Angels eat angel food cake. I think there might even be angels in the cake . . .”
“Angels in the cake? What are you talking about, Celeste?” her dad said, mopping up the truck.
“I’m going to make you angel food cakes, so you can sell them and pay to fix the freezer!” she said. 
“We’ll still have money left for Christmas gifts. Maybe we’ll meet some angels if we fill the truck with cakes.”
Celeste ran into her father’s kitchen and pulled the mixer from the lower cabinet.
She mixed into the bowl the main ingredients: sugar, flour, egg whites, vanilla, and salt.
Then she sent the mixer arms spinning, whipping the batter into a thick mixture.
She took her rubber spatula and tasted a mouthful of the batter.
“Umm! Yummy!” she said, sticking her nose into the mixer’s bowl.
“No wonder the angels like to eat angel food cake. It’s so good that I feel like becoming an angel.”
She scraped the mixture into baking tins and placed them in the warm oven.
When the angel food cake finished baking, she made sure that her father ate the first slice.
“Dad, come have a piece of cake!” Celeste called to him from the window.
He had spent most of the day fiddling with the broken freezer in the ice cream truck.
“It’s wonderful!” Mr. Peterson said, sitting at the kitchen table eating a large slice of cake.
“Next weekend, we’ll sell enough angel food cake to buy a new freezer,” Celeste said.
“Who’s going to buy angel food cake from an ice cream truck in December?” her dad said in a weary voice.
“Mom would say that the angels are going to buy it. It’s angel food,” Celeste said.
“Since she’s with the angels, she’ll send angels to buy the cakes,” the child said, thinking of her mom in heaven.
Mrs. Peterson had passed away last Christmas, and Mr. Peterson had been heartbroken ever since.
“I’m still going to try to fix the freezer, Celeste,” Mr. Peterson said, finishing his dessert.
“Your mom would like the angel food cake; just try not to overdo it,” he said, looking at Mrs. Peterson’s picture.
“Dad, I never overdo anything, but I might have to take the week off from school,” Celeste said.
“Your teacher will never agree to you taking the week off from school . . . will she?” he said.
“She might, because I’m baking my own miracle for the angels to come!” she said.
“If I bake enough angel food cake, angels will come to help us from every part of heaven.”
Just in case Celeste was right, Mr. Peterson grabbed a pad of paper from the side desk and scratched out a quick note.
“Mrs. Rogers, Celeste has a stomachache and can’t come to school this week,” her dad wrote.
Then he scribbled: “She ate too much sugar. I’m sure you understand. Yours, Mr. Peterson.”
He knew it was better not to argue with Celeste, because she would do what she wanted to do anyhow.
Mr. Peterson put a stamp on his letter, popped the letter in the post, and kept tinkering with his truck.
The next day, Mrs. Rogers, Celeste’s sixth-grade teacher, called to inquire about Mr. Peterson’s letter.
“Mr. Peterson, why did you write me a letter in the mail? Most people in this century use the telephone!
What’s that daughter of yours up to now? She always has some sort of magical idea in her head!” Mrs. Rogers said.
“Celeste has just been so excited about Christmas that she ate one too many angel food cakes,” he said.
“It sort of went to her head, if you know what I mean. But don’t you worry about her. Merry Christmas!”
Before Mrs. Rogers could argue with him, Mr. Peterson hung up the phone and pulled the cord from the wall.
He stared at the angel on top of their Christmas tree, hoping Mrs. Rogers would not show up at his front door.
During the next week, Celeste set about making enough angel food cakes to fill the entire ice cream truck.
Mid-way through the week, Mrs. Rogers appeared unannounced, pressing her nose against the kitchen window.
“What are you doing in there, Celeste?” Mrs. Rogers said. “I don’t believe for one minute that you’re sick!”
“Of course, I’m sick!” Celeste said, putting the blender on high and turning up the Christmas carols on the radio.
“If this behavior continues, you’ll be expelled from school!” Mrs. Rogers said. “Or you’ll at least be suspended.”
“Good! Then, I can stay home and make angel food cakes,” Celeste called to Mrs. Rogers through the window.
As a peace offering, Celeste slipped an angel food cake through the kitchen’s pet door, wrapped in aluminum foil. 
Mrs. Rogers grabbed the cake and stomped off in disgust: “I’m calling your father as soon as I get home!”
“Too bad! He pulled the phone cord from the wall,” Celeste said, singing “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
Despite Mrs. Rogers’ protest, Celeste added red and green food coloring and icing to the cakes.
She even added Christmas colors of white whipped cream, red strawberries, and green mint leaves to the desserts.
Then she carefully stacked the finished cakes one by one on top of each other in the truck.
Every now and then, the cakes toppled over, and Celeste had to dust them off and restack them.
On Friday night, while Celeste restacked the cakes with her dad, Mrs. Rogers came up behind her in the driveway.
Mr. Peterson put a bag on his head and hid in the ice cream truck, ducking beneath the counter next to the broken freezer.
“Child, what in the heavens have you been doing?” Mrs. Rogers said. “Home economics doesn’t start until seventh grade, and then you start with something small like garlic rolls or chocolate chip cookies. Where is your father?”
“I’m making food for the angels,” Celeste said. “Don’t you believe in angels, Mrs. Rogers?”
“I believe we have to start home economics class in the sixth grade,” Mrs. Rogers said, taking a cake from the stack.
“Make sure you come back tomorrow morning, Mrs. Rogers, when the angels come to buy cakes!” Celeste said.
“I’ll be here, but unless you plan to grow angel wings, you better pass your math exam next week!” Mrs. Rogers said.
When Saturday morning finally came, it turned out to be a beautiful December day with an inch of snow.
So many strangers, including Christmas carolers, visited the truck that Celeste knew they were angels.
Customers from everywhere bought angel food cakes for their families, friends, and neighbors.
Even Mrs. Rogers bought an angel food cake for her husband to enjoy for dessert that evening.
“Celeste, get your derrière in my classroom bright and early on Monday morning!” Mrs. Rogers said.
“Yes, Mrs. Rogers, thank you for your business,” Celeste said, as she counted every nickel in the cash drawer.
Her father made so much money from the cakes that he bought a new truck instead of fixing the broken freezer.
“I’m naming this the Angel Food Cake Ice Cream Truck,” Mr. Peterson said, displaying a picture of Celeste’s mom.
“I told you the next best thing to ice cream is angel food cake,” Celeste said, eating the cake with ice cream.
On Christmas morning, there were enough presents beneath Celeste’s tree for everyone in the neighborhood.
From then on, Celeste and Mr. Peterson sold angel food cake with ice cream and never lacked a thing.
Celeste told everyone it was because her mother sent the angels from heaven—who had their cake, and ate it, too.
She even hung a sign on the new truck that said: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters

Dedicated to my grandmother, Dorothy Moyer, for her love of angel food cakes.