December 16It’s beginning to look a lot like a lonely time of year.

Christmas, any major cultural holiday, can be a stark reminder of those who are not around the tree this year. I’m not going to try and make analogies for other December holidays because they are not my area of knowledge. Regardless, I know that no matter if you have a tree or not, you have traditions, memories, foods and favorite trimmings. And when you are missing someone, those associations can feel empty.

Kate and I had a tradition of gifting…later! We were both classic where-did-the-time-to-mail-go kind of friends. In fact, we both exchanged gifts at the hospital because we each had something special for one another lurking in our desks or to-do boxes. She always knew how to touch me with the simplest gift, and every gift came with a story. I will cherish the baby book she gave me most.

Yes, my best friend gave me a baby book. You know, the first-book types, chunky and printed on cardboard strong enough for a teething baby or enthusiastic toddler. It’s “On the Night You Were Born.” She forewarned me not to let her three-year-old granddaughter see it because she’d think it was hers. She has one, too. This one (and I say it like a grown three-year old) is mine!

We all need people who know us deeply. It helps alleviate loneliness, especially for a woman who did not feel cherished on the night she was born and many nights afterwards. My only-child-syndrome yearned for a sister and that was Kate. She knew it. I knew it. And now she’s gone.

It’s funny, and I say this with sincere humor, because if Kate were alive I still would not have a gift under the tree from her! It’s easy to pretend she’s alive and intending to send me something or call. If she were, I’d get a gift later and so would she. But this year, I get a gift that frightens me with its fragility, and I don’t want to drop it. I get one of her granddaughters, a 15-year old full of teenage angst. Her gift? She gets to be an only child for Christmas vacation.

I’ve been a sucky Grandma-substitute, and it makes me feel guilty. The only person who’d really understand is not here to cheer me up about how I feel. I’m fairly certain I’ve called or written to her grandchildren, oh, zero times since I left Kate’s funeral. One daughter with the teen girls and a younger boy has visited with her family and I that was enough for me to be short-listed for where to go when one teen, Longboarder, wanted somewhere else to be. I’m happy to fill that role. Anxious, too.

My tree is bare. No chance of getting swept away by materialism here. It has lights and ornaments with a past, just no gifts to open. The stockings are hung, empty but full of memories from when my kids were kids. I like seeing them, though. I thought about getting Longboarder a stocking and sharing that tradition with her, but I’m still waiting to get paid. I was feeling low about that today in town. If I had money, I’d be buying gifts left and right.  Instead, I walk a straight line and try to remember the real meaning of Christmas, and that I can gift people with a smile, acknowledgement, patience and kindness.

Imagine my surprise when I came home from town today and discovered a package from New Zealand. NZ? I was mystified and excited. I grabbed a kitchen knife and carefully sliced the plastic and bubble wrap open to discover stunning bling. Something glittered like a mushy Zales Jewellery commercial, and when I released the glamour from the red gossamer bag, I stared at something vaguely familiar. Where had I seen this?  My God, it’s stunning. Who sent this?

For someone who is supposedly engaged in community, I can be disconnected (distracted?). I was vaguely aware of a sun-catcher give-away-blog-thingy, but didn’t pay close enough attention. Geoff Le Pard…I had no idea you nominated me as a friend to receive this amazing gift! I’m weeping, which is why my writing is probably blurry and sappy. I did go back and discover what you wrote, and I am humbled you would do that. Thank you. You have no idea how touched I am.

Okay, yes, I’m probably “touched” in another sense of the phrase, but Kate would be the one to say and laugh at it. How in the world that sun-catcher would arrive on the same day I was missing Kate so terribly, on the same day I actually considered giving up on my veteran out of frustration, on the same day I wondered if I mattered to anyone else. I don’t often share my down days and doubts. I try to always lift up and encourage others because I know how real and painful struggles are, whether it’s at home, on the page or in life.

On my new cherished treasure — which is hanging in the window by my tree, waiting to shine forth light — has two amazing details. One is the angel. It’s the same angel that hung in Kate’s van with the warning, “Don’t drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” I laughed (and cried some more) when I saw that angel! Further down the strand was Kate’s clan — she was a “Ferry” and there is a fairy on the sun-catcher.

One last gift from Kate was a bookmark one of her student’s made for her. When I started to say I couldn’t take such a special item, she gave me her best “Oh, come on…” face and reminded me she wouldn’t be taking it with her. It’s a message I want to share with all of you, especially if you are struggling this season for any reason:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  

Forgive them anyway.

 If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  

Be kind anyway.

 If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. 

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. 

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. 

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. 

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. 

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. 

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

~ written on the wall where Mother Theresa cared for Calcutta children

This sun-catcher will remind me that there is always something we can be to others: Be the light. Thank you Geoff, and thank you one and all who make this a community of writing light, a place to shine in our craft, to illuminate possibilities and encourage one another on the writer’s journey.

Perhaps appropriate, the post I intended to write had to do with expanding the flash fiction challenges. Now I’m thinking of such expansion as catching and spreading the light for writers everywhere. What’s interesting about a rural place is that many are creative, but what one might call “closet writers.” When I was putting up posters for the BinderCon viewing event, everyone knew someone who loved to write, but their writing or efforts do not see the light of day.

I thought about the amazing connections we’ve made at Carrot Ranch through flash fiction. Could that be accomplished in rural northern Idaho? Well, I proposed a program to our library last month, agreed to training as an adult education volunteer and today I received my official volunteer badge and once-a-month program: Wrangling Words. Instead of a 99-word online constraint, it will be a 15-minute in-person constraint. I’ll give a 20-minute presentation (kind of like a live “Tips for Writers”) and stay for up to an hour to mentor anyone who might want to go the next step, either personally or professionally.

This program connects back to the Rough Writer Anthology Vol. 1. Sarah Brentyn has shared her own light and inspiration, taking on the editorship of the book, as well as holding a vision for how such an anthology can be used in a group or classroom setting. I look forward to one day expanding this library program to include what this Anthology becomes.  If you are ever amazed at what your writing is like in the weekly compilations — a dynamic part of a whole — I hope you will be amazed at what it will look like in an Anthology. Thank you to those writers who have stepped up to be on teams. Sarah and I are breaking ground on what tasks and timeline will look like and we’ll be sharing updates soon.

Thank you for your light, your writing, your gift of presence at Carrot Ranch. Whether you read, write or comment, you are all shining stars here.

We will extend the deadline over the Christmas holiday. I look forward to spending time with Longboarder, but I will be checking in daily at the ranch. This next prompt is to honor the generous gift of light and hope from Pauline King in New Zealand, and in remembrance of Kate and any loved ones who’ve passed you want to honor.

December 16, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “spreading the light.” You can use it to honor or memorialize a loved one.

TWO WEEK EXTENDED HOLIDAY! Respond by December 29, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Locked Away by Charli Mills

Gossipers. Chattering prairie-dogs. Mary steadied her hands and steeped tea in her only bone-China pot. Chipped. They’d notice that, too.

“Tea, Ladies?”

Straight-backed they sat on the hickory bench Cobb carved. She rocked. China clinked, heads bobbed. They all stared at the crayon drawing behind her.

“Mrs. McCanles, why hang such…a … violent…portrait?”

“Hard to profess his innocence…” They nodded to one another.

After they left she took it down and locked it away in her trunk. They’d never know the man she did, but she’d be damned if she let them judge his portrait, too. Miss, you Husband

***

Author’s Note: not exactly the “spreading the light” flash I though I’d write. Let me explain where my mind jumped. In a way, I feel like I’m shedding light on an old mystery and also giving light to the wife of a man sorely judged by history. This is a true, although imagined, story. Mary took down the portrait of Cobb and it wasn’t found until several generations later. Her son had the original photograph. Hers was a “crayon” copy.

This is the photo of Cobb the McCanles Family shared with historians:

46-A-McCanless

And this is the copy of the original (uncropped) photo from a newspaper clipping I found just weeks ago:

Lincoln_Evening_Journal_Mon__Nov_11__1957_


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