Wanderers – 7

Note:  “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of  the season” at Amazon.com.


And what a story that mural told about that night a lifetime ago; a week before Christmas.  The night was bitterly cold.  The north wind howled through the canyons of downtown Ripley.  The snow rode the brisk wind like a plague of thousands of tiny frozen stinging insects looking for any bare skin, intent on biting whomever they met.  No one was out on a night like this.  No one, unless you were confused, homeless, in despair, or abandoned.  Our wanderers, Harry, Betty, Thomas and the one other were in place.  Unknown to them they had been readied to play their roles in this unfolding plan, this necessary convergence that would make all the difference.   

Harry Spaulding. His workday was completed. The last pan washed. Everything was set out and ready for the next morning’s Saturday regulars.  His end-of-the-day routine planted firmly in his brain left no doubt that all would be as it should be at the diner, his diner.  The diner he owned and had run for many years.

He grabbed his coat, adjusted his baseball cap, stepped out of the door and clicked the lock. With the click, Harry’s brain wandered off into another unknown world.  Unknown, yet becoming more and more familiar as the disease in his brain gradually, stealthily advanced.

He knew where he needed to go. Home. However, tired from the day’s work, confusion set in.  He was unsure of exactly which way to go and by what means to get there. Then he saw the rusty, snow covered old bike leaning up against the dumpster. That must be it. He recalled riding his bike from his home to, well, everywhere. So just like years ago, when he was 8, he walked past his parked Chevy Impala and hopped on the bike and headed home, ignoring the bite of the December night.

The winter wind pushed him along, down the alley towards the street. Fortunately, Hays Park was empty of traffic at that late hour, because he shot across its lanes and continued down the alley on the other side. At the next street he turned right and a block later made a left. Several blocks later he was pedaling into the teeth of the biting gale. The wind tore at him. Harry reached up to save his precious Red Sox hat which caused him to lean left, then to the right. The wobble caused the fat bike tires to lose their purchase on the icy street. Harry jerked and turned the handlebars in the direction of the skid, then hit the curb and flew biscuits over gravy landing facedown in a pile of snow shoveled next to the nativity scene in front of the First Presbyterian Church of Ripley. 

Panicked, Harry imagined icy daggers sent by some malevolent being to do him harm.  Harry desperately looked around for a safe place to ride out the storm. He pawed through the snow pile, lifted his head and saw it.  Filtered by the driving snow, the street light hanging from the pole bathed the structure.  The structure that would be his salvation.  The light led the way. Harry followed.

Breathlessly, Harry scrambled to the shed.  He scrunched himself into a straw-filled corner of the small building. Shaking with fear he wrapped his arms around himself and waited for his pursuers … waited… waited…  He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, hoping that it would make them all disappear;  for Harry was not alone. Oh, no, he was not alone.

Wanderers – 6

Note: There are 12 sections to this story that will be posted starting December 26, ending on January 6, the day of Epiphany. “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.


Among the dozen or so portraits, Ruby’s eyes lighted on a picture of a guy. He was older, she could tell by the gray hair sticking out beneath the back of his blue baseball hat turned backwards on his head.  At that Ruby perked up a bit. Her lips almost broke into her first smile of the morning as she thought of this old guy with the backwards hat being a member of some gang of young thugs. 

It was a full length picture of the guy.  What drew Ruby’s eye wasn’t the fact that he was wearing a white, grease stained apron.  It was his face and especially his eyes that caught her.  He was holding a pot of coffee, like the one that Betty was using to dose her customers.  There was a twinkle in his eyes, yet at the same time Betty captured with her brush a vacant distant look. Ruby glanced from his face to the coffee pot and back to his face.  His kind face said something like, “This is all I have to offer, but it’s yours if you want it.” 

“That’s Harry,” a gravelly voice said. Ruby jumped.  Arnie poked his head through the serving window and said, “That’s Harry Spaulding.  He used to own this place.  You know, before Betty.  Before he, uh, well you know.” He tossed an order of scrambled eggs, wheat toast and a side of bacon on the shelf and went back to his griddle. 

“Oh,” Ruby sighed, rubbing her eyes, she pulled up her nose at the breakfast on the counter.  She let her gaze wander from the portrait over to the mural covering the wall across the room.  From where she stood there was no discernable single image that she could say, “Oh, that’s a this or this is a that.“   It was as if Betty had tossed every color imaginable from her artist’s palette onto the wall, converging them into an undistinguishable maelstrom of color. 

Yet there was something there. Like the other paintings there was more to it than just the dizzying swirls of color punctuated by dots of, what, light? She couldn’t tell.  Ruby shivered and scrunched her coat around her.

What she saw in the scene caused her to feel a coldness that penetrated to her core.  It was a feeling that drew her in even more, enticing her to explore more of the confusing conjunction of color that captured her eye.  It distracted her from her young memories of Grandma Start, the yucky breakfast and the old guy with the backwards hat. 

Ruby found herself so absorbed by the painting she forgot all about Arnie, Betty and Thomas.  All of its color and texture played in Ruby’s mind making her wonder.  Then, as if by magic, the hint of an image emerged from the abstractness on the wall.  People emerged.  It was as if they were walking out of the fog, and Ruby could dimly begin to see them. She found them with her fingers, then traced the streaks of shimmering light and the sparkles of what appeared to be a stable, animals and people sharing a cold, starry winter night. 

As she gazed it was as if she were being drawn into the painting even more. Some part of her was being nudged. She was coaxed into the story of the mural by an unknown storyteller. It crept into her mind. For a brief moment she grasped at it, but couldn’t yet gather it in that the story the mural told, in part, was her story. A story not easily discovered except by those meant to discover it.

Wanderers – 5

Note: There are 12 sections to this story that will be posted starting December 26, ending on January 6, the day of Epiphany. “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.


Betty did a lap around the small dining room meeting the needs of the customers before landing back at Ruby and Tom’s table.  She circled their table, coffee pot in hand. As she poured some of the black brew into Tom’s cup she leaned in, put her hand on his shoulder  and whispered, “Thinking of you, Tom, with your anniversary and all.” 

Tom’s usual ever-present Saturday-morning-breakfast-at-Betty’s smile faded a bit. He looked at Betty and said, “Thanks for remembering. You are the best.  It’s been five years now, you know.” His voice faded into silence. Thomas thought back to the tough times when Betty stuck with him, no matter what.  And even now, she still…  He turned momentarily towards the artwork on the wall to hide the telltale moisture in his eyes.  Then he turned back to Betty.  The look on his face said, “You’re a good friend.”  Ruby glanced at the pair.  With a quiet growl, she said, “I miss Grandma…”  Weary already of Thomas and Betty’s conversation, she got up from the table and shuffled off to explore the artwork on the walls.

Changing the course of the chat, Betty said, “Did you hear about Harry?” Her bushy eyebrows arched into hairy question marks.

“Yeh, I heard.” Tom said,“That’s too bad.” He remembered how Betty befriended her former boss when he was going through his dark days. She hung with him no matter what he was going through, right up to the end.  Tom rubbed his chin, took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking. “Or maybe it was a blessing, too.”

Harry Spaulding had owned the diner since forever ago.  After meeting Betty one awful but wonderful night, somewhat after forever-ago, he offered her a job. Some time after that he offered to sell the diner to Betty, making a too-generous offer considering Betty’s circumstances at the time.  Over time Betty had become the closest person Harry had to family.   So, considering Harry’s situation and suspecting what they did about Harry’s condition, the two of them worked out a deal.  It was a deal that not only led her to taking care of the diner; she’d also take care of Harry.

Over the years, Harry went from business owner to coffee pourer to Saturday morning patron.  And now he was no longer a Saturday morning regular at the diner.  At some point in the past he stopped driving. He stopped coming to the diner.

Since a too-early-age Harry’s once organized mind had slowly become a tangle of confused thoughts competing with his reality.  His memories of actual recent events would evaporate into the unusable recesses of his Alzheimered mind. They would be replaced with fictions.  Images and scenarios not unlike those dreams one has that make no sense.  Dreams that leave a person chuckling or maybe prickly with unease. And, sadly, during the course of his last days at the Starbright Nursing Home, his brain was no longer able to keep up with the demands of his basic life necessities.  Now Harry was gone.  The memory of Harry and who he was and what he did remained firmly planted in the hearts and minds of Thomas and Betty … and soon, that grouchy twelve-year-old, Ruby.

Betty gave Thomas a knowing look. “I know what you mean, what with him fading so at the end.” She looked away.  “It’s sad, but at his funeral, I realized that it’s for the better.”  She looked back into Thomas’ eyes, “If you know what I mean.”

“I hate funerals,” Ruby wandered back to the table for a bite of a cinnamon roll, forgetting her mother’s admonition to be polite.  “They’re awful!” Ruby remembered her grandmother’s funeral five years ago, after she died of a sudden heart attack. “They’re so sad,” she said. “I miss Gramma.” Her voice trailed off. She picked at her cinnamon roll, then took a bigger bite. “What’s all that over there?” She said.

From their table, Ruby’s sleep deprived eyes began to waken a bit.  Gazing at the various paintings that decorated Betty’s establishment she slipped out of the booth once again and made her way to the nearest one, letting the adults continue their conversation.  She scanned the walls, amazed at how many paintings there were, mostly pictures of people.  

What intrigued her twelve year old mind was that these pictures weren’t like typical photographs from a camera. There seemed to be much more to them. They showed more. Her grumpy, sleepy brain couldn’t articulate what. There was just more. What she did see as she examined each one, was a small rainbow and the name ‘Betty Williston’ scrawled somewhere in the corner of each one. Surprise, fueled by her twelve year old curiosity, pushed her to continue to explore.

Wanderers – 4

Note: There are 12 sections to this story that will be posted starting December 26, ending on January 6, the day of Epiphany. “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.


The jingle bells hanging on the restaurant’s front door announced the arrival of Ruby and her grandpa.  Thomas yanked open the door of the diner.  He shrugged off his jacket, adorned with the eagle emblem depicting the Ripley Village Fire Department where he had spent most of his working days.  Ruby, cold, sleepy and grumpy, and didn’t care who knew it, wrapped her jacket around her tighter than ever.

 “Good morning, Sunshine!” said Betty to the two damp customers splashing into her diner.  She had everything ready for the day.  She was especially ready to greet her best friend Tom, an early Saturday morning regular.

“Good morning,” said Ruby.  Raindrops hung from the bill of her hat.  She didn’t really know, or care, for that matter, which of the two of them Betty was referring to as Sunshine.  It was too early for her, plain and simple.  But her mom said to be polite.

“Mornin’ yourself,” said Thomas.

“Coffee?” said Betty.  Thomas looked sideways at Ruby, relaying the question with a look and a smirk.  Ruby rolled her eyes and tugged the bill of the cap down.  “Just one, Betty. You know how I like it.”

“How about some OJ for you, Hon?” Betty’s offer was met with a look and a nod.  

Betty hustled across the dining room to get Thomas’ coffee and pour a glass of juice.  She efficiently took care of the handful of early customers as she went.  Betty raised her eyebrows, looked back over her shoulder and said, “So, Tom, who do you have with you there?”  Knowing full well who her young, sleepy, unhappy-to-be-here customer was, she ambled back to Tom and Ruby with a tray loaded with  orange juice, steaming coffee, a small pitcher of cream and a couple of cinnamon rolls. 

“You know Ruby,” he said, “my favorite granddaughter.” Ruby rolled her eyes, which were getting quite a workout that early Saturday.

“I’m your only granddaughter, Grampa!” she said.  Tom and Betty chuckled.

Betty squinted at Ruby’s hat.  Her glance took in the red dot of paint on the bill.  She gave Tom an ah-ha kind of look and said, “Ooo, you got one of the old ones.  Vintage, as they say. Red Sox, eh?”  Betty put a grimace on her face, then pointed at her own Yankees cap.  “Think we can still be friends?”  She grinned and gave Ruby a hug that removed any hint of ill will on her part.

Ruby rolled her eyes. She had no clue what vintage meant or what the Yankees had to do with anything.  She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be friends with this perky lady in the diner.  It was too early.

“I got it from my grandpa.” Ruby wasn’t about to admit that she loved that old hat.  She remembered Grampa covering his face with it playing peek-a-boo.  Then he would cover her feet with it and make them ‘disappear.’  She’d giggle.  She was four, or maybe three.  She didn’t remember.  She loved the hat, red splotch and all, simply because it came from him. And she wasn’t going to say it out loud here to this strange lady, but deep down beneath her damp hat, hair and morning grouch there was no doubt she loved her grandpa. 

Ruby fingered the red paint splotch and pulled the bill of her hat down even more. She wasn’t sure she was going to enjoy this early Saturday morning breakfast routine, even if it was with her favorite grandfather.

Wanderers – 3

Note: There are 12 sections to this story that will be posted starting December 26, ending on January 6, the day of Epiphany. “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.


Weather didn’t much affect what Betty Williston did on a Saturday morning. Rain or shine, moon shine that is, at 3 AM she woke up, got ready for the day, tossed her Yankee’s hat on over her gray mop of hair and headed to the diner- her diner. It was Betty’s ever since Harry sold the place to her, his best employee, a few years back after she worked for him for many years.

The place opened at six and she needed to get her locally world-famous, warm and fresh, larger-than-average, sweet, sticky cinnamon rolls ready for her faithful morning customers. Everyday, she baked cinnamon rolls and then took care of the customers while Arnie handled the griddle duties in the back.

Her routine was pretty much set.  She knew the regulars quite well by now.  For instance, there was the Monday crowd, mainly looking for a cup of dark brew that would wake them up and help them start a new week.  Wednesday’s crew included the retired farmers, seed caps, Case IH sweatshirts and John Deere jackets. Fridays brought in the staff from the church down the block, making plans for saving lost souls. Every day was unique, and every group of customers was different.  The folks came mainly from the neighborhood, each with their own stories, and Betty was privileged to be given a glimpse into some.  However, for Betty’s story, there were only a few with whom she felt comfortable to share.  

That Saturday, Betty surveyed her domain.  She brushed her gray locks from her forehead.  She smiled a grateful smile and unlocked the front door.  She turned and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling and beyond and quietly said her morning prayer, “Thankyou.”

She knew things could have, should have been so different. She knew firsthand that life wasn’t always all coffee and sweet rolls. She also knew firsthand that like that rain soaked morning, the sun would poke through again. These were the days she looked for rainbows and often found them.

Now Available!

Here it comes, a shameless self-promotion…  I humbly offer my apologies before I even start.

You see over the last 30 years I’ve written more than a few short stories, a lot of them about Christmas.   I wrote them mainly for my students back then.   Some of them were even good enough to be published in a few educator’s magazines.

So with that little bit of fleeting success, I decided long ago that I’d like to see them published, put into a book.  I tried back then.  However, after only a few tries to get some real publishers interested, the stories stayed in my file, on my computer and in my mind …  until recently.

After hearing about the whole concept of self-publishing a while back, the idea of putting my stories together in a book started percolating again.  Self-publishing… hmmm … The cool thing about self-publishing a book is that, really, only one person needs to like it …  in addition to one’s mother.  (I must say that when my mom was alive, she liked my stories, too.)

So over the course of the last year or so, I investigated the process, dusted off the old stories, reformatted them, wrote some new ones, had someone check them over and submitted them.  Lo and behold both the paperback and eBook versions were accepted by Kindle Direct Publishing.

Now available at Amazon.com

I want to make it clear that I’m not in this for the money or to make someone’s best seller list.  Although, with this blog readership of about six, who knows what might happen. Things might just take off.

I wrote most of the stories mainly for my students and the people closest to me.  And, I had fun doing it.  Besides, even after all these years, I still think these stories, in their quirky little ways, still belt out a pretty strong message about Christmas and it’s true meaning, which, of course, is that Jesus was born, Immanuel, God with us.  That, my friends, and not some flashy newly published book … is today’s Gift.


If you want to see the blurb at Amazon.com, click on this link.  If not, that’s fine, too.