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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Unexpected Gifts, Part 2

Unexpected Gifts

(an old-fashioned Christmas story)
Part 2
   Valorie Bender Quesenberry 

Jacquelyn Benson stuffed her hands into the pockets of her blue serge coat and shivered. Of all days for Billie Sue to be late picking her up! Of course, things were likely much more hectic at Haskill’s Dry Goods, this being Christmas Eve. And at least Billie Sue had a dependable car. Jacquelyn was very thankful for the ride. That old truck of Pop Benson’s would never make it into town every day.
She supposed she could have waited inside the newspaper office, but after Mr. Townsend’s words today, she felt a little awkward being around him. Oh, he was a perfect gentleman, of course, but his offer to help her with Christmas for her family just didn’t set well. Probably it was more the way he looked at her than the words he said. She’d sensed that he was interested in more than a good employer/employee relationship, and she wasn’t ready for that. Maybe she never would be. And she didn’t think she could ever see him in that way for that matter.

So, Jacquelyn stood on the sidewalk and shivered for a few minutes before she realized that she could just walk over to Haskill’s and wait there for Billie Sue to finish her day. The snowflakes were falling faster than they had been while she worked this afternoon. They were starting to accumulate in the waning light. It really would be a good idea if they got started for home soon; the country roads were bound to be treacherous if this continued.

Pausing in front of Haskill’s store, Jacquelyn looked at the displays in the window. It was crammed full of toys – red wagons, bouncy balls, teddy bears, shiny fire engines and electric trains, and of course, several dolls.

She’d love to get one for Janie. She imagined her little girl’s delight and it almost hurt. The paycheck just didn’t stretch that far; the little tea set she’d selected from the catalog would have to do. Maybe there would be a doll next year. But, as she turned away from the window, her disappointment squeezing the breath from her, she knew next year was another step away from little girlhood. Janie was growing up so quickly; soon she wouldn’t even want dolls. Still, it took all of them working to keep the farm going and food on the table. It was taking the whole family to replace Joe. And yet, they couldn’t really even do that. He had been so many things to all of them, and now there was only emptiness in his place.

Jacquelyn straightened her back and turned the knob to Haskill’s, walking inside to the jangling of the bell on the door. Billie Sue looked up from behind the counter.

“Hey, Jackie. I’m just counting what’s in the cash drawer. I’ll be ready in a jiffy.”

“Oh that’s okay. I decided to walk down here instead of waiting at the office.”

Billie Sue sighed. “Has it been busy here! You’d think nobody shopped for Christmas until the day before!” She grinned. “Of course, we all know that’s exactly what a lot of them do!”

Jacquelyn smiled back. “I suppose you’re right.” She fingered the sleeve of a soft gray coat. It was beautiful and looked so warm. She glanced at the tag and let the sleeve drop. The blue serge would have to do for a while longer.

Billie Sue was pulling on her coat and scarf and gloves. “You ready then? We’d better move; I hear there’s quite a bit of weather coming.”

Sergeant Lewis was going to kick a fuss when he got back to headquarters. The police car was not only cold; it was also in great need of new tires. Supposedly the department kept up with the maintenance on the cars, but Frank Lewis was sure someone wasn’t doing his job. Of course, it could always be a shortage of supplies. Rubber was at a premium for war material; new tires were probably hard to come by, even for the police department.

As he skittered and skidded down still another country lane, Lewis blew on his hand to try to warm it. He leaned over to flip the heater switch again. No use. The heater wasn’t going to give in.

He beat his hand on the steering wheel, momentarily distracted when he heard a loud pow. He touched the brakes to prevent losing control from the blowout, but the road curved sharply to the right and in his moment of frustration, he hadn’t maneuvered correctly. With a sickening thunk, the vehicle dropped over the edge of the road deep into the ditch. Snow enveloped the windshield as the car sank down into the drift.

Sergeant Lewis sat in disbelief. One thing was sure; he wasn’t going to make it to the officer’s Christmas party. 


Janie and Gramps were stomping around in the barn as they settled the sacks of feed. Since moving here in the spring, Janie worked a lot with Gramps, before and after school. Some people thought that barns were stinky and dirty, but Gramps had always told her that a barn smelled like Christmas. The baby Jesus was born in a barn, right there by the cows and sheep and donkeys. So there must be something special about being close to the animals, feeling their warm fur and watching them munch on the hay. Though Janie was glad she had a bed with a thick quilt to bundle up in at night, she was certain she could get use to a bed in the barn if she had to.

Gramps had pulled his old Chevy close to the barn doors and he was pushing the feed sacks out and Janie was trying to tug them closer to the pile inside. The sacks needed to stay dry during the winter, and Gramps was very particular about where they were stored.

She was leaning down to grab a corner of burlap when movement down by the gate caught her eye.
“Helloooooo. . .. “

A big man in dark clothes was walking toward them, waving his hand.

She cupped her hands. “Gramps.”

He looked up, panting from the hard work. “Huh?”

Janie pointed. “Somebody’s coming.”

Gramps held onto the side of the truck bed and jumped down to the ground. He brushed his pants off and straightened up to meet the stranger coming up to them.

Janie saw now that the man had on a police uniform. But he wasn’t one of the sheriff’s deputies that she’d seen around the county. She watched him go up to Gramps and put out his hand.

“Lewis, state police.”

Gramps shook his hand hard. “I’m Harry Benson.”

The officer nodded. “Mr. Benson, I wonder if you have some kind of vehicle to help me get my patrol car out of a drift. I had a blowout and wound up in the ditch. I’d be glad to pay you for your trouble.”

Gramps shook his head kindly. “No need to pay. Be happy to help you out. What do you say we go inside and have a cup of coffee, then I’ll see what I can do. You look a mite cold.”

The officer smiled. “You won’t have to ask me twice. Thank you. The car is having a bit of heater trouble too.”

“Sounds like you need more than a tow then.” Gramps turned toward the house and put his hand on Janie’s shoulder. “This is my granddaughter, Janie.”

“Hello, Janie.” The officer looked down at her. He was pretty tall, but he seemed nice, though to Janie, he looked a little sad.

 “Janie, run tell your Granny to put out two cups for coffee.”

“Okay, Gramps.” Janie scooted off toward the farmhouse. Wouldn’t Joe David be excited to see a policeman in their own kitchen?

To be continued next week . . . . 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Unexpected Gifts - Part 1

Unexpected Gifts

(an old-fashioned Christmas story)
Part 1
         Valorie Bender Quesenberry

The snowflakes looked like a feather storm. Janie thought about the day old Blue pulled Granny’s feather tick off the line and tore a hole in it. Feathers were everywhere then, swirling through the air. Granny had been so mad at the old dog; she’d chased him out of the yard, waving her broom. Then she and Janie tried to pick up as many feathers as they could, but of course, they couldn’t get all of them.

Janie wondered what it would be like to catch the snow falling down now. She put out a hand, feeling the wispy coldness as the flakes brushed against her palm. If Joe David were here, he’d try to catch them in his mouth, laughing all the while. But Joe David didn’t know any better cause he wasn’t grown-up yet.

Janie stuck her hand back in her coat pocket and turned toward Mr. Haskill’s store window. It was still there, even more beautiful than she remembered. The dress was all lace and ruffles, the hat had a big rosette on the side, just like the one Mother wore to work in the newspaper office. The shoes were black Mary Janes and the face had pretty pink, porcelain cheeks and a tiny red mouth turned in a demure smile. What fascinated Janie the most though were the long golden ringlets clustered on the doll’s shoulders. Never had she seen such beautiful hair. Not even Susan Marie Downing at school had hair like that! Maybe, thought Janie softly, if she’d had pretty hair like that she could have sent a lock of it to Daddy when she wrote him.

It was too late now, though. He wasn’t coming back. Now Mother worked in the newspaper office, typing all day long and she and Mother and Joe David lived with Gramps and Granny on the farm. Not that she minded the farm; it was kind–of nice and safe-feeling there. But deep down, she’d have traded that feeling if Daddy could live with them again in their little house in Prattville. To hear Daddy’s laugh and have him pull her braids, even if they were a muddy brown color and not golden, would be all the Christmas she’d need.

But Daddy wasn’t here. All they had of him was a flag the soldiers gave to Mother and the letters that he’d sent them. Sometimes, Janie still got hers out and read them to herself. But it mostly made her cry and so she didn’t do that too much.

Mother needed her to be strong and helpful; that’s what she’d said. It was Janie’s job to do all she could to help Granny in the house while Mother was away, working in town. And then there was Joe David. He was only three. Mother said his job was to be sunshine for them all. And he did that. His smile made everyone feel better.

Janie knew she needed to go. Gramps had let her tag along since he was coming to town to buy feed; he understood that she needed to look at something different. Daddy had said that she and Gramps were alike; they were dreamers. It wasn’t that they couldn’t put in a hard day’s work. It was just that they needed a little inspiration to make the day more livable. Every once in a while, Gramps would crook his finger at Janie and whisper in her ear, “Want to go to town?” And then he’d wink at her like they had a great secret.

And Janie always wanted to go. Granny would roll her eyes at Gramps like she knew he was up to something, but she’d let Janie go, finding some small item for her to get at Haskill’s Dry Goods store. And most days, like today, Janie would get what Granny needed and then go outside and look in the store windows, wishing and hoping.

Across the street, Janie spied Gramps putting sacks of feed into the back of his pickup. She stepped into the street and walked over to him.
“Is it time to go?”

“Almost, young’un. You through with your window shoppin’?” He tweaked her nose.

“I guess.” Janie said. “Do I have time to wave at Mother?”

“Go ahead; I’ll pick you up at the newspaper office.”

“Thank you, Gramps!” Janie looked for cars in the street before she dashed off.

Mother worked for Mr. Jerome Townsend at the County Herald and Reporter office. Janie had heard folks say that she was the best typist the newspaper ever had. That was a good thing since they needed the money. She’d also heard people say that Mr. Jerome was “sweet” on Mother. Janie thought she knew what they meant, and that was something she didn’t like. Mr. Jerome was nice enough, but he didn’t laugh like Daddy. And even if he had a new Oldsmobile and a big house on the hill, Janie wasn’t at all interested. And she hoped Mother wasn’t.

The part of the building where Mother worked had a window and sometimes Janie could catch a glimpse of her and wave to her. She always came by whenever she and Gramps came into town, just in case.

Janie was panting a little from her run into town as she came to the office of the County Herald and Reporter. A wreath with a big red bow was hanging on the door and as always, people were coming in and out. Janie thought that when she grew up, she might become a newspaper reporter. It would be a fine thing, she decided, to write stories about faraway places.

But for now, she stopped by the plate glass window and looked for Mother. There toward the back of the office, she sat. Her eyebrows were pushed together while she concentrated on a paper she was reading while she typed. Her fingers were flying so fast on the keys that Janie could see only a blur of movement. But there was no mistaking Mother’s piled up curls and pretty skin. Janie watched her for a couple minutes, hoping she’d look up and see her.

She heard Gramps’ truck come whining up the street and knew it was time to go. And just at that minute, Mother leaned back to rub her neck and looked right into her eyes. She smiled and waved. And Janie waved back.

Then Mr. Jerome came over and said something to Mother. She looked up at him and got all serious. Janie backed away from the window, wishing she could hear what they were saying. She climbed into Gramps’ truck, shutting the door hard so it would stay closed. And she didn’t say anything for a long while.

Gramps just drove in silence until they made the turn off the main highway. Then he squinted up at the sky and said, “I think we’re gonna have a Christmas storm, Janie-girl.”

Janie was more worried about Mr. Jerome than the weather, but she asked anyway.”How do you know?”

“All the signs are there, Janie. When you’re as old as your Gramps, you learn to read nature. Why even the animals talk to me.”

She giggled. “Oh, Gramps. You’re so silly.”

“Well, maybe they don’t exactly talk.” He winked. “But I know what they mean!”
“Could Daddy read the signs?” Janie blurted.

Gramps was silent for a minute. When he talked, his voice was soft and sounded lumpy. “Yes, he could, Janie-girl. Your daddy would have been a first-rate farmer.”

Janie knew the story of her Daddy and mother’s meeting at a high school party and how they’d fallen in love and gotten married. Then they lived in Prattville where Daddy worked at the air field and Mother took care of her and Joe David. And they had been making plans to move out to the farm and take over since Gramps was getting older and the work was hard for him. But when the war came, Daddy became a soldier. Janie would never forget that night when he packed and left his bag sitting by the front door, waiting to take to the bus station the next day. Mother had cried, and Janie sat close to Joe David’s bed and promised herself that she would look out for them all. It seemed so very long ago now.

Gramps cleared his throat and patted Janie’s hand. “How about we hurry and put these sacks in the barn and then surprise your Granny by being on time for dinner?” And he tweaked her nose again.


Sergeant Frank Lewis of the Prattville Police Force was worried. If ever there was a setup for disaster, it was in the making now. He’d not seen a Christmas Eve like it ever. First of all, the department was way behind in the Christmas toy delivery so he and the other officers were going to be pulling long hours today to get it done. And on top of that, the radio forecaster was blasting out the news of a late storm, set to cover the county with whiteout conditions. Terrific. At this rate, he’d be spending Christmas on the side of the road, cuddling up to a teddy bear to keep warm.

The police car he was driving had a cantankerous heater; it decided to work sometimes and at other times, it decided not to. So, he kept an extra coat, gloves and quilt in the back. If he landed up somewhere in a snow drift, at least he’d have enough warmth to survive.

But the plan was not to pile up; the plan was to deliver the gifts and get back to Prattville as soon as possible. Maybe with some luck, he’d make the officer’s Christmas party tonight.

Turning down a bumpy gravel road, he shook his head. The roads were terrible, even without a snow storm. When would the county decide to fix them? But he already knew the answer to that. Every bit of material available was going into the war effort. The least the folks back home could do was put up with some potholes in the road.

That’s about as far as he let his thoughts go with the war. Sure, he was patriotic and all, but since Sammy had joined up and come home in a box, he’d didn’t feel like discussing it with anyone. It had about killed his folks and Sammy’s girlfriend had to be hospitalized; it wasn’t gonna be a fun Christmas. Sammy had been the life of any gathering anyway. Frank was a poor stand-in for his energetic younger brother; he didn’t think he’d even try.

Sergeant Lewis stopped at the first house on the list. It was a bedraggled white frame building, which in more prosperous times might have been used as a chicken coop. But beside the door leaned a sled and a spiral of smoke rose from the chimney so he knew a human family must inhabit the place.
He pulled three gifts from the load in his back seat and trudged through the slush to the door, banging his knuckles lightly on the frame. He heard running feet and a door opened, revealing a tired-looking woman with a baby on her hip. A little girl and boy hung onto her skirts from behind, eyes wide, faces lean.

He extended the gifts. “Ma’am, I’m Sergeant Lewis from the State Police. We’re delivering gifts to the children in the county.”

She shook her head. “Thank you, but my husband wouldn’t approve.”

“Please, ma’am, for the children’s sake.” He said it softly.

She looked around, seeming to search the landscape. “What’ll I tell him?”

“Tell him to make a donation to the Policemen’s Benefit Fund when he can.”

A tear dropped onto her apron. “I’ll tell him. Thank you.”  She took the bag, her weary face relaxing a little. “God bless you.”

‘You too, Ma’am. Merry Christmas.” Lewis touched his hat briefly, turned and walked back to his car.

He had to admit he admired the pride of the American spirit. It was something he himself had heard all his life. Work for what you get; save all you can, never use credit. He supposed others like him had a similar upbringing. When he and his fellow officers brought gifts to the door, it was hard for folks to accept them. Times were hard, but folks were determined to pull their weight. Many times, he carried the toys right back to the patrol car. Balancing tokens of others’ goodwill with the desire to provide was a struggle for most of the county families.

In previous years, Sammy had gone along to help with the Christmas giving. His good-natured smile had a way of opening hearts and doors. But this year, Sammy couldn’t help; he’d never deliver Christmas joy again. 

Clenching his teeth, Sergeant Frank Lewis climbed into his cold police car and started down the road to his next stop.     

To be continued next week . . . 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

when winning is a problem

I love being right.

Ask my husband.

Part of this is the fact that I am married to a professional, a man who takes detail seriously and who has a brain that is just geared to get things right. So we have an ongoing joke about the times I win and can say "I'm right" and he has to agree. It's wonderful.  :)

I also love debating.

Again, ask my husband.

I delight in the repartee and the convincing, the using of words as swords to cut to the point and then to force one's opponent to acknowledge the "right" opinion. At family gatherings, my brother Jim and I are very apt to engage in this verbally violent pastime. (BTW, Thanksgiving is coming. . !)However, we do love each other, respect the other's intellect and viewpoint and have never stopped speaking to each other, well. . . at least, not yet. (smile)

I'm guessing a lot of you are like me. And that we also share in common a liking for the feeling of vindication that comes when something we hold dear that has long been scorned is proven to be a force after all. It's a kind of soft revenge that gets all mixed up with winning, overcoming obstacles and triumphing over evil. Some of my more dangerous emotional leanings can become so enmeshed in the fracas of fighting for what I believe to be morally right that I am unaware of the real attitude of my heart.

All of these things would qualify me to be a legal prosecutor probably, but I don't have that calling. I am a woman, a wife, a mom, a Christian living in a world where being right is often a badge the other side wears.

That gets old. Inside, I'm frequently thinking, "Okay, it's our turn. Why do we have to wait until the Judgement Day to be exonerated, led from the corner, given proper respect? When is our day coming, like the one ole Mordecai had on the king's horse?"

Those days are rare, almost nonexistent.

But, they occasionally happen.

And I'll just confess that it's hard for me to be Christ-like when I'm proven right. When I'm being ridiculed or dismissed or ignored, at least I can practice showing a gentle spirit, suffering for righteousness sake. But when I'm proven right, the lion of justice roars to life within me, lunging against the restraints of the Spirit. I can see all the flaws of others so clearly. I feel a bit of smugness growing like yeast in a bowl of warm water. And I don't even have to be totally right; it just has to look like I'm right.

I guess the truth is that I do more good when I'm serving rather than exulting. As a mortal with all the foibles and tendencies thereof, I am just not prepared to handle too much victory unless it's in the area of overcoming sin. God's people are to triumph by humility, mercy and love. Delight in "I told you so" looks very little like Jesus and more like the world around us.

Should we then be comfortable with and desire defeat? No, for it is not the victory which is a detriment, but rather the perception of what the victory says about me, my regard for being right rather than for relationship. When I care most about others doing penance, when I insist on full use of my memory whiteboard rather than the eraser of mercy, when I relish the comeuppance of those I have defeated, I am not being like Him. Even if it is only words and not action, it's still a problem. Remember, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ declared that what is taking place in the heart is the issue, not just what the body is doing.

Christians should be the best in the world at moving on and working for the good. We take our injustice and our soapboxes to the Lord and exchange them for an olive branch. Retribution and ultimate satisfaction in achieving victory belong to Him, who though King of Kings and Lord of Lords, spent His earthly life being a servant. That's a good pattern for my time on earth as well.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How those Pumpkins grow. . .

Repost of a blog entry from Fall, 2007.
As I contemplate the arrival of the autumn season of the year
 and my present season of mothering, the words of this little verse
remind of the value of each and every day.

Plump and shiny,
fruit of harvest,
pumpkins orange lay afield.
Hailing cheerful
change of season,
Seed of spring is autumn's yield.
Round and glowing,
children's faces
Sparkling eyes; an impish smile.
Mine to nurture,
tend and cherish
Only for a little while.
-- VQ
Kaley -- my smallest "pumpkin" (2007)
 My children at the White House Fruit Farm Festival (Canfield, OH, 2007)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

of pioneers and grandmas and knowing Jesus

She's old. But to me she's always been old. She's my grandma.

But she's not like I remember her. You see, it's been a long time since I've lived close enough to see her. And, in that time, she's changed. Skin mottled and veined; hair wispy and gray; features hollowed by time and stark-shaped by years. Sitting - that's maybe the most peculiar characteristic of her life now; my grandmother rarely sat unless she was eating a meal. Work was her pastime and joy. Working in her garden, in her kitchen, on her sewing machine, for her family, for the Lord. But now she sits. Age has taken work from her. It has robbed her of so much already - youth, beauty, vision, mobility, husband, sons. The energy and ability to work was just another domino toppled in the swift rampage of time.

But it has not yet taken her from me. And so I sat today and talked with a woman who has been so much, endured so much, given so much. I sat and marveled at her fragility and leaned into this precious time with my living history. It wasn't a conversation of magnitude, at least not to anyone else. Just a chat about family and gardens, ordinary stuff. But it was a connection between generations, one of those rare moments when the clock slows and you wonder later if even your heartbeat was a sacrilege.

We had prayer before I left. Age hasn't take that from her either. She was right with me, breathing her own petitions along with mine. And she still has a bright look in her eyes when she says "It won't be long until I'll be home with the Lord."

But I hope that's still a ways off. And I told her that. "I want to keep you here for a while longer, Grandma." She smiled and said yes, she'd stay for a while. Maybe God will let me have my wish.

But she's extraordinary, my grandma. She reminds me of pioneer women - capable and determined as a young filly, lovely as a prairie wildflower. For, in her younger days, my grandma was a beauty with her trim figure, dark curls, high cheekbones and snapping eyes. And she has always known how to do what must be done even if it's inconvenient and regardless of whether it's fun. Her life has been marked by tackling the hard things, doing the stressful, back-breaking, heart-wrenching, painful stuff and never giving up. So she will face dying the way she's faced living - face forward, chin up, back straight, faith intact, trust in Jesus. That's the way she is handling her days now too. Because of that, she's amazingly inspiring and still beautiful, contained by this dismal earth only as God allows. And I really hope that's a lot longer. I have a lot more to learn from her. And a lot more time just to spend being with her. Thank you, Grandma, for being you. I love you.

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