THE FOLLOWING IS THE INITIAL WORKING CONCEPT. SEVERAL ELEMENTS IN THE STORY ARC ARE IN DEVELOPMENT AND MAY CHANGE.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
— William Butler Yeats
After learning she’s been lied to since birth, Valencia—a historian—is framed for a crime and hunted by the family that murdered her real father and mother. She unknowingly holds clues to a treasure hidden for centuries and secrets that can destroy a corrupt business empire and a burgeoning political dynasty.
Her story begins with a woman’s deathbed confession: “I raised you… I… I love you, but I’m not your mother. I’m… I’m sorry… they killed your father and mother.” And the woman—she thought her mother—died trying to tell her more. Valencia leaves the hospital in a daze. Who is the ‘they’ that killed her actual parents? Who is her family? Things become even more complicated when she’s framed for a crime she did not commit by someone she thought a friend who is found murdered. But Valencia can’t prove her innocence. She receives a cryptic message, ‘you must run or die’ and instructions delivered with a new passport under a name she’s never heard. She must come to Amsterdam if she wants answers and a chance to live.
Valencia arrives in Amsterdam and starts to unravel the mystery, only for it to become even more tangled. Following the instructions, she meets a crippled woman who greets her with:
“You want to learn about your family, first I tell you of the peregrine. The Latin ‘peregrinus,’ originally meant ‘one from abroad,’ a foreigner, traveler, or pilgrim. It’s also the name of a breed of falcon. Formidable hunters used for thousands of years to strike lethally with a fist-like clenched talon against game much larger than itself. In the late Middle Ages, Western European nobility used peregrines for hunting and considered it: ‘A royal bird, more armed by its courage than its claws.’ You want to know about your family? For centuries they were known as the Peregrines. It is your legacy.”
Valencia wants to refuse it, but she has begun a journey that ultimately takes her around the world, confronting a family as old as her own. Only hers lived in honor and truth and helped the persecuted and defenseless. The other family thrived on lies and deception, using murder and assassination to increase their wealth and power.
Valencia is the last in her bloodline; she becomes the Peregrine.
Research and planning have begun. HARKEN, a short fiction story introducing the series, is being written for Summer 2021. Email me at Dennis@DennisLowery.com if you’d like to receive an Advance Reader Copy when it’s available. The entire story arc is in development for plotting and outlining the first three books in the series.
No guns. No knives. They checked you at the door, so I left
them with the man who eyeballed me before letting me in. But I always carried a
cheap fountain pen that—unlike the one in my jacket—was empty. No ink and in my
back pocket where I could get at it with my hands lowered slightly behind me,
on the hips, a non-offensive stance. You can do a lot of damage with a pen
when you don’t have a blade.
I had learned that trick in Naples, Italy. In the Gut… a
dicey place where women, the wrong kind, and trouble were always in abundance.
I had watched a local bully boy get sliced open with one. They don’t make a
clean cut though… the tip catches and rips. Afterward, the bully boy wasn’t
so tough. He had picked on the wrong man.
Like what was about to happen.
I’m a quiet man.
People think it means I let shit slide. I mind my own business
and don’t give a damn what others do. I got problems of my own and just want to
sit and drink. But when the jumbo-sized, scar-faced goon started slapping her
around, I had to do something. What she was doing in this hole wasn’t my
business, but she didn’t fit in.
Nice clothes. Her face an un-inked ivory oval framed by dark
hair. Eyes, deep indigo in the dimness, but more light would have probably turned
them lighter blue. And curves. Distracting, follow her every move just to see
the shifting of things under her clothes, kind of curves. The
make-you-run-off-the-road or walk-into-a-door looking at her kind.
Why’d she have to be like that?
Why’d I look? “Fuck,” I muttered. “Hey, gruesome… lay off.
Leave her alone.” But I guess he wasn’t in a listening mood. He hit her harder.
I pushed back from my table and stood.
In three, or four long steps, I reached and put my hand on his shoulder to turn him. I ain’t no pussy and put my grip into it. He wasn’t one either, and when he came around, he grabbed my hand and forearm and twisted. I felt it break. That’s when I pulled my pen from my back pocket, wrote him a little note, and stuck it under his chin. The nib caught and snagged flesh as I yanked it free. He gurgled as blood filled his mouth and throat. “Fuck you,” I shoved him aside. One side of her face already had a bruised grape look. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Why’d you do that?” She glanced at the man on the floor,
still spitting red bubbles and then at my now crooked left arm with the
splintered end of bone poking out.
I held out my good hand. “You need to come with me now… if you want me to live.”
It must have been the slaps and punch to the head made her slow on the uptake. “We have to go.” The small guy, the bartender’s runner, headed to the back rooms. He’d bring back the even bigger, meaner, motherfuckers. “I ain’t leaving here without you.” Shit. I couldn’t believe I said that even as I said it. She grabbed my hand, and I hauled her to her feet. “We gotta go, now, or neither of us is leaving.”
She stumbled along at my side; me more dragging her than she walked. Outside was like stepping into a coal sack. Down the street, the lamppost lights wrestled with the fog that rolls in off the water in the dark hours after midnight and before dawn. The streets, stone and stucco walls around us were damp, glistening. The fog hung low—clung to your legs—in wads; a tattered, yellowed rag. The kind you used to wipe off malaria sweats and never washed. I had learned the alleys kept you mostly off the streets. Five minutes later we were deeper into the maze of old buildings that radiated outward from the port’s warehouses. I had to find my bearings to get to my flop. There I could fix my arm and ask her questions. She probably had answers I didn’t want to hear. But I’d still ask her.
A little story I wrote for my daughters about life perspective and how different their lives were compared to the girl in the photo that sparked the story. I asked my daughters: “What if your life… was hers?”
“You have a wonderful talent. Your short stories captivate my mind and this piece reveals what I think almost every day, too. Wow!” -Miriam Omi
Every morning, it was Zahra’s job to bring water to wash, mix with meal to make flatbread and to drink. She followed the trail up and over the small ridge that shrouded and protected the homesite from an open range scoured by the wind.
The path had been created by countless years of bare feet. Her grandmother and mother’s before… and after her, likely a daughter’s; the child she would bear before long. Barely a teen, she was of an age for a husband. It would be soon.
It was not what she wished for. The missionary had taught her to read before she died, and the traders had left a few books. Some with pictures of a world and life she could not fathom.
Seeing them… reading the words left her changed with a
vague feeling of discontent.
It was quiet and cool
by the river; there in the still sleeping
darkness before the heat of the sun—already felt on her back as she descended
the bank—burned it away.
Zahra paused for a moment but couldn’t take more time than what was expected. She thought of how the missionary had told her of cities and far lands. Of the world and how large it was. With a sigh she didn’t realize had come from her, she stooped to fill her jug.
The sun, higher on the horizon, was in her face as she
trudged back to her small existence. All she knew.
In that last serene moment, she wondered how other girls—in the so very big world—started their days.
Take a walk down by, take a walk down by the river. There’s a lot that you, there’s a lot that you can learn. If you’ve got a mind, that’s open, if you’ve got a heart that yearns. —Hidden Treasure, Songwriters: Jim Capaldi / Steve Winwood
Once upon a chilly morning, I was writing. And I stopped and considered our sleeping dogs, resting in the fireplace’s warmth. But I don’t see dogs. I see family. And that made me think of my daughters and my wife (who are asleep too). And of course my son-in-laws Darrian and Mason. I love them all.
“Dennis, your stories are excellent to use for teaching moments. Very intriguing, well crafted, challenging, yet clearly answers the situation. I am going to use these stories for my great-nieces, -nephews. I just love stories which are a great way to make specific points or good for teaching moments. Former Secretary of VA, Eric K. Shinseki was a wonderful storyteller and it made a difference in how he related to people, especially veterans.” –Dr. Irene Trowell-Harris, Major General, USAF (Ret)
“An all-time favorite…And a good reminder/lesson for a lot of what is happening in our world these days.” -Bobbie Today
“Dennis, this is a great story.” -Jim Zumwalt
ABOUT ALPHA & BETA:
I have four daughters. My oldest has grown up during a period when I worked for others and then myself. My second oldest was born 15 days after my resignation from my corporate job became effective on January 2, 1996. So, she’s seen my life as an entrepreneur and business owner from day one. Those early years in business were hard, as they often are, and I became like the father in ‘Cats in the Cradle‘ (the Harry Chapin song). Always busy, too much to do and not enough time, eaten up with stress and worry about many things. Then, in 2008, I made some changes and pursued what I do today. Writing and publishing. And that made a world of difference in having time for my family. The two youngest—twins I refer to as Alpha & Beta—have had more daily time with me as they grew up than their two older sisters… and much of it has been through the ‘lens’ of a writer. So, our conversations and kitchen table discussions—several times—have turned into a series of ‘stories.’
Beta moves slower than Alpha. She’s always at the edge of being on time… Or just past. And I have certain rules — specific times — for chores and when to be at the breakfast table on school days. When you aren’t on time, without good reason — not excuse — there are consequences.
We had one of those mornings Beta couldn’t get it in gear. She was late to the table. I addressed it and meted out the penalty. Minutes later, angry at getting in trouble for being late, Beta lashed out at Alpha over some trivial thing. [Understand that they are twins—Alpha’s five minutes older—and friction arises.] Alpha does not take that quietly, so the breakfast table became a volleying ground for harsh words.
Now, I understand getting pissed off… when I’m pushed too far and go off, it’s epic… volcanic… and not always productive. I know this and work hard to not let that happen. I try to teach my girls how to deal with anger. So, I did this:
“You girls want to hear a story?” They know to look at me when I’m talking to them. It broke up the punch-counterpunch of comments flying back and forth. I asked again, “Do you want to hear a story?” Both heads nodded. I told them:
Once there were two monks on a pilgrimage [I explained to them what that meant], an older one who had been on several and a young monk on his first. One day they came to the edge of a river. It was turbulent, roiling, with several days of rain in the mountains feeding it. It would prove difficult, but not impossible to cross; they were both powerfully built men. They heard crying. Nearby, under a willow tree, a woman sat weeping. In her hands was a small bag she clutched to her chest.
The woman heard them and looked up. “Please help me… I’m afraid to cross,” she gestured at the river and gripped her bag tighter, “but I must get home soon.”
The young monk turned his back on her. Their order was forbidden to speak to or touch women. But the older monk picked up the woman and, without a word, forged the river. He put her down on the other side. With thanks he didn’t respond to, she turned to the right-hand path and hurriedly went on her way. The older monk continued straight ahead, and the younger came after him. They walked in silence for another mile. The young monk who must’ve been fuming [I defined that word for them] since crossing the river, berated the older.
“How could you do that — the woman… you’ve broken your vows.” He continued talking to him that way for another mile. Finally, the older monk stopped and turned to him.
“I only carried her across the river. Are you still carrying her?”
I waited for a beat so they’d realize that was the end. Then asked, “Do you understand what he—the older monk—meant?” I saw the wheels turning behind their eyes as a minute passed. Alpha raised her hand [yes, they usually do that when they’re in a straightforward question-and-answer situation with me]. I nodded at her.
“The young monk needs to stop being angry,” she darted her eyes at Beta.
Beta still had an edgy look as I replied to Alpha: “That’s right. Sometimes we carry things, too long… far past when we should put them down and move on without them.” I looked at Beta: “That’s something to think about,” and left it at that.
With things settled down, we finished breakfast, and soon they were off to school. I thought it merely another little teaching moment they hopefully took to heart.
The next day, Saturday morning, we had many chores to do. Beta and Alpha, angry at each other over something, had another incident. A minor one that could’ve grown larger. I gave Beta a look and she dropped the fight but was cold toward Alpha as they did their chores. About an hour later, when I was making some ‘soon to be world-famous’ D’achos (Dad’s nachos) for lunch, Beta came up to me at the stove.
She gestured for me to lean down so she could whisper something. “I put the woman down…” Beta had a smile on her face. A moment later, I heard her apologize to Alpha.
“Dennis, it doesn’t matter what you are writing about, your descriptions of the scene or the feelings inside a character, the reader feels like they are there watching it all unfold before them. Everything is so vivid. Thank you for this sweet story.” -Janet Mix
“What a beautiful story and music to share with us. Great way to start the day with a smile.” -Kathy Rosson
“I enjoyed the story very much, have always loved the song.” -Karen Gross
“Cute story. You have a way with words. Merry Christmas!!” -Dave Hendrickson
“Most of all, I remember looking out the window as I shifted around on the seat, clutching my purse and glancing up to make sure my bag was still on the rack above me. The station and buildings nearby were decorated and dressed in lights of silver, blue, gold, red, and green. As the train pulled out, they reflected off and in the glass flickering by in a kaleidoscope of holiday colors. When the wheels turned, I took two deep breaths. A feeling of certainty I was making the right decision came over me.
“Soon the train was outside the city and picked up speed. The view dimmed to gray with a lighter blur as we passed snow piled high in places along the track. Occasionally, color flashed from trees with their brown limbs thick with green pine needles powdered and sprinkled white. I saw country houses, too. My view of them grew slowly when the tracks curved toward them in the distance. As I got closer, they would suddenly fly past; a smear of more color on the frosty pane clouded by my breath on the cold glass. I liked it most when the train slowed at a crossing, and the flakes drifted down–a slower dance–and that sensation of getting to where I was going when the train went faster again.
“I hadn’t traveled much. Actually, not at all until I surprised everyone by taking a job in the city. My parents went nowhere, not even on vacations, and had never been big on celebrating the season, but Tom’s were. He and I met the year before. Both of us had been stuck working through the holidays. I was young, new to the city, and happened to take my lunch breaks the same time he did. Idle comments–nervous ones from me–led to conversations. I learned he was only a couple of years older than me and could tell how much he missed being with his family by the wistfulness in how he spoke.
“As winter passed into spring, summer, and fall… we fell more in love. As the next holiday season approached, we decided I would meet him at his parent’s and spend the day before Christmas Eve through New Years with them.
“I had grown up shy, but being with Tom made me discover confidence I didn’t realize was there. Still, I wasn’t always comfortable around people I didn’t know, so that Christmas would be very different for me. Full of anxious anticipation, I looked forward to being with Tom even if it meant among a bunch of strangers.
“Since then–and maybe it started with that trip–I’ve learned how much you can change the way things are, the way things once were, into what they become, if something triggers it. Even if it’s only small… that makes you realize your happiness is determined by what’s in you and not from others. But back then, I was still learning about myself and life.
“I remember changing trains at Holly Oak. The small town’s station sat at a crossroads for the east-west and north-southbound railroads. I had come south and now would be headed west into the mountains on the 7:50 PM train. Two hours later, making better time than expected, I got off the westbound train in Tom’s hometown, full of thoughts of him, and stepped onto the empty platform.
“Bells rang, sharp and crisp in the cold night air. They were lovely, so pure and clear, not smothered by the sounds of a city that never slept. A girl of the suburbs and city life who had never known the quiet of small towns and the country, as the train I’d been on pulled away and its sound receded, I listened to them in the stillness.
“Night had fallen, but there was enough light from the streetlight on the corner to see the flakes of snow, making their slow way to the ground adding to the drift in the lee of the concrete base of the bench I sat upon. The wind couldn’t catch it there and cast it away. The small pile was a landscape of its own; I saw a mountain slope topped with bare, gray, stone. Then a bed of white snowflake-crafted linen flowed from shadow into the light with only a glint showing it was not fabric. It ended at the heels of my scuffed boots.
“It was a moment of self-reflection I’d never experienced. I felt it… the cold that came around edges of the framework of who I really was inside. Though 20 years old, I still had a scared child’s fear of the unknown. I loved Tom but had never traveled so far alone and soon would be surrounded by people I had never met. I shivered as the wind picked up and wished I’d worn a scarf as the icy gust feathered my hair and peeked down the collar of my jacket. I tried to smooth my long hair as I rose to go inside to wait for Tom to pick me up. I checked my watch; he should be along shortly.
“Then the wind carried more than the sound of bells. Voices. I turned toward the singing and followed it around the corner of the station that faced a park and off to the right, the beginning of the town’s main street. As my train pulled in, I hadn’t noticed the glow of the small group of people holding candles near what appeared to be caves that peppered the snow-covered hills surrounding this small town and hugged the station and park on two sides. The plumes of their breath accompanied each verse. The music touched me, pushing aside the coldness of the current of air that brought it.
“I listened and was warmed by their voices and the song’s message. It made me think the things ahead in my life–ones I could never know would happen–though they might challenge me, could become blessings. It made me think of how the story of a baby boy, born to follow the path meant for him, had changed billions of lives over two thousand years. I’d not been raised religious, but in the words and beauty of the song, I found peace and hope for a purposeful life, too.
“I had bent to pick up my bag and turned to go inside, and there was Tom. A dusting of snowflakes sprinkled his dark, wavy hair, and his smile caught the light from the Christmas-ribboned lamppost above us. He lifted me, twirled, and gave me a quick kiss as he set me on my feet again.”
“I was stronger back then…” The man behind the steering wheel laughed.
I turned from facing the back seat to glance at Tom sitting next to me. Much stouter and gray-haired–just like me–the lights of cars passing in the opposite direction shining through the windshield showed the lines on his face. I smiled at him and felt a touch on my shoulder. I looked back at Cassidy, my youngest granddaughter, who had leaned forward. Twelve years old and still full of questions, she had asked me to tell her about when her grandfather and I were young.
“I love how you tell stories–I want to be a writer like you–Grandma! So, that was your first Christmas with Grandpa?” She had just made her first trip to visit us in the country for the holidays since we had retired and looked so much like her mother, sitting next to her, had at her age.
“It was my second,” I brushed a wavy lock of dark hair from her face, “but the first real one. It was the one that taught me the holidays mean so much more than big city decorations, parades, and shopping.” I reached for her hand. “And we don’t always know how life will turn out, so it’s important to have faith and a purpose.” I squeezed it and let go so she could sit back.
At the stoplight, Tom turned to look at Cassidy. “But, there’s a part of it that’s about gifts, too.” He reached over, took my hand, and brought it up to kiss and hold to his cheek. “Your grandmother’s the best Christmas present I ever got!”
“Do you remember the song, Grandma?” Cassidy asked as the light turned green, and we moved.
Only five miles to home. I looked at Tom and still saw the young man who had lifted and swung me on that train station platform decades ago. “What, honey?” I shifted on the seat to face her.
“The song… the one the people holding the candles were singing. Do you remember it?”
My memory traveled back to that moment when my young girl’s mind was full of love, all awhirl about the future, and how hearing the song settled my heart and soul. “Yes, sweetie… it goes like this….”
# # #
Note from Dennis:
It was my daughter Cassidy who one December weekend morning—I think with Alpha and Beta in tow—asked: “Dad, have you heard this song?” I put down my writing pad and took her phone, turning it sideways to play the video. When the song video ended, I handed it back to her, “That’s beautiful!”
Now, my girl Cassidy has possibly the hugest, most loving heart of anyone I know (which she gets from her mother). I think her greatest reward is when she does something for others that touches them, makes them smile or happy. The song she had just introduced me to did. I went to Amazon Music and bought it, adding to our library. Then with the song playing softly on the Jambox Bluetooth speaker beside me, I set aside what I had been working on and wrote the story you just read, for Cassidy… and you, too. Following is the music video ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ by Pentatonix—with the scene of them holding candles and singing–that prompted me to write this story. If you’ve not heard it, you might like—or even love—it too.
I like dark chocolate and sometimes have a piece in the morning with my coffee. There’s a brand of individually wrapped pieces called Dove™ that includes brief thoughts and statements inside the wrapper. With our preparation for the holiday season each year, my wife buys bags of them, and one year I thought to take that day’s chocolate wrapper and write a little bit about my first thoughts on reading it.
A FEW READER COMMENTS
“I love this Dennis! Brilliant idea to write about.” –Marcie Keithley, author of ‘The Shoebox Effect’
“This is very cool! Thank you for sharing with us, Dennis! We really loved your blog post! Can you DM us your contact information?” –Dove Chocolate (owned by Mars, Inc.), via Facebook
“Pretty good lessons on life! I guess that’s what gave rise to Forrest Gump’s profound statement, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates…'” –Jim Zumwalt
“I just happened on your site. It was really accidental. But I enjoyed it, especially your ‘The 12 Doves for Christmas’ and now I’m curious and looking forward to reading more… Thank you for sharing your thoughts with other people. In the occasion I wish you Merry Christmas and a joyful happy New Year.” –Elena Landri
“Thank you for sharing your wisdom and creativity in this post. I really enjoyed reading it.” –Galit Breman
“Simply perfect.” –Dawn Hart Jackson
“I wanted to say, my favorite was…. But I couldn’t choose just one…” –Janet Mix
Here they are as written each day:
The 1st DOVE of Christmas
Engage, Embrace and Enjoy the special moments… a sunrise,
a sunset, a full moon in a bright, crisp, autumn sky, a smile, a hug… all
that is simple and beautiful in our world.
The 2nd DOVE of Christmas
Sometimes we think this takes money. That we have to be able to travel to distant places. Not true, though, for me, that’s one of my favorite ways to gain new experiences and to build upon the past. Discovery often comes from merely doing something different or something familiar differently. Discovery means having a mindset open to its potential… knowing that there are opportunities for it, to a greater or lesser degree, each day. And when the chance is there to take it. Even in little amounts, we can learn and benefit from it. I believe when you live with a purpose that there’s something to discover every day.
The 3rd DOVE of Christmas
We all do it. No, not that… I’m talking about daydreaming. That moment when we slip into a mindscape of wishes wants and maybe a what-if or two. There’s been a lot written about visualization and how athletes use it for peak performance. Doing it—what you want to do or to get better at—in your mind helps. No, not that… well, maybe that, too. But I digress. I think daydreaming can be constructive but only if anchored—mostly—in reality. I mean if it doesn’t become or isn’t from the start an absurd fantasy with little chance of existence. Guide your daydreams, base them in your real world, in a way that fits what you do, who you are, and what you want from life. Make them possible… the kind of daydream that requires you to—in the real-world—stretch and reach. Making it tangible often starts with imagining it can be so, and then believing in yourself enough to take action and get it done.
The 4th DOVE of Christmas
I disagree with this one.
What this Dove says (I think) means to not restrict love…
let it flourish unbound. Don’t tell Love what to do.
Love can be unruly. It can happen when we least expect it.
And it can run from us if we chase it. That can be problematic when most seek
love and companionship in their life though I know those who are content
But new love, at any age, that runs wild and free with the
wrong person or a seasoned, mature love that becomes abused or untended can
wither and end in anger, sadness, hurt, and pain.
For love to work, I believe one fundamental, paramount rule
is necessary: to love only someone who loves you in equal measure. Love someone
who respects you as much as you respect them. This must hold true at the
beginning and throughout any relationship.
Love has to include respect, or it’s not love. That’s the
The 5th DOVE of Christmas
always get me. The most beautiful sight to me is a smile on my wife and
daughters’ faces. I’ve seen spectacular vistas from coast to coast, continent
to continent, cities of light, bright shining skyscrapers that pierce the
clouds, the views from some of the tallest buildings in the world; the subtle
shades of sea greens and blues in oceans and waters around the globe, the
austere grandness of canyons and ancient ruins that stun you with wonder at how
they were erected ages ago. So many beautiful places man-made and natural…
and nothing matches the impact of their—Daphne and my girls’—smile. Nothing
makes me happier to see.
give and get some smiles this Christmas… yours for them (your loved ones and
friends) and theirs for you.
The 6th DOVE of Christmas
Love. That’s what I got, along with the 6th Dove, for my birthday (which is December 18th). Love. My wife and three of my daughters to celebrate with me and a warm birthday wish from my oldest who is married now and lives in another state. Love of friends and family, all important to me.
The personal messages meant the most to me. The ones from my daughters tell me my wife and I haven’t missed the mark in raising them to be young adults with their heads on straight about what’s important. The others tell me I have touched people in ways I don’t consciously think of… just by being me. And that feels good, too.
One year, I also got a surprise. From one of my daughter’s friends—a young man [now her husband]—who wrote a touching letter about how, over the years, he has come to view me as the type of father figure and man he aspires to be. Now, I’m not a perfect man—far from it—but I do try to impart, in subtle ways, some of what I’ve learned in life to not just my children, but their friends too. His letter was an unexpected and heart-warming gift.
I don’t need material things. I have all I need and lack for nothing. [And yes, I’m fortunate and blessed to say that, but my wife and I have worked hard for what we have.] I count my riches in the love I receive and that I can, in turn, give to others (who deserve it). Especially my family and those friends closest to me.
So, for my birthday, I got the greatest gift of all. Love.
I hope this holiday season you all receive and give love in equal measure, as deserved.
And I hope you get chocolate. The kind you like and if
that’s not what you want… then the sweetest treat you enjoy most. Like maybe a
chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream cone from Dairy Queen.
The 7th DOVE of Christmas
This one says: “Take advantage of every free moment you
Some would say this advice is about being productive; don’t
waste time. Squeeze every bit into producing something. That in and of itself
is not bad advice. I believe the road to getting ahead in life—and creating a
sustainable good one—is paved by effort.
My writing work is mostly done in my head (before it gets to screen or paper even if it beats it by a nanosecond), so wherever I happen to be, I can also be working on something. Here, in this picture, you see the area next to my chair, by the fireplace, in our family room. It’s prepared for when I have those moments when I need to write down something just thought of or to make a note. So, I believe we should always be conscious of moments—lulls in the day—that can be useful. But you don’t have to feel compelled to fill them with work. Many serve you better as a time for quick reflection… for thought.
For me, it could be a moment to pay attention to the course of events around me and step away from work inside my head. To catch the flash of my wife or daughters’ smile… or hear a low laugh that spills from some other part of the house; when my girls are chatting, seemingly amused or just enjoying themselves in their rooms… to overhear my wife talking with one of her friends and laughing together over something. To listen to Alpha and Beta singing—loudly—in their shower… the streams of it sometimes heard in the evening. Those moments make me appreciate that my wife and I have created a family environment where we all easily laugh and sing.
Or just now. A glance and I see movement around the Christmas tree… Murphy’s suddenly discovered his in-the-house ball had rolled under it and he’s belly-crawling trying to get it. He looks over at me and pauses as if to say” “Give me a chance… I’ll get it.” I do, and he does. He takes it, climbs up on his chair with the Batman blanket in it, and he’s lying over there now alternating gnawing on the ball and looking at me. It’s just a moment, but I’m mindful of it and him. It—and he—makes me smile.
I guess what I’m advocating is that in our so demanding
world of digital devices, alerts, and reminders of a plugged-in, multitasking,
and connected world… and in this holiday time of year, that can be so hectic
and hurried… that when we have a moment, take it for ourselves. Hear the
sounds, see what’s around you—that makes you smile—and plug them firmly into
memory. They come and go quickly, but they all add up… if we pay attention.
As I sit here typing this, pausing to take a drink of coffee, I hear my two youngest daughters getting ready for the last day of school before their Christmas and New Year’s break. I think of this weekend when we make and bake our first batch of Christmas cookies. And how when they come out of the oven and that pleasant aroma fills the house, I’ll savor the sensation and appreciate the time with them to make those cookies. It will trigger thoughts (year after year it always does) to back when they were younger, shorter, and had to stretch—or need help—to get at them. Little hands reaching up to the kitchen counter where the cookies cooled on sheets of aluminum foil. And I think of how they’ve all grown up, and what good and strong individuals they’ve become. Moments like that and more, make my day a better one.
I have to go now and want to leave you with this: I hope that something in each and every day brings a smile to your face and a good feeling in your heart. Just remember they’re often there… hold them close and know there are more to come if you pay attention to the moments.
The 8th DOVE of Christmas
I know that some of you do.
Others that I don’t know probably do too.
And I’m sure most—if not all—assholes don’t. They do the opposite, and no one likes them. 😉 No chocolate for them. Not from me, anyway.
The 9th DOVE of Christmas
Bear with me as I tell you a brief story: It was early spring 1978 on a Sunday at a teen (16 to 18-years-old) dance club called ‘Tiffany’s.’ The song, ‘Brickhouse’ by The Commodores came on, and Teresa G. got up on a table. It was like something teenage boy’s dream about… mesmerizing. Tall, coltish slender with long honey-blonde hair, and though only 18, the budding curves of the woman she was becoming were there. She turned as she danced, and slowly her hands ran down, without touching, the length of the outside line of her shape from ribs to thighs. They raised following the same line and further to clear the sweep of hair that covered her face, piling it up and letting it fall. Through mussed hair, I saw her gray-green eyes close and a slight smile, just showing the edges of teeth, form on her lips. It was a charged moment, watching her. Lightning in the air coursing through as the pulse of the music washed over me, on my skin, and in my bones. “She was mighty… mighty…” And I’m sure every guy felt it. I know I did. The song ended, she swept the hair from her face and stepped down. She went back to a nearby table where she had been sitting with a friend. Not one boy approached her.
I was usually a quiet guy (unless someone pissed me off) not that I was shy, but just because I was, and still am, not a loudmouth, or everyone’s buddy, life-of-the-party type of person. But I liked what Teresa had done. We lived in a relatively small town of about 36,000. I knew her only slightly—she went to a different high school—but she’d impressed me as being the quiet-type, too. She was pretty but not Barbie-doll perfect or carefully crafted to seem so. Not the girl every-boy-was-after… not the rah-rah-school-spirit, in the school’s most popular clique, kind of girl. I wondered what made her do something so extraordinary that would draw attention. So, I went up and asked her. “What was that?” and gestured at the table she’d danced on.
love the song, and no one asked me to dance. So I decided to dance anyway,” she
At the time, the deeper meaning behind that feeling, and how important that underlying philosophy would become to me, flew right by. But I knew she’d done something brave. At that moment, I sensed she had felt at odds… different from her peers… wanting to do… instead of wait… and decided on something entirely unexpected to celebrate how she felt about herself. That I understood completely. When the next song came on, I asked her to dance. Afterward, she left for work and I went back to my own little group of friends. A few days later, I asked her out, and she went to prom with me.
Soon it was graduation for us and a couple of months after I was off to bootcamp and significant changes in my life, new worlds, and new experiences. Teresa and I did not stay in close touch. A few months later, after more training and reporting to my ship, I came home on leave and she was still working at the Burger Shef on Central Ave. I went to see her and saw she had taped a recent picture of me to her cash register. [The photo Teresa had was one taken after a work out on my ship, my mother had given it to her.] So, I guess we connected, each giving the other something extraordinary, even for only a brief time.
I’ve found in my life—more times than not—that what ‘feels right’ for me is the best way to go. There are so many ‘spur of the moment’ things I’ve done that I know most people would never do. Either because of some norms of convention, they felt bound by or just their innate reservation or reluctance, maybe even fear of being that ‘free.’ Being spontaneous and making it work out, especially on important matters, takes contextual judgment based on experience. So young people need to tread carefully. But at the right moment… little things like dancing when you want to dance, singing when you want to sing [like Alpha & Beta in the shower] … the ‘rightness’ of it fills you, and you just have to do it. Not for others, but for yourself. No harm, no foul… and not caring what others think.
We were oh so young… but 42 years later, I still remember Teresa and why she danced that day. She did what felt right. “She was mighty… mighty…”
The 10th DOVE of Christmas
love this one. There have been times in my life—two of them explicitly at
critical points—when I didn’t wait for permission. Didn’t ask for a
reservation. Didn’t wait for an opening… didn’t wait to be considered… did
not hope for approval before I did what I needed (or wanted) to do. I showed up,
expecting to be accepted. I created—or forced the creation of—what I desired.
And it worked, extraordinarily, to my benefit.
When we, my family and I, drive somewhere and we’re parking… we check the closest spot to where we’re going. When there’s an open spot, right where we want, I always say: “They knew we were coming.” I tell my girls that only half-jokingly.
believe, in life, you have to expect room in the front row and expect to be
welcomed and appreciated. Now, that’s not always the case. It does not always
happen the way you want. But I know from experience that doing so
(intelligently, with good taste, and hard work, you cannot be a crass, dumbass
slacker and pull it off) works out in your favor more often than not. And that
can help create a good life for you. Or maybe even—likely can—help turn one
The 11th DOVE of Christmas
This one likely means—to many—to not let the clock rule you.
To take the time to smell the roses, and there is value in that. You should
take time for yourself.
But another thought about time comes to mind.
I have a thing about it: focus on timeliness and being on time that preexisted the emphasis that military training, especially USN ship operations, instills in you. Time matters: Time on Target, Time to Impact, Course and Time to Intercept, Last Contact Time… Run Time, Elapsed Time Speed, and Distance Target Motion Analysis. Relieve the Watch On Time. Time and Tide Wait for No Man. And on and on… So, I believe being disciplined with time is an integral part of success in life. But you have to make sure that it is spent on the things worth your time and on what’s important.
We all have work schedules. Even as a business owner/self-employed professional for nearly 25 years, I have deadlines and a clock and calendar determined by what is negotiated in my contracts with clients and the demands and requirements of publishing and publication deadlines (including production and book manufacturing lead times and schedules).
But I believe there are times when people let someone else’s
clock (not their job or work) rule their life. Others expect this or that from
you… maybe you always say ‘yes’ to them when you should, more times than not,
say no. For some reason, you feel obligated to do as they ask or are compelled
to do it to curry favor. Sometimes you remain the gerbil on that wheel because
you don’t know how to stop. And so you end up tense, frustrated, and feeling
life is out of your control.
If that’s how you’ve let things become, then it’s true. You
don’t have control over your life. You’ve ceded that to someone else or to the
whim of circumstance. Your life is governed by the ticking hands of someone
else’s clock or that of fate. And that is the clock you should ignore.
We often use the words ‘spend’ or ‘give’ when it comes to
time and how we use it. Both—to me—connote its intrinsic value. And as the
years go by, we consider how it has been invested and have to be ever wiser
with the care and management of what we (presumably) have left. Remember that
the time you spend needs to be on what’s worthwhile and the time you give to
anything or anyone… is never coming back. Treat time just as valuable as it
“How did it get so late so soon?” ―Dr. Seuss
The 12th DOVE of Christmas
will read this, agree with it, and be thankful.
I did… do… and am.
might view it differently.
How you feel when you read this depends entirely on where choices and to a degree chance have led you in life. I believe the former more than the latter are the drivers and determinants of our past, present, and future.
past is not a chain, it does not bind us.
present is a moment in time.
future is not fixed or predetermined.
Green, the former coach of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings in
a now-famous post-game rant, said about an opponent they had just lost to:
“They are who we thought they were.” It was part of a bizarre tirade, but
here’s where it’s apt in the context of my thoughts on this DOVE. “We are who
we think we are.” And I’d join that with, “We are where our decisions have led
us… so we are where we are.”
DOVE’s use of the word ‘supposed’ is critical. Here’s the definition of that
word: ‘generally assumed or believed to be the case, but not necessarily so.’
some read this and feel they are not where they’re supposed to be. Where they
are is not a happy place, or maybe it’s marginal… not bad, but not great. Maybe
it’s limbo. But there it is. It is where they are.
The question I have is whether they can read this DOVE’s statement this time next year and feel the same way, or will things be different. It primarily comes down to choices made between now and then.
Next year I hope you hear your inner voice say what the ancient knight—the guardian of the Grail—told Indiana Jones when he selected the right cup: “You chose wisely.”
the 12 DOVES of Christmas end here. I hope that something in what I’ve written
sparks some thought or appreciation for what the messages mean.
Everything in life starts with what you think and how you feel. Make them (thoughts and feelings) good. Make them serve your turn. My wish for you is that they make you happy, year-in, and year-out.
“Once again, Dennis, you’ve given us a beautiful love story; so perfect for the holiday season! What a lovely story. I just posted it on Facebook.” –Tamara Copeland
“Dennis I loved this story White Bird. I continue to enjoy your writing and thank you for sharing this beautiful story.” –Kathy Rosson
“This is just the type of story to read during the holidays. Dennis has a lovely way with words and crafting the story to keep the twist hidden just around the corner, but when it happens, it’s a warm and satisfying revelation. Grab a mug of coffee or cocoa, sit in a favorite chair, and enjoy this heartwarming story.”—A.D. Rivers
“A perfect feel-good
story for the Christmas season! And that twist at the ending, how you add some
Christmas lore. Love it!”—Cheryl Clemmons
“I just love
your writing. Thanks for the great read, Dennis.”—Amy Dionne
and love the story, Dennis!”—Nina Anthonijsz
“When you can just crumble up and throw your past in the trashcan, then you’ll figure out who you’re going to be.”
—CHUCK PALAHNIUK, INVISIBLE MONSTERS
It had been a
golden city for two centuries. A town of prominence longer still that had
welcomed newcomers escaping monarchs and despots… those seeking liberty and
the tired, the poor… all looking for a second chance or a new beginning.
But as with anything or anyone… over time, age, erosion, and weathering have an effect. There is a cycle of fall and rise to all things. In this city, the affluent rose to find and secure the figurative—and often literal—high ground. Paying scant attention to those below or outside their still glittering domain of the well-favored and fortunate. Parts of the city became more tarnish than gilt, and there dwelled those either left behind or passed over as the town grew outward and upward. This then—within that great city—is where colors and life are muted, subdued. The setting where two people meet and find a future not bound by their past or their present.
the last of her coffee with a grimace. Not because of the taste, which was
delicious and perfect for the caffeine-addicted. Her conscience—and maybe it
was why she kept failing—spoiled the brew. She looked around. The thin old man
with the threadbare, red turtleneck sweater was in his usual place, the corner
table closest to the alley door. Brutishly freezing outside, yet he was still
coatless. Despite the bloom of color on his cheeks and the red of his nose, he
never seemed cold. At least not in the fourteen mornings, she had seen him in
that same spot. Passing from him, scanning the old but gleaming diner with its
walls lined with dust-free framed photos of people and eras gone by, her eyes
stopped at the front. Behind the cash register stood a man about her age, the
owner, Henry. Fourteen mornings straight led to first names and learning a bit
about each other. And he more than any of the others on the block was vital for
her to talk to. Yet with this man, she could not tell him the real reason.
There was something behind his eyes that shadowed his smile and made her hesitate.
But there were only 17 days left, and if she didn’t get him signed and
delivered, she would likely be fired. Change that, she would undoubtedly be
So Henry, now
coming around the counter and toward her, was why she frowned. He had her check
in one large hand, and though they were unseen, she knew what he held in the
other. She glanced at the old man. One long gnarled finger now stroked the side
of his nose. Though facing her direction, his eyes were focused somewhere else.
She shook her head. All types lived in the city, and the old areas were often
home to the oddest of all. Henry set the check and the two thick foil-wrapped
squares on the table. The third morning she asked him, “Why two?” He had smiled
at her and replied, “It’s not right to eat just one—I mean,” and his grin
widened, showing slightly crooked but strong-looking teeth, “chocolate, right?”
Placing cash for
her bill and a good tip on the table, she stood and didn’t notice her phone had
slipped from the pocket of the jacket she had set on the seat beside her. “Next
time, only one chocolate, okay?” Olivia self-consciously put both hands on hips
widened considerably once she turned 40 years old. “Do I look like I need two?”
Henry’s grin grew.
“You look fine.”
Her cheeks warmed. Since her messy divorce, compliments had been far, and few between and often proved an insincere prelude to the asking of a favor. A half-smile and awkward nod of thanks were all she could summon for Henry. Why was it so hard for her to talk with him, she cursed herself as she pulled on her jacket and walked to the door. About to open and step out, behind her came the distinct opening of the song she had set as her ringtone, “White bird in a golden cage…” sang from her phone. She turned, and as Henry was about to hand to her, the phone warbled again, and his eyes went to the caller ID.
Development,” he said, “you work for them?” His smile disappeared.
The wind rattled
the closed door behind her, and witnessed in the corner of an eye, a splatter
of sleet now slanting down from the leaden sky struck the window.
“Olivia?” The edge
to it—not the soft voice she had become used to from Henry—made her blink and
meet his eyes. “I know what they’ve done—they’re doing—in the city’s older
neighborhoods.” His eyes had narrowed, and face tightened, pulling taut the
lines on his face. “Are you working for them?”
“They’re putting cash
in people’s pockets, money most of them need.”
He shook his head,
two sharp back-and-forth movements that showed the tendons not noticed before
in his neck. “They make lowball offers the owners accept only because of
pressure and Daniel Trumaga’s scare tactics.”
“I’m not their
employee,” it sounded lame even as the words passed her lips. The corners of
his mouth turned down—she’d only seen that when it seemed he thought no one was
watching him—with a sour expression. “I’m not…” she said again.
“But you work for
them,” he wasn’t questioning any longer.
“Henry let me
“No,” he turned and
walked away, not looking back.
Her phone sang
again. Pressing the red DECLINE icon and pulling her jacket tighter around her,
she slipped it into her pocket and stepped out into the wind-driven icy slush.
* * *
Even in good
weather, getting a taxi in the older parts of the city was hard. Ten blocks
later, sleet firming into ice on her shoulders, her hand shook as she took
three tries to unlock the door to her office. The faded lettering on the glass
on the door still read Olivia Buonanotta | Divorce and Family Law. After her
own divorce—the ugliness—and the disintegration of her former practice and
finances, she had tried on her own. And failed. The clients, frequently bitter
and angry husbands and wives with children often torn and tossed about between,
were too much… too personal, and she had no stomach for it. She had gone back
to something abandoned nearly two decades before. Real estate. Only to be trapped
in it again.
The buzzing phone
had remained in her pocket as she walked and shivered. Hanging her dripping
jacket on a coat hook, Olivia took it out. Tapping the log for recent calls,
she touched to dial the last number, the only one to call her in a month. He
picked up on the first ring.
“Has he signed?”
Daniel Trumaga demanded.
“Listen, I hired
you because we go way back.”
He wouldn’t say it
to her face, but he had strewn about the words—glittery sharp broken mirror
shards—cutting her down in conversations with others. She owed him, he told
them all. Yet he had still helped an old friend. Old yes… friends, not so much.
Not anymore. She had needed the job. It was incredible how openings and offers
had dried up with her added pounds and extra years.
“You got the people
over on Lenix to sign. You can do this… the old Olivia would have by now.”
It was clear tacitly
he meant the young Olivia. She shook her head with the phone still held to an
ear; this Olivia is tired and doesn’t want to manipulate people anymore to
serve someone’s selfish agenda. “I’m working on it.”
“Time is running
out. Get this done.”
She was old enough
to remember phone calls gone wrong ending when someone slammed it down. Now,
with cell phones, it wasn’t as harsh, but the silence just as final. There was
no more time. Henry’s location was the last prime corner spot. Get him locked in,
and she could—would—walk away after this deal. Yet something about the diner
and Henry stopped her before even trying. Maybe because she’d fail with him.
Olivia hadn’t with the others, but some of their expressions when they realized
they had settled for less or had been forced into something, had been hard to
take. She didn’t think Henry would be like those people or ever put himself in the
position. But she had to convince him somehow.
The phone pinged, a
calendar reminder she had twelve hours until the Trumaga Christmas Ball. Since
Daniel had invited her, she would have to make an appearance.
* * *
By 6:30 PM, Olivia was showered, powdered, made-up, and Spanx’d into a long-sleeved evening gown she hoped made her appear slimmer but probably didn’t. I’m at the point I no longer care, she thought with a shallow sigh. The Spanx really held her in. Thirty minutes later, her taxi arrived. Ten minutes after, they were coming up on Essex, and she leaned forward, “Turn right here and take me to the corner at Washburn.” She saw the driver’s eyes on her in the rearview mirror as he nodded.
A minute later,
“Right here, lady?” he pulled over to the sidewalk opposite the diner and
turned to her. The sun had set, and the gray twilight clouds poured a light
rain, likely to turn to snow.
“Yes, give me a
minute.” The lights were on in the diner, and there was movement behind the
fogged glass, a smear of red at a table on the right side. Changing her mind,
she asked the driver, “How much?”
“To drop you here?”
She opened her
purse. “Yes.” He told her. She paid and stepped out onto the slippery sidewalk
with a thin layer of ice already forming. Not a car in sight, she jaywalked
across Essex. The small bell above the door jangled as she went inside. The red
she’d seen behind the glass front of the diner had been the old man she’d seen
every morning for the past two weeks. He had scrutinized her all the way in
from the cab.
Henry was behind
the counter, arranging a pyramid of white porcelain handless coffee mugs. He
looked up, and the smile that always played on his lips when he faced people
straightened into a tight line. “This is different… and a surprise.” But as he
would for any customer, he came around the counter with a menu and order pad in
hand to meet her at the table she sat at each morning. “Kind of dressed up to
be eating at a diner like mine.” He set the menu on the table in front of her.
“Coffee, tea… lemonade or a soft drink?”
On his way to the
urn, he snagged the top mug from the stack. Filling a carafe, he brought it and
the cup to her. Knowing she took it black, he poured, left the carafe, and
turned to go.
He paused but
didn’t turn back to her.
“Will you sit for a minute and let me explain?”
He walked on to the
counter without speaking, hesitated a moment, grabbed another mug, and came
back to Olivia. He slid into the seat opposite her, reached for the carafe, and
filled his cup. Silently, he studied her face.
She nodded at the
old man across the diner. “Does he sleep here too?”
Some of the smile—a
rueful one—returned, “Mr. Kerstman’s interesting.” Henry set his mug down and
scratched his right eyebrow. “Last year, early in the first week of December,
he came in one morning. Said nothing and waited for a couple to get up from that
table,” he cocked his thumb in its direction, “and sat down. My grandfather and
father had both died not long before, and I kept this place open until I
decided what to do.” He swept his left hand, covering from the front door to
the kitchen. “I didn’t know anyone who might be the regular customers, but he
seemed like one. When I went to take his order, he asked me, ‘Where is Hank… or
Thomas?’ My grandfather and father. I told him they had passed away, and he bowed
his head for a moment then glanced up at me. ‘I’m sorry for your loss. But
folks like them, their spirit goes on… alive in the places they loved and in
the hearts of those who loved them in return.’”
“So, he knew your
father and grandfather?”
every day that December, for three weeks, he would come in and sit at the table.
The only thing he ordered was hot tea and chicken and dumplings, my grandfather’s
recipe. From morning until evening, he would sit and watch people. Then on
Christmas—my grandpa and dad always opened on Christmas day for those who
didn’t have a family to share it with, I kept it going—I realized Mr. Kerstman hadn’t
come in and had left early the evening before. I didn’t see him again until two
weeks ago. He came in and gave me a dozen bags of those chocolates, the ones I’ve
been handing out.”
“He sits here all
“I don’t think he
has anywhere to go or any place to be,” Henry said. “He’s watching us now.”
Turning her head, Olivia
peeked and saw he was, dark eyes twinkling with the different colored Christmas
lights Henry had decorated the inside of the diner with. “Where does he go at
“I don’t know. But
not long after sundown, he’ll,” Henry paused, “there he goes….” The old man
walked to the door, stopped, turned to them with a nod and wink, and stepped out
into the night. After draining his cup, Henry set it on the table with a clink.
“What are you doing here, Olivia?” He shook his head, “I mean not right now but
coming in here every morning. Why?”
She tried to take a
deep breath—damn the Spanx—and managed most of one. “The Trumaga Organization
is my client.”
“You’re a broker… a
lawyer… or what?”
working with them on their plan to buy and redevelop older properties in the
city; their gentrification project. It means–”
He cut her off, “I understand
the meaning,” and glared at her. “They manipulate conditions, so they don’t pay
fair market value. You’re,” he stopped then continued, “they’re screwing
people.” He paused at her expression. “Don’t be so surprised. I’m smarter than
I look,” his smile nearly came back in full, “which is why I’m not interested
in what you—they—offer.” He looked around him. “Since that day last December,
when Mr. Kerstman told me about loved ones and places and people they loved, I’ve
had a lot to consider. This diner dates back to my great-grandfather, so been
in my family for a long time. My grandpa and dad loved this place, and I believe
it loved them back. At first, I didn’t sense it… but now… I can almost feel it
every day. And,” he leaned across the table toward Olivia. “I think it cares
for me too. If I give it a chance.” He sat back, and even only the half-genuine
smile lit his face like when they flicked the switch on the tree at Rockefeller
Center. “I could never sell it.” The smile wavered and faded.
She saw the change
in him, a cloud scudded across his face and darkened his bright eyes. An inward
turning away as a veil came down to hide what no one wants to reveal. Their
pain. Every lousy sensation Olivia had experienced since starting with Daniel
Trumaga—spasms of distaste at an ego-driven client’s insecure shallowness and narcissistic
selfishness—flooded her. She realized her professional life was nothing but
moving money—during people’s most difficult circumstances—from someone’s pocket
to another’s while taking a piece for herself. The moment of self-realization left
her feeling soiled and sold out.
Henry had seen the
play of emotions on her face and nodded. “I’ve learned you have to accept when
your heart tells you where you shouldn’t be. But must act to find where you
should be. It takes time to figure out,” he paused for a moment, “and it’s hard
to do… to move forward.”
This time the
breath came and went in full—no restraint—and she knew he had shared something
personal and understood what he meant.
“So, are you headed
somewhere,” Henry hesitated, “or can I take your coat?”
Startled from her
thoughts, she looked at him. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I mean you look
nice,” he bobbed his head as if embarrassed but met her gaze, “you’re so
beautiful. You have somewhere to be tonight?”
“Oh,” backtracking to
consider his compliment made her hesitate, “yes.” Then she contemplated spending
an evening with stuffed shirts and empty suits, listening to their
self-important gossip and talk without substance or meaning. She couldn’t face them
and pretend. “No,” she decided, “now I realize… I have nowhere to go. Except
home.” She didn’t relish that either.
Henry was quiet for
a moment, then walked to the door and flipped the sign to CLOSED. “Can you wait
here, give me about ten or fifteen minutes?”
wondering what he meant. “Okay but–”
“Please wait,” he turned
and hurried to the back of the diner and into the kitchen.
Ten minutes by
yourself—even when you’re used to being alone—shouldn’t seem so long. But
Olivia knew time and events played out in her head were magnified; the highs
higher and lows lower. Heightened by the surrounding stillness, the muffled
steps above coming downstairs, were more distinct as they crossed the tiled
kitchen. The diner’s lights dimmed, and a song she recognized—the instrumental
part—played. She studied the old jukebox in the corner, thinking it had somehow
come to life, but the glass and colored plastic remained dark. She recalled
Henry mentioning he hoped to have it repaired one day. With the lights dimmed,
she could see through the diner’s large window. The falling snow came down in
clusters accompanied by single flakes glistening as they floated through the
arc of light from the lampposts. Patches of color danced on the glass as she
shifted her view, and the angle caught the inside reflection of the reds,
blues, and greens of the lights on the Christmas tree to her right.
“Not as lovely as
Olivia turned and
almost didn’t recognize him. The black suit complemented his middle-aged-Sean
Connery appearance. White shirt with French cuffs just the right length from
the ends of the sleeves with a twinkle of silver there. The knotted black tie’s
sheen—must have been silk—caught darts of color from the lights. He said
nothing as he moved four of the middle tables to create an open area in the diner’s
center. His eyes never left hers as he approached, bowed, and held out a hand.
She accepted, and he led her to the center. He took his cell phone out and
pressed a button. The song started over, and the phone slid back into his
“What Child Is
This is my favorite Christmas song.” she smiled and though surprised,
didn’t flinch as his arm went around her waist.
Henry grinned as he
moved them into the first steps. “This is Greensleeves and has its
origins in the late 16th century. What Child Is This uses as the melody but
wasn’t written until 1865.”
It was as if seeing
him for the first time. “How…”
“Does a simple
diner owner know?” He turned her and then brought her smoothly back to him.
“You told me once you had planned to major in art in college, but hadn’t.” He
held her for a second, smiling. “Do you ever wish you had?” The light caught
her expression that came and went. Regret, he thought and understood. “I wanted
to major in history in college… or music.” He sighed, “But I ended up in accounting…
and now I run a diner.” The song seemed to last much longer than any version
she had ever heard. She had not danced—not like this—in ages. His touch was
light but in control, guiding her without seeming to. “I checked the song,” he whispered
as he again pulled her close and held her there for a breath.
“What song?” she asked
him in the next turn.
“The one on your
phone…” he paused for a moment as if chagrined, “I had never heard it before.”
“White Bird?” she
asked as he rolled her along the uncurling of his arm to extended fingertips
and back in.
“It was my mother’s
He shook his head,
“I’m sorry about that.”
The words jarred
her. She missed a beat and a step. “Why do you say that?”
YouTube, listened to it again, and read the lyrics. She must’ve been sad, your
mother, I mean.”
She stopped. “You know
nothing about her.”
“The story the song
tells is about longing to be free and wanting a better life.”
She dropped his
hand. Feeling the hurt long-buried from watching her mother grow old before her
time. A life wasted. Stung by the memory, she replied, “You mean something
better… like owning a diner?”
His expression now
matched hers. “You say that as if it’s a lesser thing to avoid.”
“That’s not what–”
she stopped, even though it was what she meant but regretted saying.
“I guess it’s better
to be a lawyer?”
Heavens… she didn’t
mean that, “No, let me–”
The lines deepened
on his face. “Or the owner of a company preying on people who’ve not had much
in life. Nothing but the ground under them. And now, when they find out the value,”
he stepped back from her, “they send people like you to convince them to part
with it for less than the worth.”
“Henry…” They faced
each other in the diner’s center, his arms now at his side. She already missed
them: the one around her waist, him gently holding her hand with fingers
twined. His face was resolute, and though she met his look, Olivia couldn’t tell
him what she had started to, so she told him the truth. “The first morning, I
came here to talk about what my clients wanted to offer you. But then, I
watched you… how you talk to people, how you carry yourself without pretension,
your enjoyment of seeing your customers, and them interacting with you. Every
morning I watched and listened. You’re…” she gestured around the diner, “this
place is… different.”
“What are we doing,
Olivia? Why did you come here tonight? I will not sell to your client.”
“Henry, he’s just a
“With a rich daddy
who built their fortune on payoffs, legal trickery forced evictions and foreclosures
and now wants to turn an overlooked area of real estate to his profit. I’ve
nothing against making money, but not if it means screwing people to add to
your margins. Your client is a spider spinning his web outside in,” Henry shook
his head, “trapping people who have no way out.”
“I didn’t come here
tonight for him… I…,” she hesitated, and the silence grew thick.
She felt it then,
the weight of wrong choices, of wrong people, wrong decisions made… in her
life. Was this another one? She didn’t think so. “I came for myself. Why did
you ask me to wait, why the dance?” He stepped toward her as she turned away,
unable to stay, afraid of any reply he might offer. She opened the door, not
looking back at him. A gust caught and pulled it from her hand. Leaving it
open, and without a glance in the window as she passed, she walked north on
Essex and into the wind.
her until she was out of sight, Henry spoke as if she was still there. “I
didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, and I asked you to stay… for me.” The last
two words hung in the air as he closed the door, locked it, and switched off
all the lights.
It was the lull
when the last of the late-breakfast dawdlers had gone, and the early lunchers
had not arrived.
“You worry about
The truth of the matter-of-fact
statement didn’t startle him, who said it did. “Mr. Kerstman,” Henry turned
toward him, “did you say something?”
“I’m not a Sphinx,”
“Almost.” Henry thought
him as enigmatic as that object in the Egyptian desert. The diner was empty
except for them. He pulled the rag off his shoulder and wiped his hands, slid a
chair out, and sat down. “Who is it you think I’m worried about?” The knowing
smile rankled Henry.
“There are moments
when that bell rings,” Mr. Kerstman cocked his left-hand thumb at the front
door, “I love that sound. And you look up, and then your eyes go over there.”
His hand turned sideways; the thumb now pointed across the diner. “When it’s not
her, she’s not there, and your eyes fall.”
“I hardly know her,”
which was true, “and don’t think about her,” which was not.
“People are an
important part of my business. What they long for or desire… their wishes and
wants.” Kerstman rubbed his face where gray bristles, though still short,
shaped the form of what could become a full beard, “Your father told me a few
years ago of the accident, and about your loss. He wondered if you’d ever recover
and worried, you’d never be happy again.”
Henry gave the old
man a hard look, not sidetracking to wonder what business he might be in. “I’m surprised
my dad told that to a–”
Kerstman interrupted him and chuckled again. Its depth odd coming from such a
skinny man. “I have known your father for a long time, and your grandfather
even longer. And this place,” he tapped the table’s top with the knuckles of
his right hand, “well, seems I’ve always known it.” He now had a distant look
in his eyes.
“You mean, you knew
them.” Henry thought not for the first time Kerstman was not always quite in
the present. “They’re gone.”
“Oh, I still know them…
especially this time of year.” His sigh was of a content man confident in the
truth of what he’d said. “And they’re still here.” The lights now shone more brightly
with dusk coming on darkening the diner’s interior. They glimmered in Kerstman’s
eyes as his gaze shifted back to Henry. “They’re also with your wife, son, and
daughter. Love binds them, your family is still together.”
Henry sensed Kerstman
was talking about something more—somewhere other—than just the diner. “I can
still hear them, and sometimes a song or sound triggers a memory, and they’re
close. Then as it fades, it’s like I lost them all over again.”
“But you fight to
hold on to their remembrance even though it hurts. Anything that might fill the
void is like you’re cheating on them. You fight that too.”
“Yes,” Henry’s head
snapped up, “I can never replace them.”
A knotted hand
reached out, and Mr. Kerstman’s firm grip clasped his arm. “No, you won’t do
that… and no one expects you to.” With a last stronger squeeze, the hand
withdrew. “Mostly you seem happy—those who don’t know better believe you
are—but you’re still missing your family. And it worries you you’re attracted
to someone for the first time since your wife died.”
“I hardly know Olivia.”
“But there’s something
about her, isn’t there?”
“I tried to show
her the other night… I thought she felt it too, but was mistaken. It’s wrong of
me, and she works for a man I can’t stomach.”
“Henry, I can tell
good from bad, and she’s not like him, her employer. She’s just not found the
right person, the right circumstances to make her happy.” Kerstman paused, “And
you lost yours… but ten years is enough to mourn.” He put his long-fingered
hands flat on the table. “You both need to shake free from what’s making your
life less than what it could be.”
“I have to get back
to work.” Henry rose but didn’t move from the table and shook his head. “She’s
not coming back; it’s been a week.”
index finger of his right hand stroked the side of his nose as he studied him.
“Then you should find her. Don’t come up with reasons not to. All you should
focus on is how you feel when you see her. It’ll guide you.”
lamppost lights came on. Dark had fallen fast as it always did with the winter
solstice. He turned toward the kitchen and had gotten nearly there when Mr.
Kerstman’s voice—pitched sharp and penetrating—stopped him.
“Happiness isn’t a
one-shot deal, Henry. We all have multiple opportunities to determine—to find—what
or who makes us happy. This is the season to give and receive. You should give
yourself—and her—a chance; maybe she’s the right one for you and you for her.”
Henry heard the
jingle of the front doorbell, and then all was quiet. Everywhere, but inside
CHRISTMAS EVE (DAY)
The weather had
worsened, and the temperature had dropped to levels not touched in nearly a
century. With the storms rise, power faltered, and outages spread.
“Try not to step on
these,” Henry warned Mr. Kerstman. The thick orange electrical lines ran
through the alley door left cracked to the generator outside. They led to a
rectangular box with a dozen outlets inside the door near the table where he customarily
sat. Several filled with plugs, their smaller cords snaking off to a large
electric heater and into the kitchen where a table-top electric grill, griddle,
and microwave were powered.
“Some rig you got set
up there,” Kerstman said. “How long will it run?”
got enough fuel for two days. Hope they have power back on by then,” Henry
replied. “The news people are calling this The Dark Christmas.”
“I don’t like the
sound of that.”
For the first time,
Henry perceived something like anger in Mr. Kerstman’s voice. “Me neither,” Henry
looked around. Several people in the diner huddled around the heater. As soon
as the shelter opened with its more powerful generator and better facilities,
they would move there until the power came back on.
ever tell you much about this place?”
Henry shifted in
his chair to face him. This talkative, Mr. Kerstman, was a new experience. “Not
really, just his father opened it in 1917.”
“Which is true, but
he took over in 1917 from his cousins who had owned and operated it as a
coffeehouse for nearly a century. Henry Livingston—your cousin way back on your
great-grandmother’s side and his financial backer, Clement Moore opened it in
1822. Henry, your cousin—which down the years is where your name came from—and
Clement had a falling out about a year later over something Henry had written
based on Dutch folklore and his chance meeting with a mysterious old man.”
Kerstman chuckled then continued, “He had published it anonymously as a
Christmas story for children, but somehow, Clement took credit.” Kerstman
scratched his red nose, “Anyway, that’s another story,” he thumped the table
with his right hand. “Henry Livingston wrote the little story right here on
wondered what it had to do with anything, “that’s interesting, but….”
“You want to know why
I’m telling you?” Kerstman’s bushy white eyebrows arched. “Well, just to say
this location is well-favored, especially during the holidays and at
“Thanks, Mr. Kerstman, but I need to–”
“What Henry… to do
Henry stared down
at him, then turned toward the door as a van from the shelter pulled up
outside. With a wave and a chorus of “Merry Christmases,” those who had been
waiting stepped outside to board it.
“Henry, did you try
to find the woman… Olivia?”
“I found an office
number, called and left her a message,” he picked up the apron draped across a
nearby chair, “but I’ll never see her again.”
The old man, his
eyes alight, scrutinized Henry as he walked away.
It was a bleak cold—the
worst kind—and he was alone. Henry had expected to see Mr. Kerstman, to wish
him a Merry Christmas, but the old man had left before sundown and not come
back. Henry had turned out all the lights except for one. The heater struggled
to provide warmth that only reached a few feet. He sat at the table closest to it,
not hearing the music from the Bluetooth speakers until it came to a song on
his playlist that touched him profoundly: “This is my winter song… December
never felt so wrong…,” he sang the words, and the ache grown stronger all day
He stood and moved
around the diner among the shadows from the single light on the counter. Stopping
at the window, he looked out on what he would typically see was a lighted street,
now a night filled with swirls of ink lightened by dark gray when the weak moon
broke through the low clouds. About to turn away, he spotted a sweep of
rose-colored light that caught white bands of wind-driven snow streaming at an
angle from the sky. The beam danced, buffeted, or carried by the wind pushing
it down Essex toward him. In minutes the light—now a brighter ruby more
penetrating than a white glare—stopped at what was the corner he couldn’t see.
Cast in the backlight was a shadow. It took a step, faltered as the wind
shifted and strengthened. Shards of ice glinted as a gust shoved the shape,
sending it skittering on ice-coated concrete. It went down hard, and the light
stuttered and blinked out.
Henry shoved the
door—putting his weight behind it—open against the wind. On the sidewalk, he
slid backward and felt the palm of a great hand—the wind—on his chest, pressing
him against glass and stone. A flash and the glistening scarlet reflection on
the street guided him as he leaned into the wind and made it to the middle of
the road. The puddle of red light showed a huddled form—a person—in a heavy
hooded coat with knees pulled up to the chest. God, so cold, his hands, arms,
and legs already numbed. He kneeled and gripped the form, the crunch of a thin
scrim of ice breaking as he got his arms under to pull them to their feet. The
wind’s shriek overrode any words as he half-carried, half-walked them back to
the diner. After prying the door open with a gasp, he got them inside.
staggered toward the heater in the room’s center. Despite the dimness, he could
see it carried in one hand a large–the biggest he’d ever seen–flashlight with a
thick lens the size of a butter dish. Setting it on the table, a gloved hand
swept back the hood revealing a face mostly covered by a red scarf with white
tassels. The hand unwound it.
She, with some
difficulty, stripped the gloves from her hands and rubbed her face. “I… I…” she
stuttered, “have never been so cold.” Shivers racked her.
Henry went to the
counter, lifted the pot of coffee from the warmer, poured two cups, and brought
them to the table. “What the hell…” he sat them next to her. “Why in the world
would you go out in that?” his hand gestured at the blizzard blasting outside the
rattling window, shaking it in its frame. “Are you crazy?” He rose, walked back
to the counter, and returned with the Coleman lantern. In its bright arc, her
“I had a visitor
this afternoon,” she gulped a swallow of coffee. “I don’t know how he found me.
I asked him, and he said he knows things like that. No idea what he meant, but
it seemed more than what he said…” She shook her head, and the raw ivory look
of her cheeks faded as warmth crept in. Her eyes still had not met his.
“Who… Olivia, who
was it?” Henry drank from his mug.
“There was a ring…
then a loud knocking. I opened the door, and there he stood, only 5° outside
not counting the wind chill, wearing his red turtleneck and a scarf flapping in
She nodded, “Yes,” and
blinked. “He asked me, ‘May I come in?’ I stepped back, and he followed me
inside. Then I noticed in one hand he carried a red bag trimmed in gold. He
told me, ‘I can’t stay… it is Christmas Eve.’ and reached into his sack and
took this out.” She touched the flashlight on the table, and it rolled in a
half-arc toward Henry. “I started to ask him why that mattered… but he cut me
off. ‘A gift,’ he said. For what? I asked. He laughed; how such a sound came
from that skinny old man,” she shook her head, “and said, ‘It will help you
find your way.’” Olivia reached to roll the flashlight back to her. “He handed
it to me, unwrapped his scarf and laid it over my arm, then with a ‘Merry
Christmas,’ he left.”
Olivia emptied her
cup, and Henry rose to fill it. “Thanks,” she nodded, and her smile warmed him
more than the heater and coffee. “I set both on the entryway table, chalking the
whole thing up to some old man’s eccentricity. Two hours later, it was dark—I
just had a Coleman lantern in the back room, my private office—and came out and
started to put them away. I…” She stopped, stretched her hand out to rest on
his just a moment, then pulled away. “I’ve thought about you a lot, and when I
picked up the flashlight, it came on and spotlighted the door. I was flooded with
feeling your hand in mine—from when we danced—and when I touched the scarf, something
told me to bundle up and go out. I grabbed my coat, wrapped his scarf around me,
and picked up the flashlight. Without thinking, I was on the street in almost pitch
black. The flashlight came on but shut off if I faced any direction but south.
I followed the light here.”
This time his hand reached for hers. A line from The Winter Songcame to him as he explored the depth of color in her eyes. He sang partly to himself but mostly for her, “My voice a beacon in the night. My words will be your light to carry you to me. Is love alive?” As he looked at Olivia, he answered the question the song asked, “Yes… it’s alive.”
* * *
The wind had
dropped, and lighter snow drifted down. They—the man and woman—had not heard him
come in, few ever did, to sit at the table. He watched them as they grew
closer. Now touching… then a kiss. “Always—always—the best gift to give and
receive,” he smiled as he stood and slipped outside through the barely open
alley door stepping around the dark mass of the shadowed generator. A fresh
flurry of snow blown from the roof above showered him and carried with it the
sound of bells. Nine sets. Each a different pitch, but one most distinctive
pierced the night. Mr. Kerstman chortled, “After all, he’s the lead.”
He raised his hand
to the fire escape that started about twelve feet above him and rose to the top
of the building. At his gesture, the ladder dropped. As he climbed, he filled
out both beard and girth, and the added weight did not slow him down. He
reached a roof now lighted with a red glow, to the sound of stamping hooves. A
minute later, he was gone, but the sound of bells and his voice and laughter
rang through the night. “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
Below him, the city
lights came on.
NOVEMBER 30 (A YEAR LATER)
“I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high.”
It was still a diner but had expanded into space next to it to add a gallery. The sign over the door depicted a golden cage, its door open and above… a bird in flight in a blue sky. The woman behind the counter wasn’t any lighter nor younger but seemed so much happier. The man who hugged her from behind smiled and kissed her cheek. The next day, December 1st, was their wedding day, and they hoped to see a good friend in the coming holiday season. Off to the side, with a rainbow glow of colors, an old jukebox played Greensleeves.
NOTE FROM DENNIS
I’ve used some
things fictitiously for this story, but the following are facts. The Dutch West
India Company established the colony of New Netherland in America in 1624, and
it grew to encompass all of present-day New York City and parts of Long Island,
Connecticut, and New Jersey. They christened the thriving Dutch settlement on
the southern tip of Manhattan Island New Amsterdam (which became New York
City). The Dutch brought with them the presence of Saint Nicholas, who has been
in the Hudson River country of America ever since the beginning.
Clement Clarke Moore is widely believed to be the author of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas.’ Written in 1822, once it had become popular, it was known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.’ But there is a dispute about the authorship. Some academics and literary historians believe Henry Livingston Jr., a peer of Moore’s, wrote it. Because of the story, St. Nicholas became the model for Santa Claus, whose name comes from the New Amsterdam Dutch, who shortened it to Sinterklaas (itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of Saint Nikolaos). Santa Claus is also known as de Kerstman (the Christmas man) in Dutch.
“Not always possible, but today I took the time to translate and read you … I loved it! Congratulations for that sense of belonging, for your family and your trees, to build a life in which you feel full. I like red maples. They are warm and beautiful. No siempre me es posible, pero hoy me tomé el tiempo de traducir y leerte…Me encantó! Felicidades por ese sentimiento de arraigo, por tu familia y tus árboles, por construir una vida en la que te sientes pleno. Me gustan los arces rojos 😉 Son cálidos y hermosos.” –Elsa Bornay Delgado in Madrid
“It’s amazing how descriptive your writing is. Every time I so much as read a sentence from you, let alone a short story, I’m there–in the scene. I’m feeling the emotions of the characters and experiencing the events likewise! Thank you.” –Jessica Griffin
I share this each year in late October/early November and named it Home Trees because, for me, trees are full of symbolism. One morning, years ago, as I stepped out with Alpha and Beta—for our early morning walk to elementary school—I looked at my tree (you’ll read about it below). And thought: ‘How my life has grown in all the right ways. My love for my wife Daphne, my love for my four daughters… and me… I’ve grown in so many ways… still the same—at the core—as when younger but free to be even more me.’ [But let’s not speak of my waistline, that’s the wrong ‘me’ growth.]
After returning from walking them to school, I
wrote ‘Home Trees.’
In 1995, we built our current home in a then-new
subdivision and ours was one of the first houses constructed. The few that came
before and many that came after chose palm trees for their yards. We wanted
something different and picked a brace of red maples for the front yard. They’re
located: one—my tree—square in front of my office window (by design to help
shade it from the setting sun, since it faces due west) and the second in the
corner on the other side of our garage and driveway.
When we moved in, our backyard had full-grown
pine trees from a copse of woods behind our house. I remember meeting the
contractor to mark the trees within our property line to keep. One corner
inside the line didn’t have a tree, so my wife, Daphne, planted a crepe myrtle
there after we moved in. Seemingly just a stick I did not think would live,
that sapling became Cassidy’s tree (she’s my next oldest daughter who was born
two months after we moved in). She grew up with that tree. As soon as she and
it were sturdy enough… up the tree, she climbed. As it shot higher than she
was tall, it was as if the tree stooped to lift her from the ground and held
her as they looked out over their world.
We celebrate 25 years in our home this November 2020. My oldest daughter, now 32 years old, went from 7 to 22 here. My three other girls, from newborn babies to 24 and 19 (Alpha and Beta, our twins).
And my red maples, and Cassidy’s tree… they
have grown to be beautiful, too!
The maples give me a taste of the changing seasons (something unfortunately not extensive, even in North Florida) that I savor. And as I look out my office window each day… I see my red maple, the one that stands just outside, and feel just as rooted as it.
In the backyard, Cassidy’s tree is tall, lean, and beautiful, just like her. I cannot see or think of it without visualizing a slideshow of Cassidy through the years. Just as I cannot look out on our backyard and not see my oldest, Karen, with her explorer kit and magnifying glass finding and studying ants and lizards (and regrettably where the Great Snake Incident occurred, when I deeply angered her by stupidly killing a harmless snake). I see my three youngest as babies, in their walkers, on the patio… the breeze blowing through their hair as they smiled up at a bright blue sky with the green needles of tall pines, in the background, glinting in the sun. I can still hear their laughter that rang in the air and was (is) such a joy. I see them as young children gathering pine cones for winter fires, and them chasing around with dogs running about. All my girls, at different ages, playing in and on their fort, and its attached swing and monkey bars (Amelia and Bonnie calling to me, “watch me… look at me, dad.” as they made their way across them the first several (dozen) times.
I’m firmly grounded with my lovely wife,
daughters, dogs, and my trees… they all make me feel… at home. And I think
of this line from an old(er) favorite song: (it’s okay, you can sing along with
“When I was young
I dreamed a young man’s dreams
I saw in your eyes
The things I’d never seen
But now I grow old
But I don’t really mind
Cause can’t you see… with my family
We’ll share these timeless memories.”
—Styx, This Old Man
The morning of November 15, 2019—a chilly (for Florida) gray dawn with rain alternating between drizzle and downpour—I stepped outside as Alpha and Beta (then seniors in high school) backed out of the garage. Not 15 minutes later, as I sat down to update this post (as I do each year), Alpha called, upset, her voice trembling, to tell me they just had a bad accident. Their car totaled, but thank God for airbags, they were shaken but not seriously hurt. My first thought was all the reasons I have to be thankful.
This beginning of November 2020, with all that’s going on in the world and America, we’re still thankful and pray for our loved ones who are battling COVID-19 along with so many others.
“I love this Dennis, I have planted trees in my children’s honour too and even though we have left that house, I return to marvel at their growth. We can do this, we can make a difference” –Paul Stickland in England
“Very nice!” –Irena Udovičić in Croatia
“Okay I just stumbled upon this and wow this is a very nice piece of writing!” –PV
“Your words are so colorful that I was actually able to ‘see’ your memories as you painted them on the page. I could hear the laughter of the girls as they were running around and having fun in your backyard. You do so know how to put words on paper in such a way as to help a person to be able to see what you want them to see. You are a truly remarkable writer. I love reading your stuff.” — Brenda Church
“I love your writing…I can see everything as I read it!! I so enjoy when you write about your life with your beautiful bride and daughters.” –Renee Mann