There's a good movie playing down-town. How about let's taking in a movie tonight?" asked my wife.
"I guess so." I told her.
I really did not like going to the movie theater. It was located right on the edge of a very seedy part of town. When we arrived we parked the car and started the block or so walk to the Florida Theater.
"Can you spare a dollar?" or "Can you spare some change" asked almost every person that we passed.
Most people coming to this part of town to the movies had already learned that it was best not to speak and to just keep on walking. As we rounded the last corner I saw a gentleman sitting on the sidewalk, his back to the building. Next to him was a large duffle bag.
He was very unclean and unshaven. Around his eyes were very dark circles. It appeared as though he had not washed his face for quiet a long time. His clothes were old and worn and there was very little doubt that they were in need of a good washing.
As we passed him by he said not a word. My wife proceeded up to the ticket booth to purchased the tickets.
"Going to see the movie?" asked the man.
"Yea, my wife wants to see it." I replied.
"It's a very good movie." He said.
"Have you seen it?" I asked.
"No. Just heard that it was..uh, that it was very good." he replied.
"Well, I had better go in" I said.
"Could you spare a dollar?" he asked.
"Sorry. But the wife's got all the money." I said to him, as I turned and walked away.
We entered the theater and my wife purchased a large bucket of popcorn and two drinks. After seating ourselves I slowly started eating the popcorn. All at once I looked over at my wife.
"Can I have twenty dollars?" I asked her.
"Twenty dollars! For what?" she said.
"I just need twenty dollars, Hon." I replied.
She reached into her wallet and she took out a twenty dollar bill. I took the money and I walked back to the entrance of the theater where the man was still sitting. I had decided that I was not going to give the gentleman any money. That I would invite him in to see the movie and feed him while he watched the show. He looked up at me as I approached him.
"I'll pay for it if you want to come in and see the movie?" I said to him.
"I can't leave my stuff. Somebody will steal it. Besides I'm not dressed for the movies." said the man, looking down at his clothing.
"I'll tell you what. I'll put your bag in the trunk of my car until after the movie."
The man quickly reached over and grabbed his bag and held onto it, as if I were going to take it from him.
"It'll be safe." I told him.
Slowly he got up from the ground and picked up his bag. We walked about block and a half to where my car was parked. I placed the large bag in the trunk and I locked it. We then walked back to the theater where I purchased his ticket.
"Roger." I said to the man, holding out my hand.
"Willy" he said, wiping his hand on his pants before shaking my hand.
I purchased a bucket of popcorn, a hot dog, and a large drink which I handed to Willy.
I don't recall the name of the movie that we saw that day. I do remember it being one of those women type movies. You know, the kind that make women cry.
Every now and then I would see a tear rolling down Willy's cheek, Each time a tear appeared he would turn his head to the side and wipe the tears away with his fingers.
After the movie was over the three of us left the theater and headed back toward our car. All Willy could talk about the entire time was the movie. My wife and he were talking about the movie as if they were old friends.
"How about some Baskin Robbins ice cream" I offered and the three of us walked over to the ice cream parlor.
"What kind of ice cream do you like, Willy?"
"Do they have that kind that has the marshmallows and the nuts in it?" he asked.
"That's called Rocky Road." said Judy.
"Haven't had none of that since before Vietnam." said Willy.
"Three Rocky Roads. Double scoops" I yelled out.
Willy Laughed and turned his head to the side as if he were embarrassed. The clerk reached across the counter handing Willy his double scoop of Rocky Road. Slowly he licked the ice cream and then he closed his eyes and just stood there.
All at once the top scoop fell off his cone and splattered on the floor. I couldn't help but laugh. Then Judy started laughing.
Willy's eyes got real big and his face was that of a young boy who felt that he was going to get into trouble. Then he started laughing. The three of us just stood there laughing as hard as we could. After we ate our cones we walked to the car. I took Willy's bag out of the trunk.
"Where do you live, Willy?" I asked him.
"I got a place over at the mission on Market Street." he answered.
"You take it easy, Dude" I told Willy, as I shook his hand and we parted ways.
Judy and I got in the car and we headed home. All weekend long I thought about Willy and why he had taken to the streets. I wondered if it might have been his experience in Vietnam that had something to do with him not caring about himself any more.
Monday morning I drove back downtown to see if I might find Willy. I did not see him anywhere on the streets. I drove to the mission on Market Street to see if anyone knew of him.
"Oh! You mean Willy Williams. He left out of here on Saturday morning, headed to Kentucky on the Greyhound bus." said the gentleman.
"Kentucky?" I said.
"Yea. Old Willy came in here Friday night acting really different. He took a hot shower for the first time in months. He shaved his face. Then asked Billy to cut his hair."
"He told old Bill that he was going back home to his family. He said something about having forgotten that life was supposed to be a fun time."
~ Written by Roger Dean Kiser from "Stories from The Life and Times of Roger Dean Kiser" His web site is HERE. ~
I remember my first Christmas party with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb:
"There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"
My grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her world-famous cinnamon buns. Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites I told her everything. She was ready for me.
"No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad. Now, put on your coat, and let's go."
"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second cinnamon bun.
"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.
"Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.
I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.
For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobbie Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class.
Bobbie Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out for recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobbie Decker didn't have a cough, and he didn't have a coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobbie Decker a coat. I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.
"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.
"Yes, "I replied shyly. "It's...for Bobbie." The nice lady smiled at me. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and wished me a Merry Christmas.
That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons, and write, "To Bobbie, From Santa Claus" on it -- Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobbie Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa's helpers.
Grandma parked down the street from Bobbie's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge.
"All right, Santa Claus", she whispered, "get going."
I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobbie.
Forty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my grandma, in Bobbie Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous.
When I was in elementary school in Saginaw, Michigan, back in the 1950's, Paul Davis was my neighbor as well as classmate. Paul's birthday is December 16th. Every year for his birthday treat he would take to school wonderful Santa face cookies, complete with raisin eyes and coconut beards.
I would always make sure to walk home with Paul on those days, just in case someone had been absent and he had an extra cookie or two. Somehow, one cookie survived long enough for me to show my mother. She got the recipe from Paul's mother and bought the special cookie cutter at Morley Brothers, our wonderful all-purpose department store.
Over the years, my mother and I would continue to make these cookies. After I got married in the mid-60's, I bought my own cookie cutter. We had three daughters and the cookies remained a must-do at Christmas time. I was a stay-at-home mother in those days and would make the Santa cookies for my daughters' class parties. Some special teachers would get a plate of them years after they taught our daughters. Eventually, my mother gave me her Santa cookie cutter and I guarded both of them because Morley's had closed years before and we never saw anything even resembling these wonderful Santa faces.
Several years ago in late December, I had made several batches and the two plastic cutters were sitting on the cupboard waiting to be handwashed and put away for another year. Well, my oldest daughter decided to help out by loading the dishwasher. You guessed it ... the two treasured plastic cutters came out distorted and totally unusable. I was sick!
For some reason, I had kept the original paper insert from the cookie cutter box. So, I knew that they were from Aunt Chick's in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now, it was time to see if that company was still in business. Honestly, I wasn't optimistic but if I couldn't replace them, then a long-standing tradition had come to an abrupt halt.
That January, I wrote to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and inquired about Aunt Chick's cookie cutters. I enclosed a copy of the insert that I'd kept for so many years. Within days I received a reply. They even sent me newspaper clippings about Aunt Chick (she had died in 1982) and they told me that the cookie cutters were still available at The Final Touch in Tulsa. They also told me that Aunt Chick's granddaughter, Pat Kimbrel, had taken over the business and it was now called Chickadees Cookery Company in Irving, Texas.
I was elated! I phoned The Final Touch and explained what had happened and said that I wanted to buy TEN Santa cookie cutters. The woman told me that they were only available in sets (Santa, star, tree, stocking.) But I didn't want the other designs and couldn't afford to buy ten SETS.
So, I decided to call Chickadees Cookery Company. I was able to talk with Pat Kimbrel and tell her about the happy memories connected with her grandmother's cookie cutters. She said that she hoped to get them back into distribution once again. Through Pat I was able to buy four Santa cutters. Then, several weeks later, I received a note from The Final Touch saying that they found six Santa cutters and asked if I still want them.
I phoned to say "Yes!" and sent a check. So, within about four months I went from having no Santa cutters to having ten, the exact number that I stated that I wanted in the first place!
It was wonderful to be able to do business with two women who went out of their way to satisfy a customer. And, now the family tradition of the Santa face cookie cutters continues not only in our house but also in the home of our oldest daughter, who has since married. At this point, it's three generations strong.
So, Happy Birthday, Paul Davis, this December 16th wherever you are. I'll bet you just never knew that your old friend, neighbor and classmate would perpetuate the cookie tradition for nearly a half-century. Thanks to you and your mother and with the help of some dear women in both Oklahoma and Texas, we'll be enjoying our very special Santa cookies for many years to come.
Sometimes you just never know how many lives you affect or for how many years the influence will be felt. Merry Christmas.