What I Never got for Christmas

            When I was a child, there were things I wanted for Christmas and never received. For one thing, I was fascinated by the electronic doors at the supermarket. This was back in the sixties, and my favorite part of accompanying my mother to the grocery store was standing on the mat in front of the door and watching it swing open. Once through the door, I had to stop, turn, and watch the door close behind us. Needless to say, I wanted a magic door for Christmas. Nothing doing.
            I loved elevators, especially the one in my father’s office building because it had Braille numbers. It was cool to walk into that elevator with or without Dad and push the correct button for his floor. Although our house only had one floor except for the partial basement, I had to have an elevator for Christmas. That didn’t happen, either.
Soon after I started taking piano lessons, my mother played recordings of piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven on the phonograph. I thought it would be neat to have a symphony orchestra that would accompany me whenever I played the piano. I wanted one for Christmas but didn’t get that, either.
One of the more realistic presents I wanted and never got was a battery operated toy telephone. A friend had one in her room and used it to call her brother in his room and talk to him. I thought it would be great to do the same thing with my brother. But the phone never appeared under our Christmas tree.
            I eventually realized that the magic door, elevator, and symphony orchestra would be impossible to deliver, even for Santa Claus. But since my husband Bill suffered two strokes that left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, I’ve occasionally dreamed of having a million dollars. I could use it to buy a house in California with a swimming pool. I could hire a staff of servants to cook, clean, and maintain the place and certified nursing assistants and therapists to care for Bill and help him maintain the strength he still has. Then, I could concentrate fully on my writing and enjoy my time with my husband without worrying about dressing him, taking him to the bathroom, or dealing with his finicky eating habits. But unless a distant relative I don’t know dies and leaves me a fortune, I don’t think I’ll get that wish, either.
It doesn’t matter that I never got the things I wanted for Christmas. I’ve learned to be grateful for what I have. Okay, our house doesn’t have an elevator or a magic door, but we don’t need an elevator, and although having a magic door would make wheeling Bill in and out of the house a lot easier, we can get by without it. As long as there’s love, we have all we need.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Black Christmas

I’ve been reading a book called I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas by playwright, comedian, and actor Lewis Black. To read more about him, visit http://www.lewisblack.com. This Web site contains information about his books and appearances. A Google search also revealed several YouTube videos including this one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mCDZMWVWuc

 

 
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Christmas Memories

As I said before, I sing in a women’s barber-shop group. One of the songs in our Christmas repertoire this year, entitled “Christmas Candles,” is about memories one has of the season: singing Christmas hymns, hearing church bells, everyone at the dinner table while Dad says grace, and of course, candles on the Christmas tree. 
What memories do you have of Christmas? Did you buy your tree in a lot or cut it down in the woods? Have you ever used an artificial tree? Were your decorations homemade or store bought? Did you have an angel on your tree? Who was the one with the honor of placing the angel on the tree? Did you ever string popcorn balls on a tree? Did your family sing Christmas songs together, or better yet, go caroling through the neighborhood? When you sang at home, did someone accompany you on the piano or another instrument? Did you open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?
Please feel free to share your Christmas memories in the comment box below. If you have trouble, you can use the link below to e-mail me, and I’ll post your comments for you. I’ll leave you now with a story I wrote years ago about a special gift I received for Christmas. This was published in Christmas in the Country, an anthology of stories written by disabled authors. I would like to wish all my readers a memorable Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2011 to come.
CHRISTMAS BOWL
As a kid, I was forced to try a variety of different sports in school physical education classes. Unfortunately, due in part to my visual impairment, I was not very successful at any of them. I either fell on my face, as a result of running with someone who ran faster than I could, or I was hit in the face with a ball. Also, I couldn’t aim a ball into a basket to save my soul. In college however, I discovered a sport which I could do pretty well, despite the visual impairment, and without injury.
In 1981, I was entering my second year at Sheridan College in Sheridan, Wyoming. I was required to take at least two semesters of physical education, and it was time for me to quit procrastinating and just do it. I signed up for bowling because to me, that seemed to require the least athletic ability and the chance of injury was rather slim.
The first few days of class were rather humiliating. I found that no matter what I did, the ball always ended up in the gutter. Fortunately, nobody laughed at me, which they would have done if we had been in elementary school. However, in between frames, I watched other students bowl strikes and spares and heard them cheering for one another and was depressed by the realization that no one was cheering for me.


But the instructor saw that I was floundering and tossed me a lifeline. She arranged for me to have a lane all to myself so I  would have an opportunity to practice continually without having to wait for others to bowl. She also worked with me to perfect my arm movement so I could aim the ball right down the center of the lane. 
Gradually, I improved. My gutter balls became less and less frequent, and I began hitting more and more pins each time I bowled. One day, I finally bowled a strike, and the alley seemed to reverberate with the cheers of my classmates.
            By the time the holidays rolled around, my average score was seventy-six. I loved the sport and wanted to practice in order to improve my game. I even watched the professional bowling tour on TV. I was living at home at the time. The problem was that since I couldn’t drive, it was impossible for me to borrow the car and drive out to the bowling alley whenever I wanted. So I constantly begged my parents to take me bowling, which they readily agreed to do most of the time. We would often go as a family, with my younger brother Andy tagging along. At Thanksgiving, when my uncle, aunt, and cousins from out of town were visiting, I even talked them into bowling with us, and we all had a wonderful time.


As Christmas grew closer, I became somewhat depressed, as I realized that the bowling class would not continue the second semester. I had really come to enjoy it and wondered if I would ever bowl again, once the term drew to a close. Then, to my wondering eyes on Christmas morning, there appeared a bowling ball, a pair of shoes, and a bag in which to carry them. My parents even gave me an electronic bowling game. They had realized that I was serious about this sport, just as Andy had been serious about tennis a few years earlier.
Through the years, I continued to bowl, although not as frequently, due to having other interests and obligations. I still have the bowling bag with the ball and shoes stowed away in a closet, and I bowl from time to time when I get a chance. 
One year, I actually joined a team, which played on a ladies’ bowling league. Unfortunately, we only bowled a few times and the team finally broke up due to a lack of interest. I offered my services to another team captain I knew, but I was never called. Perhaps my seventy-six average didn’t make me league material after all. That doesn’t really matter, though. The important thing is that there is one sport out there in which I can participate successfully, despite my visual impairment. That realization was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.        
THE END
   


Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

More Poems Published

Two of my poems have been published in the December 2010 issue of Wordgathering, an online publication containing works by disabled authors. I’ll paste them below.
WHILE WALKING HOME
As my long white cane rolls from side to side  in front of me,
I feel the sun, the gentle breezes that caress my face.
I should hurry, but why?
The sun shines in a cloudless sky.
The air is warm, permeated with the scent of roses.
He’s been home alone for three hours.
Fifteen minutes more won’t matter, will it?
When I get home, I’ll take him outside in his wheelchair
so he can enjoy the late afternoon sun,
flop into my armchair in the living room with my feet up,
kick off my shoes, drink  Dr. Pepper
while downloading e-mail onto my Victor Stream.
Its synthetic voice will read to me,
as I fold and put away laundry, prepare dinner.
We’ll eat together, content,
as another day draws to a close.
AWAITING THE RETURN OF THE BETTER HALF
The phone rings.
With his right hand, the only one that works,
he presses the talk button on the cordless unit,
slowly lifts it to his ear, says, “Hello.”
“Hi, honey,” I say. “How are you?
I’ll be home in fifteen minutes.”
He places the phone next to him on the bed,
presses the talk button a second time to disconnect the call.
A container filled with urine balances between his legs.
He listens to his recorded book, anticipates my return.
Finally, the kitchen door opens, closes.
He hears me moving around,
wonders why I don’t  come to him.
He picks up the phone, dials my cell.
“I’m here,” I tell him.
“I’m putting my things away.
I’ll be right there.”
When I enter the room with a cheerful greeting, we embrace. 
He tries unsuccessfully to kiss me while laughing.
Then, offering the urinal, he says,
“I’ve got something for you.”
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

A Cedar Cove Christmas

Counting today, there are only five days left until Christmas. Since I lost my mother to cancer in 1999, this time of year has been difficult for me. But this month, I’ve been reading a lot of Christmas stories, and that has been keeping me in the holiday frame of mind.
I was most taken with A Cedar Cove Christmas by Debbie Macomber. This is one of a series of eleven books the author has written about inhabitants of the imaginary town of Cedar Cove, Washington. Except for A Cedar Cove Christmas, the title of each of these books is an address in the town, i.e.

1022 Evergreen Place

, her latest book in this series that was released in September of this year. The residents of the house at the address in the title of each book are the focal point of the book’s story, but there are sub-plots involving others in the town as well. At the beginning of each book is a cast of characters so if you haven’t read the previous book in the series, you’re not totally lost.

A Cedar Cove Christmas is a delightful take on the Christmas story. On Christmas Eve Day, pregnant Mary Jo Wyse travels to Cedar Cove from Seattle to find the father of her unborn child who has led her to believe that he will be spending the holiday with his family living in the town. But this man turns out to be a pathological liar and a con artist. His father and stepmother have taken a Christmas cruise, and fate puts Mary  Jo in touch with librarian Grace Harding who lives on a horse ranch near Cedar Cove. Grace and her husband take Mary Jo in, and she gives birth on Christmas Eve in an apartment above their barn. In the stable, there just happen to be a camel and other creatures used in the church’s nativity scene. Mary Jo’s brothers, the three Wyse men, arrive bearing gifts just as she is about to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Grace’s grandson plays his new drum for Mary Jo and the baby, and it appears that the ox and lamb are keeping time.
Debbie Macomber has a  Web site where you can read about her and her books and join her mailing list. Please visit http://www.debbiemacomber.com/ Of course, you can always visit my Web site, the URL of which is below. I leave you now with a link to a recording of my Christmas wish for anyone reading this blog. This link will be available for at least a week.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Whitney Common

When I was single, I lived in an apartment across the street from a park. The park was built several years after I moved into the apartment, and I liked it because it was shorter and more pleasant to walk through it to get to the YMCA and the library. There’s no traffic in the park, only sidewalks surrounding a fountain, playground, and other attractions. It’s always well maintained, even in winter.
Now that I’m married, I live in a different part of town. I don’t have many opportunities to walk through the park anymore, and I miss it. I wrote a poem about it which has just been published in Serendipity Poets of Cheyenne Journal 2010. I’ll paste it below.
WHITNEY COMMON
I walk along the smooth sidewalk.
My long white cane rolls from side to side in front of me.
There are no cars
but lush, green lawns, benches,
trees in the first stages of growth.
The scent of newly mown grass permeates the air.
I hear the cries of children, as they swing, slide, play in the fountain.
Its gurgle, inviting on a hot day,
provides a sense of peace.
I’d rather walk here than through the city streets.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Amazing Grace

This is the story of a singer whose dying grandmother asks her to sing this song one last time, the way she sang it in church years ago when she was a child. You can read the story on my Web site, but I’ll paste it below along with a link to where you can hear me sing the song the way it was sung in the story. The link to the audio file will only be available for a week. Enjoy!

AMAZING GRACE

            “Grace, you have a visitor,” said the nurse to my grandmother.
            I approached the bed with caution, not knowing what to expect.  Her hair was as white as the pillow and the sheet that covered her.  Her eyes were sky blue, and they were looking straight at me.  Her mouth broke into a weak smile of recognition.
            “Hello, Grandma.”  I grasped the wrinkled hand that lay on the sheet.  After
pulling a chair close to the bed for me, the nurse left the room.
            As I settled myself, I took stock of my surroundings.  The bed was next to a
window.  The curtains were open, and bright sunlight streamed into the room.  The only
evidence of illness was a machine of some sort that stood next to the night stand, its roar
and hiss filling the room.  
            “I was hoping you would come before it’s too late.”
            “I came as soon as I could.  Mother called me only last night, and I caught the
first plane out of New York.  It arrived about an hour ago.”
            “I’m so glad you came,” said Grandma, squeezing my hand.  “How’s your work
going?”
            “I’m still working on my new CD.  It should be released in a few months.”
            “That’s wonderful.  When you and I sang together years ago, I never dreamed
you’d be singing for a living.”
            She closed her eyes and fell asleep.  I held her hand and thought of the
happy times I spent with my grandmother as a child.  When I visited her, we often
sang together as we did dishes or other domestic chores.  Her favorites were “I’ll Fly
Away” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” and I learned these and many other
songs at an early age.
            One Sunday morning when I was about thirteen, Grandma and I were driving to
church when we heard Judy Collins singing “Amazing Grace” on the radio.  Grandma
pulled the car to the side of the road, and we sat and listened.  I could tell she was
touched by this particular version of the song.  Her eyes grew misty, and she reached into
her purse for a handkerchief.  “That’s so beautiful,” she said.
            I bought a recording of Judy Collins singing “Amazing Grace” and practiced
singing it her way until I mastered it.  The next time I visited Grandma, I surprised her by
singing it that way, slowly, methodically.  Grandma’s eyes filled with tears, and she
reached for a handkerchief.  “Melissa, you have such a beautiful voice.”
            She called the pastor of the Baptist church we attended and arranged for me to
sing “Amazing Grace” at the service the following Sunday morning.  It was my first solo
performance, and I was terrified, but Grandma said, “If you can sing to me, you
can sing to the congregation.  Just pretend you’re sitting at the kitchen table across from
me like you were the night you first sang me the song.  God has given you a wonderful
talent, and He will give you the courage to use it.”
            Despite my nervousness, my performance at church was a success.  People in the
congregation wiped their eyes and blew their noses.  That was when I decided I wanted
to be a singer.
            Grandma always supported my musical endeavors.  As I grew older, I lost interest
in singing hymns and started singing popular songs.  I even wrote a few songs of
my own.  I learned to play the guitar and used it to accompany my singing.
            Although Grandma didn’t like this kind of music, she always listened with
interest.  When I landed my first recording contract, I called her from my apartment
in New York City.  “Oh, Melissa, God has finally answered my prayers,” she said, her
voice breaking.  “Now, you can make money by sharing the special gift He has given
you.”  That was about ten years ago.
            Since then, although I couldn’t always find the time to visit Grandma, I often
called and wrote her.  She was always there for me through the triumphs and sorrows of
my career, even when she was diagnosed with cancer, and her prognosis was grim..       
            Now, as I sat by her bed at the nursing home, I noticed a portable CD
player on the night stand next to the bed.  On top of the machine lay a copy of one of my
albums.  I was touched by her loyalty.  As I was about to insert the disc into the
machine, her voice stopped me.  “No, Melissa.  I don’t want to listen to that now.”
            “What would you like to hear?”
            Without hesitating, she said, “I want to hear you sing ‘Amazing Grace’ the
way you sang it in church those many years ago.”
            “What?”
            “You heard me.  I’ve been waiting so long to hear you sing that song.  You sang
it to me years ago so you can sing it to me now.”
            It was years since I sang that song, but when my mother called the night before,
she said they didn’t think Grandma would live much longer.  I couldn’t deny a dying
woman her last request, could I?
            Although I wasn’t warmed up, and I hadn’t practiced the song in years, I sat up
straight in my chair, took a deep breath, and began.  At first, my voice was
hesitant, but when the words and interpretation came back to me, I grew more confident.  As I sang, I forgot Grandma was dying.  I was singing in church years ago for the
first time.  When I finished, Grandma’s eyes were misty.  I pulled a Kleenex from the
box on the night stand and wiped them. 
            She smiled and said, “I want you to sing that at my funeral.”      
            “What?”
            “Promise me you’ll sing that song at my funeral the way you sang it in church years ago with no band, no chorus, no nothing.  Promise me, Melissa,”
            Although I wasn’t sure I could do what she asked, I said, “Okay, Grandma.  I’ll
sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at your funeral.  Now, try and get some rest.  I’ll be right here.”
            With a satisfied sigh, Grandma closed her eyes and I did the same, resting my head on the back of the chair.  A light touch on my shoulder woke me. 
Shaking my head to clear the cobwebs, I saw the nurse standing by my chair.  Grandma’s
hand was cold and limp.  One look at her face told me she was at peace.
            “It was your song that did it,” the nurse said, as I blinked back tears.
            “What?”          
            “She had been asking for you.  She said she was hoping to hear you sing ‘Amazing Grace’ one more time.  After you sang that for her again, she figured it was time for her to go.”
            “I guess so.”
            “Your grandmother already made arrangements in advance.  I just need to call the
funeral home.  If you need anything, just pull the red cord.”  When she was gone, I let my
tears flow.
            I kept my promise to Grandma.  I sang “Amazing Grace” at her funeral with no
accompaniment.  I sang it slowly, methodically, the way I heard Judy Collins sing it
years ago, the way Grandma liked it.  When I first sang the song in church, my
performance was followed by a chorus of Amens.  Now, there was only a respectful
silence.
            I also recorded “Amazing Grace” on my next CD, which was released a few
months later.  In this recording, I sang it the same way.  It was the last song on the CD.
In the liner notes next to the song title I wrote, “This selection is dedicated in loving
memory of Grace, my grandmother who always supported my musical endeavors.”
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome
abbie@samobile.net