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

Gloves

Today, the sun is shining, but it’s only one or two degrees above zero, and there’s a winter storm advisory in effect for the greater Sheridan Wyoming area until eleven o’clock tonight. In other parts of the country, heavy snow is causing power outages, road closures, and flight delays and cancelations. So much for going over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, I thought, as I heard the news.
This would not be a good day to be stuck in your car on a highway in the middle of nowhere with no heat and no gloves, but such is the case of a woman in the story below. This tale was originally published in Emerging Voices and is also on my Web site.
GLOVES
The wind blew, causing the snow to descend in walls of white that often obscured her view of the road and the darkening sky. “Why didn’t I stay where I was?” she asked herself, as she drove at a snail’s pace along the Shirley Basin Road, which wound its way from Medicine Bow to Casper, Wyoming.
The interior of the car grew colder and colder. She fiddled with the heater knob, but nothing happened. “Oh no, I don’t have any heat.”
She pulled to the side of the road, ignoring the sliding noise the tires made. She searched for her gloves. They weren’t in her coat pockets. After discovering they weren’t in her purse either, she realized she’d left them at the convenience store in Medicine Bow. 
“I should go back,” she said, after taking a few deep breaths and warming her hands in her pockets. “There are people in Medicine Bow. There is warmth in Medicine Bow.”
The engine whined, and the tires skidded on the newly fallen snow. In a frantic effort to free herself, she gunned the engine and rocked the car back and forth. The motor continued to whine and the tires slipped deeper into the drift. After a few more minutes of struggling, she took her foot off the gas, switched off the engine, and put her cold hands back into her pockets.
Close to tears, she breathed in and out several times. Here she was, stuck in a snowstorm on a deserted road with no heater, no gloves, no cell phone, and no food. Who knew how long it would be before help arrived? “Why didn’t I at least get something to munch on at the convenience store? What am I to do now?”
The night was silent except for the wind and the sound of blowing snowflakes pelting the car. Shivering, she zipped her winter coat as high as it would go. After tightening the hood around her face, she wiggled her toes inside her boots. With a sigh of resignation, she buried her hands deeper in her coat pockets and settled herself more comfortably.
“It doesn’t matter. What do I have to live for, anyway? If God exists, and this is his way of punishing me for running away, so be it.” She closed her eyes and let herself drift, though she knew this was dangerous.
Something woke her, perhaps a sense of impending doom. Then she heard it, a car engine running behind her. She turned and saw a figure looming outside her driver’s side window. She gasped in horror, as she recognized the angry face. No, it couldn’t be, she thought. He couldn’t have known where she was going. Since she had no relatives in Wyoming, the chance of him finding her here appeared slim. But here he was, standing outside her window, glaring at her.
His knuckles rapped against the pane with several sharp thuds. Her panic rising, she turned the key in the ignition and automatically locked all the doors. After pounding for another minute, he withdrew a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. Of course he would have brought the spare key, she realized, as he opened the door and reached for her.
“How did you find me?” she asked, as he yanked her from the car, slammed the door, and pinned her against it before delivering a hard blow to her cheek.
“I followed your tracks,” he said, as he struck her a second time. “I found these on the counter at the Super America in Medicine Bow.” He removed something from his pocket and tossed it into the snow.
            “My gloves!” she said.
            “I knew you couldn’t be too much farther away,” he said, as he hit her a third time. “You
never did have any sense so I figured I’d find you stranded here somewhere.”
He released her. Stunned, she bent to retrieve the gloves, and he delivered a sharp kick to her back side, which sent her sprawling in the snow. The anger rose within her. She bent her knee and kicked as hard as she could behind her. Her effort was rewarded when her foot struck something solid, and he yelped in pain. She jumped to her feet, and as she put on her gloves, she turned and glared at him as he lay doubled in the snow, clutching his crotch. 
She flung herself on top of him, knocking him flat on his back. With her gloved fists, she pummeled his face. “Now, you’re getting a taste of your own medicine,” she said, as she struck
his eyes, his nose, his cheeks, his mouth.
            The blows sounded sharp. “Ma’am, are you all right?” called a voice.
            She opened her eyes. It was no longer snowing, and a bright moon shone. The lights of a
snowplow blinked behind her, and a man was standing at her window, knocking on the pane. 
Dazed and shivering, she opened the door and said, “I have no heat, and I left my gloves in
Medicine Bow.”
            “Your heater doesn’t work at all?” he asked.
            “No,” she answered, as she shook in earnest.
            “Why don’t you get into my vehicle where it’s warm and I’ll call a wrecker,” he said. 
“You don’t want to drive anywhere without heat in this weather.” As he placed a hand on her
arm, she recoiled. “It’s okay. I’m here to help you.”
THE END
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

The Watcher

When senior citizens lose their vision, they often lose their independence. Some are placed in nursing homes by well-meaning family members who are concerned about their welfare. Such is the case of the grandmother in this story. The granddaughter arrives just as the old woman is leaving the facility and making her way home. She agrees to help her grandmother regain her independence. “The Watcher” was published in Behind Our Eyes, an anthology of stories and poems by disabled writers. You can read it onh my Web site.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Vegas

Today, I sent a story to The Missouri Review. “Vegas” is the tale of a man who makes frequent trips to the gambling capitol and becomes re-acquainted with a woman he fell in love and lost touch with ten years earlier. After reading a story in the current issue called “Of Questionable Provenance” by Susan Ford, in which a man who makes regular trips to New York develops a relationship with a woman he meets there, I thought this magazine might be a good market for my story since the two tales are somewhat similar. Will see what happens.
The Missouri Review publishes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. If you submit on line, there’s a $3.00 fee that you can charge to your credit card. You can also send manuscripts by mail. For more information, visit http://missourireview.com/main_info/e-submissions.php
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Poetry Society of New Hampshire National Contest

Today, I sent five poems to the Poetry Society of New Hampshire’s national contest. They are entitled “Stranger in the  Night,” “I Walk Alone,” “Excuses,” “Cancer,” and “Death of a Hard Drive.” I could win as much as a hundred dollars, and one or more of my poems could be published in the organization’s quarterly magazine, The Poets Touchstone. These poems have not been published anywhere else.
“Stranger in the Night” was inspired by an incident that happened last year. A man with blond hair wearing a dark shirt, work boots, and a baseball cap entered a house and threatened a woman with serious bodily harm. She and her children fled, and the police notified neighbors within a one-mile radius, myself included. When I answered the phone, an automated voice told me to lock all doors and resume normal activity but be vigilant. Later, the perpetrator was found and charged with a lesser crime. He never went to jail so in a sense, he’s still lurking, but as I said in my poem, life goes on.
“I Walk Alone” is about how I walk around town with my white cane. Last year, I submitted this poem to an anthology of poems with the same titles as Sammy Cahn songs. I never heard back from the editor of this anthology so I’m giving up on that one. The original title of the poem was “I’ll Walk Alone” since that’s the title of one of Sammy Cahn’s songs, but I changed it to “I Walk Alone” because the poem is in the present tense.
“Excuses” is about what you might say to your spouse when you’re late getting home. “Cancer” is an account of how my mother suffered and died as a result of the dreaded disease.
“Death of a Hard Drive” is the story of how the hard drive on my old Macintosh computer finally decided it was time to go. I’d recently bought a PC and transferred most of my files to the new computer. I guess my old Mac knew it would soon be put out to pasture.
If you’re a poet, there’s still time to enter the Poetry Society of New Hampshire’s national contest, but hurry! The postmark deadline is Monday, November 15th. Entries must be submitted by mail, and the fee is $3.00 for the first poem and $2.00 for each additional one. Visit http://www.poetrysocietyofnewhampshire.org/contest.html for guidelines.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome