December’s Showcases are introduced by Pen to Printer and Write On! Thoughtful Tuesdays editor, Eithne Cullen.
In the words of the song, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at Pen to Print and in the world around us. I hope you’re checking your lists and making sure you get everything you need for a peaceful and indulgent time.
This lovely wintry picture, At Home In The Universe, was submitted by Tak Erzinger, and adds a colourful festive feel to the page. The picture catches the spirit of the winter days we enjoy so much as we wait for the big day to arrive.
There’s always plenty of good writing around us for the festive season and I’m delighted to be sharing some of it with you on this Showcase page.
I’d like to start with two poems from Pen to Print poet, Mary L Walsh. I love the way she’s captured all the sparkle and excitement of our Christmas traditions in these two poems, while reminding us it’s also a time of thinking of other people and spreading the cheer to those who need it.
Festive Reasons To Be Cheerful
The wonder on a child’s face
The lights decorating the street
The goodies in all the shop windows
Santa’s ready for the feast.
The lights on the tree are sparkling
The decorations hung up so fair
All that matters is being together
And showing each other, we care
For Christmas is all about sharing
And spreading the love all around
It makes us so cheerful and happy
If a little snow falls on the ground.
This Christmas, the same as all others
For our friends and our families too
By caring for those less fortunate
We wish Merry Christmas to you
© Mary L Walsh, 2021
And here’s the second from Mary:
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas,
Merry Christmas my dear
Christmas is a time of cheer
So let us have another beer
Eat and drink our fill of things
that surely will not give us wings
Dress the tree in bright array
keep it for the feasts 12th day
Revel in our sumptuousness and
Spare a thought for those with less
Remember those no longer here, the
souls we miss and shed a tear.
Their presence leaves us sad for they
made us what we are today
Raise your glass up with a cheer,
Make a wish for all that’s dear.
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
And a Happy New Year!
© Mary L Walsh, 2021
While we are thinking about spreading good cheer and helping those in need, I’m sharing a story from Jenny Gibson. It’s a heart-warming piece that reminds us of the good work so many people do, in supporting charity and helping others.
Where Charity Begins
My feet hurt. I want to get off home and have a cup of tea. But I have to wait around for at least another hour to catch people on their way home from work. They’re always more generous when they’re on their way back to loved ones. There are some who even then are still in too much of a rush. Like they think it couldn’t happen to them. That they and their families might not one day need help. Not any help; the right kind of help. Or, even worse, are those who glance over and decide our charity isn’t worth the change in their pockets. That he’s not worth the change in their pockets. He’s worth every penny in this sad old world.
Me and my sister run this stall. We usually do it together but, this time, we’re doing it on alternate days. We take the stall on our travels but, this week, we’re at Liverpool Street Station and we’re not doing too badly. Sandra has the knack of getting people to stop. She’s got one of those faces: friendly and warm. I don’t raise as much on my own. I’m a bit lost without her. I usually make a pot of tea for us to share with a couple of biscuits but, as it’s just me, it’s a bottle of water. Hold on – a young chap has just arrived; he looks smart, might be a tenner, or maybe more, if I’m lucky.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hi, nice stall.”
“I think I’ll have this wrist band; my daughter loves them. And yeah, go on, a badge as well.”
He hands me a tenner. Spot on. He gestures that he wants me to keep it.
“You’re welcome. It’s important, what you’re doing.”
“This young lad. Did you know him?”
He points to the laminated picture on the table.
“Yes, he was my nephew.”
“Such a shame. So young. I’m sorry for your family.”
“Losing him broke all our hearts.”
“I bet. I can’t even imagine. I do worry about my kids.”
“Yes, it’s so easy to become depressed or anxious and there are a lot of mental health problems. And when you’re young, like a teenager, there’s all these emotions and hormones that make any problem feel even worse.”
“You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”
“Unfortunately, I am.”
“But you got through it.”
“I did. With a lot of help and support.”
“Well, at least you’ll be able to spot the signs better than most. If your children ever have any problems, you’ll know how to talk to them about it. Hopefully they won’t but, if they do, you’ll know.”
“Your nephew. Do you mind my asking his name?”
“The charity is in his memory, yes?”
“Why is it called The Bright Foundation?”
“When he was little, my sister used to say to him, ‘You’re as bright as a button, Sammy.’ He didn’t really understand what she meant, so then she started saying,’ You’re as bright as the moon.’ He grew to love the moon, stars and all the things in the night sky. He wanted to be an astronomer when he grew up. So that’s why we called it The Bright Foundation because we didn’t want any more bright stars to fade or go out. We want them to shine on.”
“I hope you raise a lot of money. Keep up the good work. You’re helping so many people.”
He starts to move off.
“I’d better go, or I’ll miss my train.”
He turns and runs towards Platform Six.
Sammy was just 15 when his problems started. At first, my sister thought he was being a typical teenager, not wanting to get up for school in the morning. Later, she thought maybe he was staying up too late playing games online, and that’s why he was tired all the time. But then things got worse and it was just after his 16th birthday when he went into the Mental Health Unit for the first time. After a couple of months, he came out. Things went back to normal and he got into his A levels.
It wasn’t until his last year at school he had to go in again. He was devastated, because he thought it meant he wouldn’t be able to take his exams and he really wanted to pass. It hit him hard and I don’t think they took care of him that well. He was left to himself too much. Maybe I feel like this because of what happened. But there are other families who feel the same and we’ve formed a group. We’re going to investigate and maybe even get a lawyer. Because if this whole thing could have been avoided, then someone needs to answer for it. We need justice.
I tried to visit Sammy as much as I could. When I first went, he would raise a weary smile but he didn’t often get up from his seat. He was never big into hugs. I guess they are a bit awkward for teenage boys. But I made sure to give him a kiss on the cheek every time before I left. Later, when I visited, he’d stopped talking and couldn’t manage to get out of bed. I was very scared. The last time I went, I thought things were getting better. He was sitting up in bed, reading his favourite book, Wonders Of The Solar System by Brian Cox. I thought everything was going to be OK but a few days later, he took his own life. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to our family. Our light was gone. We had to make sure in some way he could give hope to other young people like himself. That’s why we set up the charity.
It’s my last day on the stall at Liverpool Street Station. Sandra is going to join me after lunch for the last few hours. But until then it’s just me. This time, though, I’ve got my flask of tea, extra sugar, too. I deserve it. I had to get up before the sun to be here on time, to catch people on their way to work. Oh, and a pretty young lady has just stopped and she’s picked up a badge and is staring at it.
“Hi, there. It’s a good cause, taking care of our own and other people’s mental health. We need to talk about it, be unafraid to talk about it.”
She smiles a beautiful wide smile.
“I agree,” she says. “I’m going to wear this with pride.” She takes the badge out of its plastic and puts it on the lapel of her coat. And then she hands me five pounds.
I hope she has good people around her at work and at home, too. She can’t be much older than Sammy was and, somehow, she reminds me of him. She’s got that soft hair young people have and the same sad eyes. But hers do have a flicker of hope.
“Thanks,” she says, as she taps the badge.
“No, thank you,” I reply.
She sets off in the direction of Platform Three, rushing to get to work, no doubt. As for me, I think I’ll take a little break. But, please, do keep on giving, whatever and whenever you can.
© Jenny Gibson, 2021
Finally, I’m delighted to be sharing this Christmas story, from Margena Adams Holmes, which really captures the spirit of Christmas for me. When we read Joey’s story, we find lots we can recognise and also share some of the wonders of little Joey, as he discovers the joys of Christmas. It’s a story for us all, young and old. It’s certainly one you can read with children, as the big day grows nearer.
Joey The Little Christmas Tree
Once upon a time, in a big forest, there lived a family of fir trees. There was a dad, a mum, and their son, Joey. Joey was only about half as tall as his mum and dad, who were six feet tall.
Joey loved living in the forest. He watched all the animals scurrying around, playing hide and seek. He could hear the birds singing, and they would sometimes build nests in his branches. In the summer, the forest was full of sunshine, which helped Joey to grow. In the autumn, he watched all the animals preparing for the winter months. In the winter, all the animals were hidden away, warm and cosy, from the snow that fell. In the spring, the snow melted away, and the animals came out to play, flowers bloomed, and the air began to get warm again.
Joey liked wintertime the best. The snow made everything clean and white and sparkling. The birds were all snuggled in their nests in his branches, and the forest was quiet, while the animals slept.
With each passing year Joey grew, until he was almost as tall as his parents. One autumn day, while he watched the animals dash around, Joey heard something he hadn’t heard before in the forest. He asked his mum what the sound was.
“It’s the sound of men,” Mum told him. “They come every year.”
“What do men do?” Joey whispered.
“I’ve heard that they come and take trees out of the forest,” she replied. “But I don’t know what happens to the trees when they leave.”
That day, the men sounded far away. But each day, they grew closer to where Joey and his family were.
The day came when the men were standing next to Mum, Dad, and Joey.
“I think these trees are ready this year,” said one man.
“This one’s kind of small,” said another. “But he’ll make someone happy.”
Joey heard this, and he was pleased to hear that remark! He wanted to make someone happy, because he was happy.
Later, he watched as first his dad, then his mum, were dug out of the ground and carefully placed in a plastic bucket. In their place two small seedlings were planted, which would grow for many years to come.
Finally, it was Joey’s turn.
“Don’t be scared, son,” Dad said. “I’m actually quite comfortable in this.”
The men dug around Joey’s roots, being careful not to touch them at all. They oh-so-carefully lifted him out of the ground and gently set him in a plastic bucket, like his mum and dad. Next, they were loaded onto a big truck, along with other trees. The tailgate was shut, and the men got in the truck and drove down the road.
At first, Joey didn’t like the wind so much. It whipped his branches around to where they almost broke off, and blew some of his needles from his branches. But the wind didn’t last for very long. The truck slowed down as it entered a fenced-in area, where many more trees stood in buckets, just like Joey and his parents.
The men unloaded the trees, and set them down together. There were many different kinds of fir trees: Douglas firs, Noble firs, and every kind of beautiful fir tree you can imagine.
“I wonder what happens now?” Mum asked.
“We’ll just have to be patient and see,” Dad said.
In the passing days, families came to look at the display of trees. They would stand around one for a long time, then another man would come and pick it up and take it somewhere Joey couldn’t see. It never came back. Joey started to get scared.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Joey said. “I like it here.”
“I think you may like where you go,” said Mum gently.
“But I don’t want to go without you!” he cried.
“You’ll be just fine, Joey,” Dad said. “I promise.”
The day came that a family stood around Joey for a long time, and then a man dressed in a red flannel shirt and blue jeans came over and picked Joey up and carried him away.
“Bye, Mum! Bye, Dad!” Joey said. “I love you.”
“We love you, too, son,” they called after him. “Be happy!”
Joey was taken to another truck, but this one was much smaller than the first one he had ridden in. He was tied upright, so he wouldn’t fall over, and the family got in and drove Joey away.
It wasn’t too long before the family pulled into a place Joey had never seen before. He wondered what this place was. It looked like a box, but it had a pointed top. Grass and bushes surrounded the box-thing, and other trees, but not as many as the forest where Joey had come from.
The man in the family, whom the kids called ‘Dad’, untied Joey and took him out of the truck and into the box-thing. Inside the big box-thing was a smaller box, but this one had a flat top to it. The man set Joey down in a corner, and turned him a few times until the woman said to stop.
“That’s perfect!” said the woman, called ‘Mum’. “I’ll get the ornaments.”
A few minutes later, the family started to hang things on Joey’s branches. They didn’t hurt, though a couple were heavy, but they hung from his stronger lower branches.
When the family were finished, they stood back and admired Joey.
“That’s so beautiful!” the woman sighed.
Joey perked up right away. I’m beautiful! he thought. He could see some of his branches, and they did sparkle, though not like the snow. These sparkles had many different colours and shapes. Joey proudly held his branches up to display what the family had hung on him. Soon, the little boy came and poured water into the bucket, and Joey realised he’d been so excited, he hadn’t noticed how thirsty he was! The boy poured a little more water and Joey wasn’t thirsty any more.
A few days later, there was much scurrying around the house. This seems familiar, Joey thought. It must almost be winter.
The hustle and bustle lasted a few days, and Joey noticed boxes being placed under his branches. They had many different colours, just like the ornaments on his branches.
Early one morning, Joey heard a noise outside. He didn’t know what it was, but soon someone came into the house, and it wasn’t the dad of the family. This man had on a red coat and trousers, black boots, and a long, white beard. He placed more things under Joey’s branches, then left quietly.
Later, the boy and girl came running up to Joey and jumped and laughed as their parents came in. The man passed out the boxes from under Joey and the family opened them up and found toys, clothes and books. Joey was very excited, too, because he’d never seen anything like this before.
Later that day, many people came over to visit the family. They all commented on how beautiful Joey was. They gathered in a room for a little while, then came back out to where Joey was and opened more boxes and sang songs. Joey hadn’t heard anything so beautiful since he’d last heard the birds sing in the forest.
Joey felt kind of sad over the next few days. There were no more boxes under his branches, and he was feeling rather thirsty again. The family came in and started to take all the beautiful ornaments off his branches. No, don’t! Joey cried, but they couldn’t hear him. Don’t throw me away!
When all the ornaments were taken off, Dad carefully took Joey outside. Joey was scared and confused. But he didn’t worry for long. In the garden, there was a big hole. Dad set Joey down, then carefully took hold of his trunk, while Mum pulled off the bucket. Dad slowly and gently set Joey into the ground, and covered his roots with the dirt. He wasn’t being taken and thrown away!
Joey felt just as he did when he had been in the forest. Birds came and built nests in his branches and the rain kept him from being thirsty. He did miss his mother and father, but he had plenty of company with the family he now belonged to.
In the following months, his branches were decorated for Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween, as well as the following Christmas. He wasn’t brought into the house this time, but his branches looked just as lovely as ever.
Joey was always able to see all the hustle and bustle of the coming holidays, as he had in the forest; just a little differently.
Over the next few years, Joey grew a few more feet, into a beautiful fir tree. He felt very much at home and happy to live with this family. He missed his mum and dad, but his new family loved him very much.
© Margena Adams Holmes, 2021
You can connect with Margena on Twitter: @MargenaHolmes and on her website: jedianegram.wixsite.com/margenaadamsholmes
Thanks to our contributors for sharing their writing with us just in time for Christmas. The next time I’ll be editing the showcase, it will be with Christmas behind us and the New Year ahead of us. So it just remains for me to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all who are celebrating!
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please submit your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: pentoprint.org/get-involved/submit-to-write-on/
You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue of Write On! Issue 10 of Write On! is available now. You can see it here.