Creative Non-Fiction

An Uncommon Christmas

I was six years old the Christmas I first started questioning the reality of Santa Claus. When I spied him on the downtown street corner or sat in his lap at the department store, I began to detect differences in his appearance. Sometimes his beard was snowy white, sometimes not. Sometimes it was longer, sometimes shorter. He might be wearing glasses or he might not. I reasoned that, possibly, the real Santa had helpers, who were assistant Santas, since he could not be everywhere at the same time. Christmas time was his busiest time of the year, so of course, he needed help. I was willing to give him that.

But there were those thorny issues regarding traveling round the world in one evening, entering houses that had no chimney, and fitting all those gifts into just one sleigh. I was on the verge of giving up my belief in Santa Claus.

Christmas Eve rolled around, and my family went to the Christmas program at our church. Even my dad went, which was pretty remarkable, as he always left the church-going to my mom. But this time, we all went together–Mom, Dad, my sister, and me.

We entered the small church and found our seats. The room was dark with lights pointed at the stage. The folks who usually directed the song service, collected the offering, or taught Sunday School had become shepherds and wise men and angels. Sure, they were wearing bathrobes and sheets, and a lot of the celestial glitter was due to aluminum foil, but the music of carols, and the story of Jesus being born in a stable, in order to come live with us, transformed it all into reality. The utter truth of the story overwhelmed the stuff of the telling. The tale of the baby who came to love us caught and held me.

When we got home that evening, and I walked into the darkened living room, there, under the sparkling tree, where earlier there had been nothing, were toys-a panda bear, a double-gun and holster set.

I had been on the brink of aligning myself with the evidence against Santa. I had begun to suspect that Mom and Dad were the ones who answered my Christmas wishes. That was the explanation of possibility that was beginning to demand my allegiance. But Mom and Dad had both been at the Christmas program.

My doubts whispered, one more time, that it could all be cleared up with an ordinary explanation. I didn’t ask for one, because Christmas should never be ordinary.

Merry Christmas from Paula J

Birdie's Eye View · Creative Non-Fiction

Blondie and the Bandits

Now that it was summer, Birdie’s granddog, Blondie, had started staying out at night.  He wasn’t tied up or anything, and he didn’t run around the neighborhood. Just patrolled between Birdie’s and Lexy’s house, keeping an eye out for varmints. As far as Blondie was concerned, all varmints were useless vermin. Blights on the night. Fit only for eradication. Unfortunately, Blondie’s philosophy outran his courage. And that’s where it caused problems for Birdie and Gerald.

The raccoons come to Birdie’s bird feeder to feast on left over sunflower seeds. Blondie barks, saying something like, “You’d better get off this porch or you’ll be sorry!”

The raccoons stare back at him while picking up pawsful of seeds and stuffing them in their mouths, and reply in a sotto voce kind of way, “Who’s gonna make us?”.

“Who’s gonna make us?”
Blondie answers back loudly, “You’ll see who’s gonna make you. I’ll tear you limb from limb. This is my Grammy’s porch. You’re not supposed to be here. You’re stealing those seeds. They’re not for you. You are lousy vermin!”
All the while he’s thinking, “Be brave. Be brave. It’s your job to protect Grammy’s porch. It’s your duty to rid the world of worthless vermin. Be brave. Be brave. Don’t let ’em know you’re scared. Oh, man, why didn’t I sleep inside tonight?”
What Birdie and Gerald hear is: Ruff, ruff. Ruff, ruff, ruff. RUFF! SILENCE. They both drift back to sleep–almost. RUFF! RUFF! Then the sound of a large blonde dog running across the porch and assaulting the porch railing. Gerald asks, “Should we bring him in?”

Probably so. He’s a good dog.


Good dog


Flash Fiction

Gossamer and Dandelions

“Where is that veil?” asked Gram as she rooted through the contents of her old cedar chest. Bending over her ample stomach hampered breathing and made it difficult to talk, so she leaned back and inhaled deeply. “You can’t have a wedding without a veil. At least, you can’t have a bride–not a proper one–without a veil.”

“Gram, you know I hate being proper. I don’t need a veil. I’m not sure I need a wedding.”

“Don’t say that, Tabby. It’s unholy.”

“Well, I don’t want the kind of wedding that’s full of rules and proper behavior. I want a wedding with sunshine and friends and you, of course. I’ll wear something flowing that moves in the breeze while I’m saying I do. You can give me away, and Tipsy will be our best man. I’ll carry dandelions. Even some of the white puffy ones to make a wish on.” She puckered her lips and blew on an imaginary dandelion.

“Now, Tabby, having that cat as your best man just won’t do. He probably won’t even show up, and if he does, he’d probably decide to bathe himself during the ceremony. That would just be tacky!”

“Oh, Gram, you worry too much! My gown will be gossamer, I’ll go barefoot, I’ll carry dandelions, and Tipsy will be a splendid best man. I’ll even wear your veil if you can find it. And I intend to live happily ever after. I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I live quite happily now, so if I don’t make any sudden turns, everything should be perfect.”

“My goodness, Tabby, what do you think marriage is? It’s one of the most sudden turns you can make.”



Creative Non-Fiction

Spring Dreams

Dear Aunt Weegie,

Today, on the way in to town, it seemed the countryside was drenched in green. It’s that new green that looks as if you could breathe it in or drink it. It’s that fresh.

I was on a reconnaissance run to scout out plants at the nurseries in town. Of course, I succumbed and bought several plants which will have to be guarded from the chilly nights and watered regularly even though they won’t yet be really earning their keep. However, the beautiful chartreuse stonecrop was disappearing into other people’s shopping carts as I stood there admiring and making notes. So, I had to get some or possibly lose out all together. And if I was going to buy those, I may as well bring home all the other varieties that had caught my eye.

I am making lists of what to put where and poring over a magazine called Container Gardening. I have already managed to misplace several packets of seeds which I’m sure I moved from the kitchen counter to a more sensible spot. My arms and shoulders are a bit sore from raking, and I am slowly cleaning out the flowerbeds.

The pussy willows have been asking about you.



Creative Non-Fiction

Mama’s Hands

My mama’s hands were long-fingered with silky skin that held the scent of Jergens Lotion. Her nails were smooth and oval, tinted pale pink with white tips.

As a child, if I found myself having to be still for any length of time while sitting next to Mama, I would trace the lines in her palm, measure my hand against hers, gingerly press down on the blue veins that showed on the backs of her hands, and follow, with my finger, the ins and outs of her fingers. I loved the smooth softness that was the skin on Mama’s hands. Even though I didn’t yet know the word for it, I sensed that her hands were elegant.

Mama’s hands were strong and hardly ever still. She had the shining floors, sparkling windows, and spotless laundry to prove it. Because of the hard work she did, a couple of her knuckles were enlarged with arthritis, but it only added to the beauty of her hands. It made them the hands of a real person–a practical, down to earth, every-day person. A person who could be someone’s mom. Who could fix dinner and wash dishes and hold your head while you were sick and tie your sash and give you a smack if you needed it.

It seemed that my mama’s hands were the central part of her. The things she accomplished with her hands showed the direction of her heart, so holding her hands was the same as leaning on her breast.

When Mama gave me her hand to hold, it was as if she gave me her heart. And without a word, she said, “I love you.”

Copyright 2013 Paula J Wray

Creative Non-Fiction

Spring Snowstorm

Springtime in the Rockies

Dear Aunt Weegie,

We are enjoying an earnest spring snowstorm this May morning, and the birds are pushing and shoving at my feeders. The sky is a pearl, thick with snow yet to fall, and its light reduces colors to shades of white and grey. Snow falls fast, as if each flake were a heavyweight, but lands silently and muffles even the sound of the quarreling birds. Evidence of spring and its demands have been hidden by the snow, and I feel I have permission to sit a while by the fire with nothing more pressing than watching the birds.

The chickadee sends his love. Me too.


Creative Non-Fiction

This Old Thing?


They’re called fox tails. Of course, they aren’t foxes at all. They’re minks lined up nose to tail, their little glass eyes making them look like escapees from the taxidermist’s shop. Back in the day, sophisticated ladies wore them around their necks. Back in my day, I wore them, too. But mainly for fun, and because in the ’70’s, we wore all kinds of things.

When these fox tails were new, they belonged to Grandma John. That’s your great-grandma on your dad’s side. She was gone before you were born.

Her real name was Sarah, but the family called her Grandma John. You see, John Winkler, her second husband, was the only grandpa your dad and his sisters had ever known, and they called him Grandpa John, so I guess her being tagged as Grandma John just naturally followed.

I met her on my visit to meet my prospective in-laws. My first look at western Kansas was in the middle of a blizzard, and I slept my first night with the strangers who plucked your dad and me from the storm, although they were, technically, relatives of relatives. It was the next afternoon before we were able to tunnel through the snowdrifts to Grandma John’s home.

You would have liked her ranch-style house. The front room was spacious, and it was completely 1950’s. The couch was square and firm, the drapes at the big picture window were made of bark cloth, and the carpet was that hard, knobby wool that discouraged stocking feet. The room looked like it had seen lots of ladies’ club meetings and bridge games.

However, the kitchen wasn’t 1950’s. It was timeless. In the center was a work table with a marble top, and the walls were lined with white built-in cabinets, the uppers fronted with glass, behind which were all the beautiful crockery, china, and home-canned goods Grandma John employed to serve the meals which helped you forgive her astringent personality.

She made no fuss over me when we were introduced. Now that I know more about the chemistry and politics of the family, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even cause a ripple in her puddle. But I didn’t feel unwelcome. Maybe I was too exhausted from the blizzard, maybe I was too young and full of myself to notice when I was being snubbed, or maybe she was just being herself, and I felt comfortable with that. Whatever the reason, I covered up with a hand-crocheted granny-square afghan and fell asleep on that hard couch while she cooked dinner for the family who were arriving later.

How did I get her fox tails? Well, years later, she gave them to me out of her closet one Christmas, as an after-thought, when she realized she had given faux-fur coats to your Aunt Dixie and Aunt Ramona, and she had gifted me with a length of yard goods from her remnant box.

I think I got the better deal.


Flash Fiction

A Giraffe Under a Full Moon


I once asked Henry if he ever felt itchy all over, and he looked at me like I might have bed bugs.

“Well, no, I don’t think I ever have felt like that,” he answered in that measured way of talking that he has. As if he must be careful to prevent a bomb from going off because of vibrations.

“Well, I do–quite frequently,” I informed him. “I’m itchy right now. I need to get out of here. This town–these people are making me itch.”

“Perhaps you just need to use more moisturizer,” suggested Henry. Henry is sometimes infuriatingly literal.

“It’s not that kind of itch, you ignorant twit! Gallons of lotion, even the extreme, lanolin-enriched, Shea butter, aloe-infused kind couldn’t help this itch. It’s a “let’s ditch school”– “get out of Dodge”– “If I have to hear one more word she has to say, I’ll explode” kind of itch.”

“Well, I think if you’d just take a deep breath and maybe count to ten, things would look different to you,” offered Henry with his eyes imploring me to be normal.

“Oh, Henry, do you never long for a change?”

“Sure. I like variety. I try to shake things up a little. I vary my diet, and sometimes I take a different route home. You know, just for interest’s sake.”

“Well, I need more than eating beans instead of peas. I want to see lava burning down the side of a volcano. I want to come face to face with a giraffe on the African savannah under a full moon. I want my night dreams to be as uneventful as my life is now, and my daydreams to be overwhelmed with the thunder of real-life adventures.”

Henry looked at me a long time, as if he were getting used to bed bugs, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and said, “Take off your shoes and get in the car.”
Cheese Doodles and Other Misunderstandings–Made with real cheese that gives a melt-in-your-mouth flavor you can’t resist.

Creative Non-Fiction

New Mercies Every Morning

For the past month, Jen and I have been walking together in the mornings with our dogs. I say we walk together, but my daughter walks much faster than I do, and so I am constantly trailing behind, much to the frustration of Duckie, my Chihuahua/terrier mix. Duckie would much rather be up ahead with Hank and Penny, but I make her accompany me on the first half of the walk, and then I trade dogs with Jen on the way back. I hand over Duckie, and Jen gives Hank’s leash to me. He is the the old guy and is usually content to match his stride to mine for the end of our walk.

Most mornings around 7:30, we drive about ten minutes to the south end of Vallecito Lake and walk across the dam, which is restricted to pedestrian traffic. We are usually the only ones there, and that makes it seem such an extravagance to have all this grandeur to ourselves.  Sometimes we meet a jogger, another walker or two, or we might see a fisherman on the water, but not this morning. This morning, it is just for us. The grand scale of lake, sky, and mountains is laid out before us offering beauty to feed our souls.

The mountains surrounding the lake are a patchwork of still-green and already-golden aspens, dark evergreens, scrub oak that come in a selection of burgundy, orange, and brown, and the black trunks of burned trees that stand like exclamation points reminding us of the forest fire fifteen years ago.

This fall has been different than we are used to. Mostly, our falls are sunny and warm with undertones of cool, crisp air. This year, fall has been cloudy, cool, and rainy without being soggy. The high peaks are dusted with snow. This morning, the air is soft against my skin and tastes sweet as I see how deeply I can breathe it in.

The clouds hang low, threatening to release the rain they carry heavy in their grey bellies. It is cool this autumn morning, and I have started out wearing layers. Colorado is all about layers because of how quickly the weather can change. I have on a short sleeved t-shirt, a hoody, and a nylon windbreaker which is my insurance against rain. I also wear a fleece beanie as protection from the wind which hits my ears as I walk east across the dam. The beanie is the first thing I shed on my way back. I have generated heat by walking, and the wind is behind me while walking in this direction. I remove my windbreaker and tie it around my waist.

There are new sensations that meet me this morning as I make my way across the dam. The weathervane, atop the shed that houses the dam’s machinery and controls, announces the wind with syllables of metal squeaking against metal. The spot at the beginning of the path, which for two weeks has smelled like skunk, no longer does. I notice a red buoy in the water and the small whirlpool it marks, where the water rushes down through itself and then pours out of the lake. I can hear the water boiling down the length of the flume on its way to irrigation ditches, rivers, other lakes, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

I pray as I walk. I pray for a friend’s healing, a family member making a hard decision, my husband’s strength, that my children would have joy, and for my grandchildren to develop discernment. And I pray that this walk will begin to slim my thighs.

Morning by morning.



Birdie's Eye View

My Summer Vacation

As a child, Birdie had always hated for summer to end and for school to start. She grieved the loss of unscheduled time. In summer, she savored the days stretching out before her with no real obligations except for roller skating, swimming, and lolling about on a pallet on the kitchen floor, reading endless library books, eating green grapes, and enjoying the breezes that the large Hobart window-fan sucked up from the cool recesses of the basement.

Birdie made good grades, she had friends, and the teachers seemed to like her, so why she didn’t enjoy school was something of a puzzle. Looking back on it, Birdie suspects what nettled her was the enforced interruption of the time she would have rather spent daydreaming.

Certainly, school authorities frowned on daydreaming. It was not part of the curriculum and played havoc with their sense of structure and the molding of young minds. Miss Florence, Birdie’s first grade teacher, had dealt harshly with Birdie’s propensity for daydreaming. Birdie, with much sobbing, spent an inordinate amount of time standing out in the hall “until you can pay attention to your work!”  The threat to keep Birdie after school was also one of Miss Florence’s tools to combat Birdie’s tendency to float on her daydreams when she should have been focusing on her assignments.

Perhaps Miss Florence prevailed, as Birdie did finally begin applying her attention to the tasks at hand rather than running off into an imaginary world during the time spent at her school desk. Still, all through her school career, Birdie regarded it as a poor way to use the days she had been allotted on this earth.

In particular, Birdie remembers that perennial, onerous assignment: My Summer Vacation. If she had to write that paper now, she would let daydreaming rule, and it would go something like this:

What I Did This Summer
by Birdie

This summer many things happened. I grew lots of beautiful flowers. Surprisingly, there were no weeds at all in my garden, and the deer did not eat any of the blossoms.

While working in my garden, I got a beautiful tan, and the amazing thing is that the sun did not cause me to have lines, wrinkles, or dry skin, but it did cause me to lose weight. I am now a size 6.

This summer, I also cleaned out all my closets and drawers. I organized everything, and in the process,  found my birth certificate. How lovely to learn that I am really only 39.

And that’s what I did this summer.