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How COVID didn’t steal Christmas | by Linda Brendle

I’ve loved Dr. Seuss since I heard him read “Horton Hears a Who” on the radio before I started to school. One of my favorites, especially this time of the year, is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – both the book and the movie. I love this quote that comes when the Grinch hears the sounds of Christmas bells and joyful singing even after he has stolen all the decorations, gifts, and goodies.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?

It came without ribbons. It came without tags.

It came without packages, boxes or bags.

And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

The Christmas season started late for David and me when our ten-day quarantine began on November 28. We both did a little online shopping while we stayed in, but not enough to get us in the spirit. It was the texts, calls, and emails from friends checking to see if we needed anything that brought a little cheer to our COVID jail.

Leaving the house after ten days was enough to put us both in a better mood, and the Christmas lights that had appeared since our last outing kindled a few warm, fuzzy feelings. I still wasn’t up to teaching the ladies’ Wednesday morning Bible Study the first week, but when we gathered the following week, it was like Christmas to see everyone again. Then, Joanie gave me a bag with some hand cream that smelled so good – and I could actually smell it – and some fudge Charlie had made. Her sweet gesture really woke up my holiday feelings, and the fudge started visions of sugar plums dancing in David’s head.

That Friday, the Rains County Leader hosted its annually open house, and we stopped by to admire the amazing Christmas village and to say hello. While we were there, Bill and Susan came in, and they had news of a Christmas miracle. Early in the year, before the virus became a real pandemic, Bill developed a persistent cough. He had a multitude of tests, including several nose swabs, with no definitive diagnosis. His cough became so serious that he was hospitalized, and then his kidneys shut down and he was put on dialysis. The short version is that, after several weeks of out-patient dialysis, his kidneys began working again. And the day before the open house, his port was removed and he was officially free.

Bill’s miracle along with two other friends who were released from the hospital after a few scary days fully awakened the last bits of Christmas spirit that were hiding in the corners. The next morning I woke up with “O Come All Ye Faithful” running through my head. I went online and found a half-hour Christmas video by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra – nice background music for breakfast. Later in the day, I pulled out the little metal Christmas tree I use to display bookmarks when I have a booth at a show or market. It’s leans a bit to the right and looks like something out of a Charlie Brown special, but with a few of my angels hanging from its curlicue branches and a few candles surrounding it, it looks rather festive sitting on the counter between the living room and the kitchen. Best of all, Kitty has no interest in it whatsoever.

Our home group met Friday night for the first time in several weeks. As usual, we had lots of food, and then we had a white elephant gift exchange, the kind that involves stealing gifts and can get pretty lively. Ours involved lots of laughter spurred on by the antics of David who had been chosen to be the M.C. of the game. But most of all, there was a lot of love.

There was a lot of love at church on Sunday morning, too, and if felt like Christmas. It’s about time since this is Christmas week. It won’t be the same rush of conflicting events that require hard choices and diplomatic explanations of your absence at some of them, but we will still celebrate. Tuesday night Perkins is coming over to watch the last episode of Season 2 of The Mandalorian – and he’s grilling steaks. And Thursday night we’ll attend the Christmas Eve service at Believers’ Baptist. David and I will celebrate Christmas morning together and then prepare lunch for the same neighbors who shared our Thanksgiving meal.

This won’t be a “normal” Christmas, but Christmas will come nonetheless. COVID may have stolen the Christmas concerts, the holiday parades and craft shows, and some of the things that come from the store. Some family gatherings may be smaller, including only the nuclear instead of the extended group, and there may even be empty places at some tables. But the music in the soul, the love in the heart, and the joy in the indomitable spirit is still there. And the Christmas Child can still be found by those who seek him.

Merry Christmas from the Brendles

Kitty’s Story

Fallen Angel Salvage

Tatia’s Tattoo

Mom’s Long Goodbye

A Long and Winding Road

Redistribution of wealth | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on October 12, 2020:

Have you noticed that, when you’re trying to be careful of what you eat, you are suddenly surrounded by food? Everyone at work or Bible Study has a birthday accompanied by your absolute all-time favorite cake. Every commercial on TV and every print ad you see are designed to make you hungry – and it works. Every gathering of any kind involves an artery-clogging potluck meal with, as Granny used to say, enough food to feed Cox’s army. And everyone you know wants to give you food.

David and I are not on a strict diet of any kind, but along with our workouts at the gym, we’ve been watching what we eat. Instead of cereal and cinnamon toast for breakfast, most mornings we have protein smoothies made mostly with almond milk and fruit. We eat smaller portions, sometimes using salad plates instead of dinner plates for a meal. And after years of considering ice cream as one of the major food groups, my lactose intolerance has finally caught up with me, and I’ve had to give up my nightly servings of Homemade Vanilla. David doesn’t have the same digestive issues, but in sympathy, he has decreased his servings from three scoops to one.

Whatever you call our routine, it’s working so far. David has dropped around twenty-five pounds and is wearing smaller jeans. I’ve only lost 

ten pounds, but everyone knows it’s easier for men to lose weight than it is for women. Besides, I’ve lost enough inches to wear some of the clothes that have been banished to the back of the closet for a couple of seasons. But just when we’ve adjusted to our new regimen, here comes the food.

First, the monthly breakfasts at the House of Prayer and the American Legion have come back after months of shutdown. Bacon and eggs aren’t too bad if you watch the portions, but the same can’t be said for the biscuits and gravy or the pancakes. We haven’t had many family get-togethers because many of us are in the vulnerable-age category and several are health compromised, but the Believers’ Baptist Annual Chili Cook-Off is next Sunday morning. Have you ever tried to eat moderately when tasting thirty-plus different chilis and an equal number of desserts?

Friday Night Home Group is also dangerous to the waistline. It has long been known as “cheat night” when even the most stringent dietary restrictions are allowed to go by the wayside. And one night isn’t too bad. But there’s always food left, and everyone is aware of how much David loves to eat. “Do you want to take home this (fill in the blank)” they’ll ask, knowing he’ll look at me with those puppy-dog eyes and I’ll give in. Sometimes it’s the following Friday by the time I manage to serve the leftovers in acceptable portions.

And then there are the food giveaways. Dirk and Pat volunteer at the monthly distribution at Freedom Church of God, and they frequently bring home extra food that will not stay fresh until the next month. Did I mention that they love to share? Connie is the same way when she picks up food at Freedom Church or at Good Samaritans. David frequently comes home from a coffee break with Charles carrying a bag full of rice, chips, fruit, and whatever else she has in excess.

I recently made a cake with some of Connie’s apples, and in an effort at weight control, I sent a sizeable chunk across the street with David. A day or two later he turned with the empty dish and more apples. And last weekend I took them some Cheesy Chicken Soup made with some Velveeta-like cheese and pre-cooked chicken patties she had given me. She immediately sampled it, complimented my culinary effort, and asked what was in it. When I mentioned the cheese and chicken, she asked if I needed more.

I’m not complaining. So far David and I have managed to maintain our weight loss, and as soon as soon as he has recovered enough from

his surgery for us to resume our regular workout schedule, we should be in good shape (pun intended). But even if we don’t, I love our little community that is characterized by love and generosity. When I read in the Book of Acts that “all who believed were together and had all things in common,” this is the type of society I picture. When someone says, “Hey, I’ve got an extra bag of rice if you need one,” that’s my idea of redistribution of wealth.

Blessings,

Linda

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The best of times, the worst of times | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 18, 2020:

best of timesA Tale of Two Cities, the epic historical novel by Charles Dickens, begins with a famous opening sentence:  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If you ask most people which of these two choices would best describe 2020 so far, a huge majority would probably choose the latter. Up until last week, I would have readily agreed – but now I’m not so sure.

One night I couldn’t go to sleep, so I left David deep in the land of Nod and went into the living room. After reading for a while, I picked up my phone and began scrolling through some of the posts I don’t usually take the time to look at during the day. Fortunately, few political or controversial posts show up on my timeline – probably because of the type of posts I respond to. Whatever the reason, most of what I get are photos of birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, weddings and other family gatherings. (more…)

A Year of Cancellations | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on June 30, 2020:

Happy Chinese New Year RatMy first column of this year was titled “Welcome 2020!” I mentioned that a number of marketing firms seemed poised to launch ad campaigns reminiscent of the Roaring 20’s of the last century. I followed that up by saying “It remains to be seen whether the next ten years roar or whimper.” We have nine and a half years to go, but so far this decade has involved a lot of whining on my part.

The first ten weeks of the year went pretty well. There were rumors and stories about a strange new virus, but aside from a new subject for the talking heads on the news reports to discuss and a few interesting sound bites from opposing politicians, it didn’t sound like anything that would affect the list of activities on the white board on our refrigerator. (more…)

God’s Choir | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Community Chronicle in the June, 2020 edition and the Rains County Leader on June 23, 2020:

Porch gliderLast year, our front porch began to list to the southeast. Investigation showed that the support post on that corner was rotting away. We discussed our options with a local handyman, and several months and several thousand dollars later, we had a beautiful covered porch furnished with an indoor/outdoor rug, two padded rocking chairs and a comfy glider for two. We have spent many happy hours on our new addition, especially during this time of social distancing when God has blessed us with a lot of porch-sitting weather.

One morning, I was rocking and reading when I was distracted by a birdsong I didn’t Birdsongrecognize. It sounded like someone had pressed a key on a synthesizer and held it for a couple of seconds. The song continued for a minute or two with brief breaks between notes, but I was never able to find the singer. While I was looking for him, I noticed another bird singing what could have been a riff from a doo-wop song. I closed my book for a while and just listened, and I heard more birdsongs than I could count. (more…)

Being a slave to the clock | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on June 9, 2020:

blackberry-cobblerA recent post on Facebook described a perfect example of how our attitude toward time has changed in the last few months. Around 8:30 one evening, the husband of a friend mentioned there were blackberries in the refrigerator that needed to be used before they ruined. About forty-five minutes later as she was putting a cobbler in the oven, he commented that they probably shouldn’t be eating something like that so late in the evening. Her Facebook post read “If he thinks I’m pulling a warm cobbler out of that oven and not eating a bite tonight, he has another think coming.” A later comment indicated that he did think again and that they both had some cobbler before bed. David and I go through a similar routine almost every night now.

Pre-isolation, we had a busy schedule. On Monday mornings we stopped by the church so David could upload Sunday’s sermon to the website and send it to the radio station, on Wednesday morning I went to Ladies’ Bible Study, and Thursdays mornings Bingo began at 9:30 at the Senior Center. Even on non-Bingo days, we tried to make it to the Center by 11:00. Lunch was served from 11:00 to 12:30, but everyone seemed to eat early, and by 11:30 or so the place was empty. (more…)

Living in Fear, Part 2 | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on May 12, 2020:

RIPHas anyone ever asked you if you’re afraid of death? I think all of us have dealt with that question at some time in our lives, even if it was only in our own minds. My stock answer has been, “I’m not afraid of dying, but I don’t look forward to the process.” Twice in my life I’ve had a chance to test the validity of that answer, and I’d say it pretty much passed the test.

The first incident happened about fifteen years ago while we were living in Florida. I woke up around 4:00 am feeling really odd. There was no pain, but I felt as if someone was doing a very uncoordinated tap dance in my chest. David was dabbling in currency trading at that time and often rose very early to check the foreign exchanges before they closed. I lay in the darkness for a while, taking a mental inventory of symptoms and feelings, and finally went into the office. (more…)

Living in Fear, Part 1 | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on May 5, 2020:

The End Is NearAt the risk of being melodramatic, I had a momentary brush with death this week. I’m fine, but of course, I wanted to write about the experience. Before I tell you about it, though, I want to share my feelings about fear. Here’s a piece I wrote a few weeks ago; check back next week for the rest of the story. How’s that for a teaser?

***

The first time I remember being scared of an apocalyptic event was in the late 1950s. I was in the fifth grade, and some small-time prophet predicted the end of the world. I had been in Bible-teaching churches all my life, but my Sunday School lessons hadn’t yet covered end-time prophecies. And if we had studied the part where Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour of the end except God, I had been day-dreaming that day. For whatever reason, I lived in fear for a while, casting furtive glances into the clouds during recess until the prophesied doomsday had passed.

Since then, the world has survived many end-of-the-world predictions, from the Protective clothingscientific community as well as the prophetic community. According to those forecasts, we should have long since been choked to death by pollution, frozen by a new ice age, drowned by the rising oceans, fried by the loss of the ozone layer, or suffered a worse fate at the hands of an angry God. There were also wars in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq as well as epidemics like the Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Swine Flu (H1N1), and whatever new type of flu that was impervious to the previous year’s vaccine. (more…)

Tatia’s Tattoo – Chapter 14 – A New Identity. Read it here!

As Eric took everything from her, even her name, she learned that compliance was the only way to survive.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 14. Chapter 15 will be posted on Sunday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 14: A NEW IDENTITY

The next time Tatia saw Eric after the beating, he was attentive and as sweet to her as if nothing had happened. First, he took her to the mall where he bought her a pair of high-heeled, knee-high boots and a sassy mini dress. Then, they visited the cosmetics department at one of the anchor stores where he seemed to know several of the girls behind the counter.

“Hi, Eric,” cooed a gorgeous redhead named Kitty. “What can I do for you today?” she asked suggestively.

“Kitty, this is Tatia. It’s time to get rid of the little girl look and go with something more sophisticated,” he explained. “She also has a new outfit. I’d appreciate it if you’d show her to one of your dressing rooms where she can change. I’ll be back in thirty minutes to pick her up.” With that, he spun on his heels and walked out, leaving Tatia standing alone in the middle of the aisle looking confused.

“Don’t worry, honey,” said Kitty. “You’re in expert hands. Have a seat on that stool while I pull a few samples together.”

For the next few minutes, Kitty skillfully applied a light-weight foundation, translucent powder, blush, and a staggering array of eye make-up. Some of the brushes tickled, and Tatia thought again of the butterfly Jesse had painted on her cheek a few short months ago. She pushed the thought away, though, as Kitty looked at her curiously and dabbed a tear away from the corner of her eye.

At each step, Kitty explained what she was doing so Tatia would be able to duplicate the look on her own later. When she was satisfied with the results, she released Tatia’s blonde curls from the ponytail she wore and fluffed them with her hands until they fell softly around her face. She surveyed her work and smiled.

“Good! Now, let’s go get you dressed.”

When Eric returned a few minutes later, he whistled appreciatively and said, “Now that’s what I’m talking about. Thanks, Kitty. Put it on my bill.”

“Don’t worry,” she grinned. “I will.”

Tatia followed him through the mall and out to the parking lot, glancing in the windows at a reflection she hardly recognized.

“Thanks for the new look, Eric,” she said as she climbed into the car.

“You’ll earn it,” he said without looking at her.

Yeah, that’s what I figured, she thought to herself.

Instead of driving straight to the motel, he pulled into an old strip center and stopped in front of a narrow establishment with a neon sign that said “Coffee Shop” in the window. She followed him in and was surprised at the trendy-looking interior. There were three small tables and a comfortable seating area in the corner by the window. A well-equipped serving bar was tucked into the back corner, and the tantalizing aroma of fresh-roasted coffee beans filled the air.

“Hi, Eric,” greeted the barista behind the counter. “What’ll it be?”

“A double espresso for me and a decaf mocha for the lady – as soon as she returns from the ladies’ room.”

“Coming right up, Eric. Miss, the restroom is just past the bar on the right. Ignore the sign on the left stall and use that one.”

Tatia followed instructions without question, assuming she was about to pay for her afternoon at the mall. She found the restroom and walked in, expecting to find a client waiting for her. Instead, the room was unoccupied. The left stall sported an out-of-order sign, so Tatia opened the door and peeked in. As she stepped inside, she heard a buzzer sound somewhere behind the side wall, and the wall swung away, revealing a hidden room.

“You must be Tatia,” said a voice from the darkness in the corner. “Come on in and have a seat.”

She wasn’t sure what she was stepping into, but she did as she was told and sat down on the small stool that was a few feet in front of what looked like a camera. The voice and the man who owned it stepped behind what really was a camera, made a few adjustments, and said “Smile.” She smiled and was momentarily blinded by a flash. “Okay. That’ll do. Go enjoy your coffee, and I’ll have this out in a few minutes.”

Totally confused, she retraced her steps into the coffee shop and made her way toward the seating area in the corner. Eric was sitting on a latte-colored leather sofa, talking with a distinguished looking older man who was in a matching chair that was set at a right angle to the sofa. The older man rose as she approached, and she smiled, wondering if this was her next client.

“Tatia,” said Eric, “this is Joseph. Joseph, Tatia.”

“Hello, Joseph.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Tatia.”

Eric patted the sofa next to him. “Have a seat,” he said. “Have you ever had a decaf mocha?”

“No.”

He picked up a steaming cup from the table and handed it to her. “Let me know what you think.”

She sipped the chocolaty liquid and smiled. “It’s delicious. Thanks, Eric.”

He patted her on the leg in a proprietary manner. “Enjoy,” he said as he resumed his chat with the man who was sitting in the chair beside him.

Tatia could tell they were talking business, so she tried to shut them out. She occupied herself with her new favorite drink and with enjoying a few more minutes without having to sell her body.

She had just finished her mocha and was wondering what was next when the barista walked out to the table. “Excuse me, Miss. I believe you dropped this in the restroom.” He held out a small laminated card, and Tatia took it from him.

“Thanks,” she said as she looked down and saw a picture of herself staring back at her. She realized she was holding a Texas driver’s license that said her name was Kaitlyn Golden and that she was nineteen years old. She looked at Eric with a question in her eyes.

He glanced at her and said, “Put that in your purse and try not to be so careless with it.”

“Sure, Eric.”

“Come on. Play time’s over,” he said, standing and shaking hands with Joseph. She followed Eric to the car, thinking about the difference between this afternoon and the last time she had been with him. She was learning that the more money she made for him and the more compliant she was, the better he would treat her. She knew there was no way out, at least in the foreseeable future, so she made up her mind to smile and pretend to welcome each new customer.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5 |Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 |Chapter 11| Chapter 12 | Chapter 13

Blessings,

Linda

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