Sun Lakes Writers’ Group

The Special Christmas Bows

Jacqueline M. Ruffino-Platt

When I lived in Northern Virginia and was driving around the shopping area one morning, I noticed a new craft store had just opened in our vicinity. Just what I needed to create some fine and interesting crafts. Bow Making, floral and wreath design, centerpieces for tables, decorating homes for the holidays, homemade gifts for family and friends and much more. My creative interests and talents I inherited from my mom, and to this day are still in my heart and wonderful memories.

I decided to park outside and entered this enticing store. Before I made myself travel each and every aisle, I asked to speak with the manager. Overwhelmed and impressed with the new decor, the new smells, the packed shelves, I knew I had to work here. Just when my head was spinning around capturing all the goodies, the manager approached me and asked if he could be of assistance. Yes, yes, I answered. I would love to work here. Your sign in the window says, opening for “Floral Designer.” “Do you have any experience?” he asked. My heart was beating fast, my pulse racing, my anticipation of having a title of “The Floral Designer” in this brand-new store was exciting. The manager asked me to fill out an application and then make my way up and down the aisles gathering supplies to make a Floral Centerpiece. One hour later, he said, “You are hired, start tomorrow at $10 an hour.” By this time, I had retired from the Federal Government and knew I was not ready to begin a new job so soon. However, I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by. The store became very popular and many customers enjoyed this new shop. My “Floral Station,” my haven, was in the middle of the store and customers always stopped by to watch me work. Aside from being the Floral Designer I taught classes in Bow Making and Photo Album Designing. New brides-to-be hired me to create pew bows, floral bouquets and table decorations for their upcoming nuptials. I was busy all the time, and was loving every moment.

Two years later, during the Christmas holiday, on an ordinary day, the store manager asked to see me in his office. I was a bit nervous thinking, “What have I done?” He introduced me to two distinguished, mysterious gentlemen. These gentlemen were in our Secret Service. Sorry, I cannot divulge which office they secured at this time.

The gentlemen informed us the Pentagon’s restoration was near completion, after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and requested, if at all possible to have someone in the store create two Red Velvet Bows for the top of two 12-foot Christmas trees. Why was I asked to this meeting? My manager appointed me to the task. The Christmas trees were going to be erected and placed on each end of the Pentagon and asked if we could make this happen. We assured them it would.

Only two bows I asked?

I felt honored and accepted the challenge. The request was for two large red velvet bows. Each one measuring 6 feet long and 3 feet wide. Oh my, a challenge for certain. I made two very beautiful Christmas Bows that were placed on the Christmas trees located at the ends of two individual corridors in the Pentagon. Photographs were taken, and an article written in the local newspaper. The store manager and I, received recognition for our contribution.

A beautiful Bitter Sweet remembrance added to another Chapter of my life stories.

A Great Dog Park

George Stahl

Hello. My name is Indiana. I am writing this to you from a place far away. It has great grass, all green, and hills that go on forever, and OMG! There are so many trees I can’t even count them. I got here as far as I can tell, about a week ago. I remember feeling really rotten when I woke up that morning. I didn’t have such a good night and things just didn’t feel right inside me.

I sort of remember rolling over and just going, “Ahhhh … that hurts.” Then, after a ride in the car, and some other people probing, and rubbing me on the forehead, I got really tired, fell asleep and then, woke up here. They told me before this happened that I was 98 years old, and that all of this was pretty normal, and I shouldn’t be afraid. I wasn’t. I was okay with what was going on. I guess I could have put up a fight, but something told me that that would be wrong.

Look, I may have acted a little … off when I was with you, but most of that was an act. I saw how acting loopy got me a few things I wanted, and a lot of stuff I never even had to ask for. You guys were way nice to me, that’s why I only peed or pooed in the house a few times. Trust me, that could have been a lot worse. I never told you, but I really appreciated the fact that you never told me to fetch anything. Not a stick, your slippers, the newspaper, or a beer, or anything like that. That would have been so undignified. I tell you, I would have done it, especially for mom, but it would have been under protest, and another pee spot.

Thank you for the sisters you gave me too. Molly, who just ran by, said to say hi. I met Dixie too. I guess you had her before me, but she took me under her wing, so to speak. The Queensland in her, I guess. If she keeps up that heeling stuff though we are going to have to have a talk. Seriously though, and you are probably going to cry here, I have to tell you that the day you took me home from the shelter, that was the happiest day of my life. I was almost two years old, and felt like I was 14. I had been kicked out of the house where I was born and was on the dirty streets, not thinking I would ever get out of there. Those were not the best moments of my life. Even when that guy with that long pole grabbed my neck and threw me into his truck, I thought, okay, this is the end. The pound was no picnic either, I tell you! But then, I got transferred to the shelter and mom found me. When I saw her, and that huge smile on her face looking down at me, I knew I had this in the bag. Then, dad came along, approved of me, fell in love with me more like it, and said, “Indiana. Let’s call him Indiana.” Okay, yeah whatever, I knew then I was going home. Yes!

It was a nice home too. There was room like forever to run, food everywhere, and a sister named Molly. She was cool. Cheetah. What is a Cheetah? I asked myself. It was a cat! Oh boy, a chew toy! Ah man, was I wrong! She was a buzzsaw, chainsaw, and a Stephen King cat wrapped in a fur suit. Mom and dad put me on a leash for two weeks until we learned to stay away from each other.

Time went by, life just kept getting better and better. We did things as a family, went on trips, went to the lake, to the river, went into the woods, and we even almost got lost once until I showed everybody the way back to the jeep. I was in my glory! That’s how my life went, up until this morning. No regrets, no should haves, or wishes things were different.

Mom, I have to tell you that you were the best doggie mom ever. You never yelled, you never raised a hand to me, and you never said anything bad about me. Your love made feel safe, and feel like I had somewhere to belong always. A couple of times you made me eat things that tasted like yuck, but you told me it was for my own good. I know how hard it was for you to let me go, but really, it was for my own good.

I will always love you and dad, and will always be grateful for you being the ones who took me home. Now, I got all of this great green stuff! I’ll bet there’s even a river or a lake somewhere past those trees. The best dog park ever! I will always love you, and will always miss you, but don’t be sad. I am doing great! If you feel a wet nose on your cheek one night in bed, hey, it’s okay. It’s only me.

The Hanukkah Menorah

Sandy Ilsen

My husband, Ralph and I had just hung the Hanukkah Menorah in the family room where the children were playing Dreidel games. Our young daughter looked up and said, “Daddy, tell us again about your home in Germany and the Hanukkah Menorah.” “Enough already,” I wanted to say. So many families told stories of what they left behind in the old country and I didn’t want our children to think life was better then because it wasn’t.

Ralph and his parents had immigrated from Germany to America in 1939 because of the Holocaust. Although he was only six years old, Ralph recalled his mother packing the suitcases the day they departed. Most of their belongings had to be left behind.

“Come Katie, we have to go,” Ralph heard his father say to his mother.

“But the Menorah,” his mother pleaded. “It belonged to my great-grandmother.”

“But Leibling, it weighs a ton, we cannot take it.”

They settled in Philadelphia, Pa., where Ralph and I eventually met, married and raised our two children. After the children were grown and we had retired, Ralph wanted to visit his birthplace, Hamburg, Germany. On the day before our tour ended Ralph was determined that we should try to find his family home. Fortunately, we were able to obtain the address.

“Look, there’s the garden with the pink and white flowers, just as I remembered it,” Ralph said, pointing to the old brick home.

I looked where he pointed and saw only dried lawn. Clearly, he was seeing it in his mind’s eye as it had been when he was a child.

Turning toward the corner, Ralph exclaimed, “Look! The little family grocery store is still here! It hasn’t changed at all. I almost can’t believe it.”

What I saw, however, was not a small, corner grocery but a modem supermarket.

“There’s a little Hof Brau where my parents sometimes took us on Sundays. It’s not more than two streets away, shall we find it?” he said excitedly.

Heinz’s Hof Brau was in the middle of the next block. As we entered the restaurant, Ralph exclaimed that it was just as quaint and charming as ever. Apparently, I was living in the present while Ralph was dwelling in his past. Heinz’s Hof Brau had the appearance of a trendy, modem American restaurant, with lots of brass and hanging plants.

After dinner, Ralph and I strolled arm in arm through the neighborhood. I had to admit it was nice to be reliving a part of my husband’s childhood with him. Gradually, I was beginning to see his neighborhood through his eyes as he pointed out the things he remembered.

“Bernard’s” Ralph cried, “the old antique store where my mother bought beautiful and unique things.”

I peered into the window of Bernard’s at the drab display of common, inexpensive souvenirs and mementos usually found in resort areas. As we gazed in the window, the mood seemed to change.

“Look, that’s it,” Ralph said in a barely audible voice, “the Menorah!”

I looked where he pointed, wishing he would return to some semblance of reality when, to my astonishment, I saw the Menorah. It was solid bronze, and just as big and elaborate as Ralph had described. It had the characteristics of an exquisitely carved statue. I wondered what this magnificent piece was doing in the midst of all the shoddy bric-a-brac. We wanted to purchase the Menorah, but the store was closed. We would have to hurry back in the morning before our plane left for home.

Early the next morning, we caught a cab to Bernard’s, in anticipation of getting back Ralph’s beautiful family Menorah. When we alighted from the cab, we could see the only Menorah in the window was an ordinary, mass produced, imitation brass one. We entered the shop and described to the proprietor the Menorah we had seen the night before. He stated he never had such a Menorah.

“But, it was in your window last night,” Ralph insisted.

“Impossible, the Menorah you describe would be very costly. As you can see, I sell only inexpensive souvenirs here. Ah, but before the war, my father used to carry rare and expensive masterpieces like the one you describe; that was 60 years ago.”

I reached for Ralph’s hand as we left the shop. “You saw it too, didn’t you?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “not only through your eyes again, but through mine, as well.”

A month later when we visited our son and his family in Boston one of the children said, “Grampa, tell us about your house in Germany and the Hanukkah Menorah.”

Instead of finding an excuse to leave the room, I whispered to Ralph, “Let me tell them.”

As our eyes met, Ralph nodded and smiled to me lovingly. I proceeded to relate the story of our visit to Hamburg, describing their grandpa’s lovely family house and flower garden and the Menorah in all its exquisite detail.