Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

My Favourite Christmas Stories

December 7th, 2010 No comments

Someone once asked me, “What’s your favourite Christmas story?” When I said, The Greatest of These by Joseph Mills Hansen, then I thought of Where Love Is, God Is by Tolstoy. And it went on from there. Later I sat down and put this little book together and I suppose My Favourite Christmas Stories is my best answer to my friend’s question. Certainly it contains some of my favourites.

I say ‘some’ because adding them all would have made a big book. I did not plan to include more than one story from any one author, but found it impossible to omit The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke.

One of the selection criteria I used was unfamiliarity. I have met few people who have read The Greatest of These by Joseph Mills Hansen, Christmas in the Alley by Olive Thorne Miller, or The Gifts of the Child Christ by George MacDonald.

You will see that I also seem to like the old stories best. However, having been unable to find the name of the author of A Brother Like That, a short one-page piece I came across only lately, I’m unsure if it’s old or new. I will trust that someone will supply me with this information and that the author — if she or he ever reads this book — will understand how hard I found it to omit such a lovely little story and, if it is newer, will, in the spirit of the season, take mercy on me in my possible violation of copyright.

Another standard for these fourteen stories was diversity. Certainly one can see little in common in length and mood between The Little Match Seller by Hans Christian Andersen and A Poor Relation’s Story by Charles Dickens.

Someone looking for a gift took a quick look through this book the other day and said, “Oh, but it’s a children’s book.” I could tell by her use of the word ‘but’ that she thought children’s stories made it less valuable. She was scanning Why the Chimes Rang and The Velveteen Rabbit. But (to use her word), for me, the presence of children’s stories, or stories for children, makes the book more valuable.

For are we not all children at heart? And aren’t the happiest adults those who have retained (or recaptured) wonder and openness and innocence? Norman Vincent Peale said, “The only thing that really thrills is freshness and cleanness in the soul.” And aren’t these qualities characteristic of little children?

Of course, I wouldn’t call Christmas Stories to Warm the Heart a book of children’s stories. Certainly, The Mansion by Henry van Dyke, is not a children’s story. Nor, I believe, are The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry or Where Love Is, God Is by Leo Tolstoy.

Uncertain how I would arrange the stories — I considered putting the best first (as I judge them) but couldn’t choose between The Greatest of These and a couple others — I finally decided to order them on the basis of length, with the shortest first.

Well, there you have it — my answer to the question “What’s your favourite Christmas story?” Not one story, but fourteen. And although some readers may find I’ve omitted their favourite, I believe I’ve included, from those I’ve read, the stories which left on my mind a lasting impression. In any case, I hope that in reading these pieces in my book Favourite Christmas Stories, you will experience as much comfort and joy (and maybe even inspiration) as I felt when I first came across them. And have felt again on organizing them into this little collection.

Murray C.  Watson has written 25 books and, in December, this one is never far from his coffee table or easy chair. If you would like him to  send you a copy, do a reading, or deliver a speech to your group, kindly contact him.

The Wheelbarrow

November 9th, 2010 No comments

‘The Wheelbarrow’ — a short story in the book Steel Buggy Wheels on a Hard Dirt Road     

People often ask me questions about my short story: Where did it come from?  How did it come to win an award? How did it end up in your book Steel Buggy Wheels on a Hard Dirt Road?          

Where did it come from? Two summers ago I was driving west from Huntsville across to highway 69 leading north to Parry Sound where I once lived and taught school. This connecting route, # 141, was really fun to drive, with its winding turns and rolling hills. There were many drive-ways along this highway and the woods carowded right up to their edges. Near the end of one of these narrow lane-ways I noticed an overturned wheelbarrow. And a story started to form in my mind. (I’ve tried writing others, but this one seemed to virtually write itself.)      

How did it come to win an award? In April of this year I entered Toastmasters International speech Contest, in Area 43, held in Peterborough. The speech I decided to deliver was this short story. It turned out that I finished in second place. A lady in the audience came up to me afterward and persuaded me to do something I had never done  — enter the story in a writing contest. “Well,” she said, “you were runner-up in this speaking competition, and your story is touching and well written.”  In the writing contest, it was awarded first place.       

How did it end up in Steel Buggy Wheels on a Hard Dirt Road? When I finished writing the story, I e-mailed a copy to my daughter. She read it and immediately e-mailed it to a friend. Reportedly there was Kleenex used. And my daughter said, “Publish it, Dad.” The question was ‘Where?’ At the time, I was working on my twenty-fifth book, Steel Buggy Wheels on a Hard Dirt Road, a collection of snippets including family biography, autobiography and philosophy/spirituality. I told my daughter that I wanted to have this particular book published professionally (which would make it number three in that group alongside Smiles, Wisdom and Encouragement and If Only Sleep Would Last Forever!) So the decision was made to place it in this book, near the beginning. Although the book title itself, Steel Buggy Wheels on a Hard Dirt Road, is taken from the second piece in the book, of my experiences as a young teenager accidentally breaking a window and listening for the sounds of my parents returning (we traveked by horse-and-buggy), ‘The Wheelbarrow’ is now the opening story.  

That’s how a story that started from a driving experience ended up in my latest book and was awarded first prize in a writing contest along the way.      

The Wheelbarrow          

A man came home late and angrily woke up his young son. “How many times have I told you to put things away where they belong! I almost ran into that overturned wheelbarrow! Why did you leave it in the lane-way! Now get up and get it and put it behind the house!”           

“Daddy,” said the boy, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, “I put the wheelbarrow there because….”           

“Have you forgotten what I said about making excuses!” shouted his father.          

The young boy at once got out of bed and started dressing. “Daddy, would you please come with me? You know I’m scared of the dark.” Tears were now streaming down the soft cheeks, and his voice didn’t sound right.           

You left it there, Sissy. Go get it yourself!”           

His mother, over-hearing her husband’s voice, went to the closet and took down her son’s windbreaker and a sweater for herself. Then she bent down and pulled out two pairs of rubber boots as there were still puddles everywhere. A driving drenching storm had started two nights earlier and only ended at noon.           

She handed him his jacket and, noticing the tears on his face, stood by him as she put on her sweater and buttoned it up. He started to explain. “Mommy, you weren’t home and I was going to tell you….” She put a finger to her lips. “It’s okay, son,” she said, intending to comfort him. Then she went to get the big flashlight.           

Just before the school-bus had brought their son home, the daughter of her best friend and closest neighbour had come across-country, asking for help. They had quickly taken the same shortcut, through the fields at the back of their small farm, instead of walking out the lane-way and taking the road. When she got back home, her son was already in bed.           

Exhausted, but holding the light in one hand and her son’s hand in the other, she and her boy began walking out the long narrow dirt lane-way. The dark trees whispered mysteriously.           

When they came to the over-turned wheelbarrow, and just beyond it the small car, they stopped. She was beginning to hand the light to the boy, but he was already bending down and grasping the handles lying in the mud. Small as he was, he didn’t take long to turn it right-side up. Now it was the mother’s turn to cry.           

For where the wheelbarrow had been, there was a gaping washed-out hole. She could see in an instant, that had the boy not covered this cavity, the front corner of their small car would’ve dropped in and taken serious damage.           

Trying to stifle her sobs, she wrapped her free arm around her boy and pulled him close. Then, with the boy pushing the wheelbarrow, and his mother showing the way, they started back home. The branches of the trees reached out to touch them with friendly fingers.           

The young boy went back to bed, and his mother went to the living-room where her husband lay on the couch. He started to say, “What do you want?” but she only motioned to him. Thinking it must’ve been something important, he got up and followed her, out of the house and into the narrow drive-way. When they approached the car and his eyes followed the beam of light down into the deep pit, he uttered the sacred name. When he caught himself, he said quietly, “Good grief.”           

On their way back home he was quiet. New feelings were stirring in his heart. Automatically he put his cap on the peg, bent down and pulled off each of his rubber boots, and then immediately – although slowly, because he was finding it hard to see – found his way into the narrow hallway, and to his son’s bedroom. After knocking softly, he quietly opened the door. Well, what he came here for could wait until morning. For their son was sleeping the sleep of the innocent – the innocent misunderstood – and his father had decided who he wanted to become.           

As he was gently closing the door, he noticed tacked on the wall, above the boy’s head, at the end of the small cot, a picture of himself and his boy — and the wheelbarrow. It was when he was splitting the wood, and his son had insisted on helping him, by wheeling the firewood to the lean-to shed against the side of their house.           

That night in the country, in a little house both unpretentious and unremarkable, three people slept ‘the sleep of the just’ – a little boy who used a wheelbarrow to keep his father from having an accident with the car, a tired woman who having just helped bring her best friend’s new son into this world, encouraged her own, without one unkind word to her husband, and a man who was inspired to become a better father, because his innocent son had simply done what he thought was right, and did not insist on justifying himself.           

And that’s the story of how a young boy who turned over a wheelbarrow, helped turn over a life.           

If I can do a reading or deliver a speech to your group, please contact me.         

Murray C. Watson

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