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Chicken Soup for the Soul - Short Stories

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Roses in December
By Herb Appenzeller, Ed.D.

    Coaches more times than not use their hearts instead of their heads to make tough decisions.  Unfortunately, this wasn?t the case when I realized we had a baseball conference game scheduled when our seniors would be in Washington, D.C. for the annual senior field trip.  We were a team dominated by seniors, and for the first time in many years, we were in the conference race for first place.  I knew we couldn?t win without our seniors, so I called the rival coach and asked to reschedule the game when everyone was available to play.
    ?No way,? he replied.  The seniors were crushed and offered to skip the much-awaited traditional trip.  I assured them they needed to go on the trip as part of their educational experience, though I really wanted to accept their offer and win and go on to the conference championship.  But I did not, and on that fateful Tuesday, I wished they were there to play.
    I had nine underclass players eager and excited that they finally had a chance to play.  The most excited player was a young mentally challenged boy we will call Billy.  Billy was, I believe, overage, but because he loved sports so much, an understanding principal had given him permission to be on the football and baseball teams.  Billy lived and breathed sports and now he would finally get his chance to play.  I think his happiness captured the imagination of the eight other substitute players.  Billy was very small in size, but he had a big heart and had earned the respect of his teammates with his effort and enthusiasm.  He was a left-handed hitter and had good baseball skills.  His favorite pastime, except for the time he practiced sports, was to sit with the men at a local rural store talking about sports.  On this day, I began to feel that a loss might even be worth Billy?s chance to play.
    Our opponents jumped off to a four-run lead early in the game, just as expected.  Somehow we came back to within one run, and that was the situation when we went to bat in the bottom of the ninth.  I was pleased with our team?s effort and the constant grin on Billy?s face.  If only we could win . . . , I thought, but that?s asking too much.  If we lose by one run, it will be a victory in itself.  The weakest part of our lineup was scheduled to hit, and the opposing coach put his ace pitcher in to seal the victory.
    To our surprise, with two outs, a batter walked, and the tying run was on first base.  Our next hitter was Billy.  The crowd cheered as if this were the final inning of the conference championship, and Billy waved jubilantly.  I knew he would be unable to hit this pitcher, but what a day it had been for all of us.  Strike one.  Strike two.  A fastball.  Billy hit it down the middle over the right fielder?s head for a triple to tie the score.  Billy was beside himself, and the crowd went wild.
    Ben, our next hitter, however, hadn?t hit the ball even once in batting practice or intrasquad games.  I knew there was absolutely no way for the impossible dream to continue.  Besides, our opponents had the top of their lineup if we went into overtime.  It was a crazy situation and one that needed reckless strategy.
    I called a time-out, and everyone seemed confused when I walked to third base and whispered something to Billy.  As expected, Ben swung on the first two pitches, not coming close to either.  When the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher Billy broke from third base sprinting as hard as he could.  The pitcher didn?t see him break, and when he did he whirled around wildly and fired the ball home.  Billy dove in head first, beat the throw, and scored the winning run.  This was not the World Series, but don?t tell that to anyone present that day.  Tears were shed as Billy, the hero, was lifted on the shoulders of all eight team members.
    If you go through town today, forty-two years later, you?ll likely see Billy at that same country store relating to an admiring group the story of the day he won the game that no one expected to win.  Of all the spectacular events in my sports career, this memory is the highlight.  It exemplified what sports can do for people, and Billy?s great day proved that to everyone who saw the game.
    J. M. Barrie, the playwright, may have said it best when he wrote, ?God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December.?  Billy gave all of us a rose garden.

Reprinted by permission of Herb Appenzeller (c) 1995 from Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.  In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent.  All rights reserved.


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What Willa Knew
By Kate Reynolds

"Willa Cather sat under the tree all morning again," Alan said.
I didn't have to ask what Willa was doing under the hundred-foot pine that dominated our backyard. She crouched under the branches day after day, hoping a bird would fall out of its nest.
Willa, who resembled an overstuffed penguin, was the least athletic of our four cats. When young, she'd never taken to hunting the way her siblings had. She preferred canned food, served twice daily. Now old and heavy, Willa showed even less inclination to hunt. She'd taken to hunkering under the tree, head tilted upward, gaze fixed. Willa knew that birds have nests. She must have figured that, eventually, her luck would change.
Next morning, fat Willa claimed her usual spot, whiskers aquiver.
"Won't work," I called to her. "Birds hardly ever fall out of trees. Get real."
Willa ignored my advice and sat under the tree all spring.
One day, Willa didn't show up in her usual spot.
Good. She'd finally learned. But I was mistaken. Willa had apparently realized her current scheme was unworkable, and, by early summer, she'd refined her plan.
"Who dragged in the mouse?" I asked one June evening.
"I'll take care of it," Alan said. "Must have been Thackeray or Dickens."
I said nothing, but I had reason to believe it wasn't either of our boys. Thackeray had napped all afternoon, and Dickens never hunted mice. That left Charlotte Bront? or . . nah, impossible.
Dead mice continued to appear. Our puzzlement grew to amazement when we concluded that Willa, and only Willa, could be catching the mice. Still, we couldn't quite believe it.
"How does she do it? She's too fat, too old to hunt."
Next day, I tracked her. "She's not going far," I reported. "There's a pack of mice under the woodpile."
Toward summer's end, I followed Willa into the backyard. I brought a chair and a large cup of coffee, expecting a long wait. Mousing with Willa is not a sport for the impatient. I waited and watched.
Willa's plan was ingenious. She climbed the woodpile and crouched above the den opening. She perched, motionless, until her prey grew complacent. When a mouse ventured out, Willa's black paw slammed him down.
That summer, Willa did in the entire rodent pack. One after another, they fell to her patient paw.

* * *

Willa stretches out on my lap. She turned sixteen not long ago, but, tomorrow, we have an appointment with her vet. Willa has cancer. There's nothing else we can do.
I ruffle Willa's fur and realize how lucky I am to know her. Smart cat. She taught me an advantage of growing older: knowing where to position yourself so what you seek comes to you.
Willa looks up.
I swear she's smiling.

Reprinted by permission of Kate Reynolds (c) 2004 from Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, D.V.M. and Amy D. Shojai. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Albino Power
By John A. Walsh

I was born an albino in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1945. No one in my family had ever known what an albino was, what it meant to be an albino, what had to be done differently because I was an albino.
My parents, relatives and friends treated me just like they treated everybody else. That was just about the best thing they could have done. It gave me a leg up on trusting myself, so when the annoyances came along, I could deal with them.
True, my schoolbook photo always looked like a snowball with two pieces of coal for eyes. Like most albinos, I had terrible eyesight, but the fact that I could barely see didn't bother me all that much.
Kids would tease me, asking if I was joining the circus and calling me "Whitey." My grades suffered until eventually I overcame being self-conscious and realized it was okay to ask to sit in the front of the classroom so I could see the blackboard better. People stared at me when I held reading material right at the tip of my nose so I could see it well enough to read. Even when I was eight or nine, movie-theater clerks started asking me to pay adult prices because I "looked older."
The worst part for me was that because my eyesight was so bad, I couldn't play sports very well. I didn't give up trying, though. I shot hoops every day and played whiffle ball (because whiffle-ball line drives can't kill you) in the summer. And I studied harder.
Eventually, I got better at school and loved it. By the time I got to college I was double majoring, going to summer school and immersing myself in every kind of extracurricular activity I could find. I had learned to be proud of being an albino. I did my darndest to make "albino" a positive word. And I decided to make my living with my eyes - and in sports.
I couldn't see well enough to play sports, but with a solid education and the drive to do it, I could make a living involved in the arena I loved. I've done it now for more than thirty years in print and in video, and now in cyberspace. People make jokes about how I'm the only "blind editor" they know, but the jokes are verbal smiles now, some of them signs of respect. And I make jokes about being an albino. I have even developed an all-white routine, if you could call it that.
I was just a proud albino kid from the coal country of Pennsylvania. I now realize that being born an albino helped me to overcome obstacles, gain confidence, and be proud of my personal achievement and humble about my professional accomplishments.

Reprinted by permission of John A. Walsh (c) 2000 from Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark & Chrissy Donnelly and Jim Tunney. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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It Should Once Again See Light
By Blair P. Grubb, M.D.

Several years ago, a physician from southern France contacted me. His granddaughter had taken ill with a disease that baffled the physicians there. He called after reading several of my articles on disorders of the autonomic nervous system. His granddaughter's symptoms seemed to match those I had described, and he asked me if I could help. I readily agreed, and for many months, I collaborated with the child's French physicians by telephone and by fax, directing their diagnostic testing. At last we came to a diagnosis, and I prescribed a course of therapy. During the next several weeks, the child made a seemingly miraculous recovery. Her grandparents expressed their heartfelt thanks and told me to let them know should I ever come to France.
In the summer of 1996, I was invited to speak at a large international scientific meeting that was held in Nice, France. I sent word to the physician I had helped years before. Upon my arrival at the hotel, I received a message to contact him. I called him, and we arranged a night to meet for dinner.
On the appointed day, we met and then drove north to his home in the beautiful southern French countryside. It was humbling to learn his home was older than the United States. During the drive he told me that his wife had metastatic breast cancer and was not well, but she insisted upon meeting me. When introduced to her, I saw that despite her severe illness, she was still a beautiful woman with a noble bearing.
I was thereafter treated to one of the most wonderful meals I have ever eaten, complemented by the most exquisite of wines. After dinner, we sat in a seventeenth-century salon, sipping cognac and chatting. Our conversation must have seemed odd to the young man and woman who served us because it came out in a free-flowing mixture of English, French and Spanish. After a time the woman asked, "My husband tells me you are Jewish, no?"
"Yes," I said, "I am a Jew."
They asked me to tell them about Judaism, especially the holidays. I did my best to explain and was astounded by how little they knew of Judaism. She seemed to be particularly interested in Hannukah.
Once I had finished answering her questions, she suddenly looked me in the eye and said, "I have something I want to give to you." She disappeared and returned several moments later with a package wrapped in cloth. She sat, her tired eyes looking into mine, and she began to speak slowly.
"When I was a little girl of eight years, during the Second World War, the authorities came to our village to round up all the Jews. My best friend at that time was a girl of my age named Jeanette. One morning when I came to play, I saw her family being forced at gunpoint into a truck. I ran home and told my mother what had happened and asked where Jeanette was going. 'Don't worry,' she said, 'Jeanette will be back soon.' I ran back to Jeanette's house only to find that she was gone and that the other villagers were looting her home of valuables, except for the Judaic items, which were thrown into the street. As I approached, I saw an item from her house lying in the dirt. I picked it up and recognized it as an object that Jeanette and her family would light around Christmas time. In my little girl's mind I said, 'I will take this home and keep it for Jeanette until she comes back,' but she and her family never returned."
She paused and took a slow sip of brandy. "Since that time I have kept it. I hid it from my parents and didn't tell a soul of its existence. Indeed, over the last fifty years the only person who knew of it was my husband. When I found out what really happened to the Jews, and how many of the people I knew had collaborated with the Nazis, I could not bear to look at it. Yet I kept it, hidden, waiting for something, although I wasn't sure what. Now I know what I was waiting for. It was you, a Jew, who helped cure our granddaughter, and it is to you I entrust this."
Her trembling hands set the package on my lap. I slowly unwrapped the cloth from around it. Inside was a menorah, but one unlike any I had seen before. Made of solid brass, it had eight cups for holding oil and wicks and a ninth cup centered above the others. It had a ring attached to the top, and the woman mentioned that she remembered that Jeanette's family would hang it in the hallway of their home. It looked quite old to me; later, several people told me that it is probably at least one hundred years old. As I held it and thought about what it represented, I began to cry. All I could manage to say was a garbled "merci." As I left, her last words to me were "Il faudra voir la lumi?re encore une fois" - it should once again see light.
I later learned that she died less than one month after our meeting. This Hannukah, the menorah will once again see light. And as I and my family light it, we will say a special prayer in honor of those whose memories it represents. We will not let its lights go out again.

Reprinted by permission of Blair P. Grubb, M.D. (c) 2003 from Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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They're Waving at Me
By Robert Crum

Every year, I experience an odd moment shortly after my family and I arrive at the country house we rent in Montana.
I drive down a back road, minding my own business, when I gradually realize that people are waving at me. They wave from their pickups and cars, barely lifting their hands off the steering wheel. At first the gesture is unsettling. I wonder if they are trying to tell me my lights are on or a tire is flat. Or perhaps it is a case of mistaken identity. I've never seen most of these people, so who do they think they are waving at?
Then I remember. I'm not in the city anymore. And if anything distinguishes city folk from country folk, it's that in rural areas people make a habit of waving at strangers.
Soon I'm waving at everyone too. I lift my fingers a little from the steering wheel, and the other driver lifts his. Or I shift my arm outward a bit as it rests on the window frame, raising my palm, and the other driver does likewise. One needn't be too obvious or exuberant about these things. A raised index finger speaks volumes, and a simple nod is eloquent in its restraint.
When I pass our neighbor, he salutes me with his customary broad, slow wave, which makes him look as though he's cleaning a window. His wife waggles her fingers to wave hello; I can almost imagine her saying "Tootle-ooo!" A detective with the sheriff's office waves as though he's firing a six-shooter - with the thumb up and a quick jab of the index finger. (I'm still waiting for him to blow away the smoke.)
People in the country will wave whether they're going sixty miles an hour or ten. They wave on narrow curves, on the crests of hills or driving into a blinding sun. Often they wave in town when they should be watching for pedestrians. In short, they wave at all the times it's most inadvisable to wave.
If for some reason I forget to wave back - say I'm fiddling with the radio dial - I can't help but feel a twinge of guilt. Did the people who just waved know me? Were they neighbors? Do they think I'm putting on airs? I worry that I've violated one of the cardinal principles of the universe, ordained when the first good person waved hospitably to another from his cave.
To understand the geographical nature of this custom, try a simple test: Wave from your car at strangers along a city street. You may be stared at as if you are crazy. But most likely you will be ignored. I also suspect that if a city person spent a couple of weeks on country roads, he'd be waving just as much as any dairyman, cowboy, logger, beekeeper - or darn-fool visitor like me.
The reason is that, in the country, the human figure stands out against the landscape; it demands recognition. A wave is simply the easiest way of confirming that recognition. But I think waving is also a way of recognizing the setting around the human figure.
I wave at the farmer passing me in a pickup, and my wave extends to the grasses swaying along the roadside, the line of trees tossing in the wind, the billowing white clouds. I wave, and my wave goes all the way to the horizon.
And so, as long as I'm in the country, I'm a dedicated waver. Howdy, I wave to the far range of mountains. Howdy, I wave to the horses trotting in the fields. Howdy, I wave to the kids and dogs romping in the yard.
When I pull into the driveway, my wife waves from the porch. Then she tries to teach our baby daughter to do the same. Howdy, I wave to them. Howdy, I wave. Howdy! Howdy!

Reprinted by permission of Robert Crum (c) 1998 from Chicken Soup for the Country Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Ron Camacho. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Christmas Lights
By Michael Hogan
Victoria, British Columbia

Before my dad died, Christmas was a bright, enchanted time in the long, dark winters of Bathurst, New Brunswick. The cold, blizzardy days would sometimes start as early as late September. Finally, the lights of Christmas would start to go up, and the anticipation would build. By Christmas Eve the ordinary evergreen tree that my father dragged in the door ten days earlier took on a magical, sparkling life of its own. With its marvellous brilliance, it single-handedly pushed back the darkness of winter.
Late on Christmas Eve, we would bundle up and go to midnight mass. The sound of the choir sent chills through my body, and when my older sister, a soloist, sang "Silent Night," my cheeks flushed with pride.
On Christmas morning I was always the first one up. I'd stumble out of bed and walk down the hall toward the glow from the living room. My eyes filled with sleep, I'd softly bounce off the walls a couple of times trying to keep a straight line. I'd round the corner and come face-to-face with the brilliance of Christmas. My unfocused, sleep-filled eyes created a halo around each light, amplifying and warming it. After a moment or two I'd rub my eyes and an endless expanse of ribbons and bows and a free-for-all of bright presents would come into focus.
I'll never forget the feeling of that first glimpse on Christmas morning. After a few minutes alone with the magic, I'd get my younger brother and sister, and we'd wake my parents.
One November night, about a month before Christmas, I was sitting at the dining room table playing solitaire. My mother was busy in the kitchen, but was drawn from time to time into the living room by one of her favourite radio shows. It was dark and cold outside, but warm inside. My father had promised that tonight we would play crazy eight's, but he had not yet returned from work and it was getting near my bedtime.
When I heard him at the kitchen door, I jumped up and brushed past my mother to meet him. He looked oddly preoccupied, staring past me at my mother. Still, when I ran up to him, he enfolded me in his arms. Hugging my father on a winter night was great. His cold winter coat pressed against my cheek and the smell of frost mingled with the smell of wool.
But this time was different. After the first few seconds of the familiar hug, his grip tightened. One arm pressed my shoulder while the hand on my head gripped my hair so tightly it was starting to hurt. I was a little frightened at the strangeness of this and relieved when my mother pried me out of his arms. I didn't know it at the time, but my dad was suffering a fatal heart attack.
Someone told me to take my younger brother and sister to play down in the recreation room. From the foot of the stairs, I saw the doctor and the priest arrive. I saw an ambulance crew enter and then leave with someone on a stretcher, covered in a red blanket. I didn't cry the night my father died, or even at his funeral. I wasn't holding back the tears; they just weren't there.
On Christmas morning, as usual, I was the first one up. But this year, something was different. Already, there was a hint of dawn in the sky. More rested and awake than usual, I walked down the hall toward the living room. There was definitely something wrong, but I didn't know what until I rounded the corner. Then, instead of being blinded by the warm lights, I could see everything in the dull room. Without my dad to make sure the lights on the tree were glowing, I could see the tree. I could see the presents. I could even see a little bit of the outside world through the window. The magic of my childhood Christmas dream was shattered.
The years passed. As a young man, I always volunteered to work the Christmas shifts. Christmas Day wasn't good, it wasn't bad; it was just another grey day in winter, and I could always get great overtime pay for working.
Eventually, I fell in love and married, and our son's first Christmas was the best one I'd had in twenty years. As he got older, Christmas got even better. By the time his sister arrived, we had a few family traditions of our own. With two kids, Christmas became a great time of year. It was fun getting ready for it, fun watching the children's excitement and most especially, fun spending Christmas day with my family.
On Christmas Eve I continued the tradition started by my dad and left the tree lights on for that one night, so that in the morning, my kids could have that wonderful experience.
When my son was nine years old, the same age I was when my father died, I fell asleep Christmas Eve in the recliner watching midnight mass on TV. The choir was singing beautifully, and the last thing I remember was wishing to hear my sister sing "Silent Night" again. I awoke in the early morning to the sound of my son bouncing off the walls as he came down the hallway toward the living room. He stopped and stared at the tree, his jaw slack.
Seeing him like that reminded me of myself so many years ago, and I knew. I knew how much my father must have loved me in exactly the same complete way I loved my son. I knew he had felt the same mixture of pride, joy and limitless love for me. And in that moment, I knew how angry I had been with my father for dying, and I knew how much love I had withheld throughout my life because of that anger.
In every way I felt like a little boy. Tears threatened to spill out and no words could express my immense sorrow and irrepressible joy. I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hands to clear them. Eyes moist and vision blurred, I looked at my son, who was now standing by the tree. Oh my, the glorious tree! It was the Christmas tree of my childhood!
Through my tears the tree lights radiated a brilliant, warm glow. Soft, shimmering yellows, greens, reds and blues enveloped my son and me. My father's death had stolen the lights and life out of Christmas. By loving my own son as much as my father had loved me, I could once more see the lights of Christmas. From that day forward, all the magic and joy of Christmas was mine again.

Reprinted by permission of Michael Hogan (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, Janet Matthews and Raymond Aaron. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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A Doll from Santa
By Alice Ferguson

Alice's mother died when she was five years old. Although her nine brother and sisters were loving and caring, they were no replacement for a mother's love.
The year was 1925, and life was hard. Alice, who grew up to be my mother, told me that her family was too poor to even afford to give her a doll.
In the aftermath of her loss, Alice vowed to care for others. First, her father, then her husband, later her three children and then her grandchildren were the main focus of her life. She felt that she could make up for her sad childhood through her dedication to her own family, but an unfilled void seemed to remain.
In December 1982, I had a job at a local bank. One afternoon, we were decorating the tree in the bank lobby and singing carols, getting ready for the Christmas season. One of my customers approached me with a sample of her handiwork: beautiful handmade dolls. She was taking orders for Christmas. I decided to get one for my daughter, Katie, who was almost five years old. Then I had an idea. I asked my customer if she could make me a special doll for my mother - one with gray hair and spectacles: a grandmother doll.
The doll maker felt that this idea was certainly unique and took it on as a creative challenge. So I placed my Christmas order: two dolls, one blonde and one gray-haired for Christmas morning!
Things really started to fall into place when a friend had told me that his dad - who played Santa Claus at various charitable functions in my area - would be willing to make a visit on Christmas morning to our home to deliver my Katie her presents! Knowing that my parents would be there as well, I began to get ready for what would turn out to be one of the most memorable days of my mother's life.
Christmas Day arrived and at the planned time, so did Santa Claus. I had prepared the presents for Santa to deliver, along with one for my mother tucked into the bottom of Santa's bag. Katie was surprised and elated that Santa had come to see her at her own house, the happiest I had ever seen her in her young life.
My mother was enjoying watching her granddaughter's reaction to the visit from this special guest. As Santa turned to leave he looked once more into his knapsack and retrieved one more gift. As he asked who Alice was, my mother, taken aback by her name being called, indicated that she in fact was Alice. Santa handed her the gift, which was accompanied by a message card that read:

For Alice:
I was cleaning out my sleigh before my trip this year and came across this package that was supposed to be delivered on December 25, 1925. The present inside has aged, but I felt that you might still wish to have it. Many apologies for the lateness of the gift.
Santa Claus

My mother's reaction was one of the most profound and deeply emotional scenes I have ever witnessed. She couldn't speak but only clasped the doll she had waited fifty-seven years to receive as tears of joy coursed down her cheeks. That doll, given by "Santa," made my mother the happiest "child" alive.

Reprinted by permission of Alice Ferguson (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marci Shimoff and Carol Kline. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Chilly Today, Hot Tamale
By Ellen Fenter
Submitted by Pat Phillips

"It's my own fault." Carl Fenter tugged his jacket closer against the abnormal bite of cold morning wind. "The rest of the family is home, where it's warm."
Just another one of his brilliant ideas - a big tamale feast after tonight's Christmas Eve service at church - and look where it landed him: waiting in a line fifty people deep.
Who would've guessed that every tamale shop in the city would be sold out the day before Christmas? But they were, as Carl knew. He'd been driving all over El Paso that morning. Determined to bring home the tamales, Carl tried one last tienda, an old favorite out in Canutillo.
When he arrived, a fresh batch was due off the steamer in forty-five minutes. Taking his place at the end of the snaking line of tamale-seekers, he watched the woman in front of him remove her jacket to drape around her shivering youngster. It wasn't long before she, too, shuddered in the chilly wind. After only a moment's hesitation, Carl shed his own jacket and offered it to the grateful mother.
Together, they cheered when the line crept forward at last, and smiling people exited the shop toting steamy bags. Finally, Carl got inside the door and inched his way closer to the counter, the woman now first in line.
"Sorry folks," the clerk announced, "that's the last of the tamales."
"No way!" Carl groaned with everyone else lined up behind him.
"But," stressed the man at the counter, "we'll have a final batch ready in, oh, about two hours."
Defeated, Carl backed away, but the young mother grabbed his arm.
"You're leaving?"
"I have to," Carl glanced at his watch. "I promised to put up luminarias at my church."
"I'll get your order of tamales and bring them to your house."
Carl's brow furrowed. "I couldn't ask you to do that."
"But it's the least I can do. You lent me your coat." Her smile overrode his objections. "Just give me your address." She and her little girl settled in for the long wait.
And at exactly noon on Christmas Eve, they delivered four dozen fragrant tamales - along with Carl's brown jacket - to his home.

Reprinted by permission of Ellen Fenter (c) 1998 from Chicken Soup for the Soul The Book of Christmas Virtues by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen with Carol McAdoo Rehme. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Double Angels
By David Scott, sixteen

Waking up to the sound of my alarm, I smiled at the joy of only having to wait one more day. I got out of bed and threw some clothes on. Digging around the kitchen for some breakfast, I settled on a bowl of Cheerios and some leftover pizza from the night before. After watching cartoons, playing some video games and chatting on-line with some friends, it suddenly hit me that I hadn't bought a present for my mom. It was Christmas Eve, and the stores were going to be closing pretty soon. So I threw some shoes on, grabbed my skateboard and set off to the mall.
I swung open the heavy glass door into the mall only to see an incredible sight. People were running and panicking everywhere, trying to find the perfect gift for their loved ones. It was total madness. I decided to begin trying to make my way through the crowds when a guy in a black coat came up to me and told me with desperation in his voice that he had lost his brown leather wallet. Before I could say a word, he shoved his gray business card into my hand.
"Please call me at the number on the card if you happen to find it," he said. I looked at him, shrugged my shoulders and replied, "Yeah, no problem. I'll do that."
He turned to stop another person, and I continued to make my way through the unending stream of shoppers to look for a gift for my mom. I searched everywhere, up and down the mall in every store, with no luck. Finally, toward the very end of the mall, I spotted a small antique and glass-art store. It looked like it might have some interesting stuff - not the same as I'd seen in every other store. I figured I had nothing to lose so I went in.
Papers and boxes had been thrown everywhere from all the greedy Christmas shoppers digging around for the perfect gifts. It was pretty bad. It looked like a dirty bedroom with smelly clothes scattered around in it. As I tried to make my way through the pile of stuff, I tripped over a box in the aisle and fell flat on my face. I was so frustrated and worn out from shopping that I stood up, screamed and kicked the box. It flew through the air and hit a big, high-priced clay statue, almost knocking it over. My anger had gotten the best of me, but luckily no harm was done.
As I picked up the box to put it back on the shelf, I noticed a flat, green box hidden under some wrapping paper. I opened it up to find an amazing glass plate with a Nativity scene on it. There it was, the perfect gift, just lying in some trash waiting for me to find it. It felt like one of those moments when you hear angels singing hallelujah and beams of light stream down right over the place where you're standing. I smiled broadly, gathered it up and headed for the cash register. As the cashier was ringing up my purchase, I reached into my pocket to get my money. But my pocket was empty! I began to scramble around searching every pocket when I realized I had left my wallet at home. This was my last chance to get my mom a gift since the mall would be closing in ten minutes and it was Christmas Eve. It would take me twenty minutes to skate home and back. That's when I started to panic. Now what do I do? I silently asked myself.
So I did the only thing I could think of at that moment: I ran outside the store and started to beg people for money. Some looked at me like I was crazy; others just ignored me. Finally, giving up, I slumped down on a cold bench feeling totally defeated. I really had no idea what to do next. With my head hanging down, I noticed that one of my shoes was untied. Great, I thought. All I'd need now is to trip over my shoelace and break my neck. That'd be the perfect ending to this useless trip.
I reached down to tie my shoe when I spotted a brown wallet lying next to the front leg of the bench. I wondered if it could be the wallet that the man in the black coat had lost. I opened it and read the name on the driver's license inside. Yep. It was his. Then my mouth dropped in awe when I discovered three hundred dollars inside.
I never even questioned what I should do. I knew that I had to do the right thing, so I found a nearby pay phone and made a collect call to the number on the gray business card. The man answered and said that he was still in the mall. He sounded really happy and relieved. He asked me if I would meet him at the shoe store, which happened to be right next to the antique and glass store. When I got there, the man was so excited that he thanked me over and over while he checked to see if his money and credit cards were still there.
I turned to drag myself out of the mall and back home when I felt the man grab my shoulder. Turning to face him, I let him know that I hadn't taken anything. "I can see that," he replied. "I don't think I've ever met a kid like you who would return all that money when he could have taken it without anybody knowing." Then he opened up the wallet and handed me four twenty-dollar bills, thanking me again.
In great excitement, I leaped into the air and shouted, "Yes!" I thanked him this time and told him I had to hurry and go get my mom a present before the mall closed. I made it to the store just as they were getting ready to lock up. The lady was really nice about it and let me in.
I bought the glass plate and started skating home, grateful that everything had worked out. I found myself whistling Christmas carols as I replayed the evening over in my head. Suddenly, it hit me. I realized that I had been sort of a Christmas angel for the man who had lost his wallet, and that he had been the same for me when I'd forgotten mine. Double angels! I thought. It was another one of those moments when choirs of angels begin to sing and beams of light shine down on you. I knew that I'd never forget this Christmas Eve for as long as I lived.
The next morning, my mom opened my "miracle present." The look on her face assured me that she really loved it. Then I told her all about what happened when I was trying to get her gift. The story made the plate even more special to her.
Still, to this day, she keeps that green glass plate on our main shelf as a centerpiece. It reminds her of me, of course, but it continues to remind me that amazing things can happen when you least expect them. Especially during that magical time called Christmas.

Reprinted by permission of David Scott (c) 2002 from Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury for Kids by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Irene Dunlap. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Father of Fortune
By Ted Bosley

Once again, the Christmas season was upon us. And once again, my daughter Tania was asking, "What do you want for Christmas, Dad?"
"The usual," I replied. After twenty-three years, she knew that this meant boxer shorts and some happy socks, the kind that help that tender old bunion. These were Christmas rituals for me.
In the small town of Peterborough, Ontario, where we lived, life had a certain rhythm, and the festive season was full of ritual. After living in Calgary for many years, I had returned to my hometown to be near my own aging dad, and life took on a fairly predictable sort of rhythm. But this particular year, my daughter, Tania, and her young husband, Barry, changed all that.
Every day for two weeks prior to Christmas, unable to contain her excitement, she repeatedly said, "You'll never guess, but you're going to love what we got you for Christmas!" The girl was relentless in her teasing and her quest for my reaction. She was determined that I should be impressed.
Now, I'm no Scrooge, so please don't get me wrong. I'm simply one of those individuals who's been around for some time and who's gotten a bit cynical and hard to impress. I must admit, however, that it was fun to watch and listen to her excitement and enthusiastic teasing day after day. Her joy and anticipation of my reaction to this special gift was contagious. By the morning of Christmas Eve, I had become more than a little curious.
At 11:00 a.m. on the 24th, my wife and I were asked to join the kids for some last-minute shopping. We elected to opt out. My wife wanted to finish up her own festive preparations, and old Dad, well, I just wanted a cold beer and a snooze. Four hours later, the kids were back at the door, shopping mission completed.
"We have your gift out in the car, Dad," Tania exclaimed, "and it's getting cold!"
We were then not asked, but ordered to vacate the premises. No, not just to another room, but upstairs and out of sight with an emphatic, "No peeking!" command. Heck, my old army sergeant was gentler. "Get out! Get out!" Tania ordered.
So, obediently, we retreated upstairs.
The minutes passed in that odd kind of anxious, wondering, quiet anticipation that makes butterflies in your stomach. We strained our ears but couldn't hear anything.
"Big deal," I grumped to myself. "I'm still not impressed, but I'll play their silly game."
Then we heard them hollering, "Okay, you can come down now!"
Descending the stairs, we were directed into the front room where the surprise Christmas gift was waiting to be opened. Immediately, my excited daughter said, "No waiting until Christmas morning. Open it now!"
"Okay," I said. "This is highly irregular, this is breaking the ritual . . . but what the heck is it?" I wondered out loud. The three-foot-square, irregularly shaped lump over by the tree was smothered under blankets. Out came Tania's camera, and the guessing game started in earnest.
"Maybe it's a pinball machine," my wife offered.
"No, no," I said. "It's gotta be something perishable, otherwise they wouldn't have been so anxious to bring it in out of the cold. Maybe it's a crate of Florida oranges, or maybe it's a puppy!"
By now, my daughter was about to explode with excitement, and I, too, had passed the stage of mildly curious, feeling somewhere between inquisitive and demanding.
"What on earth can it be?" I asked as I felt the lumpy object, looking for a clue. My daughter sharply rapped my knuckles with a classic, "Da-ad!"
Finally, we arrived at the unveiling. "Okay," Tania instructed us, "on the count of three both of you grab a corner of the blanket." She stood by with the camera, and even though I was trying my best to remain unimpressed, I'd by now reached an emotional state ranging from paranoia to frustration. My heartbeat sped. My wife and I lifted the blanket in one fell swoop, and the gift was exposed.
The next few minutes were a blur. My heart pounded. The blood rushed to my head. My stomach contracted. My mind jumbled. Overwhelmed with astonishment, I thought, I can't believe my eyes! Perhaps I am delusional! This is just not possible!
The flash of my daughter's camera went off when, rising up out of that heap of blankets and wrapping me in an enormous bear hug was none other than my six-foot-two, one hundred and seventy-five pound first-born son Greg, home for Christmas for the first time in nineteen years!

Reprinted by permission of Ted Bosley (c) 1995 from Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Nancy Autio, Patty Aubery and LeAnn Thieman. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Ballerina Dog
By Jackie Tortoriello

One April afternoon a few days after my twenty-first birthday, my parents announced that they were ready to give me - their live-at-home, frazzled, college-student daughter - a belated birthday present.
Wheelchair-bound since birth, I propelled myself from my bedroom into the living room where my parents anxiously waited.
"Bring it on! Good things come to those who wait," I joked, as I closed my eyes and extended my hands waiting to feel the weight of a beautifully wrapped gift.
"Why are you holding out your hands?" my dad laughed. "Your gift isn't coming in a box this year."
"Huh?" I opened my eyes to study the glee stamped on both of their usually calm faces. "I know! It must be that handicapped-accessible van I've been praying for!"
"No, it's not a van, but it's almost as good," my mom chuckled. Then she said more seriously, "Jackie, we know you were devastated when Buck passed last year. We all were. He was a great dog. But we think our house has been void of doggy joy long enough. It's time to hear puppy noises again."
"So today, right now, in fact," my dad broke in, "we're going to a place where you'll be able to select the puppy of your choice."
"But," I stammered, but there was no time for protest as he scooped me out of my chair and into our car. My parents chatted to each other while I sat in the back, desperately trying to quell overwhelming waves of sadness.
Sadness because not so long ago, this trip would have seemed incomprehensible - a betrayal. After all, it had been only seven months since Buck lay on my cold bathroom floor drawing his last breaths. Seven months since I slid from my chair onto the floor, gently caressing his gray-streaked black-and-white fur, as his spirit passed from this world to the next. Sobbing, I vowed to him and to myself that I would never get another dog . . . but now here I was, about to break that promise.
Finally, my father turned to me and asked, "It'll be nice to hear the pitter-patter of paws again, won't it?"
"Yeah," I said flatly, trying to conjure up the excitement he'd expected. But I couldn't. Tears began to roll down my cheeks. I wiped them away quickly as my father, unaware of my tenuous emotional state, continued.
"When we get there, should we make a beeline to the shih tzu puppies? I know they're your favorites."
My favorite was Buck, I thought, not his breed. Buck, my constant companion, who climbed up on my lap and, like a salve, soothed my spastic, palsied muscles in a way that no drug ever could.
"Buck is irreplaceable!" I wanted to scream, but I held back, opting for something kinder. "Breeds don't really matter. It's their heart that counts. I'll look at them all." I paused, then continued as we pulled into the parking lot, "Who knows? I may not find any and walk out empty-handed." I wanted to prepare my parents for this possibility.
"I doubt that," Dad smiled at me, as he plopped me in my chair and headed toward the building, "but we'll see."
A chorus of barks and howls heralded our arrival, as a friendly employee offered to show us the available puppies. My parents accepted, but I lagged behind, gazing at the other dogs, shimmying and shaking, pleading to be released from their four-walled prisons. I smiled, but held myself in check, determined to keep my vow. Until . . .
Until I saw my father's face shining like the noonday sun. "Over here," he called to me.
Intrigued, my heart began to race, as I pushed toward the pen where my parents stood. Struggling to get a better look, I hoisted myself up, my legs tightening with the effort. There, nestled in the pen, were two angelic shih tzus. The male, a fluffy caramel and white pup, was gregarious and charged right at me. His smaller sister, a beautiful midnight-black-and-white puppy, was more demure, waiting for me to lean in a bit, before licking my nose. Aww, she looks like Buck, I said silently, my heart beginning to soften. Then suddenly, before I knew what was happening, my resolve toppled. I was hooked.
"Well, it looks like we won't be going home empty-handed," my mother said, as if voicing my thoughts.
"Wonderful." My father was pleased. "Which one?"
I was leaning toward the male; he was obviously the alpha and far more playful. Yet the girl was so tiny, her ebony eyes captivating and sweet.
I held them both, the male against the center of my chest, while the female lay curled in the warmth of my lap. It was nearly closing time as the male nibbled the ends of my hair, and the female slept serenely against my atrophied legs. Still, I was hopelessly undecided.
The employee, observing my deadlock, lowered his voice to a whisper and said, "Look, if I were you, I'd take the boy because the female's disabled. Her legs are deformed; she stands like a ballerina in first position."
Stunned at his insensitivity, my eyes widened. Hadn't he seen my legs or the wheelchair I sat in? I wondered.
Noticing my expression, the employee continued, "I don't mean to upset you, but she'll need constant care. And the last thing you probably need is another pile of doctor bills."
Wanting to prove him wrong, I placed her on her feet. Instantly, her two bowed legs scissored, as she strained to keep her balance. Yet, despite her valiant effort, her tiny disabled legs faltered and she tumbled onto her side.
"See her legs cross?" he said quietly. "She's our little ballerina dog."
My eyes glistened as I listened to her tiny panting. I knew her struggle far too well. I recalled those times when I had used all my strength to stand upright - and that glorious second when I stood tall - only to come crashing down. I wanted to take her, but the employee was right: could I really afford her care?
"Okay . . . I'll take him," I said sadly.
As we were saying our good-byes to the little female, she struggled back up. Her eyes bursting with determination, she pushed her brother out of the way and then carefully placed one foot in front of the other, as she began her slow, steady ascent across my lap and up my shirt. She wobbled and stumbled but didn't stop until she rested against my heart.
Laughing and crying at the same time, I whispered, "I hear you, ballerina dog. You're coming home with me." Contented, she closed her eyes, knowing her mission was complete. We would manage whatever care she needed; it would all work out.
"Excuse me, sir," I announced loudly, "there's been a change of plans. I'm taking Ballerina Dog."

Reprinted by permission of Jackie Tortoriello (c) 2004 from Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, D.V.M., Carol Kline and Amy D. Shojai. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Mother to Mother
By Annette Seaver

I sit in the audience with the other parents, beaming at our children filing into their seats. My little ones' black hair and sienna skin make exclamation points among the other, pastel angels forming the pageant choir.
The chorister raises her arm, and the pianist comes in with the downbeat. So do some of the kids - a bit early. In cherubic fervor, their words spill out, "I am a child of God . . ."
Oh, how I wish both of you could see this. They're perfect. Just perfect.
I often send this silent message to my children's birth mothers. I long to comfort and reassure them, to share with them the unspeakable joy their babies have brought into my life. I long to tell them their precious ones are beautiful and bright, healthy and strong.
". . . and he has sent me here . . ." I can almost distinguish Shyloh's sweet voice in the choir.
Just the other day, she asked, "Mommy, why is my hair black? Yours isn't."
The answer came easily to me. "To make you look beautiful, Shyloh, just like your mother in China." And typically Tiggerlike, she bounced away, grinning in satisfaction.
I hope you find peace in your decision to share this happy girl with me.
". . . has given me an earthly home, with parents kind and dear . . ." I catch the eye of my Samoan daughter, Whitney, whose hair is a shining cape flung across her shoulders and whose voice rings loudest of all the angels. She's singing with all her young heart.
She's adjusting, Mama. I grin through my burning eyes. Your daughter's finally joining in. So is little Luke.
My grateful tears plop down to bless the slumbering head of Whitney's contented baby brother, asleep on my lap.
What sacrifices these women made for their children, their difficult choices possible only because their powerful mother-love transcended all else. And what joy their decisions continue to bring into my life.
Whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever your circumstances, I hope your intuition calms you and tells you all is well.
Mother to mother, I wish I could wrap my arms around them this holiday season - those selfless birth moms - and assure them of my appreciation for these beautiful children of ours. More than anything, I wish I knew how to express the gratitude in my heart.
". . . I am a child of God, and so my needs are great . . ." Their angelic voices supplicate and saturate the auditorium and reach into the depths of my consciousness.
And - with sudden, deep conviction - I do know how, the only way that makes sense: I'll continue to love and cherish their little ones with all my being.
That will be thanks enough.

Reprinted by permission of Annette Seaver (c) 2005 from Chicken Soup for the Soul The Book of Christmas Virtues by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen with Carol McAdoo Rehme. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved


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Taffy Twist
By Sandra J. Payne

"How's it look?" my mother asked me. I stared into the boiling pink goo bubbling up in the pan. My mom had decided that we should have an "old-fashioned" Christmas this year, and we were experimenting with making taffy for the first time in our lives.
"I think it's ready," I said. The candy thermometer read 265 degrees. My mother checked it.
"It's definitely ready," she said. "Let's pour it out."
My little sister, Janet, had a large cookie sheet buttered and ready to go. My brother Mike and his best friend, Jimmy, looked on as my mother took the hot pan off the stove and poured the pink taffy slowly onto the cookie sheet. It looked shiny and delicious.
"While we wait for that to cool, let's pull this one," my mom said, pointing to the white taffy we'd made earlier.
"Yeah!" we shouted. It was the moment we'd been waiting for. My mom cut the white taffy into two halves and gave one hunk to Mike and Jimmy, and the other hunk to Janet and me. As teams, we began pulling on opposite sides of our taffy, making long stringy lengths, folding it in half and pulling it out again. We did this over and over until our sticky taffy turned smooth and satiny. It was hot work, but no one minded on such a cold December night in Alaska. It made us feel cozy even though huge snowflakes spun past the streetlights outside.
Now that the taffy was pulled, we rolled it into one big ball. From there, we took small pieces and formed them into little taffy "snakes." When the pink taffy was cool enough, we repeated the process.
"Now," my mother said, "watch this." She picked up a length of white taffy and a length of pink taffy and twisted them together. She pinched the ends and formed a crook at the top. "It's a candy cane!" she said.
"How cool!" we said, excited to be making our own candy canes from scratch. We got busy twisting the taffy and soon had a large batch of candy canes ready. We took them out to the living room and hung them one by one on our Christmas tree. Our tree was decorated with homemade ornaments in the spirit of an old-fashioned Christmas and the freshly made candy canes added just the right touch. We took a moment to admire our handiwork and then headed back into the kitchen to clean up our mess.
After the last pan had been washed and dried and the kitchen was tidied up, we returned to the living room to enjoy our creations and relax in front of the fire. But when we entered the living room, the sight of our tree made us stop and stare in amazement.
The homemade taffy candy canes were now two and three feet long! They oozed from branch to branch like thick pink and white spider webs.
"Oh no!" my mother shrieked. "The heat from the fireplace is melting the taffy!"
Mike stifled a laugh. That did it. In an instant, we were all hysterical with laughter as we watched the blobs of taffy slowly plop onto the carpet.
The next year at Christmas, we bought candy canes from the store.

Reprinted by permission of Sandra J. Payne (c) 2002 from Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury for Kids by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Irene Dunlap. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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With Gladness and Glue
By Nancy B. Gibbs

While Christmas shopping in a jewelry store, I discovered a clearance table of gilded ornaments. Detailed and delicate in design, each had a personality all its own. I sorted among the hundreds of filigreed masterpieces, picked out a few and took them home.
Deciding they were much too pretty to disappear among the clutter of a Christmas tree, I used them instead to decorate small eight-inch wreaths. When I stood back to admire my handiwork, a thought crossed my mind: Wouldn't some of our family and friends like these, too?
I raced back to the jewelry store to discover that the stack of ornaments had been reduced even further. This time I bought dozens as I thought of the many people who might enjoy one for the holidays.
Armed with a glue gun and bright ribbons of every color, I eagerly began my creative project. The wreaths multiplied like measles and dotted every flat surface in our house. For days, my family tiptoed around, elbowed their way through and slept among the miniature masterpieces.
While I tied dainty bows and glued golden ornaments, my mind wandered to Christmases past, and I pondered how special each had been. I thought about others perhaps not so fortunate. Some people in our community didn't have a family to share the joy of Christmas. Some didn't bother with holiday decorations. Some never left their homes to celebrate the season.
I nodded my head in determined satisfaction. They would be at the top of my list to receive a little wreath. My husband joined me in the plan, and we set out together to put it into action.
We visited the aged. We visited the widowed. We visited the lonely. Each one was thrilled with our cheery stops and immediately hung our small gifts - often the only signs of celebration in their homes.
After several days, I realized we had made and given almost two hundred wreaths. Decorated with love and delivered with delight, they filled many homes and hearts with the joy of Christmas.
And I came to the simple realization that we were actually the ones who received the greatest blessing that year. We had found our Christmas spirit in the doing.

Reprinted by permission of Nancy B. Gibbs (c) 2000 from Chicken Soup for the Soul The Book of Christmas Virtues by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen with Carol McAdoo Rehme. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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Big Red
By Linda Gabris
Prince George, British Columbia

The first time we set eyes on "Big Red," father, mother and I were trudging through the freshly fallen snow on our way to Hubble's Hardware store on Main Street in Huntsville, Ontario. We planned to enter our name in the annual Christmas drawing for a chance to win a hamper filled with fancy tinned cookies, tea, fruit and candy. As we passed the Eaton's department store's window, we stopped as usual to gaze and do a bit of dreaming.
The gaily decorated window display held the best toys ever. I took an instant hankering for a huge green wagon. It was big enough to haul three armloads of firewood, two buckets of swill or a whole summer's worth of pop bottles picked from along the highway. There were skates that would make Millar's Pond well worth shovelling and dolls much too pretty to play with. And they were all nestled snugly beneath the breathtakingly flounced skirt of Big Red.
Mother's eyes were glued to the massive flare of red shimmering satin, dotted with twinkling sequin-centred black velvet stars. "My goodness," she managed to say in trancelike wonder. "Would you just look at that dress!" Then, totally out of character, mother twirled one spin of a waltz on the slippery sidewalk. Beneath the heavy, wooden-buttoned, grey wool coat she had worn every winter for as long as I could remember, mother lost her balance and tumbled. Father quickly caught her.
Her cheeks redder than usual, mother swatted dad for laughing. "Oh, stop that!" she ordered, shooing his fluttering hands as he swept the snow from her coat. "What a silly dress to be perched up there in the window of Eaton's!" She shook her head in disgust. "Who on earth would want such a splashy dress?"
As we continued down the street, mother turned back for one more look. "My goodness! You'd think they'd display something a person could use!"
Christmas was nearing, and the red dress was soon forgotten. Mother, of all people, was not one to wish for, or spend money on, items that were not practical. "There are things we need more than this," she'd always say, or, "There are things we need more than that."
Father, on the other hand, liked to indulge whenever the budget allowed. Of course, he'd get a scolding for his occasional splurging, but it was all done with the best intention.
Like the time he brought home the electric range. In our old Muskoka farmhouse on Oxtongue Lake, Mother was still cooking year-round on a wood stove. In the summer, the kitchen would be so hot even the houseflies wouldn't come inside. Yet, there would be Mother ? roasting - right along with the pork and turnips.
One day, Dad surprised her with a fancy new electric range. She protested, of course, saying that the wood stove cooked just dandy, that the electric stove was too dear and that it would cost too much hydro to run it. All the while, however, she was polishing its already shiny chrome knobs. In spite of her objections, Dad and I knew that she cherished that new stove.
There were many other modern things that old farm needed, like indoor plumbing and a clothes dryer, but Mom insisted that those things would have to wait until we could afford them. Mom was forever doing chores - washing laundry by hand, tending the pigs and working in our huge garden - so she always wore mended, cotton-print housedresses and an apron to protect the front. She did have one or two "special" dresses saved for church on Sundays. And with everything else she did, she still managed to make almost all of our clothes. They weren't fancy, but they did wear well.
That Christmas I bought Dad a handful of fishing lures from the Five to a Dollar store, and wrapped them individually in matchboxes so he'd have plenty of gifts to open from me. Choosing something for Mother was much harder. When Dad and I asked, she thought carefully then hinted modestly for some tea towels, face cloths or a new dishpan.
On our last trip to town before Christmas, we were driving up Main Street when Mother suddenly exclaimed in surprise: "Would you just look at that!" She pointed excitedly as Dad drove past Eaton's.
"That big red dress is gone," she said in disbelief. "It's actually gone."
"Well . . . I'll be!" Dad chuckled. "By golly, it is!"
"Who'd be fool enough to buy such a frivolous dress?" Mother questioned, shaking her head. I quickly stole a glance at Dad. His blue eyes were twinkling as he nudged me with his elbow. Mother craned her neck for another glimpse out the rear window as we rode on up the street. "It's gone . . ." she whispered. I was almost certain that I detected a trace of yearning in her voice.
I'll never forget that Christmas morning. I watched as Mother peeled the tissue paper off a large box that read "Eaton's Finest Enamel Dishpan" on its lid.
"Oh Frank," she praised, "just what I wanted!" Dad was sitting in his rocker, a huge grin on his face.
"Only a fool wouldn't give a priceless wife like mine exactly what she wants for Christmas," he laughed. "Go ahead, open it up and make sure there are no chips." Dad winked at me, confirming his secret, and my heart filled with more love for my father than I thought it could hold!
Mother opened the box to find a big white enamel dishpan - overflowing with crimson satin that spilled out across her lap. With trembling hands she touched the elegant material of Big Red.
"Oh my goodness!" she managed to utter, her eyes filled with tears. "Oh Frank . . ." Her face was as bright as the star that twinkled on our tree in the corner of the small room. "You shouldn't have . . ." came her faint attempt at scolding.
"Oh now, never mind that!" Dad said. "Let's see if it fits," he laughed, helping her slip the marvellous dress over her shoulders. As the shimmering red satin fell around her, it gracefully hid the patched and faded floral housedress underneath.
I watched, my mouth agape, captivated by a radiance in my parents I had never noticed before. As they waltzed around the room, Big Red swirled its magic deep into my heart.
"You look beautiful," my dad whispered to my mom - and she surely did!

Reprinted by permission of Linda Gabris (c) 1995 from Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, Janet Matthews and Raymond Aaron. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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The Last Jar of Jelly
By Andy Skidmore

Our children grew up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Even my husband and I sometimes sneak one in late at night with a glass of milk. I believe that the Earl of Sandwich himself would agree with me that the success of this universally loved concoction lies not in the brand of peanut butter used, but rather in the jelly. The right jelly delights the palate, and homemade is the only choice.
I wasn't the jelly maker in this family. My mother-in-law was. She didn't provide a wide range of flavors, either. It was either grape or blackberry. This limited choice was a welcome relief in the days of toddlers, siblings and puppies. When all around me other decisions and choices had to be made, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was easy. And since we liked both flavors, we usually picked whatever jar was at the front of the pantry or refrigerator.
The only contribution I made to the jelly making was to save baby food jars, which my mother-in-law would fill with the tasty gel, seal with wax and send back home with us. For the past 22 years of my married life, whenever I wanted to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for myself or my husband or one of the children, all I had to do was reach for one of those little jars of jelly. It was always there. Jelly making was just a way of life for my mother-in-law. She always did it, following the same rituals - from picking the fruit to setting the finished jelly on the homemade shelves in her little pantry off the kitchen.
My father-in-law died several years ago and this past December, my mother-in-law also passed away. Among the things in the house to be divided by her children were the remaining canned goods in the pantry. Each of her children chose from the many jars of tomato juice, green beans and jelly. When my husband brought his jars home, we carefully put them away in our pantry.
The other day I reached in there to retrieve jelly for a quick sandwich, and there it was. Sitting all alone on the far side of the shelf was a small jar of grape jelly. The lid was somewhat rusty in places. Written on it with a black marker was "GR" for grape and the year the jelly had been made.
As I picked up the jar, I suddenly realized something that I had failed to see earlier. I reopened the pantry door to be sure. Yes, this was it, this was the last jar of "Memommie jelly." We would always have store-bought jelly, but this was the last jar we would ever have from the patient, loving hands of my mother-in-law. Although she had been gone for nearly a year, so much of her had remained with us. We hardly ever opened a jar of jelly at the breakfast table without kidding about those thousands of little jars she had filled. Our children had never known a day without their grandmother's jelly. It seems like such a small thing, and most days it was something that was taken for granted. But today it seemed a great treasure.
Holding that last jar in my hand, my heart traveled back to meeting my mother-in-law for the first time. I could see her crying on our wedding day, and later, kissing and loving our children as if she didn't have five other grandchildren. I could see her walking the fields of the farm, patiently waiting while others tended to the cows. I could see her walking in the woods or riding the hay wagon behind the tractor. I saw her face as it looked when we surprised her by meeting her at church. I saw her caring for a sick spouse and surrounded by loving children at the funeral.
I put the jelly back on the shelf. No longer was it just a jar of jelly. It was the end of a family tradition. I guess I believed that as long as it was there, a part of my mother-in-law would always live on.
We have many things that once belonged to my husband's parents. There are guns, tools, handmade sweaters and throws, and some furniture. We have hundreds of pictures and many more memories. These are the kinds of things that you expect to survive the years and to pass on to your children. But I'm just not ready to give up this last jelly jar, and all the memories its mere presence allows me to hold onto. The jar of jelly won't keep that long. It will either have to be eaten or thrown out . . . but not today.

Reprinted by permission of Andy Skidmore (c) 1996 from Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Jennifer Read Hawthorne and Marci Shimoff. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


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A Farewell Gift
By Jim Comstock

My wife and I had just finished the 150-mile trip home from our daughter's college. It was the first time in our lives that she would be gone for any length of time. We wondered how other people had survived it.
Later in bed, I thought of the time I started college. My father had driven me too. We rode in the farm truck. In the back was the trunk I had bought with money earned by pitching hay that summer. My mother had to stay behind to keep the cattle from getting into the crops. I, the fourth in a line of brothers, was the first to go away to college. My mother cried, and I cried; after we were out of sight of the farm, I began to feel jellylike and scared.
The truck was slow, and I was glad. I didn't want to get to the city too soon. I remembered how my father and I stopped by a stream and ate the sandwiches my mother had prepared.
My daughter's day was different, of course. We stopped at a classy roadside place and ordered fried chicken. Then we went to the dormitory, and my wife talked with the housemother. When she came back, she was wiping her eyes. It wasn't until we were passing through the next town that she discovered our daughter had forgotten to take out the portable radio and record player. I told her she should have put it in the trunk with the other things, not in the back seat.
Now I heard a sob beside me. I knew that my wife was thinking about the new kind of loneliness before us.
My father didn't let me stay at the dormitory. A room in a private home was cheaper and better if a student wanted to work his way through. But I didn't have a room. My father told me that we'd leave my trunk at a filling station. I could come for it the next day after I had found a place to stay. We toured the town a bit, but the traffic confused him. I said maybe I'd better go on my own.
I shook hands with my father in the truck. For a long, haunting moment he looked straight ahead, not saying a word, but I knew he was going to make a little speech. "I can't tell you nothing," he finally said. "I never went to college, and none of your brothers went to college. I can't say don't do this and do that, because everything is different and I don't know what is going to come up. I can't help you much with money either, but I think things will work out."
He gave me a brand-new checkbook. "If things get pushing, write a small check. But when you write one, send me a letter and let me know how much. There are some things we can always sell." In four years, the total of all the checks I wrote was less than a thousand dollars. My jobs chauffeuring a rich lady, janitoring at the library, reading to a blind student and baby-sitting professors' kids filled in the financial gaps.
"You know what you want to be, and they'll tell you what to take," my father continued. "When you get a job, be sure it's honest and work hard." I knew that soon I would be alone in the big town, and I would be missing the furrowed ground, cool breezes and a life where your thinking was done for you.
Then my dad reached down beside his seat and brought out the old, dingy Bible that he had read so often, the one he used when he wanted to look something up in a friendly argument with one of the neighbors. I knew he would miss it. I also knew, though, that I must take it.
He didn't tell me to read it every morning. He just said, "This can help you if you will let it."
Did it help? I got through college without being a burden on my family. I have had a good earning capacity ever since.
When I finished school, I took the Bible back to my father, but he said he wanted me to keep it. "You will have a kid in school some day," he told me. "Let the first one take that Bible along."
Now, too late, I remember. It would have been so nice to have given it to my daughter when she got out of the car. But I didn't. Things were different. I was prosperous and my father wasn't. I had gone places. I could give her everything. My father could give me only a battered, old Bible. I'd been able to give my daughter what she needed.
Or had I? I don't really believe now that I gave her half as much as my father gave me. So the next morning I wrapped up the book and sent it to her. I wrote a note. "This can help you," I penned, "if you will let it."

Reprinted by permission of Jim Comstock (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell Autio. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


Active member
There Are No Vans
By Anthony Robbins

I remember one Thanksgiving when our family had no money and no food, and someone came knocking on our door. A man was standing there with a huge box of food, a giant turkey and even some pans to cook it in. I couldn?t believe it. My dad demanded, ?Who are you? Where are you from??
The stranger announced, ?I?m here because a friend of yours knows you?re in need and that you wouldn?t accept direct help, so I?ve brought this for you. Have a great Thanksgiving.?
My father said, ?No, no, we can?t accept this.? The stranger replied ?You don?t have a choice,? closed the door and left.
Obviously that experience had a profound impact on my life. I promised myself that someday I would do well enough financially so that I could do the same thing for other people. By the time I was 18 I had created my Thanksgiving ritual. I like to do things spontaneously, so I would go out shopping and buy enough food for one or two families. Then I would dress like a delivery boy, go to the poorest neighborhood and just knock on a door. I always included a note that explained my Thanksgiving experience as a kid. The note concluded, ?All that I ask in return is that you take good enough care of yourself so that someday you can do the same thing for someone else.? I have received more from this annual ritual than I have from any amount of money I?ve ever earned.
Several years ago I was in New York City with my new wife during Thanksgiving. She was sad because we were not with our family. Normally she would be home decorating the house for Christmas, but we were stuck here in a hotel room.
I said, ?Honey, look, why don?t we decorate some lives today instead of some old trees?? When I told her what I always do on Thanksgiving, she got excited. I said, ?Let?s go someplace where we can really appreciate who we are, what we are capable of and what we can really give. Let?s go to Harlem!? She and several of my business partners who were with us weren?t really enthusiastic about the idea. I urged them: ?C?mon, let?s go to Harlem and feed some people in need. We won?t be the people who are giving it because that would be insulting. We?ll just be the delivery people. We?ll go buy enough food for six or seven families for 30 days. We?ve got enough. Let?s just go do it! That?s what Thanksgiving really is: Giving good thanks, not eating turkey. C?mon. Let?s go do it!?
Because I had to do a radio interview first, I asked my partners to get us started by getting a van. When I returned from the interview, they said ?We just can?t do it. There are no vans in all of New York. The rent-a-car places are all out of vans. They?re just not available.?
I said, ?Look, the bottom line is that if we want something, we can make it happen! All we have to do is take action. There are plenty of vans here in New York City. We just don?t have one. Let?s go get one.?
They insisted, ?We?ve called everywhere. There aren?t any.?
I said, ?Look down at the street. Look down there. Do you see all those vans?? They said, ?Yeah, we see them.?
?Let?s go get one,? I said. First I tried walking out in front of vans as they were driving down the street. I learned something about New York drivers that day: They don?t stop; they speed up.
Then we tried waiting by the light. We?d go over and knock on the window and the driver would roll it down, looking at us kind of leery, and I?d say ?Hi. Since today is Thanksgiving, we?d like to know if you would be willing to drive us to Harlem so we can feed some people.? Every time the driver would look away quickly, furiously roll up the window and pull away without saying anything.
Eventually we got better at asking. We?d knock on the window, they?d roll it down and we?d say, ?Today is Thanksgiving. We?d like to help some underprivileged people, and we?re curious if you?d be willing to drive us to an underprivileged area that we have in mind here in New York City.? That seemed slightly more effective but still didn?t work. Then we started offering people $100 to drive us. That got us even closer, but when we told them to take us to Harlem, they said no and drove off.
We had talked to about two dozen people who all said no. My partners were ready to give up on the project, but I said, ?It?s the law of averages: somebody is going to say yes.? Sure enough, the perfect van drove up. It was perfect because it was extra big and would accommodate all of us. We went up, knocked on the window and we asked the driver, ?Could you take us to a disadvantaged area? We?ll pay you a hundred dollars.?
The driver said, ?You don?t have to pay me. I?d be happy to take you. In fact, I?ll take you to some of the most difficult spots in the whole city.? Then he reached over on the seat and grabbed his hat. As he put it on, I noticed that it said, ?Salvation Army.? The man?s name was Captain John Rondon and he was the head of the Salvation Army in the South Bronx.
We climbed into the van in absolute ecstasy. He said, ?I?ll take you places you never even thought of going. But tell me something. Why do you people want to do this?? I told him my story and that I wanted to show gratitude for all that I had by giving something back.
Captain Rondon took us into parts of the South Bronx that make Harlem look like Beverly Hills. When we arrived, we went into a store where we bought a lot of food and some baskets. We packed enough for seven families for 30 days. Then we went out to start feeding people. We went to buildings where there were half a dozen people living in one room: ?squatters? with no electricity and no heat in the dead of winter surrounded by rats, cockroaches and the smell of urine. It was both an astonishing realization that people lived this way and a truly fulfilling experience to make even a small difference.
You see, you can make anything happen if you commit to it and take action. Miracles like this happen every day - even in a city where ?there are no vans.?

Reprinted by permission of Anthony Robbins (c) 1993 from Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


Active member
A Thanksgiving Story
By Andr?a Nannette Mejia

It was the day before Thanksgiving - the first one my three children and I would be spending without their father, who had left several months before. Now the two older children were very sick with the flu, and the eldest had just been prescribed bed rest for a week.
It was a cool, gray day outside, and a light rain was falling. I grew wearier as I scurried around, trying to care for each child: thermometers, juice, diapers. And I was fast running out of liquids for the children. But when I checked my purse, all I found was about $2.50 - and this was supposed to last me until the end of the month. That's when I heard the phone ring.
It was the secretary from our former church, and she told me that they had been thinking about us and had something to give us from the congregation. I told her that I was going out to pick up some more juice and soup for the children, and I would drop by the church on my way to the market.
I arrived at the church just before lunch. The church secretary met me at the door and handed me a special gift envelope. "We think of you and the kids often," she said, "and you are in our hearts and prayers. We love you." When I opened the envelope, I found two grocery certificates inside. Each was worth $20. I was so touched and moved, I broke down and cried.
"Thank you very much," I said, as we hugged each other. "Please give our love and thanks to the church." Then I drove to a store near our home and purchased some much-needed items for the children.
At the check-out counter I had a little over $14.00 worth of groceries, and I handed the cashier one of the gift certificates. She took it, then turned her back for what seemed like a very long time. I thought something might be wrong. Finally I said, "This gift certificate is a real blessing. Our former church gave it to our family, knowing I'm a single parent trying to make ends meet."
The cashier then turned around, with tears in her loving eyes, and replied, "Honey, that's wonderful! Do you have a turkey?"
"No. It's okay because my children are sick anyway."
She then asked, "Do you have anything else for Thanksgiving dinner?"
Again I replied, "No."
After handing me the change from the certificate, she looked at my face and said, "Honey, I can't tell you exactly why right now, but I want you to go back into the store and buy a turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie or anything else you need for a Thanksgiving dinner."
I was shocked, and humbled to tears. "Are you sure?" I asked.
"Yes! Get whatever you want. And get some Gatorade for the kids."
I felt awkward as I went back to do more shopping, but I selected a fresh turkey, a few yams and potatoes, and some juices for the children. Then I wheeled the shopping cart up to the same cashier as before. As I placed my groceries on the counter, she looked at me once more with giant tears in her kind eyes and began to speak.
"Now I can tell you. This morning I prayed that I could help someone today, and you walked through my line." She reached under the counter for her purse and took out a $20 bill. She paid for my groceries and then handed me the change. Once more I was moved to tears.
The sweet cashier then said, "I am a Christian. Here is my phone number if you ever need anything." She then took my head in her hands, kissed my cheek and said, "God bless you, honey."
As I walked to my car, I was overwhelmed by this stranger's love and by the realization that God loves my family too, and shows us his love through this stranger's and my church's kind deeds.
The children were supposed to have spent Thanksgiving with their father that year, but because of the flu they were home with me, for a very special Thanksgiving Day. They were feeling better, and we all ate the goodness of the Lord's bounty - and our community's love. Our hearts were truly filled with thanks.

Reprinted by permission of Andr?a Nannette Mejia (c) 1997 from Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.


Active member
Volunteer of the Year
By Edi dePencier

Last spring, a very special volunteer in our charitable organization nearly lost his life to a reckless driver. Our relationship with this volunteer had begun long before with a chance visit. Like most visitors, he first entered our offices through the front door - what was unusual is that he walked in on four legs!
Our charity is nestled in a residential community a block from the beach in the beautiful city of White Rock, British Columbia. We often leave the front doors open to catch a bit of the summer breeze blowing in from the ocean. One afternoon eleven years ago, an orange-and-white tabby cat appeared. He was so overweight that we thought "she" was pregnant. First, he stuck his head inside the door to see what was inside. When nobody chased him out, he walked past the counseling reception office, through the empty waiting room, then boldly marched up the stairs to the administration offices.
He made friends with all the right people: our executive director, Martin; our volunteer coordinator, Valerie; and our executive secretary, Maureen. Valerie talked with the neighbors and discovered that our visitor's name was Tigger. A social worker who lived across the street from our office had taken him in when his family moved to another province. Lonely, he came into our building to be with people. One or two counselors thought it was unprofessional to have a cat in the building, but he had friends in high places. Martin received letters from counseling clients saying how comforting it was when Tigger jumped into their laps and curled up, purring. He was also a regular visitor to our playgroup for developmentally delayed infants. Some of these children said "kitty" as their first word. In light of his valuable service, Valerie formally added Tigger to our volunteer list.
After a year, the social worker moved away, and Tigger moved in with a retired couple next-door to us. The gentleman passed away soon afterward, and his widow, Olive, told us that caring for Tigger helped her to cope with the loss. However, he did not forget about us. He continued his visits and brightened the day for many clients and staff, also creating a bond between Olive and many of our employees. Valerie gave Olive a special plaque with Tigger's picture and a bronze plate engraved with "Volunteer of the Year."
Last spring, Tigger was hit by a car. A neighbor discovered his broken body, and he was rushed to the veterinarian. His injuries were terrible. The veterinarian held out little hope for Tigger's survival and advised that the kindest thing would be to let him go. Olive could not bear the thought of putting him down without trying to save him, so she told them to make every effort. Many of us went to visit him during the weeks that he was in the hospital.
On my first visit, the receptionist led me into the back. The smell of antiseptics, medicine and animals hit me as soon as I walked through the door. Along two of the walls were several cages with animals in various states of distress. Tigger was lying on a metal table in the center of the room. Seated beside it, a veterinary assistant was giving him a shot of antibiotics and painkillers. She invited me to come closer.
An IV tube protruded from his little paw. His face was a mess. His jaw, which had been broken in two places, was wired shut. He had a broken pelvis, and his hind legs were in casts. He looked so small and fragile. The assistant asked if I wanted to stay and feed him. Carefully, she placed him back in his cage, settling him down on a soft blanket. There was a dish of soft food in one corner of the cage. I picked up a small spoon, scooped up a tiny bit of the food and held it to his mouth. He could not lift his head, although he tried. He stuck his tongue out a little to get a taste. Intravenous feeding would be necessary for a while longer.
For the first week, we did not know if he would make it, but, each time he had a visitor, his spirits seemed to lift. By the second week, we were very hopeful. By the third week, the veterinarian had to limit visits, saying, "We've never had a patient with so many visitors. It does seem to have made a difference, but he needs his rest."
After a few weeks of recovery and careful observation, Tigger was able to go home. He was honored at our annual volunteer-recognition luncheon in April, and the local newspaper ran a story on him, complete with photos.
Although Tigger no longer comes to the office, he will always have a very special place in our hearts. We are so delighted that we, his friends and colleagues, were able to give this little creature the will to live in return for the pleasure and service he's given so freely over the years.

Reprinted by permission of Edi dePencier (c) 2004 from Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, D.V.M. and Amy D. Shojai. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
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