Saturday, December 07, 2019

Faith Works 12-14-19

Faith Works 12-14-19

Jeff Gill


The Package – a story



[This is a piece of fiction, second of four parts, for the Christmas season]


It had been a wrapped package on his doorstep, and now Jerry was holding a carefully taped up box, brown cardboard with mailing labels all around, yet each of them carefully marked through with solid dark horizontal lines.


The marker cross-outs were enough to make clear the labels weren't to be used, but not scribbled sufficiently to obscure the name and address for where it had gone. Clearly, this was a re-used box. Jerry thought if he went to this address, he might get a clue as to why he'd gotten a brightly wrapped but unlabeled box on his front porch.


He'd hesitated even to open the wrapping paper, but as a widower with grown children out of town, he couldn't figure out why he'd have gotten a present delivered like this, and feared that it simply had been mis-delivered the night before, not intended for him.


So Jerry, after peeling away the wrapping paper, found a well-sealed box already having been used, and he was hesitant to cut the packing tape and find out what was inside. Whatever it was, it wasn't ticking or fragile. Something loose but relatively filling the space inside, thunking back and forth as he carried the box to the car.


The address of the last recipient, now crossed out, was not too far across town, and he was there in minutes. Awkwardly tucking the taped box under his arm, Jerry walked up the sidewalk to the small, neat house and rang the bell. After a longish delay, but noise enough inside to keep him standing there, the door swung open.


An older woman in a wheelchair had pulled the door around with clearly a practiced air; she was used to her particular position, and seemed quite comfortable in greeting him. "Yes, can I help you?" she smiled.


Jerry explained the predicament that had led him to her door, and with a quick once-over glance she pulled the door on around, swiveled back, and asked him to come in through the screen door. Once inside and the doors both shut, she pointed to a chair and he sat down, finishing his story, and setting the box on a low table between them.


"Yes, I remember getting that package, from my daughter in Oklahoma. But it was just some cookies and fudge and a few magazines she knew I'd like. I tossed the box out with the trash." She shrugged with that telling, and then looked again at the box, and back at Jerry. "I guess you'll just have to open it up. I can't imagine any other solution to your little mystery, but you've gotten my curiosity going."

He smiled, reached into his pocket, got out the penknife again, and very deliberately slit open the tape across the top, and putting the implement away, flipped open the flaps.


Inside was a pair of boots. They were not new, but clean and perhaps even with a bit of polish or just a recent leather treatment on them. The laces were new, and tied into neat bows. Jerry picked the boots up out of the box, and there was nothing inside at all otherwise, just a tag tied to the leather loop on the heel of one of the pair. "Kretschmer Shoe Shop," he read.


"I know where that is, on the other side of town. My late husband used to get his work boots repaired there; I didn't know if they were still open." She reached out and turned the tag. "But the name and address are removed, there's just a number and the shop address here."


They both sat and looked at the unremarkable boots together for a moment. Then Jerry said "well, I guess I'm going to the shoe shop. Sorry to trouble you, and Merry Christmas. I appreciate your being willing to talk to me."


"It's certainly an interesting story, and I hope you can tell me someday how it ends; there has to be a reason, doesn't there?" Jerry agreed, and putting the boots back in the box, got up out of his chair and began to move towards the door. He noticed a pair of larger boxes just beside the door on the inside, and commented on them.


"Oh, those are coats from my church," she said, "I had someone who was going to take to the Salvation Army, but that family had a funeral come up out of town. I'm trying to find someone else to get them there."


Jerry immediately felt the relief of being able to provide a kindness in return to one already received, and said "Oh, that's right on the way to the shoe shop; I'd be happy to take them."


[to be continued]


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think is up with the boots at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Notes from my knapsack 12-19-19

Notes from my knapsack 12-19-19

Jeff Gill


Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow



"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is one of those standards which has gone through a variety of transformations, from Judy Garland singing it in "Meet Me in St. Louis" to Frank Sinatra wanting a more upbeat version for a holiday album to Esperanza Spalding with John Legend more recently.


Hugh Martin was working in an atmosphere, in 1944, similar to the sentiments that drove "I'll Be Home for Christmas" the year before: service members in all the branches of the military and many other civilians besides scattered across the globe in a world war, hoping and praying for a swift and happy return home. Some would make it, others would not; a few would be there in person and others "if only in my dreams."


Christmas 1944 we now know was just a few months away from the war's end, but they couldn't have been certain it would be that soon . . . and in fact quite a few still didn't come home until after Christmas 1945. "Someday soon, we all will be together, if the Lord allows" was one version of the original song, muted in religious content to "if the fates allow" for the movie.


But by 1957 both World War II and the Korean Wars were both over, and high hopes for an end to war were common, and in the enthusiastic optimist of the Fifties, Sinatra didn't want to muddle through anything. He wanted hope and aspiration, so he went back to Martin and asked him to brighten up one line.


The result? "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough!" Aspirational enough for you? Up and out and onwards, with glitter and joy and a reach to the very top. Perfect for the times, Frank thought.


God bless her, Ella Fitzgerald a few years later knew that not everyone in America was just reaching for the tall branches, and she reached back . . . and sang a version that included both lines. We have to muddle through somehow, and we want to reach that highest bough. Ella always did know her audiences.


Today we can talk to people on the other side of the world at the Thanksgiving table, as my family did spread seven time zones apart, through screens and signals and stories. We still miss each other, but in such a different way than was the case for our parents' and grandparents' generation. There's a wistfulness and longing that can't be replicated.


But we do still move and relocate and separate, for all that email and texting can keep us together. Our scattered families and spread out networks of friends and colleagues and acquaintances need connections and coherence and comfort. Judy was singing to Margaret in that old movie because she wanted to help her feel better at Christmastime. The Smith family may not have ended up leaving old St. Louis and stays to see the 1904 World's Fair, but we all know that someday most of them are probably going to end up living somewhere else, with Christmas memories what keeps them united.


This time of year, we think about holiday seasons past, and those who aren't with us anymore, and work on how to include people new to our traditions and celebrations, which can be hard. But we'll muddle through somehow!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's hoping your hearts will be light! Hang a shining memory on his virtual mailbox at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Faith Works 12-7-19

Faith Works 12-7-19

Jeff Gill


The Package – a story



[This is a piece of fiction, in four parts, for the Christmas season]


On the doorstep Jerry reached down to pick up a wrapped package.


The red wrapping paper with green accents was neatly, even meticulously folded on the sides, smooth and pretty across the top. He set it down on the bench by the door inside his house.


After closing the door, and slipping off his ratty old work boots he'd gone to the mailbox in, Jerry picked up the wrapped package and slowly turned it around, finding no label, no tag, no markings at all.


Inside, something heavy thudded about softly as he upended the box, not quite packed in tightly. Too late, he thought about a prank or even a bomb, but the package seemed quite festive, inoffensive, ordinary in a holiday sort of way.


He set it back down, then picked it up and carried it into the living room. Since his wife's passing years ago, he'd lived much of his life in this room. It was small but large enough; her recliner still sat to one side of his, and the TV was a newer one the kids had gotten him, but most of the pictures and oddments on the shelves were what she'd put in place. There was an ottoman he usually left in front of her chair that he pulled over in front of his seat, and set the package down on it.


What should he do with it? He didn't have a tree up yet; he normally had a small artificial one he put on the side table, after ceremoniously pulling it out a ways farther from the wall and laying down the extra large doily that was in the bottom of the china cupboard. Lights he'd stopped putting up after the youngest got married, and he added a string or two around the tree if they came back, but if he went to one of their houses he usually didn't bother.


The package could sit at the foot of the table until Christmas, but it would really be in the way for weeks then. He usually got a few packages in the mail from the kids, and his brother in Idaho, and just opened them as they came and set the gifts unwrapped on the counter until Christmas day, when he'd put them away that evening as he would the little tree. There hadn't been a wrapped package in the house for some time.


Or, he thought, fingering the little penknife in his pocket, the one he almost lost at the airport and cost him twenty bucks to mail to himself a couple of years ago, twenty times what it had cost him forty years ago, he could open it.


Slice the tape, undo the wrapping paper, and see what was inside. It was for him, right? Or was it?


The fact that there was no name unnerved Jerry. Could it be a mis-delivered present? The houses on either side of him might be the actual destination, but one was a currently empty rental, and the other full of kids and toys on the porch and hard to mistake for his spare and simple front stoop. Across the street was a commercial building now empty but for storage, and a couple of houses farther down towards the corner whose occupants he hadn't met yet, not that he'd tried that hard.


Of course, if it's someone else's present, it would be a shame for him to find out on Christmas morning. It made more sense to open it now, see what it was or even for whom it was intended, and take care of it. The decision made, the paper came off with the knife easily, and revealed… a box.


The box was plain cardboard, marked for mailing, and looked like it had been used for just that. A careful line had been drawn, though, through the bar code stickers, and the address label lines; Jerry could still read the name and street perfectly clearly. It wasn't anyone he knew.


It was taped shut all around, and at this new obstacle he paused, and put away his knife. The mystery continued; it wasn't clearly for him, but it might be, even though there was no indication who would be sending such a package to him. The address was in town, not nearby but barely a mile away.


He decided he'd go to that house, and just ask: hey, did you drop off a package for me, and if so, thanks and why?


[to be continued]


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think is in the package at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.