Janet's Jargon

Fun lifestyles, charitable acts, great fiction, author support, Patrick and Grace Mysteries, Keith clan trilogy,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pot holes and winding roads

Monday, June 03, 2013

Waxing nostalgic

As many of you who follow my blog know, music has always played an important part in my life. I started taking piano lessons when I was four years old. Eventually, that branched out to include both the organ and the accordian. I became enchanted with the accordian when I was about 12 years old. We had two young men from Bethany College of Missions (it was then known as Bethany Fellowship School of Missions). The other girls were nuts about the younger fellow. He was a tall, blonde Scandinavian good looking guy. I could have cared less. The older member of the duo played the accordian, and I knew that I was "hooked"--on the accordian, not the fellow. However, he was a very important person in my life, as it was that man who led me to accept the Lord as my personal Savior, and that decision resulted in God's call on my life to serve Him, first as a girl who spent my entire summers teaching Vacation Bible School and counseling at camps in northern Minnesota with the American Sunday School Union, then to 9 years as a foreign missionary in Venezuela, and now, more than 40 years later, to having served with my late husband Ivan in Mission Socorro, the "home" mission we founded and ran in the Red River Valley of MN and ND for 37 years.

But life changes. After Ivan passed away, I moved to northeastern Wisconsin. It is a beautiful part of the country. I spent much of my youth living in "the woods" (we were right smack dab in the middle of the Chippewa National Forest). The trees became my friends. It is a common joke in North Dakota that the state tree is the telephone pole, because that is the only thing that will grow there. As soon as I arrived in NE Wisconsin, I was back in the woods, and I just knew that I was where I belonged.

Still, there was a time, the first part of my days in WI, that I felt like God had put me on the shelf and that my life of being useful to Him had come to an end. I sat in Ivan's recliner one day and told the Lord that I felt like a can on a grocery store shelf and my expiration date had arrived. As I sat there, feeling a bit sorry for myself, someone knocked on the door and a woman I didn't know said somebody told her that I might be able to help her figure out how to use the glucometer the doctor had just given her, suspecting that she had diabetes. Ivan was diabetic, so I was very familiar with how the machine worked. I was more than happy to help her. And that began what my former pastor's wife called my life as "Amberg's go-to gal." For some reason, people have found their way to my door for many different reasons. When I get tired and am tempted to complain, the Lord gently reminds me that He is just answering my prayer!

But getting back to the music. One of the things I find to fill my time is to play the piano for our little church, Interfaith Bible Fellowship. If you go back through my blog, you will find an entry about the wonderful way God provided a piano for me so I can keep in practice. There is also a page on my website http://www.janetelainesmith.com about my music, complete with some of the musical people God has brought across my path.

A couple of days ago, Charlene (Solum) Lessin, an old friend from my college days at Bethany, all the way back in the early 1960s, asked about a song from a recording by Eddie Menaldino. I hadn't thought about him in many years. I first met him when he was a pastor in Minneapolis, I think it was an Evangelical Free Church. Our paths crossed again when I was in Philadelphia, just before one of our trips to Venezuela. He was pastoring a full Gospel church there. I was fortunate to get to play the piano for him at one of the services at his church as he sang "He Washed My Eyes With Tears." It was, and still is, one of my favorite songs. I have played it numerous times in churches. So, thanks, Roy and Char Lessin, for refreshing my memory about Eddie Menaldino. I just went to see if I could find a picture of him, which you see here, and I found his obituary. He went home to be with the Lord in 2012. I'm sure heaven's music is sweeter with him there.

The final musical treat came just yesterday. Our previous pastor has moved to the Detroit MI area. We have had a visiting minister from Menominee MI who has been filling the pulpit until the elders and then the church membership decides what to do on a more permanent basis. I am embarrassed to admit that I don't even know our new minister's name. He just goes by "James." I do know that he is from Virginia. I also know that he has a wonderful singing voice. We have discussed what key songs need to be in for the congregation to be able to comfortably sing them.

Upon occasion it falls to me to choose the hymns for the opening exercises. It is always up to me to do the prelude and the offertory. Sometimes I play "fancy" arrangements by other pianists. Other times I do my own thing, choosing songs that I put my own spin on. Yesterday, I was going to do a medley for the prelude. I selected At Calvary, Room at the Cross, and Calvary Covered It All. For some reason, at the last minute I decided to eliminate Calvary Covered It All. I took the paper that had all of my info on it and scratched it off.

When James went up to the pulpit to lead the singing, he whispered to me, "I am going to do a special number before the group sings. I don't have the music, so I will just sing it acapello." And then, he began to sing "Calvary Covered It All." I stared at my notes. I softly picked out the notes he was singing, and he was even singing it in the same key I had practiced it in! When he finished singing, I handed him my notes, complete with the title of the song scratched out. He told the people about it.

I just love it when the Lord lets me know that I am still in tune with His still small voice. There is never a doubt in my mind that "the steps of a good (faithful) man/woman are ordered by the Lord." I trust you will feel Him leading you this week, even in the small things.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bitz and Pieces

Back when Red River Mysteries and Memories Magazine was still alive, I wrote a column in each issue called "Bitz and Pieces." It was an assistant editor's dream; I could write about anything I wanted to. The magazine is long gone, but in memory of a fine magazine, today's blog is my version of that column.
I realize I don't blog nearly as often as I should. I have great admiration for people like my friends Lloyd Lofthouse and Marilyn Meredith who seem to be able to make new contributions several times a week. I certainly don't suffer from writers' block. No, my head is so overloaded with ideas that it seems like it is spinning like a top all day and most of the night. My problem is too many interruptions, too many things to do, and trying to get organized.
Another magazine I used to write for was Heritage Quest. It was devoted to genealogy. I wrote a column and several feature articles in most issues for over 15 years. Leland Meitzler, the editor, would call me as soon as he had decided on the topic for the next issue. There was only one time that I flatly refused to do a feature article. "The topic for next time," he informed me, "is how to get your findings organized." It didn't take more than about 10 seconds to tell him, "I have no experience in that at all, and I don't have time to do the research it would take. It would mean I would have to get organized." That was definitely not my best attribute.
So, today's blog will be random thoughts that have come across my path in the last couple of months. Please join me for the ride. I think it will be fun.

I have two time travel books out that are based on the real historical people Maria Hallett and Black Sam Bellamy. I stumbled across Maria's story in doing research on my Hallett family. (Hallett was my maiden name, and as far as I can figure out, Maria was my 13th great aunt.) When she was just a teenager she got hooked up with Sam Bellamy. By the time Sam left port from Cape Cod (in the early 1700s), he had promised Maria that he would come back for her when he had made his fortune on the seas. He became a fearless pirate, and he had no idea that he had left Maria pregnant. Sadly, the baby died soon after he was born, and Maria was accused of witchcraft.
Fortunately, they did not put witches to death on Cape Cod like they did in Salem. However, she was sentenced to jail for a short time, but her father was able to purchase her freedom. Some freedom! She was cast out of the village and spent every day watching for Black Sam to return.
Several years later, his ship--the Whydah--returned, but it was hit by lightning and split in half. All of the men on Black Sam's crew were found--except for Black Sam himself.
Fast forward to about 15 years ago, when a crew, headed by Barry Clifford, discovered the remains of the Whydah. It is the biggest pirate treasure that has ever been found. There is a museum set up in Provincetown, MA, but National Geographic has taken part of the treasure on tour. It is currently at the Milwaukee Public Museum, where it will remain until May 27th. Westlund Bus Lines from Marinette WI is conducting a tour of the "Real Pirate" exhibit on May 18th, and they have asked me to be the tour guide to fill in the blanks for people before they get to the museum.
The Riverside Manor Bed and Breakfast in Marinette WI is hosting a "Pirate Mystery" this Saturday, March 16th. They have asked me to bring copies of the books and come to share some of the fun from Maria and Black Sam. It will begin at 6 p.m. I have attended a couple of other events at Riverside Manor, and Becky DeWitt can throw some of the best parties I've ever attended. I will be attending both of the events dressed like Maria Hallett.
Another fun thing that happened was because of my clicking the daily notices I get from Publishers' Clearing House. I am not going to hold my breath to wait for the grand prize of a million dollars a year for the rest of my life (I wonder if they only send this one to old people!) or $5000 a week for the rest of your life and then pass it on to another person for the rest of their life. It doesn't take much longer to click the "Search" button than it does to delete it. One day last week I did a PCH Search for "Dunnottar Castle." That is the subject for my first written and first published book. What a surprise and delight it was to see three listings for Scottish castles in general, but the very first entry for Dunnottar Castle specifically went directly to my book at Amazon.com
Life is a set of variables, a good friend of mine often reminds me. That's certainly true of my books. You see, Ivan, my late husband, had all the kings and lords from Scotland and England (those made their way into Dunnottar, their ancestral home), but I get the fun ones like the witch and the pirate from House Call to the Past and Port Call to the Future.
I have had some fun with Dunnottar too. If anybody knows of a bagpipe player in NE Wisconsin or the UP of Michigan, please let me know. Back in Grand Forks I did a couple of booksignings with a bagpiper at my side. Talk about a great way to draw a crowd!
One of the other joys in my life is that recently, thanks to Face Book, is that I have reconnected with a (sort of former) sister-in-law and her son, my nephew. What fun we have had conversing with each other. I hope one day we can get together face-to-face.
Ah, yes, there are lots of other great things happening in my life. You can see a lot of them at my website in the upcoming events. I recently had an exchange with a new friend from Germany (like several of my "new best friends," we got acquainted when I edited their books). He was lamenting the fact that he is 74 years old and he wondered if he was heading down the last few miles of his life. I wrote back, telling him that one of my favorite Biblical characters was Enoch. The Bible doesn't say much about him. It does say that "He was no more, as he walked with God." It conjures up an image in my mind of a man who was so close to God that he went out for a walk in the woods one morning and he just put one step into the woods and the next step into heaven. Today, they would call out the army to look for the old fellow, as he obviously had Alzheimer's. One of Ivan's uncle's favorite hymns was "But until then, my heart will go on singing. Until then, with joy I'll carry on..." So, I am going back to work on my next book, Tuesday Nolan, the 2nd book in the Women of the Week series. Um, just as soon as I finish listening to my "proof copy" of A Lumberjack Christmas...Revisted, my first audio book. It will be coming out by Hop, Skip Jump Publishing LLC.
Nope, I have no time to stop now. I don't even have time to slow down, although my oldest son keeps reminding me that I'm supposed to be retired. Speaking of kids, it was fun this morning when my youngest son called me early this morning to tell me that he had taken his new dog, Spanky, out for a walk and they found the bottom half of a deer leg lying in a yard. Yup, that was in downtown Chicago. He took it home for the dog to play with. Life is full of fun. Enjoy it to the fullest!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It Pays to be Ignorant

For those of you who aren't old enough to remember it, "It Pays to Be Ignorant" was a radio program, and then it moved to TV. It was a game show. The questions were so simple that the contestants probably felt stupid by giving the answers. But that was the whole idea of the program. Too many people, too many times try to make things complicated.

Success comes in simplicity!

I have gone through my life having people tell me (not always, but often enough that I have given it a lot of thought) that I am "simple."

I think it started back when I was in high school. I spent my entire summers teaching Vacation Bible School and counseling at youth camps with the American Sunday School Union in places that were too small to have a church building, so we often met in town halls.

On the weekends, the Bible college students from Minneapolis who were there for two weeks and I would go with the ASSU missionary to the church services in many of these little holes in the wall. I remember, vividly, one such Sunday when the missionary introduced the others with a bit of pomp and circumstance as they sang special songs, preached, etc. And then he said, "And now we have just plain Janet, who will give us a word of testimony. She's just one of us--a simple local girl." I didn't know if he meant it as an insult, or a compliment, or just plain didn't stop to think.

Quite a few years later, after having been in Venezuela as a missionary for 9 years, I was living in North Dakota. I had written my first book, Dunnottar, and while I waited (for 25 years) to get it published, I began to do magazine writing. It worked quite well. I have over 5,000 articles to my credit. Those magazines have all gone by the wayside, a result of technology, higher costs of printing, and the economy in general.

One of the magazines where I became a contributing editor was Heritage Quest Magazine. It was on genealogy. I had found my niche--or at least one of them. Over the 15+ years I wrote for them, I became good friends with the editor, Leland Meitzler. One day he called me, and I could hear the panic in his voice as he asked, "Have you seen the new magazine Writers' Digest is putting out? It is called Family Tree."

I told him I had just bought a copy of it but hadn't had a chance to look at it yet.

He told me why he was so worried. "Our articles are full of meat and they teach people a lot. The articles are so simple, we are going to lose a lot of our readers to them, especially those who are just starting out."

I asked him, "What do you intend to do about it?"

Without a second's hesitation, he replied, "We have to dumb down our articles."

"So I should take the articles I just sent in and dumb them down and send them back in?"

"No!" he exclaimed. "Your articles are already dumb enough." He hurried to explain what he meant, but it's a remark I've not let him forget.

When my first book came out, I was at home caring for my disabled husband. There was no way I could go out on book tours, speaking engagements, etc. I had just gotten a computer, so I was pretty computer illiterate. I had no training or experience in marketing. I just knew that I was dead set on making that book succeed! So, I began to experiment. The things I tried were so simple (by force, not by choice), but they worked. Before long, Dunnottar was the No. 1 best-selling Scottish book on Amazon.com (out of over 8,000 competing titles). I didn't even know what Amazon.com was. All I knew about it was that I had once been on a boat on the Amazon when I was in Venezuela, and I was pretty sure my book wasn't there.

Eventually, I had other books published. They now number 23, including a book on marketing (Promo Paks: Nearly Free Marketing for Authors).

The same thing has carried into my publishing experience. I have great admiration for those authors who adhere to the DIY (Do It Yourself) principle, but I don't know how to format a book, how to order ISBNs, create a cover, etc. I really have no desire to learn how to do that. I have found what works for me. After having a couple of disaster self-publishing companies take me to the cleaners, I discovered Star Publish LLC. Actually, they discovered me. I had gotten to know Kristie Leigh Maguire, who started Star Publish. She had approached me about working with them to help market their books. When my then publisher began to show signs of dishonesty, I decided it was time to join Star Publish as one of their authors. The experience has been wonderful. I am so glad they are there for me, to do what I need, so I can continue writing and marketing my books, editing books for other people, and let them do the things I can't and don't want to do.

Yup, sometimes, it just plain pays to be ignorant!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

God bless the USA

Remember when WalMart first started opening stores? They vowed that there would be nothing on their shelves that was not "Made in America." Someplace along the way, that promise got lost.

As we look around, trying to find American products, we hear Diane Sawyer on the ABC Evening News lamenting the fact that she could only find one place in the entire country, a small company in Georgia, that made American flags. The majority of them were made in China.

Recently, L. Losone Parmeter (Author of War Stories and Little White Lies, Lumberton and The Last Tear Drop) sent me the following essay on the subject of "Made in China." Please feel free to copy it from here and circulate it as widely as you would like to, but be sure to credit him for the fine job of writing he did on the topic. His email address is at the bottom of the essay, and he welcomes emails from people on the subject.
Also, I am dealing with this subject today on my weekly radio program, "Marketing for Fun and Profit." You can listen to it at http://www.pwrtalklive.com. Just click on my name on the list of hosts and tune in if you missed it live. I have several other things to say on the topic.

Thank you, and please, if at all possible BUY AMERICAN! We can, if we band together, make a difference.


By L. Lee Parmeter

As you read this article, it may seem like an old black and white science fiction B movie and any minute a sea monster will try to eat New York. No, there isn’t any sea monster but there is a monster that lives in the silent world of global merchandising. The facts are in evidence that Chinese products come into contact with our daily lives 24/7. I only touch on a few facts that are part of our everyday presence. The influence of Chinese products extends far beyond this short writing.
Sit back for a few minutes in your favorite chair and think what would happen to the United States in our day if everything made in China would suddenly disappear.
Every electronic communication device would disappear. No cell phone, I-pads, smart phones or cell towers would exist. No tweets, texting or voice mail. All Internet services would cease to exist. Of interest that is closer to the hearts of all electronic equipment users, there are no computers or peripheral devices that provide America with integrated intelligence and access to the international electronic world.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area where your telephone company uses old American technology and have some old phones in the house, you will get a dial tone on your land line when you pick up the phone. The modern telephone systems all are computer driven with Chinese technology and there will be no dial tone. If your phone service is via a cable modem, then there will be no dial tone as most of the products made for cable systems are made in China.
The cable splitters, line amplifiers and modems are all gone. It really doesn’t matter because there are no televisions to watch as 100% of televisions in America have Chinese technology.
What about cars? Most vehicles made since 2001 would stop running because of the integration of Chinese technology into automotive computers. The parts for the Buick automobile are made exclusively in China and assembled here. Buick is the most popular car in China and accounts for the recent sale of its three millionth Buick in China.
Ah, you say your old 65 Mustang was made in the good old U.S. of A. and it will still run. Didn’t you just install a new set of points and condenser when you did a tune up? Oh, well, it won’t run because the points and condenser are made in China.
This brings up the after-market automotive parts industry. They are wholly dependent on parts supplied by China from gaskets to new brake pads and beyond for your trustworthy made in America car or a new vehicle. You can’t buy American because very few automotive parts are made in America any more. Even if they were, the vehicles that distribute the products aren’t running any more.
You say you found your old points and condenser, cleaned them up a bit and the old 65 Mustang is running. You head to the local gas station and find it closed. The owner tells you that the credit card reader doesn’t work and the inside computer doesn’t work to control the gas pumps. He will take cash to hand pump 5 gallons and no more because some older cars are still running, and are lined up waiting for motor fuel.
You have only a few dollars on your hip but your main method of payment is either debit or credit card, so you walk to your local bank just down the street. The line is long but finally you are inside the bank when an announcement is made by the manager.
“We can’t access any of your account because the bank’s computer system and encrypted data base has all your personal and business account information. It is not retrievable and is lost somewhere in the ether-world of a malfunctioning Chinese computer system. We have no idea, if ever it will be corrected and we are truly sorry that we don’t have an American backup.”
Almost overnight, our entire economy is converted to a cash basis as no plastic can be used. Just what do you do when the bank has your money and won’t give it to you? There is no answer to that one. Perhaps it would be a nightmare repeat of black Friday in 1929 when the stock market crashed and the banks closed. Many people couldn’t get their money out of the banks. There is an empty and sick feeling in the pit of your stomach because you can’t get any money out of your account and your thoughts are “what am I going to do?” This scene is played out all across America for the victims of the Chinese intrusion into our lives.
You look in your back yard and see that your travel trailer and boat trailer don’t have any tires. It is too late to learn that all tires for trailers and boats are made in China.
Don’t go to Wal-Mart. The store is almost totally empty of all products from electronics, clothing, toys and daily use items. The largest retailer in America has closed its doors with all the products made in China gone from the well-stocked shelves. Every major store in America is suffering the same conundrum; all the Chinese products have disappeared from their shelves.
You can’t go outside because you won’t have any clothes to wear. You dig into you old duffle bag and come up with some old military garb to keep you warm. You know they were made in America. Most all clothing sold in the United States is made in China. Not all clothing is made in China but it certainly isn’t made in America. Look at the labels and you will find Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Korea, Indonesia, India, Russia and Bangladesh and many others.
What about shoes? In the past few years, China has been buying up shoe leather across the world to make shoes. What about those few companies that make shoes in America? Yes, there is one company but think about this. The thread used to sew the shoes is more than likely made in China as well as shoelaces.
This brings up another important issue about products made in America. Many tools and equipment used to manufacture American products are made in China. The light switch that turns on the light and the electrical outlets are made in China. In newer facilities much of the wiring that powers our industrial and commercial strength are made in China.
You are thirsty and go to your refrigerator that was made in Korea. It’s there in the kitchen, but not working because the electronics that control the operation are missing as they were made in China. There is water spilled everywhere. The bottles that hold the water were made from Chinese plastic and there is no water to drink out of the refrigerator.
Don’t think about going to a local casino to play a few slots. The gaming industry, nationwide, will no longer exist. If it is around Christmas time, you won’t have to worry about taking the tree down or putting up ornaments and decorations, they will all be gone.
I haven’t touched on the aspect of food, military, medical, commercial aviation, utilities, toy industry and law enforcement. You can visualize what would happen. The only area that isn’t affected that much are guns, as most are made in America or another country without a plethora of Chinese parts. Where will that lead our nation?
In a few short days we would be in the new “American Stone Age” with no way to sustain our national and global economy. What would happen to America without government or military control? Those stable elements are deeply affected by the role China has in our economy. At first, the influx of Chinese products was benign with a few items showing up on the shelves. The intrusion of these products is like an addiction or slow developing disease; we can’t help it or stop the influx as it has spread like wildfire all across America with no antidote available.
At least I can reach for my trusty box of “Made in America” tissues and wipe the tears of sadness from my face. The box is also gone, as I didn’t read the package “Made from domestic and imported material.” You guessed it; the imported material was from China. I tried to turn on my old “Made in America” lamp and there is no bulb. I had forgotten about the new-fangled light bulbs that were mandated by the infinite wisdom of our government, are made in China. The Federal Trade commission (FTC) has convoluted the usage of “Made in America” so badly that finding an article that is truly "Made in America" is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Every facet of our life is controlled by the consumer products that surround us and the services we receive for our well-being. Every minute of every day products that are made in China touches our lives in countless ways. If these products disappear, our way of life, as we know it, is gone forever, the America we know, and love will no longer exist.

There are many answers to the Chinese infusion of products and none of the answers are good or what we want to hear. Without exception, we have been placed in this inexcusable situation by the Sooth Sayers in Washington. They are all pointing their fingers at each other. Neither political side has opted to address the issue or even acknowledge it exists. Now it’s too late, but we all know that it is all about money and greed on both sides of the political arena and the oceans of the world.

L Lee Parmeter Author


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Thursday, December 27, 2012

An after-Christmas freebie

Click here to order the book
Katherine Ashe, a friend of mine from one of my favorite writers' groups, IAG--Independent Authors' Guild--is offering the first in her historical series on the Montfort at http://www.amazon.com on Dec. 29-30. The title of the first book is Montfort the Early Years, 1229-1243. As a reader, I love it when a historical novel is so real that you can't tell where reality ends and imagination takes over. As an author, I consider that one of my highest compliments.
Here is a list of the entire series:
Montfort the Early Years 1229 to 1243 (the free ebook)
Montfort The Viceroy 1243 to 1253
Montfort The Revolutionary 1253 to 1260
Montfort The Angel with the Sword 1260 to 1265

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Three Y's Guys

This was written several years ago for a church service in Grand Forks ND. I have resurrected it to read this year at the Christmas Eve service at Interfaith Bible Fellowship in Amberg, WI. That is one of my favorite services of the year. We have Christmas caroling, then a time where everybody can share their own special thoughts and talents. Some people share a reading (either original or one of their favorites), a musical number, memories of Christmases past, etc. It is almost like a talent show. So, I wanted to share this one with you, some of my favorite people--my friends, family, and readers. Merry Christmas to all of you.
By Janet Elaine Smith

The faded plastic angel perched high above the forest of cut trees. Deeply tucked inside was a matching creche, defying anyone to remove it. It had just survived a legal battle with the ACLU. It had a right to be there; the sign high above the building in the background declared “YMCA.” If a Young Men’s Christian Association couldn’t house the true symbol of Christmas, who could?

A smaller sign, hand printed, read “Y’s Men’s Christmas Trees: $20.00.” It was only ten days before Christmas and according to tradition, the price would be lowered a dollar a day from now on.

“Come on, guys!” the teenage boy shouted to his two buddies. “The coast is clear!”

They headed straight for the manger, not caring that they trampled the trees as they went.

“Come on, let’s take the baby and put him on the roof!”

Brian, the leader of the gang, tossed the little image to Mark, the youngest and smallest member of the group. “You’re the quickest,” Brian said. “The fire escape is out back. Go for it!”

Mark obediently ran to the back of the building and began to climb the ladder.

“Hey! Stop!” The cop seemed to come out of nowhere, but his blinding flashlight hit Mark square in the eyes, causing him to drop the baby Jesus to the ground.

Brian and Ricky ran—right smack dab into the cop’s partner!

“In a hurry?” he asked them, laughing. “Afraid you might miss Santa?”

“Ain’t no Santa!” Ricky said.

“And you ain’t no angel,” the cop said, still laughing. “Come on, boys. I think we better take a trip downtown. By the way, you guys got names?”

“Yeah,” Brian replied sarcastically. “We’re the three wise guys.” He tried hard to laugh, but Ricky and Mark didn’t join him in the joke.

The policemen helped the boys into the back seat of the squad car. They sat, silently, staring through the wire divider between them and the officers.

Brian rubbed his fingers against the palms of his hands. They had never been so sweaty. But, he had never been in this situation before. Oh, sure, he’d done plenty of things wrong. But this was different. This time he’d gotten caught.

“Okay, everybody out,” one of the cops said. He opened the door and poked Mark in the back, steering him toward the steps up to the police station.

At least they didn’t handcuff us, Mark thought. If anybody saw them…

Inside, an old gray haired policeman sat, gazing at them with daggers in his eyes.

“What’d you guys do?” he growled at them. They didn’t answer.

“Cat got your tongue?” he asked. “I said, what’d you do?”

“We stole the baby Jesus,” Ricky said, his hands shaking in front of him.

The policeman’s mouth dropped open. He sat, speechless, for several moments. “You stole the baby Jesus?” he repeated, shouting accusingly at them. “That’s the worst crime we’ve ever had!” He shook his head, clicked his tongue and reached for the phone.

“Judge Walker? It’s Joe, down at the station. I hate to get you out this late at night, but we’ve got three juvies down here I think you should take a look at.”

He listened while the boys glanced at each other. The image of a black-robed figure danced in their heads. It was not the Nutcracker Suite! In fact, it wasn’t sweet at all.

“They stole the baby Jesus,” the cop said.

The boys fidgeted. The old cop looked at them, shook his head again and said “He’s on his way.”

The judge, who looked more like Santa Claus than a scary legal character, studied the boys, his eyes moving from one to the other, then back again.

“Do you know what you have done?” he asked, his voice bellowing. Dead silence followed. “I asked you if you know what you’ve done?” he asked again, his voice even louder than before.

“We stole the baby Jesus,” Ricky said, not daring to look up.

“And what do you think God would think of that?” Judge Walker asked.

The boys had never given much thought to God, but this was a pretty good time to change that.

“And what about your parents?” the judge continued. “What will they say when I call them to come down here to get you?”

Brian’s face turned as white as new-fallen snow. If the thought of God scared them, the thought of his mother and father finding out what he had done was even worse. He didn’t know God, but he knew full well how his parents would react. He would be grounded for the rest of his life!

“I’m not going to lock you up,” Judge Walker said. “Instead, I want all three of you—together—to do one good deed for someone every day. You will have to report back to me in nine days—on Christmas eve. You have to have proof of what you have done.”

“Well, boys,” Judge Walker said, sitting behind his huge desk clad in his black robe. “How did you do?”

He did not seem at all surprised when they began to relate the acts they had completed during the last few days.

“We helped old Mrs. Green carry her groceries home the first day,” Ricky said.

“The second day we saw a little girl fall on the ice. There was a car coming right behind her,” Mark said.

“We got there just in time,” Brian said, a big smile on his face. “Boy, that was a close one!”

“The third day we shoveled the church sidewalks after it snowed,” Brian said. “Here, we got everybody to sign a note after we helped them.” He shoved a pile of little square papers onto the judge’s desk.

“The fourth day we took care of Mrs. Parson’s little boy while she took the new baby to the doctor,” Mark said.

“The fifth day we walked Mrs. Hunt’s cats. She broke her leg, so she couldn’t do it herself,” Mark said.

“Yeah! And she was so happy about it that she hired us to do it every day,” Ricky said.

“We didn’t think it would count if we got paid,” Brian said. “So the sixth day we walked the cat and then we went to school early so we could help our home room teacher.”

“The seventh day we went to the old folks’ home and visited a lot of the people,” Mark said. “I think they liked it.” He smiled as he said, “We only got ten of them to sign the notes.”

“The eighth day we went to the church and helped decorate it for the Christmas program,” Ricky said. “It looked real pretty.”

“Then we got to the ninth day,” Brian said. “We knew it was the last day we had to do something good, so we wanted to make it extra good.”

Judge Walker waited until they all started talking at once. “Hold on!” he said, banging his gavel on the desk. “One at a time or I don’t have a clue what you’re saying.”

“Go on,” Ricky and Mark said to Brian. “You’re the boss.”

“We took the money Mrs. Hunt had paid us and we bought one of the Christmas trees from the Y. You know, the “Y’s Guys trees.” He laughed. “See? I told the cop we were the three Wise Guys!”

“What did you do with the tree?” Judge Walker asked.

“We took it over to the juvenile center. One of the kids in school said they didn’t have one.”

“We didn’t get anything signed,” Ricky said. “We didn’t want them to know it was from us.”

“Now you know the real meaning of Christmas,” Judge Walker said. “It is not only giving, it is giving from the heart. Not because you have to, but because you want to. I’m proud of you, boys.”

“We asked the Y’s Guys—the other ones,” Brian said, “if we can help them down at the Y Center after school. He said they’d be glad to have us.”

“Yeah, they’re going to give us a membership so we can swim and everything!” Mark said.

“But we’ll be sure to leave the baby Jesus alone,” Ricky said. “I don’t think He needs our help.”

“I think He’s already got it,” the judge said, standing up and walking towards his chambers. “Oh, and Merry Christmas, boys!”

“Merry Christmas,” the boys said in unison.

As soon as the judge was out of sight, they looked at each other and nodded. Then, unseen, they took out a can of Lemon Scented Pledge and began to polish the judge’s desk.

If any of you would like to read this for your Christmas program, as long as you give me credit for it, please accept it as my Christmas gift to you.

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