Not Long Tales … December 10th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4448)

18.

Po-Tay-Gold

There was no advantage in being female.

Joni knew this for a fact. At sixteen years of age, she had spent her entire life living on a tiny settlement, stuck between Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The elements dictated your effort.

The climate decided your work

And the isolation made it virtually impossible to think about things like dresses and bows in your hair.

It was lift, push and survive. There wasn’t much more time or reason for anything else in this outpost which the original founders had named Sinsear. (These first pioneers might have found some humor in the name, but nobody left behind ever gave it a smile.)

Joni was an orphan. She wasn’t born that way. (Of course, no one is.) Four years earlier, her parents left Sinsear to travel to Portland in the Oregon state, to look for work on the docks. They never returned.

No one talked about it—partially because speculation was fruitless, possibilities were painful—and mostly because living in the harsh surrounding, there was just no time to care.

Joni was willing to pull her load. So she became the community pet, given a slender cot in the back end of the only municipal building in the region—a large log cabin.

She earned her keep the same way all the teenagers did. Of the three hundred and twenty-four people who still lived in the vicinity (that is, if the Hennings, with their six children, decided to stay) there were about sixteen teenagers. These adolescents were employed for one purpose. When the snow came—and the snow always did come—it was their job to keep the road to the mountain pass cleared, so the town deputy could drive his truck up the quarter mile to his lovely home.

He was the richest man in town. Unfortunately, his name was Baron Quigley. But he didn’t act like a baron. He was a pretty nice guy for someone who had too much when everybody else had too little.

Quigley paid this army of teenagers a dime a day each, to shovel out the road to his home after the snowstorms. A dime had become a lot of money since the Great Depression had spread all across the United States.

Joni once asked, tongue-in-cheek, “So, what makes this depression so great?” (People either didn’t get her humor or decided to ignore it. She never tried it again.)

It was 1934, and it was Monday, December 10th. Fifteen days ‘til Christmas.

Joni’s two constant companions were Cummings Johns and Darson Shakers. In a more civilized world, the two old fellows would be classified as ne’er-do-wells, but in Sinsear, they had both found their place. Cummings called himself a “moving mechanic,” and Darson was dubbed “The Gatherer.”

Cummings got his name because he came around to fix things, and as long as you gave him some food and permission to sleep in the warmth of your premises, he was happy to be of service. The same thing was true of Darson, whose title, “Gatherer,” referred to him pulling a small trailer in which he collected the community garbage. (No one knew where Darson took it. Most folks were afraid to ask.)

Joni had it figured that she was better off than most of the other people who lived in the U.S. After all, there was plenty of deer, moose and bear to shoot and drag home for food, lots of snow to keep things cold and tons of wood for a fire, to warm you up at the end of the day.

It was more than enough to survive—and when survival was the name of the game, wise people didn’t sit around and discuss improvement.

So it was a little surprising when a salesman appeared in the settlement, advertising the new “golden potatoes” from Boise, Idaho. He touted that these spuds were twice the size of the normal variety and he whispered to Baron Quigley and several of the men who had gathered at the cabin that “word had that the Simplot Potato Company had secretly inserted into fifty random potatoes one ounce of pure gold per each tuber.”

The sales fellow made the men swear that they would not say anything about it, but the men quickly broke their word, sharing it throughout the entire camp. For the first time in a long time, the gathering of human souls in Sinsear was buzzing with excitement. “Just think of it—a potato with gold in it! A Golden Potato!”

Matter of fact, that’s what they decided to call it.

And the sales rep had even more good news. In an attempt to help out during the Great Depression, the Simplot Potato Growers had cut their price. You could now get five pounds of potatoes for three cents.

Everybody had one thing on their mind: how do we get more potatoes?

The Golden Potatoes would obviously make a great side for the moose steaks and the braised venison—so it wasn’t like they weren’t gonna get used.

So everybody gathered all their pennies and wrote a letter to Simplot Potato Company, requesting a shipment.

Joni didn’t want to get left out, but she wanted to make sure her potatoes were separate from those of the rest of the order, so as not to get things confused when she found gold in one of the potatoes.

One ounce of gold was enough money to last the average person for nearly two years. How wonderful it would be to not have to shovel snow through a pair of winters!

Joni asked Darson and Cummings how she might be able to order her potatoes and keep them separate from the ones being delivered to the camp by the company.

“I don’t know,” said Darson curtly.

That’s the way Darson was. He began every conversation like he was ready to spit into the snow. Then he began to sweeten up as he talked.

Cummings was a little bit nicer—he actually did the opposite of Darson. He started off talking reasonably nice, and by the end turned as sour as a pickle.

Joni had learned to ask most of her questions when the pair of gents landed about in the middle.

Cummings objected. “Why do you want to separate off your potatoes from the others? What a selfish thing to do. You mean if you find gold in your potato, you’re not gonna share it with me, after all I’ve done for you?”

Darson interrupted. “What have you done for her?”

Cummings was offended. “What do you mean, what have I done for her? The little bother-bug is an orphan and I’ve never made her feel like she’s not wanted even though her parents left and haven’t come back.”

Darson shook his head. “Isn’t that what you just did?”

Cummings scratched his beard. “She knows what I mean.” He looked at Joni. “Don’t you?”

Joni smiled, shook her head and returned to her question. “How can I keep my potatoes separate from the mass of potatoes?”

Cummings suddenly had an idea. “Well, I suppose you could order them later than the others. Then they would come separate—but also, you’d be waiting and maybe the shipment that came to the town folk would be filled with gold and you’d be left out.”

Joni did not like that at all.

Darson spoke up again. “Can we all agree that potatoes without gold in them taste mighty good and are well worth purchasing, especially if you can get some of that good white gravy on ’em?”

Cummings’ eyes sparkled. “I do love me some gravy,” he said. “Gravy is God’s way of apologizing for tasteless food.”

“Amen,” said Darson, staying sweet a little longer than normal.

Joni was still not satisfied. “I make a dime every time it snows,” she said. “Now, figure this out with me. If I took that whole dime, I could buy me about fifteen pounds of potatoes.”

Cummings vigorously shook his head. “I don’t like math problems. I never learned no arithmetic.”

Darson jumped in with his agreement. “I’m with you there, brother. I’ve lived a long time, and honest to God, nothin’ adds up.”

The two men laughed like they were drunk. (Joni knew this because she had seen them that way many times.)

Convinced there was no more need to consult her two companions, she went off by herself to dream about Po-Tay-Gold.

She liked the name. It sounded promising. And since it was almost Christmas, she wanted a few moments of privacy to think about it. So she went to her cot in the back of the cabin and lay down as darkness began to fall, finishing the day.

She fell asleep.

Joni had a dream. It was more than a dream. It was like this really nice-lookin’ young man was standing in front of her, talking right into her face. All he said was, “You’re going to win the gold.”

Joni woke up so thrilled that she wanted to run and find Darson, or Cummings, or anybody, and tell them that God had spoken, and her prosperity was on the way. But it was already dark—not safe to be running around looking for people since it was that time of night when the creatures of the forest ruled over the prairie.

As she lay on her cot, nearly sleepless for most of the night, she decided it was actually a good idea not to say anything about her dream, except maybe to Darson. Well, Cummings, too. Wouldn’t want to leave him out. Maybe she could tell some of the kids while they were shoveling snow. She’d have to be careful. She wouldn’t want an old-fashioned, jealous spirit to fall on her and have people dislike her because she’d been favored.

While Joni lay sleepless, the heavens opened and dumped eight inches of snow all over the world around her. The only problem was, it was the wet kind, not the powder. Wet was more difficult to shovel—made her legs ache and her back creak. But she knew at the end of the day, she’d have her ten cents to order fifteen pounds of potatoes.

Much to her surprise, the potato people from Idaho decided to ship a whole bunch of potatoes in the direction of Sinsear after they heard that their salesperson was received quite well by the folks. So it was only four days later—December 15th—that a big shipment came in on a huge truck.

There were so many potatoes that people could buy more than they’d even ordered.

Inspired, Joni did something she’d never done before. She asked one of the boys who was on the snow-plow team—who usually criticized her for being too slow—if she could borrow a dime from him. (For some reason, he always seemed to have a little more coinage than the rest of the kids.)

He asked what she’d give in return. Joni had no idea what to say. So the boy came right out and told her that if she’d give him a big kiss on the lips, he’d loan her the dime.

Joni had never even thought about kissing. Just like wearing a dress seemed foreign, kissing seemed to be something done on another planet. She always wore Levi’s and her bulky wool sweater. They certainly didn’t make her attractive—at least she didn’t think so. Nobody had ever called her cute, pretty or even reasonably acceptable. Now this boy was willing to use her lips for collateral.

She was ready to say no when he leaned in and grabbed him a kiss anyway. Joni was shocked—offended. Her head was spinning. She wanted to curse but didn’t know the words. The boy just laughed at her, handed over the dime, and said, “You pay me back within two weeks or I get me another one of those.”

She stood, staring at him as he stomped away, giggling. What had just happened?

Yet, she was so proud of herself for being willing to sacrifice for her Po-Tay-Gold that she ran to the truck, which was surrounded by locals. She bought fifteen pounds of potatoes—almost so heavy that she couldn’t carry them. She took them back to her cot in the cabin, found an old knife that the Baron used to whittle wood, and started cutting them open.

She was about nine potatoes in when Darson stuck his head in the door, saw what she was doing and exclaimed, “What in the name of Geronimo’s bones are you doin’, girl?”

Joni didn’t even look up. She just responded, “I’m lookin’ for gold.”

Darson laughed. “But what are you gonna do with the potatoes when you’re done?”

Joni looked down at the carved potatoes and said, “I’ll offer ’em to all the folks and we’ll have a big potato bake.”

Darson nodded approvingly. “That’s good thinkin’. I’ll pass the word.”

By dinnertime Joni had cut open all of her potatoes. There was no gold. She had thought one of them might have gold in it, so she called Cummings in to confirm whether it was gold or not—since she didn’t know what gold looked like. But this particular potato felt moister. But Cummings explained that it was just rotten and seeping out some pukey juice.

Joni had carefully picked it up and threw it to the side, continuing her labor. So much carving, so much hope. No gold.

Matter of fact, other people from Sinsear had spent their early afternoon into the evening doing their own potato inspection. No one found gold.

People were a little bit fussy, but after a fire was built and a rack was constructed for roasting, and when the eating began, people cheered up a little.

Joni was concerned. She realized she couldn’t give up. That angel boy in her vision had told her she was gonna get gold. Why would God tell her a lie? And if He wasn’t a liar, then out there, waiting, was her gold.

After the great potato bake, Joni was ready to head for the cabin. She told Cummings, “I’m gonna keep looking for my Po-Tay-Gold. It’s here. Do you believe with me?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say, but nodded, so Joni ran with all her might to her bed, hoping for a sleep that would give her enough energy to plow the road to buy more potatoes.

Cummings came back to the fire. Darson was sittin’ there, chomping on a particularly well-cooked, yellow potato. Cummings said, “Joni’s bound and determined to find one of those fifty golden potatoes.”

Darson turned and looked at Cummings. “What?” he inquired.

Cummings replied, “You know—she wants to get money—gold.”

Darson laughed and laughed. He laughed so long that Cummings was almost ready to punch him in the snout. Finally calming down, he put his arm around Cummings’ shoulder and said, “Listen, my friend. You do understand, there is no gold in any of the potatoes.”

Cummings jerked back, shocked. “But the salesman told us there were fifty potatoes sent out with gold in them.”

Darson patted Cummings on the leg. “Now, just stop and think about it. How would they get gold inside a potato? They couldn’t cut it open. They couldn’t squeeze it in.”

Cummings looked at him, alarmed. “Are you sayin’ there’s no gold in any of the potatoes?”

Darson shook his head. “Not a nickel.”

“Then they lied?” Cummings shouted, surprised.

Darson hushed him. “Don’t be shoutin’.”

Cummings said, “But we gotta tell people.”

Darson shook his head. “Now, why would we do that? There’s no harm in buyin’ potatoes. They’ll get et. But there is plenty of harm in destroying hope just so you can be right.”

Cummings was mad. “Well, what about Joni? You know we love her.”

Darson frowned. “Well, I certainly feel somethin’ about her. I’m certainly devoted. Yeah, I guess I do love her.”

Cummings said, “Well, what should we do about her?”

Darson took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t do anything. Look at it this way, Cummings. She’s sixteen years old. She’s a girl living in the wilderness. She has to act like a boy, or she’ll be worthless. What should we tell her?”

Cummings stood up and excused himself. He was upset—so upset that he couldn’t sleep. In the middle of the night, he got an idea. When he had graduated from high school many, many years before, somebody had given him a brand-new silver dollar.

So Cummings grabbed a potato and very carefully slit open the side, and with the skill of a craftsman, he found a way to slide the silver dollar into the center of the potato. Then, to keep the slit from being noticeable, he took a little bit of glue from his workbench and smeared it to cover up the incision.

He was so proud of his effort.

The next morning, he told Joni he had found a potato that had apparently fallen out of her stack when she was carrying them in. He handed it to her, who sprouted a dark cloud of disbelief. Cummings encouraged her to cut open this potato.

She did.

There, at the center, was that beautiful, shiny silver dollar.

Joni was thrilled. She jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and started to head out to tell the people in the community. Then she changed her mind, turned back to Cummings and said, “Can you believe this?”

He shook his head, feeling proud that he had come up with such a magnificent idea, to satisfy Joni’s desire.

Before he could speak, as she jumped up and down, Joni exclaimed, “Now, I can order me about one ton—two thousand pounds—of potatoes! I oughta find the gold with that many, don’t you think?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say. It didn’t make any difference, because Joni had already run out the door, with plans for figuring out how to place her huge order.

Cummings stood to his feet, feeling it was his responsibility to track her down and tell her he had placed the silver dollar into the potato. Matter of fact, he was halfway down the street when he stopped in the middle of the road and peered up at the sun, thinking.

If he told her, it could break her heart.

If he didn’t tell her, it could also break her heart.

The only difference was that if he told her now, her heart would be broken immediately. If he waited, she would have a little big longer to be thrilled.

He turned and walked down the street to repair a busted pump. He would remain silent.

For the truth of the matter is, our visions will continue to be dreams as long as we keep believing in them.

Not Long Tales … December 3rd, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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17.

The Man Who Would Be…

Santa Claus.

A complicated simplification.

For he is a homebody with a flair for adventure and a generous soul with a mission to “nice up the naughty.”

A lowly toymaker with a vision for all the children of the world.

Reginald Carlson was a fan of Santa Claus. He was obsessed with the good saint from the North. It was usually the second thing he shared with any person he met, right after saying, “Fine. How are you?”

For twenty years, Reggie (as they called him at work) found his station in life in the backroom of the local post office, sorting letters that he hoped found correct destinations. But all day long, he would share, with whomever would listen, whatever he had recently learned about Father Christmas.

He studied books.

He read all the legends.

He had over two thousand pictures of Old Saint Nick in his personal possession.

For Reggie, rather than reaching an age when he ceased to believe in Santa Claus, not only continued to keep his faith in the icon but developed a hero worship—an everlasting sensation of sympathetic connection.

He wanted to be Santa Claus. There were three problems:

First, Reggie couldn’t get any skinnier if he were to fast for ten days. No, not an ounce of fat on Mr. Carlson’s frame.

He was also not bestowed with hundreds and hundreds of elfin assistants to aid him in his quest to bring a toy and joy to every girl and boy.

And finally, the traditional marshmallow-white skin envisioned for the toy-giver—well, Reggie’s was a bit more toasted.

But in the midst of one of his musings about trying to do something to become more “Clausian,” he came up with his idea:

North Poling.

It was a rather plain concept. Reggie envisioned selecting twenty small towns in his home state and finding a group of grown-ups in each locale who would become Santa Claus to their community by taking all the families in their little village who were unable to provide a solid Christmas for their children—and not only provide the toys and extras, but deliver them, wearing costumes, on Christmas Eve.

Reggie was so excited he could barely contain himself.

He shared the dream with everyone he knew, and though it seemed a bit farfetched to them, it had a bit of sparkle and nobility, which made each one promise to support and even participate.

Counting his hometown of Baskerville, Missouri, Reggie lined up twelve other communities within a hundred-mile radius and started writing letters. City councils, mayors, preachers, store owners…

He contacted charities and pursued government grants to procure the money for the yuletide venture.

Word of his efforts spread quickly, and some pictures of the first fruits of his gathering in Baskerville even went viral on the Internet.

He received an invitation from the television show, “Invest or Bust.” The program featured entrepreneurs with reasonable ideas, who presented their plans, trying to get money for their causes from the star of the show, who dubbed himself “Snarky.”

Snarky was hard to convince. He was prideful, cynical and had left many people in tears, walking away feeling foolish for having uttered their visions.

Things were going so well with North Poling and there was such a great level of intrigue that when Reggie received the invitation from “Invest or Bust,” he was reluctant to appear. But everybody circled around him, hounding him, for a whole week, until he nodded his head, called back on the phone and set a date for taping.

Meanwhile, Reggie had no illusions of grandeur. He didn’t need some billionaire from New York City to feed his hopes with cash. He kept promoting. He kept sharing. He kept believing and even started his initial planning.

By the time he headed off to tape “Invest or Bust,” there were ten communities which had agreed to be part of North Poling, with over a hundred volunteers. He was ecstatic. His faith in becoming Santa Claus was materializing right before his eyes.

So he took the trip to New York more or less as a lark. He imagined himself being the bearer of great news and receiving—well, overall, a vote of confidence.

But when the show was taped, Snarky, being particularly surly that night, attacked Reggie for his presumption, explaining that it was not only foolish and a waste of time and money, but that in a sense he was discouraging poor people from improving their situation. Reggie tried to defend himself, but Snarky kept up his attack, viciously snarling rebukes and repudiation.

At length, Reggie explained that he wasn’t looking for any money and really didn’t need Snarky’s approval. In doing so, he feared that he had come off angry and defensive.

Reggie was so disappointed with his appearance on “Invest or Bust” that he took an early flight home, only to discover that apparently the whole world had been watching.

The phone started ringing.

One after another, the small towns that had signed up for the project pulled out, stating that they lacked the money or some other lame excuse.

Snarky’s prophesy about the adventure being doomed was being fulfilled.

There seemed to be no encouragement coming in from the appearance in New York except one tailor from Los Angeles, who donated a red and white pinstripe Santa suit for Reggie to wear. When the garment arrived three days later, Reggie looked at the beautiful costume with a deep sense of futility. All that was left was Baskerville, which had shrunk to a staff of only five—to deliver toys to thirty-two households.

Then a sneaky, sinister statement began to circle through the community.

Reggie was trying to make money off the idea.

One of the volunteers asked him why he had so much money in his checking account. Reggie was shocked. How did this fellow know how much money he had bank? It was outlined to Reggie that “someone knew someone” who worked at the bank.

Reggie explained that he had no place to put the donation money that was coming in, or the few grants that had been afforded his way.

But it didn’t really matter what story he offered. The five Baskerville volunteers were really just looking for a reason to escape. They all deserted.

It was three days before Christmas, and all through the town, all the creatures were stirring, but no support was around.

Reggie was depressed. His wife and oldest son had cautiously stepped away. Oh, they still spoke their support, but whenever he brought up new ideas or asked if they would help him find more volunteers, they gently changed the subject.

The question hanging in the air all over Baskerville was:

What is Reggie going to do on Christmas Eve with what he’s begun if he has no one to help him. What will become of the money? What will happen with the toys? What will he do with the huge truck he rented for the evening?

The answer was simple: Reggie had no idea.

By five o’clock Christmas Eve afternoon, he sat alone in a rented warehouse, staring at presents which were already wrapped—with no place to go.

He was alone. Darkness was falling. The warehouse was chilly, with shadows were lingering across the walls. Reggie sat on a big box containing five bicycles—and started to cry.

After about a half an hour, weary of his own tears, he spoke aloud.

“I am not a religious man. I have nothing against God (if You’re listening). I just don’t like church—sitting for so long and ending up doing nothing. I don’t get it. I mean, if there is anything supernatural—if there is a spirit that causes Santa Claus to be real, why in the hell didn’t it show up? Is it because of me? Am I so stinky and dumb and meaningless that the idea has to wait for a better person to carry it? What did I do wrong?”

He continued. “Was it prideful for me to go to New York? Why couldn’t North Poling work? Even if it is a dumb idea, other dumb ideas work. Putting cinnamon on cereal kind of worked. I think it’s stupid, but it’s still out there. They messed up Coca Cola for a while, but people are still drinking Coke. And even when we have really bad politicians, no one gives up on the government. What happened?”

All at once Reggie raised his voice with a mighty thunder. “What in the hell happened?”

He heard a sound behind him and whirled around.

Standing there was Kathy Gillespie. She was one of the teenagers from the high school—a cheerleader. Reggie knew her because the school often sent her down to the post office to pick up specific packages that the principal wanted as soon as possible.

There she was, standing in the darkened room, frightened and shivering. Reggie foolishly stepped toward her. She jerked back, terrified. “I’m sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I didn’t know you were crazy.”

She burst into tears, turned on her heel and ran out of the warehouse. Reggie thought about chasing her but the image of a grown man tracking down a teenage girl in the night didn’t seem very promising. So instead, the middle-aged post office laborer loaded a few things into the truck, not certain what he would do once everything was in place. All he knew was that he needed to make a go of it.

And if he couldn’t finish it, he still needed to begin.

The truck was nearly loaded. He stepped out and walked down the ramp, and there before him was Kathy again—but this time, she had brought seven teenage boys and five teenage girls with her. Standing alongside them were what appeared to be six younger brothers and three little sisters.

Reggie didn’t know whether to defend his angry speech to Kathy or to simply allow her to share why she had returned. Was she going to try to get him in trouble? Had she brought friends to make fun of him?

Kathy, sensing his nervousness, spoke up. “I’m sorry I bothered you the first time,” she said sweetly. “I ran away because—well, because you seemed kinda nuts.”

One of the boys laughed but then covered his mouth. Reggie was about ready to speak when the girl continued. “The reason we came was that all of us here—felt that you got treated, well…you got treated…”

The biggest boy of the group jumped in. “Like shit,” he said in a basal tone. This caused everybody to laugh. Reggie even chuckled through his depression.

“Well, anyway,” said Kathy, “we thought it was terrible. I mean, all you wanted was to be Santa Claus to a bunch of kids who need one. If we’re gonna wait for answers to fly out of the sky, then a lot of people are going to go without.”

Reggie’s eyes filled with tears. He was sensing that something beautiful was about to happen. He needed to just be still.

Kathy, who apparently had been assigned as a spokesperson, went on. “Well, anyway, there’s only…”

She looked around at the gathered friends. “…about a dozen of us. Maybe more. But we’ve come out—by the way, with our parents’ permission…”

More laughter.

Kathy cleared her throat. “We’ve come out to help you deliver all the stuff in your truck.”

Reggie was beside himself with joy.

It wasn’t the army of toy givers he had envisioned.

It wasn’t the march of twelve communities in unison, providing for the needs of the less fortunate.

It was not the triumph of his childhood dream to become Santa Claus.

But it was something. It was something good.

Maybe the towns should have done better. Maybe Snarky could have been kinder. Maybe…

But this Christmas, it would be the children doing the leading.

It would be those who were young caring for their young friends who didn’t have enough.

There was something heavenly about it.

It took the better part of the night. Some households were happy to see the truck arrive. Others felt put out because of the lateness of the hour.

It didn’t matter.

At exactly 4:02 A. M., they delivered the final wrapped present—this one was for the McCaultry children.

They were done.

Reggie put all his helpers, his elfin assistants, into the back of the truck and drove to a restaurant about ten miles away and treated the whole entourage to breakfast.

Stories, laughter, tears, jubilance.

The owner of the restaurant was so impressed by what this quickly-put-together committee had accomplished that he gave them their morning eats for free. Reggie was speechless.

In its simplicity, North Poling worked.

Maybe trying to do something big was the opposite of Santa Claus.

Maybe trying to get the whole world involved and failing was why we needed a Santa Claus in the first place.

When Reggie arrived back at the warehouse and parked the truck, the kids all got out, hugged, and then turned to head home.

Reggie watched them walk away. They probably always had been good kids—but now they were good kids who had done something good.

Reggie learned a lot that Christmas.

Mainly, Reggie learned that being Santa is a hard row to ho-ho-ho.

 

 

Ask Jonathots … November 19th, 2015

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I am a working woman, a wife and a mother of two teenage girls–one age 13 and the other 14. I have just come to an odd realization: my girls are brats. We have spoiled them. They don’t appreciate gifts, they demand the newest everything and I see trouble coming in spades. Sometimes I don’t even like them. I feel like I’m in this alone, especially since my husband thinks I’m blowing everything out of proportion? What should I do?

First and foremost, let me explain that if you did not go through a moment or two as a parent of thinking your kids are brats, you probably can be declared legally insane.

We have a source problem in this country. What do I mean by that?

We buy products, we see end results and we view the culmination of effort… without ever having any idea on the source of how it came to be.

Your daughters are not brats, but they are completely unaware of the effort that goes into the events and conveniences which they now take for granted.

In earlier years, when families lived on farms, young kids were not better than they are today, but they had to go to the barn and grab a cow teat if they wanted milk for their cereal. They had to go out into the field, plant seeds and hoe weeds if they were going to take a product to market in order to acquire the pair of shoes for which they yearned.

It wasn’t a better time but the system took you from seed to corn, from cow to milk and from chores to completion, when playtime could begin.

I’m suggesting you create that environment for a season, so your daughters will be aware of what goes into making a meal, what is involved in paying bills, how a car is maintained, and what people have to do to make sure that the Big Mac has special sauce.

Take your girls back to the source.

There are many farms in this country where you can go pick your own berries, or you can go to a fish pond to catch a fish to bring it home, scale it and fry it in the pan.

Your girls are victims of a society which expects perfection without ever seeing the trial and error.

Now, they will be reluctant to do anything since they are teenagers, but if you wade through their bad attitudes and throw them into the waters of discovery to learn to swim, they will gain a whole new appreciation…for what it takes to turn a cow eating grass into a cheeseburger.

 

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Mr. Kringle’s Tales … 26 Stories ‘Til Christmas

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Untotaled: Stepping 43 (October 14th, 1968) No Joe… December 6, 2014

  Jonathots Daily Blog

(2435)

(Transcript)

A coffee-house.

I’m not talking about Starbucks.

In the fall of 1968, our church decided to start a coffee-house, where young people could gather under dim light, listen to music and become as contemplative as teenagers can get.

It was very popular for a season.

Ours was held in the church fellowship hall, which required a lot of decorating but still demanded tremendous batches of imagination.

I was put in charge of the event. I wanted to do something special.

So I drove into the city, went to Radio Shack and purchased a black light bulb. It wasn’t very powerful, but in a small area, it could make everything shine with brilliance.

I decided I was going to sing the song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and at the end of the tune, flip on the black light, illuminating a full-sized figure of Jesus.

I went to Bennett’s Department Store in our town–really just a little hole in the wall–and asked them if they had a mannequin. They did. It was a female one, but I felt if I put a beard on this chick, I could turn her into the Christ.

I also went across the street to the rich lady who was so wealthy that she bought all of her clothing through catalogs from New York, and acquired a long, brown wig.

I sewed–yes, sewed–a robe, and then donned the mannequin in the outfit, put on the wig and the beard–and to me it looked like Jesus. Maybe a metrosexual Jesus.

I was in the middle of preparations when the pastor and his wife came in, saw the mannequin and just about lost all of the Holy in their Ghost. They explained that I could not use the mannequin–not because it was feminine–but because the Bible says “we are not to make any graven images.”

I listened, using my most subservient profile, fully aware that after all this work, I would do it anyway.

Sure enough, when I finished the song at the coffee-house I turned on the black light bulb and it beautifully lit up my graven image, as gasps filled the room.

The small group of friends and attendees burst into applause. The response was so good that Mr. and Mrs. Pastor didn’t say anything to me. But from that point on, I was supposed to clear all activities through them.

I didn’t.

Now some people consider a stubborn, willful teenager to be a “criminal in training. ”

Other folks think such behavior is a sign of “budding promise.”

Since I am neither a criminal nor particularly “budding,” I just think that teenagers have the unique benefit of sniffing out stupid rules … and challenging them.

 

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Untotaled: Stepping 29–(October 28th, 1966) Soaping… August 30, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2337)

(Transcript)

Halloween always brought out the “ween” in me.

I was never particularly fond of monsters, and dressing up like Superman, with my chubby physique, was inevitably comical.

On top of that, my hometown called trick or treat “Beggars Night.” It made me feel like I was running through the streets of Calcutta with my gunny sack, bringing provision home to my family of untouchables.

I think the worst experience was when I was seven years old, decided I wanted to be Casper the Friendly Ghost, and my mother discovered they didn’t make the costume of the gregarious apparition in any size except medium. Needless to say, I wasn’t a size medium, and the manufacturers never envisioned a 142-pound seven-year-old. Yet I was insistent, so my mother took scissors and trimmed it up so I could slide it on, but as I walked from house to house, it continued to rip where the scissors began, transforming me from a friendly ghost into a “holey ghost.”

I was grateful when I outgrew the experience.

That is, until my friends decided they wanted to go out for Halloween–soaping. It was a common practice of the time. Bored teenagers took bars of soap, snuck around town smearing messages on the windows of cars and homes, giggling and feeling rebellious to their Midwestern in-house imprisonment.

Four of my friends decided to go on such an escapade and invited me, so we bicycled to a deserted garage just outside of town to practice before we went out on the actual adventure. We bought bars of Ivory Soap (simply because it was 99.44 % pure).

I was so nervous that I pushed too hard on the window pane at the warehouse and it broke. This concerned my fellow Musketeers, so they decided to uninvite me so as not to be deemed vandals in their pursuit of cautious rebellion.

So I sat at home on Halloween pouting. Not even seven Milky Way bars could alleviate my suffering.

The next morning I discovered that my friends got caught on their ninth house, and the constable levied a punishment by placing their pictures in the newspaper, and made them wash all the windows they had desecrated.

Honestly, I didn’t know whether I felt grateful for getting out of the retribution or a little sad because I wasn’t one of the cool guys who had a story to tell.

So I guess I need to close this off with some sort of moral. And that would be, there are just some things that go together:

  • Salt and pepper
  • Love and marriage
  • Congress and confusion
  • And soap and water.

So be prepared–if you’re going to use your bar of Ivory, you might want to be aware that you’ll probably end up … washing.

 

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The Sermon on the Mount in music and story. Click the mountain!

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Stepping Away… October 19, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2041)

church popscicleElder Ralph was working on a crossword puzzle he had hidden in his Bible.

Deacon Dan was dozing on the third row.

Martha, the church piano player, was thumbing through a Life magazine.

The teenagers sitting around me were passing notes, giggling and trying to time their levity with the jokes infrequently being offered from the pulpit, as Pastor Norm continued to preach on a subject matter which no one seemed to care about.

Suddenly in the midst of this ongoing Sunday night antipathy, it struck me. It was so phony, so contrived and so meaningless to my sixteen-year-old mind.

I quietly rose to my feet, moved past a few of my friends and headed toward the back of the church. Everyone thought I was going to the bathroom. Some people probably thought I was headed to the fellowship hall to see if there were any treats to eat after the service. But actually, I passed on both of those opportunities, headed out the door and walked home. Even though I still believed in God, I had lost confidence in the system that was arranged to represent Him.

For three months, I stepped away.

  • I didn’t go to church.
  • I didn’t stay in contact with the people.
  • I also didn’t go out, get drunk, smoke grass and curse the heavens because of my disillusioned condition.

Various emissaries from the conclave of the righteous were sent to me during the ninety days to tell me how I was missed or what I was missing or how it was absolutely necessary for me to be there–otherwise I would fall into iniquity.

I joyously ignored them.Up the Down Staircase

Instead I took my stepping away hiatus to accept a role in a play at the high school, as Joe Ferrone in Up the Down Staircase. I also worked on my piano playing, which had become as rusty as my Grandpa Ford’s barn door latches, and I practiced singing. (I had convinced myself I was a bass, but actually had enough range to be a tenor. Why not both?)

During my stepping away period I discovered I could do things–yet realized they were more fun when I was tapping the mind and spirit of God to achieve them.

Eventually one of my friends from the youth group came to see me and said, “Jonathan, you may not need us, but we need you.”

Those were the magic words.

It wasn’t an issue of ego–it was the fact that I could no longer attend church because I was afraid not to. I couldn’t go to church because it “made me a better person.” And I didn’t want to go to church to fake it, in order to get heavenly tickets.

I took my newfound drama talent, my expanded singing and my better piano playing back to the “house of people”–to simply enjoy my heavenly Father.

I stopped looking around the room to see what Elder Ralph, Deacon Dan, pianist Martha and all the other kids were doing.

When I disagreed, I chose to simply live differently. And if it got boring, I challenged the ideas.

That three months of stepping away sowed the seed of the man I have become. It was a season of time when I realized that I don’t need to be in church to find God.

But the church needs me ,,, to make sure we don’t lose Him.

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I’m Looking For… A Content God February 4, 2013

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handsGrouchy, grumpy and growling–three attributes we associate with being cantankerous and therefore, usually equated with getting old. Actually, teenagers can be just as grouchy, grumpy and growling as the retirement set, but apparently the younger generation has a better public relations agent.

I believe in God. I belive in God for three reasons:

  1. The world is too magnificent, too intricate and too well-devised to be an accident of a “Big Bang” idea.
  2. I need someone to love me as I find ways, through trial and error, to be more loveable.
  3. I am arrogant enough to desire immortality.

Now, you will notice that I don’t choose to believe in God simply because the Bible tells me so, that I am fearful of the power of His nature, or even because I’m frightened of a devil’s hell. No–I’m looking for a God who’s content–because I know that I’m better when I allow myself to be.

Unfortunately, that book called the Holy Bible presents at least three different Gods, if not more:

  • There’s the God who created the world, walking around like a proud papa, calling everything good and placing gold stars on daily assignments.
  • Then you’ve got the God who had some sort of faith crisis own and began demanding the foreskin from male children, the deaths of the Amorites and Philistines, the forbidding of shrimp scampi and the killing off of folks in Sodom and Gomorrah because…well, because they weren’t right in the head. We go through a season of this God, who seems to be enamored of blood, requesting that small animals be killed as confirmation of forgiveness, and relegating women to the status of cattle.
  • All of a sudden, some of the prophets from the minor leagues started sharing about a God who didn’t like killing animals and preferred mercy over sacrifice, and this carried through until we were given a live and in-person interview through the deeds and ideas of this fellow named Jesus. We were told that he was God. Suddenly back in our presence was a God who cared about people, told stories, condemned hypocrisy and welcomed repentance.

Recently I told a theologian that I was in search of a “content God” who was thrilled with the invention of fish in the ocean. He frowned and replied, “All the gods of the Bible blend into one God, who was all things and whose ways are mysterious. We will not understand until all things are revealed.” I looked into his dissatisfied face (which was grouchy, grumpy and growling) smiled and walked away.

You can feel free to boil down the entire Bible in an attempt to come up with a God who was able to kill children because they mocked a prophet but also heal the lepers because they cried out in praise. Not for me.

My God is a content one–because I know that I’m better when I am content. My God is the one who sat down on Friday afternoon, during his “week” of creation, and looked at man and woman, which He had just formed, and smiled in joy–with a tear in His eye.

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