January 6, 2010

These Gifts Won’t Be Regifted



     This morning, January 5, 2010, I am enjoying writing in what I call my “kitchen-porch” (the eating area of our kitchen is a closed in sun porch), surrounded by windows from which I am viewing snow-laden trees and woods. Mixed in with the gently falling snow are occasional larger snow-chunks, falling off trees when there is a gust of wind, creating the appearance of a blizzard. The view is even more pleasant when birds come to snack on the feeders that I could reach out and touch if it weren’t for the glass window-wall.

     One of my two major writing projects for January is an after-life fiction short-story, based on the true 1673 of Thomas Cornell, who was convicted of murdering his mother, Rebecca Cornell, and hanged May 23 that year on Miantonomi Hill in Newport. To view a photograph of the hill, click on:

     My main resource for the story, to be included in an anthology, is the book Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell, a historical account written by Elaine Forman Crane. To view an illustration, click on:

     Having accepted this project in December, I wanted a copy of Killed Strangely. Not just any copy, but one a beat-up copy, one that I would not feel guilty marking up.

     Inept in using E-bay, I e-mailed my daughter, Sandy, asking if her husband, Michael, would seek a copy for me—one that cost little, one that is more likely to be “beat up.” Michael, who spends lots of time on E-bay, knows its ins and outs. So I was surprised when my computer challenged daughter agreed to do the E-bay search.

     Shortly, she called me. She had found a hardback book available from the Phoenix Public Library for $8.00—and it included free postage. The description indicated that it had “library markings.” Should she order it? I immediately said “Yes. It’s a good price without free postage, but with that freebie add-on, it’s a great price.”

     The book didn’t arrive in the promised two weeks, but it was the peak of the Christmas mailing season. I was patient—I wasn’t expecting to work on the writing until after the holidays. Expecting it to arrive before Christmas, almost three weeks from its order date, I joked with Sandy: “Just wrap it and make it a Christmas gift.”

     It arrived after Christmas.

     I offered to walk to Sandy’s house. She lives up the road and around the corner from where my husband, Monte, and I live in Laurel Mountain Borough (PA). Our back yards butt up against each other, and privacy is added by a set of woods. There is a path through the woods that my son, Nolan, and his wife Tammy, helped Monte construct. But with no streetlights in our little community, it can be intimidating to negotiate that path at night without carrying flashlights.

     But we’d just celebrated Christmas. Nolan and Tammy had presented Monte and I with a double floodlight to light the path. Nolan helped Monte mount it on the back of our garage. Its remote-control bulbs light up both ends of our path, eliminating the need for flashlights. We can now negotiate the path after dark even if our flashlight batteries are dead or our arms are laden with items we are carrying from house to house.

     Sandy said no, she would bring the book to our house, since I had just recovered from an extended cough and it was chilly outside. When I tried to pay her, she refused. “It’s a Christmas gift,” she said.

     I opened the package. Inside was a book that must never have been opened after it received its library markings (a call number on the spine, DISCARD stamped on the book, an identification number pasted on the title page, a sticker stuck inside the back cover). The book was even better than a newly purchased book. The cover was encased in protective plastic and firmly taped to the book, as only a library will do.

     Readers in Phoenix don’t know what they missed in not taking this book out of their library and reading it. I called the library and thanked them for the opportunity to purchase a book in such good condition.

      Unfortunately, I now have a new challenge. Killed Strangely is in such a good condition that I cannot damage it by writing in it. Does anyone reading this have a copy of Killed Strangely that’s beat up so badly that they want to “get rid of” it? I need a copy that I won’t feel guilty writing in?

     These were simple, yet thoughtful, Christmas gifts, from my children. Add to that a pair of foot-slippers, to keep my toes warm as I sit at the laptop, working on my Thomas Cornell story and knowing the temperature on the other side of these glass panes is twenty degrees or less. This was a thoughtful gift given to me by my other daughter, Kathleen.

     This is what Christmas is about. Spreading the love of Christ to people through relationships, whether it be a one-time encounter or the daily grind of living together. Relating to them. Observing them. And finally, identifying what the person who has everything really needs. And not running through the department stores on Black Friday or the remainder of the Christmas season saying “What can I get that person?” and picking up whatever is available just to fulfill the obligation of giving a gift.


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IN NEW ENGLAND, HISTORY CONFLICTS WITH PROGRESS (on the Thomas Sr. & Rebecca Cornell cemetery)





Two Photographers Named Cornell


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