Christmas Past

Writers’ Trigger:

Visual triggers work well as prompts. One of my favorite visuals is an empty bird-cage. The cage door is open. The image might suggest a missing bird, or it might be a metaphor for someone in search of freedom.

Years ago, I had a pair of nesting canaries. The male did not sing. Annoyed at my non-performing bird, I asked another bird fancier for advice. “Your problem,” he said, “is you have the male and female in the same cage. If you put them in separate cages, the male will sing for the female he has lost.”

Once I understood the dynamic, I gave the canaries away. Keeping the canaries separated seemed perverse. Like Maya Angelou, I had learned why the caged bird sings.

I took the picture below in the Sierra Tejada above Competa, Spain. A dozen empty bird cages hung from the trees. Seven months have passed and I am still thinking about the symbolism. 


  • Build on the image of an empty bird-cage. Write about flight or escape.
  • Consider using the empty bird-cage as a metaphor for…


As I consider this post, the day before the night before Christmas, I think of what I might say concerning the season. I should say something ecumenical… something that honors the season but offends no one.

The best I can do is retell the story of my days as a personal shopper for G. Fox- New England’s premier department store in Hartford, Connecticut. Living on a tight budget myself, I loved spending other people’s money.

A typical letter would read: “Dear Jean,  Aunt Elsie is 87 and lives in a nursing home. I can’t imagine what she needs or would want. Please buy her something. Don’t spend over a hundred dollars. Chargthe e it to my account.”

If G. Fox didn’t have an item requested, store policy dictated that Jean Sawyer would find it for you. (The Jean Sawyers came and went. I was one in a long line of women who had gone before.) And so I might receive a letter that read “Seven years ago, I bought Spanish leather gloves in your store. The gloves were black- the stitching red. I need another pair. Size 9.” If we no longer carried that particular glove, I was authorized to leave the office and shop elsewhere. My job was to find that glove, put it in a G. Fox box, and send it off. The customer was truly king.

A few weeks prior to Christmas, I received the following letter: “Dear Miss Sawyer, Please send me a tin of shortbread; a pound of your best coffee; a pair of pink slippers, size seven; and a girl’s, red, cardigan, size 12.” And tucked into the faded stationary were ten, worn, one-dollar bills.

Unable to buy the gifts with the money that the customer had sent, I went to my boss, Mr. Sapienza. I explained the situation, and he smiled.

“She is one of our oldest customers. She has lost touch with the value of a dollar. Buy everything she asked for, add a box of chocolates, and write her a nice note.”

I love this story. The years have passed, but the memory is as warm today as it was some 40 years ago. Generosity of spirit – that’s the thing.



About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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