School Bus Storm Shelter

The other day, I was chatting with one of my neighbors, and she was telling me how to find the hill that everybody in town likes to sled down when it snows. Since people around here use landmarks more often that county road names when giving directions, she referred to “the house that has the school bus storm shelter in the yard.”

I had to stop her. “Wait, what do you mean? What school bus?”

“You mean you haven’t noticed it?” she said. “They shoved a school bus into the side of the hill in their yard and use it as a storm shelter.”

I could not believe I had missed such a hilarious and ingenious feat of engineering creativity on a road that I travel every single day. On my next drive past, I quickly glanced down into the ravine beside the highway, and sure enough, there was the front of a school bus sticking out of the side of the hill. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. I wish I could get a better look, and I’d love to take a picture, but it’s fairly well-hidden on a treacherous curve. All you can get is a quick glance as you drive by at 55 mph. 

Here is a picture I found of a similarly stunning accomplishment:
Storm Shelter (1)

Now first of all, how would anybody come up with such a bizarre idea? Hey honey, what should we do with that spare school bus of ours? Oh, I know! We can shove it into the mountain and get in there whenever the weather starts looking dicey!

And then, once the idea is birthed, how does one accomplish such a Herculean task? It seems you would call in the bulldozers and heavy earth-moving equipment, dig a huge whole into the side of hill, put the bus in reverse and back in there, and then dump all the dug-up dirt on top of the rest of it. Except for the front part. And then, voila! Storm shelter! Complete with cushioned seats and a center aisle! I could be wrong. Maybe they used shovels.

I wonder what it would look like in there at the back of bus? Sort of like those last few scenes in the original Superman movie where Lois has that unfortunate run-in with the earthquake? Dirt outside the windows and all? I’d want to stay up near the driver’s seat, I think.

In all seriousness, I bet those people are the safest folks in town during tornado warnings. We Alabamians are especially sensitive to sirens and weather reports after what we suffered last April. But right down the road from me are people who actually get to climb into their Magic School Bus, nestled safely into the side of their hill, and wait out the storms.

We should all be so lucky to have a Noah-like ark on our premises, one that the townspeople might scoff at, but one that gets the job done.

Here’s to you, school-bus storm-shelter builders. I salute you.  May your days be safe and secure.


An Anonymous Gift

Yesterday, I received a gift in the mail from an anonymous Farris Wheel reader.

The DVD of Mr. Kreuger's Christmas.

How thoughtful of you, whoever you are.  Thank you, and merry Christmas!



Metal Flat Thing

It was the annual Dirty Santa game, a family tradition.

I know you’ve played it before. Everyone draws numbers. Number one, unfortunate soul that he is, goes to the tree, picks a gift, opens it, and number two can either steal number one’s treasure or open another gift from the tree. And so it goes, all the way down the line.

It is a game of difficult decisions. Do you settle for swiping one of the gifts that has already been opened? Or do you find out what’s behind Door Number Two? It could be a treasure! Like a wet/dry vacuum for the car! Or insulated hot/cold mugs! But then again, it might be one of those obnoxious singing animatronic animals. Like the turkey we got last year that gyrates with his guitar to “Feliz Navidad.”

Thus, I observed our family members sweating over their decision each time their turn came around. Some consulted with spouses and hatched convoluted, elaborate plots to steal/open/steal again in order to lay claim to the coveted lava lamp that was in circulation. Others bore the weight of the decision on their own shoulders, quietly wrestling in deep contemplation, making the rounds to check out everyone else’s gift – slowly – before finally, finally going to the tree to try their luck there.

One foil-wrapped present under the tree remained an enigma. Time and again, I watched as each player picked it up, shook it, waved it, lifted it, and frowned at it. It was long, flat, and flexible, like a saw, but rectangular. People would scratch their heads and speculate about what it might be, but no one really seemed interested enough to choose it. Or even care. It was too risky. Too strange. Other packages were prettier and brighter and more conventional-looking. The metal flat thing, or MFT, as it came to be called, was the most overlooked gift of Dirty Santa 2011.

As I watched all of this unfold, I remained rather indifferent about the available selection this year. I knew that it would soon be my turn to act. I held in my hand number ELEVEN. The highest, most sought-after number in the hat. I would have my pick of the entire array. But what to do? Steal somebody’s mugs? Or go for the last gift under the tree? The big question mark itself. The MFT.

sausagesI stood and looked over my options, the usual candidates – Hickory Farms summer sausages and cheeses, bath salts, Ghiradelli chocolates in a sleigh (quite tempting) – and then I went to check out the MFT myself.

Like everyone before me, I discovered it to be tin-like and wobbly. I really just wanted to put back under the tree and move on to a better-looking package. But there were no better-looking packages. I was number ELEVEN, and therefore, it was the last gift. It was in that moment that I knew I needed to just open it already, to end the game of stealing upon stealing, the game that can go on forever if you let it.

I settled back into my seat…carefully opened it…and behold…it was a Wizard of Oz street sign that said, “Follow Your Yellow Brick Road.”


But then came the important part. On the back of the sign was this handwritten message: “Follow your yellow brick road…to your sour cream pound cake.”

YES! Of course! The pound cake! The one perennial gift that gets fought over every year! A tradition instituted by my great-grandmother when she was alive. How had we forgotten about it? It always makes an appearance, and this year, it happened to be incarnated in the humble, unassuming, overlooked form of the MFT.  A treasure to many, a stumbling block to some, and an enigma to the rest.

How very appropriate.

The sweetest gift of all came in a way that no one expected.

Sounds like Christmas to me.


Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas

Lots of Christmases ago, there was an obscure, 30-minute Christmas special that aired on television called Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas.  Lest you think that it was a poorly-conceived holiday version of that horrific Freddy Kreuger guy of nightmarish fame, I feel compelled to tell you in my next breath that it starred sweet old Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Kreuger, and that fact alone should put all your fears to rest. 
I’ll be surprised if anyone remembers it.  It is the story of a humble, aged custodian who lived in the basement of the building that he cleaned every day.  Throughout the course of the story, he fell asleep several times in his apartment, dreaming of himself as wealthy in one case, director of a huge choir in another, and finally, in the most poignant scene, as someone who was present at the manger…not as a Bible character with a robe and a staff, but as old Mr. Kreuger himself, who haltingly says to the baby, “I’m Willy Kreuger.  I’m custodian over at the Beck Apartments….oh, but you know that, don’t you?  You know that.”   
Imdb.com reports the following about Jimmy Stewart’s performance:
James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, "I've got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn't need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one."
After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, "Did you get it?"
"I hope so," was the cameraman’s reply. "Because I was crying."
I watched this special when I was a child, and it made an impact on me.  The very idea of someone from present-day standing in front of baby Jesus and talking to him was profound to me, even then.  In the midst of expressing his gratefulness, his regrets, and his memories, the graying actor kneels beside the manger and delivers a wonderful monologue, as only Jimmy Stewart can.
Here he is, in his lesser known Christmas role.  The scene speaks for itself.  It’s just four minutes long. 


No Black Friday in Bethlehem

USA-RETAIL/BLACKFRIDAY Today, dear Farris Wheelers, we are going to contrast two days in history. Two very, very different days.

The first…Black Friday 2011. I don’t like the name. The stores are all “in the black” that day, so the term is supposed to refer to turning a profit.  But the name itself is neither pleasant, nor sunshine-y or rainbow-y. Not Christmas-y at all. For a day that has been christened in modern times as the “official start of the holiday season,” one would think they could come up with a name that is a little less…dark. Pinning the word “black” on a particular day has traditionally been reserved for disastrous times. But maybe that’s not so far from reality.

It has always been a big shopping day, but it seems to grow more rabid every year.

Especially this year. We have reached a new extreme.

The retailers are not even able to wait until 5 a.m. anymore. They simply could not refrain from pushing the envelope all the way back to midnight, as far as they possibly could without encroaching upon Thanksgiving Day. They say that they are just giving us what we want. But doesn’t your lovable pet come running to its food dish whenever you fill it up? If the food is there, he’s going to come and get it. He may be tired, he may be busy playing, but he just cannot take the chance of your other pet getting to it before he does. Survival of the fittest. Do whatever it takes. Get to that food dish in time.

I don’t think most Black Friday shoppers or employees really wanted to be in the stores at midnight. Notice the grim expressions in the above photograph.  But because the deals were there, they felt compelled to run out and get them.

Like these people. Who rioted in a Wal-Mart over $2 waffle makers.

And you probably heard about the shopper who used pepper spray to fend off the competition in the X-box aisle in Los Angeles, injuring 20.

And the Target employee who was rescued when she accidentally drove her car into a canal after working the midnight shift, due to exhaustion.

Stories of gunfire, robberies, and other strains of out-of-control behavior abounded.  Like that song that says, “In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile…”

Except on Black Friday.

I wasn’t there at the Wal-Mart where the waffle maker riot went down. But I can watch that video and imagine what it was like. A loud, stinky, rude, violent, disgusting, crowded, pushing, shoving, nobody-has-had-any-sleep, every-man-for-himself, get-out-of-my-way-or-I-will-destroy-you kind of unpleasantness. But hey, all those shoppers can now make waffles for cheap!

Something is wrong here.

Now let’s turn our attention to A.D. zero.

O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…

Still.  Ahhhh.  Blessed stillness.

All the Bethlehemians are in their beds. All tired and worn out from the census-taking. It has been a busy day, but the sun has gone down and the candles have been snuffed out. Shhhh. No all-night census work here. We’ll finish it tomorrow.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.

They’re sleeping hard. The exhausted sleep of a people who have waited…and waited…and waited for the One who would save them. A people who suffered under slavery and wandered for years in the wilderness. A people who were oblivious to the “time of their visitation.” And just as the stars had twinkled overhead every night for centuries, so they did again. But this night, one of them shone brighter than the rest.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

YET. That glorious, important word. All is calm, all is just as it had been for many years before.  All is bright. It was not advertised. It was not trumpeted. There were no multitudes breaking down the doors of the stable in a riot to see their new king. It was a quiet, everlasting light that took on flesh and entered Earth. A light that has always been and will always be.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

That first Christmas was different. It was not what it has become, and it did not mean what Black Friday means. It was the intersection of every emotion known to man. It was the trading in of all we had dreaded…for all we had longed for. It was the greatest, costliest gift ever given, the fulfillment of our deepest need.

And the darkness trembled in fear before a tiny infant who would change the course of history.


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