The Santa Claus Caper

My old man was a hoot. Everybody in the neighborhood said, “Tom Pickering does have one heck of an imagination.” The thing was that his inventions seldom worked. His imagination seemed to be larger than his abilities.

There was the bicycle he believed would fly. He believed it so much that he rode it off the roof of our two story house. All the neighborhood saw it and there were those who shouted, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane.” When my Dad and the bike crashed through our neighbor’s first floor window, they were sure it wasn’t Superman.  Dad landed on Mr. Adams as he was trying to get some shut eye after a long night’s work. Needless to say Mr. Adams was not pleased and neither was the bicycle.

But Dad was no quitter. He had just the right thing he thought would get him into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. An underwater car. It was a Saturday afternoon when he drove the Chevy off the pier. Little did Dad know that the water was deep. Very deep. So deep in fact it could have made the Challenger Deep look like a sinkhole. Down, down, down the car went as its engine stalled, then stopped. It had putted its last putt.

It was then that Dad realized he had forgotten one essential piece of equipment if you want to travel underwater. He forgot oxygen tanks. Fortunately there were three scuba divers who followed Dad into the water. It took several minutes for them to make the jailbreak out of the car. It’s a good thing that Dad was a deep breather.

Then there was the time Dad went about saving Christmas. At least for my kid brother, Jimmy. It was the year I told him there was definitely no Santa Claus. The whole thing was made up.

At first, Jimmy didn’t take my word for it. Then several of the the kids in his school  confirmed my testimony. They too told him there was no Santa. Jimmy did the math. He added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. He was nowhere near having an answer how Santa and his reindeer made it to every house in every country in the world on Christmas Eve.

When Dad saw Jimmy with qualms of disappointment on his face, he knew he had to come up with a solution to the Santa Claus issue. He remembered way back when he was young. A similar thing had happened to him. Only it wasn’t a kid. It was Old Mr. Creepers next door. He wanted to make Halloween the biggest holiday of the year. There was only one way that was possible. He had to take down Santa Claus.

That year Santa missed Dad’s house. All because he doubted Santa. Now Dad was determined that was not to happen to his kid. His solution: he would appear on our roof as Santa, then slide down the chimney with a bag of goodies.

Now Dad had the heft of a Santa and he carried it with grace. Six weeks before Christmas Eve, he began the preparations for what he called “the Santa’s Caper.” He went down to the local Santa store and bought his fake beard and his fake hair and his suit, which was not fake. And he did not cut corners. Only the best for his little Jimmy.

When Mom got a clue to what Dad was up to, she asked, “You fool, how are you going to get down that chimney?”

“Oh, it will be a tight squeeze. But I have the perfect solution. Grease.”

Mom shook her head, knowing there was no changing his mind. “Just be careful and please don’t break the chimney.” But she gave him that worried look. With Dad, what would go wrong would go wrong. So much so that she had taken to calling him Murphy behind his back

Christmas Eve came. Jimmy and I were sent to bed early with a “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”

Though we absolutely knew there was no Santa, still we were taking no chances. By ten p.m. we were in our beds, pretending we were zzz-ing off to Never Never Land. Despite our best efforts, we nodded off. Then we heard a noise on the roof.

It wasn’t a clatter we heard. It was more like a bomp. One thing was sure. Santa was making his rendezvous. It was a definite that he was on our roof. Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! went Santa’s boots.

We jumped out of bed and hurried to the window. No sleigh on the lawn. Rudolph must be on the roof. Along with Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. We just knew it.

But it was not Santa. It was Dad. And he had spotted his target. The chimney.

All dressed up in his Santa suit, he lugged his bag over to the chimney. He sat down on the chimney’s side. With the bag lifted over his head, he gave himself a push. As he shoved off, he heard a giant ripping sound. His red pants had caught on a nail. The nail tore not only his pants but his bright red Santa underpants with white Rudolphs on the bottom as well.

That night gravity did its mighty work. Down the chimney went Dad and his bag. Until he didn’t. Like a balloon blowing up, Dad filled up the chimney, then stopped half way down.

Mom took out her flashlight and pointed it up the chimney. What she saw made her throw herself onto the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

In all the history of Santas, this must have been the first time Santa found himself unable to reach the cookies and milk. The grease had not worked.

Jimmy and I rushed into the living room. “Where’s Santa,” we screamed in unison.

“Boys, go back to bed,” Mom said. “Otherwise Santa won’t come out of that chimney. And there’ll be no presents. Right, Santa?”

From the chimney came a muffled voice that was half Santa and half Dad.”Ho, ho, ho. Listen to your mother. Moms are always right.”

“Okay, Mom,” we said, disappointment in our voices.

We left the room and closed the door, but we were not about to go back to bed. We’d be kicked out of the All American Kid Society if we did. We took turns peeping through the door.

Somehow Dad squeezed himself almost to the floor of the chimney. His black boots were about three feet in the air. If you’ve never heard a man cry, you would have heard a man cry that night. “What was I thinking.”

“You weren’t, as usual,” Mom gave him one of her what-fers.

“Well, can you give me a hand?”

Mom grabbed onto Dad’s boots and gave them a tug. “Ouch,” the chimney said. The boots dropped onto Mom’s foot..

“Do you still have those rockets you bought for the Fourth of July?” Mom asked.

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to stick them up your rear end and send you into the Great Beyond. Otherwise it will be the waste of a perfectly decent chimney. Why do you ask?”

“No.” The chimney was emphatic. “Absolutely not.”

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

For years afterward, my family called this horns of a dilemma The Horns of a Dilemma.

Behind the slightly open door, my brother turned to me. “Where’s Dad? He could get Santa free. He’s smart like that.”

I just didn’t have the heart to tell Jimmy where Dad was.

Then a thud. And not just any thud. It was The Thud.

Mom’s eyes and Jimmy’s eyes and my eyes shot to the ceiling and the footsteps. Could it be?

Of course, it was.

From above, we heard a deep bass voice. “Fool, get out of my way.”

Dad dropped to the chimney floor and crawled out, his suit all in tatters. Behind him were a pair of boots. They stepped over Dad and into the center of the living room. There was a glow about The Man. He wore a suit of the brightest red I’d ever seen. I swear the white beard shined.

Mom rushed over and grabbed the glass of milk and the plate of Oreos. She timidly handed them to The Man.

He looked at Mom and smiled and took the refreshments. He gulped them down, then headed for the work of the night. The Christmas tree.

Frozen in our places, the four of us watched. He set his bag on the floor, reached up and adjusted the star and several of the ornaments. Then he opened his bag. He looked over at Jimmy and nodded. “This one is for you.” He placed the large gift under the tree. “For believing.” Next came my gift, then Mom’s.

Finally he looked over at Dad. Tears were in The Man’s eyes. “Thanks for the help.” Out of the bag came a very small package. He placed it under the tree, giving it a bit of extra care as he did.

In a flash, he was back at the chimney and up on the roof. But he wasn’t done. Back down the chimney he came. Standing before us in all his glory, he said in that deep deep voice of his, “I forgot.” Then he sent us a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

From our toes to the tippy tip top of our heads, our bodies filled with joy and love and peace and hope.

“And one final thing. Merry Christmas and a very good night.”

On the roof, we heard, “Peace on  earth and goodwill toward men.” Then he disappeared into the night, heading onward to fulfill the mission he has been on for centuries.

And now, from Uncle Bardie, Merry Christmas to one and all. May you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday this year. And one final thing. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone.”

The house off the Via Dolorosa

Happy Easter to all my Christian friends.

It is a late afternoon in Jerusalem when I turn off the cobblestone Via Dolorosa onto a little side street and there it is. The smell of cooked meat from the animal sacrifices in the Temple fills the air. Soon I come to the door I’ve been searching for. A wooden door with the sign of a fish above it. The house behind that door is the home of the Mother of Jesus.

During Herod Agrippa’s recent persecutions, many of the faithful left Jerusalem. These included Mary. Though she wanted to stay in the City, the Apostle John, the disciple Jesus charged with her welfare, sent her away. In Nazareth, she had family and she would be safe there.

A week before the fifteenth anniversary of our Lord’s Crucifixion, our tribulations ended. Agrippa was dead. We faithful started returning to the city. This became obvious by the number who gathered on the Mount of Olives for the sunrise celebration of the Resurrection some weeks earlier. His Mother was one of them, and now her door is open again to her Son’s followers.

I knock. A small woman opens the door.

“Who is it, Salome?” a booming voice calls. Peter, a large, balding man, sits at a table across the room, surrounded by three other men. “Not a temple spy I hope. Caiphas and his prying eyes.” Then he laughs.

“Just a traveler,” I say, “seeking some good company and a place to shake the dust off my feet.”

“Enter, friend,” another calls over to me. His name is John and his eyes burn with the bright light of his Master’s love. “You are most welcome in this house.”

“Take off your shoes,” Salome says to me. “This is a holy place.”

I remove my sandals and set them by the door as the others have.

“Sit, friend,” another man says, looking over me with eyes that remember Emmaus. This large, burly man with the gruff voice is Cleopas, a former Zealot.

I join the four men, Peter and John, Cleopas and Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, at the table.

“Perhaps,” Cornelius says, hope in his eyes. “Perhaps this will be the year of His Return. On the anniversary of His Ascension?”

Mary, the one called Magdalen, walks over and pours me a drinking bowl of red wine. Suddenly I realize how thirsty I am. As I drink, Salome kneels and washes the dirt off my feet.

Across the room, I notice another woman dressed in blue, the woman I have come to see. Though her face and hands are wrinkled and her hair white, the woman in her mid-sixties has a calm peace on her face. And the room glows with her tranquility, her stillness. She is the Mother of Jesus. This coming summer she will pass from this earth and join her Son. But this late spring evening she is here, and I have a chance to enjoy the hospitality of her house as I eat her bread and sip her wine.

She sits in her chair, her hands resting on her lap, a gentleness on her face, gentle yet revealing all the suffering she has known. There she tells her stories and I am comforted.

“He who dwells,” she says, “in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. And I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust’….If you make the Most High your dwelling…no harm will befall you.” Then she folds herself inward and meditates upon all that she has known.

After a long pause, she ends the evening with these words: “Maranatha. Come, Lord, come again.”

Dostoevsky’s Last Night

Tomorrow’s Dostoevsky’s 200th birthday. Here’s a story to celebrate.

A man about to die. It focuses his mind on what is important: How cold it is in the cell of the condemned.

Fyodor lay on the hard floor, folded into a fetal position to keep warm, his blanket under him to steal his body from the cold stone. The other prisoners did not talk of the justice they had worked for, schemed for, plotted for, some of them for years. They shivered in the cold cell, pulling their light blankets over them. They discussed the best way to be executed.

One said, “I prefer hanging.” His teeth were chattering loudly.

Another said, “Not me. Give me a firing squad.”

Still another chattered, “What if they miss?”

The vote was tied. Four for hanging, four for the firing squad.

They turned to Fyodor. “And you?”

“I prefer living,” the deep, hoarse voice of Fyodor Dostoyevsky said from his corner, then went back to his thoughts.

One of his compatriots shook him and whispered, “Where’s your God now?”

Fyodor did not answer. He turned his back toward the fellow and faced the wall. It was as empty as his future. He silently prayed the prayer he had learned as a boy from his mother, “Mother of God, My hope is in thee. Give me shelter under thy wing.” His fear of the dawn ahead dissolved.

Behind him, someone grumbled, “I wish the police had just shot me. I hate this waiting.”

“At least I’ll be warm,” one chattered. “When I’m dead.”

In another corner, someone was whimpering, afraid to die. The others ignored him. They were all afraid to die, but the rest of them took their fate stoically. They had known the consequences if the tsar turned against them.

The cell was large and dark. It could have held twice as many as the nine prisoners who had languished there for days as they awaited the executioner. If it had been crammed with prisoners, it would have been warmer from the men’s body heat. The tsar did not want to waste money on the condemned, so it was only bread and water for their nourishment for the last few days. And one meal a day at that.

To make the hours pass, Fyodor rested his mind from the chill and fell into a story. It was the story of his life as Fyodor Dostoevsky as a child. The odor of the halls of the Hospital for the Poor where his father worked as a physician, the patients coughing from consumption, the smell of urine in the halls from the sick and the dying. How could he ever forget that smell.

From the family’s residence, he watched through the parlor window prisoners progress down the street on their way to Siberia. Then there was the time he heard the cries of his nine-year-old friend, Natasha, raped. He ran to the garden behind the house.

The rapist gone, the girl lay on the ground, his father kneeling beside her, comforting her, then he raised her body the way Jesus must have raised the daughter of Jairus. He turned. Tears were falling from his eyes. He said to the boy, “Run. Get the police.”

There were fond memories too. His father reading Cervantes and his mother reading too. Reading the Gospels. Reading Job and his trials. Job was someone Fyodor understood. He and the old man were so alike.

Then he was in the woods near his family’s summer home, the ones his brother, Mikhail, referred to as Fedya’s Woods. He must have been eleven or twelve, his head leaning up against a tree, taking a break from his mushroom gathering. He was dreaming that he was Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, whizzing around the forest on his light feet.

He heard a wolf’s growl, or so he thought.

A slight breeze cooled his face, tickling his nose. The woods were quiet, the birch filling the air with their minty odor. The birds had forgotten to sing when, only a few minutes ago, they were singing their hearts out. Then a crackle and a soft padding of the wolf nearby. He smelled the beast, stalking him.

Like a frightened deer, Fyodor upped and ran. He ran hard, crying, “Wolf.”  He ran into the field nearby. The old serf, Marey, caught him and pulled him into his ancient arms the way a tree’s branches often pulled him into the tree. Then the old man held him as if he was his son. He combed his hands through Fyodor’s blond hair.  The man spoke the prayer his mother taught him, “Mother of God, My hope is in thee. Give this boy shelter under thy wing.” The serf looked into Fyodor’s eyes and Fyodor felt safer than he had ever felt. He could still recall the serf’s eyes, the kindest eyes he had ever seen.

Fyodor remembered his last words to his brother Mikhail as he toasted his brother on the older man’s name day. “To my closest friend and the greatest man I know.” Mikhail’s face appeared before him and reminded him of all the games, all the books, all the songs the two had shared together. He would never see Mikhail again. At least, not in this life.

Lying in his corner of the prison cell, Fyodor fell into a deep sleep. He stood beside his mother’s open coffin before the altar in the Church of the Holy Spirit and beneath the painting of the Raising of Lazarus. She wore a fine lace dress, her curls falling to her shoulders. Her face a peaceful face, her body relieved of the suffering from her tuberculosis. Her eyes opened. “Fedya,” she said, “don’t be afraid. God is with you. God is with you.”

Fyodor woke up. The cell door squeaked open. Into the room stepped a priest, carrying a lantern. The door closed behind him and he hung the lantern on the wall. Fyodor pulled his body up and leaned against the wall.

“I am Father Valentin,” the priest said, his beard covering his chest. “I am here to hear your confession if any of you would like.”

“Go away,” the atheist shouted at the priest. Not just at the priest. At God as well. “Get the hell out of here.”

“No.” Fyodor’s voice was fearless, so fearless the atheist cowered into a corner. “I will say my confession.”

Father Valentin walked over to Fyodor and sat down and faced Fyodor. “Yes, my son?” the priest asked.

Fyodor whispered his confession. The priest gave Dostoyevsky his cross. Fyodor kissed it. The priest rose moved on to the others. Each of the prisoners spoke to the priest. Finally it was the atheist’s turn and he too whispered some words.”Just in case,” he said as the priest called to the guard outside the large wooden door.

The door opened. In stepped the Sergeant of the Guard, followed by four of his men. The guards threw a white shroud to each of the prisoners. “Put these on,” the Sergeant ordered.

“Just take us out and shoot us,” the atheist demanded.

The Sergeant drew his sword and hit the atheist over his head with its broadside. The prisoner’s head was bleeding.

“Anybody else?” The Sergeant looked around the cell for any resistance. Then he said, “Put these on. You first.” His sword pointed at the atheist.

The atheist wiped his blood from his head and grabbed the shroud and slipped it over his head. “Bloody marvelous,” he said. The dried red smeared across the man’s shroud.

Each of the other prisoners stood and pulled his shroud over his head.

“Now out with you,” the Sergeant ordered. The prisoners one by one went through the cell door.

Fyodor emerged from the cell and into the hall. A tall, young guard grabbed his hands and pulled them around to his back, wrapped a rope around his wrists, pulled it tight and knotted it. The rope cut into Fyodor, feeling like it was reaching into the bone.

When he was finished with the group of them, the Sergeant of the Guard addressed them. “Follow me, please.”

The Sergeant and two guards led the way while others followed the prisoners. All was quiet in the hall, except for the drumming of the boots of the soldiers against the floor. The prisoners passed the lanterns on the wall, each one a little closer to the end, each one falling away like seconds on a watch.

As the prisoners emerged from the darkness and into the day of Semenovsky Square, the morning sun blasted their eyes with its light. The Sergeant and two of his men broke the prisoners up into groups of three. He led the first group to three wooden stakes and tied them to the poles with rope.

When he finished, he returned for the next three prisoners. Fyodor was the middle man. The snow bit into his bare feet as he was rushed across the field. The Sergeant roped him to the stake. Fyodor’s feet numbed from the snow.

The Sergeant moved, finishing Dostoyevsky’s group, the third group. He grabbed a bottle of vodka from the hall and walked over to the first prisoner in the first group.

“Would you care to drink a toast to the Tsar?” he asked.

“Yes, please,” the prisoner said, the one who had been crying in the corner the night before.

The Sergeant uncapped the bottle, raised it and said, “To the Tsar.” He drank from the bottle, then poured a few drops into the prisoner. He continued onto to the next prisoner, and the next.

As the sun glared in his eyes and blinded Fyodor, the Sergeant came to him. Jesus hung on a cross, between two thieves. A Roman gave Jesus wine. Fyodor hung on a stake between two comrades. A Russian soldier gave him wine too. Was he dying to save his world? Was he dying so that others might live?  He shook away the thought. It was blasphemy. It must be. And this was no time for blasphemy. “Would you like to toast the Tsar?” the Sergeant asked.

Fyodor looked deep into the man’s dark eyes. “I would like to toast God.”

“Very well then.” The soldier raised the bottle to the prisoner’s lips. Fyodor took his drink. It wetted his dry lips, lips starting to chap. The liquor warmed him as he went down.

Then the Sergeant raised the bottle. “To God, and may the Devil take him.” He laughed and drank. He stepped to the next prisoner.

The Sergeant finally reached the last prisoner. “None for you,” he said, indicating the bottle. The atheist spit into his face. “Damn you,” the jailer shouted at the prisoner. He drew his sword. Twice he sliced the prisoner’s face. “Take that to hell, and tell the Devil that it was Nicolai Nikolaevich who did it to you.”

Fyodor prayed softly, “Mother of God, My hope is in thee. Give me shelter under thy wing.” Then he saw Mikhail’s image one final time. “Be a good man, Mikhail,” he spoke to the morning. “Soon we will be together again. With Mother and Father.”

A firing squad marched out before the first three of the prisoners. The men turned toward the prisoners.

Fyodor tempered himself against what was about to come. “Mother of God, My hope is in thee. Give me shelter under thy wing.”

The officer of the squad called out, “Raise your guns.”

“Mother of God, My hope is in thee. Give me shelter under thy wing.”

“Aim.”

“Mother of God, My hope is in thee. Give me shelter under thy wing.”

A horse with a rider galloped through the gate of the fortress, the man on horseback crying, “Wait.”

A few moments later, the officer shouted to the prisoners, “The Tsar in his magnificent justice has given you scum a reprieve. You shall not die this day. Instead Siberia will be your new home.”

We Are the People

Recently I saw John Mellencamp in concert. Man, that was two and a half hours of great music and fun. It reminded me what great songs he’s made and continues to make. So many of his songs remind me of what’s best in America. Others call attention to the challenges we have as Americans.

This Fourth of July, think about what we have in common. No matter how far we’ve got to go to forming that more perfect union, we’ve come a long way. And this particular song reminds me that we are in it together. None of us get off scot free. If we don’t pull together, we’ll be broken. It’s like Ben Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Lately we’ve been hanging separately. And that’s a darn shame. Because We Are The People. And if things are falling apart, it’s our fault.

To celebrate that hanging together thing on this two-hundred-and forty-third Fourth of July Independence Day, here”s John Mellencamp’s “We Are The People”:

Let’s look around us and be thankful for our neighbors. The more different they are from us the better. After all, America has a big heart. Despite what others think of her.

Don’t believe it. Just tell those guys that hit Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944. Don’t believe it. Just tell those folks who Americans fed with the Marshall Plan after World War II. Don’t believe it. Just tell it to all those folks who have benefitted from Peace Corps volunteers, digging wells, teaching children. Don’t believe it. Just ask those Berliners who were cut off from the world in 1948 and 1949.

Look around you and see the beauty of this country and say thank you for all we have as Americans. And remember We Are The People. We’ve got better days ahead of us if we hang together. Otherwise….

 

Mr. Ives’ Christmas

Mr. Ives’ Christmas By Oscar Hijuelos Harper/Collins, 1995.

Oscar Hijuelos’ Mr. Ives’ Christmas is not just a good novel. It is a meditation on grief. It is also a meditation on faith and weathering the worst of storms a human being can weather. The loss of a beloved child.

And the book is also about commitment, love, family and friends with a little Charles Dickens thrown in. And everywhere there is Hijuelos’ love affair with New York City, its sights and sounds and smells, and its neighborhoods.

A good man, Edward Ives, loses his son, Robert, to a cold blooded murder. Robert is standing in front of a church, talking to some friends. He’s there for choir practice.

A thirteen-year-old kid walks by Robert. He doesn’t like the look on Robert’s face. In an instant, he turns, pulls a gun, and fires bullets into Robert’s body. Robert drops onto the sidewalk. He is dead.

Robert wasn’t just any kid. He was special. He was one of those kids who did everything right. Likeable to everybody he met. Never an unkind word for anybody. Never gave his parents trouble. Close to both of his parents and his sister. But especially close to his father. The next year he was going to go off to seminary to become a priest. That was Robert. And it doesn’t help that his death came close to Christmas.

Annie, his mother, and Caroline, his sister, are devastated. But his father is the most devastated of all. At one point, Ives reflects: “You know what it was like? It was like drowning.” Ive’s grief is a river of sadness, so sad it fills his entire life. As his wife, Annie, puts it, “Robert’s death had become the defining event of his middle-aged life.”

Ives never stops grieving. Annie and Caroline find a way to go on with their lives and live with the grief without it destroying them. But not Ives. He cannot find any joy in life anymore. It’s almost like he quit breathing at the moment he heard the horrible news.

On the outside, his acts are of a saintly man, a compassionate man, showing care for those around him. Even for the murderer of his son. On the inside, he is wounded deeply, walking around in a purgatory that is as much hell as it is life. A purgatory he cannot escape no matter how good he is. His only thought day after day, night after night, is the loss of his son. His grief is immense.

This is not a novel written from the head. This is a novel written from the heart. With detail upon detail, Oscar Hijuelos has mustered all his tremendous talent to breathe life into the Mr. Ives of the title. In so doing, it’s possible to believe that Hijuelos suffers with Mr. Ives.

Ives with his memories of his beloved son finds himself in a lifetime of solitary confinement which he cannot escape. He cannot bring himself to love again, even his wife and his daughter.

Not once does he ask, “What would Robert want?”

So Mr. Ives grows into a bitter man despite everything he tries.

On that day the kid murdered Robert, he had a second victim. Mr. Ives. Robert’s death was instant. Edward Ives’ is long and slow and torturous. Mr. Ives is a good man, but  goodness is not enough to heal all the grief that he carries.

In the end, Mr. Ives emerges from a long dark night. For Mr. Ives, the sunrise comes from a place he least expected.

At the end, I realized that this is Osar Hijuelos homage to the great Charles Dickens. It seems like Dickens is hovering above every page of this novel, encouraging Hijuelos to write on and smiling when the writer had completed the journey of his story. As I finished the novel, I began to think that Edward Ives had a lot of Bob Cratchit in him.

In 248 pages, Hijuelos has packed the life of one man and his family, his faith and his love affair with life, and then the great tragedy. When the novel is over, I was left with a love for Ives and Annie, Robert and Caroline, Ramirez and Carmen and their son Pablo. I will miss them. But Hijuelos has left me the opportunity to dig into their lives again. All I have to do is open the pages of Mr. Ives’ Christmas.