Category Archives: Sara Etgen-Baker

January 1 – A Gift I Couldn’t Have Imagined

by Sara Etgen-BakerWhen I was a small child, I rose on my tiptoes and stared out our living room window, watching and waiting until Father arrived home from work. “Mama,” I hollered as soon as I saw his pickup truck ’round the corner, “Daddy’s home!” Then I raced to the front door to greet him. Although he was weary, he often picked me up and twirled me around until I said, “Daddy, daddy, stop! Pleeeease!” He eased me down; and we giggled together, walking hand-in-hand towards the kitchen where I sat on his lap while he drank a cup of steaming coffee and talked with Mother about his day.

Now and then Father stood at the front door with his hands behind his back. “Pick a hand,” he’d say. His words touched me like an electric current, for I knew hidden behind Father and buried in the folds of one of his hands was a surprise meant just for me.

“This one,” I shouted, pointing wildly. He whisked out his hand and slowly, too slowly, uncurled his fingers. Finally, there it was: a gift I couldn’t have imagined; a prize from his box of Cracker Jacks, a package of M&Ms, a silver nickel, or a feather for my hair.

And I hadn’t thought of it until now, but it seems Father’s surprises had a curious way of coming on the days when I needed them most. The days when I fell off my bicycle, broke something irreplaceable in the house or went to the doctor with a sore throat. I suppose Mother told him. Somehow he knew I needed to be surprised with a gift of love that would help bind up my broken day.

His gifts of love taught me that no matter how devastating my struggles, disappointments, and troubles were, they were only temporary. A lifetime has passed since my childhood when I stood at the living room window eagerly awaiting Father’s arrival. Yet at the end of many days, I often stare out my office window and find myself thinking about Father and his special gifts for me. Even now, I can hear the voice of Father’s love whispering in my life.

I am reminded that the deepest need of the human heart is to be loved. To be loved utterly and completely just as we are, no matter what. We respond to our need for love in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we try to be perfect in order to earn love. Or we repress our need until all that remains is a vague restlessness and yearning. But one is loved because one is loved. Love is always bestowed as a gift, freely, willingly, and without expectation. No reason is needed for loving. And there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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December 18 – The Christmas Helicopter (When Santa Came to Town)

by Sara Etgen-Baker

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kongvector

It was Christmas Eve morning at our house. The Christmas lights twinkled; the tinsel glistened; the ornaments sparkled, and the Christmas tree silently awaited Santa’s arrival. I peered out the window; newly fallen snow blanketed the neighborhood streets. Barren, frost-covered trees shivered like frail skeletons trembling in the blustery winds; and silent icicles hung from shimmering housetop roofs.

The temperature outside was well below freezing. Mother wrapped me in my heaviest coat and forced my hands into last year’s mittens. We stepped outside, the gentle snow crunching under our boots as we walked to the downtown plaza where Santa was appearing.

As I stood in the plaza with other children, Christmas waved its magic wand over me. I looked up in the sky certain I heard Santa’s sleigh bells jingling. I glanced above me and realized I wasn’t hearing sleigh bells; rather, I was hearing the pole-mounted Christmas bells swaying in the wind. I continued waiting in the bone-crunching cold until I heard an unfamiliar sound; a steady but rhythmic wop-wop, wop-wop sound.

Out of nowhere, a red helicopter emerged from the overcast, wintry sky and slowly descended toward us, landing just a few feet from me. I watched in disbelief as Santa turned off the helicopter’s engine and headed straight toward me and the other children shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”

For some reason, Santa’s unconventional arrival just didn’t seem right. When I approached Santa, I blurted, “Where’s your sleigh, Santa? Why didn’t you ride it into town?”

“Well, little lady,” he chortled, stroking his white bear, “it’s at the North Pole being repaired.”

“What’s wrong with your sleigh?” I continued.

“Oh, just some minor repairs. Nothing for you to fret about.”

“Who’s fixing it?”

“Well, uh…the magical elves, of course.”

“But..but I thought elves made toys. Will they fix your sleigh in time to deliver presents to all the boys and girls? And what about Rudolph and the other reindeer? Where are they?”

My persistence rendered Santa speechless. He raised his right eyebrow, which was brown rather than white like his bear. I gasped; in that moment the Santa Claus illusion was gone forever.

I leaped off Santa’s lap. “You’re not real, Santa Claus!” I exclaimed, bursting into tears. Mother wiped away my tears and took me aside.

“You’ll be okay, Sweetie,” she said reassuringly. “I’m proud of you. You’re right; Santa Claus isn’t real; he’s made-up like the people in the stories you read. Those stories aren’t real, but you like them anyway, right?

“Yes,” I said, my eyes meeting hers.

“Writers make up stories to tell lessons or share something important. The Santa Claus story is like that. It’s made up to tell children about the spirit of kindness and giving. That’s what’s important. You understand, Sweetie?”

I nodded, taking comfort in Mother’s forthright explanation. Despite my disillusionment and disappointment, Mother gave me a timeless gift that Christmas Eve: An understanding that life is sometimes fictional, and reality isn’t always what it seems to be. So, don’t waller in it!

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

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November 19 – Enough

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Eddie, Pop, Dave & Mom

I awoke to the familiar sound of dishes rattling in Mother’s kitchen and to the thick scent of coffee wafting through the air. I glanced out my bedroom window; the neighborhood was lit by the first rays of the day shining through a thin layer of gray clouds. The trees, no longer their virescent hues of spring and summer, were scarlet, gold, and copper. Mesmerized, I watched the leaves fall off the trees gently swaying in the November wind. A sigh rose in my throat as I thought about what was lacking that Thanksgiving Day.

I joined Mother in the kitchen, mildly curious about the Thanksgiving brunch she’d planned for us at an undeveloped park outside of town. Instead of cooking the usual Thanksgiving fare, Mother prepared a thermos of hot cocoa for my brothers and me and another thermos of coffee for her and Father.

“This will be fun, sweetie. Wait and see.”

I smiled, covering up my disappointment, and helped Mother pack a box with the utensils she’d need; a cast iron skillet, tin plates, charcoal briquettes, matches, a spatula, and two wooden spoons. Father loaded the box into his truck while my brothers and I clambered into the truck bed. He pumped the gas pedal several times until his cranky jalopy sputtered into action.

On the way to the park, Father pulled into the parking lot of a local grocery store; through the rear windshield, I watched my parents cull through their pockets, the seat cushions, and the glove box gathering all the loose change they could find. “This should be enough,” Mother said in a thrilled voice. She scurried out of the truck and emerged minutes later, smiling with two dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, and a small loaf of bread in her arms.

Once at the park, my brothers and I bolted from the truck, frolicking in the leaves as we ran along a pathway that led to an old abandoned farmhouse. While they explored the farmhouse, I sat on a log; closed my eyes; and took in all the crisp autumn air my lungs could hold slowly expelling it. In the distance, I heard Father whistling and Mother singing as they fried bacon and eggs over a crackling fire, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our grim financial situation prevented us from celebrating Thanksgiving as we always had with turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings.

“Come and Get It!”

“Come and get it,” Mother hollered. We dashed toward them and sat on the ground, warming our hands on the open fire. Mother scooped fried eggs and bacon onto our tin plates. “Let us give thanks, for we have enough,” Father said, his face beaming.

“Enough?!” I looked down at the meager amount of food on our plates, my eyes misting with tears.

What a blessing hearing that word was, for acknowledging enough squelched my expectations; diminished my disappointment; and helped me realize that enough is at the core of gratitude and Thanksgiving.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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November 6 – Ode to My Gardening Gloves

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Alas, beautiful gardening gloves, I knew you well. I remember the early March day I opened the package and slipped you onto my hands. At first, you were a bit stiff and uncomfortable; but over time you softened and became my weekly companion, pulling weeds, cutting flowers, and guiding the nozzle on the water hose that allowed our foliage to flourish even during the hot summer months.

You’ve faded from our days together in the sun; the bubble grippers on your fingers are worn, and your fingers are tattered and torn and worse for the wear. I will surely miss you as I will miss the warm, languid summer days we shared together.

Sadly, I’ll soon cover my hands with my woolen mittens and furry gloves. But you’ll hold a special place in my heart as I stand on my front porch shivering and yearning for next spring’s arrival. And inside my desk drawer, I’ve placed my new pair of gardening gloves already purchased for next spring.

Each morning when I open my desk drawer, I’ll slip them onto my hands and say, “Spring’s coming. Spring’s coming.”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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October 26 – Memories and Ghosts

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In the two days since my arrival, Granddad and I exchanged only a few predictable, cursory words.

“Here’s your cereal; no milk, right?”

“Right, Granddad. Thanks.”

“You sleep okay?”

Although his silent house had kept me awake, I respectfully replied, “Yes sir. I did,” followed by, “How ‘bout you?”

Granddad Stainbrook

“I’m old: I never sleep well,” he grumbled.  “Just too many memories and ghosts.”The house became still as we struggled with what to say to one another. So we ate breakfast in silence; a silence so thick I could feel it drape around me like an old shawl. I pulled it against me as I plopped down into my grandmother’s chair suddenly aware of something else in the house, something different; a faint rustling, a soft presence of some sort. I didn’t know what it was.

Perhaps it was the lilt of Granny’s lavender perfume that lingered in the rich tapestry fabric, stirring memories of when I sat in her lap reading a book or sharing hot cocoa. Perhaps it was Granny herself. I closed my eyes and remembered that the house was full of noise and laughter when Granny was alive.

Now, though, the house seemed empty, lifeless, and unnervingly silent. I was young and impatient and needed to shatter the silence and to understand why Mother had sent me to visit my grandfather. I just couldn’t make any sense out of her cryptic parting words: “Remember, this visit isn’t about you.”

Granddad glanced up from reading his morning newspaper. “Your grandmother loved sitting in that chair and watching her grandchildren.”

“I loved sitting in Granny’s lap when she sat in this chair.” I watched his face. “It still smells like her.”

“Yes, it does.” He adjusted his glasses. “Her memory keeps me awake at night.”

“The silence at night frightens me and keeps me awake.” I choked back the tears.

He slowly raised one eyebrow and fumbled for words. “Why…uh…uh…why are you afraid of the silence?”

“Because the silence just makes me miss her more.”

Granny Helen Morain Stainbrook

“I miss her too.” He peered over his glasses. “In the silence, I hear her voice and feel her spirit rustling through the house. In that silence, I don’t miss her as much.” His chin trembled and his voice cracked. “I’m terribly afraid I’ll lose her forever if I don’t keep the house silent.” After another moment’s silence he mumbled, “Like memories and ghosts, she quietly lives in the silent shadows of both of our lives.”

“You’re right, Granddad,” were the only words I could muster.

We hugged one another; Granddad shuffled off to his bedroom. Nothing more need be said.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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October 1 – A Fading Memory

by Sara Etgen-Baker

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Veneratio

It was a perfect autumn day. Far enough from summer to have lost the heat and not close enough to winter to have that bite of cold. I slipped into a lightweight jacket and stepped outside, smelling the sweet air that was all around me. The rising sun had dyed the sky purple and gold; the rain had stopped, and the clouds had disappeared. But there was a chill in the post-dawn air reminding me that winter wasn’t far away. I walked down the street, and the crisp autumn breeze welcomed me like an old friend.

I could almost see the wind, for it seemed to move everything slightly like it was in control of the whole earth. Crisp copper leaves fell, and I watched them fall off the trees that gently swayed in the wind. Ahead of me, leaves tumbled from weary branches, twisting and rocking as they fell through the almost still air.

A single golden leaf caught my attention as it pirouetted down an invisible spiral breeze, spinning through the air as it let itself be carried down. It shook slightly as if it could’ve been whisked away any second by the grip of an icy wind. But it kept floating down the twirling course, blowing past my face and landing lightly on the ground. It was so delicate; I wanted to reach down and pick it up and hold it close to my heart, smoothing out any creases. But something told me that it belonged here, this corpse of what was once summer.

I meandered along the promenade, torn between keeping my eyes high to watch for falling leaves dancing their way to the carpeted ground or looking down to spy on the crunchy ones. Suddenly, the wind shifted to the north, and my hair whipped into my eyes carried by the now brisk autumn breeze. Wind like this amazes me with its chilly blend of cinnamon and warm spices, carried by whispers of comforting winter fires yet to come.

Leaves continued raining down; “lively blends of red and orange softened the hard edges of the coming cold season into a picturesque transition. Although the sun is still bright, still brilliant in the sky, it is cooler now even on the days that lack clouds. I shivered deep inside thinking about how autumn days fall by as fast as the leaves from the trees. The sun rises and sets as if on fast-forward as if there is some divine hurry to reach winter.

Soon every bough will be only brown, and the fiery colors they brought us will dim to a fading memory. But I will remember autumn, grateful that she showed me how beautiful it is to let things go.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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September 9 – Catching Lightning Bugs

by Sara Etgen-Baker

When I was a little girl, Granddad and I spent many summer evenings together sipping lemonade and swinging back and forth on his metal porch glider. On one such evening, I sat with him; and we watched the sun sink lower in the Missouri sky, slowly draining away the light of day. The trees gradually became silhouettes against a newly silver sky, its blue hue all but gone until dawn. Their branches gently swayed in the wind, and the first sound of the nocturnal creatures came; chirping crickets, buzzing mosquitoes, a hooting owl, and a skittering rabbit taking cover in the hedgerow. Soon it grew dark, and a closeness and silence enveloped us.

Out of nowhere, a mysterious yellow twinkling appeared in the night, quick flickers and crackles of incandescent light too fast for the naked eye. The soft warm glow of lightning bugs sliced through the darkness, dipping beneath the black walnut trees. I was enchanted and imagined Granddad and I had discovered the lair of a great magician.

“Want to catch lightning bugs?” Granddad asked, a smile spreading over his face.

“Capture that magic?” My voice quivered with excitement. “Can it be done?”

Granddad looked at my face; jumped out of the swing; and fetched a Mason jar from his work shed, its lid pierced with holes. We walked barefoot into the darkness, following the flickering lights. I ran toward them hoping to capture them, but in my eagerness, they escaped. Granddad cupped his hands and lunged.

“Look!” he said, making a peephole into his hand. With my face pressed against his thumbs, I caught my first close-up glimpse of a firefly.

The jar grew full; and when Granddad tucked me in that night, he placed it beside my bed. The glow of the lightning bugs mesmerized me; and long after everyone else was asleep, I was still wide awake watching the golden lights flare in the darkness.

Now, so many years later, I’ve forgotten most of my childhood dolls and toys. But the night Granddad and I caught lightning bugs and made them into a nightlight is forever imprinted in me. And I’m reminded that there’s so much ordinary magic dancing around the backyard.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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