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Just before bed on on Christmas Eve, I told Charlie to get a book for us to read.

A minute later, he returned with “Santa Cows” by Cooper Edens, a ridiculous reimagining of “The Night Before Christmas” in which six cows of varying breeds visit a family in need of some Christmas spirit. The cows float down the chimney, bestowing a Christmas tree and a sack of gifts upon a bedraggled, spiritless family who had planned to spend the evening eating Domino’s pizza and playing video games.

The sack of gifts contains baseball equipment. The story ends with the family playing an all-night game of baseball with the cows until sunrise.

It’s an odd book. Reviews refers to it as a “whimsical” and “off-bear parody,” and the tone is hard to pin down. At moments, the story seems utterly sincere, but one page later, the cow’s eyes and lips are compared to the eyes and lips of Liz Taylor.

No joke.

Then there are lines like:

“So we ran to the windows and opened the shutters. We threw up the blinds to a sky full of udders.”

Needless to say the kids love this book. I enjoy it too. It’s silly and irreverent and filled with 1980’s nostalgia. But I also enjoy it for the inscription on the first page:

To Plato and Sharon:
Merry Xmas 1991
Love,
Rob and Lola

 
Plato is my former principal and good friend. I worked with him for 14 years before he retired. Sharon is his wife and our dear friend.

Plato officiated our wedding.

Rob is the former vocal music teacher at my school. I worked with him for 16 years until his retirement. Lola is his wife and our dear friend.

Rob played the music during our wedding ceremony. All Beatles songs.

But back in 1991, when this inscription was written, when I was living in Attleboro, MA with my best friend, Bengi. We were eating elbow macaroni, hosting keg parties, and trying to make ends meet. I was managing a McDonald’s restaurant in Norwood, MA and on the cusp of homelessness.

Bengi and I had a small, fake Christmas tree in the corner of the living room that year, adorned with a scattering of ornaments. I would spend Christmas day with my mother and sister, who were living in Rhode Island, even more impoverished and desperate than me.

About 100 miles west, Rob and Lola were giving Plato and Sharon this book as a Christmas gift. Plato and Sharon did not have children yet, so this was just friends giving friends a silly book. Plato had been principal of Wolcott School for about three years at the time, and Rob had just transferred to the school at Plato’s invitation, beginning a 22 year partnership.

Elysha Dicks was a sophomore in high school at the time, but she had already met Plato and Rob. In 1991, she was working as the stage manager for Steel Magnolias, a play that Plato was directing that summer.

Rob had auditioned Elysha for a spot in West Hartford’s Inter-El choir when she was in middle school and had rejected her.

She would graduate from high school in 1993 and head off to Smith College.

All of this was happening a world away from me. At the time, I was dreaming of finding a way to college and someday becoming a teacher, but I never imagined that it would actually happen. In less than a year, I would be arrested for a crime I did not commit, permanently derailing my plans to attend Bridgewater State University. Soon after that, I would become homeless and fall victim to a violent crime before finally landing in the home of a family of Jehovah Witnesses, sharing a room off their kitchen with their indoor pet goat.

Eight years after receiving this book from Rob and Lola, Plato would hire me to teach at Wolcott School. I met Rob during my interview. Three years later, Plato would hire Elysha. I would meet her during our first faculty meeting together.

Years later, when Elysha and I had our first child, Plato would pass this book onto us.

When I read “Santa Cows” to my kids, which I have done hundreds of time, I always start with the inscription, and I always pause to think about all that has happened since these words were scribbled into the cover of this book. All of the time and distance that was ultimately conquered in order to bring these people into my life, and how these people made it possible for me to realize my dreams and meet my wife.

The book is good. It makes us laugh. It makes us wonder what the hell Eden Cooper was thinking when he wrote it. But my favorite part of the book is this front cover and this scribbled inscription.

It’s something Rob and Lola probably have no recollection of even writing, but they are words that have come to symbolize so much to me.