Pine Nuts: The Ghost of Christmas Present

McAvoy Layne
Pine Nuts
McAvoy Layne

Time to put a log on the fire, crank up Vince Gueraldi’s “Linus & Lucy” and invite the neighbors in for an egg nog.

It matters not whether those neighbors are Christian or atheist, white or of color, so long as they have good fellowship in their hearts and a smile in their eyes.

This time of year I always think about Cappy. Cappy Cook was in charge of Ski Incline in the early days, and was a hail-fellow-well-met, on or off the slopes. He played in the Rose Bowl for Stanford in ’52, ran a packing outfit in Yosemite, coached our Junior National Ski Team, and his handshake would leave me crippled for three days at a time, so of course I never ventured to give him a hug.

He came pounding at my door late one evening, eager to deliver a Christmas gift. Said Cappy, “My brother-in-law showed me this Mark Twain book that he had, and I told him about you portraying Mark Twain and all, and he said, ‘Here! Take it! Give it to that friend of yours for Christmas.’”

“Cappy,” I protested, taking the book into my hands, “that’s so kind of you and your brother-in-law, but this looks like it could be a first edition, worth more than my truck.”

“We don’t care if it’s a first, second or third edition, we want you to have it.”

That generous gesture brought a tear to my eye, really, as I was just getting started in my career of pretending to be Mark Twain, so I poured us a drink, and we toasted the spirit of Christmas and his brother-in-law.

The next morning I drove that Mark Twain copy of “Following the Equator” to a reliable authority on first editions. She consulted her “Guide to Identify Points of Issue,” and confirmed that indeed, it was a valuable first edition.

I drove to Cappy’s house, handed the book back to him, and asserted, “Cappy, it’s a first! It’s worth more than my truck, please take it back!”

Cappy smiled that broad smile of his, laughed out loud and handed it back again.

“I told you, it’s yours. I told my brother-in-law it might be a first and he agreed it couldn’t have a better home.”

Well, I carried that book around with me as I lectured here and there, hoping Cappy might show up in the audience one day, and after about a year, sure enough, there he was in the back row, just the man I was looking for …

I held up my treasured copy of “Following the Equator” and revealed Cappy as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Then I hauled out the keys to my truck, and shook them in the air like Christmas bells.

“This book is worth more than my truck, Cappy. Here are the keys to my truck.”

He came forward took the keys, asked if anybody would like to buy a truck, and returned the keys to me as the house broke into a good-hearted Christmas laugh.

I’m so glad we had that moment, for we lost Cappy not long after that. He will always live in my mind and heart at this time of year, as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Cappy Cook.

In closing, I’ll share my New Year’s Resolution with you if you’ll share yours with me.

I resolve to be cheerful, helpful and kind in 2020 … you gotta problem with that?

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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