Pine Nuts: A Ghost of Christmas Past |

Pine Nuts: A Ghost of Christmas Past

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 and 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 days, so of course I never ventured to give him a hug.

Cappy came pounding at my door late one December evening around ten o’clock. 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 this, and give it to that friend of yours for Christmas.'”

“Cappy,” I protested, taking the book into my hands. “That’s thoughtful and generous of 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, it’s yours!”

This gracious gesture clouded my eye with a tear, 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, and asserted, “Cappy, it’s a first! It’s worth more than my truck! You’ve got to take it back!”

Cappy smiled that broad smile of his, and closed the door.

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 sure enough, about this time of year, thirty years ago, there he was in the back row, the very man I was waiting for…

I held up the treasured copy of “Following the Equator” and singled Cappy out as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Holding up the keys to my truck, I stated, “This book is worth more than my truck. Cappy, the truck is yours.”

Cappy came forward took the keys, held them up on high, shook them like Christmas bells, and asked, “Anybody wanna buy a truck?” As the house erupted in a sustained round of good-hearted Christmas cheer, Cappy returned the keys to me.

I’m so thankful we had that moment together, for we lost Cappy not long after that, but he will always live in my mind and heart at this time of year as a Ghost of Christmas Past, Cappy Cook.

I’ll close here with a New Year’s Resolution that I fully intend to keep: I resolve to be cheerful, charitable and kind in 2021, even while wearing my mask.

Yuletide cheer to you and yours for good health at Christmas …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at


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