Tuesday, December 21, 2010

True Tales of Christmas (Part One)

My Mom and Dad on a Christmas past, when they were well and strong and life was good. Glamorous Faye and handsome Ashley. What a pair!

Now that I'm an orphan (pause for weeping here), I know some of you are worried about me this Christmas. But I want you to know I am doing okay. Relatives, friends and remaining family have been truly kind ("I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers." Thank you, Blanche.) And I have accepted, there is no reason for me to feel sorry for myself, just because my elderly parents, as much as I loved them, have gone to their rest. RIP. But, I can't help missing them anyway.

Why, there is my sister Kimberly, on one of her last Christmases in Los Altos, before she got married and moved to Colorado. I think that must be a suitcase in the right hand corner of the picture. She was a flight attendant then, for United, and traveled a lot.

Honestly, if you don't spread it around, I'll tell you that both my parents had a number of things in common with old Mr. Scrooge. I spent one Christmas with them, about four years ago, during which we attended church on Christmas Eve (Friday night), again on Christmas morning (Saturday, 8:30 AM service), and then again on Sunday morning (long communion service). Gifts were frowned upon and there wasn't even a tree! I wrapped a box of candy for them and put it under one of my mother's ferns, which I decorated with a few bows. Still, we weren't allowed to open our "gifts" until after lunch. Well, they were old by then, and lunch was more important to them than Christmas.

Faye, decorating the tree on another Christmas past. She was very particular about her tree: it had to have gold tinsel not silver! It does appear that tree was purchased at a discount--not unusual for my thrifty father. It looks a little sparse here and there.

Speaking of Ebeneezer Scrooge ...

My sister and I have both been reading Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in a wonderful annotated version edited by Michael Patrick Hearn. Reading the story, written 167 years ago, is itself is a revelation. It is really good. Good because it has all the elements of a good story. And it has a point, that has resonated around the world since the story first appeared in 1843.

The point? You can find it early in the tale, in this exchange between Scrooge and his nephew about Christmas:

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew: "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people around them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good: and I say, God bless it."
A Christmas Carol: Stave One

And thus it is, for Christmas 2010, I began to cast about for true tales of Christmas that included: the joy and pathos of warmth and loss; present and absent friends; Christmases spent in faraway places: home fires that needed stoking; and any other Christmas experiences that have left a mark.

Here's a Christmas past with my father being very silly, something he liked to do. He's wearing a stocking cap, which I can't in the world think why I gave him. And he has just launched a toy helicopter by blowing on a little tube. The stocking cap went to the bottom of a drawer, never to be seen again. But he loved the helicopter.

For the first tale, you must indulge me in a World War II Christmas story that involves my Dad. I tell it because I want the world to remember all the fathers of his generation who spent so many Christmases far from home, making friends who never returned, making sacrifices they didn't complain about, in order that the rest of us could survive to live in freedom.

By Christmas 1942, my Dad had not seen home for a year. And though he could not yet tell anyone he loved where he was, he did write home to his favorite aunt and uncle:

"We did get some packages on Christmas Eve. I got the bars that were sent in August! [Editor's note: Probably some precious candy bars, though what shape they were in after four months in the U.S. Army V-mail system, we can only speculate.) The package had a long way to come and it must have had to hitch hike all the way.

We had fresh pork and spuds for Christmas dinner, and everyone had the day off. A pretty good Christmas considering all.

I hope Uncle Harry is able to keep getting enough gasoline to keep going.
[Uncle Harry was a salesman for Planters Peanuts.] I guess he will. You all are having it pretty tough with meat and sugar and coffee shortages. The more we give up now, though, the more we will have in the future."

By the following December, Lt. Chapman was now Capt. Chapman and had not seen his family for two years. Now at least they knew where he was:

"I guess you know from Mother that my happy home is Ascension Island. Today I went swimming at a place called Comfortless Cove. It is a pretty good place to swim because it is protected from the big waves. Why the name I don't know. A more logical arrangement, it seems to me, would be Ascension Cove on Comfortless Island, but after all I didn't name either place.

It may seem strange to you that I should be going swimming this time of year, but I have been here so long that it seems strange to me that it is cold up there.

We are eating well again. We have eggs for breakfast about three times a week and we have some kind of fresh meat almost every day. We had chicken for dinner today and ice cream and cake for supper. Some racket eh?

Thanks for the clippings. I did know the fellow whose picture you sent. He was my ROTC instructor a few months during my senior year. It seems to me that he married an Auburn girl. I was sorry to learn he was killed.

Yes, it won't be long until old Santa will have come and gone. Enclosed is a Christmas card for you all. It isn't much of one, but it carries the meaning. Love, Ashley"

I found the wartime letters and the Christmas card after he was gone. But he always told us: no one loves peace more than a soldier.

"True Tales of Christmas" ... To Be Continued ...

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