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What Do You Want Your Christmas Story to Be

By Remy Benoit

This is your holiday writing challenge from our Seminar here: Using History for Healing and Writing:
Your Christmas Story

Do you know what, really know, what you want your Christmas story to be?

I have cats, and when I try to put up a Christmas tree they think it is for them to climb, to undo the garlands and take the angel from the top. Perhaps a cat kind of climbing of an evergreen Everest. The tree does not fare too well.

I love Christmas trees, always have. I spend eleven months each year looking forward to putting one up.

Those of you, who like me, are Trekkies will recall the choice Jean Luc made to leave the Nexus, the perfect family, and the Christmas celebration. In all the Trek, tv shows, movies, generations of Gene's glorious gift to us, I have cried only five times; when Miramani died, when Spock died, when Kirk died, when Jean Luc went through the family album, and when Jean Luc walked away from Christmas in the Nexus.

Yesterday I started putting up the lights and took out the things for the tree - the latter was the signal to the youngest cats - PLAY TIME and the climb began. I watched it, laughing at their antics, but crying inside and outside a bit because I knew that, again, this year there would be none of my beautiful, and very fragile, decorations on the tree. I cried a bit but it set me to thinking about our home, and about Jean Luc.

And once again I found that I had come to the place of choices, and the things in our lives that those choices manifest.. I asked myself why does the idea of a "Victorian Christmas" light up my heart? We always think of their trees, introduced by Prince Albert into Britain and then traveling here, as perfect, exquisite, and light filled. But sometimes we need to step back a bit.

In the old days, before my time even, candles were used to light the trees. That often led to fire disasters. Towards the end of the century, new clip-on candleholders cut down the number of fires yet they did remain a problem. Now we have electric lights, tiny lights to glow soft and warm, or to twinkle with the excitement of the season. We still need to exercise caution with the lights.

Behind the "glory " of those Victorian Christmases were the butler, the house maids, the scullery maids, working for a pittance, no health insurance, no pension funds, and heaven forbid one of the males of the house set a bun to warming in the maid's belly, she was out on the street.

I started to think about that. Most of us don't have help in the home these days. Any decorating, cooking, shopping, etc., is done, usually by the woman, trying to work it all into an already overloaded schedule. That is, right there, a recipe for stress, and unrealistic expectations. And even if all the glorious expectations are met, there are still beyond the veil that mostly isn't seen through, those right here in this country whose economic problems are so overwhelming that perhaps a job as a parlour maid with a freezing attic sleeping place holds some attraction.

The cats, the young ones, in the tree, had triggered all these thoughts; triggered this, if you will, soul searching archaeology about what those awesome Victorian trees symbolized to me. I kept digging deeper and deeper all through the night.

Stepping back and looking at my mixed reactions to the young cats in the tree, I went back to the day that I drove the nine miles to a town called Robert to pick up some groceries. The gratitude we should feel for the availability of food is for another writing exercise. That day one of the women who work in the store, doing the jobs I used to do as a young woman managing markets, said to me, "Did you see the kittens outside in the box? Someone dumped them next to our trash bin."

No, I hadn't seen them, not yet, but when I finished shopping, I put the groceries in the car, and went back to look in the box. There I found the sisters, all wide-eyed, amewing, and totally incapable, much too young, of taking care of themselves. The thoughts ran through my mind - what about the two already at home, what about the seventeen year old Lhasa Apso? The sisters looked up at me from that grocery box, reached tiny paws up to me, and I reached down, picked up the box and put it on my front seat. I turned some music on softly for the ride home, and told them about where they were going to be living.

So, the two young cats climbing the tree are celebrating their second Christmas with us. Their names are Jesse and Gracia. Their older sisters tolerate their antics with the patience only mature cats seem able to muster. My companion of so very many years, my Lhasa Apso, Gypsy, passed on the day after Christmas last year. A wonderful Cajun man, in a town called Robert, gave me a puppy to walk with me. He is Chihuahua and Dachshund - use your imagination!

The finches, the cockatiels have their places here as does the Japanese fighting fish. We are a big family critter wise, and I enjoy each and every moment of them. All these thoughts had come atumbling through from the moment Gracia managed to untop the tree until my first cup of coffee this morning and it was then I realized what symbolic place a Victorian tree had in my head - light, peace, harmony. I remembered what I already knew, that although there were beautifully wrapped presents beneath them, their peace, light, and harmony were built on the labors of others who knew, and were strongly made to know, their place in all things.

So, the decorated tree, sans delicate angels, etc., is out on the roofed front porch so we can enjoy it through the living room windows, and no furry ones will get tangled and possibly hurt from the lights and the garlands. Jesse and Gracia get to tell the kitten story of when they climbed the green Everest all the way to the top in victory. Boo, the puppy, gets to stand on the hope chest and look out the window at this his first Christmas tree, and there is light, and peace, and harmony here and it comes from our work.

I ask you for your Holiday writing, whatever holy day you are celebrating, to look at one expectation that you have for it that often seems to be leaving you with a wish unfulfilled. Dig deep, ask yourself what this thing, this expectation really holds for you and you will find resolution, and have a happier holiday for it.

And, oh, yes, there is one more young lady who lives here, although not in the house. Her name is 'Miz Chicken. When I took her out of the back of a chicken raisers truck, she was weak, no one thinking she would make it through the day. She is walking challenged, one leg sticks out to the side and has never touched the ground. But 'Miz Chicken gets around quiet well. She has been with us just about a year now, has her own house, loves to be hugged, and lays a brown egg a day. I shall leave her to say Happy Holidays to you and that you are welcome to share the "artifacts " you dig up about holiday expectations with the rest of us.
'Miz Chicken.

Write it out; write yourself home to yourself and the rest of us.
Whatever holiday you are celebrating, may it bring you peace.
It will, if you will BE PEACE.
Blessings,
Remy

For those of you who have known Christmas far from home on battlefields, from LOVING


Korea: Christmas Eve 1951

Aching with weariness the bodies of the frightened men approached the hill stiff and creaking with the cold, almost faint with the exertion, their minds set only on containing the fear by putting one foot in front of the other; left, right, left, right. Another march, another mission, one foot in front of the other, again. Each step, each left or right lift of the foot seeming to weigh more and more. Just when another left lift of foot seemed impossible, a sudden explosion of Korean gunfire filled the air.

The light of it, the cacophony of it, the fear it quickened, all warmed their bodies temporarily. Air that was supposed to bring breath to life, to be taken in to sustain human life and breathed out to sustain plant life was made obscene as it was filled with grenade fragments, bullets, screams and body parts, last gasps of life.

In the trauma of it all, the wounded, many of them hit and bleeding critically, screamed over and over again in their agony, "Doc."

Each scream, each moan, of each wounded man hit Doc like incoming bullets, piercing his heart, his mind, his soul, his feelings of inadequacy of even beginning to think of doing what needed doing, and yet, he went to each one to try to do it.

His hands were stiff, awkward, with the cold. His knees screamed with cold ache and numbness each time he bent, each time he came to minister to another whose blood poured into foreign soil from head wounds, chest wounds, exploded, shattered impotent groins, and demolished dreams.

His hands moved applying bandages, tourniquets, medications defying the cold, damning the odds, slapping the face of the impossible; claiming at least a few from the grasp of the cold of death. Being able to maintain, being able to go on, only, only because every fiber of his soul believed that those of both sides who fell permanently in the ice cold hot confrontation would be welcomed in the warm, sweet arms of heaven. Some of his side, just like some of his counterpart's side on the other side, would be saved to carry on their work here because Doc faced the odds, faced the fragments, the firepower with sheer determination, bandages and simple medicines.

As he worked they crawled into whatever they could crawl into to wait for evacuation and pray; trying to stay awake, to face the pain down, to stay awake and not fall asleep where sleep in such bitter cold, made you feel warm, such inviting warmth; let your body succumb to freezing, to death with its breathing of air that was supposed to be life giving; of battle field air untempered by adequate clothing, or hot soups, warm breads, and firesides; battle field air that lowered body temperatures of weakened, traumatized bleeding men below that which would sustain life. Doc worked on, tending each as he came to them, working against all odds to keep some of them at least alive for their work here, while the others slipped off, drifted up to warm welcoming arms that did not know political divisions or creeds, or skin color.

Doc worked on amidst the grenade fragments and hot searing bullets steaming the cold air.

He patched the head wound of one young man with a sweet Louisiana drawl who said, ‘Thanks, Doc. Okay...I'll stay awake, don't worry; can't be missing Christmas." Doc moved on, the bullets kept flying, the grenades fragmenting, and the young man with the sweet lilting accent talked with himself in the snowed and iced hell of a foreign battlefield on the eve of Christmas, a sacred day of celebrating the birth of the Prince of Love and Peace.

“I came here as a part of the infantry.

“Infantry.

“When you see that in your mind, somehow you see, or at least I do, lots and lots of men; men bound together in a common cause of stopping the enemy and staying alive.

“Being the kid of a father who fought the Big One, I grew up thinking that when a country fought a war the whole country fought it.

“Just the way I did; doing without sugar and eggs and tires, well, you know. The take your pennies and buy a war bond thing.

‘Anyway, always thought of war in big, big numbers of people doing a thing together.

“Well, we are.

“We are all here in this frozen mud, living in the ground like some kind of rodents that farmers shoot to protect their crops. Only we don't have fur and we can't tunnel far enough under the ground, under the stinking frozen mud of the ground of this country that doesn't smell like home, to get far enough under the ground to find any warmth.

“I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

“I'm dreaming of sleigh bells like in the movies, though where I come from Christmas' aren't white, too warm for snow. Always wanted to try that, the sleigh riding thing.

“I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

“I see myself as a kid opening all the beautifully wrapped boxes, excitement building so I could hardly breathe. I recall the feel of my first play rifle; how long and sleek and solid its wooden body felt.

“I recall the box next to it held my first six shooter in a fancy holster with those shiny silver-like brad things making me feel like Wyatt Earp, ready to go out and get the bad guys.

“I remember me and my buddies dodging in and out of the narrow streets of the Quarter; hiding just around the narrow corners, knowing just what the enemy looked like, and smelled like, knowing that like John Wayne I would get them because I was the good guy. Might get a little wound; might see a buddy fall, but I would emerge triumphant, avenging his passing and righting all things. Just like in the Westerns, just like raising the flag on Iwo.

“I know from the movie newsreels that the fighting in the Big One was hard, costing a whole lot of lives. This one, this one is more like, I'm thinking, more like the first one. Hey, wasn't that supposed to be the one to end them all?

"Well, anyway we have more in common here with those trenches in France in the first one. Know too that winters get cold in France; had heard about cold, wondered about white Christmas', but never knew about cold before.

"Nobody ever told me that cold winter winds have teeth, that they bite into you feeling like they are taking big chunks out of you. I've seen how they can blacken toes and fingers right to the snapping off of them.

"Nobody told me about having a grenade pin freeze in place, making it useless or about having to piss on my M-1 to get that warm enough to get it doing what it is supposed to do.

"Where I come from it is the heat and humidity that make you sleepy.

"Cold does that too.

"You kind of get passed the teeth chattering thing, the shivering, sitting here in the frozen, stinking mud with cold winds numbing your nose and ironically making your eyes burn.

"I know from home that you can get so hot you sort of get the shivers.

"Here it is just the opposite.

"You get so cold, so tired, so tired just from moving your fingers and wiggling your toes so they don't get frostbite and break off, that you start to feel sleepy warm.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

"Christmas is supposed to all green and red and smelling sweet.

"Nothing smells sweet here, no aroma of baking pralines in the air.

"No green.

"Just a white, frozen, hell.

"They told me hell was hot.

"The flames that lick at us here in this white frozen hell, come from enemy guns, searing hot wounds on hell frozen flesh.

"This is hell and it is cold.

"No pralines.

"No green.

"Some red, yeah, red but not Christmas red; not bright, shiny sparkling red like the big bows on Christmas gifts with shiny six guns in them, and full bodied play rifle stocks. Not the red that wraps around with white on candy canes. Not the red of Christmas lights giving a warm, warm glow. Not the red of the poinsettias, those flowers of the Holy Night, on the altar of the Cathedral.

"No, not that kind of red at all..

This red is dark, kinda purply, sticky looking, almost black in its redness, and dripped down from the side of my head, onto my shoulder, and down onto my chest, just sitting there like some obscene frozen ice thing made of what used to flow in me.

"The snow is starting to fall again, real light, real pretty. All the years growing up I wanted to see and feel and taste new, fresh falling snow. Always asked to be taken somewhere to taste and see and feel new fresh falling snow on Christmas Eve.

"Folks just weren't able to get to the doing of that.

"And I am alone; nobody else around; wonder where they all got to.

"Well, they'll be back, lot of them will get to where I am now; don't have to worrying about being alone in that.

"Now, what was I saying in the beginning of this thought? Oh, yeah, about always thinking about infantry and large numbers.

"Well, yeah, the thing of it is there are large numbers but the reality of that thing is that each of us going to war goes as a man alone, goes as the man he is. But those of us who get to go home, don't go home the same man. Even those of us who walk home on both feet, with both arms for hugging, and lips in tact for kissing, and manhood intact for making babies aren't going home the same man who came with those large, large numbers of other men, but came alone also in his own skin and his own bones, with his own heart damn near pounding out of his chest in fear.

"Know all about that kind of alone.

"But the snow is starting to fall heavier now and I've managed to push just the tiniest piece of my swollen tongue far enough passed my cracked and broken lips to find out what I always wanted to know; the taste and feel of new fresh falling snow on Christmas Eve.

"And you know what?

"It is everything I thought it would be, and more. In fact, its chill tastes good because I fell sort of hot right now.

"And I am all alone to enjoy it; alone, except what is that I hear?

"Bells, bells jingling; bells jingling on what sounds like what I've only read about before in stories about Russia about a thing called a troika; a three horse sleigh. And I can hear, I can hear the sounds of the hooves of the horses, and I can smell them, and they are alive and breathing hot and heavy with their exhaustion, steam coming full from their nostrils to ice up real quick in this cold, cold air.

"My God, are they coming to take me back home on a three horse sleigh in heavy fresh new falling snow with their bells all ajingling?

"But who, who is coming?

"Troikas are Russian things.

"I'm, I'm getting confused.

"Last war, not this war, Russians on our side.

"Easterners here are Koreans, Chinese, not Russians.

"The Han-guk, the Koreans, don't have troikas.

"The Chinese have those, those things, that you ride in and men carry about using their bodies like a horse or mule. Can't think, can't think of what they called, but it doesn't matter because they don't have bells, jingling bells on them anyway.

"But the snow is falling heavy sweet and fresh and new and pure and it is covering up all that dark, frozen sticky, blackish purply stuff that ran out of my head red and down onto my shoulder and chest from inside me and I am getting warm.

"Oh Lord, thank You, thank You for making me feel warm, for a dream come true; the seeing, the tasting, the feeling of fresh new falling snow on Christmas Eve and for sending whoever You are sending to take me home in a three horse sleigh with bells ajingling.

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