A belated Christmas story
This was sent to me by Helen L. Vingin, a friend and poet in Philadelphia.
The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light I gazed around the room and I cherished the sight. My wife was asleep, her head on my chest … my daughter beside me angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white transforming the yard to a winter delight. The sparkling lights in the tree I believe completed the magic that was Christmas Eve. My eyelids were heavy; my breathing was deep, secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem, so I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream. The sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near, but I opened my eyes when it awakened my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know. Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow, my soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear, and I crept to the door to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and dark of the night, a lone figure stood, his face weary and tight. A soldier, I puzzled, some 20 years old, perhaps a Marine huddled here in the cold … standing watch over me and my wife and child. Alone in the dark he looked up and smiled.
&uot;What are you doing?&uot; I asked without fear, come inside this moment, it’s freezing out here.&uot; Alone in the dark, he just looked up and smiled. I said, &uot;Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve, you should be home on this cold Christmas Eve.&uot;
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift, away from the cold and the snow blown drifts … to the window that danced with a warm fire’s light. Then he sighed and he said, it’s really all right, I’m out here by choice, I’m here every night.&uot;
&uot;It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line, That separates you from the darkest of times … no one had to ask or beg or implore me, I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Grandfather died at ‘Pearl on a day in December,&uot; Then he sighed, &uot;That’s a Christmas my Grandmother always remembers.&uot; &uot;My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ‘Nam,’ now it is my turn and so, here I am.&uot;
&uot;I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while, but my wife sends me pictures, he’s sure got her smile.&uot;
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag, the red, white, and blue, an American flag. &uot;I can live through the cold and the being alone, away from my family, my house and my home. I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet; I can sleep on the ground with little to eat. I can carry the weight of killing another, or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers.&uot; So go back inside, he said, &uot;Harbor no fright.&uot; &uot;Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.&uot;
&uot;But isn’t there something I can do, at the least prepare you a feast? It seems all to little for all that you’ve done, for being away from your wife and son?&uot;
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret, &uot;Just tell us you love us and never forget to fight for our rights back home while we’re gone. Just stand your own watch no matter how long. For when we come home, standing or dead, to know you remember we fought and bled is payment enough, and with that we will trust that we mattered to you as you mattered to us.&uot;
Having been there once, back in the forties, I still remember how lonely it was in spite of the adventure and being with close buddies. Letters from home were like pieces of gold, and after many readings they became a bit tattered and tarnished, but were not discarded.
I managed to bring many home with me, and they are like diary pages from long gone mom and dad. You are in strange world doing things you never imagined
… sometimes scared half out of your wits.
Warm thoughts of family events like Christmas tore your heart out and tears were easy. Every family member and friend wedged him or herself into your mind and you lingered over them as long as possible. If you know, or know of someone away from home, give him or her a lift with your pen. They will love you for it.
Those who work to send packages to folks in the service are the kindest of souls. I still can remember the box of crumbled chocolate chips that somehow had survived the North Sea and a good part of Europe in a bouncing truck … a piece of home.
Robert Pocklington is a Suffolk resident and regular contributor to this section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org