Time of Orphaning

file0001349463653It’s tough when you are orphaned at seventy. I say that without rancor or irony. I’d known Mrs. O’Donall and her daughter for fifteen years, which at the time of this story was the entire length of my life.

The ladies – as everyone called them – were fixtures in our parish. Each morning they arrived at St. Anselm’s at precisely six-fifty for daily Mass. Their consistency was such that my mom said she could tell time by them. They generally made their way into church arm-in-arm and always sat in the first pew.

While the younger lady was fragile, tentative and wide-eyed, the older one was stern, sturdy and quick-minded. With her daughter in tow, she worked on the Annual Church Carnival Planning Committee and in the Women’s Auxiliary as well, relied upon to help the nuns clean the sacristy, press altar cloths and arrange flowers. Over time they left cleaning the sacristy to younger women.

Those two were always proper and powdered, wearing red lipstick and hats and gloves as if it was still the forties or fifties. Everyone called Miss O’Donall “Baby,” though she was seventy. In fact I never knew her real name until I read it in the in the church bulletin: “Patricia O’Donall of County Cork, Ireland and the widow of John is survived by their only daughter, Margaret O’Donall . . . ” Margaret, I thought. Well that doesn’t seem to suit her. Maggie maybe. I could see her being called Maggie.

****

Mrs. O’Donall was ninety-one when the call came and “a nice ripe old age it ‘tis,” said my mother. She was preparing stuffed cabbage for after the funeral. The gathering would be in the church hall and the funeral at St. Charles Cemetery, which is where everyone in our parish gets buried. It has green lawns, tree-lined walks and stone fences. Odd that the dead are buried in a more beautiful place than the ones in which they had lived.

The O’Donall place was owned by the church. It was a four story walk-up on 97th Street next to an empty lot and so old it had dumb-waiters with ropes on pulleys and rusty hot-water radiators that hissed and rattled. The halls and stairwells smelled of rancid oils and the walls were marked with I’d guess was about fifty-or-so years of grime and fingerprints. The old ladies lived on Mrs. O’Donall’s husband’s pension combined with Baby’s savings left from her working days.

I was at their place often, whenever they needed me to run errands or to help lug groceries up the stairs. Their apartment had one bedroom. Mrs. O’Donall slept in the bedroom and Baby slept in the livingroom on a daybed. They kept their place as scrubbed and as sparkling as they could get an old place like that, with paint peeling and the linoleum worn and yellowing and starting to curl. You could smell the mothballs they used in their closet.

Their furniture “had seen better days,” as my Gram would say. They had small replicas of the Irish tricolor and the American flag on the buffet, odd splashes of color in the midst of pragmatic tan and brown. The end tables and the backs and arms of the chairs and sofa were protected with crocheted doilies in the old way, crochet hooks and cotton being as constant in the old ladies hands as their prayer beads and almost as revered. You could count on them to ply their craft like you could count on having to study for the SATs and on your parents giving you a curfew. Whatever the ladies gifted you from crib to coffin would be crocheted. “And so you should be honored,” my mother had said, “that the ladies made something with their own hands for your birthday.” That was the last year before Mrs. O’Donall died. They gave me two white crocheted collars for my cardigans, but no one wears that kind of collar anymore.

****

Uncle Tom and Uncle Andy, my mother’s brothers, took Baby in charge throughout the days of the wake and during the funeral, taking turns to help her up-and-down the stairs at home and holding onto her so that she didn’t trip into the grave at the funeral. She wasn’t normally doddering, but it did seem she was in shock. Mom made sure Baby ate some dinner at night and helped her into bed and my aunt on my father’s side, Claire Marie, got Baby up each morning and made her Red Rose tea and steel-cut oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar and milk. She drank the tea but barely touched the oatmeal.

We all worried about how Baby would fare when the flurry of activity subsided and she was left alone with silence and the reality of her mother’s death. She was the subject of the Women’s Auxiliary as they wondered if they should create a rotation of its members to check on her each day and make sure she didn’t feel abandoned. They wondered if they should also call the county social services. “I don’t want to be mean,” said Mrs. St. John, “but we all have husbands and children to care for. Where’s the time?”

“Where’s the time indeed,” said my mother with five kids and a husband “who is really just another child after all and more helpless than the rest.” So in the end county social services was called and a Miss Antonio came to talk with my mom and Mrs. St. John. My mother opened the door to her knock and found the lady dressed in a snappy red pants suit and carrying a brown leather briefcase. “Not Irish, but she’s a nice young lady and got herself an education too.”

In the end Miss Antonio’s considered opinion was that Baby was too frail to live on her own and too emotionally unstable for her judgement to be trusted. Amid Baby’s tears and confusion, Miss Antonio and some others from county social services packed a bag with the “basics” and moved Baby to an old people’s home. Her furniture and other things were sold or otherwise disposed of.  Mom said that money from the sale went into some sort of trust account for Baby’s care along with her remaining savings.

After a couple of days, some of the women in the Auxiliary and one of the nuns visited Baby. They said she was grieving but that the home was nice and she’d be happy and safe there.  I wanted to see it for myself. I wanted to see if Baby was really okay in that place. About two weeks after the move, Mom finally said I could go visit.

****

The following Sunday after ten-o’clock Mass, I made the twelve-block hike in the summer heat, arriving sweaty and dry-mouthed. I was surprised to find that the home didn’t look like a home at all. It was more like a government building, a school or something. Institutional. I went to the front desk and asked to see Miss Margaret O’Donall. The receptionist – who didn’t look much older than I – politely pointed to the stairs and said, “Next floor. First room on your right.”

Baby’s room was nothing like her old apartment and wasn’t very homey. There was a small night-stand with a lamp by a single bed, its metal frame painted black. There was an oak dresser with a mirror attached and a padded arm chair. The floor was bare and the window barred. The bed was neatly made with a worn white chenille bedspread.

The room’s saving grace was a big maple outside the window. Someone had placed the chair so that Baby could sit and look at the tree and the birds and squirrels. You could see patches of blue between the buildings, though their high rising blocked any view of the horizon.

Whenever I visited Baby during the months that followed I’d find her sitting by that window. Staring. Silent. Almost breathless. After awhile she’d realize I was there. “Oh, our bonnie Bonnie,” she’d say, “Mother will be so glad to see you.” When the winter came, she asked me to buy her crochet cotton and hooks and she started crocheting again and all winter long Baby made bed jackets. “You know Mother,” she said, “she always feels the chill.”

That spring Baby joined Mrs. O’Donall. I went to the home one day to find her bed stripped and her things packed in two paper shopping bags. I brought everything home to my mom and she let me keep the bed jackets. It’s been two years and I’m still not sure what I should do with them, but I don’t want to let them go. I don’t want to erase my memory of Baby. I don’t want to forget how hard it is when the time of orphaning comes, even if it doesn’t come until I am old.

© 2014,  Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; This short story is a fiction and any resemblence to anyone living or dead is coincidence. Photo credit ~ courtesy of morgueFile

Photo on 2014-03-31 at 17.16 #3unnamed-18JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day)~I am a medically retired (disabled) elder and the mother of married son who is very dear. I started blogging shortly after I retired as a way to maintain my sanity and to stay connected to the arts and the artful despite being mostly homebound. My Facebook pages are: Jamie Dedes (Arts and Humanities) and Simply Living, Living Simply.

With the help and support of talented bloggers and readers, I founded and host The Bardo Group because I feel that blogging offers a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters and not as “other.”

“Good work, like good talk or any other form of worthwhile human relationship, depends upon being able to assume an extended shared world.” Stefan Collini (b. 1947), English Literary Critic and Professor of English Literature at Cambridge

Señora Ortega’s Frijoles

flores de la frijoles
las flores de frijoles

Her fate was set when she fell under the spell of his kind eyes and bigger than life personality. For his part, he loved her gentle ways, the fluid dance of her hands at work, the sensual swing of her hips as she walked to the market with basket in hand. And so it happened that in 1948, with her father’s permission and her mother’s tears, they were wed in the old adobe iglesia where uncounted generations of her family had been married before her. Not many months after the wedding, she kissed her parents and siblings goodbye, took a long loving look at her village, and she followed her new husband north to los Estados Unidos de América. She was already pregnant with Clarita.

****

As the days and years passed, they settled into their routines. Sunday mornings were her husband’s quiet time. He stayed at home while Señora Ortega and Clarita were at Mass. In their absence he would occasionally put down his newspaper and stir his wife’s frijoles simmering fragrant with pork, a few bay leaves, onions and garlic.

Last night: their Saturday ritual, she and Clarita had sorted and then washed the dried beans in cold water and left them to soak until morning. The child – fast becoming a young woman – took the time and care to do a good job of this. El trabajo es vertud. Work is virtue, Señora Ortega encouraged. In the tradition of Señora Ortega’s own madre, la cocina was a place of teaching – about food, about life, about being a woman, about being human.

“!Ten cuidado, hija!”  Be careful, she would say as she demonstrated her almost sacramental sorting of the dry beans. It was an opportunity to teach Clarita the dichos, the proverbs, of her mother and grandmother and all the grandmothers before. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” We get our strength from los frijoles, she taught Clarita just as her own mother taught her. Certainly the beans give the strength to our bodies, but also the strength to our character.  There are lessons. “¡Aqui!”  Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed. Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. One bad frijole will ruin the whole pot.  Taparse con la misma cobija.* … You will be judged by the company you keep. Be cautious in your choice of friends.  Even the norteamericanos have such a saying: one bad apple spoils the bunch.

“Mama,” said Clarita, rolling her eyes after her mother’s latest speech. We are North Americans.” Señora Ortega’s brow furrowed when she heard this. She was given to worry about such reactions from her daughter. What of the child’s values?  It is true after all. My daughter is American. What does this mean for her future, for our relations, and for us as la familia?

****

Soon Señora Ortega had to put her concerns aside. It was springtime. Easter was upon them and with it a visit from her husband’s sister with her two small children. Señora Ortega and Clarita were busy with preparations. The air in her house smelled of poblanos roasting and cookies baking. They put fresh linens on the beds in the guest rooms. They picked flowers from her garden and set them in vases around the house. She gave in and bought chocolate Easter bunnies too, the silly convention of this country, but the children loved them and looked forward to them each year.

Finally the honored guests arrived and the house was filled with the cheerful noises of los niños. The boy and girl were now old enough to learn to prepare beans and, on the eve of Easter Sunday, Señora Ortega gave Clarita the task of showing the children how to sort los frijoles for cooking.  She looked on as Clarita explained the process. “!Ten cuidado, mis primos. Aqui! Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed.  Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. Remember one bad frijole will ruin the whole pot. Be cautious in your choice of friends. Taparse con la misma cobija. You will be judged by the company you keep. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” Los frijoles are our strength.

****

At some point, Señora Ortega’s husband had come to stand by her side. She realized he was watching her as intently as she watched their daughter. He put his arm around her and held her close. “You see, mi querida, she is a good girl and you are a good mother. It’s gonna be okay …” “Am I that transparent,” thought Señora Ortega, but she sighed gratefully. All will be well. My mother was right. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” 

Taparse con la misma cobija – literally: to cover yourself with the same blanket, i.e. likely the same meaning as our expression “birds of a feather.”

© 2012, short story, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved. This story is a fabrication and not meant to depict any specific person or persons living or dead. It is, however, meant to provide a slight view of immigrant concerns and to show how in some traditions values are passed from mother to daughter. Photo credit ~ Schnobby via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 unported license

Photo on 2014-03-31 at 17.16 #3– JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day)~ I am a mother and a medically retired (disabled) elder. The graces of poetry, art, music, writing and study continue to evolve as a sources of wonder and solace, as a creative outlet, and as a part of my spiritual practice.

Waiting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wait each day, down by the ocean, sitting on our bench, looking out to sea. The sun is relentless, piercing through my linen shroud like an X-ray picking clean my bones. I turn my face to it in supplication. Still, it beats down on me; whilst gentle waves of sea roll in, slide up the beach and trickle through millions of grains of sand, each of little consequence.

A sand crab hurries away. I know not where. I do not wonder. I think only of you and the last time we met. You were dark that day, your passion spent. You could not love. You could not feel. You stood a distance away, dressed in a long grey coat. The heat never touched you. It did not X-Ray your bones, nor expose the wild, stunted heart that lay beneath that full, bleak envelope. A quiet breeze lifted your hair in billowing wisps, playing with it, tempting you to participate in the beauty of the day. You saw no-thing. Your eyes were black, shrivelled into thin points staring out to sea.

You should not have been there. You looked so out of place. The incongruity of the moment stabbed me like a shard of yellow sunlight bursting through the walls of my heart.

I remember now. A tear rolls down my cheek, splashes into the sand and disappears inconsequentially, as a droplet carried in an ocean of tears.

You will never come again.

That time, you came to mourn me. You saw only an empty bench, a cruel, not gentle sea, and a crab that fed off my bones.

I am here my love, waiting still, in the moments when the wind rustles through your hair to tempt you into seeing the beauty of the day.

– Niamh Clune

© 2013, fiction, Niamh Clune, All rights reserved
Photo courtesy of morgeFile

430564_3240554249063_1337353112_n-1orange-petals-cover_page_001DR. NIAMH CLUNE (On the Plum Tree) ~ is the author of the Skyla McFee series: Orange Petals in a Storm, and Exaltation of a Rose. She is also the author of The Coming of the Feminine Christ: a ground-breaking spiritual psychology. Niamh received her Ph.D. from Surrey University on Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination and specialises in The Imaginal Mind and how the inborn, innate wisdom hidden in the soul informs our daily lives and stories. Niamh’s books are available in paperback (children’s books) and Kindle version (The Coming of the Feminine Christ). Her Amazon page is HERE.

SEÑORA ORTEGA’S FRIJOLES or LESSONS LEARNED IN THE KITCHEN

las flores de frijoles
las flores de frijoles

SEÑORA ORTEGA’S FRIJOLES

by

Jamie Dedes

Her fate was set when she fell under the spell of the American’s kind eyes and bigger than life personality. For his part, he loved her gentle ways, the fluid dance of her hands at work, the sensual swing of her hips as she walked to the market with basket in hand. And so it happened that in 1948, with her father’s permission and her mother’s tears, they were wed in the old adobe iglesias where uncounted generations of her family had been married before her. Not many months after the wedding, she kissed her parents and siblings goodbye, took a long loving look at her village, and followed her new husband north to los Estados Unidos de América. She was already pregnant with Clarita.

****

As the days and years passed, they settled into their routines. Sunday mornings were her husband’s quiet time. He stayed at home while Señora Ortega and Clarita were at Mass. In their absence he would occasionally put down his newspaper and stir his wife’s frijoles simmering fragrant with pork, a few bay leaves, onions and garlic. Last night: their Saturday ritual, she and Clarita had sorted and then washed the dried beans in cold water and left them to soak until morning. The child – fast becoming a young woman – took the time and care to do a good job of this. El trabajo es vertud. Work is virtue, Señora Ortega encouraged.

In the tradition of Señora Ortega’s own madrela cocina was a place of teaching – about food, about life, about being a woman, about being human. “!Ten cuidado, hija!”  Be careful, she would say as she demonstrated her almost sacramental sorting of the dry beans. It was an opportunity to teach Clarita the dichos, the proverbs, of her mother and grandmother and all the grandmothers before.

“Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” We get our strength from los frijoles, she taught Clarita just as her own mother taught her. Certainly the beans give the strength to our bodies, but also the strength to our character.  There are lessons. “¡Aqui!”  Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed. Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. One bad frijole will ruin the whole pot.  Taparse con la misma cobija.* … You will be judged by the company you keep. Be cautious in your choice of friends.  Even the Norte Americanos have such a saying: one bad apple spoils the bunch.

“Mama,” said Clarita, rolling her eyes after her mother’s latest speech. We are North Americans.” Señora Ortega’s brow furrowed when she heard this. She was given to worry about such reactions from her daughter. What of the child’s values?  It is true after all. My daughter is American. What does this mean for her future, for our relations, and for us as la familia?

****

Soon Señora Ortega had to put her concerns aside. It was springtime. Easter was upon them and with it a visit from her husband’s sister with her two small children. Señora Ortega and Clarita were busy with preparations. The air in her house smelled of poblanos roasting and cookies baking. They put fresh linens on the beds in the guest rooms. They picked flowers from her garden and set them in vases around the house. She gave in and bought chocolate Easter bunnies too, the silly convention of this country, but the children loved them and looked forward to them each year.

Finally the honored guests arrived and the house was filled with the cheerful noises oflos niños. The boy and girl were now old enough to learn to prepare beans and, on the eve of Easter Sunday, Señora Ortega gave Clarita the task of showing the children how to sort los frijoles for cooking.  She looked on as Clarita explained the process. “!Ten cuidado, mis primos. Aqui! Remove these. Remove the wrinkled, the broken, the discolored or malformed.  Remove them as you should remove flaws from your character. Remember one bad frijole will ruin the whole pot. Be cautious in your choice of friends. Taparse con la misma cobija. You will be judged by the company you keep. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” Los frijoles are our strength.

****

At some point, Señora Ortega’s husband had come to stand by her side. She realized he was watching her as intently as she watched their daughter. He put his arm around her and held her close. “You see, mi querida, she is a good girl and you are a good mother. It’s gonna be okay …”

“Am I that transparent,” thought Señora Ortega, but she sighed gratefully. All will be well. My mother was right. “Los frijoles son nuestra fuerza.” 

.

Taparse con la misma cobija – literally: to cover yourself with the same blanket, i.e. likely the same meaning as our expression “birds of a feather.”

© 2012, short story, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved. This story is a fabrication and not meant to depict any specific person or persons living or dead.

Photo credit ~ Schnobby via Wikipedia under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 unported license

ONE LAST CHRISTMAS POST, lest we forget the lessons of 1914

I’m preparing to get ready today for business as usual and there’s lots to share from Ann and Rob and other contributors. I decided to visit some blogs first. One of our contributors, Gayle Walters (Bodhirose’s Blog) had posted this historical fiction on her blog. It’s by children’s author, Aaron Shepard, and he allows it to be reblogged. It’s a short story based on the true events of the famous Christmas Eve truce of 1914 that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of as “one human episode amid all the atrocities.” We do have moments of truce in our personal, spiritual, and political lives. If we could only make such moments a regular thing, our preferred m.o., if you will … Jamie Dedes

Parents and educators will find good stories and scripts for children’s plays at Mr. Shepard’s website HERE.

Copyright © 2001, 2003 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose.

The story is formated as a letter ….

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
by
Aaron Shepard
Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.

The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .

Then we replied.

O come all ye faithful . . . .

But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.

Adeste fideles . . . .

British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.

“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!

“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.

“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”

“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”

Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother,
Tom
The photograph (via Wikipedia) is in the public domain: A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce in 1914. The text reads:
1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.