Against the Grain

Once upon a time I met a drunken sailor who saved me from myself and all the other bad things that were going on in my life.  I was ten or eleven years old, and he was in his mid-thirties.  The kids in the neighborhood called him Mr. George.  He was different from all the other dads in the neighborhood, partly because he wasn’t a dad, but mostly because he looked different when he came home from work.  Mr. George wore a suit every day in a community where most people didn’t even own suits; or if they did, they had been hanging in the back of their closets for so many years that they no longer fit anyone.

Mr. George had a fancy title too, but nobody could remember exactly what it was.  All they knew was that he went to work at the Baltimore County Board of Education during the day, and he hung out on his boat or Wilhelm’s most other times.  Wilhelm’s was the restaurant downstairs from Mr. Tony’s delicatessen.  Mr. Tony used to sell me chicken necks really cheap so I could go crabbing when I came home from school and on weekends.  The deli was nice, and it had all sorts of everything.  And the restaurant downstairs always had fresh meat.  That and cold beer, hard liquor, and a ho-hum assortment of wines–red, white, and blush.  For a long time there was a dock outside the restaurant where people tied up their boats and went inside Wilhelm’s to eat dinner.  Sometimes people just tied up there and drank cold Pabst Blue Ribbon out on their boats, smelling the aroma of Wilhelm’s steaks wafting out the restaurant’s open windows.

Mr. George lived on the third floor of an apartment building on the edge of the playground, and he had a view of all the important activities that took place on any day in our community, along with a view of the laundromat roof, all three dumpsters, his sailboat, and Dark Head Creek, a small tributary of the Chesapeake Bay at the very end of Middle River.  He mostly just slept in his apartment, except on Sundays and major holidays when he stayed inside and cooked fancy meals.  Once I went up to visit and found him chasing lobsters around on the kitchen floor.  There were even more in his bathtub.  Holidays were fun at Mr. George’s place.  His choice of wine for such special events was Mateus Rose, which was still better than Boone’s Farm or Manichewitz. He enjoyed his drink while sitting out on his porch, which was liberally seasoned with seagull poop.  In retrospect, I imagine he liked the view from his porch because he had such a great view of what he called “God’s Little Patch.”  He sounded sarcastic every time he said it, as pirates often do, but deep down inside I knew that’s how he viewed this place we all called home.  George understood our community and the people who lived in it just like he did the tides and the weather.  He always had his finger on the pulse of our little neighborhood.  He knew its ebb and flow.

Even in the middle of the winter you could see George putting around on his boat, a thirty-foot Alberg.  His boat was all white with blue trim, with a lot of teak trim on deck. Her name was Angel.  He usually found things to do on his boat, including cleaning the inside on the coldest days, occasionally venturing outside just long enough to check the bubble lines that kept the water from turning to ice around the hull.  Mr. George was so much a part of that sailboat that if I didn’t see the two of them together, I’d naturally assume that he and the boat had floated out to sea, or both of them had simply vanished.  When I was a little older, he invented things that had to be done on his boat, and then paid me to do them.  It usually involved cleaning stuff that didn’t need to be cleaned, or organizing things that didn’t need to be organized, but I appreciated it.  Not just because I had no money, but because he cared enough to notice.

And so the years went by.

George and I had completely different notions of who he was.  In my young, idealistic mind, he was the father I felt I had been missing–or at least the replacement for the one I had at home and could never relate to.  George saw himself as a pirate of sorts.  Not the raping and pillaging kind, or even the type of seagoing vagabond who spent a lifetime plundering and amassing huge quantities of booty.  No, George saw himself (and rightly so) as the crazed captain raising his weathered, misshapen sword up to the heavens as a warning, never abandoning ship, never even lowering his mainsail, no matter what the threat or what the cost.  he never once saw his actions as a consequential rebuttal to mankind or society, or even God.  He was just going against the grain.

George raised me, like it or not, as a pirate’s son.  And as I got older, I went through life fighting the fights he could no longer bear witness to, or had simply forgotten about over time.  And when I lost a fight, as I often did, I had the gumption to peel myself off the asphalt, cough out chunks of gravel, dust, and stale beer, and suit up for my next stupid mistake.  George taught me not to quit.

He and I have taken turns taking care of each other for almost half a century now.  He has matched my periods of insecurity and financial distress with his own variety of self-destructive behaviors, some of which I was ill-equipped to deal with, especially when I was younger.  But I tried.  And now that we’re both much older, I’m using the strength that he has given me to keep myself emotionally intact while watching him age in ways where I can be of little help to him.  But still I try.

The thing about pirates, or even sailors who cuss and drink too much, is that the forces of nature eventually come to collect their own booty, even when the treasure chest is mostly empty.  When the parrot on his shoulder withers to bone and dried feathers, and his peg leg has been ravaged by hurricanes and blinding sun and sea salt, and is reduced to fine sawdust carried hundreds of miles off the starboard bow by ocean winds–then he’ll know it’s time to come ashore.  No need trying to tie the boat to the dock, because that wood is also gone.

Fighting the good fight for a lifetime beats the hell out of giving up altogether, but it leaves a man bruised and bloody and tired, but usually with a silly grin on his face.

George turned eighty-three years old today.  He no longer drinks, nor does he sail.  But he continues to save me from myself, even when I’ve assured him that I no longer need saving, or that I am totally beyond the benefits of such a futile endeavor.  Still, he persists.  And although I know he does the things he does for all the right reasons, I can’t help but wonder if his motives are somewhat rooted in the years he lived in God’s Little Patch.  Perhaps he’s not a hero, or a pirate, or a father, or a drunken sailor, or even a knight whose armor has gotten dull and rusty over years and years of battle. But perhaps he’s all of these things.

Or maybe he’s still just going against the grain.

 

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Dealing With My Dead Brother

The day I was born, my older brother stayed at home with my grandfather.  Bruce was only twenty months old then, and he still needed adult supervision.  He tore up the place and locked Grandpa outside in protest of my imminent arrival.  Bruce did not want a younger brother.

He spent the next fifty-four years reminding me not only of how much he despised me, but the extent to which the world did not require my presence.  He accomplished this through physical and emotional abuse, and, at times, simply ignoring me or running away.  I was very keen on the idea of having an older brother from the get-go.  I figured that if I kept at it long enough and hard enough, I would one day ignite his love for me–or at least his acceptance of my existence in his life.  Bruce didn’t know it, but he was my hero.  We went skim boarding together at the beach, and snorkeling too.  One day he decided to become a real live scuba diver, and he made a diver’s belt from a plastic strap and “weights” he formed out of plaster poured into the bottoms of empty milk cartons from his sixth-grade lunch period.  We went back to the beach to try it out.  He waded into the shallow salt water and his homemade plaster weights dissolved in a psychedelic fusion of turquoise water and milky powder, and I didn’t even laugh at him.  After all, he was my big brother.

I tried to do everything he did, when he let me.  And I tried to go everywhere with him, when he and his friends didn’t run away from me, laughing, pointing.  Shouting until their voices trailed away and I stood alone in awful silence.  After all, he was my big brother.  Every little kid needs a big brother.  Even I knew that.

We got snow skis one Christmas when we lived in Baltimore.  I followed him to a small hill and he showed me how to go all the way down–all forty feet or so–and not fall down.  I loved my big brother.  When he joined the Boy Scouts, so did I.  But then he quit and left me there all alone.  He taught me how to take pictures, so I bugged Mom until she got me my very own camera.  That’s when Bruce stopped taking pictures.  I stayed in Boy Scouts for six years and assumed a leadership position.  I did things and went places that took me far away from my family, and I took lots of pictures.  I learned how to ski the slalom runs and jump the moguls.  Snow skiing gave me the freedom I didn’t know I needed and the fear that would fuel my independence.  I hadn’t known how liberating and self-defining it could be to overcome one’s fears.

The years passed and we both grew older.  Bruce started spending a lot of time working on cars because he knew I didn’t care too much about that kind of stuff.  He drank a little, smoked some weed, and stole eight-track tape players from the cars that were parked on our block.  He called it Midnight Auto.  I didn’t like that, either.

And so it goes.  The years I spent trying to get closer to Bruce were swallowed up by the years he spent trying to escape my grasp–the insecure clutches of a younger brother he had never wanted in the first place.  We grew apart, not like normal siblings do, but like a tremulous patch of earth that had been violated by some violent force of nature, and then separated into two distinct sides of a deep, wide abyss.

Bruce did a lot of scuba diving while I was scrambling up and down mountain sides.  He became an auto mechanic while I went off to college and became a teacher a thousand miles away.  The last time we talked was right after our mother died.  (Dad had been dead for about twenty years by then.)  Without Mom as a referee, Bruce’s true feelings toward the little brother he never wanted came out in full force.  And he took off his gloves.

He died about a year or so ago, I think.  Give or take a month.  I heard it was a nice funeral.

When I finally stop hating my brother, if I can ever get to that place, I’d like to revisit whatever good memories of him that still exist in my mind.  I think I’d like to picture him standing on top of that tiny, snow-covered hill that seemed as tall as Mt. Everest at the time.  It was interminably cold that day and the sky was flawlessly blue.  The sun was shining brightly on the icy waters of Dark Head Creek.  He looked majestic and important standing on top of that hill, all forty feet of it.  I remember looking at him just before I put my skis together and slid down to the bottom of the icy slope.  I was so happy and proud–not proud of what had done, but proud of my big brother for having taught me so well.

Once I finally stopped sliding, I looked back at him.  I was beaming with happiness–a huge smile and bright red cheeks.  But he was no longer standing up on the hill; he had already left.

I was alone.

You Could See It in Their Faces

Spur of the MomentI used to teach art in an elementary school, long ago and far away.  The kids were crazy fun back then.  There were the crayon-mashers, the booger-eaters, and even the occasional projectile-vomiters.  By the end of any given school year, my students could draw the hexagons on a turtle’s shell, shade things in to make them look 3-D, and paint a tree that did not look like a lollipop.  They were using their own creativity to find their way, and they were happy.  You could see it in their faces.

Fast-forward twenty or thirty years.  This evening I went to a friend’s retirement celebration.  But it was more than that; it was an acknowledgement of her decades of commitment to teaching and helping and guiding untold numbers of children.  Her own children were there with her–all grown up now with children of their own.  They too are teachers.  When they were little kids they used to come to my art class.  One was very serious and polite and practical.  The other was loud and precocious, with an infectious smile.  I looked forward to seeing both of them each and every week.

Like all teachers do, when I look back at my career I see those living, breathing whirlwinds of energy not just as mile markers along the path my teaching career took, but as my reason for taking that route in the first place.  As an art teacher, my students numbered in the thousands.  I shaped them and they shaped me.  And despite the occasional discontent (for them and me), we all seemed to turn out okay.

The thing I noticed most about this evening’s get-together was how little the teachers had changed over all that time.  For sure we had all aged; that’s a given.  But the same love and warmth they had given to their students during their many years in the classroom still radiated from their faces.  It’s as if their smiles had been placed in time capsules and pulled out immediately before the retirement celebration.  Nothing seemed different, at least not the important stuff.

And as the evening drew to a close, and hugs and goodbyes were exchanged, along with laughter–always laughter, I drew back for a moment and tried to imagine what my life would have been like without those teachers in it… and without my students.  And I realized what a dark, shallow place it would have been.  Then I thought of their students, and their students, and how the future might look because of those exchanges, those relationships.  And I saw how, despite my usual cynical outlook of this world, there could and would be generations of teachers, just like these folks, who would use their own creativity and love to help kids find their ways too.  I was sure of this as I slowly looked around the room.  I could see it in their faces.

Future Book Signing Events!

Walking Bridge Cover v.5If you live in the Tampa Bay area, there will be four fun book signing events coming up!  They are:

Wednesday, 5/18   3-5 PMUkulele’s   4805 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., Land O’ Lakes, FL  34639

Thursday, 5/26   5-8 PMLatitudes   131 Harbor Village Lane, Apollo Beach, FL  33572

Wednesday, 6/1  6-8 PMApollo’s Bistro   6520 Richie’s Way, Apollo Beach, FL  33572  (Also a wine tasting and art opening!)

Wednesday, 6/8  5-8 PMPRP Wine International   5910-F Breckenridge Pkwy., Tampa, FL  33610  (Also a wine tasting and charity event!)

If you can’t attend, you can also pick up a book on the following web site:

http://www.thewordverve.com/walking-bridge/

 

I Wish I Could Remember Her Name

WatchersShe told me her name, but I no longer remember what she said.  It was almost one in the morning when she rang the doorbell.  Twice.  I wasn’t too concerned at first, although it did seem a bit surreal.  I peered through the window panes of our front door to see who it was.  “Go away.”

‘I need help.”  She paused.  “I don’t want to be a bother; I have no place else to go.”

I reluctantly unlocked the front door and looked up at her.  She was maybe six-and-a-half-feet tall.  At least.  Long black hair, dyed, with matching lipstick–although most of it had smudged off.  There were human lips underneath.  Beneath her black leather jacket she wore a black, heavy metal band t-shirt with silver letters and logo.  Thrasher maybe?  Her yellow-and-brown plaid skirt was hiked up almost to her hips, accentuating long, smooth white legs that fit snuggly into tight, brown leather boots.  She was wrapped in a dirty, tan blanket and carried three black leather bags.  She explained to me that she had a tablet, and could use the outside outlet for electricity so she could contact someone to pick her up.  Mike had left her with Dave, and Dave had left her alone in our neighborhood in the middle of the night.  Her mother was asleep, but she would be of little help had her eyes actually been open.  This strange, helpless girl admitted to being homeless for most of the past three years, and she looked and smelled the part.  I guessed she was twenty-something.

I brought her into our house.

My wife had just gone to bed, but I had discreetly awakened her before I had unlocked the door so she knew what was happening.  It seemed like the responsible thing to do at the time.

The girl, whose name I still can’t recall, asked for my laptop because her tablet was apparently inoperable.  I offered it to her as she squatted cross-legged on the cold tile floor in our foyer.  She asked if I was alone, and it sounded like a proposition.  I answered in the negative while searching her neck for an Adam’s apple.  I realized that I was starting my Friday morning in the company of a very sexy man who drew the interest of both of our cats and was starting to scare the shit out of me.

As I crouched on the floor beside her, I asked about the hospital band on her wrist.  She replied that she had “checked in to get off the street,” and that she simply needed her meds.

Holy Mother of God, what had I gotten myself into?

She told me she needed her space and asked me (twice) if I could stop hovering over her.  I moved over to a living room couch and watched her punch buttons on my keyboard in my foyer in my house–wondering all the while if she was secretly contacting any number of her sociopathic friends to participate in her home invasion.  I imagined duct tape and rope and gags and torture for me and my wife.  I smelled the acrid scent of fear and realized it was me.  My wife had already gone back to sleep, imagining I had the situation under control.  She had never been more wrong about anything.

Minutes dragged on like hours as the stranger looked up phone numbers on a variety of social network sites and called people up on our home phone.  The conversations were short and fruitless, and she was getting visibly upset.  She rambled on and on to me about getting to Chicago, and how her own mother only offered her a cigarette and a beer the last time they had gotten together–and then complained about her accepting both.  The girl that was probably a guy and most likely a hooker that sat cross-legged in my foyer inside my home at one-thirty in the morning was getting very upset and I was trying to keep everything cool, trying to keep him from becoming enraged and violent.

And then my computer died.

With a defeated look, she abruptly got up and put on his jacket, and then covered her shoulders with a blanket before picking up his three satchels that she had placed on the floor when he had first entered my life.  I told her that I was sorry I couldn’t help him, and asked for our phone back–the one she had just deposited into her jacket pocket.  Once she was all geared up and ready to leave, he returned it to me.  It occurred to me at that moment that she felt so vulnerable, she had to reclaim her own clothing and belongings before she felt safe enough to return my phone.  She had been holding it hostage.  She was more afraid of me than I was of him.

I apologized for not being able to help, but I was secretly relieved to see her depart.  I wished him well and locked the front door behind her.  He walked away from our house in the suburbs into a dark, rainy, and uncertain night, carrying his three bulky satchels closely, like hungry infants whose cries for milky breasts were answered by the sound of boot heels on wet concrete sidewalks.

I wish I could remember her name.

The Ghosts of Paths Forgotten

IMG_1964When the package first arrived, I figured it probably contained old letters and photographs.  George had a penchant for doing things like that; digging up my past and serving it up on a large plate, drizzled with the angst and confusion of a young man’s problematic existence, and served with a side of questionable regret.

I guess I started writing letters to George when I left my neighborhood to join the army in 1977.  We had been friends since I was ten or eleven; at least that’s what I remember.  George is old enough to be my father, and he was there for me when I was the childhood victim of a failing marriage and a real father who either didn’t understand me, or flat-out didn’t care.  I’ll never know for sure; Mom and Dad are both dead.  George isn’t.  He sent me that package just the other day.

It was a thick, heavy envelope–full of all the words I had strung together during my stint in the army, my college years, and my first few semesters as a full-time art teacher in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.  Almost a decade of my incomprehensibly questionable life on this wildly spinning orb.

I believe I may have become a man sometime during those years, although if George had pointed that out to me, I will never know; his letters to me are all gone.  George has always been better at that than me.  While I don’t keep more than one or two emails from the same person because they’re too troublesome to delete later on, George keeps meticulous records of the paths his good friends have travelled, in words and images, so he can opine at their eventual destinations.  It’s not that George is judgmental; he’s just that interested.

When I opened up the envelope, a slew of correspondences fell out onto the living room floor where I sat cross-legged beside my cat that rainy afternoon.  I was surprised, but not really, at all the things I had revealed to my old friend–doubts and dreams, the glory of superficial accomplishments, the anguish of lost love . . . It was as if I had discussed in great detail every path I had ever taken in my life.  But it wasn’t just a matter-of-fact diatribe; I seemed to be reaching out to him for approval.  I was lost and looking for directions, and that is the quest of any young person, I believe–to go on a journey and expect a map to show up somewhere along the way.

The map has not yet arrived, but the trek continues.  Some time over the years I was married, and George is now good friends with my wife.  And in his mind he is recording both our journeys, and also the one we travel together.

I haven’t gone through all the letters yet; the ones I’ve read so far make me fearful of the rest.  I don’t know why I feel this way, and even though I fully realize the past can’t be undone, I have an unrelenting urge to imagine that my earlier years were less treacherous than they actually were, and I do not want this spoiled.  I shared those things with George years ago because I couldn’t face them all by myself.  Why should I try to deal with them now, when I have certainly moved past all that?  Or have I?  Have any of us?

We are all, in one way or another, products of our pasts–of the paths we chose long, long ago.  And I wonder, now more than ever, will the knowledge of the events that have formed us enrich our lives in some way?  Or would we merely be digging up old, weathered bones?

Perhaps the ghosts of the past should be allowed, once again, to float freely along the old paths; or, if they are no longer interested in that single-minded pursuit, maybe they could just point the rest of us in the right direction.

Author and Publisher’s Book Fair

on point book fair save the date SHOWCASING ATHeeeeey!  There’s an author and publisher’s book fair coming to the Tampa Bay area on Friday, July 17th.  It will run from 5 – 8 PM.  It will be at On Point Executive Center on Rocky Point.  The sponsors of the event will be passing out appetizers and light food throughout the event, and some of the authors will be serving wine.  There will be close to 40 authors and publishers there, from what I hear.  It should be fun.  I’ll be there autographing copies of Strange Times in Yeehaw Junction.  I hope to see you there!

Sam is Dead, and So is Dick

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“For your information, both Dick Walko and Same Herman have died.”

That was the email I received that morning.  It was how I started my day.  Not that it’s unusual for a baby boomer to receive that kind of fatalistic news.  Folks of our generation tend to spend more time at funerals than baby showers and christenings, so the deaths of the people in our lives is to be expected.  It was just the way the information was presented to me–cold, clinical, and unemotional–that got to me the most.  To be sure, Sam and Dick weren’t close friends of mine.  Actually, they were much older than me.  George, who sent me the email, used to sail with them out on the Chesapeake Bay when I was a teenager, and sometimes he’d invite me along. That’s how I got to know them in the first place.  All three of them, Sam, George, and Dick, were involved in education in Baltimore County.  Dick even taught at my old high school.

I didn’t have Dick Walko for a teacher, but I went sailing with him every now and then.  I remember how the wind used to play havoc with his comb-over as he tried to work the tiller without spilling any of his black Russian onto his clean, white deck.  Sam would sail with us sometimes too.  He drank Cutty Sark on the rocks.  It’s funny how I remember what those two men drank, but so little else about their lives.  They were good people, and good friends of George.  I remember spending more time with Sam.  I once went to the Smoky Mountains with Sam and George when I was a senior in high school.  One night we were asleep in a cabin, and Sam woke up screaming something about banshies coming through the window, obviously out to get us all.  Sam had a vivid imagination, but I imagine that was the Cutty Sark talking.  Or screaming, actually.  Good times.

Sam had a twin brother, Ben,  who died a couple of years earlier than he did.  I don’t remember what Ben drank.  Ben Herman was a writer.  He penned some columns for the Baltimore Sun, and wrote a couple of books of short stories.  Stories about what it was like growing up Jewish in Dundalk, just on the outskirts of Baltimore City.  He told stories of familiar things, but was somehow able to transform those memories into his own, personal mythology.  I still read those two books and, now that I’m much older, the myths make a lot more sense; they’ve even become a part of me.  Ben used to go into burger joints and coffee shops with a note pad, and write for hours.  Words flowed through the tips of his fingers and the end of his writing pen like a swiftly-running river.  And the coffee kept coming and coming until he finally ran out of ink and had to go back home.

Sam and Ben Herman were kind of short, as I recall.  But they were giants.  Sam had the ability to smile and goof around when the sky was crashing in all around us, and Ben could take any commonplace experience and transform it, with words, into something extraordinary.  It was nothing less than a miracle.  I knew Dick Walko much less than Sam and Ben, but the few memories I have of him are good ones.  Before I knew him personally, he was a customer on my paper route.  I remember getting praise and a smile for delivering his newspaper each day–and always a good tip when I collected his money.  After he retired, Dick became a substitute teacher in the same school he had just left.  I’ve done some substitute teaching, and I can’t say I was ever as enthusiastic about it as Dick was.  He said he missed the extra income, but I think he really just missed the kids.

I don’t talk to George about these three guys that much, and I don’t know exactly why.  I believe that the passing of so many friends, acquaintances, and relatives over the years has numbed me sufficiently, so I can now intellectualize the deaths of those who helped form me into the person I have become, without becoming too emotionally involved.

Sam is dead, and so is Dick.  Ben died a while back.  I still live, and so does George.

And every day the tides go out and the tides come in on the Chesapeake Bay.  In downtown Baltimore, the red bricks of the old buildings turn brown, and the sky goes cold and gray.  Time is a human construct, and the dead laugh at us, because we give time much more importance than it deserves.  And somewhere in Heaven, or whatever they call it, three old memories have started life anew.  Like sailboats coming about in a stiff, cool breeze out on the vast waters of the Chesapeake Bay, starting a new tack.  Or a writer in a fast food joint inhaling just enough cooking grease and coffee beans to charge him up into delving into the complexities of the human condition.  Or someone on the sidelines quietly guiding those who don’t feel as if they’re important enough to be noticed.

If there is a bar in the afterlife, I imagine it’s always open.  Sam, with his Cutty Sark, and Dick, with his black Russian, are already there.  Ben probably has a coffee cup in his hand, and is working on his third book.  I hope they leave a couple of stools empty for George and me.

In the meantime, the three of them will continue to look down and encourage us to live our lives while we still can.  To use the tools we’ve been given, and to use them wisely.

To take our commonplace existences and turn them into something extraordinary.

Remember the Christmas Truce

First SnowThis year marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce of World War One.  Most people have never even heard of it.  We spend so much time and ink memorializing the wholesale slaughter of human beings we know nothing about, that we have little emotional space left to contemplate one of the most significant peaceful accomplishments in our history – when soldiers, for a very brief time, chose friendship over hatred, life over death, peace over war.

The British and German soldiers had been involved in a virtual blood bath for almost half a year, bombing and shelling each other from deep trenches they had dug with small shovels.  They were exhausted, depressed, frightened, and most likely wishing they were home for the holidays.  During one of the respites from fighting, when both sides were tending to their wounded, their ammo, and whatever food they could find, there arose a beautiful sound from one of the trenches.  The British soldiers heard the Germans singing a song whose words they did not understand, but still they could tell that they were listening to Silent Night from across the cold mud, barbed wire, and piles of dead bodies.  So they did the most sensible thing.  They started singing along with the Germans.

At first, soldiers on both sides popped their heads up to see what the others were doing, both afraid of getting shot.  Eventually, both Germans and Brits entered into No-Man’s Land to meet their enemies eye to eye on this Christmas day.  Apparently all it took was standing up and pulling themselves out of their trenches.  The rest was relatively easy.

Soldiers on both sides had a glorious Christmas.  One to remember.  One for the books.  They sang carols together, exchanged gifts, barbecued a pig for a Christmas feast, and played soccer later on.  German beer was exchanged for British rum.  Even officers as high as colonels relaxed in friendly conversations with their enemy counterparts, and eventually posed for pictures together.

There was one noticeable holdout that day – a 25 year-old German soldier who thought that all of that peace stuff was totally inappropriate.  His name was Adolph Hitler.

The following day the fighting resumed, hesitantly at first, because now the soldiers were charged with the daunting task of killing their new friends.  Christmas was over.

Religion can be a strange tool for beings as foolish and reactive as humans.  Terrorists roam the world looking for interesting and violent ways to kill innocents, all because they don’t have the intelligence to understand the basic peaceful teachings of their own religions.  Instead, they bastardize the words of their God to justify blowing up small children in large numbers.  But this is nothing new.  Religion has been used as an excuse to wage war since, well, the invention of religion.  There were The Crusades, The Trojan Wars, not to mention all of those who died in Northern Ireland not too long ago.

During the Second World War, that young man, Adolph, who refused to rise out of the trenches on Christmas day, saw to it that millions of Jews were slaughtered under his watch.  And, of course we have our present situation, where everyone is being targeted because of their different religious beliefs.

So what is it about that Christmas day one hundred years ago that was so special?  Why is it that enemies were able to use religion as a means to bridge gaps and build friendships, if even for a day, so long ago?  And now it’s just the opposite; religion is the force behind the sword that is thrust into another man’s heart.  Are we going backwards with the peace movement, or does such a movement even still exist?

Every now and then I try to imagine what special thing the British and German soldiers did to create peace and friendship on that special Christmas day.  Sometimes I can almost picture in my mind the initial act that led to handshakes and laughter and sharing and friendship.  It’s something we seem to have lost in the last 100 years, and I’m pretty sure I know what it was.

Those men of Christmas past had the courage and nobility to stand, and rise above the very trenches in which they had been placed.

Thanks For the Reviews!

Strange Times in Yeehaw Junction Front CoverI’d like to thank those of you who were kind enough to post a review of Strange Times in Yeehaw Junction on the Barnes and Noble website, http://www.bn.com, recently!  I’ve been struggling with time recently, trying to find the hours to work on my second novel while continuing to promote my first.  There is still time to write a positive review on my book if you haven’t gotten around to it yet.  If you have never read it, and would like to get an authorized/personalized copy (I’ll pay the shipping costs), please pm me on Facebook or leave a comment on this website where you can be reached.  Again, thank you all very much for your continued support!

Rick Sanders