It is a wet and foggy Christmas eve here in New Hampshire, with the last of the Thanksgiving snow fading away in the wet, but a Christmas feel to the dark nonetheless.
The promised “Santabomb” storm has failed to develop to the promised magnitude, but the computer models did at least see the storm tracking nearly straight north up the Mississippi River, as another tracked up the coast, and the one over the Great Lakes is developing to a degree where it is producing a bit of lightning.
Ah! Lightning at Christmas! Some boy up on the coast of Lake Superior is feeling blessed.
I have a soft spot for the entire subject of Christmas miracles, having experienced more than my share, and at the risk of being redundant I’ll repeat a story I told last year:
One of my most miserable pre-Christmases occurred in my boyhood, back in 1966. My parents had separated, but divorce was rare back then, and very difficult even when both parties wanted it. My father didn’t want it, but had vanished from the household and was fighting to save his marriage from afar, as my mother fought for freedom. My mother felt I ought be protected from the details of their dispute, but I found it a sort of hell to have my father vanish, and have no explanation given.
This silence concerning the truth had been going on for a year and a half, and had made me a crazy boy, and now I was thirteen and just starting to also go crazy with hormones. The misery I felt peaked during holidays, because holidays reminded me of better days, back when I was part of a happy, functioning family. During the dark days of December 1966 I found myself in a sort of private war. It was invisible to others, but very real to me.
We had gone from being very rich to abrupt poverty, (by the standards of a wealthy suburb,) and I had no money, but had decided I would fight back and give presents even though I was broke. I struggled to make hand-made presents for people, though my carpentry skills were undeveloped and I had no father to instruct me. My fingers were bleeding and bandaged from my blunders.
One project had me on the verge of tears and rage. I was endeavoring to make a pair of tiny hearts, as earrings for my mother, out of red cedar wood, but such wood splits very easily, and over and over, just when a small heart was nearly done, it would split in two and I’d have to start over. I only finished on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and trudged off to a gift shop a mile away to buy the metal fasteners that would turn the wood hearts to earrings.
For several days we’d been in a mild flow from the south, and the snowless landscape was grey under a dull sky. Life seemed very unfair to me. Other boys seven hundred miles to the west had a white Christmas, as a modest low swung north to the Great Lakes, but we were on the warm side and the weathermen on all three major Boston channels had said there was no chance of a white Christmas for Boston. The snowlessness seemed like insult heaped onto injury to me, and while I didn’t exactly give God a tongue lashing, I was extremely pessimistic about my good deeds ever gaining me any sort of reward.
However my irascible temper lashed out against the darkness by giving gifts, which must have won me a point or two upstairs, because all of a sudden nice things started to happened to me.
When I walked into the gift shop and timidly asked for fasteners, my pout and bandaged fingers must have touched the lady who ran the shop, because she took me under her wing and proceeded to not only sell me two fasteners, but to take me to the back of her shop, (where she repaired jewelry and watches,) and showed me how to glue the fasteners to the wooden hearts, and then got me a tiny box with a cotton square on the bottom to hold my earrings, and even wrapped them for me. I walked out of there in a much better mood, with the bells on the door jingling behind me, and then stopped in my tracks. Big, fat snowflakes were lazily drifting down from the grey sky.
As I walked home through the snow it seemed absolutely everyone was smiling. The snow was lazy and seemed harmless, but then it grew more steady and swirled, and when I arrived home my poor mother was going through one of her attacks of worry, as my older brothers had gone Christmas shopping in her car. Fortunately I only had to be a thirteen year old male soothing a 42 year old woman for a short while, before my brothers appeared through the snow with her car un-dented, and all was well.
We headed off on foot to Christmas Carols outside a church a half mile away, and for some reason, perhaps due to the snow, rather than the usual thirty people showing up a hundred-twenty-five showed up to sing in the increasingly heavy snow. Just as we finished there was a flash of lightning, and long, deep, horizon-to-horizon roll of thunder.
As I turned to walk home, with the thunder still rolling, a thirteen-year-girl who I secretly adored but whom I had no chance of dating, (as I was not only thirteen, and broke, but a foot shorter than she was,) glanced my way with her face awed by the thunder, and when she saw me watching her, she smiled an abrupt smile at me that just about knocked me flat on my back in the snow. And at that point I decided miracles actually could happen, and life might not be so bad, after all.
There was more lightning, and we had around seven inches of snow before it tapered off at midnight. The weathermen were embarrassed, but did give the freak event a name. It was dubbed “The Donner and Blitzen Storm.” Likely it was a “vort max” that “phased” with a “frontal low,” but, as it wasn’t a huge blizzard and set no records, record books don’t mention it much. However guys and gals over sixty, who lived between Portland Maine and Philadelphia back in 1966, all seem to remember it. It was a Christmas miracle, private and personal, but given to many.
Christmas is a miracle, in that people give rather than grab, and even when this hard old world makes guys like me cynical, there tends to be something or another that strikes me as a miracle, each and every year. Most of these miriacles are so personal and private that I doubt they would mean much to anyone else, but a few are worth recounting.
This year is the 100th aniversary of one that I didn’t see, but effected me because I happened to like the poetry of Wilford Owen, and studied the First World War to understand the roots of his poems.
World War One was a war that makes millions of European youths seems as suicidal as Kamikaze pilots, and, (for any youth who has the poetic temperament and desires to leave the beaten path,) to be part of a lemming-like stampede toward certain death by machine-gun fire offered ample opportunity for those youths to question the routes taken by the politically correct. Wilford Own was such a youth.
However on Christmas, 1914, the war spontaneously stopped, as there was a complete breakdown of military discipline, and the English and Germans began singing Christmas Carols together. At first it was from afar, but then they walked out into No Man’s Land and shook hands and drank together and told jokes and gave their leaders proof war is unnecessary.
However the leaders were such idiots they insisted the men return to their trenches and go back to killing each other, and the youth begrudgingly obeyed, and it continued for nearly four more years, by which time nearly every youth who was part of that Christmas Party in 1914 was dead or maimed.
It is the leaders who state Christmas miracles are impossible, and who obey a tedious and money-grubby logic that tallies all up onto Scrooge’s balance-sheet, and with Grinch-like eyes regard Christmas in terms of sales and profits, gained from the gift-giving of the generous, who they deem dupes and suckers.
I never could stand that sort of thinking, and likely that explains why I never have been rich in terms of filthy lucre, though I am fabulously wealthy in terms of the intangible stuff that makes poetry and Christmas like lights in the dark.
Unfortunately that lovely landscape is not a world you are likely to learn much about if you go to college to study poetry, for the sad fact is that most of the professors who teach poetry have sold out on poetry. They preferred things called “paychecks” and “tenure” and “a pension” and “health insurance” to freedom.
Not that I blame them. Poetry involves hardship, and hardship is hardest on the softhearted, and you need a soft heart to write poems. Midst your suffering you are always wishing some millionaire would make things easier for you. Unfortunately most millionaires are politically correct, and the politically correct never offer money without strings attached, and if you take their money the strings make you their marionette.
Most college professors therefore are sort of anti-Pinocchioes, for where Pinocchio began as wood and wound up a real boy, they began as real boys and wound up as puppets. They dare not offend their patrons, and it is hard to write about purity when you are basically a gigolo, and without purity poetry is false and is basically intellectualized doggerel.
Considering I have this attitude, it should be pretty obvious why I didn’t thrill college professors, or any other fatcats who try to seduce poets with money. It should be obvious why editors and publishers wanted zero to do with me, and why I wound up sleeping in my car so much. However, in retrospect, it was a blast, and I’d take sleeping in a car over sleeping in a palace any day.
I eventually got good at roughing it. This leads into a Christmas-eve-miracle that occurred towards the end of my bachelor days, when I was thrity-five and drifting through Gallup New Mexico. During the winter the unemployment rate in that area must have touched 50% at that time, but I was good at hanging around at the unemployment office to pick up spot labor, as well as collecting returnable bottles and aluminum cans, and scouring the Albertson’s parking lot for discarded green-stamps, and had a few other tricks for squeezing blood from cold stones, and could usually come up with the sixty dollars necessary to sleep in a motel unit for a week, in the winter. However on this particular Christmas eve I only had fifty-five dollars, and rent was due.
I had already offended the owner of the motel by assuming he was a Hindu from India, when he actually was a Muslim from Pakistan. (A very funny example of foot-in-mouth-disease I won’t go into.) Then I made things worse by wishing him a “Merry Christmas,” which offends those who don’t celebrate. Offending the man was unwise, considering he already had a reputation for giving no leeway to anyone under any condition for late rent. I did not like the prospect of telling him I was five dollars short. To be quite honest, I was fairly certain he would take great glee in proving he had nothing to do with the Christian humbug called Christmas by evicting me from my unit on Christmas Eve.
I paced back and forth outside his tiny office, looking in at the five-foot-one gentleman as he read a paper in a bright yellow picture window, thinking how humiliating it was going to be. I’d say I only had fifty-five, and attempt to ruffle the filthy lucre seductively, while stating fifty-five was better than nothing. Then he would throw a fit. He’d demand I depart, attempting to loom and look powerful, though I was eleven inches taller. I’d likely want to put my fist through his face, but that would be an unseemly act for spiritual person like myself to do, on Christmas Eve, so I’d be meek and acquiesce instead, and move my meager belongings to my car.
“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “It is best I get this over with.” However just then I heard a crisp noise as the wind rose, and turned to see a small ball of wadded green paper rolling across the parking lot midst a little cloud of the nosebleed dust only December deserts can gust. I already knew what the wadded paper must be, and watched in disbelief as it stopped directly in front of me. I reached down, filled with the wild hope it was a hundred, but of course it was only a five dollar bill, and exactly what I needed. (Though we may want lemonade, we get what we need, which is water.)
Anyway, my Christmas miracle that year was to be spared the scene with the landlord, and simply to pay my rent in a most nonchalant manner and walk to my tiny unit and lie down on my bed. I would like to say I was disappointed that I lost the chance to sleep in my car on Christmas Eve, (which would have looked good on my poet’s resume), but actually I was rather relieved. If you are going to play the violins of self pity about being alone on Christmas Eve, you might as well do it snug on a warm bed.
Just then there was a banging on my door, and when I opened it a friend insisted it was wrong for me to be alone. I tried to tell him poets need time alone to be maudlin, but he absolutely insisted I come with him north to a noisy Navajo household up in Window Rock. What could I do? I figured complying was my Christmas Present to him. And it wasn’t so bad, once I got over the shock.
I don’t expect you to believe this story. To this day it does seem a fabrication even to me, to say a five-dollar-bill blew up to the toes of my cowboy boots just when I needed it. It is too absurd to include in a novel.
However it also seems a fabrication to say the young soldiers in a war stopped fighting for just a day, to sing carols together, before going back to making each other extinct, back in 1914.
I myself don’t think we should need these Christmas miracles to know certain behavior is stupid, even if idiots call it “politically correct.” Life itself is the miracle. The sounds and colors of the sea are miracle enough; I don’t need the sea parted. Creation is beautiful poetry just as it is, and needs no extra adornment.
However perhaps we mortals need a tap on our shoulder every now and again to remind us that besides Creation, there is a Creator. We are like are readers who are so amazed by a novel we forget the novelist, even when he walks by, and instead sit with our noses buried in the book. We forget the novelist wrote to express himself, and therefore would like himself to get some attention.
What Christmas is about is the novelist deciding to enter his book and walk about with the characters he created. This is so bizarre that it strikes even poets as miraculous. To the politically correct it is absolutely and utterly impossible and incorrect. Like the Grinch, they would try to keep Christmas from coming, but, like the Grinch, every year they see it came.
Bad news for them, but great news for us! Merry Christmas!!!