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Ah, the magic of Christmases past… even those we want to forget…
Like spending an hour hanging up Christmas tree lights that don’t work when you plug them in.
Or imbibing in two much spicy eggnog at the office party while wearing a tipsy Santa hat… and then seeing your grinning face splashed all over social media.
Or digging through your closet for your favorite red Christmas dress to impress the new man in your life and you find out it doesn’t fit anymore.
Not our best holiday memories and ones we’d rather forget. But what about the holiday moments that make our eyes misty no matter how many years go by?
Memories of Christmases past race through our heads like sugar plum fairies on a triathlon this time of year… for me, I’ve turned three of them into Christmas stories that turn back the clock.
When I was stationed in Livorno, Italy, I worked in the US Army Service Club and every Christmas we hosted an event for the soldiers with the nuns and little boys from the local orphanage. I never forgot how the soldiers and little Italian boys had such a great time even though they didn’t speak the same language… except they did.
The spirit of Christmas.
I wanted to capture that lovely day in a story about a US Army captain in Italy during World War 2 who gets lost on the road to Rome right before Christmas Eve. He ends up helping out a beautiful nun and her charge of little boys and saves them from the Nazis.
If you like WW 2 romance, check out my holiday novella that takes place on Christmas Eve during the cold winter of 1943: A Soldier’s Italian Christmas.
December 1943 Italy
He is a US Army captain, a battle-weary soldier who has lost his faith.
She is a nun, her life dedicated to God.
Together they are going to commit an act the civilized world will not tolerate.
They are about to fall in love.
I was only six years old when I attended a strict parochial school behind a big iron gate in Philadelphia… at Christmastime, the nuns took us to see Santa Claus at Wanamaker’s department store, but we had to pass by the ‘poor house’ – an old limestone building with broken windows and no trees. Lost souls squatting. We gave them packages of food and the sisters told us kids we’d end up there if we didn’t learn our Catechism lessons.
It scared the heck out of me.
Years later when I saw ‘A Christmas Carol’ on TV and got a glimpse of Scrooge threatening to send the hungry and poor to a workhouse, I remember the nun’s warning.
I wanted to write my own version of Scrooge, but I fantasized him more like a tortured, romantic hero, so I created Nick Radnor… handsome, brilliant… and with a smartphone.
And one so close to my heart…
I grew up hearing my dad’s stories about how he met my mom during the war… the red coat she wore when she saw him off at the train station… the letters they wrote to each other. The strong feelings of hope and love that kept everybody’s spirits up till the soldiers came home.
When I wrote Christmas Once Again about a woman who goes back in time to save the man she loves, I drew upon those memories, especially for my heroine’s mother. Kate’s strong bond with Ma, her need to see her again (she lost her mother before the book opens), also reflects my desire to see my mom.
My mother passed away a few days before Christmas many years ago…
So, when I talk about Christmas Once Again, you’ll understand the joy and poignant feelings racing through me when I wrote those scenes when my heroine reconnects with her mother once again… if only for a little while.
What are your most emotional Christmas memories?
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
Not What It Seems
Memories swirl in the air around my head.
Light flashes and flickers illuminating my thoughts.
Emotions spread a warm blanket over me and shield me
from the wind.
Joy dances around my feet.
Worries scurry away.
It seems I’m just raking leaves.
But I’m really counting my blessings, one by one.
See you next time on December 22nd!
*meat and potatoes-the only two German words my father knew
As summer winds down to a hazy memory and schools re-open to welcome children, I am transported back to one of my own September days and that dreaded first assignment: the essay, My Summer Vacation.
Why was I asked to splatter my most precious moments on a sheet of plain old loose leaf paper only to have them defaced with red ink across the top? It just didn’t feel right.
Moreover, how could I even begin to describe a Brooklyn city summer, or explain how it felt to walk shoulder to shoulder with your best friend sharing secrets, giggles, and a Good Humor or Mr. Softy ice-cream?
Every perfect vacation includes fun, exercise, adventure, education, music and art. We had it all!
We played handball (there was always a building with a smooth wall), punch-ball and two-hand touch: our city versions of baseball and football, the latter usually played in the middle of the street, and basketball (the third rung on the fire escape ladder was the hoop).
For fifty-cents, Al’s deli made a mean ham and cheese hero that he’d cut in half for you and your best buddy to share. Allowance money went a long way at kid-friendly Cheapie Charlies where you could splurge on a water gun, a slinky, jacks, or a one-flight paper airplane, two if you were lucky. Clustered on a stoop we sang and clapped in time.
The main library on Cadman Plaza provided an air-conditioned respite from the heat. Seated in a cozy arm chair with an illustrated hard-cover our wings spread and our imaginations soared. Next door was the Brooklyn Museum, home to the largest Egyptian collection in the nation. Tombs and mummies, that was the place for mystery and adventure.
If we wanted to hit the high C’s, we’d hop the subway to Coney Island and scream our heads off on the cyclone rollercoaster as it clattered down the wooden rails.
At night, I sat out on the fire-escape staring up at the starry sky while my big brother pointed out the constellations and told me stories of Orion’s belt and the Wings of Icarus.
My summer vacation was about friendships. It was about growing and going back to school just a little older, not about going someplace. In a different way, we did go someplace, but it was within ourselves, our neighborhood, and our special little worlds. Your family and your friends were your summer. What you did, what you talked about and the experiences you shared made up your summer vacation: some things too private and personal to tell anyone except your closest friend, some moments too happy or too sad to actually put into words, but mostly those giddy, silly days filled with laughter that would be impossible to write about in an essay.
I don’t know what stories or memories children will share when they return to school, but I hope the joys of youth and friendship will outshine and outlast whatever troubles or sorrows may have touched their lives this summer.
See you next time on September 22nd.
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