Saturday, October 18, 2014

Christmas without laughter

Some places in life are part of our well being and when violated there is a protection mechanism that comes into play. Some things we give up with sadness but no regret.  Others leave us flat and disappointed but there is a time when all we are cries out to stay and our hearts and circumstances chase us away. We don't go easy but when we do, kicking and screaming is not enough.

That feeling came over Birch when he was ten. All he loved and cared for was taken from him, His folks were killed in an automobile accident and to make it even worse it was on Christmas Day.

The only relative Birch really had was his Aunt Olga. She was efficient, never seemed emotional and she was coming to get things finished. She had taken care of everything except packing a few things into the car and moving out.

Birch was thinking about his whole life and at ten years old his feelings were tender and he was angry. He was thinking the worst of God and life when his Aunt Olga interrupted and said: "Come along, Birch, we have along way to go." He knew his aunt ran her home like a boarding school and that it would be a different life from now on.

He  got in her car and, as they drove off, he looked back at the house and buried his head in his hands. His version of Christmas was his life being turned upside down and through the holidays season he felt the loss of his parents. He felt no connection to Christmas except for the door being shut on his emotions. Aunt Olga gave him sometime to grieve and then wouldn't tolerate any self pity nor did she have the warmth of character to hug or hold or to say kind things.

Christmas was an annoyance and Aunt Olga gave it little mention, treating it just like any other day. That was ok with Birch for he found no gladness or Christmas cheer either.

Aunt Olga said having a name like Birch came about because his parents had been on a trip and spotted a  grove of Birch trees and Birch's mom thought it was such a beautiful spot, unique and standing out among the forest. So she named her son Birch. Aunt Olga said it  wasn't much of a start to have a name like Birch but seeing as they put the name on his birth certificate it was done but a good bible name
would have been better.

Birch chewed on his lot but kept his emotions close to his vest.  However,  his bitterness was not far from his thoughts at Christmas and he preferred not to celebrate the holiday season. He was young and at ten years old did not wear the sorrows he felt too well.

Maybe the years ahead would prove otherwise but he grew and the lessons of loss and the visions of life were intertwined.

So the years went by and Christmas was just a reminder of losing his parents. When Christmas came around, Birch became grumpy, despondent and was a wet blanket.  He was determined to stay away from parties and shut the radio or TV off at the mention of a yuletide celebration. If you greeted him with a "Merry Christmas" his reply was, "What's merry about it?" followed up with "Keep your greetings" and he stomped off, muttering to himself about finding a place to go until Christmas was over.

Aunt Olga was good company at Christmas for she gave no heed to it and that pretty well cinched the Christmas noose. Aunt Olga never showed signs of approval or disapproval and Birch did not get much guidance except she grumbled about the weather. Yet there was in her a concern for Birch but it never came forth in the way the man Birch could get close to it.

So there it was: Birch hating Christmas and really troubled by a God who would take his parents away during Christmas.  Birch thought if there was a God he was cruel and didn't care what happened to a ten year old boy.  Celebrating the birth of his Son by taking his parents away was not Birch's idea of benevolence.

The years passed and  Aunt Olga died. The unfortunate timing was right on Christmas day and it cemented even further his hatred of God and Christmas. So much so that Birch once again cursed the heavens and said with malice in his heart:  "Aunt Olga is gone; what do you have planned for next Christmas?  Burn my house down maybe?"

It made Birch so angry that at Christmas he put a sign on his door which read: "GO AWAY AND TAKE YOUR CHRISTMS CHEER WITH YOU." Folks began to call him CHEERLESS. The name stuck and Cheerless was the town Christmas grump and that was fine with him. He remained so until Maple moved to town right next door to Birch. Birch had inherited Aunt Olga's house and inside and out it was the plain wrapper. That all made the name CHEERLESS stick on the tongues of town folk especially the kids. They would go by his house chanting: "CHEER UP CHEERLESS.  CHEER UP CHEERLESS."  He would scowl at them and say haven't you kids got better things to do.

Well, Maple landed right in the thick of it. She was a person of interest right off. She had a quick mind with a gracious smile and laughter that made you want to laugh right along with her. Her big blue eyes seemed to light up her face and she had an impish grin that was going to improve Birch's challenge.

Maple was slender and about 5'5" tall but she carried herself well with one exception. She had a slight limp that wasn't entirely noticeable until she ran, for it caused her to lean a little to the right. It was an old injury  from a motorcycle accident that required several operations on her right ankle. She seemed not to give it notice. She had come to live with her mother who lost her husband a short while ago.  Maple had quit her job to help her mother through the heartache and loss. She was excited for this was snow country. A white Christmas was on her mind, and moving right next door to Birch and only two months until Christmas started things rolling.

Maple was from the Midwest and loved Christmas, especially a white Christmas. It was her favorite time of the year. She began to make plans. First, she decorated her mother's house with a mixture of colored lights and Christmas ornaments. The neighbors loved her enthusiasm and her willingness to be happy and considerate of her neighbors. She played Christmas songs and offered up hot cider, chocolate and eggnog  to her neighbors, all the while having a great time adding scenes to the house like the nativity scene,Santa's reindeer and miniature town of Bethlehem.

She naturally liked everyone and made friends rather quickly. One day in the yuletide season she knocked on Birch's door with a cup of hot cider for him. He came to the door looked at her and said: "Can't you read? The sign says go away." Maple laughed and said, "I don't pay much attention to such a rude sign." Birch then proceeded to tell Maple that she could keep her apple cider and to get off his porch. She laughed again and said: "My, you are a Christmas Grouch  aren't you? Someone put a burr under your saddle or do you just not like people?" He replied by raising his voice. "What I like or don't like is none of your business and I would appreciate it if you would just go away." Maple eyed him for a moment and then said: I'll just put the hot cider on your picnic table and I will be around later to pick it up." "Don't bother!" Birch yelled, and she laughed as he went inside and slammed the door. Birch  began swearing and carrying on inside the house. Then he calmed down and thought for a moment he would place her cider mug on the front steps with a sign which he quickly wrote the words. "I did not ask for your cider or your Christmas   bilge and especially not your intrusion into my life. So stay away." Meanwhile, Maple was watching and saw him put the mug outside on a piece of paper. She quickly gathered up some Christmas cookies she had made, put them on a plate, and headed for Birch's place.

She read Birch's note and on the bottom replied: "Perhaps this will sweeten your disposition!" She then rang the doorbell and left. Birch came out, spotted the note and cookies, and swept the plate, cookies and hot cider off the picnic table. The mug, the plate, and cookies broke.

Maple spotted all this and was undaunted.  She decided on a tactic Birch wasn't expecting. She rounded up some of her neighbors and everybody donated some Christmas decorations. They waited until Birch went to work and began decorating his house. They planned well and when done the house took on a brightness and  tranquility, especially the part where Christ was presented in a manger scene. The manger scene was the Christ child surrounded by wise men, animals and a picture of Maple standing to the side adoring the whole thing with a smile that could melt the heart of Jack Frost.

Well as you can guess Birch  came home that evening and came unglued. The place was lit up and a sign over the porch said, "We love you, Birch. Merry Christmas." Something happened. Birch stared for the longest time at the decorations and then walked into the house. Maple had been watching, along with her new friends but it was quiet over there and nothing was stirring.  She continued with other things.

Meanwhile, Birch had his own plan. He had the next day off so he went out that night and bought the things he needed. First, he quietly rigged up an outside speaker near the front door. He then set the bait. He had bought a Christmas tape and got it ready to play for the following day.

The following morning he drove his car away and parked it about a block from the house. Then he sneaked back and got ready for the fun. He played the Christmas music over the speaker and watched. Maple heard the music but couldn't believe her ears. It was coming from Birch's house alright. Maple was hurrying over to Birch's house to investigate. She noticed he had placed an envelope on the front door with her name on it. She glanced around to see if there was anybody around and, being satisfied there was not, she walked up the front stairs to retrieve the note. She opened it and there was just a blank piece of paper in it. Just then Birch yelled at her over the speaker: "Maple, you darned Christmas busybody!" She was so startled she screamed and for a moment she could not get  hold of herself. It was just then Birch flew out the front door dressed in a devil's costume and shouted: "I'm the Devil!" Then in great joy said: "To hell you say." Maple screamed even louder and  ran for her house.

Birch was overcome with laughter saying, "Take that you busybody." He then howled with delight and was near to tears with laughter.

Maple arrived home out of breath but could  see the humor in what just happened. She began to plot a scheme of her own. She got one of her new friends to help.  They waited until just before dawn, rigged up a pail of water over Birch's front door, attached a rope to it, and waited. Then, seeing signs of stirring, Maple waited until she was sure he could see her. She had a sign with her looking like she was going to place it on the front porch. Birch saw her sneaking over alright and was ready to open the front door to surprise her. When he thought she was close enough he opened the front door quietly and stepped out. Before he could surprise her, Maple's friend pulled the rope and the cold water hit him. He gasped, swore, yelped and half danced around. Maple then showed him the sign that read: "Maybe this will cool you off. Merry Christmas."

What was to be done? It was a stand off. Maple, still undaunted, tried one more thing. She got the help of her church members and then that night they came over to Birch's house and sang Christmas carols for him and her neighbors. Birch came out and listened and when they were done got up and went inside. Maple thought what had happened for he had quietly  left and without a murmur.

Maple sat down after a while and wrote Birch a letter. "Dear Birch," she said: Christmas is more than colored tissues, tinkling things, lights, and merry making. It's significance is the Savior of all mankind. His coming into the world meant joy and peace. His birth is our salvation and His atonement is our resurrection and way back to the Father. All these shenanigans we have been going through are meant to say 'Please forgive us' and allow us to be your friend." She left the letter on his front door.

Birch read the letter and something happened inside of him. He began to weep and for the first time in years the sadness left him. After awhile he walked over to Maple's and knocked on her front door. She came to the door and he said: "Can we talk?" She invited him in and he poured out his disappointments and began to tell her about his unhappiness. All his emotions came to the surface and he talked for a long time. He finally shuddered and quietly wept. He recovered, looked at Maple and said: "That large ache in my heart is beginning to subside." He finally felt the weight of all he had been saying releasing him from years of pain. He explained his life's sorrows and attitudes and said: "Maple, I could use a friend like you but I must tell you that bucket of cold water was a dirty trick." They both laughed and she said, "What about the speaker and devil's costume?" They both had fit of laughter. Maple hugged him and said: "It's alright for you have friends now." He looked up at her and said: "My golly, you are a breath of fresh air, not to mention a woman on a mission. How else," he said, "could you explain the tenacity you showed." She laughed and said: "Oh Birch, welcome back to us and Heavenly Father." He said he would have to work on that but replied, "I may have made an enemy of God but perhaps the enemy is me." She took him by the hand and said, "Would you mind if I call our new friends and have them come over? We have a lot to celebrate." He agreed and she kissed him on the cheek as she headed for the telephone.

Birch sat there and was happier then he could ever remember.


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  3. Sorry, I accidently published the same comment 3 times