Hello friends. Well, the holiday season is upon us and for all of us that means different things. How we celebrate, who we celebrate with, what exactly we are celebrating..
Whether you are observing a religious holiday or you’re simply reflecting on how thankful you are for life; it’s a time to reflect, to be thankful and to give when we are able. Because giving feels good. I don’t care if you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim or if you are a staunch atheist… I believe the spirit of human kindness is the reason we should celebrate. That collective sense of kinship that has shone through during times of national tragedy. These same events that have shattered indifference toward our neighbors, co-workers and the everyday stranger who passes by.
Events that have served to remind us, that despite our differences, the spirit of human kindness crosses boundaries notwithstanding our politics, sexual orientation, or religion. That very human tie that binds us all in a very inexplicable yet amazing way. Now that’s a reason to celebrate life, my friends.
Now as some of you know, I entered a short story holiday writing contest. The contest had five winners, top prize being $1,000.00. Sadly, I did not win, but I very much enjoyed writing this story and I plan to participate next year, should SDL have another contest. I was grateful for the opportunity and it was enjoyable to write. The winning entries were amazing, and full of talent. Alas, because I did not win… I share my story here with my friends and I hope you enjoy.
This story was required to be under 2,000 words and that I did, and because of this I know my characters were fatally underdeveloped. (in my opinion)…. That being said, I know the story leaves you wondering, so what about Jack? I think the beauty/flaw of my story is that Jack could be anyone. Jack could be the person you don’t speak to at work, the neighbor you’ve never met, or the man who sits next to you on the train. It doesn’t really matter “who” Jack is… the point is everyone has a story and we should all try a little harder to understand, to be more compassionate. To just listen, because everyone has a story.
I would like to dedicate my holiday story to the brave men who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom. A special thank you to, Martin J. Poulin, for devoting eight years of his life serving in the U.S.A.F. A man I am proud to call Dad.
By: Bridgett L. Nicolace-Bird
Everyone has a story. Our own unique tale, the one we naturally author through the weeks, days and minutes that pass. Each filled with the characters we meet, the ones who enrich fleeting moments of infectious laughter as well as the sad souls we console, but for the simple desire to nurture our own humanity. But whether our truths are filled with great joy or sadness, I am thankful for the peculiar, the gloomy, the seemingly content as well as the yawn inducing hum drum tales. I am thankful for our individual peculiarities, otherwise what a very boring world this would be.
One day, that seems so long ago now, as a young boy I learned never to pretend to know another man’s story without first listening; if for no other reason but for my curious mind to peer into another world for a brief moment in time. I learned on that day, twenty-nine years ago, that certain people, no matter how different they may act or look, they sometimes mend our lives in a very inexplicable way. That day for me was December 25, 1984, and the man I met was Jack Stubbs. He is dearly missed and will forever be in my heart. My name is Joe Miller, and this is the story about how my friend, Jack, forever changed my Christmas.
That morning I remember peering into my dimly lit room, and saw a light dusting of snow that gathered in the frosted corners of my dormer window. The prickling bite of the December air caused me to quickly retreat beneath my G.I. Joe covers leaving nothing but a very calculated breathing hole, and just enough space to call out to my brother Thomas, who slept across the room.
I called over to the heaving mass shrouded with Optimus Prime, “Hey Thomas, you awake? Wanna go check out our stockings?”
“Yeah, of course I’m awake, but you know Dad will be ticked if we get outta bed now,” he replied.
With my heart heavy I replied, “Ahhhhh, you’re probably right, let’s give it a couple more hours.”
Somehow my young restless mind allowed my body to fall back to sleep; that is until I was awoke by the distinct scent of hazelnut coffee brewing downstairs. I leapt to my feet so quickly, my slippery cotton socks careened my ninety-eight pound body clear across my cool wooden floor. Despite my body slamming against our bookcase causing what seemed like our heaviest encyclopedia to land on my shoulder, I quickly recovered as I excitedly bounded across the room.
“Hey, dummy! Hey, wake up, mom and dad are up! I can smell the coffee,” I insisted as I shook my brother awake.
Within moments we were racing downstairs, clasping the edge of our bannister and swiftly sailing across a matted rug toward our living room where our little sister, Renee, already sat elbow deep in a mass of discarded gold foil that once covered her chocolate coins. Where both our mother and father sat on our flowered love seat, with sleep still heavy in their eyes and a mug of coffee clasped in their hands.
Coincidentally, my boyish senses would reel when the crisp bite of whisky wafted from my father’s coffee mug on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. In fact, our unfortunate curiosity had got the best of my brother and I one fateful vomit inducing night. Although, we were thankful our father only seldom drank, because to this day I believe two of his single malt scotches are still half iced tea.
Our father looked at us that morning, smiled and said as he laughed, “Well, come on these presents aren’t going to open themselves!”
Naturally, we dispensed with the formalities, and dove in wildly thrashing a cyclone of paper from our presents. I remember it was a wonderful Christmas morning. Our parents traditionally provided us with the most magical memories, when our most coveted treasures would await us under our tree; but for one year I begged and pleaded for a snake, of which was conspicuously absent. But I remember that morning, my brother and I played with my Castle of Greyskull and He-man figurines, despite his claiming, ‘he’s too old to play with that crap’. My sister dressed her Teddy Ruxpin in her favorite doll clothes and neatly propped him in Barbie’s dream house, where he enjoyed imaginary tea.
Although, every year we knew the time with our beloved Christmas toys was short lived, as our father insisted every year we volunteer at the Saint Matthew’s Parish soup kitchen. As a ten year old boy, I could have dreamed up a thousand other possibilities in my pajamas. My father, Francis Miller, has never been a shrewd business man, but has managed to successfully run Miller Auto Parts in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire, for a little over forty years now. Annually, Miller Parts holds a toy drive, and then as a matter of tradition he delivers the donated toys dressed as Santa for the children.
Every Christmas morning, we endured the painstaking drive with our father dressed in the big red outfit, complete with goofy hat and black pleather boots. With mounting angst, my brother and I sat and rolled our eyes toward one another as we slumped in the plush maroon cushions of our father’s Monte Carlo. He and my mother encouraged their ‘little elves’ to sing along to the Christmas carols that played on the public radio station. Then our little sister, Renee, would happily engage, and even wore the matching elf hat and shoes, of which my brother and I refused to wear.
When we arrived, hastily I sat on one of the unforgiving metal chairs that was propped against the bleak grey colored basement walls, and prominently displayed my utter disgust. As our father walked through the crowd of children they would outstretch their tiny hands, and all the while he bellowed his animated, ‘Ho-Ho-Hos’. What great joy I saw in my father as he handed each child a small toy from his large green velvet satchel. Only then, my brother and I sat and watched as we muttered random sarcastic comments to another.
I am embarrassed to admit today that I remember watching those children’s parents in disgust. I wished I could rip the bread from their lips. Foolishly, I believed it was all their fault, that their children were suffering due to their parent’s poor choices alone. That day, for those few fleeting moments I could feel my heart harden with contempt, a sense of disdain I am glad to say was short lived.
That afternoon, I carefully watched my father’s every move and the moment he walked toward the bathroom I closely followed, where I planned to harass him to leave immediately.
I propped myself on top of one of the bathroom sinks and began to plead, “Dad, can we leave soon? This is wicked boring.”
“You can help out a little, I’m sure your mother could use the help in the kitchen,” he replied from inside his bathroom stall.
I released all the breath out of my lungs in one long pathetic sigh then asked, “What the heck, Dad, you know Thomas and I hate this! Why do you make us come every year?”
A few moments passed and I received no response. But suddenly, my father’s clunky pleather boots thrashed wildly from beneath his bathroom stall, and having known him for the perpetual joker he was, I thought he was putting me on.
I called out to him, “Come on Dad, that’s not funny.”
Only he didn’t reply, and I called out again, “Dad, come on what are you doing? That crap is not funny.”
I watched his left boot slowly and methodically thud against the stall’s steel beam and then I screamed, “Dad, are you OK! Dad! Dad?!!!”
With my heart racing, I quickly walked over to the door and slammed it open, smashing the awkward plastic toilet paper dispenser. There I discovered my father laying on the filthy tile floor, clasping his chest with his mouth agape and his eyes frantically fluttering. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong. I leapt back from where I stood and simply stared in disbelief, as the fear struck me so harshly and seemed to constrict every muscle in my tiny body.
With the paucity of air that remained in my distressed wheezing lungs I stammered my plea, “H..he.. hel…help! Help! Somebody help!”
Suddenly, a rather disheveled man with filthy fingers and clothes, shoved me aside as he rushed into the stall where my father laid. He pulled my father from his boots into the middle of the men’s room and knelt down beside him and began to attempt chest compressions. I watched in disbelief as my father began to gasp, and then felt an indescribable mind numbing horror when I heard his labored breaths. Abruptly, I began to worry the man would hurt my father more than he could help. Frantically, I lunged over toward the man and attempted to pull him away with my wimpy tugs on his grungy coat tails.
I began to yell at the man, as I continued to try and pull him away, “Hey man, you’re gonna hurt him! Knock it off! You’re not a doctor, you could hurt him! Stop already!”
Without even looking away from my father he calmly replied, “I’m a nurse, son. Now stop it and let me do my job. I’m trying to help him.”
I stammered an unintelligible reply as I backed away and leaned against the stall to steady my shaking legs. When I finally caught my breath, I expelled the last shred of air in my small aching lungs, and shouted for my mother and Thomas. I couldn’t walk or even run to them because I was sure my legs would give beneath me at any moment.
It’s strange how the human brain processes tragic events. I remember once the EMT’s were called the minutes passed like hours. The hysterical whimpers my mother hailed amongst those bathroom walls were muffled by the sounds of blood rushing through my ears; and I felt the hot rush fill my cheeks and face. Coincidentally, there was an obnoxious orange air freshener that accosted my olfactory senses, and to this day I still hate oranges.
Once the EMT’s arrived, the man had already revived my father, and later that evening at the hospital, the doctors told us we were lucky the man was there to help our father. That man was Jack Stubbs, and he saved my father’s life that day. Jack was a veteran, and learned his trade while serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Only when he returned to his country, he was rejected as his post traumatic stress symptoms sadly and slowly deteriorated the remnants of normalcy that remained for Jack. He was a simple man, a very happy and hard working man, only with random spells of confusion and pain; at least that’s the way we saw him, as he became a very dear friend to our family over the years.
My father gave Jack a job as a driver for Miller Auto Parts, where Jack worked until May of 2012 when he passed away in his sleep for unknown causes. The month prior Jack handed me his old dog tags as a memento, and today they are my most treasured possession. When he gave them to me, he told me that sometimes just giving a little bit of your time, is the greatest sacrifice a person can make. Jack was a humble man, and I don’t believe he was being boastful; but for me those tags remind me to be thankful for those who sacrificed everything for my freedom.
Thank You, Jack.