Word arrived by telegram to our home, and Ma burst into the living room shaking the letter and screamed, “EB IS COMING HOME! HE WILL BE HERE FOR CHRISTMAS!!”
I was drawing in the workbook I carried with me everywhere I went, and my little sister Stella was playing with her doll. Outside the wind gusted, and we could feel the icy wind reach to us through the walls. Pa was at work down at the rail yards. He was a mechanic and helped keep the locomotives running on time. My older brother Ebenezer had enlisted shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. He was an all star athlete in high school and the president of a car club; he was one of those guys that others wanted to be like. Eb was five years older than me.
When he left to serve, he told me to take the reins and take care of Ma, Pa, and Stella. Gape mouthed, I looked at him; this was a whole new world for me. Eb dropped his head, shook it slowly from side to side with a hint of that grin that melted all of the girls in school. “Come on, Zeke, you make it sound like I’ll never come home.”
Again, the whole world shifted for me. The thought of Ebenezer never coming home grounded me. I nervously laughed and nodded. “Yeah, I know. Just me being a clown, you know?”
We both paused. In my mind, I saw the photos of the carnage at Pearl Harbor.
Smoke. Fire. Lives lost.
Eb broke the silence. “Okay, so while I am away…“ and he left me instructions on maintenance for the furnace that he tended to because Pa had a bad back and stooping in the crawl space was hard on him. He reminded me of Ma’s medication and to keep watch on Stella and to be stern on her studies and piano practice. But he also asked me to start his roadster up every week so the engine would not go south while he was away. In those four long years, I took on the tasks of being more than a son in our household.
Monday December 24th
My bedroom was on the ground floor of our Queen Anne styled home; my folks and Stella each had their rooms upstairs. Eb’s room was just down from mine. As I had done since my brother had left, I slept lightly; listening to the furnace to make sure it was still performing its duties, listening for sounds that would indicate a prowler or something amiss.
When there was a light tap on my window, I sat straight up and looked at the window, cocking my head to the side when it happened again. I leapt out of my bed and grabbed my Louisville slugger. Fear ran its icy finger down my spine as I crossed the room to open the curtains and see what, or who, was the source of the tapping noise.
It was snowing, and standing there in his dress uniform was my brother Eb. He saw me getting ready to shout but moved his finger over his lips in a hush gesture. I nodded, and he motioned for me to get dressed and be quiet. I grabbed a sweater, my dungarees and wool socks, boots, jacket, hat, and gloves. Quietly, I opened my door, then made my way across the dark living room before going outside.
Eb had placed his duffle bag on the front porch and was waiting near the garage. “You’ve grown, little brother!” he whispered. I nodded, and he quietly chuckled.
“Why are we not waking the folks?” I asked in a whisper.
Ebenezer motioned at our home. “Welp, I had every intention of doing just that, but then I saw the dark living room and no Christmas tree. What’s going on? Ma has always had a tree.”
“We haven’t had a tree since you’ve been gone, Ebenezer. Ma and Pa just scuttled the idea, and Stella and I made do.”
My reply hit my brother hard. He nodded, then pressed a gloved hand to his eyes. He pursed his lips, sniffed, and I had to look away.
“Well, let’s change that,” he said.
With that, as quietly as we could, we pushed his roadster out of the garage and onto the street. Carefully, we placed the chains on the back tires, loaded up an ax and some twine, and then we were off.
It was around 2 AM as we made our way toward the outskirts of town. The roadster’s mill cackled softly and resonated off the buildings as we drove. There were wreaths and lights hanging from the lamp posts. We came up to a stop sign, and I leapt out and raced to a lamp post that was at the intersection. Quickly, I removed the wreath and attached it to the roadster’s grille. Eb laughed, and we were on our way again.
Snow began to fall creating a wonderland, and the tire chains had a rhythmic bell-like ringing. As if on cue, Eb began to sing Jingle Bells. I joined in, and it was all I could have wished for. Eb loudly sang “Oh what fun it is to ride in a hopped up 32 Ford!”
We were about four miles out of town when Eb pulled off. We got out and eyed a few trees before we found one that was just right. We cut it down, strapped it to the back of the ’32, and headed back home. “Brother, that wreath looks mighty keen on my car.” Eb said. I just beamed.
About a quarter mile from home, Eb killed the engine, and the little Ford rolled softly to a stop in front of our home. We carefully removed the tree from the roadster and carried it inside. Eb steadied the evergreen, and I swiftly ran back to the garage and found the tree stand and some decorations. The clock was showing 5 a.m. when we felt our work was done. I sat down on the sofa looking at the beautiful sight. I had forgotten how wonderful a Christmas tree was in our home. Eb stepped back and began to sing.
“Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.”
His voice boomed and filled the house. Upstairs, I heard footsteps, rustling, and doors banged open.
Ma raced down the stairs followed by Pa. Stella was soon close behind. Ma turned to Pa, his hand on her back. She clasped her hands together in glee. Stella squeezed between our parents and rushed Ebenezer. He lifted her up and hugged her. My folks slowly made their way to Eb, and we all hugged each other. Again, as a family.
That was Christmas 1945.
To this day, it resonates as one of the greatest Christmases, and I share it every year to my grandchildren.
As a bonus, their Great Uncle Eb takes them for a ride in that great old ’32 Ford .
-Written by Mark “Spooky” Karol-Chik 11/9/2019
Inspired by the incredible art work done by Tom Fritz visit his work at https://www.fritzart.com