“War is cruel!” The elderly man threw aside The Examiner with great disgust. A poet called Alfred Tennyson wrote the words.
He could not imagine what life was like on the front lines. Being from the upper classes of Victorian England, he had spent his early years learning business. With his father’s connections, he could have chosen an officer’s commission. However, he had turned that down in order to work as an understudy for Mr. Fezziwig.
The years had flown by for Ebenezer Scrooge. His money-lending business had gone very well. Yet, had it not been for that incident during Christmas 1842, life would have already ended. He was 57 the night he was visited by the three Christmas spirits. Now, twelve years later, he was just one year away from his 70th year. By many standards, he was old.
Yet, the last twelve years had been the best of his life, for that Christmas Eve had changed his life. His life and the lives of all who were associated with Scrooge had turned for the better. His business had grown from strength to strength, and in preparation for retiring, he had prepared Bob to take over.
He had turned over much of the work over the year. He thought that he would be able to retire but then Bob had taken ill and passed away. Thankfully, all of Bob’s children were now grown, but Ebenezer felt that he still had a responsibility to help take care of Emily Cratchit and the children still living at home.
And that is where the problems had started. For nine of the last twelve years, Christmas had been wonderful. However, three years ago, things began to change when Bob became ill. The Cratchit’s did not ever lack for anything again, but the youngest son had taken the loss quite hard.
Twelve years prior, Ebenezer had spent quite a bit of money on doctors who had been able to bring healing to the young boy. The child had grown strong again and had become a fine young man. The year Bob died, the youngest Cratchit had turned seventeen. Ebenezer had offered to hire him and train him as he had trained his father, but he had chosen to ask Mr. Scrooge for help in joining the military.
With all of Ebenezer’s connections, he had succeeded in getting the lad a slot as an Ensign in the 13th Light Dragoons. The old man was honored to help the young man again, and he knew that time as an officer in the British Army would encourage the lad. Ebenezer also hoped that it would instill a sense of discipline and love of life that seemed to be missing after his father had died.
After his officer training, Timothy had spent the first couple of years learning the intricacies of military life and adjusting to the strict regimen. Ebenezer’s blood still ran cold when he remembered the horrors that filled his heart at the news that arrived in London in October 1853.
Once again, the British Empire was at war.
Strife was the order of the day and more than 40,000 of Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s best and brightest would lay down their lives on the battlefields mainly in Eastern Europe. The papers would bring regular news of places that few Londoners had ever heard of, like the Crimean Peninsula and Sevastopol.
Letters from Timothy were always far and few between. He wrote with a clean, steady hand, but did not seek to paint a pretty picture of life in the military. His last letter informed Mr. Scrooge and his mother, Emily, that his regiment would soon be leaving the shores of England to join with other regiments in the Ukraine. However, it also included the proud news that he had earned a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant.
Ebenezer now sat in his large chair staring at the weekly newspaper. Two weeks ago, a foolhardy and poorly planned attack had taken place in the Crimea. With news being at a minimum, most Londoners had no knowledge of the battles that were being waged until much later. Some battles were not printed in the papers until a month or two after the conflict had taken place.
Now, only two weeks after the latest conflict, the poet, Alfred Tennyson, had written a most poignant piece entitled, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
Ebenezer shuddered as offered another prayer for the safety of the lad. Picking the paper up once again, he contemplated those next cruel words.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
A knock sounded at the door, and slowly, Ebenezer stood to his feet. In the entrance hall, Emily met him.
“Ebenezer, my dear sir, you should have remained in your chair. Let me answer the door for it is most likely only the local grocer bringing the supplies we ordered.”
“Emily Cratchit, you are too kind to me, even after all of those years that I mistreated your dear husband and my trusted work companion.”
“You, sir, have more than repaid any debt you feel that you owed to us. We all love you. However, since you are here, we shall answer together.”
Slowly, the heavy door swung open on its hinges. Standing to full attention, a military officer stood in front of two regular enlisted soldiers. Between them was a small chest. Ebenezer and Mrs. Cratchit had both seen too many years not to know why the soldiers stood at their front door.
Ebenezer felt his strength disappear but managed to stand tall as he kept Emily from falling to the floor as she began to wail in despair.
“Oh my son, my son Timothy…” She could say no more.
“Sir, my name is Major Richardson, may we come in for a moment?”
Inviting the men inside, Ebenezer stepped to one side as the soldiers walked in and placed their small burden on the floor near the door. With the normal stoicism of a British officer, the man informed them that Timothy Cratchit had fallen in battle during the most recent engagement in the Crimea.
Ebenezer felt like he was fighting for his very life as he struggled to take a breath. Surely, his special protégé had not been at THAT battle. He realized that he still held the crumpled newspaper in his hand. It was all he could do to bring it into view of the officer and pointed to the poem.
“Major, was this the 13th Light Dragoon regiment?”
The officer bowed his head before replying. “Yes, I am afraid that is correct, sir. I should probably not say this, but fully one-third of the regiment did not make it off the field of battle. Was he your son?”
Ebenezer had long held a special relationship with each of the Cratchit children. The old man had never married and had no children of his own, but had considered Timothy to be like a true son.
“Major, he was like my own son. Thank you to you and your men for delivering the last of his belongings.”
The major and the two soldiers with him turned to leave through the still open door. The cold, grey British day had somehow turned even colder. The uniforms of each soldier soaked up more of the incessant November drizzle as they walked away.
At the gate, the officer motioned for the soldiers to remain in place and he marched back to the house where Ebenezer and Emily stood watching them leave.
“Mr. Scrooge, Mrs. Cratchit, I want you to know one last thing. Your son, Lt. Timothy Cratchit served Queen and country with great honor. Even in their last charge, they obeyed knowing that they would probably not leave the Valley of Death alive. I am sure you will read it when you are ready, but I was told to inform you that a letter was the only personal item found tucked inside the remains of a uniform pocket. It is on the very top of Lt. Cratchit’s belongings.”
The door safely closed against the intrusions of a sad, cruel world, and Ebenezer helped Emily to find a seat. It was almost too much to bear knowing that the young man would never come home, especially at the holidays.
No words were spoken as both Ebenezer and Emily Cratchit came to some terms with their grief. The day was long gone when Ebenezer stood to light some more candles and stoke the fire.
A still, calm voice graced the air as Emily finally spoke. “Ebenezer, my dear friend, would you be willing to read the letter?”
Nodding, Ebenezer carefully opened the officer’s military chest and withdrew the short missive.
I do not know what fate will befall us. The last three years have not been easy, but I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my country and my Queen with great pride.
I have learned much and it would not be possible if had not been for your faithful ministrations as well as our beloved benefactor, Mr. Ebenezer.
Mr. Ebenezer, you took care of me and did not cast me aside, even when I was not myself after the death of father. Whatever happens, look after mother. I am sure that we will all soon be home for Christmas. But, if something happens and I do not return, please remember that Christmas is not a bunch of humbug, but a time to remember the good times that we have had.
All my love and God bless us all everyone,
Your loving son,
Tears flowed from both of their eyes as Ebenezer held the widowed wife and mother with a steady embrace. Christmas would never be the same again, but they would honor the life of their Tiny Tim.
When he took his seat again, Ebenezer Scrooge picked up the crumpled newspaper and read the final words of Alfred Tennyson.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
Inspired by my wife to write a different take on well-known stories. This is based on true events set around The Crimean War with characters from the loved story of “A Christmas Carol.”
I remember the first time I watched the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And the second and third times, but the number of occasions after that have faded into oblivion.
Always was fond of George Bailey and his quirky mannerisms. Yes, I will admit that parts of the movie brought tears to my eyes, but a manly man won’t admit that to many folks.
The life that George lived held so many similarities with my own with the biggest being that we shared the same first names, but I was George Rafferty. The biggest difference though was that Jimmy Stewart was an actor, and I, well I was just a nobody in a big, big world. Jimmy made his money and fame through his time as a military officer as well as his time in Hollywood.
Throughout my life, I always felt like I was facing the Mr. Potter’s of the world.
Some of the Potters stood in the way of a well-earned promotion. Others demanded the loss of finances through yet one more calamity. For those who could afford to have a muffler repaired or who could purchase a new set of tires, I lift my hat in respect. In my little house, it seemed that I would never get ahead. Just when I had saved enough to purchase that new instrument I had been admiring in the music store window, something else would break on my dilapidated vehicle.
Life had not seemed to come through with the promise of a pot of gold.
Sadly, I could not even find a rainbow, much less a treasure. Some days, food was scarce. Other days, the looming rent payment hung over my head like a giant of despair waiting to crush all opposition.
Now, Christmas was coming once again. The office party was being held tomorrow evening, but I would just stay at home again. Becky the receptionist had asked me several times if I would be coming this year, but I had spread a half-truth that I would be visiting family that night.
It was always the same, every year. Christmas gifts were expected at the office, but I rarely had enough money to cover my own bills, much less spend it on frivolous white elephant gifts that nobody really wanted. Too many would probably drink far too much, and I just could not get in the spirit of things anyway.
Making myself some Ramen noodle packets, I settled down in front of my television with a cup of hot apple cider. It wasn’t the best, but it was hard to expect a lot from a packet of powder that you mix with water and heat in the microwave.
Settling down, I turned down the lights except for the one in the hallway. Sipping on my cider, I turned on my small television and started my video player. It was time once again to visit with the only family that I had left.
The black and white images began to flicker in the dark as the prayers for George Bailey began once again. I could have turned off the movie and recited the script from memory, but this had become part of my weekly tradition, not just at Christmas. But I didn’t turn it off and each scene once again imprinted itself more firmly in my mind.
Bedford Falls was just as black and white as my world was.
This was probably why I felt I could relate. Nobody at my company would admit to having seen the movie that was now approaching 72 years old. None of the actors were probably even alive today with the exception of maybe some of the children.
But, I did not care whether others liked the movie or not. This was my little apartment, my bowl of Ramen, my cider, my television, and most importantly, my life.
As George Bailey went through each trial, I was again reminded of my own life. I had struggled as a kid. My disability prevented me doing many of the things that I would love to do, but this was the real world. Nobody was coming to help change my world, so I allowed myself to get lost in the cinematic world of make-believe in order to escape reality.
More tears as the pharmacist received the telegram, when Mary failed to recognize George at the library, and when Ma Bailey didn’t recognize her own son. But as usual there was some laughter, and three hours later, Zuzu’s petals were found in George Bailey’s pocket, his family got back together, and the bell rang on the tree as the angel got his wings.
One thing never changed as the last images flickered on the screen. A part of me always rebelled at the ending. After all, what did well-paid actors know about a hard life?
It was a Hollywood script for a Hollywood movie with a Hollywood ending.
Pushing the power button, I sat in the dark for awhile contemplating another Christmas season alone.
As I often did, I began to fall asleep in my easy chair. It was the nicest thing I owned and it had been given to me as a gift by a well-meaning family friend five or six years ago.
Half asleep I muttered to myself, “I wish…I wish my life were different. Maybe things would be different if I did not even exist — just like George Bailey.”
A sharp gust of bitter cold wind blowing across my face made me catch my breath and I came fully awake. I thought for sure that I had closed the door and made sure the latch was secure. I would need to talk with the landlord and ask him again to come fix…
“What in the world?”
Incredulous, I found myself standing on a bridge at the edge of town as the winter winds blew snow around me. Surely, I was dreaming and slapped my face to try and wake up.
“Ouch! That really hurts and why am I outside? There must have been something in the apple cider…”
Turning toward the sound of the voice that called my name, I saw nothing but the snow as it swirled around my body.
“Who’s there? Where are you?” I was starting to feel the effects of the freezing temperatures and I was certain I was in the early stages of hypothermia.
From out of the shadows, a short man wearing a fedora and a long overcoat walked toward me. He did not seem very ominous and I felt my time in the Army had prepared me to handle myself if I felt threatened.
“What do you want? Have we met before?”
“And a pleasant good evening to you as well, George. No, we have not met, but I am here to help you with your request.”
“What request? I didn’t ask anybody for anything. Who put you up to this little joke? Was it Becky and Roger from the office?”
“Oh, but you did George. You made a wish and my job is to help you determine whether you want to go through with it or not.”
“Sir, I am not sure who you are or why I am out here, but I can assure you that I did not make a wish…”
“Ah, now you remember. You were watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and when it finished, you wished that your life was different and that you were not even sure you wanted to exist.”
“Of course, but I was tired and being lonely I probably said some things I didn’t really mean.”
“Well, George. It is a little too late because I was sent to help you figure things out. Shall we begin?”
With a rush, the man with the fedora was right beside me and took the sleeve of my sweater. I didn’t think a man that old could move so fast and before I could get him off of me, the wind swirled again and we both disappeared.
“George, I am here to show you what life would be like if you did not exist.”
Amontage of my life began to appear in front of me in larger-than-life video clips and I thought for a moment we were in one of the large cinemas in my town. But I had been at the Regent 16 a few times and this was definitely not the Regent. Each scene played out quickly and I recognized each person. When the clips finally stopped, the man in the fedora took the sleeve of my arm again and we disappeared into the blinding snowstorm.
A split second later, I found myself standing alone in a cemetery. Looking around, I began to note with horror that I knew several of the names.
“Why is my sister’s name on this stone and why does it say she was only eight? And why are my parents here as well? I just talked with all three of them on the phone last week.”
“Sarah was home sick from school and a fire started in her home.”
“No! I was there and I managed to get both of us out alive.”
“George, you no longer exist. Sarah was home alone. She was sleeping and was overcome by the smoke. I’m sorry, but she did not make it. The strain and grief from losing an only child caused your parents’ health to decline. They both passed away less than two years later.”
The man in the fedora pointed to a grave three rows over. Stumbling through the snow with tears in my eyes, I recognized the name of one of the most successful businessmen in my town.
“Sir, this cannot be right. I haven’t seen Jake since high school graduation, but he manages a large company in town and does quite well for himself. This headstone says he was only 17 when he died.”
“George, the problem is that you no longer exist. Jake’s first weeks of school were difficult as he tried to fit in. He came from a very poor family and was constantly being harassed and beaten by his drunk parents. When he went to Rockford High, nobody was there to reach out and befriend him. Jake became very depressed. His grades went downhill and one day made the decision that no one cared. The bullying became too much and on his way home from another horrible day, his eyes were blurry from his tears. He swerved his car, over-corrected, and ran right into the path of a large truck.”
Moving through the cemetery, I recognized several names from the clips of my life. Each name and headstone reduced me to more tears. The man in the fedora solemnly informed me as to why each person was there.
Even Becky and Roger from the office were there. In this alternate world, they had married each other. Because I was not there to encourage them for all the work they did, they had chosen to resign three Christmases ago. Leaving work for the last time, instead of going to the Christmas party that I had also missed, they drove to a different restaurant. On the way home, they were hit by a drunk driver.
“Sir, I never knew. I thought nobody cared and that my life meant nothing. Please, let me go back home now. I will be thankful for…”
The snow howled its serenade as we disappeared once again. In a flash, we were standing in front of a large cemetery that I recognized from pictures.
“Why are we at Arlington?”
“Follow me, please, George.”
Walking through the gates, my stomach churned and I knew why we were here. Halfway onto those hallowed grounds, my guide turned into a row of pristine white crosses. I stopped afraid to go one more step.
“Sir, I do not wish to go any further. You cannot force me to go where I do not wish to go. Besides walking on uneven ground is difficult for me…”
“George, I was wondering how long it would take you to notice the fact that you still have both legs. Follow me.”
It was a command and I had to know the truth.
Each grave is sequential in the order of those who have died and each is decorated with the annual Christmas wreath.
Starting with Corporal Charles Walker, I began to recognize the names of my Army buddies. We rarely kept in contact, but each one of them would get together every couple of years and raise a few drinks together. The second in the row was Specialist Tyler Harrison. The third was Lieutenant Jefferson Sikes followed by the grave of Sergeant Frank Capra.
“No, I will not go any further. Why are my Army buddies here at Arlington?”
The man in the fedora let out a big sigh before replying. “George, you do not exist. You were not in Falluja the day the patrol came under attack, none of them made it. You were the only reason they would have made it back alive. Because you were not there, you did not suffer any injuries from an IED.”
“All fifteen?! No, this cannot be right. What about their families? Their children?”
“I am sorry, George. Each of those troops made the trip back to the USA in a metal casket. None of their children were born.”
Sobbing hysterically, I fell to the ground realizing that my life had made an impact on the lives of more people than I could know.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, but could not look up.
My shoulders heaved under the weight of the knowledge that was now mine. What seemed so insignificant to me had actually meant life or death to so many that I knew, loved, and appreciated.
“George, it is possible for things to change. You have but one minute to decide what you will do. Either you never existed and all these lives remained forever lost, or you choose life. Your minute begins now!”
The wind increased as did the cold. For the first time in many years, I searched my heart and realized that I truly cared. For too long, I had wallowed in self-pity as the world wheeled and danced around me.
“Sir, I beg you. Please let me go home. I want to be a part of Christmas this year and every year. I promise that I will be thankful for everything even when things get tough.”
The man in the fedora touched my arm again, but I thrashed violently against his touch.
“No! I cannot see anymore. If I am not allowed to go home, do not put me through any more misery.”
“George, your wish has not been granted and I am taking you back to your home.”
Opening my eyes, I realized that I was huddled in front of my television back in my little apartment. The half-empty bowl of ramen noodles and a cold cup of apple cider were still on the end table beside my easy chair.
Looking around, my little apartment was empty. Surely, I must have been dreaming, but then I heard the front door bang again and a shadow passed by the front window.
Racing to the door, I looked out to watch an old man shuffling into the darkness. A fedora graced his head, but there seemed like a glow surrounded him.
“Wait a moment,” I called into the night and the man in the fedora stopped and waited for me to catch up to him. The cold reminded me to take note that my prosthetic leg was back in its rightful place as I hobbled to the side of the little man.
“Sir, I want to say thank you for helping to see the world in a different light. I will go to the Christmas parties. I will show others that I care and I will try to be a light to those who struggle in the darkness.”
“George, you have been given a gift that not many are given. Do not ever forget!”
With that the man in the fedora turned and walked off, but I had to know one last thing.
“Sir, one last thing. I do not even know who you are.”
“My apologies. I have seen too many years and had too many Georges to deal with through the years. I forget that not everyone knows me.”
“Would you mind sharing your name? I want to know who I have to thank.”
Sticking out his hand, he introduced himself.
“My name is Clarence. Clarence Odbody, Angel First Class!”
My favorite time of the year is the season from Thanksgiving through til New Year’s Day. Let me share a few reasons why, but I want to share the problems I have with this time of year first.
1) Crass commercialism — More and more retailers are jumping from advertising Halloween into the run-up for Christmas. It seems as though many have forgotten what it means to be thankful.
2) Black Friday — Cyber Monday — This really goes along with the crass commercialism. EVERY single year, people get hurt, trampled, shot, etc. in stores across America because they are all trying to get that one special gift.
Fighting over material items now starts on the same day as Thanksgiving. Employees are no longer allowed to spend Thanksgiving Day with their loved ones but are forced to work in order to satiate the consummate greed that seems to have swallowed western civilization.
3) Sadness — This time of year is a solemn reminder of those who have left us behind. With half a century (50) years behind me, there are several family members who are already in this category. The years dull the memories of the pain that was caused by their departure, but it never fully goes away.
Well, that is enough of the negative because I want to share the positive reasons why I love this time of year.
1) Thanksgiving Day –
This is a special day and it would take a lot of ink and paper to tell all the reasons why. Each year I am reminded of all the years that have gone before. I cannot control what happened, but I have learned to grow through the trials and difficulties that life presented to my family and I.
2) Run-up to Christmas
I do enjoy watching the joy on the faces of my little girls as they watch yet another poorly written and horribly acted Hallmark movie. Of course, I think identical bad scripts and bad acting (just like last year’s selection) goes along with Christmas like…well, like eggnog and chocolate chip cookies, or a nice frappe and mince pie, or like hot chocolate and another round of specialty cookie tins, or like…ahem, I think you get the picture!
Another pleasure of this season is being able to go and find gifts for my family. My girls also get excited as they huddle in their rooms and make “plans” for what they are going to make each family member.
They then try to be secretive while they fish for clues about what others want so they can then “borrow” some money from me or their mom in order to get some store-bought things as well.
Yes, I like the pictures that come with each new batch of falling snow here in Wyoming. I enjoy hot chocolate or tea while listening to various types of Christmas music or while watching re-runs of Bing Crosby in “White Christmas” or of Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
3) Christmas Eve and Day
Each Christmas, we spend extra time reading the real reason for the First Advent of Jesus Christ. This includes not just His birth, but about His perfect, sinless life, as well as His death, burial, and resurrection. This is the true message of Christmas and we would be remiss if we forgot this in favor of gifts, tinsel, trees, and too much food.
We have a tradition in our family where we take time to reflect on the years that my wife, Violet, and I have spent together as a married couple. We gather the family around and share what happened every single year. Funny anecdotes are shared along with painful memories of those who have departed this world.
4) Wedding Anniversary
This year, my wife and I celebrate 29 years of marriage. I would be lying if I said that they have been easy years because they have not. We have weathered trials, deadly illnesses, pain, tears, and even arguments on three different continents.
Yet, through difficulties, we are constantly reminded that there is only One Who is sovereignly in control. He is the One Who has sustained and kept us each step of the way. Every year that passes is a reminder of what some believed would never last.
5) New Year’s Eve and Day
Ah, staying up late is getting harder and harder for some of us who tend to turn back into a pumpkin around 9–10pm. However, the extent of New Year’s celebrations in our house includes staying warm, another cup of hot chocolate or hot apple cider and trying to keep our eyes open as long as possible before normally retiring around 10:05pm.
Reflecting on the old year allows me to rejoice that a new year is about to begin. It will have 365 clean, white pages representing days that have never been travelled. Each of those days comes with 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes that can be used for good or for bad.
Each day will be filled with joy and wonder or it may be filled with grief and sadness. In fact, there is no guarantee that any of us will even be here to enjoy the transition from 2018 to 2019, much less from 2019 to 2020 a year from now.
A few things are certain though about this 2018 holiday season.
I will enjoy each day as though it might be my last. I will give thanks for all the blessings that have been given to me, but I will also ask for strength to give thanks for the hard times for they help to shape the character. I will remember the joy of family and friends and take time to remember what each person means to me.
Wishing you and your families a most wonderful time of the year.
Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas or none of the above, we can all still work to be thankful for the days given to us. They are a precious gift!
Originally written for “Live Your Life on Purpose” on Medium.
This is a brief character introduction to the main character from my work in progress entitled, “For the Love of Rome.”
A Roman of Romans, Antonius stands tall, but sometimes for all the wrong reasons. This is especially true in the early years of his life. The young man with the black, tightly curled hair is rather impetuous as he stands toe-to-toe with his father, Marcellus, who is a Roman Tribune.
Marcellus wants to raise his son in a manner that is befitting to someone born with rank, but Antonius is determined to live life in a way that pleases himself.
From a very early age, Antonius faces challenges that have the ability to make or break him into a good citizen of Rome. While he weathers each storm, sadly, there are underlying waves that seek to crash across the bow of his life. The biggest storm is yet to come and it will ultimately rock Antonius and his family to the core.
Antonius is the main character and the story set in Roman times features sections of the life of a young boy destined for greatness. The period of Roman history centers around the end of the last century before the first coming of Jesus Christ. If you think of the movie or the book entitled “The Robe,” you will have a good idea of historical settings involved.
Fight scenes and family struggles will bring thoughts of Ben-Hur to mind, but Antonius is a Roman. Even the gods would be proud of what the boy becomes as he learns to be a man in a world that is cruel for far too many reasons. The problem though is that Antonius has a problem with the path the gods seemed to have created for him.
My book is entitled “For the Love of Rome” and has been a work in progress since approximately 2003. It has gone through many changes as I have written and reworked this through the years. This full length novel stands currently at about 125,000 words.