Christmas Truce, 1914

December 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Christmas Truce, 1914

Many years before I started to write A Generation of Leaves, I heard John McCutcheon’s ballad, Christmas In The Trenches, sung at a small gathering on Christmas Eve where some dissident Catholics were having a service in a Quaker Meeting House. A lone guitar player sang out with his clear tenor where a group of maybe twenty of us were gathered in a room lit with candles. I knew little about WWI then and nothing about the fields of Flanders where my young Uncle Léo’s bones someplace rested in an unknown, unmarked grave. I know a lot more now but the lesson I learned that night with John McCutcheon’s song tells the story of that war as true as any novel. During WWI there were other spontaneous truces all up and down the Western Front where men on both sides disgusted and disheartened with the slaughter made up their own minds not to shoot but to live and let live. Here is the story of that first truce.

Small moments within the big story

December 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this blog. I’m really not a blog person. I’m more a muller—mulling this and mulling that before I’m ready to commit but last week I spent my days and nights in New York City and that has speeded up the process. I try to visit NYC every year especially since I returned from time away in San Francisco and Albuquerque. New York was where I came of age to use that quaint expression that captures both innocence and experience. I lived in the Lower East Side for roughly ten years from 1964 to 1973. I returned this past week to visit my friend, Fran, and to give a benefit reading at The Catholic Worker, the movement that has been offering food and shelter to the homeless and the searching since the 30’s without benefit of financial help from any governmental agency and surviving on private donations of money and labor. In the 50 years between when I first came to the Worker and now, the Lower East Side has changed drastically. The Bowery is no longer skid row, tenements are now luxury high rises, a cuppa joe costs five bucks not 50 cents. I walked around as I usually do locating the old haunts—Chrystie Street where we had the soup kitchen now houses some kind of catering outfit. The church where I was once married is not Puerto Rican anymore but Pilipino. Chic bars and cafés seem to dot every block, wifi is ubiquitous. The Café Roma on Broome Street is the same and I stopped in for a cappuccino. Katz’s Deli is the same and the late night hubbub and the mountainous pastrami sandwiches haven’t changed. More than anything, what changed this past week was my own attitude. I wasn’t looking for the shade of my younger self anymore or the ghosts of my past. It’s a little hard to tease out the meaning of what I have just said and I know the mulling will continue but I want to put down a few things now. Number 1 is I bought a week long Metro Card pass which meant I could zip around the city on the subway or bus without worrying about screwing up and missing my stop. Why I never did this before I don’t know. Money, I guess. Money always has a lot to do with attitude. Number 2 was that right before I bought my Metro Card, I helped a woman buy her ticket at the computer kiosk. I hate even buying my own tickets at those machines since I often mess up and there are usually people standing behind you wanting you to go faster. But no one was around and she was standing there and looking at the machine and she asked me if I read English and if I could help her and I said yes thinking also, right away, that she probably wants me to buy her the ticket. I hit the right buttons and the screen posted the amount of money–1 dollar and 75 cents and I said that amount and she pulled out a little plastic medication bottle, uncapped it and spilled some quarters into my palm. I put the quarters into the slot and it rang up 1 dollar and 50 cents and she shook out one more quarter into my palm and I put that into the slot and the magic little card shot out and into her hand. She smiled and I smiled and we both said thank you because mutual thank yous were warranted all around since the world we live in so often does not allow time for revelation and courtesy. But NYC offered that to me in aces during the past week. The funny thing about it was I think my openness was in large part because of the Metro Card. I wasn’t anxious about missing my stop. I didn’t care if I got lost. I could always hop on another train or bus. But then again, I had the money to buy the card, the very card that I did not have either the money or the inclination to buy before. Time to mull—issues of race and class, issues of age and youth, issues of living in the United States circa 2014.

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