Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas Reunion -- A Christmas Story

Story By Tom Correa

Each Christmas it happens, and it always comes in a dream when least expected. This year it started with the sound of my Dad talking about mistakes he'd made. I was surprised to hear him say he didn't realize how precious life really was -- until it was too late.

He sat at my kitchen table in pretty good spirits really. While reminiscing about life in general, he did mention his frustration with the Oakland Raiders but that sort of frustration comes with being a Raider fan.

I listened to him talk about the things he wish he'd done and didn't, and of course the things he did and wish he hadn't. And yes, I thought about how nice it was to see him smile. All in all, he looked great and smiled and laughed with grandpa who was telling another one of his stories.

My grandfather, the original storyteller. The story this morning was something that took place around Christmas back in the early 1930s.

Back then he sailed all over the Pacific as a Merchant Seaman. And yes, that one Christmas story was one that he laughed about more than some of his other Christmas tales.

Sure there was the story about how he signed up to get in the ring at Civic Auditorium right there in Honolulu in a wrestling promotion there a few years after it was built in 1933. He and others in line were there to get in the ring with a local "Champion" wrestler.

The promotion was to win a 50 pound bag of rice if they could stay in the ring with the champ for a 3 minute round without being pinned or thrown out of the ring.

He never said whether or not he got that bag of rice, but he did say that after getting slammed to the mat by the monster -- he kept running away from him for what felt like an hour or more.

But yes, all in all, he would be the first to admit that his being a Christmas gift of sorts was a close call that most young men don't want to go through . And yes, he loved telling the story about how it all took place.

Supposedly his ship was in port in Samoa. Remember this was in the early 1930s. While there, he became friends with a local family. And yes, one of the very young daughters in that very large family became infatuated with him.

The problem with her infatuation was that her father was a local Chief. And soon after meeting him, the Chief wanted to make my grandpa a gift to his daughter by making him a part of their family.

This was so much the case that a day or two before leaving, the Chief made it clear that he would be marrying his young daughter. Only first, my grandpa had to be tattooed in the Samoan tradition of a warrior.

My grandfather knew real well what that meant, but besides the idea of all of that pain -- he was already married to my grandmother back in Hawaii.

On the day his ship was leaving, his ship's Boatswain came up with a plan to arrest him in front of the Chief to dishonor him -- thinking that this would subsequently save him from a bad situation.

On Christmas Day, with binoculars in hand, the ship's Captain watched as the Boatswain and two others acting as escorts arrested the young man who would later become my grandfather.

It took place about a hundred yards from the ship's brow in front of the Chief. Everything seemed fine and going along as planned until the Chief's daughter started screaming about how she didn't care if he was a criminal or not. And yes, soon her father was siding with his daughter in an effort to shut her up.

That was when my grandpa, his ship's Boatswain and the two escorts, looked at each other and decided that it was time to run for the safety of the ship.

All were running for safety while the whole village was being alerted that one of "their own" was being arrested.

Laughing about it, grandpa liked to say that while the Japanese had Judo, the Chinese had Kung Fu, and the Filipinos used knives, Samoans had a skill for throwing rocks. And yes, they were pelted all the way back aboard ship.

It seemed like only seconds after aboard that the Captain had the brow pulled and the ship pulled away from port. On a trip to Samoa during World War II, grandpa saw the Chief and his daughter again -- but only from the rail. Over the years, she had married and gained about 200 pounds. Looking at her, he waived hello and smiled a thanks to his ship's Boatswain.

My grandmother stood behind him this morning and shook her head as usual. Grandma's heard his stories over and over again, and yet she still smiles and laughs at them. She loves him as no one would ever know.

But then again, maybe it wasn't so much grandpa's stories and more how he tells them. Yes, the right inflection here and there, and even a story that's heard over 50 or more years can sound great to those intently listening.

I love the smell of my grandma's vinho d'alhos. It is a popular Portuguese dish for a reason and my family makes it every Christmas. The aroma coming from cooking the marinated pork is something we all look forward to at Christmas.

Outside, the wind blew up the leaves and rain started pounding the windows. A knock on the door, caught everyone by surprise, but not me. I have become used to this reunion. I know this happens every year as it has for many.

A few years ago, my wife's grandpa Stanley showed up. And yes, it is great to see him again each year. It didn't take long for me to learn to love him as my own. One would be hard pressed to find someone with as good a heart and gentle ways as Stanley.

Aunt Marie and Uncle Tony showed up to visit. Last year was the first year for Uncle Tony. He knows most there and was his usual happy self. All there were talking and visiting, all having a good time.

Uncle Tony is why I have a horseshoe on both sides of the doors leading into my home. On a visit he asked why the horseshoe hanging over my front door had the open end up?

I told him that was so the horseshoe holds its luck. He said that when he was a youngster back in the 1920s that he was told to have the open end, the heel, pointing down so the luck would shower everyone walking through the door.

Now I have a horseshoe outside with the open end up and a horseshoe in the door with the open end down. After all, one can never be too careful.

When my great-grandfather walked in, grandma helped him to a chair that was essential his spot in the kitchen. Isn't it strange that after all these years of not speaking Portuguese, I understood him clearly.

Yes, my great-grandfather could not speak English other than a few words such as "Franklin Roosevelt" and "hospital". And I guess there is a good reason for that, he was always a laborer who worked with other Portuguese laborers who couldn't speak English either -- so subsequently, though he wanted to learn enough to pass our citizenship test, he never could.

As usual, I'm thankful that I could not find my brothers or my sisters there. And yes, I've come to realize that my mother is never there for the same reason -- but that's the way it should be for now. And yes, over the years, I have become grateful to God that neither my mom nor my siblings are at the reunion yet.

For some reason, I heard a commotion outside and when I went to see what was going on. There was my old horse Murphy. He had ran full tilt down to the end of the arena kicking and farting the whole way. Once there he reared up then looked at me as if to say "How was that?!"

I called out "Son!" Then I turned and started walking away, and as if it were years ago, he always ran to me full stride until cutting me off from my walking away. He then started mouthing the pockets of my coat knowing that I have horse treats for him.

My dogs Chesty, Baby, and Jake joined my barn cats Mama Kitty, Tom Tom, Blacky, Missy Kitty and Rascal, watching my old horse Mac run over and join Murphy.

Talk about herd bound. After rescuing Mac from slaughter, he and Murphy became as thick as thieves. He has never been the dancer that Murphy is. Yes, Murphy chasing me and searching my pockets for treats -- almost looked like we're dancing.

Awake and Sad! 

Soon my wife woke me saying that she's going Line Dancing, it must be Wednesday I thought. I heard the door close, then her car started, I walked into the kitchen and watched her drive down out long driveway.

I was tired. Dreams sometimes make me very tired. And yes, when I woke I realized that it had happen again. Each time the Christmas reunion takes place there are more people there.

Some are faces without names sitting in a corner reading a paper, or standing by the front door, or moving past me. Those who are moving by me seem to move faster as the years go by, and no I can't seem to stop them to ask their names.

Mom called me this morning to say she can't wait for this afternoon's Red Hat luncheon. For her, I will get dressed as Santa Claus and make an appearance for my mom's ladies group and their annual Christmas Party. Yes, for mom, I will be Father Christmas!

During their lunch, I will meet all of her friends and then sit with them for a while. I will take in their faces and enjoy their camaraderie. This group of friends has a great deal in common. But frankly, I am beholding to them for taking care of my mom since my dad passed away almost 10 years ago.

But yes, each year, sometime before Christmas, I have a reunion of sorts with those I've loved and miss a great deal. Some like my great-grandfather have been gone since I was just a boy of nine. Others like my maternal grandparents passed on when I was in my 30s.

I lost my horse Murphy to colic a couple of years ago, my dog Jake who was only four when he died suddenly for no apparent reason. I had to put Mac down because of his old age and the fact that he couldn't stay on his feet any longer.

This year, 2016, my brother Herman Ray is now part of the gathering. He passed away two days after his 62nd birthday. I miss his calls and his grumpiness. I miss our laughing at old jokes. I miss our reminiscing about when we were growing up. And as with the others there, I can only pray that one day I will be seeing him again. Yes, I can hope and pray that we're all reunited with those we love and have lost. I pray that when it's my time, that it's not just a dream.

For now, I cherish it for what it is. Yes, as interesting a reunion as it is. It always is. It happens when I'm half awake close to morning, and most times I feel sad when I wake and interrupted it. It always feels like it ended way too soon.

And although I know it is all just a dream that takes place every year, there is a comfort that comes from my knowing that next year I will dream about them again. But until then, I will settle for remembering how they were and why I still miss them.

As for those wondering if I see my annual reunion as a prelude to what awaits me later? Yes, I do. I do because I've come to believe that this is what waits for me in Heaven.

While writing this my television is on, and right now playing on some channel is the Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life." I just heard Clarence the Angel tell George, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

Yes, they do create holes. But thankfully we have memories to fill them. Especially if we are blessed. And tonight, again I am blessed.



MERRY CHRISTMAS
Tom Correa




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