Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Christmas (page 1 of 3)

I’ll Be Home For Christmas — 2014

It’s that wonderful, magical time of the year again.I'll Be Home For Christmas 1

“Silent Night, Holy Night” — A Korean War Christmas

koreachristmas2MacArthur said the boys would be home by Christmas.

They weren’t.

KOREA — Christmas Eve, 1950

They clanked their cans together and took a drink of the icy cold beer. It was the first beer either tasted since the regiment withdrew to Chunju. They were about to take a second drink when they suddenly stopped. It had gotten eerily quiet outside and that’s when they both thought they heard what sounded like some far-off singing.

“Did you hear that?” Bobby asked. “What do you reckon that is?”

What Bobby and Harold thought was singing started low, almost like a whisper and had grown louder and nearer. They recognized the song immediately. One by one, the men in the platoon walked out of their tents to find the source of the mellifluous melody, which turned out to be a dozen young Korean boys and girls aged around ten or eleven huddled together with a middle-aged Korean man around a fire burning inside an empty fuel drum. Bobby, Harold and the rest of the men who came out of their tents to investigate, gathered around these tiny carolers and listened to them sing.

Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon virgin, Mother and Child

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

It was the first time that most of the men had close contact with any Koreans, especially children. They came across thousands of refugees fleeing burning villages along the Pusan Perimeter last summer and passed thousands on the road to Pyongyang. Seeing all those refugees always put a different perspective on the war for the men, but this was different.

Flames from the fire burning inside the fuel drum danced in the cold night air and illuminated the dirty, rosy-cheeked faces of the children. The girls were bundled up in thick woolen jackets over traditional Korean hanboks while the boys wore similar jackets over baggy trousers. They sang slowly and eloquently, enunciating each word clearly and carefully.

The men stood silent, transfixed by the carolers and their sweet, angelic voices. A few of the men with children of their own back home thought about them and how much they missed them, especially at this time of the year. Those without children thought about parents, brothers, sisters, and other loved ones at home. Almost all of the men were a little misty-eyed, even First Sergeant Marshall, who was never known for showing any kind of emotion in front of the men, looked a little choked up.

After the children finished singing, they all bowed. Bobby and a few other men ran into their tents and returned with candy and chocolate they received in Christmas packages from home and passed them out to the children. The children bowed again and then moved toward another cluster of tents.

The men watched the children leave and then stood around the fire, warming their hands over the flickering flames.

“Don’t you men have anything better to do?” Sergeant Marshall inquired.

A few of the men dispersed and returned to their tents; others continued to warm themselves around the fire.

“That was really nice, wasn’t it, Sergeant?” Floyd Brown, the radioman from Second Platoon said. Brown was another one of the company’s replacements having only been in country for a week. He was the platoon’s third radioman since Kunu-ri. “Sounded like little angels.”

Bobby and Harold also thought so as they gathered around the fire. Marshall, who stood across from Bobby and Harold, stared at the fire quietly. That’s when Bobby noticed Harold was still holding the can of beer. He motioned to Harold to offer Sergeant Marshall one of the last two cans of beer they had in their tent.

“Sarge, would you like a beer?” Harold asked. “You know, it’s Christmas Eve and all.”

“Reyna, where the hell did you get the beer?”

Harold looked at Marshall sheepishly.

“You didn’t swipe them from the jeep that was parked outside the CP this afternoon by any chance, did you?” Marshall asked.

“Let’s just say that I requisitioned them for awhile, until our beer ration comes in,” Harold said grinning.

“Sure Reyna, I’ll have a beer with you and Washkowiak.”

The three men sat in the tent around a small stove fashioned out of a fuel drum. Although the tent was drafty, at least they were out of the raw, bone-chilling cold that would undoubtedly drop even farther during the night. Harold opened another can of beer and handed it to Marshall. Outside they heard the singing of the children serenading another group of soldiers a few tents down from their tent.

Read the rest of it here.

Ghosts of Christmas Past — 1968: The Year I stopped Believing in Santa Claus

1968 hot wheels 09

An Excerpt from I’ll Be Home For Christmas

It was a historic year on all fronts—that started with the seizure of the USS Pueblo off North Korean coastal waters in January and culminated with the flyby of the moon by Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve.

In between there was the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, riots in Chicago, and the election of Richard M. Nixon in November. It was a tumultuous year in America, to say the least.

Although I was only 10 years old, I knew something was going on that year when I heard and watched the news of these events. I might not have understood completely what each one of these events meant, but I did know—by observing and listening to the adults around me talk about them—that these events rattled and shook our nation to the core.

It was also the year I stopped believing in Santa Claus.

* * *

The holiday season for a kid traditionally began with the arrival of the Christmas catalogs from Aldens, Montgomery Ward, and Sears. As soon as our mailman, Earl Jansen, delivered ours, my brother Robbie and I spent hours perusing the toy section until we knew it by heart. Still too young for a BB gun, but too old for G.I. Joes and Lincoln Logs, I had my sights set on a Hot Wheels Double Dare Drag Set, Battleship, Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, and a Bobby Hull hockey game.

Mom told us that we shouldn’t expect too much this Christmas because our father wouldn’t be with us, which I thought was strange because I didn’t know how his absence had anything to do with what we would or wouldn’t get for Christmas. It was toward the end of our summer vacation when Mom sat me down and told me that she and our father had gotten a divorce. I knew what it meant. There was another kid at school whose parents were divorced and all the other kids made fun of him. They also made fun of him because he still believed in Santa Claus. Of course I still believed in Santa Claus; I mean, who in their right mind wouldn’t believe in him, but after I heard about the ribbing Lester got from those older kids, I feared Santa’s days were numbered.

Robbie, on the other hand, wasn’t worried about Dad not being with us; he was afraid that Santa wouldn’t find us because we moved.

* * *

Halloween came and then Thanksgiving. By then, the pages in the toy section of the Aldens’ catalog were worn, creased, and dog-eared from all our visits. At night, when my brother and I were supposed to be asleep, we pulled the covers up over our heads, and with a flashlight, looked again at the toys we hoped Santa would bring us. When it came time to write our letters to Santa, I made sure to write down the description of the toys exactly the way they were written in the catalog and why I couldn’t live without them. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, before we watched Miracle on 34th Street on WGN’s Family Classics with Frazier Thomas, my brother and I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote those letters. I let my tongue hang outside the corner of my mouth to aid my concentration as I slowly and carefully printed each letter with my pencil, the same way I had been taught up through the third grade. I put those A’s received for penmanship to good use as I composed what I felt was the best letter ever written to Santa Claus.

When I finished one hour later, I couldn’t wait to show our mother the neatly written letter to Santa. I gleamed as I passed it across the table where my mother nursed a Bloody Mary and thumbed through a recent issue of Family Weekly. She took one look at the letter and the color immediately drained from her face.

“Don’t you think this is too much?” she asked, looking up from the letter.

My heart sunk. It wasn’t the answer I expected as I immediately switched gears and pleaded my case. “All the other kids ask Santa for a lot.”

“All those other kids have parents who make more money than I do,” she said, as she got up from the table to make herself another drink. “Go and watch your movie.”

I wasn’t sure how the amount of money that my friends’ parents possessed had anything to do with the stuff I asked Santa to bring, but I knew better than to talk back to Mom when she had been drinking. I picked up the letter, stuffed it inside an envelope and went into the living room.

Read more here.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas — Cover Art

xmasBookPaperBack

My thanks again to Anna Takahashi for her awesome cover design for I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Her creative vision adds another dimension to my books. I think you’ll agree that this cover rocks!

Ghosts of Christmas Past — Japan, 1989

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2qCHLx_4qA&feature=related]

Today, while I was in the locker room at Sol-Sporex (located in one of the lower levels of the SolBridge International School of Business), one of the more upscale fitness clubs I have worked out at here in Korea, I heard the Second Movement of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony playing in the background.

And in a split second, as I heard the familiar piccolo solo and strings of this composition, I was transported back in a time—21 years to be exact—to a cold Sunday afternoon before Christmas in Hamamatsu, Japan as I waited in the lobby of a community center dressed as Santa Claus (with two pillows underneath my baggy costume to have some semblance to that jolly man in red) before I was to make my grand entrance at a children’s Christmas party.

While I was waiting to make my grand entrance back on that Sunday in 1989, I was listening to some local orchestra perform Dvorak’s symphony in an adjacent concert hall.

It’s funny how music has a way of opening up one’s memory and transporting one back in time. I was immediately overcome with a wave of holiday blues and nostalgia, as I sat there listening to one of my favorite symphonies, tying my shoes. In fact, the holiday blues and nostalgia were so strong I could hardly move. I just sat there, listening to the beautiful sounds of this symphony thinking about 1989, the first year I taught English overseas, and this year in Daejeon, my 20th year teaching English in Korea.

Whenever I heard this symphony, I will always think back to that year I taught English in Japan, when I first embarked on this noble profession. I am reminded of all the dreams I once had and the passion and enthusiasm that filled my life then and still fills my life now. Though bittersweet at times, especially when spending the holidays alone, it is part of the music, the soundtrack of my life.

“With Every Christmas Card I Write….”

“With Every Christmas Card I Write….”.

And the hits keep on coming and coming.

I never imagined this essay would be so popular, but then again it is about Christmas cards and maybe more people are sending them this year. I most certainly did!

Check it out (if you haven’t already).

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

The song remains the same but not the memories

The other night, a song reminded me of a girl from a long, long time ago.

It is funny how the mind works and what you might remember at any given moment; or what memories might be triggered by something you smell, hear, taste, or see.

The other night, I was listening to this song “Hospitality on Parade” (1975) by the group Sparks and it reminded me of eating Christmas cookies my grandmother baked and Pat Hardy, this girl I sort of had a crush on back in high school. I had bought the band’s 8-Track Indiscreet and was listening to it a lot back in 1975 around the holidays and when I was hanging out with Pat and some of her friends on the east side of LaSalle, going to lunch with her and friends to McDonald’s, or stopping to visit her at work at Bergner’s before I went to work across the street at K-Mart.

One memory begets another memory.

I was walking down the street, coming home from a long day at the language institute the other night, with this song on my iPod when I happened to look up at the second floor of this beauty shop across the street and noticed a light on in the window. The building looks more western in design than most of the homes and buildings on this street—western in that it didn’t have a blue or red tile roof.

For a split second, when I saw that light on in the window, with the drapes drawn, that song by Sparks playing, the cold, foggy night, thinking of Christmas, I was instantly teleported back in my mind to December 1975. It reminded me of Pat’s house and the times we hung out with each other.

Those days and nights back in 1975 were a fleeting moment of innocence that would be gone forever. Six months later, I was in the Air Force and although Pat and I exchanged many letters the first couple of months I was in the military, I would only see her four times in the next thirty-three years.

The other night though, for as long as it took for those memory tumblers to click into place, I got to see an old friend in my memories as I walked home.

Have Yourself a Merry Beatles’ Christmas

Have Yourself a Merry Beatles’ Christmas.

“Good King Wencelas last looked out

On the Feast of Stephen, Ho!

As the slow ray around about

Deep and crisp and crispy.

Brightly show the boot last night

On the mossty cruel.

Henry Hall and David Lloyd,

Betty Grable, too-oo-oo.”

If you haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit yet, musically speaking that is, or you are looking for something a little more nostalgic-albeit rock and roll nostalgia-to get into the musical spirit of the season, you might want to find a copy of The Beatles’ Christmas message recordings which were recorded for their fan club members from 1963-1969.

I first wrote this essay a few years ago on my blog and updated it again last year. If you are a Beatles’ fan and you never heard of these recordings, you will find this blog post quite interesting.

The first time I heard these messages was back in 1978 while listening to the Dr. Demento broadcast from an FM station in LA. Ever since then I have always listened to these messages around the holidays. They are much easier to find these days then they were back in the early 80s when listened to them again.

I hope you will be able to find them and enjoy listening to them.

Vintage Christmas Cartoons From the 1950’s

Vintage Christmas Cartoons From the 1950’s.

What would the holidays be without some vintage Christmas, holiday cartoons and animated films to enjoy?

Aside from some of the perennial holiday favorites like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” there are some holiday favorites that you may not have heard of like these three animated films/cartoons which were popular on WGN’s Channel 9 TV out of Chicago.

Soon, you will be humming or whistling, “I’m Hardrock, I’m Coco, I’m Joe!”

“With Every Christmas Card I Write….”

“With Every Christmas Card I Write….”.

That’s right, with just a little over two weeks until Christmas it is time to start cranking out those Christmas and holiday cards. If you are like me, when you send Christmas cards you and want to write something special, you will find the essay at the link above quite interesting and useful.

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