December 19, 2012 by palamow
BITS and PIECES # 15
Merry Christmas from Luquillo!
I pray that you all are reaping the blessings of a peaceful and happy Christmas season, filled with good cheer, good will and the anticipation of a new year filled with nice surprises…
I have selected a Christmas-themed story for this week’s blog entry – it has already appeared in my story collection ‘Snapshots from the Road’ and again, as additional material in my father’s autobiographical musings ‘Up from Central Park — if you haven’t already had a chance to read it – I think you just might enjoy reading it here:
A CHRISTMAS STORY
On weekends and holidays during the World War II years my father and mother opened our Beverly Hills home to servicemen and women who were on pass in the Los Angeles area. Mom gave our address to the USO and the Hollywood Canteen – they provided buses that brought us soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, eager to spend an afternoon lounging around the swimming pool at a movie actor’s home. Dad would leave our front door ajar with a sign on it that read ‘COME ON IN, OUR SERVANTS ARE AT LOCKHEED’. In fact, our cook and butler had left us for more lucrative and patriotic work in the defense industry. Mom and my sister Patricia would spend the morning in the kitchen making fancy hors d’oeuvres – they were often joined by actor friends Martha Raye and Joan Blondell, who would drop-by to offer their help. I would assist dad by lugging charcoal to the barbeque, making sure the ice bucket was filled and that there was plenty of beer and soft drinks in a large metal cooler out by the pool. When this was done, I would station myself by the front door as an unofficial greeter, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the servicemen in their impressive uniforms.
One Sunday we welcomed a group of patients, most of them amputees, who were on a one day pass from a military hospital in San Diego – they treasured this unique chance to get away from the hospital routine and swim in a pool, relax and get some sun. I retain a vivid mental picture of their crutches and prosthetic arms and legs stacked haphazardly at the pool’s edge, while they cooled-off in the water.
I was fascinated by the many war stories I overheard – I would try to remember them long enough to enter them into a journal my parents had given me as a birthday present.
The day would end after the servicemen had blissfully devoured a buffet of barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs along with corn-on-the-cob and some avocados freshly picked from our backyard tree, washed down with beer or soft-drinks. The buses would return around six o’clock, and the guys would all thank my parents for a wonderful day – dad would exclaim “come back whenever you can boys” and mom would hug each one of them. We heard from many of them during the course of the war – they would write mom “v-mail” letters from wherever they were, telling her how they were doing and recalling the wonderful day they had spent around our pool listening to dad entertain them with his long list of amusing Hollywood stories.
Forty-some years later, on a sunny Christmas eve afternoon, I sailed my sloop “Uncommon Freedom” into Nanny Cay marina on the tiny Caribbean island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. It was twilight as I tied-off at a slip by the marina’s dockyard. I wanted the boat hauled-out of the water to have some welding done to her rudder, which I had damaged on a nearby shoal. I needed the work done without delay since I was scheduled to pick-up a newly married couple on Christmas day to begin their ten day sailing honeymoon. The long concrete pier was deserted – only a raucous group of sea birds were there to greet me.
As I began walking down the dock towards the marina office to see if I could rouse someone, an elderly, grey-haired chap emerged from a well-worn wooden barge tied to the pier. He identified himself as the dockyard’s manager and asked me if I needed help. I told him that I was desperately in need of a haul-out to get some welding done. He smiled ruefully, and said ‘It’s Christmas Eve, I sent everyone home early this afternoon – they won’t be back until Monday morning.’ Hiding my disappointment, I gave him my name hoping to be his first customer when work began again on Monday. Upon hearing my name, he looked at me quizzically and said ‘You any relation to that English movie actor?’
When I answered ‘I’m his son’ he grinned widely and replied ‘I’ll get some help and have you hauled-out in a few minutes – I’ll start welding as soon as your rudder is dry.’ Bewildered, I asked him what had caused the sudden change of heart. He replied, ‘I spent a wonderful Christmas day at your home as a guest of your family while I was a gunner’s mate on a destroyer during World War II, just before we left for the Pacific. I’ve never forgotten that your family shared your Christmas with me and my buddies. I didn’t get a chance to thank your mom and dad properly for their kindness and hospitality.’ He paused thoughtfully for a moment, and then continued. ‘I’ll bet you were that little tow-headed squirt that scrambled around delivering those little sandwiches and made sure we had lots of cold beer.’
He finished welding my rudder around nine o’clock that evening and his workers quickly re-launched my boat. As I was reaching for my wallet to pay for the haul-out and welding job, he put his hand on my arm and said ‘let’s just chalk this up to fine old memories, Cap’n – you owe me nothing.’
As I sailed with the tide that evening I experienced a warm glow that had nothing to do with the balmy Caribbean weather or the mug of rum I was sipping. I was thinking of the other aging World War II veterans, in cities and towns across America, Britain and Australia who also retained cherished memories of time spent so many years ago, relaxing with our family at our home in Beverly Hills.
© 2011 – Alan Mowbray Jr.