The dinner plates had been washed by an array of sometimes willing helpers, soft snores and full stomaches meant it was rest time before the evening present giving and more food. Children had been bribed with promises of things to come and were sleeping, or trying to sleep. A young girl sat resting her head on the legs of her sleeping Grandfather. Too excited to sleep, filled with the joys of Christmas, eyes as bright as the lights that twinkled on the tree.
The Grandfather opened his eyes and gave the girl a wink, "You ok love?" he whispered She smiled at the old man, "Yes, Grandfather" she said "I just can't seem to rest" .
The old man patted his lap, "Come here sweetheart and I'll tell you a story" .
Quickly she climbed on her Grandfather lap and nestled into the old man's warm arms. She smiled up at him, "Grandfather, tell me a story of a Christmas when you were a boy" .
A slow smile spread across the old mans face, followed by a flash of pain that filled his eyes with tears for a brief moment. The child did not see the look just snuggled down further, ready to listen to the old mans story.
I must have been just around 8, not much older than you. It was a Christmas like you see on Christmas cards, snow was all around, and for some reason people seemed to be more full of the Christmas spirit than normal. I had been looking forward so much to Christmas. Every day I had rushed home from school and down to the toy shop at the end of the street. There in the front window was a magnificent toy fort full of shiny soldiers.
Each day I pressed my face against the window, checking it was still there, until I knew every soldier, as if they were my own personal friends. I had dragged my parents to the shop on any chance I could, making it no secret just what I wanted for Christmas this year. Each time I got the "Just wait and see." But I couldn't wait, each day I went and checked that the fort was still there, and each day it was. As Christmas grew nearer, I noticed a look of worry on my parent's faces, I did not really understand what was going on. I heard talk of wars and battles, and soldiers seemed to fill the streets. But the only ones I was interested in where in the shop window.
Then one day I ran as normal to the toy shop, but the window was empty, the fort had gone. I ran home with tears streaming down my face, why had this happened? What had I done wrong? I ran sobbing into the house, my Mother came rushing out of the kitchen at hearing me, hands covered with flower from the cake baking. She hugged me, to her as I told her between sobs of the disappearance of the fort. She hugged me again a smile playing round her lips.
I looked past her, and for the first time caught site of my Father. He was dressed in Khaki, a uniform, as a soldier. I did not understand, and he hugged me to him, and tried to explain he had to go away for a while. He laughed and told me he would be back in a week or two. But the look on my Mother's face made me for a moment think something different. Before she too came and hugged me, her face full of smiles.
Two days later my Father went away, before he left he took me to one side.
"Son" he said "I have had a word with Santa Claus, and I think your Christmas will be just fine" .
The next days leading up to Christmas I could hardly sleep. The Christmas Eve came and I did not want to miss a thing, and I could not sleep just as you my Granddaughter. My Mother came and read to me a letter from my Father, and hugged me until my eyes though in the end closed and I slept. I woke in the morning And there it was at the foot of my bed, the Fort, with all the soldiers I knew so well, looking even better than it had done in the shop.
The Grandfather looked down, at the now sleeping girl on his lap. He sighed, glad he did not have to go on with the story. How would a young child like he had been understand about a black bordered telegram he had found his sobbing Mother holding. When he went to tell her about his present. I could not explain to her what it felt like to know his Father would not be coming home.
The Fort had remained untouched and un-played with in his room, until his Mother finally gave it to a friend. He had cried for a week, and that Christmas never happened as far as he was concerned.
He looked again at his sleeping Granddaughter, and gave her a hug. Thank goodness such a thing would never happen again in her lifetime he thought.
She stirred and looked up at him with half closed eyes. "I love you Grandfather" she said.
And an old man cried.
Barry Eva 2000
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