View Full Version : Christmas: A time to believe

12-14-08, 07:10 AM
Christmas: A time to believe
Stephen M. Black/On Borrowed Time
Published: Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.

Years ago, I stood spellbound on a wintry windswept beach on the Outer Banks. The object of my gaze was a six-foot Christmas tree.

It was Jan.10, 1994. It was a little late for Christmas trees, but this one was special. No lights bedecked its green boughs. No presents were under it. Yet the tree captured my soul, so help me God.

Admittedly, the tree was windblown and frowsy. It had a right to be. For this hardy little thing stood courageously on one of the world’s most desolate places: Cape Hatteras Jetty.

The temperature stood at 33 degrees. A northeaster was blowing snow. The surf crashed and bashed its way against the rocks.

My mood matched the rugged scene. Earlier I had read a newspaper account about some act of Mideast terrorism. Children were murdered. Some fanatical group claimed victory.

To hell with mankind, I grumbled and cursed. We weren’t worth the powder to blow us to kingdom come.

I decided to take a long hike on the beach. That’s when I saw the tree and my mood suddenly changed.

The little pine listed to starboard like some reef-gutted ship. Tinsel hung raggedly from its scraggly branches. The few ornaments swung crazily in the wind.

I asked the park ranger about it. He informed me that it is traditional for surf fishermen to place a tree on the jetty every Christmas.

Somebody cared. Somebody gave a damn. Amidst all the horror in the world, this tree stood as a reminder that a decent spark always remains in the hearts of people everywhere.

This next item is new. It is written by my good buddy and fellow Marine, Bill Parks of Hendersonville. I’m dedicating it to all Korean War Veterans who fought in “The Coldest War.” The poem is of course an adaptation from Clement C. Moore’s 1822 “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” I’m sure professor Moore wouldn’t mind since U.S. Marines had been protecting America’s and the professor’s freedom for 47 years when he wrote his beloved classic.

The Night Before Christmas

Up Donner, up Blitzen, to the top of the hill.

Keep a sharp look out and be very still, for yonder enemy will soon be here.

And what should my wondering eyes behold: 10,000 Chinese to try a strangle hold.

There were whistles, bugles and rockets too, with colors of red, green — almost every color hue.

On top of my bunker there arose such a clatter. It was the machine guns keeping up a chatter. The mortars were thumping as the shells flew out endeavoring the keep the bad guys out.

Then came the Corsairs, a beautiful blue. They dived, circled and created havoc too.

As they gathered and flew out of sight, one pilot slid back his canopy and I heard him exclaim: “Merry Christmas Marines and have a good night!”

God bless our Korean War veterans.


One last memory. Dec. 18, 1963: Marine Recruit Training Depot, Parris Island, S.C.

If you’re a “boot,” Parris Island is hell surrounded by live oaks, Spanish moss and tough sergeants. It’s bad enough to be whumped and thumped and cussed out but when it’s a week before Christmas...oh woe to the young recruit a long way from home.

The night before my company graduation, our drill instructor, a grizzled veteran of Okinawa and Korea asked how many of us believed in Santa Claus. Half of us raised our hands (hoping for the best). The other half laughed and said we were crazy.

Then we were commanded to hang up a sock at the end of our bunks. We went to bed wondering what was up.

The next morning, as usual, we heard the D.I.’s hatch open with a bang. And as usual we heard him bellow: “Get up maggots!” What wasn’t usual was the small artificial tree on the central table.

The tree looked as if it had been found on a trash heap (it probably was). A quarter of the branches were missing. The rest was bent. It was beautiful. Our jaws dropped. We looked at the tree in awe.

And sometime in the night, the old man had slipped a chocolate bar in our “Christmas stockings.” Even the guys who didn’t believe in Santa got one. But in their socks he also added this note: “You owe me 50 pushups for your doubt.”

And he meant it.

It was then we realized that even with the beatings and cursings he had cared for us after all. And that knowledge was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

Christmas. It’s a time to believe.