Tag Archives: rememberance

Christmas in the Trenches

Public Domain Image by Vera Kratochvil http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=16260&picture=poppy-flower
Public Domain Image by Vera Kratochvil

My last offering is one that I have not known for very long, but I have heard of the events on which it was based. The character of Francis Tolliver is fictional, but the event he describes is real. Words fail me at this point, but the song speaks for itself. Merry Christmas to All, and God’s blessings especially on all who, today, face war, persecution and strife. 

Christmas in the Trenches,

by John McCutcheon
.
My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
From Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany, to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
.
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost, so bitter, hung.
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
.
I was lying with my messmates on the cold and rocky ground,
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
.
“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me.
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony.
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.
.
As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent,
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I,
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
.
“There’s someone coming toward us!” the front line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.
.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land.
With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ’em hell.
.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home.
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin,
This curious and unlikely band of men.
.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that beat that wondrous night:
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”
.
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter, hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.
.
My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.
.
© 1984 John McCutcheon – All rights reserved


Advent: Third Carol for Christmas Day

I considered a more cutting selection for today because sometimes I forget, along with many others, who Christ is, who He chose to consort with, and that His warmest words were for the poor, the outcasts, and those in distress. To those in prosperity and power, his love tended to manifest in harsh words, a needed wake-up call for those willing to hear it.

We risk becoming too comfortable.  Sometimes we need a good shaking-up. I believe that God wants us comforted, but not comfortable. Sometimes we need to hear the words He spoke to those who had every worldly reason to be satisfied with themselves.

But as I began to write this post, something told me that this is not the time for shaking. Doubtless that time will come, but maybe I’m not the only one who has had a rough year, and maybe anyone who reads this is in a season where they need to be comforted, not exhorted. We need reminders, too, that we are loved and how much. That is really the message of this season, isn’t it? Love manifest in the coming of the Child of Heaven.

In that spirit, I bring you a gorgeous song that reminds me of how much I am loved, and fills me with gratitude for a gift that I could never deserve. You can read the very long lyrics here, but the version I am posting is much shorter and, I think, more to the point.

The song itself is called “Third Carol for Christmas Day” or “Ye Sons of Men with Me Rejoice” and was recorded in A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas, by Rev. William Devereux in 1728.  It is an Irish carol, and my only encounter with it has been through Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill and Donal Lunny on The Very Best of Celtic Christmas. The album is hit or miss for my tastes, but worth its cost. This song, and “Circle of Joy” are my favorites. As always, please remember that these renditions of songs are under copyright, so if you like them and want to listen to them over and over, do the right thing and purchase them.

Third Carol for Christmas Day,
by Rev. William Devereux, 1728

.

Ye sons of men with me rejoice,
And praise the Heav’ns with heart and voice,
For joyful tidings you we bring,
Of this Heav’nly Babe, the new born King.
.

Who from His mighty throne above
Came down to manifest His love
To all such as would Him embrace,
And would be born again in grace.
.

This mystery for to unfold:
When the King of Kings, He did behold
The poor unhappy state of man,
He sent His own beloved Son.
.

An angel sent by Heaven’s command
To a spotless virgin in the land;
One of the seed of David, King,
These joyful tidings for to bring.
.

He hailed this Virgin, full of grace,
And told her that in nine month’s space,
She should bring forth a Son, and He,
The Savior of mankind should be.
.

Music copyright Maighread ni Dhomhnaill and Donal Lunny, 2004.


Requiescat in Pace, Anne Murphy Raplee

Cinderella had a fairy for a godmother. While that sounds very exciting, I would not trade with her. My godmother is a wit, a craftswoman, a goat-keeper and a dear soul. Today, that dear soul departed, and I cannot say how much she will be missed.

I call her my godmother, but I think I always considered her a grandmother. My biological grandmothers both died before I was born, one step-grandmother died shortly after my birth. Of the other two step-grandmothers, one was kind but quiet and the other was so different from me in personality that it was difficult for us to relate. I loved them, but Anne was closer to me.

In her kitchen was a wall of what looked like ancient and cruel devices of torture. I remember playing the “what does that one do” game quite often. She would tell my brother and I “that one is a corn-sheller” or perhaps “it’s a corer,” when we asked, but she seemed endlessly amused by our more gruesome assumptions. I was obsessed with her collapsible egg-baskets for a while, and her doll-houses, and various other strange and wonderful things to be found in her house and in Doc’s shed.

Doc was her husband. I know he had a name, but I never can remember it! He was always Doc Raplee, originally our veterinarian, and always our friend. Like my father, he was a tinkerer, and unlike my father, he was a tough, gruff old country vet, a complex mix of harsh and tender. Doc died a few years ago, but tragically he was faded in mind before that. Even from the little I know, Anne’s life was not an easy one. She was often happy when I knew her, but her path was rocky.

Anne knew how to knit, and made afghans for my brother and I. She even knitted us a town and a train! I found, yesterday, a pillow she made for me with a horse on it. In my jewelry box is the white-gold heart with her tooth mark and mine in it (we were both curious children, apparently). Her corned beef and cabbage were heavenly, and her conversation was even better.

I could tell a hundred tales. I think I will make notes for myself, lest I forget them some day. For weeks I have been trying to remember the name of her old disgruntled Scottie dog. It is at the tip of my mind, but I cannot grasp it. I do remember Meg, the only collie I have ever really liked. I remember the cow… Sweet Thang, if I remember right. There were burros: Murphy’s Burro, which is funny to those of us who know Murfreesboro, and Daisy. There were also goats. Tons of goats. Anne’s Siamese cats never liked me, but then I was a small child at the time.

Anne’s home had a pond, usually overgrown with weeds, that held, for me, and endless fascination. I think it was on the hills behind that I first discovered the beauty of bones. I spent hours upon ours scouring that hill for the smooth, intricate treasures picked clean by coyotes and vultures and bleached by sun and rain. Anne never complained, at least to me, that my bone-collecting was morbid or unclean. I also loved the hills for themselves, with their old cedars and smooth limestone boulders.

I loved that place so much that, in college, years ago, I wrote this. I was assigned to write about a place.

Cedar of Lebanon

            Step lightly, and watch your feet.  The cows have been here and goat pellets cling to the crevices in the slope.  Climb carefully from ridge to ridge on the fossil-encrusted limestone that peeks through the grass.  Never walk straight. Weave. Pause and run your fingers over all that is left of this seabed.  If you are lucky you will find a bone or two, picked clean by the coyotes and bleached by sun and rain. As you walk you will come to an old juniper whose roots are nestled in the smooth curve of one of the great boulders.  Its shedding bark splinters off the twisting trunk like strips of peeling wallpaper until it reaches the branches, heavy with fragrant spiny leaves and dusty berries.  Brace yourself, back against the trunk, foot pressed in the dip of the smooth stone and suck the air deep into your chest until it hurts.  Then just sit, be silent, and let your senses bloom like dandelions. Let your hungry eyes search the cirrus clouds sweeping the sky, and dwell on the dove gray stones and the burning fall colors.  Feel the sharp, resin-sweet air and the heat of the sun-warmed boulder beneath you. Taste the sun and the wind, and drink the blues and golds as wine. Crush the leaves of the juniper between your fingers and smell the age of their parent tree.  Remember if they prick you, they mean no real harm. Open your ears and listen as the trees sing and the birds rustle and the limestone wears away.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

I look on this passage now, and I know that it was not just the place itself that made me love it. It was the people there, who loved me. Anne, I am proud to have your name. I am glad to have known you so long, and to have been shaped by knowing you. I owe you much for the beauty, fascination, love and joy you brought to my life, though I know you would never call in the debt.

Goodbye, for now. We must all carry on in your absence. Know, however, that I intend to keep talking to you, when I need to, and I am determined to see you again, in time.


Requiescat in Pace

Columbine

Marky Pace, the mother of a dear friend of mine, passed from this world and on to the next the night before last.

She is known for the warmth of her heart and the love she showered on so many in her lifetime. I imagine she was welcomed home with joyful singing, and she always did love the sound of voices raised in music.

Rest in peace and joy, Marky, and may the blessings your life gave to your family and friends comfort them until they meet you again.

God, comforter of grieving hearts, be with all of us who are, for now, left behind.


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