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The Merriest Christmas
A LETTER FROM WORLD WAR I
December 1981 | Volume 33, Issue 1
I bought a pair of boots to go to the dance in, having no footwear left except my Fort Sill hobnails that were on me when it happened, back in November. It was a fine dance; and The Light of Heaven is the lightest, most responsive partner that I ever had. They had it in one of the Red Cross recreation huts, on a well-waxed concrete floor. You wouldn’t believe that you could put a waltzing surface on concrete—but you can. There was a whole band up on the stage, and they played wondrously. To make the evening complete, I quarreled with an engineer lieutenant, slightly awash with good cheer, who bothered Mary Alexander. We abused each other in some of the most uncomplimentary language I have ever heard, and we were filled with a great desire to punch each other’s heads; a captain came up and led him away by the scruff of the neck, e’er my valor was put to the test, which was God’s mercy, for he was a big man. In short, it was a merrie, merrie night of galantine, and I had a regular heluva time. …
Well, when we parted The Light of Heaven called me God’s Child and gave me three Christmas presents. Three, mind you. I took ‘em home all wrapped up, and because it was past midnight, and thereby lawful, I took ‘em into the office and unwrapped ‘em, even in the presence of the night nurse. One was a marvelous little cannon, with a limber that unhooked and little horses that unhitched. One was a whole box full of the finest fudge I ever ate, and the third was a little Kodak picture of herself in a kind of a belt-buckle frame. I carry it still—not next my heart, but in my pocket book with my “soap wrappers” (as we call the French money). …
I gave Miss Randall—which is the Light’s real name—a whole bag full of dolls and toys and figs and dates and such like things, for the fun of seeing her unwrap each new surprise. But I didn’t want it all to be a joke, so I gave her roses and a green vase to put them in also. That was before the dance. After the dance I gave her a little crystal phial of “Houbigants Quelques Fleurs” perfume, put up in a blue box, and another blue box in exactly the same style of Houbigants “Quelques Fleurs” powder—they are made as a combination, with exactly the same scent, and they are the very finest in France, which is to say, in the whole world.
Early the next morning, before it was light, a sextette of nurses from our hospital, all dressed in white, came with candles in their hands and stood beside our Christmas tree and sang, “Holy Night, Silent Night.” My God, it was beautiful. I tell you that there was more than one of us almost had to bury his emotions under his pillow. …
Well—we all cursed them for waking us up (after they had left the ward, of course), and then went back to sleep. The day nurses and orderlies let us be till about ten thirty, when they brought in strong black coffee, that was good for all of us, tho’ more necessary for others than for me, who am a Kansan and a total abstainer. After that the orderlies swept out the bottles, and we got ready for dinner. For once it was a real dinner, with all the turkey you could eat. Beside every man’s plate, moreover, was a proud can of Lowney’s chocolates, that didn’t cost a cent.
Somebody discovered that my cannon would shoot matches with considerable accuracy and force. That afforded us infinite entertainment. One brilliant artillery officer even found out how to make it shoot with incendiary effect. The procedure was as follows: Load the projectile match and pull back the spring. Then place a lighted match in front of the muzzle and release the spring. The projectile match passes thru the flame and is ignited! With luck it will remain alight throughout the trajectory. With this redoubtable weapon the artillery officers attacked the infantry officers, and at least succeeded in attracting their attention after successfully burning up a newspaper which one of them was reading.
That night I took The Light of Heaven and her ukulele over to Base 72—Mary’s hospital. On the way we found a quartette of enlisted men serenading aimlessly and at large. They had fine voices and a good assortment of stuff, so we fell them in and marched them with us to do minstrelsy to our huts. They stayed the whole evening, and added the last touch of merriment to one of the merriest Christmas days I ever had.