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 TRADITIONS (Fiction) 
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Joined: Fri May 06, 2005 5:57 pm
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Location: Seattle Washington USA
Post TRADITIONS (Fiction)
As some of you might be aware, I've written a couple of young adult novels set in the US Navy during the War of 1812. They're about Nathanel Lawton, who, in the "The Key to Honor", joins USS Chesapeake as a brand-new midshipman. Nate learns the basics of command via the ship's second lieutenant, Daniel Westcott, and learns even more in the second book, "The Price of Command," set against the Battle of Lake Erie.

Between the two books, though, I wrote a Christmas short story that featured Nate Lawton in the postwar period. I'd forgotten about it...until a local writer's group meeting reminded me of it. I dug it out, cringed at a few parts, but still liked it enough to read it to the group.

And...what the heck, I'm going to post it here. While it refers to American servicemen away from their homes at Christmas, the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of other nations make the same sacrifices to protect their homes and loved ones.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Gud Yule, Happy Kwanza, Festive Solistice, etc.
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TRADITIONS

By Ron Wanttaja


Knuckles rapped on the cabin door. "Seven bells, Mr. Lawton, sir. Yer on watch in half an hour."

Nate awoke with a start. "What's the weather, Bellamy?" he said into the darkness.

"Fine zephyrs from the south'rd, Lieutenant. Warm as Mrs. O'Grady's leeward armpit, and the sun's bright enough to burn your eyes out."

Nate snorted. Ask a stupid question.... "Very well, slice me a mango for breakfast." The cot, hung head and foot from the overhead, swung gently in the frigid darkness. Nate slid a hand from under the blankets and cupped his nose. He breathed slowly into his palm, relishing the warmth spreading over his face.

The wardroom servant sarcasm hadn't been subtle. Three-thirty in the morning, and the sun wasn't due up for almost four hours. Temperature well below freezing. But what did he expect, for winter in the North Atlantic?

Realization stuck anew. Not just winter...It's Christmas morning. His mind flew back to Christmases past. The warmth, the laughter, the joy. Even after the British has pressed his father, he'd been comforted by the old-world celebrations of Grandmother and Grandfather Kessler.

It had ended with the war. Two Christmases in a row at sea, fighting the British. And then, the war over, his father and mother reunited...and the Navy offers him a position as Fourth Lieutenant on USS Adams. "And so," Nate muttered into the darkness, "here lies Lieutenant Nathaniel Lawton, ink hardly dry on his commission, heading to the Mediterranean to join Commodore Decatur's fleet." Christmas day at sea once more.

And Lieutenant Peters, officer of the watch, awaits on deck for his relief. Nate hauled himself upright. Time to put the cold feet on the warm deck... he wrapped the blankets around him and slid his legs gingerly downward. A deep grimace helped absorb the shock of the icy fir planks.

No reason to dress in the dark. "Bellamy," he said in a low voice, to avoid disturbing the other sleeping officers. "A lantern, here."

He stood. Something cold and slippery enveloped his face. "Hey," he sputtered. He grabbed blindly.

The cabin door opened and Bellamy, hair like a shock of white hay in the light of the battle lantern he carried, entered. "Gonna introduce me to your friend, Mr. Lawton?" He cackled and ducked back out.

With the light, Nate saw he'd taken a death grip on a pair of stockings hung from the gunport tackle. How'd....

He remembered... the Captain's Christmas Eve dinner. Gold epaulets glittering in the polished lanterns. The young officers laughing over glasses of hot cider. The Captain asking his officers how their families celebrated Christmas.

Nate told them about how his Grandfather Kessler had brought the traditions of Bavaria with him to the new world. The rows of lights on the pine trees, Saint Nicholas in his horse-drawn sled...and the stockings hung from the mantle.

For the first time in years, homesickness had flooded his heart. He'd grown quiet afterwards, the laughter and jokes of his fellow officers flowing around him unnoticed. Only the Captain seemed to notice. He'd attempted to cajole Nate into a happier mood.

It had helped. But after the party broke up, Nate hung the stockings from the tackle in his cabin. It was probably all the Christmas he'd see.

He pulled down the stockings. He felt the toes. Empty, of course. I could have used a hot lump of coal or two, right now, he thought. He drew them on. Like all of his clothes, they were cold and clammy, and would remain so until fresh water flushed away the salt. On went the stockings, on went two pairs of trousers and his tall boots. A shirt, a waistcoat, a woolen scarf around his neck. Then his uniform coat, followed by his peacoat. Another scarf around his ears and tied under the chin. Atop it all, he crammed on his sou'wester hat.

He lifted the lamp from its becket and placed his hand on the doorknob. He paused and closed his eyes. Christmas away from home, again. I could have turned down the appointment. He straightened. But then he'd be sitting at home, right now, thinking of the young lieutenant who would have been sent in his place.

From Tripoli to the Gulf of Mexico, American sailors and soldiers were stirring from their beds, celebrating the birth of the Christ child by donning their uniforms and performing their duty. They marched their posts and stood their watches so that their families back home could celebrate the day in peace.

Many of the sailors on the Adams were youngsters. They would do their duty, as well, no matter how lost and homesick they felt. It wouldn't do to see one of their Lieutenants moping around, feeling sorry for himself.

He pulled off his sou'wester had and unwrapped the scarf from around his ears. He lifted down his dress hat, and set it atop his head at a jaunty angle. No, he told himself, I'll not be glum today. I'll try give them as cheery a Christmas as they remember. And I'll be glad that other young lieutenant gets to celebrate with his family. The next time he spent Christmas at home, he vowed, he'd lift a glass to remember those who served in far-off lands. A slight smile tugged at his lip. I'll add my own tradition to Grandfather Kessler's.

He stepped out into the wardroom. Bellamy was just settling down in the cubby, getting ready to resume his own interrupted rest.

Nate bobbed his head at the man. "Merry Christmas, Bellamy." He grinned. "Guess I'll go on deck and startle Lieutenant Peters by relieving him early."

Bellamy hooked a thumb toward one of the closed cabin doors. "Mr. Peters has been caulking in his bunk for the last hour, sir. Cap'n relieved him."

The Captain? wondered Nate as he climbed the companionway to the spar deck. Why would he rouse himself from a warm bunk at two-thirty on Christmas morning?

As he stepped onto the deck, he spotted the Captain's short figure standing by the quartermasters at the wheel. Nate stepped aft to greet his commander.

But something was strange. The deck should have lay in darkness. But the ice-covered backstays shouldn't have been visible, nor should the quartermaster's faces have shown so brightly. And the quartermasters were smiling broadly, their teeth a'glint in a weird glow. Nate turned to look forward.

He gaped in stunned surprise. The foremast stood bedecked with lanterns. First a wide row of lanterns along the mainyard just above the deck, then a shorter row on the topyard, and then, highest of all, a short row atop the t'gallantyard. Others dangled on the lifts, the ropes running diagonally from the yardarms to the mast. Definitely the oddest sight he'd ever....

Then he realized: It was a one-hundred-and-thirty foot Christmas tree. The kind he'd told the Captain during the dinner. Nate started to grin.

Footsteps behind him. He turned.

The captain lifted his hat in salute. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawton"

Nate doffed his in return. "And a merry Christmas to you, Captain Westcott."

THE END



Sat Dec 24, 2005 8:03 am
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