Vintage Views: ’Tis the season to share stories

  • A lone World War I soldier found his Christmas in a Red Cross gift box on Christmas morning. Library of Congress

For the Monitor
Published: 12/4/2021 7:27:26 PM

There was a time so very long ago, a time when the world was a different place. The sun seemed to shine brighter and the breeze blew more refreshingly. The days seemed to last forever and adventures were so much more adventurous.

I was just a young boy growing up in a loving home and sheltered from the things a boy had no business to know. I was insulated from the war, poverty, sadness and grief. I was fortunate to have a loving family as well as a very good friend. You see, my best friend was quite old and his stories told and retold until they became a permanent piece of the fabric of my life. My old friend was Donald and while I thought he was a century old I was still in my early years of elementary school. Donald was a classic old man. He ventured around our neighborhood with his old cane and the sun sparkled off his gold rimmed glasses. His heart was full of kindness and his tales of the past endless.

I remember his stories so very well many decades later. His adventures dated back to his very own childhood growing up in our little town. The years are irrelevant for the stories bridge so many generations. His father fought in the Civil War, he listened and learned the lore of his father and passed his stories to me. I have always felt a strong kinship to Donald’s father, as if his father spoke directly to me, sharing stories from a century and a half ago. The stories that Donald told me are not the kind of stories you read in a history book, they are stories about the routine life of a boy living in a small country town in the late 1800s. They are stories that were never written but remembered and told and retold again, the way I relate them to you at this time.

During this most festive time of the year, I fondly think of my good friend Donald, for his tales of Christmas’s past were always grand in their simplicity. I learned that there are times in life when you have very little, but you unknowingly have so very much more.

Donald spoke often about the years following the Civil War. His father had returned with his New Hampshire Regiment, returning to the train depot in town from where they had departed a few years prior. His father was a changed man, often humorous but now so very forlorn. Taking another’s life changes a person, during this time of war Donald’s father was subjected time and again to this tragic event as he encountered numerous Confederate soldiers on the battlefield. Upon his return he was so very forlorn, sadness prevailed at Donald’s home during his early years and this sadness remains to this day with my story. Days passed, weeks passed and the years did too. Young Donald lived with the sadness his father carried post war deep within his heart. As Christmas arrived each year Donald saw a piece of his father return, very slowly but the twinkle in his eye eventually became evident as Christmas arrived each year.

It was the year 1921, Donald was married with a wife and children of his own, he personally learned the sorrow that war brings. He served during World War I in Europe, learning what trench warfare involved as he combated enemy troops on the front lines. Donald told me he arrived home after the war just before Christmas. He arrived at the same train depot in Concord in 1921 that he departed from years before when patriotism still filled his heart. Donald found that he had become his father in many ways, destined to the sadness that consumed his very own father after the Civil War until his very last days.

A veteran with a heavy heart Donald also had a son that shared his days, sorrow and forlorn nature. Donald sought a resolution to his troubles and spoke often of the sadness within his heart, allowing the dark days to dissipate until he gained a kinder understanding of life. Donald raised his children, a kind man with a good story. He watched his son board the train at the depot and venture towards World War II, but his sons story ended differently. He never returned to the train depot like his father or his grandfather, he never felt the deep sadness that war instills. Donald’s son died a hero on the field of honor where he sleeps eternally in hallowed ground.

This Christmas I remember my old friend Donald. Three wars visited his family during the Christmas season from Christmas’s past. He knew the loss of his innocence when his father returned from the Civil War. He knew the loss of his very own contented life when he returned from World War I. He knew the loss of losing his son during World War II.

Three wars, many Christmases and so very many sad days. Yes, his stories captivated me so many decades ago. Lessons are often difficult to learn without the experience. It is this Christmas that I remember my early years with Donald, a man that knew about loss. His losses took so much from him that my very young self assumed that he had little. As the years pass and another Christmas beckons us this year I reflect once again. Sometimes people that seem to have so very little really do have so much more.

Merry Christmas to one an all.




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