At this most holy time of year, I wish to remember my grandfather, George Schaffer. This short story was written last year in honor of him and won a writing contest. So as we sit down with our families this Christmas, may we remember all the women and men who fight for us as well as the families they leave behind to do so.
Mon Petit Ange
I have never been a religious man, but there is something amazing about the night of the Christ Child’s birth and the wonder of a force so much greater than you and I.
I first met her in December 1944. During what history would call the Battle of the Bulge, as a paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division I initiated my descent from the air to defend Bastogne from the German resistance. The winter freeze and blinding precipitation abducted several of us from our destination as we were heaved to the ground in the vomit of violent winds. Landing behind enemy lines, my back was broken upon reconciliation with the earth. The Germans wasted no time restraining their captives and not recognizing my immobility, showed no mercy for my malady. Here I will spare you the details; not because I do not wish you to know but moreover because I do not care to relive it.
Insignificant medical care and lack of nourishment deprived me of my will to live. From my calculations, it was soon Christmas Eve and by then I was sure my mother and family in the States thought me dead. With little hope for rescue I wondered on this holiest of nights what kind of God could do this to me ~ to any of us. What had I done in all of my nineteen or so years to have deserved this? It was then she first came to me.
At the time, I did not wonder why such a little girl would be here in this hell. Her clothes were not extraordinary and I cannot recall the details of her face. What I do remember were her eyes. They were the most brilliant blue I had ever seen and afforded the first warmth I felt in days. She approached me and in my despair put her tiny cold hand in mine.
“Joyeux Noël, mon Papa!” she whispered. Though I knew not a word of French, her words comforted me and I understood her as she spoke.
“You will be fine and so will I,” she assured me. Removing her icy hand from mine, she ran her tiny chapped fingers through my hair and began to sing her tune:
“Vous m'avez et vous avoir ~ You have me and I have you; Pour aujourd'hui et pour toujours ~ for today and for always.” Over and over she would sing her song, running her tiny fingers through my hair until sleep would finally come. Upon awaking, I was both saddened and scared to see she had gone.
Day would inevitably arrive and cold would envelope my soul. When despair became insurmountable she would appear, securing her tiny cold hand into mine. One day I asked for her name, to which she gazed at me with those blue eyes and replied, “Mon nom n'est pas important, mon papa.” Breaking out in her little tune, though she never laughed or even smiled, her song brought joy and warmth to me.
Shortly thereafter, another visitor came to our prison camp. A mangy dog, Zeus was friendly and in need of companionship. Though we were severely undernourished my comrades and I took to sharing our meager scraps of bread with him, as we could relate to his search for camaraderie and his playful demand for our attention. Enduring the atrocities of war, Zeus provided us hope of some good remaining in the world.
A month or so later, we were stunned by the generosity of our oppressors as they served us the first meat we had enjoyed since our capture. Appreciative for this small show of kindness, we all concealed a small token for Zeus. Like my companions, I was overcome with sorrow when Zeus failed to appear for several days and the realization of our tormentor’s utter inhumanity was revealed to us. This was the ultimate betrayal; I was reduced to a life lower than I could stand. Desolation brings dark and desperate thoughts when no hope is in sight. Yet each time I was at the point of breaking the little girl would appear, her blue eyes blazing brightly as she placed her cold hand in mine to sing her song: “Vous m'avez et vous avoir ~ You have me and I have you; Pour aujourd'hui et pour toujours ~ for today and for always.” Sleep would eventually overtake me and upon awaking I would always find her gone.
A year or so later I was released from prison camp. Preparing my return to the States, I ventured into Bastogne hoping to find the little girl who saved my life. Her tiny cold hand in mine and her little tune brought hope for greater things to come if I could just hold on a little longer. Determined to say goodbye, I could not find her among the ruins of what had once been her home. I hoped in my heart she was alive somewhere and would somehow know how much she meant to me.
I returned home to the States and began a new life. I married a wonderful woman and together we created a family. Our home and lives were full with our five sons and though they brought me a life of happiness I never forgot the little girl and her song:
“Vous m'avez et vous avoir ~ You have me and I have you; Pour aujourd'hui et pour toujours ~ for today and for always.”
Life was good and time passed too quickly. My five little boys grew into men and with their wives created families of their own. I will never forget the day my oldest son proudly called proclaiming the birth of our first grandchild.
“Dad!” he exclaimed, “It’s a girl! And you would not believe her blue eyes!”
I have never been a religious man, but there is something amazing about a force so much greater than you and I.
My oldest granddaughter has the most amazing blue eyes ~ it would seem they are not even of this world. When she was small, one of her favorite past times was to comb my hair. As she grew, she always made sure I knew how important I was to her and even as a teenager would tell me to sit still so she could comb my hair.
As the years went by, I believe we shared a special connection. Each year on Christmas Eve, she would present me with a gift. Understanding the joy of life, this was never the typical here’s-another-robe-or-pair-of-slippers gift. One year, it was a dancing table top Christmas tree that came alive when music played. Another year, it was a hairy grunting caveman who would flail his arms and flash his eyes when I clapped my hands. I believe she knew when my last Christmas was upon us, as she presented me with a photo album and a poem relaying her love for me. On this holiest of nights I would thank the God who blessed and watched over me. I don’t know what I did in my seventy-two or so years to have deserved this.
My last night on earth was in a hospital bed. Understanding my time was nearing the end, my hands were uncomfortably hot and heavy as I tried to find peace from the discomfort. My granddaughter came to me and slipped her cold hand in mine. With her blue eyes filled with tears, she ran her hands through my hair and told me how much she loved me. Within a few hours, I was gone.
Our connection is still strong. My granddaughter with the bright blue eyes is now a writer sharing my story with you. She lives in the house I grew up in and is raising her wonderful family where my wife and I raised our five sons. Currently she is planning what she believes will be her first trip to France. However, I know she has been there before.
~ Merry Christmas and a most blessed New Year to you yours! ~