The young man was despondent. It was 1933 and times were tough for everyone, but for some, that point of no return was always just around the corner. When he lost his job that fateful and bitter Friday evening – just 3 days before Christmas, he had turned that corner and found himself staring blindly into a limitless and hopeless abyss. It was The Depression – a constant storm of human desperation, and his spirit was crushed; there were no options.
Rumor has it that his youngest had wondered aloud if Santa would still come, so it must have been with a heavy heart that he dove out the second floor window just two days later – head first; fragile skull on tough Pennsylvania slate. It didn’t look like a suicide. Steps were taken – a ladder was nearby, and it gave all the appearance of an accident. No one questioned the wisdom in paying the death benefits, because the lone witness claimed to have been asleep. “The sound was louder than expected,” she would say years later. “It was a horrible sight, but he did not suffer. I wish I could have helped.” With her silence, she did.
Ever since, he has been seen from time to time on Christmas Eve. Always in navy wool coat and white collarless shirt; always with a tip of the cap or a friendly nod; always standing on the slate sidewalk that runs between the houses. Stories say he smiles as he greets you, but not to linger long, he quickly vanishes into the dark.
I saw him once – just thirty years later. It is an old Swiss tradition that St. Nicholas comes on Christmas Eve, so our tradition had the family gather in the kitchen behind closed doors to await his arrival, while someone slipped away to the basement to supposedly add coal to the fire. In 1963, that was me. Once in the basement, I was to exit through the storm cellar, and re-enter through the front. Then, ringing bells the entire time, I was to fling open the parlor doors, and quickly retrace my steps unnoticed.
But that year, the return trip was different, as there he was waiting between the houses. Only partially visible in the shadows, seemingly part of the air and falling snow, I saw his face clearly as he beamed a broad smile, tipped his cap and turned to walk away. I watched him slowly glide down the sidewalk and fade into nothing. By the time I eventually completed my task, the children were already opening presents – well into the celebration.
“What took you so long?” My grandmother asked, and so I recounted the incident. “That was just Richard,” she chuckled, patting my shoulder. “He used to rent the back house. He was just passing through. Everything is fine.”
It was some years later that I finally heard the complete tale of the young man in the back house; of his family and his demise. And as near as I can tell, the truth will die with my mother and I. For others, this is just a story that may or may not be true, but I have seen him, and I know. I like to think that when I am gone his secret will go with me, and he will be free to leave his past behind. No more cold, lonely Christmas Eves on the slate; an end to his hopeless, limitless abyss. Peace, perhaps – finally. Hopefully. I like to think that. And I know it’s not the time for stories of Christmas, but then again, it is just around the corner.
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.