Thursday, 17 December 2015

St. Nicholas - this weeks Xmas story by Peggy Kopman-Owens

This week's Christmas story comes from author Peggy Kopman-Owens. Peggy's experience as a crew-member on commercial airlines, private jets and her years in Paris provided inspiration for her Paris Mysteries series.

Arrives in Paris
 An excerpt from the original:
"Entre ciel et terre, il ya Paris."
"Between Heaven and Earth, there is Paris."
© 2015
Peggy Kopman-Owens

The thought of home tugged at my heart, leaving the last crumb tasteless on my tongue. Those in the city mused about the weather, but not with the intensity that we in the countryside had dissected and chronicled it. Every sunrise held promise, every sunset a mystery. Clouds carried clues we learned to read carefully as our fathers and our grandfathers taught us. Our lives depended upon our understanding, our interpretation, our acceptance of powerful things outside our reach, and therefore, of the benevolent blessings or unavoidable curses upon our lives.
This year would be wet, dry, cold, hot. Tomorrow a crop would rise, drop, thrive or die, and with it our hopes for a more abundant life. With each season, we prayed we might rise from our humble status - serfs upon the land of free men. But most often, we found ourselves bowed to God's rejection of our labor and forced to humble ourselves under the yoke of our Earthly masters. We accepted our condemnation and continued as peasants, marionettes pulled and contorted by invisible hands whose will we did not understand or question aloud.
With my childish heart I dared, but in silence. Why was such hard work our lot in life? I looked to the village priest for answers, as those much older than I seemed drawn in the direction of the church at times such as these. In the dark of the confessional, he warned that my place in this world was not for me to question. To accept God's will was 'enough.' 
The walk home was long for a young soul as hungry for understanding as the stomach growling for bread. In the firelight of supper, my family whispered of that time, when 'enough' might be hidden away and freedom for at least one among us might be obtainable; a brother's freedom might be bought and with it - a learned skill. A sister might be given 'enough' of a dowry with which to entice a free man to husband her. For more generations than I could count, such had been our family's earthly purpose for waking, working, and continuing in the face of what seemed to me to be hopelessness.
The priest had said, 'Think not of your hunger. The pain of earthly toil is but a season. The reward for those things which God asks of us lasts forever... in a place called Heaven.’ With that, he dispatched this child on that well-worn path. Enough was never enough. The hopes of the family would go unfulfilled, but in fire lit dreams. The unknown world beyond our village would exist as little more than a vanishing point at the end of a long, dusty...and for us, untraveled road
For these and other reasons, the least of which being the occasion of my twelfth birthday, I executed the heroic act of removing one mouth from my Father and Mother's table and took to the open road that singularly led out of the village. It did not occur to me that I might never see my family, ever again. However, it would be God's will. I had yet to learn that every choice in life held an equal weight of consequence. In giving us free will, God bestowed His blessing. We were the ones, who chose to see the consequences as a curse, not knowing this was of our own creation.
At first, I walked boldly into the silence of the moonless night accompanied by a lone dog, far too fixated upon the tiny bundle of worldly possessions resting upon my shoulder. The small sack woven by my sister contained a shawl, two mismatched socks one being my brother's, a hairbrush gifted by my maternal grandmother on her deathbed, and an apron made by my own hands less than a season earlier. The dog had hoped for food, but I had denied us both even one morsel, and so, he left me as all strays leave those seen as more pitiful than themselves.
Deprived of the dog's company, I gratefully accepted an old man's offer to ride to wherever he might be going - tucked safely in among his vegetables destined for the markets. From the higher vantage point of his wagon, I could see what earlier I could only hear - wolves walking a parallel path not more than a hedgerow away from me along the road. Having walked more than I had ever before walked, I quickly fell asleep in the pre-dawn light, half-hidden by large mounds of cauliflower and cabbage, and lulled like a baby by the comforting rhythm of hooves and wheels.
With the advent of daylight, the familiar scent of potatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants surrendered to a strange, new pungent stink. Rejecting such putrefied city air, my country lungs produced a snort and with it a startled awakening. I sat up quickly, utterly amazed, that in my midnight escape I had met success in the brilliant first light of dawn. This time, I had traveled all the way to the end of the road, not arriving into a new country, but rather into what would become a new life.
‘Out, child,’ the old man said, before handing me an apple and asking my name.
‘Merci,’ I said hungrily accepting the treasure from his hand. ‘My name is Gaston,’ I answered.
‘For you, Monsieur Gaston,’ he said, handing me an entire bag of apples. ‘You may eat them, sell them, or give them away. Your choice will determine your future here, as it once determined mine.’
I had never known such generosity from a stranger and wanted always to remember him. ‘S’il vous plaĆ®t, Monsieur, may I know your name?’

‘My friends call me Nicholas,’ he replied with a broad smile that denied the many miles and years traveled, borne true witness by his white hair and beard.
‘Merci, Monsieur Nicholas,’ I said. ‘Truly, you are a Saint.’
‘No, not a Saint,’ he laughed, ‘but once, long ago, a boy like you.’ And then, he was gone.
I had awakened in Paris. Here, my dreams would never be the same. God had answered my prayers. I had prayed for freedom. He had answered, 'Go.'
…and finally,
It was ‘enough.’