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“Who was it said that? Wasn’t it Charles Dickens?” asked Johnny.
“Uh, no Johnny, it’s a quote by Washington Irving.” Roy answered as he sat on the leather sofa, watching his friend struggle with the roll of wrapping paper in his hands.
“I thought Joanne and I told you not to go overboard with the gifts this year?”
Johnny was standing at the kitchen table inside the Franklin County Search and Rescue Station #1, as he continued to wrap up the large boxes that contained a pair of shin guards, shoulder pads and a helmet all in the deep red and navy colours of the Swanton Pee Wee hockey team’s uniform colours.”
It was Christmas Eve and the two men had just finished their shift and were just about ready to head home for their Christmas holiday. They had pulled a forty eight hour shift over Thanksgiving and so they had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. They would however, be working on New Year’s Day.
Both of B shift’s paramedics were married family men, and so they had made a deal with C shift to switch shifts with them, so they could have both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off; and in return they would take C shifts New Year’s Eve shift, so the two single men on the C shift could spend New Year’s Eve with their girlfriends.
C shift’s paramedic’s, Stephen “Gibby” Gibbons and Colin Blackwell, had already been called out to a fender bender at the local shopping center, and so now there was just Johnny and Roy alone in the Station house kitchen.
Johnny was doing some last minute wrapping of the Christmas gifts he had purchased for Chris and Jenny DeSoto, so Roy could take them home with him and slip them underneath their Christmas tree.
He ignored Roy’s comment about over spending, as he continued to fight with the tape dispenser that was bound and determined to mangle the piece of scotch tape he was trying to tear off.
“Are you sure it wasn’t Charles Dickens who said that Roy? … let me hear it again.”
Roy shook his head and began to repeat the quote.
“Christmas is the season for the fire of hospitality in the hall, the general flame of charity in the heart” he repeated…” and it was Washington Irving that said it.”
Johnny paused for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders.
“Huh…either way it’s a nice sentiment.”
“There” he said with smug satisfaction…” I finally got this baby wrapped.”
Roy looked at the haphazardly wrapped pile of presents on the table and sighed.
“Joanne is gonna kill you for buying all this stuff Johnny…you do know that don’t you?”
“Aw come on Roy; I was the one who told Chris about the Swanton boy’s hockey league in the first place, and his coach says he’s a natural considering he’d never been on skates before this fall. You heard the coach say that if Chris keeps on progressing at this rate, he’ll be ready to move up from Pee Wee to Bantam with the rest of the boys his age when the time comes.”
Johnny grabbed an armful of presents and set them on the couch beside his partner.
“Besides, he’s the only one on the team who is still ‘borrowing’ the equipment from the arena. With you and Joanne getting him those new hockey skates and me getting him this stuff, he’ll look real professional out on the ice.”
Roy just shook his head in defeat.
“Yeah, well what about that figure skating outfit with the matching jacket you bought Jenny? Only a few of the other girls in her class have those.”
Johnny sighed and gave an exasperated look up at the ceiling.
“Roooy, I can’t very well get a complete outfit for one of your kids and not the other… that wouldn’t be fair.”
Roy stood up and put on his coat.
“You are really going to be in my kids good books for this stuff Johnny; the two of them already think you’re Superman after you saved Chris’s life in that blizzard two weeks ago.”
Johnny flexed his muscles and grinned before slipping on his own coat… “All in a day’s work Lois.”
Roy just rolled his eyes and picked up the rest of the packages and walked toward the back exit.
“Well, come on Clark… help me carry these out to the station wagon so I can load them up and get outta here. Joanne says she wants you over at our place by six tonight, and you better bring your overnight stuff, the kids will be up by seven tomorrow morning all ready to rip into the gifts.”
Johnny nodded as he struggled with the door knob with his already too full hands.
“Yeah okay, I have to get Dixie’s stuff ready too. She said she’ll be at your place after her shift ends at three tomorrow afternoon right?”
“Yeah, we’re going to hold off dinner until four, so she won’t miss out on it. Doctor Early can’t come. He says he’s flying out to Baltimore this afternoon and he and Kel Brackett are spending Christmas together there. How about the livestock? Is Seth going to look after the horses for you?”
“Yeah…George says he’s Jewish and doesn’t celebrate Christmas and the last night of Hanukkah was last night, so it makes no difference to him, so I’m all set to go this afternoon. I still have to wrap up yours and Jo’s gifts first, before I can come over to your house..”
“Please tell me you didn’t go overboard. Joanne and I are only exchanging token gifts with each other this year, because we did our Christmas two weeks ago with that weeklong trip to New York.”
Johnny heaved an aggravated sigh.
“Roy would you stop worrying about how much I spent; between the pension I get from the L.A. County Fire Department, the rent Dixie pays me each month for the guesthouse, and my Captains salary, I promise you, I can afford to spend a bit extra at Christmas for my family.”
Roy opened the back of his station wagon and Johnny slid the parcels inside, and shut the door. He looked at the huge pile of gifts and shook his head in amazement.
“How on earth did you manage to carry all of this stuff through the Burlington Mall with all those shoppers pushing and shoving Junior? I was there on the weekend to pick up a sweater for Joanne, and I barely made it out with my life.”
Johnny grinned impishly at Roy and once again flexed his muscles.
"I just used the special powers they taught me in Superman school,” he laughed.
Roy groaned and slipped into the driver side door of his station wagon.
“See you at six ….are you driving over to our place or will you just strap on your cape and fly over?”
Johnny giggled at the comment. “Oh, I’ll be driving. We superheroes are a humble lot … we don’t like to show off,” he explained airily.
Johnny continued giggling as he walked over towards the Rover. He stood beside his vehicle and unlocked the door. Before slipping in he called over his shoulder to Roy.
“See ya at six, and make sure there’s no kryptonite on the menu tonight will ya… or anything else green for that matter.”
And with a final wave to his partner the two vehicles pulled out of the station parking lot, with each man heading to his respective home.
During the drive to his ranch Johnny switched on the radio, just as the opening strains to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas came over the radio. Johnny smiled as he watched the snow drift down in white fluffy flakes, painting a beautiful Currier and Ives scene along the country road.
He couldn’t wait to get home and wrap up the last of the gifts and hide them in the Rover. He knew he’d have to keep them concealed in his vehicle until the morning…after all how did one subtly wrap up three pair of cross country skis?
He had bought himself a pair of skis a month earlier, and as soon as they seen them; Roy, Joanne and Dixie had all expressed an interest in taking up the sport this winter. For Roy, Dixie and Joanne this was their very first winter with snow.
As soon as his friends had showed their interest in the pastime, Johnny knew that he was going to buy them each a set of skis, bindings and poles as well as their boots for Christmas.
He hadn’t had the bindings set yet, as he wasn’t sure of the weight they needed to be set to.Even if he could subtly find out just exactly how much Roy weighed, he knew he’d NEVER find out either Joanne or Dixie’s true weight.
He may not be the most knowledgeable man in the world when it came to women, but even he knew, you didn’t dare ask a lady how much she weighed.
He was still thinking over these thoughts when he pulled up to his house and parked the Rover in the driving shed, in order to keep his vehicle from getting covered in snow.
As he made his way up the front porch stairs, he noticed a large box wrapped in plain brown paper, inside a clear bag for protection from the elements, sitting at his front door.
Must have been dropped off by FedEx; Johnny thought to himself.
He fumbled with his keys while he stooped over to pick up the package. Once he managed to get his front door open, he slipped inside his house and removed his coat and boots.
He made his way into the kitchen and set the parcel on the kitchen table while he started a fresh pot of coffee.
Johnny flipped the box over and looked at the return address. His face blanched white and he sat down numbly in the chair in shock and dismay. The return address stated that the mysterious parcel had come from the Indian reservation in Montana where he had grown up.
It was the one place he didn’t like to remember and he certainly had no intentions of ever returning there… there was nothing left back there for him… only the painful memories of anguish, abuse and the terrible heart-wrenching loss of his parents.
With trembling hands, Johnny slowly opened the parcel and let the brown paper wrapping fall on to the kitchen floor. With careful and deliberate movements he cautiously opened the box and peered inside at its contents. Johnny just stood and looked at the objects in some confusion. Several more minutes had passed by before he seen the letter that had been carefully slid down amongst the items.
Johnny’s hands were still trembling as he picked up envelope and removed the parchment from inside. Slowly he unfolded the letter and began to read the words that had been written on the page.
~ ~ ~
Joanne DeSoto stirred the pot of chili one more time as she glanced up at the kitchen clock; because of the time of year it was, it was already dark outside … six-twenty she sighed. If Johnny didn’t arrive soon they would have go ahead and eat without waiting for his arrival.
“Roy would you call Johnny’s house one more time and see if he’s there? If he isn’t here in ten minutes we’re going to have to eat without him…you did tell him to be here by six didn’t you?”
Roy set down the newspaper he had been reading and walked into the kitchen.
“Yes Jo, I told him to be here by six, and I already called him at quarter to six and again at six… he wasn’t home then and I doubt he’s home now. Maybe he had to run out and do some last minute shopping. He told me this morning that he had some gifts to wrap, maybe he ran out of paper or something.”
Joanne gave Roy ‘the look’ and put her hands on her hips, letting Roy know that he’d already lost the argument and he had might as well just call John.
“Well, he may have been in the barn with the horses then…just give him a call again Roy.”
Roy sighed, he knew Johnny had a phone extension in his stables and he would have answered it if he had heard it ringing.
Truth be told Roy was becoming a bit concerned himself.
Johnny being late wasn’t an anomaly in and of itself…unless it was Christmas Eve.
John Gage was a big kid when it came to Christmas, and he was usually chomping at the bit to get the festivities started. So his being late on this particular occasion was starting to become worrisome for Roy… but for now he kept those thoughts to himself.
By seven o’clock, both Roy and Joanne were beyond worried. Even Chris and Jenny knew something was wrong by this point. Both children knew Uncle Johnny was long overdue, and Uncle Johnny would never be late on Christmas Eve… not unless something bad had happened.
Roy had tried to call Dixie at the guest house to see if everything was alright up at the ranch house. It wasn’t until his second try, that he remembered Dixie had planned on going out with one of the other nurses who was also going to be working at the clinic tomorrow. The two of them were having a girl’s night out.
Roy had even called both the station and the clinic to see if there had been any traffic accidents reported; but with each subsequent call he came up empty handed.
By seven fifteen Roy had put his coat on and had his car keys in hand as he headed out the front door of his house in search of his missing younger brother.
It was twenty minutes later when Roy pulled into the long winding lane than ran up towards Johnny’s ranch house. He had been partially relieved to note that there had been absolutely no signs of any vehicle accidents on the way over to Johnny’s.
As he pulled into the lane, the first thing he noticed was the fact that Johnny’s house stood in total darkness. The second thing he noticed was the open driving shed door, with Johnny’s Rover still parked inside. Suddenly Roy felt nauseas and he was overcome by an uneasy feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach.
With no small amount of trepidation Roy raised his fist and knocked on the front door. “Hey Johnny … are you in there? …. Is everything alright?”
What a stupid question he chided himself, obviously if Johnny was still inside everything was not alright; otherwise he’d have the lights on… or better yet, he’d be at his house eating dinner.
Johnny would never have been this late without calling him, if everything was alright.
By now the feeling of panic had heightened inside Roy’s gut, and without waiting any further for an answer, Roy reached into his coat pocket for his own set of keys to Johnny house, and he let himself inside.
Without the light of the nearly full moon reflecting off the white snow to see by; the moment Roy stepped fully inside Johnny’s house, he was enveloped by total darkness. He put his hand out and felt around until his fingers hit the wall plate and he found the light switch. He flicked the light switch to the on position and squinted while his eyes got used to the sudden brightness.
After a momentary spell of ‘light blindness’ Roy was able to see clearly again… but it was what he saw that caused him to panic. There at the kitchen table was Johnny, sitting on a chair just mutely staring off into space as if in a trance. Roy took in his appearance, and noticed the slight sheen of sweat glistening on Johnny’s brow, and his face was as white as a sheet.
It only took Roy three or four strides to close the distance between the two of them as he rushed to Johnny’s side.
Quietly he knelt down beside Johnny and grabbed his left hand. He could feel the coolness of Johnny’s’ skin the moment his hand made contact. Johnny’s skin was moist and clammy, and his breathing was rapid and shallow. He slid his fingers over Johnny’s wrist and he wasn’t surprised to discover that Johnny’s pulse was too fast. All of these symptoms pointed to what Roy already knew… Johnny was in a state of shock.
Roy began looking around for the cause of his younger brothers’ condition, and it wasn’t long before he noticed the open box on the kitchen table. He was about to look inside for any clue as to what the problem may be, when he noticed the letter in Johnny’s other hand.
One glance at the paper in Johnny’s hand, and Roy could tell it was obviously written in Lakota and not English. He picked up the brown wrapping paper that had fallen to the floor.
It was obvious that it had been the paper that the mysterious parcel had been wrapped in.
Roy carefully picked the wrapping up and looked at the return address that was written in the corner and the light came on in his head.
Now Roy had a pretty good idea what it was that had upset Johnny so badly. He stood up and put his arms around his partner’s shoulders and gently eased him up into a standing position.
It was while he was in the process of standing him upright, that some of the glazed look faded from Johnny’s eyes, and he became more focused and aware of his surroundings.
He slowly blinked and looked up into Roy’s concerned eyes with a look of bewilderment.
“Roy?” He said in apparent confusion. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you Junior, Roy answered. Johnny swayed slightly on unsteady legs and he took an uncertain step forward, causing Roy to tighten his grip on the younger man’s arms in order to steady him. “I want you to just wait on the couch while I get you something to drink, okay?”
Roy said as he gently eased Johnny into the living room.
Roy sat Johnny down on the sofa, as he reached back for the blanket that hung over the back of the couch. He wrapped it around Johnny’s slightly trembling shoulders and eased him back.
Then he returned to the kitchen so he could get Johnny something warm to drink.
He hadn’t bothered to ask Johnny if he had taken the time to eat anything all day.
Given the state he had found him in, there was little doubt that he hadn’t, which was no doubt contributing to Johnny’s current condition.
Roy decided against coffee and began to rummage through the kitchen cupboards until he found some cans of soup. It wasn’t that high in calories, nor was it particularity filling, but Johnny needed to eat something warm and nourishing quickly, and the can of soup in his hands ticked off enough of the right boxes on his list of requirements to satisfy Roy.
He quickly opened up a can of tomato soup and emptied it into a saucepan and turned the heat on to low underneath it.
Roy resisted the urge to open up the box sitting on the table, and look through its contents, because right now he had more pressing matters to attend to.
Once Roy had the soup heating up on the stove, he walked over to the doorway that lead from the kitchen into the great room and stole a quick glance at his partner.
Johnny had pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders and had now shifted into a semi-reclined position with his head resting against the back of the sofa, with his eyes closed.
Roy walked back over to the stove and stirred the soup and then quietly slid the pocket doors between the kitchen and the great room closed, as he picked up the phone and called Joanne to let her know what had happened.
Five minutes later Roy walked back into the great room carrying a large mug of the hot soup for his partner. At first he thought Johnny had fallen asleep, but when he got closer he could see that Johnny was just lying with his head back staring at the ceiling in a daze.
“Here Johnny, I want you to drink this for me okay?” Roy said handing Johnny the mug.
Johnny reached out his hand and took the mug.
Roy kept one hand on the bottom of the mug, until he was sure Johnny had a solid grip on it, and that it wouldn’t slip out of his hands.
He watched as Johnny took his first tentative sips of the hot liquid.
Once he had lowered the rim of the mug, Johnny looked over at Roy with an apologetic look.
“Guess I’m late for supper. Sorry about messing up your Christmas Eve… I guess I should have called you guys, but I just lost track of time… hell I lost track of this entire day,” he said grimly.
“Johnny, you didn’t ruin anything,” Roy assured him.
“Joanne and the kids are at home and they’re all happily watching Christmas specials on T.V. Joanne explained to the kids that you weren’t feeling well, and you just decided to skip dinner.
Right now the only thing we’re concerned about is you.”
“Besides, you got me out of having to watch Rudolph again this year,” Roy said in a vain attempt to lighten the mood.
The room fell silent after the brief exchange, and Roy decided to just wait and see if Johnny was going to initiate any more conversation.
But Johnny just sat quietly back while he drank from the mug of hot soup in his hands.
Roy continued to sit beside him in silence, casting worried glances at him from time to time. For the better part of the next half hour, Roy continued to eye Johnny carefully as he sipped at his drink.
Thankfully, Johnny’s eyes had lost their glazed appearance, and had now returned to normal. Roy was also relieved to see that some of the colour was beginning to creep back into his cheeks.
As soon as he seen that Johnny had finished his soup, Roy reached over and took the mug from his hands and walked back into the kitchen. It was only a minute later when he returned with a glass of orange juice.
“Drink this Johnny,” he said gently.
Johnny looked up and took the proffered glass.
“Thanks Roy,” he said.
Roy once again sat down in silence, while Johnny sipped away at the liquid.
Once he had drained the glass of its contents, Roy knelt down in front of Johnny, grabbed his wrist, and began to take his pulse. He was relieved to find his condition had markedly improved.
“I’m alright now Roy,’ Johnny said quietly.
Johnny slouched back until he was half lying rather than sitting on the sofa. He peered up at Roy; his dark eyes reflecting both sorrow and exhaustion.
Roy sat back on his haunches and surveyed the younger man in front of him. He was still wan and tired looking; and his face was lined with the stress and tension he was still obviously feeling.
“Well I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying you’re alright … but you do look better than you did when I first got here ninety minutes ago. I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me just exactly what it was that put you in this condition?”
Johnny leaned over and picked up the letter that was now sitting on the coffee table. Roy didn’t remember taking it from Johnny’s hands when he’d first brought him in to the room, so he surmised that Johnny must have set it there himself when he had gone into the kitchen to make the soup.
Roy’s eyes followed Johnny’s as they drifted down toward the surface of the parchment. Roy glanced at the neat flowing letters that covered the paper from top to bottom … it might just as well be written in hieroglyphics as far as he was concerned.
Now that Johnny’s initial shock seemed to be wearing off, he seemed to be re-reading the letter once more to himself. Roy was immediately disconcerted by the abrupt change in Johnny’s countenance, and the intense flash of anger that he seen in Johnny’s eyes as he perused the missive in his hand.
It was a completely unconscious reaction to the words written on the paper before him, but Roy could easily read the emotions in those dark eyes.
Johnny eventually set the paper back down on the coffee table and ran his hand tiredly over his eyes. He looked over at Roy and gave him a small, rueful smile.
“Would you please go into the kitchen and bring me the package that’s sitting on the table Roy?” Roy subjected him to a long penetrating stare before he finally nodded.
He walked back into the kitchen to retrieve the box. The truth of the matter was, Roy’s curiosity had been piqued and he was anxious to see what this box contained that had prompted such a profound reaction from Johnny. But as much as he was dying to know what was inside, he didn’t want the answer at the expense of Johnny’s emotional well-being; so he made up his mind that at the first sign that Johnny’s emotions were being overtaxed, he would put an end to it… even if it meant calling in one of the Doc’s to give him a sedative in order to calm him down.
Roy gathered up the box and brought it back into the great room and set it down on the coffee table in front of Johnny. Johnny opened up the flaps and began to pull out several wrapped items and set them out on the table.
When the box was empty he set it on the floor and picked up the letter, and turned to face Roy.
“This letter is from Macha Running Wolf… my mother’s mother. Macha is her Sioux name…Mary is her English name. She wrote to tell me that her husband Chatan, whose English name was Daniel; died four years ago. He’d gone out drinking one January evening and passed out in a snow bank on his way home from the tavern and froze to death before he was found the next morning.”
Roy shook his head, “Umm I don’t know what to say Johnny… I was going to say I’m sorry, but under the circumstances…” Roy let the statement hang in the air.
Johnny snorted in derision. “Don’t be…I’m not sorry he’s dead… good riddance to the bastard as far as I’m concerned. Wait till you hear what else she has to say Roy.”
Roy sat back and let Johnny continue on.
“She tried to explain to me why her husband turned into a raging alcoholic after my mom died. It seems he was in cahoots with the men that drove us off that road the night mom and dad were killed. She claims that he never meant for mom to be in the car with dad and I. When he found out mom had been killed along with dad, the guilt ate him for the rest of his life.”
Johnny’s hands began to shake once more and his breathing grew faster as he looked down angrily at the letter.
“Do you believe her Roy? He felt guilty because he had a hand in murdering his only child, but it would have been perfectly alright if just my mom’s husband and her only child had been killed.”
Roy put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“Maybe this isn’t a good thing Johnny… maybe we should do this another time when you’re not so upset.” He said worriedly.
Johnny shook his head vehemently.
“Trust me Roy; this is going to upset me no matter when I do it.”
Johnny didn’t wait for Roy to reply before he continued on.
“It seems, that Mary’s not well herself. She has diabetes and she’s in an advanced state of kidney failure. The doctors have told her that they do not believe she has more than a few months to live. She wants me to return to the reservation so she can make peace with me and try to right her wrongs so she can enter the spirit world in peace.”
Roy said nothing as Johnny paused. He had managed to get his breathing under control and the shaking in his hands had stopped.
Johnny began to unwrap the bundles on the table.
“She sent me these things as a gesture of goodwill.”
Roy watched as Johnny unwrapped what he was thought was a ceremonial pipe of some kind, and a knife in an ornate beaded and leather sheaf, a quiver with several arrows still inside of it, a small leather bag trimmed with green beads in a diamond pattern, two small pair of leather moccasins and what appeared to be a small child’s toy in the shape of a blue turtle.
Johnny leaned over and pulled another sheet of paper that had been rolled up and stuffed into the quiver alongside the arrows, and he slowly began to read what his grandmother had written on it. Roy became alarmed when Johnny faced blanched as he read the note.
Johnny stared down at the objects and let the note slip from his hands and fall to the floor.
“Johnny?” Roy asked in concern…”Johnny are you okay?”
Johnny just sat there, his eyes glued to the objects on the table.
He gave no indication that he had heard Roy speak.
Roy reached around and grabbed Johnny’s shoulders and forced the upper half of his body around until they were sitting eye to eye.
“Johnny!” Roy said more forcefully this time.
That seemed to do the trick as Johnny snapped out of his trance and looked at Roy.
“Sorry Roy.” Johnny answered shakily. After catching his breath, Johnny pointed to the items before then on the coffee table.
“These are family heirlooms Roy. The hunting knife, the pipe, and the quiver belonged to my mother’s father, and as the only male heir left alive, they belong to me now… all of these objects are given in honor, when a male becomes the oldest in his family blood line..”
Johnny stopped and tenderly reached out and picked up the moccasins and held them gently in his hands.
His voice was barely a whisper when he began to speak once more.
“According to this letter, this pair of white deer hide moccasins belonged to my mother. They were her first pair of moccasins; the turtle rattle belonged to her as well. The other pair of tan coloured moose hide moccasins were my first pair.”
“Apparently Mary kept them and the leather beaded bag because my mother had hand made them herself, so she kept them as a keepsake in remembrance of mom, because they were the only things she could find in our house that my mother had made herself…Mary thought they rightfully belonged to me now.”
“How did she even find out where you’re living now Johnny? We’ve only been in Vermont for six months.” Roy asked.
Johnny heaved a heavy sigh.
“Apparently my little escapade regarding that whole ‘bus’ incident up in Montana, caused quite a stir back on the reservation. Everyone recognized my name and face. The local news accounts gave out where I was living and even the Station number that I worked out of. So when she wanted to find me, she just contacted the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and explained to them that she was my grandmother, and they gave her this forwarding address.”
Johnny picked up the letter once more, and held onto it as if was actually burning into the flesh on his hands.
“Grandmother my ass,” he spat out bitterly as he tossed the letter into the unlit fireplace.
“She has a hell of a lot of nerve calling herself that. She was never a grandmother to me, and I will never call her by that name… she doesn’t deserve that honour.”
Johnny got up and began to frenetically pace back and forth in front of Roy.
“Funny Roy, but I’ve never once stopped to wonder if either of them were still alive…frankly I never cared.”
Roy reached over and grabbed Johnny by the arm and pulled him back onto the couch.
“You’re not going back to Montana are you Johnny?” Roy asked nervously.
“Absolutely not!!” Johnny said with more force and volume than he had intended. He took a deep breath and regained control of his voice.
“No, I left that place because there was nothing left for me there; at least nothing but pain and suffering … and as far as I’m concerned nothing has changed and it never will. I won’t be going back there…ever. This changes nothing.” He declared.
“Why would she think I would even consider it? I mean to what point and purpose Roy? Doesn’t she think that maybe it’s a little too late in the game for this? Johnny said gesturing over to the letter in the fireplace. Hell Roy, she’s not even doing this for my sake, or because she’s suddenly developed any depth of feeling for me. She doesn’t even know me.”
Johnny shook his head in disbelief.
“She doesn’t give a rat’s ass about me or whether or not these things brought me any semblance of peace. The only reason she’s doing this now, is because she’s dying and she’s cramming for her finals.”
Johnny began to get agitated again, and he began to wildly pace around the great room once more.
“You know Roy; the reservation has its own set of rules that have nothing to do with the white man’s world. And unfortunately for me, I had a foot in both worlds … worlds that were just so diametrically opposed to each other.”
“I was born half Native American and half White. I am both races in equal measure … I was born one half of two opposing sides. And I gotta tell ya Roy; that would be hard enough for an adult to reconcile with living on the reservation back then, let alone being a child who was dealing with it all.”
“And not just any child, but a child who was left all alone in the world to fend for himself in a hostile environment.
Don’t get me wrong Roy; I’m proud of both my parents and both parts of my heritage; but I have seen the good and the bad from both branches of those same heritages, from the native and the white. I had already experienced it even before my parents were killed, but it multiplied exponentially after they were murdered.”
Johnny stopped and ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
“Let’s just say that it was a case of equal opportunity racism.I was the victim of plenty of bigotry and abuses from all sides back then.”
Johnny sat down dejectedly.
“And it’s wrong no matter who does it,” he said quietly.
Roy could see the tears threatening to spill from Johnny’s eyes as he looked up at him, looking for all the world, like that confused child he must have been all those years ago.
“You see at the end of the day, there is no my people or your people … there’s just people.”
A few errant tears rolled down Johnny’s cheeks.
“We’re all just people.” He whispered.
Roy put a comforting hand on Johnny’s shoulders and gently patted his back.
He couldn’t help but think that maybe this hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.
In the past Roy and Johnny had, on occasion, discussed his tragic past, but this… this was the first time Johnny had ever gotten really riled up and vented all his hurt and anger over what had happened to him as a child.
Maybe this emotional ‘release’ was something he had needed to do a long time ago. No longer feeling like a helpless victim, but an indignant adult who was finally getting a chance to do some healthy purging of the ghosts from his past that could still haunt him on occasion.
Johnny lay back against the couch and took a shuddering breath.
“They say that time heals all wounds, and that the passage of the years lessens the pain, but let me tell you something Pally; that’s just not true. Every time I think of the night my parents died, it’s just as fresh… just as terrible… just as painful as it was when I was ten.”
“And then there were all those hellish months and years afterward…”
“You know Roy; I tried so hard to figure out why my own grandparents hated me so much, and what I had done wrong to be constantly beaten.”
“I constantly tried to figure out what sort of hideous character flaw I had that would cause my own grandfather to look me in the eye and try to cave in my skull with a baseball bat. Or why my grandmother would lock me outside in the middle of January when it was ten below zero, hoping I’d freeze to death.”
“Back when I was little, I would just lay there while he was beating me, trying to protect myself with my hands and arms. I would just be waiting for that final blow that would finally end it all… that would finally put an end to all the pain.”
“Do you know for the first year I was with Aunt Marian, I kept my bag packed and ready at my bedroom door in case I had to make a quick exit? I was constantly on edge all the time. I’d gotten so used to the fear and abuse, that I’d forgotten that places of safety even existed. I had literally forgotten how to feel safe, and loved.”
“It wasn’t until I met you that I began to relax and let myself feel any real emotion other than fear and mistrust. And even at that there’s been a few dicey moments when my past has reared up its ugly head, and those insecurities came back to haunt me.”
Johnny sat in silence for a moment and then he walked over to the fireplace and grabbed the letter back out of the ashes.
Once again his ire began to surface.
“And this … this… this woman, thinks one letter and these; he said pointing to the items on the coffee table in front of him; erase or nullify all those years of pain and abuse… all those years of being treated worse than a stray dog in the streets.”
Johnny tossed the letter back in the fireplace and sat back down on the couch beside Roy.
“Call me unreasonable Roy, but I can’t get past the fact that her husband had a direct hand in the murder of my parents, and she at the very least was complicit in the whole affair.”
“I lost everything in my entire world that day Roy… everything…they stole everything from me that day.”
“My parents never got to see me graduate high school, or see any of my track awards. They never got to know about my achievements as editor on the high school newspaper. They weren’t there at the ceremony when I graduated from high school or from the fire academy or when I passed the paramedic course with top honours.”
“They won’t be there when I finally find the right woman and get married … and someday, if I have children, my children will never get to know their grandparents”
“And she wants some kind of absolution? Well she’s not going to get it … at least not from me.”
Johnny paused and tried to focus himself. He was once again pale and breathing fast, and Roy looked at him with growing concern. But Johnny pressed on.
“You know Roy, I’ve always believed that fundamentally, I was a fair and forgiving human being, but I just can’t do it this time… I just can’t forgive and forget.”
By now Johnny had tears running freely down his face.
“I’m not Superman Roy … I’m just a man,” he said tearfully.
Roy pulled Johnny into a tight embrace, and quietly replied;
“You’re not just any man Junior… you’re my brother... and you’re part of a family that loves you a lot. Don’t you ever forget that Johnny… not ever.”
Johnny pulled away from Roy and wiped his eyes. Then he bent over and carefully picked up the rattle, the two sets of moccasins, and the beaded bag and walked over to the large desk in the corner of the great room and he carefully and tenderly set them in the top drawer.
When he returned to the couch he methodically re-wrapped the rest of the items and placed them back inside the box.
Roy looked over at him questioningly.
“I’m keeping the items that either belonged to my mother or were made by my mother. But as for the rest of these things; I’m sending them back.”
“They convey nothing to me other than revulsion and disgust for the man who owned them. They mean nothing more than that… how could they?”
Johnny looked at the box with disgust.
“I don’t want anything of his in my home. I want nothing that belonged to the man who had a part in my parents deaths and brought upon me nothing but fear and pain... hell he even tried to kill me, and he almost succeeded … twice! “
Johnny shook his head sadly.
“Those items, the pipe the knife and the quiver… those are normally items of honour and pride for a young man to receive from his elders. But there is no honour in any of that man’s possessions. They belonged to a man full of hate who did not understand the meaning of family and honour.”
“When I send them back home, it will be a great statement of that dishonor and they will be destroyed. No other man will take them now.”
Johnny stopped and scrubbed his eyes with his hands.
“No; Johnny reaffirmed. Those things will not stay in my house… not even for one night.”
The finality in the tone of his voice left no doubt in Roy’s mind that his younger brother sincerely meant every word.
As soon as he finished packing the items back into the cardboard box, he closed the flaps on the lid of the, but did not seal it.
He then took it over to the front door, opened up the door and put the box back out onto the porch.
“I’m going to write a letter back to Mrs. Running Wolf and put it inside before I send it back. I need to let her know how I feel, and why I am sending these particular items back, and why I will not be travelling back to the reservation.”
Johnny sat back down on the couch… there were dark circles under his eyes and he was still very pale and tired looking.
After several minutes had passed, Roy stood up and held his hand out to Johnny.
“How about we grab your stuff and head over to my place now Junior?”
Johnny looked up at the clock and groaned miserably.
“Aw shit Roy, it’s after ten … I’ve kept you away from your family on Christmas Eve… I’m really sorry. You should have just stayed at home tonight.”
Roy shook his head defiantly.
“That’s not true little brother; I was with family on Christmas Eve … and I was exactly where I wanted to be … I was exactly where I needed to be, and Joanne and the kids were in total agreement. I spent the entire day with them, and the evening with you.”
“Now, Joanne is at home waiting for us, so what do you say we get going now?”
Roy was hoping that Johnny wasn’t going to try and insist on staying at his house. The last thing Roy wanted was for Johnny to be sitting here brooding alone on Christmas Eve… in fact he had no intention of leaving Johnny alone for the next few days.
He could see Johnny was about to protest, so he decided an immediate change of subject was in order.
“So did you get a chance to wrap up our gifts yet … or do I get a sneak peak at them before tomorrow morning?”
Johnny’s eyes grew large and he hit his forehead with the palm of his hands.
“Shit… I forgot to wrap your gifts.”
Roy laughed in relief that the ploy had worked and he had succeeded in momentarily distracting Johnny from trying to get out of coming home with him.
“I’ll tell you what Junior, I’ll go upstairs and pack your overnight bag with what you’ll need, while you quickly wrap the gifts up.”
Thirty minutes later, found Johnny and Roy on their way to the DeSoto home, with a bulky pile of hastily wrapped Christmas gifts, hidden under a large tarp in the back of Roy’s station wagon.
By the time they had arrived at Roy and Joanne’s house, it had become quite evident just how much of a toll the day’s events had exacted from Johnny.
Roy pulled his station wagon into their attached garage and shut the engine off.
“Here we are Junior, home at last,” he announced.
"You look like you’re just about ready to drop.”
Johnny smiled over weakly at Roy, but said nothing. He grabbed the door handle and opened it as wide as it would go and heaved his exhausted body out of the passenger seat. He stumbled blindly thorough the door that led from the garage into the laundry room, with an equally tired Roy following close behind.
The moment he stepped into the kitchen, Johnny was pulled into a warm comforting hug by Joanne.
“How are you doing sweetheart? You still look a little rough around the edges.” She fussed.
“I’m okay Jo; I’m just a little tired is all.” Johnny replied.
Joanne glanced over her shoulder to where she could see Roy gesturing to her behind Johnny’s back. Years of silent communication between the married couple, around their two young children had left Joanne the ability to immediately pick up the meaning of Roy’s signals.
She quickly understood that Roy was telling her that Johnny needed a hot meal and a good night’s sleep… with a healthy dose of TLC thrown in for good measure, she added to herself silently.
She gave Roy a slight nod to let him know that she had understood what it was he was trying to tell her. She pulled out of the hug and took hold of Johnny’s arm and steered him over to the kitchen table and pushed him into one of the chairs.
“First thing I want is for you two men to sit right down and have something to eat. There’s plenty of chili left over and it will only take a minute to heat it up again.
After she had put the food on the stove to warm up, she walked over and pulled Roy into a tender, yet passionate kiss.
Johnny looked over and smirked as he rolled his eyes, a look that neither Roy nor had Joanne missed.
Joanne laughed and gave Johnny a light swat on the back of his head, before she playfully ruffled his hair and gave him a small tender kiss on his cheek.
“Behave yourself Mr. Gage or Santa won’t leave you anything but coal in your stocking tonight.”
That elicited the first genuine smile out of the man all night.
By the time the two of them had eaten their fill and the three adults had set out the ‘Santa’ gifts and filled all the stockings, it was just hitting eleven thirty.
So after wishing each other a goodnight, the three of them headed off to bed.
It was fifteen minutes later, and Roy had just gotten back up to get a glass of milk to take back to Joanne.
It was as he was passing Johnny’s room that he noticed that the lights were still on. He quietly knocked on the door, and upon hearing Johnny’s soft, “come in” he opened the door and entered.
Johnny was lying in his bed, his sleepy eyes looking up at Roy.
“Hey Junior, you’re still awake? I figured you’re lights would have been out as soon as your head hit the pillow.”
“I will be in a minute Roy, but I heard you get up and I was waiting for you to come up, so I could just say thank you for everything you did for me tonight…. Especially it being Christmas Eve and all.”
“ I know I don’t say it very often… probably not often enough, but I just wanted to tell you how much it means to me, being your brother… being a part of your whole Family.It just means such an awful lot to me Roy and I just wanted to tell you that.”
Roy felt a lump forming in the back of his throat and he reached down and patted Johnny’s leg.
“First of all, it’s not my family Johnny… it’s our family and second of all, you should know by now that you mean a hell of a lot to all of us too.” “I could never have asked to have been blessed with a better brother than you Junior.You’re a special man… an honourable man, and I think that it’s me who is the lucky one here; and were in this family thing for the duration… right to the end.”
“You go – I go. Remember?”
Johnny smiled and gave a weary nod of his head as his eyes drifted closed, the unshed tears still evident. Roy shut off the light and walked away quietly knowing that after today’s emotional upheaval, a good solid night’s sleep was the best thing for his little brother right now. In fact being here tonight, surrounded by all the people he loved, and who loved him back, was exactly what Johnny needed.
After Roy had left the room, Johnny opened his eyes once more and stared at the ceiling. He thought about the letter and the request his grandmother had made of him to return home and tell the tribes holy man that he had forgiven her, and that he had absolved her of any guilt in the events of his childhood, so she could enter the spirit world in peace.
Unlike Johnny who was of the group of natives who embraced the Christian religion, his grandmother still held on to some of the older beliefs about animal spirit guides. Johnny lay there and searched his heart trying to see if he could muster up any of that forgiveness that his Christian beliefs said he needed to give.
Finally after going over it in head over and over again, he heaved a sigh of resignation and threw back the covers on his bed and got up and put on his robe.
He made his way out to the living room and stood for several long moments, just staring at the crèche that depicted the nativity scene of the Christ child’s birth, that sat in the middle of Roy’s coffee table.
Slowly he made his way over to the writing desk that sat in Roy’s den and switched on the small green banker’s lamp that sat at the back of the desk. He opened the main drawer and fished around inside until he managed to locate a pen and a pad of writing paper.
He paused and looked up at the ceiling as he thought about what he wanted to say for over five minutes, before he slowly picked up the pen and began to write.
And that is exactly where Roy found him at six o’clock the next morning; when he and Joanne had snuck down to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee before the kids woke up at seven.
Johnny’s head was lying on his arms which were folded across the top of the desk, and he was fast asleep. Sitting in front of him was the letter he had sat up half the night composing. Roy knew immediately who the letter was to and his curiosity got the better of him.
He reached over and slowly picked up the missive that was written in Johnny’s fine semi- neat hand writing; and he began to carefully read the words that his younger brother had written.
To Mary Running Wolf,
(I am sorry but I cannot find it in my heart to address you by the title of grandmother. That is a position of great honour, and I am sure you will agree that it is one that has to be earned; which you have not. You must also concede that that is not something you ever tried to be to me… especially when I needed it the most.)
I am however, writing to inform you that I will not be returning to Montana or to the reservation as you have requested. The time for you to make amends with me, has long since passed by.
As hard as I have tried; and believe me when I say, that I have indeed searched every corner of my heart trying to find even a minute scrap of compassion for your plight; I have come up wanting.
The best I can do is to say that I will not ask God for justice upon your soul for my sake and that I will try and find some semblance of forgiveness for your part in what happened to me as a child … for my own sake if not for yours.
But if you are looking for some kind of absolution from me, I am afraid you will be disappointed in that respect, for I simply cannot give what I do not honestly feel.
We both paid a great price as a result of you and your husband’s actions all those years ago. The upshot of those actions, (or lack thereof,) is that we both lost our family.
You lost a daughter; and I lost my parents, my home, and my childhood.
But you will own up to the fact that the blame rests entirely at your doorstep and not mine.
You will find enclosed in this box, the three items which I am returning to you forthwith.
You will take note that I have returned the quiver and arrows, the pipe and the knife with its sheath that belonged to your husband.
I do not wish to have them in my home. Nor do I wish to donate them to be on display in any museum… it would be a travesty to our peoples’ honour… in the truest sense of the word.
In the hands of a great and honourable man, it would have been indeed a great and proud moment in my life to have received such fine gifts.
But the owner of these items was anything but honourable… in fact he was a dishonour to all the ideals of the great Lakota peoples and to all that those items stand for, and it would bring me shame to have those items in my home.
Take them back and do with them whatever it is you deem fit… I do not want them or the shame and dishonour that goes with them.
As to the other items that belonged to my mother, or were made by her hand, I will be keeping those.
It is the one point we both can agree on. They do belong to me.
As her only child, her possessions; all of them, became mine at the moment of her death.
They were, and still are, my birthright; which you so cruelly divested me of, when you ransacked our home in the days after her death.
They will be placed in a place of honour in my home, which is befitting of their previous owner, and in tribute to the skill with which she crafted them.
Having said this, I believe that there is nothing more for us to discuss, and I must insist that you do not try to contact me again at any time in the future. Nor do I wish to be contacted in the unfortunate case that you should pass away.
As for the condition of your soul, I will leave that between you and the creator to work out amongst yourselves upon your eventual meeting.
As for me, I am wiping my hands of the whole matter and intend to go on with my life, and God willing, never think of you again. I suggest you go and make what peace you can while you still walk on the face of this earth.
Captain John R Gage.
Roy finished reading the letter and looked up to see a pair of tired brown eyes, looking back at him. Roy could read the question on his face that was seeking his approval.
Roy put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and said in a voice heavy with emotion.
“It’s absolutely perfect John, don’t you dare change a single word of it. I’m so proud of you… so proud to call you brother.”
Johnny looked meekly down at the letter and shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s not good sound Christian doctrine as I understand it Roy… being as we are supposed to forgive those who spitefully use us? “ Johnny said casting his glance over at the infant Jesus, laying in the crèche…“But everything I wrote in that letter is the honest truth…and we’re not supposed to lie either right?” he said sheepishly.
Roy knelt lower and put his arms around Johnny’s shoulders and shrugged.
“Well, the way I see it Junior, is all we can do is our best. I don’t think God expects us to be perfect… just to do our best. I think all things considered, you handled this great… After all if we could always be perfect and do it on our own all the time, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to have been crucified would there?”
Johnny really did have to admit that he had found that writing the letter to his grandmother, and finally getting a chance to voice some of his feelings to her, had been both cathartic and liberating.
In fact the more he thought about it, the more he figured that Roy was probably right…he may not be perfect, but he certainly had done the best that he could given the circumstances. And maybe it was alright to just this once, shake the dust of his past off his feet and move on with his life.
Johnny looked up at Roy and smiled. He took the letter in his hand and neatly folded it and slipped it inside the envelope.
“I think I’m going to put this in the package and mail it tomorrow.” Johnny declared.
Roy nodded his head in approval.
“Tell you what Junior, you just bring in with you to work tomorrow and the moment the post office opens we’ll make it the first run of the day.” He said conspiratorially.
“Now Joanne has the coffee maker going, so how about we get out to the kitchen and grab us a cup of coffee before the kids get up and all the mayhem begins.”
Johnny stood up and had just started to follow Roy out into the kitchen, when the sound of Chris and Jenny’s voices rang out from the living room...
“Come quickly everybody, come and see what Santa brought us.”
Johnny turned to look at Roy and began to laugh… “Sorry Roy, but I think we’re a little too late for that now.”
Roy just rolled his eyes and put his hands around Johnny’s shoulders as the two men, made their way into the living room to join Joanne and the kids.
Posted to Site 02/25/2012
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