I’ll Be Home For Christmas by JEB

Sadly, Janet (JEB) is no longer with us. Her stories are archived here for her friends to remember her by. Enjoy her legacy to Lancer.

I’m dreaming tonight
Of a place I love
Even more than I usually do

And although I know
It’s long way back
I promise you 

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow
And mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams

.

December 1864 – Cahaba Prison near Selma, Alabama

In a corner of the run down cotton warehouse that served as a barracks for Union prisoners, a young, blond Bostonian in a Lieutenant’s uniform huddled around the poor fire that was supposed to serve as warmth and for cooking for himself and several other prisoners.  The warmth from the fire did little to warm his body and even less to warm his spirits.

Scott Lancer, scion of a wealthy Boston family and the son of a California rancher whom he’d never – to his knowledge – met, had been captured by Confederate forces shortly after the Siege of Vicksburg.  He had been confined to Cahaba Prison Camp since a month after his capture.

Scott was not one to dwell on what was not to be but he was very homesick for Boston.  Christmas was just a few days away.  He tried not to torture himself with thoughts of home but the closer they got to Christmas the more melancholy he became.  Of course he wasn’t alone in his thoughts of home – every one of his fellow prisoners had thoughts along the same lines, as did the guards and the warden.  The warden, a Methodist minister, was a decent enough man.  He did what he could for his charges but at this point in the war there was little enough food for the staff, let alone the prisoners.  However, the good man tried hard to ensure that each prisoner got what he could spare which wasn’t much.

Christmas had only been recognized as a holiday in Massachusetts since 1855 – the year Scott had turned ten.  How well he remembered the ringing bells, carolers, sleigh rides and such.  Grandfather was so enamored of doing things the way the social elite did that he was among the first to follow the example of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and bring a Christmas tree into the house.  After all, if a homesick prince could start a tradition in England certainly a former English colony could follow his example.

Only in grandfather’s case he had one of his employees go out to the woods far beyond Boston and find a tall tree to put up in the parlor.  That tree was decorated with wax tapers, glass ornaments newly imported from Germany, nuts in cornucopias, carved wooden animals, popcorn chains, cranberry chains and gilded nuts.  As a child the sight had awed Scott.  As a teenager he pretended indifference but those around him knew that he loved every minute of the parties at friends’ homes, the sleigh rides, and caroling.

When the war had broken out in 1861 Scott was underage.  He wanted desperately to enlist but his grandfather, Harlan Garrett, had forbidden it.  Once Scott reached eighteen, and his grandfather was away, he ran off and enlisted.  Rising quickly through the ranks due to his bravery and leadership Scott attained the rank of Lieutenant at the age of nineteen.

Now, imprisoned for the duration of the war, unless he were able to escape, Scott’s thoughts turned toward the only home he had ever known – the Garrett mansion in Boston – and to his grandfather and others he’d left behind.

As a mental exercise Scott wrote a letter home to his grandfather – a letter that would never physically be written or sent.  In it he mentioned the decorations that would be going up, the parties that he knew Grandfather would be attending, the caroling and sleigh rides and sent his best wishes to the staff.

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At the same time that Scott was imprisoned in Cahaba a half Scottish, half Mexican boy with black hair and blue eyes was making a name for himself as a gunfighter.

Johnny Madrid was lonely though he’d never admit it.  His mother had died five years ago but Christmas had seldom been a reason to celebrate.  His mama had told him that his father didn’t want her, or him, around and had thrown them out when Johnny was only two.  They seldom had any more than they needed – there was no money for toys.  Johnny had grown up a child of poverty.  Once in a great while somebody had had pity on the little boy and his mother but that was very seldom.  Many people were prejudiced against children that were considered half-breeds.

Johnny couldn’t remember his father.  All he knew of him any more was what his mother had told him.  Vaguely he seemed to remember that the man was very tall – but to a two-year-old all adults are tall so his dim memories meant nothing.

Christmas Eve of 1864 found Johnny in a jail cell in a Texas town on the Mexican border.  He’d been accused of assault and battery on a fellow card player in the cantina.  Half of the witnesses said that the other man had drawn first.  The other half said that Johnny had drawn first.  That particular group consisted of some local toughs who were chummy with the man Johnny had shot.  Now that man was in the doctor’s office with a bullet wound in his shoulder.  Johnny could have killed him but such was his aim and his intent that he only wounded the man.  He’d hoped it would get the man to tell the truth.

As he slept in that cell on that Christmas Eve he dreamed of a place with lakes and rolling hills and a lot of green grass.  There was a big white hacienda, many horses and cattle, and  most of all, he dreamed of a big man who carried him around on his shoulders or in front of him on a horse.

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Christmas 1873

“Hey Scott!  Hurry up and get out of bed, will ya?  Teresa says we can’t open our presents until we eat breakfast!”

Johnny’s voice penetrated even through the blankets and quilt Scott had pulled over his head but Scott didn’t move.  He heard his brother come bounding down the hallway and stop at the door to his, Scott’s bedroom.  Without knocking Johnny entered and pounced on his brother.

“Come on, brother, I know you’re awake.  Get up!”

“You’re worse than a child,” Scott complained.  “It’s early yet.  Go back to bed.  Teresa and Maria won’t have breakfast ready for another couple of hours.”

“That ain’t true!”  Johnny declared.  “Can’t ya smell the hotcakes and sausages they’ve got cooking?”  He crossed over to the other side of the room and opened the window to let the good smells from the kitchen waft in.

Scott could but he wasn’t going to admit it.  He rolled over and ignored his brother’s pout.

“Come on Scott,” Johnny implored.  “I’m hungry now!  Teresa also says that ‘breakfast won’t be served until everyone is sitting at the table’.  You don’t want me to starve do ya?”

“I hardly think you’re in any danger of that, Little Brother,” Scott scoffed.  “Now get out of here and let me get back to sleep.”

“Come on, Scott!”  Johnny was getting very frustrated and irritated. Like a small child he was excited about Christmas.  Not just because of the gifts that were waiting for him but also because of the gifts he’d bought for his family that he was eager to see them open.

“Johnny?  Scott?  Where are you two?  Breakfast is ready.  If you don’t come and get it now Teresa says she’ll throw it out.”

That was Murdoch and close on his heels was Jelly who added his two cents worth.

“Worse’n that,” the old handyman declared –  “she says she’ll feed it to the hogs.  You don’t’ want to make cannibals out of those hogs, do ya?”

“Scott says he ain’t getting’ up for another hour,” Johnny complained.

“Well, we’ll just see about that!”  Jelly declared.

As Murdoch looked on, laughing, Jelly and Johnny teamed up and stripped the covers off of Scott leaving him in his long underwear to shiver in the breeze from the open window.  No amount of struggling to pull the covers back over him did him any good for now his father had joined the fight and tossed Scott his trousers and shirt to put on, saying, “You might as well give up and get dressed, Scott. They have no intention of letting you sleep for another hour.”

Grudgingly, Scott gave up and got dressed.  By the time he had Teresa and Maria were putting breakfast on the table.  As he looked around he remembered that Christmas of ’64 when he was in the prison camp with barely enough food to keep him alive.  Johnny looked around the table and remembered all those Christmases when he and his mama, and then he alone, had little or nothing for any meal – let alone a Christmas feast.  Not for the first time, in the last couple of years since returning to their rightful homes the brothers realized that they had come home for Christmas – and they were mighty glad they had.

THE END

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