Gary Ives lives in the Ozarks where he grows apples and writes. He is a Push Cart Prize nominee for his story "Can You Come Here for Christmas?"
Some times seem so precious, so perfect that one might suspect everyone of plotting to make life supremely rich and wondrous. Such were my days with Christmas Yoder.
In 1938 my father Philipp Stahl was a young intellectual, a doctor working in a clinic in Mecklenburg, Pomerania when Jewish colleagues were arrested and condemned to a forced labor gang. His letters and protests against the treatment of friends and his liberal socialist ideas drew Gestapo attention. After two interrogations and seeing which way the wind was blowing he fled to Danzig where for a packet of morphine and some cash he acquired forged seaman’s papers. In Philadelphia he jumped ship, applied for citizenship, and took a position at Philadelphia General Hospital. Soon he met and married my mother, a nurse, and there I was born in 1945. After the war we moved to upstate New York to a small farm where dad planted twenty-two acres in apple trees. By the late 1960’s the orchard was producing many tons of apples.
As the orchard grew he retired from his little practice in town to give full time attention to the business of trees. In summers we harvested cherries and peaches, some of which we marketed to wholesalers, some as jams and jellies which bore our Pomeroy Orchards label. We also had a large fruit stand where in the summer and fall we sold apple products and our jams as well as three shelves of bowls, cups, and dishes crafted by Mrs. Yoder, our neighbor and a potter. The two farms bordering Pomeroy Orchards were Amish farms. My family, unlike others, did not regard the Amish so much as a religious curiosity, but simply as farmers with quaint old fashioned ideas to be sure, but to us they were mainly our good neighbors. My father had set many broken bones, attended difficult deliveries, and had even treated Amish horses, mules and oxen on occasion. In that he spoke German and was a quiet, liberal, kind man, many Amish depended on him as their physician, despite his retired status.
Christmas Yoder and I became friends when we were twelve. Each September and October the Yoders and the Landis families, our Amish neighbors, hired on at apple time to pick apples, to press cider and to process and package dried apples. The Amish in our county were large extended families of uncles, aunts, cousins and a score of children. In the orchard the smaller children worked alongside the adults, children picking the windfall and hauling the hampers to the wagon. Christmas Yoder who suffered a condition, was excused from these labors. His affliction, my father explained, caused him to bruise and to bleed easily and to tire quickly. Precautions to protect Christmas from the bumps, scrapes, tumbles and cuts normal in a boy’s world were his only defense against the disease. He spent most of his time indoors helping his mother in the pottery shed or at the kiln. There was no remedy. From infancy he had always been kept at home under the care of his mother and sisters but at twelve he was curious and anxious to accompany the family for the fall picking season. As the Amish boy and I were the same age, my mom and dad, with Christmas’s folks, assigned me to be his companion on Saturdays during the Yoder’s apple time employment at Pomeroy Orchards. We were exactly the same age; his birthday on Christmas, mine on Christmas Eve. We were also the same size, but he lighter, lighter in weight and lighter in color, my hair reddish blond, Christmas’ a blond so light as to be almost white and his skin so thin and pale, nearly translucent.
“Mom, I wanna take Christmas to the creek fishin.”
“I’ll have to check with Mrs. Yoder first.”
The next morning after the wagons arrived the ladders and apple boxes unloaded, mom spoke with Mrs. Yoder while Christmas sat in the wagon looking small and frail, wrapped in a quilt.
“Okay, but you bait his hooks. You understand Christmas is not to handle anything sharp. That includes any fish you catch. And no swimming. His mom said he’s just getting over being sick. No rough housing. And stay close to him, Fritz. You know Christmas’s situation. Is that clear?”
That first day together my mom packed lunches of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, strawberry Kool Aid, and two Clark Bars. There are certain moments in my life which arrive unexpected and are like an epiphany. They become indelibly frozen in perfect clarity. I think of these rare private instances as Divine Flashes. I still have such a clear image of Christmas that morning in his Amish straw hat and black wool pants held up by suspenders, carrying the lunch pail and cider jug with the Kool Aid, as he and our dog Hundie followed me on the path down to the creek through a stand of walnut trees then downhill through a gully where I trapped muskrats in the winter. The morning sun had drawn out the aroma of the fescue. I walked close by with the poles and the little pail with worms, and we chatted a little.
The apprehension on his face showed that natural doubt which shyness imposes, not so much a wariness but timidity and sensitivity in not knowing the other’s state of mind. I smiled and nodded.
“So many times I seen you, Fritz. I seen you when your chores you was doing.“ His speech had that little twinge of German accent common to many Pennsylvania Dutch speakers, and his sentence structure in English was more like German, and generously infused with double negatives, ja’s and ach’s. He was surprised that I spoke German.
“I didn’t know was English boys could speak German.”
Es ist, weil mein Vater ist Deutscher. I see you just once in a while too, but not so much.”
“Ja, inside most of the time in the house I stay . Denn nur mit meinen Schwestern draußen gehe ich”
So we shifted back and forth between English and his Pennsylvania Dutch which fell odd to my ears. My dad, who preferred German with Mr. Yoder, had said that speaking German with the Amish was like speaking with Germans from the time of Beethoven. Christmas said that my “English- German “ sounded to him clunky and bookish. But we enjoyed mixing the language, sometimes with very funny sounds and meanings.
On the bank of the creek under a buckeye tree we propped the cane poles on twigs then stretched together watching the cork bobbers and talking. Hundie had curled up with his back touching me while I scratched his ears and his belly as we talked. Christmas too rubbed Hundie’s belly and scruff with obvious delight.
“Your dog, he is very sweet, Ja?“
“He’s the best, Christmas, and I love this fellah like if he was my brother.”
At that his face radiated an enthusiasm and his words tumbled out. “Oh Fritz, so much I know what you mean. A cat we had, Dumpling his name. So sweet was that cat and he would creep at night, Dumplin’ into my bed to sleep with me. I loved my Dumplin’ but father he drowned him because one time we was playin’ and Dumplin’ he scratched me. He didn’t mean nothin’, you know, it was only just a cat thing, but I was three days bleeding so father, he…he…. So never no more cat in the house and dogs too, ain’t no dogs in the house no more.“
He did not go to school. His mother and older sisters tutored him at home. He wanted to know all about “English” school. In comparing lessons I learned he was far ahead of me in arithmetic. He studied German but not English or spelling or history or geography or penmanship as we did. The stories his sisters taught were Bible stories. There were very few books in his house, he said, and of course no radio. He was astonished when I told him that in school we listened to a radio show for kids every Friday and that the teacher had allowed us to listen in our classroom to the final World Series game Did I listen to the radio at home, he wanted to know.
“You betcha. I listen to Straight Arrow and Superman. And after supper there’s The Lone Ranger and Amos ‘n Andy. Radio is the greatest, Christmas.”
The morning passed lazily. The fish were not biting but we didn’t care. When we tucked into lunch he commented that he had heard about our“sticky” bread and said that he preferred his mom’s. The Clark Bar, however, was happily received, and I noticed that he ate only half and saved the rest in the wrapper.
“Some of this for little sister.”
He was most impressed, however, with the strawberry Kool Aid my mother had sent along. Christmas, fascinated with the new taste drank nearly all of it. “This taste is wonderful, wunderbar.” he said. He told me about games his sisters played, but that he was prevented from joining. He loved to sing with his sisters and at church and he liked to read. When I offered to lend him comic books he allowed that such books would not be permitted.
“Well the dumb fish aren’t biting. We could go up the house and read comics. Whaddaya say, Christmas?
“Ja. That’s what I say. Ja ,ja, ja. Let’s go Fritz, but don’t let’s tell nobody nothing about them comic books, ja?”
We laughed and trotted back up the hill to the barn and up to a loft. I went into the house and returned with a pile of comics that kept us fully entertained until the bell rang signaling the end of the work day. I again offered Christmas the loan of comic books. He could easily have stuffed a few in his shirt, but he declined.
The next day, Sunday, only my family worked the orchard as it was church day for the Amish. My parents sent me in from the orchard early to do chores and I was heading to the hen house to feed the chickens and gather eggs I heard a whistle, turned and there was Christmas standing between the barn and the chicken house.
“Fritz, come over here,” he said, “Here is for you.” He handed me two thick slices of bread, still warm from the oven. “Put some of this on the bread,” he said handing me a jar of thick brown apple butter. “See. Ain’t my mother’s bread better than English sticky bread?” He said he would like for the two of us to go fishing again, maybe tomorrow? I told him that I’d have to go to school all week, but that maybe he could come over and maybe help me do chores after school since his parents would still be working the orchard. The Yoder farm abutted our farm about a hundred yards from our barn, with their house another fifty yards, so it was handy for him to stroll over to our place.
“You ask ‘em and then we could go fishing Saturday if it ain’t too cold. Make a day of it, you and me and Hundie. Have us a big ole time, Christmas. I’ll ask my mom to talk to your mom.”
Sometimes things work out just the way you want them to. The next day and just about every day thereafter Christmas was waiting at the school bus shanty. We quickly fell into a routine. While I changed from school clothes my mother would chat with Christmas and set cookies and milk out for us before we did chores. My dad divided our chores with regard to Christmas’s condition. Christmas threw corn out and filled the watering cans while I gathered eggs and carried out the trash and slopped the pigs. He wanted to gather eggs but dad said a peck from a sitting cluck could start him bleeding. All through the end of summer, fall and into winter we spent time together almost daily.
Mr. Yoder and dad were good friends. Dad had cared for Mr. Yoder’s father who had suffered for his last two years from a torn liver, the result of a kick from his plow horse. Dad had quietly administered palliative care as the old man slowly withered. Mr. Yoder’s soft knocks at our door at all hours would summon dad with his black bag. Dad would give the old man an injection and keep compresses on his belly until sleep came, then he and Mr. Yoder would drink schnapps or hard cider at the Yoder’s kitchen table. After the old man died dad and Mr. Yoder still passed occasional evenings together over schnapps and applejack. Dad had dissuaded the Yoders from enrolling Christmas at an expensive hematological clinic in Albany. There was no known cure or even effective treatment so he believed that Christmas’s best place was home, simple as that. The Yoders, good neighbors that they were, would appear with a haunch of venison, a smoked turkey, or half a hog after the weather turned cold.
During that twelfth year of our lives a great improvement in Christmas’s health was noticed simultaneous to our friendship, and our parents agreed to encourage us, though we needed no such urging. He had endless curiosity about the world at large. After chores we often got up to my room to read comics and listen to the radio. He loved the fifteen minute adventure shows, but was absolutely enchanted with popular music. While I did my homework Christmas would tune the radio to an Albany station that played only current pop tunes. Sometimes mom would walk over and get permission from Mrs. Yoder for Christmas to eat supper with us.
“Listen Fritz, here is “Love Me Tender,” or “Listen Fritz, it’s them Platters, I love that Magic Touch song, do you love that song, Fritz? I want that radio man to play that “Jamaica Farewell.”
He wanted to know what I’d learned at school and hovered over me as I did homework with the radio playing.
“Them problems is for babies,” he’d say of my arithmetic lessons. He taught me little tricks to work the problems in my head, tricks Mrs. Simmons my teacher, discouraged.
“Just work it out on the paper Fritz,” she’d say,” I need to see how you arrive at your answers.” But to this day his way of computation is the way I add, subtract, multiply and divide.
Geography fascinated him. Once I taught him how to read a map he was intrigued with distances, climates, and the myriad of human cultures. “Going over to them places, Fritz, would be really great, ja? Do you also want to go to see such places?
“Ja. I’d go to the islands down in the Caribbean first then maybe South America. And to Germany. I got lots of relatives over there.”
“Maybe when we is growed up, then we could go over there. You and me, Fritz.”
“That’d be so keen, Christmas. Ich und du da drüssen in Deutschland.”
“Und Jamaica Farewell, in Jamaika, ja? (singing)Down in the market place, you see.-.-.-“
“You damn betcha, Kimo Sabe! (singing)Dancing girls swayin’ to and fro.”
Mom was a little perplexed that December when I told her I wanted to give him a Christmas/Birthday present.
“Gee Fritz, I dunno, on accounta the religion thing. You got something in mind?”
“Yeah, something musical. He loves music’ he’s always singin’ or whistlin’. And he knows how to read music, he does.”
Dad sitting at the kitchen table said, “I know what you can give him.”
“An ocarina. It’s small, he can carry it in his pocket and ocarinas make such sweet music. I saw three of them for sale in the Mennonite store just last week. We can go by there after school tomorrow.”
On the afternoon of my birthday Mr. and Mrs. Yoder and Christmas, who was looking rosier than usual, came to our house with warm rolls and a smoked turkey. We ate delicious sandwiches then Dad and Mr. Yoder broke out a jug of apple jack in the barn while mom and Mrs. Yoder talked at the kitchen table. Christmas and I went up the stairs to my room. This was the perfect opportunity for me to give him the ocarina. In my bedroom we sat on the bed where on afternoons we often read comics or listened to my bedside radio. I had placed the ocarina wrapped in Christmas paper under the pillow, but as I reached for it Christmas began speaking in a low, serious tone.
“Fritz, me and you we is such good friends, ja?”
“Yeah,. You damn betcha we’re good friends. You are my best friend. Sometimes I think it’s like we was twins. Wasn’t we born on the same day, almost? I wish we really was twins, Christmas.”
“Since that first day at apple time I like you so much, Fritz. Sometimes I think what you said that time we are layin’ on the bank talkin’. Hundie he was there in between us. You remember?”
“Yeah, sure. That’s the day we met when we went fishin’ and read comics for the first time.
“That day you said you loved Hundie like he was your brother. Since that day I think I wish for you say that same thing.-.-.-that same thing.-.-.-about.-.-.-“
Tears like tiny diamonds rolled down his rose tinted cheeks. He wiped his face with the back of his hand. I suddenly realized what he was trying to express, and my own tears bubbled up either in sympathy or because I could well have composed the same words of his unfinished expression of care. A silence fell for a brief time as we sat staring at the wall not knowing what next to say. Each of us had swallowed this huge lump of affection which rendered us feeling so strange. To relieve this awkwardness I reached beneath my pillow and withdrew his present and gave it to him.
“Here, Happy Birthday, Christmas. Now you’re thirteen.”
Then he reached under his shirt and handed me a ceramic figure of a dog finished with a matte glaze. He had made a replica of Hundie glazed beautifully. Under the base carved letters read, fur Brueder Fritz.
“And for you also, Happy thirteen Birthday.”
Let’s read comics, okay?”
“Ja, bring out them comics and turn on that radio. Maybe some Christams songs for Christmas and Fritz, ja?”
The next morning the first gift under the tree that I opened was an ocarina identical to Christmas’s. That winter Christmas was to teach me how to read music although we were quickly able to play together by ear early on, Christmas choosing the first tune we were to master was Christmas’s current pop favorite, Elvis’s“Love Me Tender.” To be sure most of our duets were pop songs. But he also taught me dozens of hymns he know intimately from years of singing. Perhaps this was because these hymns insured approval from his family. Dad was so impressed with our progress he bought us wooden recorders, a soprano and an alto. Christmas had a marvelous ear for harmony and once we’d mastered a melody he could invoke the sweetest harmony and counterpoint from the two recorders. The acme of that winter’s repertoire was the melody line from the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. Now I hear it only with tears. (singing) Alle Menschen warden Brueder.
With the end of the school year began a summer of splendid idleness. We romped the orchard and fields, we fished, we collected bugs and salamanders. The most memorable event of that wonderful summer though was the breaking of one of the cardinal rules. I taught Christmas how to swim. In the creek was a swimming hole, five feet deep, beneath an oak, from which a long knotted rope hung. Crude steps had been nailed so one could easily climb to the branch with the rope. We often fished up stream from the swimming hole and could hear the laughter and shrieks of bathers. Christmas begged me to take him swimming. On one hot July day with no one else swimming we shucked our clothes and tiptoed into the water. We walked out about belly deep and I told him to stay where he was and simply watch.
“Just stay here. Don’t try nothing. Watch me, then I’ll come back and show you. Ja? “ I swam out to the rope, then dog paddled back towards Christmas. “See, this is what you’re gonna do. I stood next to him and instructed him to lean into the cradle of my arms and slowly walked him into the deeper pool. “Now paddle, just like Hundie. That’s right. Your feet too. Good. Good. Now I’m gonna let go but I’ll be right next to you. Don’t you get your hair wet.” Inside of two minutes he was navigating independently. His face beamed; it was his moment of glory.
”Ich schwimmin, Fritz, Ich schwimmin!”
The hardest part of his learning to swim was that we could speak of this to no one. He asked me twice afterwards to take him to the swimming hole; he said he wanted to swing on the rope just one time, but I would not take him. Teaching him had been a huge risk, and done on the spur of the moment. I remember laying awake thinking how the event could have turned out badly. But that triumph, I knew, infused in him strength. He was the most determined person I have ever known and I so admired his ability to master academic subjects by himself, but I took some pride in moving him into something he could not have done alone.
On rainy or windy days that summer we lay about playing music, reading, and listening to the radio. We also discovered chess that summer and by the end of August were passing hours upon hours, head to head over the chess board at our kitchen table until mother shooed us off. He was the superior player and more competitive, but I managed to win about one third of our games. He loved the challenge of playing Dad, who was formidable.
Just around Thanksgiving Day that year the Yoders began allowing Christmas to sleep over at our house on Fridays and Saturdays. After supper and the dishes were cleared we would play some tune we’d rehearsed all week. Then mom would light candles and we’d settle in with popcorn to listen to my father read to us stories and poems. On Christmas Eve afternoon the Yoders appeared once again with smoked turkey and rolls and we enjoyed a jolly birthday party with a giant cake iced in chocolate Happy Fourteenth Christmas and Fritz.
One afternoon I overheard Mr. Yoder and Dad chatting. Mr. Yoder was explaining how his community disapproved of its children mixing with outsiders.
“But with your Fritz our Christmas has much happiness. Philipp I say to you for my woman and me it is a joy to see them boys together. Boys with Christmas’s sickness, seems like every generation got one or two, there aint many make it to twenty. Him and Fritz is so good. Since last summer he ain’t got sick, ain’t fainted, ain’t fallen down not once. He laughs and sings. Christmas can be a real boy with Fritz. So me and Hannah we know every moment them boys is together is maybe Christams’s best times. Ja Philipp, we got to thank you and your wife to be so good. Always it is Christmas who to your house comes, Fritz he can’t be comfortable so much over to our house.”
“We don’t care so much that he listens to the radio or them books the boys read; it don’t hurt nothin’ and Christmas is good about not talkin’ it up with the girls.”
“Otto, we love Christmas. You’re right, the boys seem to belong together. Fritz, he has no brothers or sisters, and Christmas only sisters. Ja, es ist einesehrgute Sache, dass.
“Other Amish folk, do any complain, I mean about Christmas coming over to our house, the radio, books? Tell me.”
“None of our neighbors. Everybody close around understands, but some tongues they wag over to Libertyville maybe. But you know what? Them busy bodies can go shit in their hat. I say this to you, Philipp. For our son, your Fritz, is just now better than anything else in this world. This we know.
Later that afternoon I asked dad to explain to me the nature Christmas’s disease. Twenty was just too young to die. My father, always the pragmatist, though a pragmatist with a heart, told me in the gentlest manner that my best friend’s odds for a long and normal life were not favorable.
“Fritz, it’s one of those quirks of life. Nature so magnificent, so wondrous, and overpowering is also so inexplicably cruel.” When he explained to me the deleterious power of recessive genes within a limited gene pool I told him I would forever hate the Amish people’s stupidity and lay the fault of Christmas’s disease on primitive religion.
“That might be unfair, Fritz. They’re aware now of the cause and they’re taking reasonable steps to prevent this kind of thing, but the cause, you can understand, goes back for many generations. Our family, we’re not believers, we’re what are called agnostics or atheists. One would think that people of a fundamental religion would condemn us, but the Yoders and the Landis they have no trouble overlooking the way we are because they know goodness when they see goodness. I assure you even though they’re Amish, Mr. Yoder and Mrs. Yoder have plenty of misgivings about their religion. But you need to understand that being Amish is much broader than what’s talked about on Sunday. Maybe they embrace their way of life for the same reasons we live the life we live, out here free and away from the pollution of towns and cities. I left Germany, no I escaped a Germany because one faction, stupid and cruel, had come to dictate the way everyone should believe and live. Our Amish neighbors don’t pass judgment on us, don’t try to persuade us to adopt their customs. We owe them the same, son. Don’t blame mankind’s ignorance on a few people who are different.”
His argument, persuasive as it was, did not set with me then. Knowing that Christmas might die young tore at my heart. I went to my room and cried. I decided to tell Christmas about our fathers’ conversation, but leaving out the poor prospects for his survival.
The risk of censure from his religious community was an issue Christmas tiptoed around. He had intrinsic trust in his parents but at the same time was only too aware of the Sword of Damocles that the strictures of Amish society imposed. When I told him what I had overheard, he beamed.
“That is so good, so good to hear. Don’t every boy got such a father. I don’t never talk none about me and you doin’ things together, Fritz. Not even with my sisters. See it’s them older ones we church with. Them’s the ones don’t want none of us havin’ nothin’ to do with no English devils. Don’t you know you is just a bunch of sons-a-bitches sent from below to lead the true believers straight to hell.? Father, he don’t believe such, mother don’t neither. Fritz, Father said if I was to bring some books over to our house it would be okay with him and mother. Only I got to hide them under my mattress ‘cause he don’t want my sisters to know. Ain’t that swell?”
“You betcha, Christmas. Want some comics now?”
“I like to read them comics only over here with you. Just for fun is them comics. Now I want to read that history book and geography book from your school. I want to know everything what’s in them books. Fritz, I want to know everything, just like your father. Everything. After I read them books I want to read them German books your father read to us them poems, ja? That Schiller book. I want to read some of the stories in that Thomas Mann book, some of them stories in that Tolstoy book, ja, ja und dass andere Schriftsteller, Gorky, Fritz, und that Steinbeck too, I got to know everything.”
Thus I became my best friend’s private librarian. Mom was friends with my teacher, Mrs. Simmons who loaned us textbooks which Christmas devoured. During my hours at school his unquenchable thirst drove him to plow through ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade books on history, literature, and math. Some evenings he came to my father for help with geometry and biology, and once dad had unraveled the problem they’d set to discussing a story he’d read. He’d stay until his mother rang the triangle on their porch, summoning him home. One such night I watched my father returning a book to its shelf and noticed him sniffing and wiping his eyes and realized that he was silently crying.
The next Spring Dad told me that he and Mr. Yoder had arranged for Christmas to work in our fruit stand with me during the summer afternoons. “
“ You two boys will be in charge. Think you can handle it?”
There isn’t much a fourteen year old boy thinks he cannot handle. That summer was magnificent. Dad let us keep a little radio in the fruit stand with the stipulation that it be turned off the moment a car stopped. Initially Christmas was very shy and left all the interface with customers to me. Soon however, we found that tourists liked to take pictures of the Amish boy. He got a charge from this and liked to fool with the tourists by moving the moment the shutter snapped, or faking a sneeze, or passing his hand before his face.
“I’m sorry Miss, there was a bee.” His goal was to make some tourist shoot an entire roll of film without getting a good shot.
An interesting phase of our fruit stand summer was that his presence greatly increased the sales of his mother’s pottery wares. When dad suggested that Mrs. Yoder raise prices, the sales actually improved. Christmas, who knew ceramics well, turned out to be a crackerjack salesman.
One afternoon in July he came over bearing a burlap sack. Once we arrived at the fruit stand he pulled out a straw hat, white shirt, black trousers, and suspenders.
“Okay Fritz, me and you is both Amish today. This was a lark and once I’d changed into his clothes we laughed and laughed like idiots. I would dearly love to have just one of the dozens of photos of the two Amish twins taken by tourists. One afternoon a couple with Alabama license plates stopped at the fruit stand. The man, possibly drunk, was loud and argued prices in a bullying manner. The wife was no better and complained that there was no restroom.
“Well Miss, you and the mister could just use our orchard over there. It’s eight miles to the filling station.”
The couple grumbled but disappeared into the orchard leaving a camera bag on our counter.
I dashed over and took the Kodak Hawkeye point and click camera.
“Quick Christmas, drop your trousers and show them buns. Good, hurry, now you take a picture of my ass, hurry.”
The bad tempered tourists went home with two moon shots. The afternoon mom walked up to the stand with a jug of Kool Aid and caught me in Amish clothes was the last of the Amish twins. She promised not to tell Mr. and Mrs. Yoder as long as I did not dress Amish again.
I wished that that summer would never end but soon enough summer was over and it was apple time. At the beginning of the school year Dad, with Mr. Yoder’s consent, had enrolled Christmas in a college correspondence course in World Literature. Christmas’s lessons would come to our address and he delighted in reading and writing at our kitchen table during the day. Spending nearly all of his days and many nights at our house, I reckoned, put a burden on Mr. and Mrs. Yoder, but they encouraged this and spoke of their son’s obvious contentment and happiness. I too was content and I supposed, the happiest of all people. Life was, indeed, so very good.
That Christmas, the Christmas of our fifteenth birthday, when the Yoders arrived for the now traditional birthday/Christmas party, dad told us both to go upstairs and wait until called for. When we came down, on the table on each side of the birthday cake lay two portable Remington typewriters.
“Happy fifteenth birthday, boys.”
That summer of my fifteenth year my father got a rare day visa for our family to visit relatives in East Germany.. Mr. Yoder was hired to look after the orchard, Christmas would run the fruit stand by himself. We were a month away. Upon our return to the orchard Mr. Yoder broke the news to us of Christmas’s death. According to Mr. Yoder, in an apparent attempt to climb to the rope at the swimming hole he had slipped. A protruding nail head had opened a three inch gash. Christmas had bled out before reaching home.