December 25, 2013

FROM THE ARCHIVES: OF FROGS AND KRAUTS AND COMMIES AND SCOTS....AND ANGELS:

Angels Passing: A Christmas story (Allan Massie, 12/25/10, The Scotsman)

"And what about Helmut?"

I had hesitated before putting the question, but she received it with a smile.

"We found him wandering in the woods. He was in a bad way, very nervous. It was something he had seen. He won't talk about it."

But he did to me, because I was a soldier too, and would understand.

"It was truly horrible," he said, "and so I did the only thing I could do. I ran away. I deserted. I came south because most deserters are stupid and make for home and because this was then the unoccupied zone. I was sick, very sick at heart. Albertine has made me whole again."

We were playing chess and he took my queen and said, "I was never a Nazi. I hate them. In fact I'm a Communist. Like my father. He was a Communist and they put him in a camp and killed him. What about you, Jock?"

"I'm an auld Scots Radical," I said, "and that means I'm agin the government, any government."

"Shake hands, Jock," he said..

"Christmas Eve is the great feast in Provence," Albertine told me, and what a feast it was! We had smoked eel with horse-radish sauce and then the cassoulet. That's a dish of pork and spiced sausage and white beans and other vegetables and the pork is first browned and flamed with marc. It had been cooking in the stove for hours and the smell was a meal in itself. And then we had prunes that had been soaked in brandy and a cheese that Albertine had made herself from the cow's milk. It was her grandmother's recipe, like the cassoulet, she said. Helmut and I drank a litre of the local wine and we all sat back, replete, rubbing our bellies and happy. We had talked throughout the meal, the talk of good fellowship with no mention of the war and its suffering, and had laughed as you should laugh in good company. And then we fell silent, as silent as the night on the hillside, and I looked at my watch and said, "angels passing".

"It's a saying we have," I explained. "When a silence falls at twenty to the hour or twenty past, we say it's because the angels are flying by. I don't know why."

"It's a lovely thought," Albertine said, "and it might be true..."

"Angels?" Helmut said. "Well, I don't know about that."

Nor did I, but I kept quiet and gave myself another glass of wine and a slice of Albertine's cheese.

It was then that we noticed the children had slipped away.

"Pierre likes to look at the stars," Albertine. said. "They often go out at night. There's no cause for anxiety."

Then the door burst open and the children were there with faces alight with joy.

"Come quick," Marie cried, "it's the angels."

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[originally posted : 12/24/11]


Posted by at December 25, 2013 12:10 AM
  

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