December 2, 2016
Dear Admiral McDonald,
This letter is a year late. Nevertheless, it 's important that you receive it. Eighteen people have asked me to be sure to write to you.
Last year, at Christmas time, my wife, three boys and I were in France, on our way from Paris to Nice. For five wretched days everything had gone wrong. Our hotels were 'tourist traps;' our rented car broke down; we were irritable and restless. On Christmas Eve, when we checked into a hotel in Nice, there was no Christmas spirit in our hearts. It was cold and raining when we went out to eat. We found a drab little cafe, shoddily decorated for the holiday.
Only five tables in the restaurant were occupied. There were two German couples, two French families and an American sailor by himself. In the corner a piano player listlessly clamoured away. I was too stubborn, too tired and miserable to leave. I looked around and noticed that the other customers were eating in stony silence. The only person who seemed happy was the American sailor; He was writing a letter and smiling to himself. My wife ordered our meal in French. The waiter brought us the wrong thing.
I scolded my wife, she began to cry, and the boys defended her. Then on my left, at the table of one French family, the father slapped one of his children for some minor fault; the boy cried. On our right, the German wife berated her husband.
All of us were suddenly interrupted by an unpleasant blast of cold air. Through the door came an old French flower woman. She wore a dripping, tattered overcoat, and shuffled in on wet, run-down shoes. Carrying her basket of roses she went from table to table. “Flowers?” No one bought any, and wearily she sat at a table between the sailor and us.
To the waiter she said:
“Bowl of soup. I haven't sold a flower the whole afternoon. “ To the piano player she said hoarsely: “Can you imagine, Joseph ordering only a bowl of soup on Christmas Eve ?!”
Joseph pointed to his empty tipping plate. The young sailor finished his meal, and got up to leave. Putting on his coat, he walked over to the flower woman's table.
“Happy Christmas,” he said smiling, and picking out two roses he said:
“How much are these?“
“Two francs, Monsieur.”
Pressing one of the flowers into the letter he had written, he handed the woman a 20 - franc note.
“I’ll have to get some change, Monsieur.” she said.
“No ma'am,” said the sailor, kissing the ancient cheek. “This is my Christmas present to you.“
Straightening up, he came to our table, holding the other rose in front of him.
“Sir,” he said to me, ”may I present this to your beautiful daughter?”
In one quick motion he gave the rose to my wife, wished us a Merry Christmas and departed. Everyone had stopped eating. Everyone had been watching the sailor. Everyone was sitting in thoughtful silence.
A few seconds later, Christmas exploded through the restaurant like a bomb. The old flower woman jumped up waving her 20-franc note. Hobbling out into the middle of the room she did a jig, shouting to the piano player:
“Joseph, my Christmas present -- you shall have a feast too.”
With sudden enthusiasm the piano player began to play “Good King Wenceslas,” beating the keys with magic hands, nodding his head to the rhythm. My wife waved her rose in time to the music. She was radiant, looking twenty years younger. The tears had left her eyes. She began to sing and our three sons joined in, bellowing loudly. The Germans jumped on the chairs and began singing. The waiter embraced the flower woman. Waving their arms, they sang in French. The French man who had slapped the boy beat a rhythm with his fork against a bottle and the lad climbed on his lap. The owner of the restaurant started the First Noel, and we all joined in, half of us crying as we sang. People crowded in from the street until many were standing. The walls shook as hands and feet kept time to the rousing Yuletide carols.
A few hours before eighteen people had been spending a miserable evening in a shoddy restaurant. It ended up being their happiest Christmas Eve ever. This, Admiral McDonald, is what I'm writing you about. As top man in the navy you should know about the very special gift that the U.S. Navy gave to my family, and to me and to other people in that French restaurant. Because your young sailor had Christmas spirit in his soul, he released the love and joy that had been smothered within us. He gave us Christmas.
Thank you sir, very much.
The Christmas Chronicles