The Star of Bethlehem
Another Christmas Eve spent alone. Why not? I am Jewish, single, without family, my 2 close friends and even my not so close friends are spending this night with their families. My coworkers are spending the night with their family members so the boss decided again to assign me to work the 911 emergency phone center of our quaint little town. Yes, I am the person at the other end of the telephone when you dial 911 to report that emergency. I am also the person who dispatches that police car to the emergency. I am also the person who calls the ambulance, the fire department and routes the calls to the necessary town agency. Yep, that is me. So why not earn the overtime, be the hero for that one emergency that will take place on this night and wake up everyone on the other end of the radio at midnight to remind them that the UFO is really Santa. So here I am, sitting by the phone and the radio in the police station. Yep, another Christmas Eve spent alone.
Oh I am not really that bitter, but then again, I really am that bitter. I mean, not having a family around has helped to create this loneliness grow to the proportions it has. My best friends, Alan and Debbie, a lovely couple who work the day shift in the police communications system are off on their trip to the big bad city. Right now they are finishing their favorite dinner and having that final glass of wine before heading off to bed. They called a few minutes ago to see how things were going. They also asked if I could work the morning shift for them because it has started to snow and they won't make it back in time. Sure I told them, no problem, I have my tuna sandwich here along with a banana and a bottle of diet soda. There are some pretzels in the cabinet and I am sure one of the three cops on patrol can always make a run to my small apartment in the basement of Alan and Debbie's house and get me another bag. So why not work the extra shift. No problem I said to them, no problem.
It was a quiet night as it has been for many years. Did I also tell you that I have been the Christmas Eve operator and dispatcher for many years and Alan and Debbie have spent many a Christmas morning coming back late and I ended up working their shift? So for me, what is another night, who knows? Maybe something exciting will happen.
I go to the microphone and announce, “It is now midnight, Merry Christmas to all of you on patrol tonight. Oh and PS, that UFO we are getting calls about is Santa and his reindeer. Disregard all calls for the UFO. That is all.” The keying of the mics back to me along with the laughter at the other end was complete and I went back to my book. The tuna sandwich was begging for me to come over and take a large chomp out of it. Ah…dinnertime awaits me.
All of a sudden there is a knock at the door. Okay, who could it be at this hour? Town is closed and virtually no one is ever on the road save for a vehicle or two going through the town. I walk to the door with my friends named Smith and Wesson on my side and see this older man standing in the cold. I open the door, invite him in and he thanks me very kindly.
“So how can I help you on this night?” I inquire.
“Well I have no place to stay, there isn’t any room at the Inn so I am traveling in circles to find a place and I just cannot see to find a place to stay.”
“I am sorry, but we are not an inn, this is a police station and I don’t have the facilities to grant you a night’s stay.”
“I do understand but it is late, I have little gas in the tank, and I have been traveling for so long. Can I at least pass the night sitting here until dawn when I can find my way to a gas station and from there, get on the road and go on my merry way?” He looked at me straight in the eye as he said this. Damn, I am a sucker for the wayfaring stranger.
“Sure, why not. All I have are half a tuna sandwich, some flat diet soda and too salty pretzels. You are welcome to have some of the food but I have to tell you, it ain’t much”. He laughed as I said this to him and asked that I wait a moment. He was a rather pleasant man in his late 70’s. He was short and a bit chubby, a very fine grey goatee that matched his hair. His facial lines were those of laughter and he had a smile that was just so very comforting.
He returned with a small picnic basket then took a seat at my desk. Inside the basket were turkey sandwiches, turkey legs and wings, some cranberry sauce, sweet potato and coconut custard pie. He also had cold soda and my favorite pretzels. This was a bit weird; it was what I wanted for dinner. Okay I said to myself, this is fine. He took out some lovely plates similar to the type my mom had at home when I was kid and then a silverware pattern that reminded me of grandma’s house. This was truly strange.
Deciding it would be safer to let him take the first bite, I waited as he enjoyed some of the meal. I brought my chair over and sat down next to him. We chatted and I told my new friend about my night. He listened offering me his full attention. I decided this would be a wonderful time to chat about hobbies. I told him of my collecting McCoy banks, he told me how he collected Zippo lighters from WW2 soldiers that were inscribed. Then I told him I loved old fountain pens. This caught his interest.
I chatted with him about my grandfather’s Vacumatics and Waterman’s that were in a case by my desk. He was intrigued. He picked up my azure Vacumatic Junior and held it in his hand. The pen had a date code of 1946 and his eyes just started to glass over as he looked at it. He asked if he could write with the pen and I said sure thing handing him my new Exacompta notebook. The pen had a rare flexible nib and he started writing with flourishes that would make many a calligrapher jealous. It was a natural in his small hands.
He went from page to page in my book as the time passed looking up to tell me a story of his childhood in NYC. His father was a soldier who was in Germany during the Great War. Dad worked very hard and helped to liberate a concentration camp. He had seen so much in the camps that had affected him for many years after the Great War. When his father returned home just in time for his son’s bar mitzvah, he gave him a fountain pen. There was a name inscribed on the pen, Joseph Greenberg. The pen was an azure Vacumatic. I looked at the pen he was holding and the name inscribed that could be barely be seen was Joseph Greenberg.
Okay, this night was getting even more strange. I had this guy’s pen from his bar mitzvah, from what, 63 years prior and his eyes are tearing up and the flourishes on the page with this flexy nib are a natural in his hands and oh what am I going to do. This is my favorite pen!!!
What to do, what to do, what to do…I naturally have to offer him the pen and say to him I would be willing to sell it to him. What to do, what to do, what to do…I could give it to him, but I spent 200 bucks for this baby and spent another 30 getting the nib tweaked and it is my favorite pen and I am rambling right now because I want to do the right thing but I am also selfish and I do not want to give it up and he is holding up to the light and sees how clear the barrel is despite the name being worn down. What to do, what to do, what to do…
“Joe, how would you like to have this pen in your possession again after what 30 years?” I asked of him.
Tears came to his eyes. They dropped upon the pages he had just written some of the most beautiful lettering I have ever seen. He cried for a very long time before he looked up into my eyes. “I cannot take this from you, I must purchase this, what did you pay for it and I will gladly give you a profit.” He took out his wallet handing me a 50-dollar bill.
“Joe, take it, it’s your pen to begin with.”
“No Pat, you must take this 50. I want you to have the money. I insist, you restored it and it is as fine as the day my father gave it to me, take this money and get another pen.”
I took the 50 from his hand and we shook on the deal. He used the pen to draw some more in the notebook and then the dawn broke. Two cops walked into the station and sat down with us. They were fascinated as they reviewed his work in the notebook. Joe went over to the copier, took the paper and started doing pen and ink drawings of all of us. He started making other drawings and told us to keep them. He signed his name on each of them and reiterated that we needed to keep them. Fine, I will keep them.
The two cops listened to the story as we shared the remainder of the pie and drinking 7/11 coffee and they knew how much it hurt that I parted with my favorite pen. Joe shook our hands, then rose gathering the picnic basket and left us.
As I watched him get into the car, he took the pen out and looked at it once again. He looked at me standing by the window and he waved and smiled. He entered his car and drove off following the cops to the nearest gas station.
I went home a bit later and curled up in my bed. Yeah, I knew I did the right thing. I know it was proper, but damn it hurt. This was my favorite pen.
When I woke up ready for my next shift I decided not to bring with me any pens. All I needed was another knock on the door and my blue Doric would fall into the hands of some other kid who mourned his bar mitzvah.
Another year passed and it was Christmas Eve once again. I was there with a tuna sandwich, some flat soda and this time, two bags of pretzels. The night passed slowly, Alan and Debbie once again stayed in the big bad city for the night and here I was reminding the cops that any UFO was merely Santa and his reindeer.
A knock at the door was heard and I was loath to answer it. It was a woman in her 50s, about my age and she asked if she could come in. I decided it was safe to let her in; I had left my pen case at home and was using a Pilot Varsity to write in my journal.
“Are you Pat Morgan?” I replied I was.
“I am Rachel Greenberg and my father wanted you to have something. May I come in?”
She came to the table bringing a picnic basket with her. Inside the basket were turkey sandwiches for two, drumsticks and wings, sweet potato and coconut custard pie. There was cold diet soda for two and of course, a bag of pretzels. We sat together eating dinner on familiar plates and familiar silverware.
Rachel went into her bag and took out a pen case. Inside the case were pens I have longed for so many years. She handed me the case saying, “My father wanted to return the favor to you. He remembered the pens you spoke about wanting. As a thank you from my father and my family, we want you to have these pens. Please take them, enjoy them and remember how you made my father happy.”
Inside the case was a 1929 oversized Sheaffer Jade Balance with perfect color throughout the pen. The nib was deliciously flexible and I knew I was going to have some fun. Next was a Wahl Doric Burma with an adjustable nib. There was another Doric in Kashmir and the nib was also adjustable and finally there was another azure Vacumatic. I looked at the Vac and no it was not the one I sold Joe. There was a name inscribed on it that was difficult to see. I went to my desk taking out my loupe and looked closely. The name on it was Pat Morgan, my name.
I took the pen into my hand and this Vac Major with a date code of 1941 was an absolute delight to hold. The bottle of ink on my desk held Waterman Florida Blue and my new notebook was ready to be used. The pen was the smoothest pen I ever had written with. The nib was nice and flexible enough for me, not quite as flexible as my old pen but quite comparable. The nib was like glass across the page and was so wonderful I was not aware that Rachel had slipped out the door.
I ran to the door but she her car was no longer in the driveway. I ran to the radio calling out to the cops on patrol that if they see a brown Toyota with a woman with red hair behind the wheel to stop her and let me know so I could properly thank her.
The night passed and she was nowhere to be found.
It is now Christmas Eve again, eight years since a man named Joseph Greenberg came to my door asking for directions because there was no room at the inn. I gave my usual shpiel to the cops on patrol. Since Joe and Rachel had visited me, I learned a few things about Joseph Greenberg. He was a well-known artist in NYC and his pen and ink drawings that I was told to save were sold upon his passing at the advice of his daughter who sent me a note. The cash I received for selling the journal he made all of those designs in, will take me beautifully into retirement. I kept a number of drawings including the one he made of me with pens all over the page. It is hanging up on my wall of the house I was able to purchase from the sale of those drawings. It is of me talking into a microphone telling police officers to come on over and have some coffee, Joe named the drawing, The Star of Bethlehem.
Thanks Joe, for everything.
© 2009 Pat Morgan