The Toymaker, by Kay Springsteen Tate

Seldom have I ever been so totally immersed into the lives of the characters as I have in this superlative Christmas story.

This is a ‘past meets present’ story which opens up with a contemporary mother and her two children discovering a box of 200 year old wooden toys at an antique shop.  Fascinated by the quality and workmanship they buy the whole box and discover a diary hidden at the bottom of the box that opens up the whole romantic history that takes place between Phillip and Lady Ivy. Here’s a short synopsis of the plot 

Enter Phillip Greenstone, the 12th Duke of Greenbriar, upon the death of his aged reclusive uncle.  It is nothing he had ever wanted having been orphaned as a young man and brought up by Jani, a master wood worker and toymaker. Lady Ivy Plumthorn is fast approaching spinsterhood as she refuses suitor after suitor, finding no one to her liking.  Our toymaker Duke, “Mr. Green,” meets Lady Ivy and the attraction is instantaneous.  But Lady Ivy and her parents insist she must marry into the peerage and Mr. Green is just a craftsman commoner.  But, they have so much in common with their kind and generous hearts and their love of children.  Our toymaker Duke must devise a plan to reveal his true identity to gently excuse his deception to Lady Ivy.

This is the almost perfect Christmas story and it is impossible to read it straight through with dry eyes.  It is just so heart-warming and poignant as the old box of toys, diary, and history enchant the mother and her children once again. 

5 Stars                  

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A New Year’s Holiday To Remember

Way back in 1966, I had fulfilled my year-long duty requirement as an intelligence analyst at Danang in Vietnam.  I had been overseas for almost three years straight without seeing my beloved USA.  My orders called for me to take a short-hop flight from Danang to Ton Son Nhut airport near what was formerly Saigon.  On the way to Saigon, we stopped at Cam Ranh Bay and Na Trang.  What was it that military personnel put on our flight? Body bags of soldiers who were also going home to families where Christmases would never be the same again………Names that would be eventually etched on the dark brooding granite walls of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /><o:p></o:p>

I got to Ton Son Nhut on December 30th and checked into the transit barracks to await my flight back to the states the next day: New Year’s Eve.  That night I was treated to another random barrage of Viet Cong mortar fire, flares, and Hueys flying low over the airport with searchlights blazing.  The next day, our flight was scheduled to depart Ton Son Nhut at 3:00 PM in the afternoon.  160 weary marines and a couple of Air Force guys lined up at the airport terminal to be processed out.  Little did we know at the time but a Thai civilian airliner had nearly crash-landed on the main runway, closing it for 6 hours to assess runway damage and tow the damaged plane away.  Personnel told us to return back to the transit barracks.  Not a single soldier budged.  We had come this far and weren’t getting anywhere but on that plane.  We finally boarded a shiny new World Airways Boeing 707 and took off at 9:30 PM on New Year’s Eve.  Since it was a MAC charter flight, no alcohol was allowed.  However, the resourceful Marines had smuggled aboard enough booze to give everyone a pleasant buzz.  Small bottles and flasks were discretely passed all over the plane and the Marines were kind enough to include the handful of Air Force guys in the merriment.  The flight attendants, bless their hearts, just looked the other way and went about their business.  Midway between Saigon and Yokota Air Base, Japan, we celebrated the New Year with hugs, high fives, and mirth.  We landed in Yokota Japan about 4:00 AM on Jan 1st, New Year’s Day, refueled, ate breakfast, nursed hangovers and departed for Travis Air Force Base, California, near Sacramento.  <o:p></o:p>

We landed at Travis (and this is where it really got interesting) about 7:30 PM on Dec 31st again, for our second New Years Eve!!  We had flown through the International Date Line on the way back and lost a day enroute!  As we got off the plane, one of the most emotional scenes I have ever witnessed took place.  Battle-hardened soldiers threw themselves on the tarmac, rolling around on the pavement, weeping, and kissing the asphalt!  The sense of relief among all of us was palpable.  We had made it home alive.<o:p></o:p>

Three other Marines and I hired a taxi, squeezed our gear into the trunk and headed for the San Francisco International Airport 60 miles away.  The cab fare divided among four of us was astronomical even for 1966 but no one cared.  The three other Marines had more flying in store but my home was only 3 miles away!  I stayed in the taxi, had him stop at a liquor store on the way so I could buy a couple bottles of champagne and then headed to the house I had not seen for two years and nine months.  My Mother was totally shocked because I wasn’t scheduled in for a couple more days.<o:p></o:p>

I’ve never forgotten that trip and the overwhelming sense of gratitude and relief to once again be back on the soil of the country I had served and loved as a military man.

Remembering my little ‘blind date.’

When I was 23, I bumped into a young student at school. As I was helping her pick up her belongings, I noticed two things about her: She was very beautiful and very blind.  I apologized for upsetting her and with great courage asked for her name and her phone number.  My curiosity overcame my extreme shyness with the opposite sex and I phoned her to see if she wanted to go out.  To my surprise, she said “yes.” I knew next to nothing about how to properly take care of and escort a woman, let alone a blind one!  She was of Northern Italian descent with olive complexion, honey brown hair, and green eyes. She was very petite, about five feet tall and maybe 90 pounds.  She was born prematurely and only weighed 3 pounds and back in the 1950’s she was a miracle to have survived at all.  The overly-rich oxygen concentration in her incubator destroyed her retinas and she told me her blindness was so profound that she could only distinguish lightness and darkness.

Well, my “blind” date turned into a six-month affair.  I found her relaxed, patient, flexible, adventurous, non-judgemental, sociable, and most of all – happy.  Briefly, I contemplated marriage and got the expected negative feedback from my Father, Mother, and others.  “Oh you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life with a blind lady, would you? Just think of all the problems it would cause.”

I broke it off with her with great difficulty because I didn’t think I was good enough for her. She deserved someone better.  However, my little “blind date” was my introduction to the wonderful and different world of being with a woman and the added challenge of being with one with a profound disability. What I learned from our relationship together was the springboard to the love of my life: my wife of 42 years.

I have not seen my little “blind date” for almost 40 years, don’t know where she’s at, but I think of her often.  How I’d like to see her once again briefly and see how her life has been.  I learned a lot more from her than she did from me.  To wit: A relationship involving someone with a disability, whether slight or profound, takes effort, commitment, and tact.  Hmmmm….just like ANY other relationship!