This remains to date the longest Christmas poem I've ever written. The stories behind it are quite compelling. I'll start with the personal one.
After having lived on our own in an apartment for three years, my wife was the driving force behind us purchasing a house of our own. Even with two incomes, saving for a down payment was going to take a long time. We accepted an offer from my mother to move back into my old family home with her for several years, providing her with some additional money and thus acquiring the ability to save as much cash as possible to buy a house of our own.
This worked fine for a while but after having lived on our own terms, the strain of the sacrifice started to take a toll. This was to be the third (and final) Christmas before we would have a house built and move into our own home. Thus I felt caught between the rock and a hard place (wife and mother) and all of the tensions contained therein. The "letter to mom" idea gave me an outlet to find a gentler, more innocent tone.
The theme of the train ride on the California Zephyr came from the strangest of places; I had placed a gift order from the Lands' End company and the basis of my poem was printed by them on the packing tissue that surrounded the clothes! It was the story of the actual train called "Letters from the Road" and the festivities of coming home through the Rocky Mountains for the holidays. I but needed to create my cast of characters for the letter and off I ran. Serendipity is a glorious thing!
I blended in one great historical happening and one newly minted technological ability. The historical event had occurred in November, shortly before I began the writing process. To witness the fall of the Berlin wall was a mind boggling, surreal experience even from a distance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM2qq5J5A1s). If you watch this video, note the pure emotionality expressed on the faces of the people. It shook me to my soul and I had to work it into the poem simply for posterity.
On the technological side, this was by far the most ambitious (and expensive) project that I ever took on. I used the Mac to design and create an actual, binder stapled card (albeit in black & white) to mail out. There was no folded paper this year; the card was the poem. It still had to be produced by an print shop for the quantity I required but it was all my original work. I could not have been more pleased as we spent one last Christmas with my mom and prepared for a dramatic new adventure in our life story.
“Letters From the Road”
Call it corny, call it a cliché,
Say it’s cute, sentimental or insane.
But I’m feeling like a kid of five again
As I ride ‘cross the land on this train.
Yeah, I admit that it’s sort of a goofy idea,
But arriving late isn’t a crime.
I’ve just never seen the heartland, Mom,
And Christmas seemed like the right time.
Remember “The City of New Orleans”?
Well, “The California Zephyr’s” my song.
And with three days to live out some lyrics,
It’s a coast-to-coast carol, loud and strong.
See, we’re all on dead run in December
with precious few moments to spare.
There’s hardly the time to stop and think,
So chances like this one are rare.
This Am-trek might answer some questions
that inspires a pause for some thought.
Like, are toys better behind a store window
Or at home, unwrapped and bought?
In the lounge they’re showing “White Christmas”
and assorted holiday tales.
But compared to the ones spun around me,
these Hollywood versions seem pale.
There’s hundreds of people aboard this train
and countless stories to be told.
You smile, make small talk, ask one simple question
and listen to a life unfold.
I met a young soldier named Robert,
back from Europe and Illinois-bound.
We laughed as we spoke about Germany
And how the Wall had come tumbling down.
The grandeur that’s called Colorado
Can scarcely begin to compete
With the glow of the newlywed couple,
whose love makes all else seem obsolete.
The porter named Johnny grew quiet,
“I’ll take Mom to church Christmas Eve.
She’s turned eighty-six, and it’s been a long time…”
This thought made him sad, I believe.
Gram and Gramps Johnson seemed restless
as the train approached Denver that morn.
But there at the platform stood their family,
and a joyous reunion was born.
The pace of the passage grew peaceful.
In the lounge, I started to dream.
This train was but one living story,
and those are but Christmas’ main theme.
It’s people and places, stories and legends,
and the room to nurture and grow,
that soon spawns tales that often begin,
“Once upon a time, a long time ago…”
One young girl finally gave me the answer,
why we rode on this blast from the past.
“It’s not just the day, but the event itself.
This journey just helps make it last.”
I’ll give you this note when I see you,
As this trip’s shown me just why we roam.
We’re all rushing in a million directions
But heading for the same place… home.
Glad to be back, Mom.
Closing out the '80s, December 1989:
1st - "Day Without Art"-Artists demonstrate against AIDS
1st - East Germany drops communist monopoly from its constitution
1st - Mark Langston signs record $3.2 million per year Cal Angels contract
1st - USSR Pres Mikhail S Gorbachev meets Pope John Paul II at the Vatican
2nd - 55th Heisman Trophy Award: Andre Ware, Houston (QB)
2nd - KHJ-TV in Los Angeles CA changes call letters to KCAL-TV
2nd - Vishwanath Pratap Singh sworn in as president of India
3rd - Pat Bradley/Bill Glasson wins LPGA J C Penney Golf Classic
5th - France TGV train reaches world record speed of 482.4 kph
6th - Mafia drug kingpin bombs security force at Bogota, kills 52
6th - Worst Canadian mass murder: Marc Lepine kills 14 women at U Montreal
7th - C Coleman & D Zippel's musical "City of Angels," premieres in NYC
8th - Great Britain performs nuclear test
9th - "Les Miserables" opens at Princess Theatre, Melbourne
10th - President Gustav Husak of Czechoslovakia, resigns
11th - "City of Angels" opens at Virginia Theater NYC for 878 performances
11th - Mark Davis signs record $3.25 million per year KC Royals contract
13th - Walter Davis (Denver) ends NBA free throw streak of 53 games
13th - The last issue of Gnistan (The Spark), the organ of the Solidaritetspartiet, is published in Sweden.
16th - Commencement of 1st Test Cricket play at Bellerive Oval, Hobart (v SL)
16th - Geoff Marsh completes 355* for WA against South Australia
16th - Protest breaks out in Timişoara in response to an attempt by the government to evict dissident Hungarian pastor, László Tőkés.
17th - 78th Davis Cup: Germany beats Sweden in Stuttgart (3-2)
17th - Brazil elects conservative Fernando Collor de Mello pres
17th - Michael Bevan scores cricket century on 1st-class debut (114 SA v WA)
17th - Patti Rizzo/Mike Hill wins LPGA Mazda Golf Championship
17th - The longest-running American sitcom The Simpsons had its debut.
18th - "I Love Lucy" Christmas episode, shown for 1st time in over 30 years
18th - Athol Fugard's "My Children, My Africa," premieres in NYC
19th - American Airlines purchases Eastern Airline's Latin American route
19th - Larry Bird (Celtics) begins NBA free throw streak of 71 games
20th - Premier Lubbers sees CDA-party leader Elco Brinkman as successor
20th - US troops invade Panama & oust Manuel Noriega, but don't catch him
21st - VP Quayle sends out 30,000 Xmas cards with word beacon spelled beakon
22nd - After 23 years of dictatorial rule, Romania ousts Nicolae Ceausescu
22nd - Chad adopts its Constitution
22nd - Cold wave: -4°F in Oklahoma City, -6°F in Tulsa, -12°F in Pitts
22nd - -18°F in Denver, -23°F in KC Mo, -42°F in Scottsbluff Nebraska -47°F in Hardin Mont & -60°F in Black Hills South Dakota
24th - Charles Taylor enters Liberia to unseat President Samuel K Doe
24th - Panama's dictator, Manual Noriega seeks asylum at Vatican embassy
25th - Japanese scientist achieve -271.8°C, coldest temp ever recorded
26th - ODI debut for Mark Taylor & Sanath Jayasuriya at cricket MCG
27th - Oregon begins taking bids on NBA games
28th - Alexander Dubcek elected parliament chairman of Czech
28th - Earthquake at Newcastle Australia, 11 die
29th - Jane Pauley says goodbye to NBC's "Today" show
29th - Vaclav Havel becomes president of Czechoslovakia
29th - Wayne Gretzky & Martina Navratilova, named athletes of decade by AP
29th - Riots break-out after Hong Kong decides to forcibly repatriate Vietnamese refugees.
30th - 10th United Negro College Fund raises $12,000,000
30th - Dmitri Volkov swims world record 50m freestyle (27.15 sec)
31st - "Me & My Girl" closes at Marquis Theater NYC after 1420 performances
31st - "Threepenny Opera" closes at Lunt-Fontanne Theater NYC after 65 perfs
31st - Actress Annabella Sciorra (Jungle Fever) weds Joe Petruzzi
31st - Fog Bowl: Heavy fog rolls in on Bears 20-12 victory over Eagles
31st - Jockey Kent Desormeaux sets record with 598 wins in a year