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A Christmas Story about the Desert
by Edward F. Petersen
Carl moved to Arizona just in time for the Holidays. He came from the round, green mountains of Vermont to the Sonora desert where the mountains were sharp, brown and wrinkled. Instead of a jillion snowy evergreens which perfumed the air with Christmas dreams, there were a few prickly cactus which reached up toward a warm, winter sun. It didn’t feel like Christmas. Carl was homesick. He missed his friends, the snow and especially Miss Veronica, his flute teacher.
Carl’s new home was in the town of Silverbell which sat near a river with the same name. But there was not a drop of water in this so-called river. Its dry, rocky bed snaked through the desert to drop suddenly into a huge, awe inspiring, crack in the earth called Silverbell Canyon.
Carl was kind of shy so he hadn’t made any real friends yet. Everyday he would make the long walk home from school alone. One day though, just as he was leaving, he heard a lonely melody floating on the breeze. It sounded wonderful and fit Carl’s mood just right. He followed the music to the school yard and found Tadio, the school’s janitor perched atop of the sliding board playing a wooden flute. Tadio had long black and silver hair strung in two braids down his back. His eyes were fierce as an eagle’s and the toes on his cowboy boots curled up like elf slippers. Carl had seen him in the halls sweeping the floors and thought that he looked quite scary; someone to keep away from, but watching him up there playing his flute. . . well, he didn’t seem so scary after all.
“That song is awesome!” Carl said.
Tadio looked down at him. The wrinkles of his beaming smile reminded Carl of the sunny desert mountains.
"Thank you, Little One,” he said. It is unusual for one so young to appreciate the simple music of a solo flute.”
“I play too,” Carl said and held up a case which contained his own silver flute.
“Ah, Tadio said. “Let’s play a duet.”
They played Bouree In E Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and Ode To Joy by Ludwig Van Beethoven; two pieces that Carl knew by heart. Then they played Silent Night . . . three times. The two got along so well that Carl felt comfortable confessing his homesickness to Tadio. And then he complained about Principal Ramirez’s request for his flute rendition of Silent Night at this year’s Christmas Eve Procession.
“It just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year,” Carl said. “I don’t think it ever will again.”
“Hmm,” Tadio said. “Your heart is heavy, but you play Silent Night very well. It would be a fine addition to the celebration. Perhaps it would feel like Christmas if the canyon lightened your heart a bit with a little present. Why don’t we ask her for something?”
“I don’t think the canyon will be giving any present to a new, homesick kid from Vermont,” Carl said.
“If we ask in the proper manner, it just might.” Tadio said. “The canyon enjoys giving presents to her children who admire her and show respect . . . The ones who have been here a while and to her new ones as well.”
Carl thought for a few long minutes and said. “Okay then, I want to hear the silver bell ring. I want to hear the canyon ring like her name on Christmas Eve!”
Tadio smiled and looked up to the sky. “Ah, a very good request. I would like to hear that too, Little One. I will sing to the canyon in the secret way my grandfather taught me and make our request on Christmas Eve.”
“What is the secret way, Tadio?” Carl asked.
“If I told you that, it wouldn’t be a secret.” Tadio said and he tapped Carl on the leg lightly with his wooden flute.
Two days before Christmas on the the last day of school, Tadio showed up with a small pack and a rolled up blanket. Of course he had his flute hanging from his belt in a buckskin bag. He told Carl that he was going up into the mountains for the night so that he could make their special request.
“Oh Tadio, please don’t. I was only kidding when I asked for such an impossible thing.”
“This whole world is impossible, Little One” Tadio said. “Yet here we are.”
Christmas Eve was sunny and warm. The desert glowed as if it were the 4th of July. Carl stared out his window and daydreamed of a white Christmas. But way over above the mountains where Tadio was camping he could see dark clouds. He saw lightning flashes in them and he heard distant thunder.
“Oh, poor Tadio!” He thought. “It must be teeming in those mountains. I hope he’s alright.”
It WAS raining in the mountains. Raining hard. The rain water pounded down the mountainside and gushed into the Silverbell River’s dry bed. It crashed into boulders, tumbled over stones and raced toward its headlong plunge into Silverbell Canyon. Today, the Silverbell was a real river, . . . a wild and reckless one.
As the first bright star appeared in the sky, the Silverbell Christmas Eve procession marched slowly along.. Carl trod joylessly among them. The parade of celebrants all dressed up in their most colorful shirts and dresses enjoyed the spicy evening smell of the desert, they marveled at the last dim flame of the sunset. And as they approached the canyon, all were delighted by something amazing. The temporary river had created a breathtaking waterfall into the canyon. As the torrent struck the thin flat rocks at the bottom, they gonged like wind chimes. The clamor echoed back and forth and it sounded as if the whole canyon was ringing like a colossal silver bell.
Carl was flabbergasted. He searched the crowd and found Tadio who winked one of his fierce eagle eyes and smiled his beaming desert smile. When it was time, Carl played Silent Night on his silver flute. Tadio joined him on his wooden one. And with every note, Carl’s heart lightened a little more.
Ring Silverbell © Copyright Edward F. Petersen 2015
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