Thursday, December 13, 2012

Write A Holiday Short Story - Platter Returns to Estonia by Jeff L. Salter

Happy Thursday!


Here is the next story of Write A Holiday Short Story Contest! It is written by author Jeff L. Salter. Jeff is a multipublished author in Astrea Press.
Today I have to start out with saying, that I am so glad, that one of the stories participating the contest is about Estonians. It touched me deeply. Thanks, Jeff! Your father was an awesome man.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Jeff Salter!
 
 

Platter Returns to Estonia

By Jeffrey L. Salter

 

Based on real events

 

            As I held up the framed photograph of an ornately decorated wooden platter, I wondered if any of my grandchildren would have any appreciation for what it had meant to my father, and how meaningful a gift it was from the two Estonians whose lives he had helped salvage from the European wreckage after World War II.

            Passing the platter's photo from tiny hand to tiny hand, they could have no more comprehension of a "world war" than they could any other abstract term.  Besides, it was Christmas and their world was all about gifts ... gifts for them, of course.

            The true meaning of this platter directly reflected a genuinely miraculous movement of real Christmas Spirit almost exactly 63 years ago, one Christmas season before I was born.

 

            As an American Lieutenant in the occupation army in Europe during 1945-46, my father had first-hand exposure to the horrors of bombed-out cities and devastated scorched earth landscapes.  He also knew what deprivations were endured by the civilians of those cities and towns still standing.  Furthermore, he was in contact with several Displaced Persons, a rather elegant term for people with no food or shelter, no home, and perhaps not even a recognizable nation to return to.  The camps established to house and feed them certainly saved thousands of lives, but those conditions were barely more comfortable than if they'd been housed in an Allied POW camp.

            So how could I explain to my grandkids what a Displaced Person was and some of the traumas he/she had endured?  In fact, as I admitted with considerable guilt, I had not even realized the significance of this hand-crafted wooden platter for all the years it was displayed on the living room wall of my childhood home.  It was not until after Dad's death, as my brother and I dealt with his few belongings, that I was finally aware it was a gift to him from two Displaced Persons, originally from somewhere in Estonia.

 

            "As you're looking at the picture of that platter," I explained, "I want you to understand how important it was to the people who gave it to your great-grandfather."  I went on to explain the platter was one of the very few personal possessions that couple could have retained after their several years in a D.P. camps following the end of that horrible war.

            "The reason they gave perhaps their only significant possession to my father was because they knew they might still have been in that D.P. camp if not for his efforts to get them to America."

            I tried to think how I could make Dad's effort relevant to a generation brought up on Baby Einstein and SpongeBob SquarePants and, frankly, I wasn't sure it was possible.  But I felt I had to try.

            "After seeing all the horrors and suffering in Europe during and after the War, your great-grandfather carried a real burden for those people," I said.  Many of them were in countries "occupied" by either Germany or Russia ... or, for the Estonians, occupied by both.  I struggled to explain what it meant – to citizens – for their homeland to be occupied.  It was usually a LOT more than mere military presence.  There were many deaths, destructions, abuses, and other horrible experiences.  Their constant daily struggle was for survival.  Many of those who did survive were basically forced to become slaves.  Most belongings and properties were confiscated, which is a civilized word for "stolen".  My grandkids could understand that term.

            "Anyway, after my father finished Seminary, he had a job at Mississippi State University, working with the Baptist Student Union ... which was a major part of the campus at that time."  I explained how Dad apparently kept fretting that he should do something to help some of those Displaced Persons.  The grandkids understood helping others.

            "For nearly three years, some of those Displaced Persons had remained in camps.  Besides struggling to survive in a war-torn Europe which was still only beginning to be rebuilt, they tried desperately to locate family and friends."  Surely of all the privations faced by civilians during wartime, being forcibly separated from family must have been among the worst.  "Many of them never found any relatives still living."  And many of them could not return to where they'd previously lived ... because there were insufficient facilities (if any at all) remaining there.

 

            My father finally learned about a program to bring D.P.s to America and give them access to a new start.  Of course, there was a lot involved:  language training, orientation, travel papers, immigration, housing, jobs, etc.  Each step took time, but most importantly it required money.  My parents didn't have any money to speak of — they could barely feed and clothe my older brother.  The students and faculty Dad worked with in middle Mississippi certainly didn't have any funds to spare.  But my father knew they had big hearts.  It was in the weeks leading up to Christmas time of 1949.

 

            "My father was quite nervous when he rose to make a special presentation to the members of the BSU.  He'd prepared his remarks on a small slip of paper which, after that meeting, he carried in his wallet for some 25 years or more."

            If there was any interest at all in Dad's charitable suggestion, it had been his hope that enough money could be raised to bring over ONE individual ... and give that displaced person a new PLACE and a fresh start, here in America.

            "But the cost to process each D.P. was $700," I explained, "which, in those days was a LOT of money."  In fact, that likely represented about three or four months of Dad's gross salary.  "Remember, the American soldiers who fought in that war typically earned only about $50 a month," I said, wondering if my grandkids could comprehend how far those dollars had to stretch.  "And many people listening to Dad's fund-raising speech could well remember living on amounts like that ... or considerably less."

            Well aware of his own impoverished upbringing during the Great Depression, when dollars were scarcely seen, my father proposed that people contribute what amounted to pocket change each week.  I said a bit more about the audience reactions, from faculty and students (and likely some of their parents), to Dad's proposal:  to raise money to give some devastated individual a second chance at a new life.

            But $700!  What were the chances a campus organization could raise that kind of money?

            "And do you know what happened, during the time leading up to that Christmas, 63 years ago?" I asked my grandkids.  They had no idea.  Perhaps they thought, as I would have at their age, that the BSU efforts maybe raised half of one transport package and possibly the university or city matched their funds ... to bring over one displaced person.

            "When all the funds were in, Dad was shocked, but thoroughly delighted, to learn that they'd raised enough money to bring over TWO displaced persons!"  Yeah ... $1400 in that time, in that place, with those students and faculty.  Unbelievable.

            Well, to make a long story short, the arrangements were made, the names were selected (by whomever, on the European end, had to decide which individuals got such an opportunity and which ones didn't).  And the couple finally arrived on campus.  The man was large and loud; his wife was small and quiet.  One might wonder what each had been through during the war time, 1939-45, and the years of D.P. camps, 1946-49.  They had 'lost' some ten years of their lives because of that world war.

            My father wrote brief anecdotes of his interaction with that couple — some amusing and some quite moving.  I was born the following December, and for the time that we remained in Mississippi, Dad was still their primary contact and strong advocate.

            For the Christmas following their arrival in America, that very grateful couple – still possessing almost nothing to speak of – gave my father a treasured belonging from the country which they had lost, by force and circumstance of war.  A large, hand-crafted, beautifully decorated wooden platter from Estonia.

            "And your great-grandfather cherished that platter his entire life." I explained.  It reminded him of that couple and how much they'd suffered.  It reminded him of the sacrificial contributions from people who hardly had two dollars to rub together.  It reminded him of the way people can be blessed far more by what they GIVE than what they receive.  That platter reminded my dad what the real spirit of Christmas was all about.

 

            My family no longer possesses that platter.  But it now resides in a much more fitting place than on a wall in one of our homes.  After my father's death, that hand-crafted wooden platter was acquired by a representative of the Estonian Museum of the Occupations, in Tallinn.  There it was be part of a collection which honors a country torn apart by war and ideologies, but not destroyed in spirit.  It serves as a reminder of the many who perished but also of the strength of those who survived.

            And for my family, every time we see or hear "Estonia" we think of that displaced couple who crossed the ocean to begin a new life in Mississippi because my father cared enough to raise funds for a second chance to people he'd never met ... who spoke a language he didn't understand.

            At Christmas time, I'm deeply moved to recall that this couple gave my father what was almost certainly among their most cherished possessions.  And he treasured it for the rest of his life.

            Merry Christmas.

 

            Author's note:  My father, Rev. Simon A. Salter, did launch this campaign and was delightedly surprised that they raised enough to sponsor TWO displaced persons.  Their names are somewhere in Dad's journals.  That couple did (in 1949) give him the hand-crafted platter I described and it was one of the very few personal items he truly treasured.  We did sell it to the representative of that museum and I hope it is displayed somewhere therein.

            What I have altered is primarily the timeframe:  the actual fund-raising certainly involved months instead of weeks and must have begun well before the Christmas season of 1949.  We left Mississippi in 1952.

            The other way this story varies from fact is that I have not yet told my grandkids about this experience.  I don't think I could do so – yet – without weeping.  Perhaps when they're slightly older.

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Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your story with us! It is highly appreciated!
 

Jeff Salter's published novels [Astraea Press]

 
Rescued By That New Guy in Town — [Romantic Comedy] released October 2012

            When Kris awakens in a costume, behind wooden bars inside a pitch-black community center, her only available rescuer is the hung-over new guy in town (who’s dressed as a pirate). Problem is: she’s sworn-off men, especially buccaneers.

 

The Overnighter's Secrets — [Romantic Suspense] released May 2012

            When Beth left suddenly, it broke two hearts ... but she’d had no choice. Shane, a rugged, ex-Airborne biker, handled it badly ... but so had she. Three years later and 2000 miles away, she desperately needs her ex-lover’s protection from a violent menace with ‘bad history’ who’ll do anything to reclaim a mysterious suitcase Beth possesses.

 
Both available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at the publisher's site, www.astraeapress.com

 
Jeff Salter Bio

            I've been a writer nearly all my life. Currently writing romantic comedy and romantic suspense. Seven completed novels; two published so far.

            Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. My writing has won nearly 40 awards, including several in national contests.

            Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.

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Thanks Jeff!
 
 
Now, there is a giveaway connected to the Write A Holiday Short Story Contest. We will randomly choose 1 comment amongst all the comments posted under the published stories and this winner will receive amazon GC of 20$!


To enter, leave a blog comment below the post and you must enter the RC form below.

Open internationally!

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy commenting and happy reading!


10 comments:

  1. Wonderful story Jeff!

    xo Nataša May, natasa.zugecic(at)gmail.com

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Natasha. I appreciate your comment.

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  2. Thank you, Inga, for publishing my story. It's a thrill to see it in 'print'. When I was telling my wife about it this morning, she didn't recall ever hearing about it either. It puzzles me how quiet my dad was about this very wonderful effort of his, all those years ago. And it amazes me that I saw that platter on the wall every day of my life for roughly 17 years ... but never knew the story behind it.
    Thanks for giving me the motivation to write about it ... and an opportunity to share.

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  3. What a heartwarming tale. I love stories like this.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Christine. It warmed my heart to write it.

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  4. Inga,
    On my blog (Write by Salter) I posted a brief intro to this story and added a link to your site here, so people could read the entire thing here.
    Hope that's okay.

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  5. This was just beautiful thank you.

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  6. This is a great story from your family history, Jeff. I wish I had something similar in my background - and I may, but unfortunately, I am not aware of anything. Truly enjoyed reading it.

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    Replies
    1. thank you, Mary Preston and CeeCee47.
      I did not realize you had left a comment.
      Glad you enjoyed my story. It meant a lot to me to finally put it on paper.

      Delete

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