Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Christmas Eve Night, 2007

“You want any more, Dak?”, Elizabeth Lennon asked her grandson.

“No, Grandma,” Dakotah replied. “I’m stuffed, as always.”

“Good! Then you’ll have plenty of energy for Lennon Family 101!”, she said with a grin. Thirty years of teaching kids gave her plenty of insight on how to keep kids mentally involved in what she was teaching.

“Lennon Family 101?”, Dakotah said warily, as he was unsure if she was kidding him, or did she actually have a family history book?

“Well, maybe not exactly. I could show you the genealogical research that takes our family tree back to England in the 1480s, but this is not what I had in mind right now. What I’m going to talk about is how you specifically got to where you are now. I’m afraid that some of it is my fault.”, she said sadly.

“No way!”, Dakotah shouted in surprise. “You couldn’t hurt anyone!”

“Sweetie, I’d never hurt you willingly. I would give my life for you. But sometimes, you can hurt someone through kindness. I’ll explain.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I’ll start this by asking a question. What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

Once again, Dakotah was blindsided. “I-I-I don’t know.”, he stammered. “I mean, they have Career Day at school, but nothing there interests me.”

“Is there anything at all that interests you? What do you like doing? What would you want to do?” Elizabeth had never heard her grandson ever say anything that interested him as a career. Not even when he was very small, when asked, he never had an answer.

“Warcraft.”, he said, half-jokingly.

“What? What is Warcraft? You mean, join the military? Oh, Honey, I don’t know.“ She was immediately worried, as the current United States involvement in two wars could possibly put her only grandchild’s life in danger.

“No, Grandma,” Dakotah replied, sensing her dismay. “Warcraft is a video game. No way would I join the military. Well, I would if we were being invaded or something.”

Elizabeth was at once relieved and concerned. “Dak, you can’t spend your life playing video games. I know that seems to be your stepfather’s profession, but it’s not what I call a career choice. Haven’t you ever dreamed of doing something cool for a living?”

“Grandma said “cool”. Weird.”, he thought.

Suddenly, he had an inspiration. “I’d like to be a weather guy.”, he replied.

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “A meteorologist?”

“Yeah, that would be, ah, cool!”, he said with a small smile. “Nobody would want a freak like me on TV telling the weather, though.”

Elizabeth scowled. There were times she could go down to her ex daughter-in-law’s house, and take a baseball bat to both her and her husband. She leaned over, put her hands on his shoulders, and looked him in the eyes, her face only a foot from his. “I’m going to tell you this one time, young man. YOU…..ARE……NOT……A…..FREAK!”, she said, forcefully. “I’m not saying this because I’m your grandmother, either. I’ve had thousands of kids come through my classroom doors over the years, and as a retired professional, I can honestly say that you are not close to being a freak. Dak, for years, I’ve wished your mother would sign over custody of you over to me, if for no other reason than to give you a place to live away from that pig your mother married. She never would, and since she had a job, and you weren’t physically abused, I couldn’t take her to court.”
“But you were emotionally abused.”, she continued, straightening her back. Honey, you are a kind and loving person, who wouldn’t knowingly hurt anyone. You remind me in a lot of ways of your Papaw Harold, God rest his soul. However, you are also gullible, and believes whatever anyone that you trust says. Why you would trust him, anyway?”

Dakotah thought for a minute, unsure of what to say. “Well, I was always taught to respect my elders. You’ve even said that.”, he said, softly.

Her eyes softened. “Honey, this is true, to a point. If someone who truly loves you and wants what’s best for you gives you sage advice, that’s one thing. They only want you to be the best you can be. However, breaking your spirit by calling you names and belittling you is abuse, and they don’t care what’s best for you. All they want is to put you in your place.”

“And another thing.”, she continued. “Let me ask you this. Did your mother ever stop Frank from tearing you down? Did she ever say anything to you to set things straight?”

“N-no, I don’t think so.”, Dakotah said in a low voice.

“I’m sorry, sweetie.”, Elizabeth said, sadly. “If your mother let Frank abuse you like that without either her giving him what for, or setting the record straight afterward, then she’s no better than he is.”

“But Mom loves me!”, yelled Dakotah vociferously. “I know she does!”

“Of course she does, in her own way.”, Elizabeth said in an even tone. “Let me ask you a question. What does a mother bear do when her cubs are threatened?”

“She attacks whatever’s after her cubs.”, he replied.

“So why wasn’t Frank ripped to shreds?”, Elizabeth shot back. “Because her wanting him there overrode her need to take care of you properly.”

She sighed, and took a deep breath. “Look, Dak, I’m really sorry I had to dump all this on you now. I wish I could’ve been there more when you were younger, and put a stop to all this nonsense. However, your father didn’t get along with your grandfather, so you all stayed away most of the time, except for Christmas. After your father left your mother, and Frank came in to the picture, I almost never saw you. Unfortunately, that was about the time your grandpa was diagnosed with cancer, so all of my time was used between taking care of him, and work, since I was still teaching. “

She gave him a hug, patting him on the back. He resisted for a split second, but hugged her back. This was out of his comfort zone, as he almost never received any affection or closeness at home. Frank would always chide his wife for “babying” her son.

Tearfully, she looked into her grandson’s eyes. “Dakotah, even though I haven’t been there for you in person, there has never been a day where I haven’t been on my knees, and prayed for you.”

Dakotah began to tear up, as well. “I love you, grandma.” Grabbing a tissue, he said, “Grandma, do you think I could have another piece of pie?”

“Absolutely.”, she said, smiling.

*******

“Grandma?”, Dakotah said, about to take his last bite, “What about this Lennon 101 thing? Weren’t you going to tell me about that?”

Elizabeth looked at her grandson, and smiled. “We did get sidetracked there, didn’t we? You have to forgive us old folk sometimes, we change the subject without even knowing it!”, she laughed.

She reached into a bookshelf, and took a photo album out of it. Dakotah could tell it was very old, as it was well worn. “Someday, I need to transfer all these photos in a new album.”, said Elizabeth. “This one here has about lived out its usefulness. Don’t want to lose any photographs!”

She flipped a few pages, and smiled, wistfully. She carefully peeled back the clear plastic page cover, and gently pulled off a photograph that was stuck slightly to the page. The black and white photograph was of a young man in an Army dress uniform. His eyes showed a person of seriousness, and a sense of purpose.

“This”, she continued, “is your grandpa Harold after he made it through boot camp. When I first met him, he was every bit as skinny as you are, but the Army put some meat on his bones! I almost didn’t recognize him!”

“Did he fight in any wars?”, asked Dakotah.

“Oh, no, we were lucky in that regard.”, Elizabeth replied. “He went in during that “sweet spot” between Korea, and Vietnam. The most action he saw was when their car got stuck in a ditch in France! He worked as a mechanic, and did maintenance on tanks.”

Dakotah spotted another black and white photo of a young lady. She wore her hair in a poodle cut, and had a long strand of pearls around her neck. The gown she wore was of pink taffeta, and very elegant. “Is this you, grandma?”, he asked.

Yes, that’s me.”, she replied. “I remember that night well. That was the night he proposed to me. I was a sophomore in college that year, and he was about to be shipped out to France. At the time, it was the longest year of my life! We were married when he returned, and used his G.I. Bill to get this very house. Those were good times.”, her voice softening in remembrance.

“To continue, life was good for the two of us. He used his skills to get a job at the old Dodge plant up the road. You wouldn’t remember it, as it’s no longer there. I earned my teaching certificate, and accepted a position teaching second graders. We wanted three or four kids, but we decided I should work a couple of years so we could save up some money to pay the house down, and buy a new car for me.”

“Right on schedule, I became pregnant. Of course, it was to be your father. We had everything ready; all we needed was to know whether it was going to be a boy or a girl, and back then, you didn’t find out until the baby was born!”, she laughed.

Suddenly, her face changed to a frown. “Unfortunately, we could’ve used modern medicine to treat the complications of the pregnancy. I started having a lot of pain, and I also began to spot blood. We were afraid that I was going to lose the baby, so the doctor told me to stay in bed for the last four months before your father was born. Waiting on your father to come home from France was a walk in the park compared to this!”

“Finally, it was time for the baby to be born, and the doctor decided to go with a c-section. It was still three weeks early, but we couldn’t wait any longer. Fortunately, the only thing wrong with your father was that his birth weight was a little low, about five pounds. As for me, the doctor found issues with my reproductive organs, so he did a complete hysterectomy on me. Needless to say, I was heartbroken.”

“However, I still had your father, and he was healthy! Here’s his newborn picture.” She pointed to a small baby lying in a bassinet. The color photograph had faded some, and had a yellowish tint. “I thanked the Lord for blessing me with a healthy baby, and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I had a baby to raise! And so I did! It wasn’t very long before he was a little butterball!”, she said, smiling. She pointed to a cherubic baby boy in a sailor outfit. “Your grandfather hated this outfit on him. He wanted him in an Army outfit, but I told him they didn’t make Army clothes for babies, and besides, the blue in the sailor uniform matched his eyes!” Dakotah squinted. Everything in the photo was faded to the point that he couldn’t tell the color of his father’s eyes, or the striping in his outfit.

Elizabeth turned a couple of more pages in the album. The colors in the photos were still a little off, but they were mostly clear, if a little out of focus. She pointed to a boy wearing plaid bell-bottoms, and a canary yellow shirt. “Man, I’m glad I didn’t have to wear THAT!”, thought Dakotah, shuddering internally. The boy was holding a trophy. “This was when he was chosen the best student of 5th grade. He made a perfect score in every test he took that year.”

“He was really smart, wasn’t he, Grandma?”, asked Dakotah, a little curious.

“Today, he would be classified as gifted.” , she replied. Of course, there weren’t any programs for exceptional students while he was in school. In a way, those high grades worked against him, because over time, he became lazy, as his accomplishments were achieved with very little effort. I could’ve given him extra work myself, but at the time, I didn’t think it was necessary. Maybe I should’ve, but it’s too late, now.” She stared at the floor.

Seeing his grandmother this way saddened Dakotah, too. “I don’t think it’s your fault things turned out the way they did.”

“Of course it is.”, she said, wiping away a tear. Let me explain. Your grandfather and I grew up during the end of the Depression, and two wars. We didn’t go hungry, but both our parents had to pinch every penny to make ends meet. As kids, we took odd jobs for literally dimes and quarters. When your father was born, we decided that he was never going to have to go through all that. He was only going to get the best we could give him, thinking that a life without worry would free his mind to excel.”

“We sent him to one of the best private schools in the state, where he learned French, and took piano lessons. Every time he earned an “A”, we bought him a reward. It seemed that it was working, because he excelled in every class he took. We were thrilled. Christmas brought a dozen presents under the tree, and his birthday parties were the talk of the neighborhood. Harold worked a lot of overtime, and I took a couple of extra cleaning jobs a week, in addition to my teacher’s salary, to pay for it all, but it was worth it, or so we thought.”

Dakotah was stunned. “Not even the so-called rich kids in the neighborhood are treated this well.”, he thought to himself.

“Of course, we didn’t know it at the time, but we were building a house of cards.”, Elizabeth continued. “All of our plans for your father were financed through our labor. Unfortunately, in the late 1970s, the country, and especially this region, was hard hit by recession. The Dodge plant started laying off people, and although Harold wasn’t laid off, the people I cleaned for were, so I lost those jobs. The school I worked at started cutting back, and I was reduced to part-time work.”

“We didn’t have very much money in savings, so that dried up quickly. We had bought your father a new car earlier in the year, so that had to go, too.”

“You bought dad a new car when he was in high school?”, Dakotah exclaimed. Not only did he not have a car, he only had a permit, and only because Elizabeth had taken him down to the DMV to take his written test.

“Oh, it was nice, too. A 1978 Dodge Aspen. It had bucket seats and a V8 engine in it. Your grandfather even helped install the headliner on it, since it came off the same assembly line that he worked. Good thing the judge we had at the time was friendly with Harold at the local AMVETS, because your father accumulated quite a few speeding tickets! They got him for doing 112 once, I think. They should’ve taken his license, but all they gave him was three points, and a trip to traffic school. We sold it soon after that, though.”

“Finally, Chrysler announced they were going to shut the Dodge plant down. We had to cash out the savings we had for your father’s college fund, in order to pay off the house. With my meager income, plus his unemployment, we were able to squeak out a living.”

“What did grandpa do for a living after that?”, asked Dakota, with concern.

“He got a job at a gas station, fixing cars, and doing service on them.”, his grandmother replied. He didn’t make the money he had when he was at Dodge, but we were able to put food on the table, and keep the lights on.”

“I bet dad didn’t like having his car sold, and stuff!”, said Dakotah.

“What hurt him terribly was when we had to stop his private schooling, Dak.”, replied Elizabeth. “Nowadays, we probably would’ve home schooled him, but that wasn’t an option back then. He didn’t adjust to public school life very well; he thought he was better than anyone there, including the faculty.”

“But didn’t he realize that you were also a public school teacher?”, Dakotah asked, puzzled. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. “He should’ve given them more respect.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, Dak.”, Elizabeth said, smiling. “You have a sensitive heart. Reminds me of your grandpa Harold. I’m positive he would’ve loved you very much.”

Dakotah felt warm inside.

Elizabeth continued. “Soon, your father started getting into fights, usually getting whipped. He was prideful and stubborn, and didn’t want to make any friends. It seemed that we had inadvertently created a monster.”

“Monster?”

“We had filled his head with so many notions of him being this ultimate kid that he believed that everyone was beneath his contempt. We, unfortunately, didn’t tell him to how to be humble, or give people respect. We ourselves did, of course, but we assumed incorrectly that leading by example would work in this case. Our emphasis on raising him was making sure he was happy, and that he was going to succeed. However, he felt that society in general, and us in particular, had failed him, so he lashed out at everyone, me and your grandfather included.”

Dakotah felt unsure. Disappointment was a way of life with him. His father had life kick him in the teeth, but at least he should’ve realized his parents loved him. “I guess I don’t understand why he would be mad at everybody. It wasn’t anyone’s fault that he had to go to public school, or that he lost his car or his college fund.”

“Remember what I said earlier and pain and suffering building character?”, Elizabeth replied, patiently. “Your father never had to suffer at anything, and your grandfather and I made sure of that. When things got rough, he didn’t know how to cope, so he lashed out, like a three year old that had his favorite ball taken from him.”

“So, what happened next? He graduated high school, didn’t he?”

“Yes, Dak, but he didn’t make it easy. At the first school, he was first suspended, then expelled, for fighting and truancy. I went to the school board, pulled a few strings, and enrolled him in the high school next to the middle school where I taught, so I was able to keep better tabs on him.”

“Before Harold’s layoff, we had planned on visiting Northwestern, Purdue, and Notre Dame. They all were very interested in him, even talking about offering him scholarships, as he had the qualities they were looking for. However, the subsequent expulsion changed all that, and the offers stopped. An old Army buddy of Harold learned of our situation, and offered your father a co-op spot at General Motors Institute, if he graduated high school.”

“What’s General Motors Institute?”, asked Dakotah, his interest piqued.

“Now, it’s called Kettering University, but back then it was called General Motors Institute.”‘ replied Elizabeth. “Back then, it served as a training ground for engineers with General Motors. You would study for twelve weeks, and then work on the assembly line for twelve weeks. When you earned your degree in five years, you worked for G.M. as an engineer for a set time.”

“Sounded like a good deal to me. What happened next?”

Well, for the first three months, he did well, as his group started off in the classroom. He ultimately wanted to be an architect, but the classes he took at the Institute were pretty close to what he would’ve taken at one of the more prestigious universities, so he was in good spirits. Unfortunately, he was unprepared emotionally for his turn on the assembly line. The foremen there treated him like they would treat any man on the line; if he didn’t do the job to their specifications, they let him know it! Needless to say, he didn’t handle it very well, and dropped out of the program in less than a month.”

“Your grandfather and I were exasperated, and didn’t know what to do with him, or for him. For about a year, he didn’t do a whole lot; he ran around with his buddies, or stayed in his room, and listened to music. We decided to just support him the best we could, and let him figure it out. Harold got him a part time job pumping gas, and although he didn’t care for it, he had some cash in his pocket every week, and that lifted his spirits a little.”

“Eventually, the economy improved, and General Motors announced they were building a new plant where the old Dodge plant stood. Your father took a test, and was hired on the spot. Harold could’ve been hired, too, but he enjoyed working on cars, and the camaraderie with customers, so he stayed at the gas station until he was diagnosed with cancer.”

“Funny how he turned his nose up at working at an assembly line, only to do the same thing a few years later.”, noted Dakotah.

“Your grandfather and I wished your father’s future would’ve involved college, a white collar career, and all the benefits that come with it, but we were unable to impose our wishes on him. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Elizabeth looked into her grandson’s eyes. “Dakotah, what have you learned tonight?”

Grinning, he said, “That you can cuss?”

Elizabeth lightly smacked him on the back of the head. “Seriously, Dak. Did you learn anything, or did you let it go in one ear, and out the other?”

“I guess, if you want to get what you want out of life, you will probably have to work hard, and fight for it.”

“Not bad. There may be hope for you, yet!”, Elizabeth said with a smile. “Now, I ask of you again. What do you want to do with your life?”

“I don’t really know. The weatherman thing was just something off of the top of my head.”, he said with a shrug.

“Well, I’m going to help you find out. I can’t put you through college, but I can help you figure out what you want to do, and give you all the moral support necessary in order for you to succeed. However, YOU are the one that has to do the heavy lifting, so to speak.”

“Grandma?”

“Yes dear.”

“How did mom and dad meet?”

“That my boy,”, she said, laughing, “is a story for another day!” It’s late, and it’s time for bed! If Santa catches you up, he won’t leave you any presents!”

Dakotah headed off to the spare bedroom. “Grandma?”

“Yes, Dak?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too. More than you could ever imagine.” She walked over to him, and kissed him on the cheek. “Now get some sleep. Tomorrow is a big day!.”

 

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Chapter 1

                                December 24th, 2007

“Hey, you girly boy! Get off your worthless butt, and get down here! It’s suppertime!”, yelled a gruff voice in disgust. “Or you can stay up there, you loser, I don’t care!”

A couple of young voices chanted in unison: “Girly boy loser! Girly boy loser!” One of them, a boy whose voice was changing, continued, “Hey, fairy, we got ya some pink panties for Chri-“

A woman stormed in from the kitchen, and got in the boy’s face, cutting him off mid-sentence. “That’s enough, Carl! There’s no reason to be like that on Christmas Eve!”

The other boy, older than the first, stuck his finger in the woman’s face. “Bitch, you ain’t tellin’ us nothin’ “, he yelled. “You ain’t our momma!”

The man stood up. “Boys, That’s enough!”, he said, face reddened with anger. “You will not disrespect your stepmother in this house! Now, apologize, and sit down!”

The younger boy, was 14 years old, and was midway through his growth spurt. He could stare his stepmother directly in the eye, but decided to cast them down, his greasy, shaggy brown hair covering them. “Sorry”, he mumbled in a low tone, and sat down at the kitchen table.

The older boy remained standing, defiant, staring at the woman he hated. He was old enough to remember his father at home, and blamed the woman across the room for his father leaving, although this was not true, as his father was promiscuous years before his first marriage crumbled. No greasy hair covered his brown eyes, as he kept his hair almost to a buzz cut. 16 and feeling every year of it, he stood every bit of his father’s 5’10”, and carried some of his father’s stocky build, although he was not obese, as his father was.

“Rick. Park it. Now.”, repeated the gruff voice, full of authority, and anger. Frank Howe may have been 100 pounds overweight, and on medical disability from his job at an auto assembly plant, but he was not going to be embarrassed by anyone, much less a punk kid. Without apologizing, the boy sat next to his brother, staring off into space.

Sylvia Howe took a deep breath, all the while not acknowledging her husband, or his two sons. “Soon, their mother will be here, and the boys will be gone.”, she thought to herself, and turned her attention to the stairs. Softly, she spoke: “Dakotah. Dakotah, honey. It’s time for supper. I made your favorite. Fried pork chops, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. C’mon, sweetie.”

A door opened in the upstairs hall. the light went out, and the door closed again. Without a sound, a wraithlike figure appeared at the top of the stairs. Although only six feet tall, his ectomorphic frame made him look six inches taller. Thin, straight, shoulder length sandy hair that framed a pallid face also contributed to his ghostlike appearance.

“Nice of you to join us.”, Frank scowled. He never cared much for Dakotah in the ten years that he knew him, nine of which was in Sylvia’s house. Dakotah was always soft, weak, and too quiet. Never showed interest in girls, or in boys either, somewhat to his relief. He was glad they didn’t carry guns in the house, as he thought his stepson would someday snap, and shoot them all up, as well as many as he could at school.

Dakotah sat without making a sound. His mother handed him a plate with pork chops on it, and he selected the most browned one, which was also the largest. “Hey, that was mine!”, yelled Carl. “Sylvia, you promised!” She took a chop, nearly as large as the first one, and put it on his plate.

“That’s not the biggest! I want his!”, the younger brother continued to whine. “See brother, I knew we wouldn’t get treated right here! Dad, make him switch me his pork chop!”

“Yours is big enough!”, interjected his father. “Has your mother spoiled you so much that you’re going to bitch over less of an ounce of pork chop? Shut up, and get some mashed potatoes.”

“She don’t make them right!”, continued Rick, becoming louder and more shrill, his pubescent voice cracking under the strain. “They’re always too lumpy, and there’s not enough butter in them!”

“Shut up, you loser!”, snapped Rick to his younger brother. “You’re always crying about something. I wished you stayed home. No, I take that back. I wished I stayed home. God, I wished I stayed home! “

Dakotah stood up, and switched his plate with Carl, taking the pork chop that his brother had, and putting it on the pile. “Here.”, he said in a low, quiet voice. “I’m not very hungry, anyway.”

His mother looked her son with eyes wide open. “But this is your favorite! Why are you doing this? Son, I beg of you, sit, and eat!”

Dakotah gave the slightest of smiles. “I’m just giving him my coat, mom. I think I’m going to get some fresh air, and go visit Grandma for a little while. Besides, it’s snowing a little bit, and I like how the town looks with a fresh layer.” He put on his heavy coat, his rubber boots, and his leather gloves. He turned to his stepbrothers with a big smile, and shouted, “Merry Christmas, guys! Hope you get what you want!” Opening the door, he said, in a lower tone, “Love you, mom!”, and he stepped out into the snowy darkness.

“Fag”, muttered Rick. Carl wasn’t saying anything, as he was chowing on his second pork chop.

Frank shook his head. “I hope that loser gets out of the house quick, after he graduates.”, he thought to himself.

                                                                                                           ***

Dakotah took a deep breath, and exhaled as he stepped off the porch. “Well, that’s over”, he said to himself. “I so wish I was out of here. I don’t even care where. Afghanistan or North Korea’s gotta be better than this.”

Keeping a lackadaisical pace, he looked both ways, and seeing no traffic, crossed the street. It was only a half mile walk to his grandmother’s, but he was in no hurry, even as he noticed the snow coming down harder. “Awesome.”, he thought. “National Weather Service said six inches tonight. Might get more. That’d be cool!”

He continued on, awash in the extra light the snow reflected, and in the silence it brought. He began to relax, and his eyes began to moisten. “Lord, why do you put me through this? I haven’t done anything to deserve all the crap people put me through. I hate my life, I hate it. I’m a loser in school, I’m a loser at home, I really don’t have any friends to speak of, girls mock me, and freshmen even want to pick fights. I just don’t understand.”

Stopping, his eyes remained down. Dakotah still had a couple of more blocks to go before he reached his Grandma’s, and he didn’t want her to see him crying. “She worries too much about me as it is.”, he thought.

Just then, he looked up, and saw one of the nicer Christmas displays in town. There wasn’t any inflatable snowmen or animated Santas, just a 3/4 scale Nativity, with lighted angels suspended from wires above. Christmas hymns played from a speaker within the manger. Dakotah listened to the one playing at the moment:

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

” I guess you didn’t have it too easy either, did you?”, Dakotah said aloud. “I’d better get before I get too wet. Grandma’d have a fit.” With that, he picked up the pace, hustling the rest of the way.

                                                                                                                 *** 

Dakotah’s paternal grandmother lived in a simple small Cape Cod style house with white aluminum siding, green shutters, and a small porch. No Christmas lights adorned it, and there was only one room lit, a heavy blind blocking most of the light from escaping. Surrounded with hedges and small gardens, the home was park-like during the warmer seasons, but seemed oddly bleak now.

He knocked on the door: “Grandma, it’s me!”, he yelled.

“Me, who?”, a voice shouted from within.

“C’mon, Grandma, it’s me! Your grandson. Dakotah!”, he shouted back, a little perturbed.

The door opened, revealing a thin gray-haired lady in a Christmas themed green housecoat. “Get your rear end in here and get that wet stuff off before you catch pneumonia!”, she scolded. “Didn’t I teach you better than that?”

“Yes, Grandma”, Dakotah replied, somewhat dejectedly. “Couldn’t you tell it was me outside?”

“Sweetie, don’t you remember when your father used to drop you off while he was on he way to work, and your grandpa would answer you that way when you knocked on the door, and said “me”?”, she replied. “Do you even remember your father? Take that coat off. I’ll go get you some dry clothes.” She hurried off to her bedroom.

“Barely.”, he replied, staring blankly. “I wish she hadn’t brought him up.”, he thought. “How old was I, when he left? Four? Five? I wouldn’t know what he looked like, if it wasn’t for the pictures hanging on the walls in this house.”

After a minute, she brought out an old red flannel shirt, and some blue sweatpants. “Here, Dak, put these on.”, she ordered. They’re a little short on you, but it’ll do while your clothes dry out.”

Dakotah looked at the clothes uneasily. “Aren’t these grandpa’s?”, he asked, warily, as if they had some unknown disease.

“Why sure they are.”, she said, with a hint of irritation. “What’s wrong with them?”

“But he’s …….dead.”

“So? It’s not like he died in them! Boy, when you get a little age to you, you’ll realize that you have to be practical, and make do with what you got! A lot of people wanted me to sell this place, and move to a retirement community after your grandpa died. Now, why would I do a foolish thing like that? It’s paid for, everything’s in good shape, and most importantly, most of my memories, good and bad, are in this place! See that kitchen table in there? I’ve had it ever since we were married. I can’t tell you how many thousands of times your grandpa Harry and I shared meals and talked and played cards on that table.” She wiped a tear.

Dakotah felt a tear too. “If Grandpa being gone still hurts, then why don’t you leave for a happier place? Leave the pain behind for a new tomorrow?”

“Boy, if you weren’t a kid, and my grandson, I’d be tempted to give you a cussin’.”, she shot back. “You can’t run from pain, Dakotah. Pain and suffering, and how you deal with it, makes a person who they are a lot more than even love. People nowadays want to cover up pain. Hide it. Numb it. Run away from it. It makes them weak, so when things get worse, and trust me, it always will get worse, they just can’t cope. You have to embrace the pain, learn to conquer it. Pray for the Lord to take it,, if it is His will. Most of the time, He won’t, because He knows you need it to grow stronger.” She looked Dakotah in the eye. “You want to know about your daddy?”

“N-not really.”, he stammered. His mother never spoke of him, especially after Frank moved in. And he was perfectly okay with that.

“Well, too bad.”, she said, forcefully. “It’s high time you knew about him. You’re 18, and all but grown. I’ll call your mama, and tell her you’re spending the night here. And get your butt in that bathroom, and change, I don’t want you seeing your grandpa anytime soon!”

                                                                                                             ***

Dakotah emerged a few minutes later, dry and warm. He heard his grandmother talking animatedly over the telephone.

“Don’t worry; he’ll be over first thing in the morning. I really don’t give a damn what that fatass loser husband of yours thinks. It’s more Dakotah’s house over there than Frank’s, anyway. Goodnight, Sylvia.”

“G-g-grandma?”, Dakotah stammered. He’d never heard his grandmother talk like that to anyone before, much less his mother.

“I’m sorry, Dak, but sometimes people just tick me off, and that crew over there does a pretty consistent job. I love your mother like a daughter, but she’s so stupid sometimes, especially when it comes to men. You can see that Frank’s no good, that he’s just using her for a place to live.”

“Your mother is insecure, and feels like she needs a man to take care of her, which is ironic, since she wound up having to take care of the two men that’s been in her life, first your father, then Frank. Sometimes I think she’s hanging on by just a thread.”

And YOU!”, she exclaimed, pointer her finger at him. “You’re not helping matters much! What’s this I hear about you walking out of the meal your mother cooked? You hurt her feelings, and I expect you to apologize to her tomorrow morning when you see her. You’re better than that, and you know it.”

“Grandma, it was horrible over there!”, he retorted. Those boys were calling me names, cussing Mom, just being a couple of brats. Of course, Frank wasn’t helping.”

“So your solution was to give the boy your pork chop, and leave.”

“What was I supposed to do? Take the pork chop and smack Carl across the face with it? I would’ve got pounded, if not by Rick, then by Frank. I did what Jesus said, and offered him my coat.”

“Dak, honey, it’s not that simple.”, his grandmother said, sadly. “Jesus was also so disgusted with the moneychangers, he ran them out of the temple, quite forcibly. And when he comes back, he’s going to judge the whole world, and a lot of folks aren’t going to need coats or cloaks where they’re going. I’m sure you’ve heard of World War 2?”

Dakotah nodded.

“Sometimes you have to fight evil for the greater good.”, she continued. “What would the world have been like if we didn’t fight? I know I wouldn’t want to live in it. Let me show you something.”

She reached into a large oak bookcase, and pulled out an old photo album. She turned the pages to one of a soldier. “That’s my Uncle Zachary, your great-great uncle. He was killed in Italy.” She flipped a couple more pages, showing a man in a Marine uniform. “This was my cousin Cecil. He was killed on Iwo Jima”

Dakotah stared at the photographs. They were young men, not much older, if any, than he was.

“Now Dak, was the United States in the wrong for going to war against Germany and Japan? According to you, if the U.S. was to follow your example, we would just let them walk over us, and enslave us? Is this right?”

Dakotah became confused. “I-I don’t know.”

“You see, the passage you drew you inspiration from tonight doesn’t mean for you to let the oppressors walk all over you. It means that you must forgive them, and help them, if necessary. Tell me, what did we do to the Axis powers after we won the war?”

Dakotah thought for a minute. “We rebuilt their countries?”

“That’s correct, Dak.” Although part of Germany was divided to the Soviet Union as part of the peace process, most of Germany, and all of Japan, was rebuilt, largely by the U.S. In centuries past, to the victor went the spoils of war. We instead followed Jesus’ example, forgave our enemies, and help them rebuild, so that today, Japan and Germany are two of the larger economies in the world. Now do you understand?”

Dakotah was trying to understand. “A little. So I should stand up to Frank and the boys, even if it means I get my butt kicked?”

“Yes, though I doubt it would come to that, especially in Frank’s case.”, she said, reassuringly. “I believe your mother feels she’s all alone in this fight, that you’re not someone she could depend on. It’s time for you to step up. So far, in your life, you’ve never been made accountable for anything, save your grades, and maybe the cleanliness of your room. Your ancestors had to make a tough choice, and ultimately made the supreme sacrifice, so you, I, your mother, even Frank and the boys, could live in freedom. I think the least you could do is grow a little backbone.”

She smiled. “Now, do you want something to eat? I have some leftover baked ham in the fridge. I’m just getting warmed up, and you need some energy so can comprehend all this grown-up stuff.”

“Grandma?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Why are you unloading this on me now, on Christmas Eve? Couldn’t you have given me bits and pieces of this info over the years?”

“Because I wanted to wait and see if you would pick up anything on your own, and to see if your mother would teach you anything. Looks like a big fat no, on both accounts. So tonight, on the eve of Christ’s birth, is another birth, of sorts. Yours, into adulthood.”