Five Christmas historicals, companions to Parry’s Our Simple Gifts: Civil War Christmas Tales (2002).
Inspirational writer Parry plunges you into a cobblestoned American past. In “Coal and Iron,” on a bitter Christmas Eve in 1887 aging Welshman and widower Captain David Davies, a top policeman for a Pennsylvania coalfield near Pottsville, has the dismal job of keeping the families of Irish coal miners from picking up coal fallen from train cars. The strike has gone on for two weeks, striker homes are without heat, and the company bosses won’t give in. Viewing the cold chimneys of strikers’ quarters, Davies is moved by an aged crone, to whom loose coal is refused, to perform an act of charity that could cost him his job. Brief as it is, this is as strong about coalfields as the 1939 novel about Welsh coalminers, How Green Was My Valley. In the superb “Appearances,” a rare bit of fiction about the American army of occupation in Germany on Christmas Eve in 1918, Colonel Lasswell Nichols, an officer proud of his long service and intent on keeping up his appearance of restrained emotion, hosts a Christmas dinner for German war orphans who are lean as coyotes under their orphanage’s icy militarism. He finds himself unbearably moved but, even though his wife and daughters are dead of influenza an ocean away, must not look weak to his men. Set on Christmas Eve in 1928, the wonderfully funny “How Jimmy Mulvaney Astonished the World for Christmas” tells of a thieving Irishman in Pottsville who won’t ruin his only suit, threadbare as it is, to save a baby in a house fire but does race in anyway, to the top floor, to rifle drawers for hidden possessions. Who should turn up but dead-drunk Julian English, from Pottsville author John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra—whom the Irishman robs!
A rich collection for Parry fans—and everyone else.