This isn’t a Christmas story, but I was reminded of it today, which I will explain later.
It was at some time during the war, and my dad, Donald was serving in Italy with the Parachute Regiment; he was always known as Cowboy because he carried a .Colt 45. He, and several others, I guess maybe a dozen or less men, were working their way up a wooded mountain side, armed and on the lookout for the enemy. I don’t know when this happened or who the enemy were, maybe Germans on the run, certainly Cowboy had met many poor Italian people, ordinary folk who had suffered terribly, their children starving, their situation desperate. He and his fellows were not met with anything but kindness, no doubt the country folk thought the Allies would bring peace and free them.
It was a hot, quiet day, not much sound of anything except the occasional cheep of a bird. They crept through the trees, across the rocky terrain, ever ready to attack or to defend themselves. They stopped at an unusual sound, freezing on the spot but alert. Was it the sound of a gun being cocked? toc-toc, toc-toc… They crouched and stealthily, spread out, some staying back, ducking beneath the sparse vegetation. There was a track which Cowboy and another couple followed, moving as silently as their boots allowed. toc-toc, toc-toc… the sound repeated as they advanced to rocky outcrop, still within the woodland. toc-toc, toc-toc…
Pulses racing but grimly determined to face whatever danger threatened and deal with it effectively and with as little loss of life or injury as was possible, Cowboy, as corporal, stepped round the corner, following the sergeant, guns raised and ready. Their comrades waited tensely, ready. To their surprise they heard a burst of laughter from Sarge and Cowboy’s cheerful voice called them to come on.
Beyond the rocky outcrop was a sunlit clearing in the trees and a small, rough dwelling, little more than a shack with a lean-to at the side. Outside this little cabin, on a sacking mat, sat an extremely old, extremely wrinkled lady with a small hammer in her hand. On one side of her was a big pile of walnuts, on the other was a pile of shells, and before her was a bowl she was filling with the kernels. The toc-toc was the sound of her expertly cracking each nut with her hammer!
It being Christmas we have a bowl of nuts in shells, and I was reminded of the story as I cracked open a couple – with nutcrackers of course, not a small hammer! My featured image is of dad taken while he was serving abroad, possibly in Egypt.