A Christmas Story, Part I of II - 1992

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and it takes a few moments to figure out why. Abbie stays in now that it's cold, and I've almost learned to sleep through her periodic inspection of the dark house, her stumbling on the steps and her jingling tags.
When I woke up one night last week, it wasn't because of the dog. The small brown bear who shares my pillow was mumbling and growling and pulling at the sheet.
It's not right, was all I could make out, and he said that several times.
Dave kept on snoring, so I had only my own shattered sleep to deal with. Thank goodness. I didn't need him scolding me for talking to a stuffed toy.
“Griz,” I nudged him. “Wake up. You're dreaming.”
“Am not” he snarled so quickly I believed him. “I'm as awake as you are. I'm too mad to sleep.”
“What is it now, Griz? I sighed and gave up sweet slumber to hear him out. Seems like my indignant little friend has a new crisis every week.
“Well,” he began, happy to have an audience, “It's this Christmas business. What's the big deal anyway? Everybody gets all sloppy sentimental about angels and shepherds and babies. It's all stuff that happened thousands of years ago and didn't do a bit of good.
“Look at the way people act -- they're just as mean and hateful now as they were back then. Didn't make a bit of difference.
“C'mon, Griz,” I said, half-amused, half-annoyed at his cynical view of the world. “The message of hope that the angels brought to Bethlehem still counts today. People can be better and they do care for each other because of the Good News the angels brought.”
“Oh sure,” he said with a sneer. “That's why people are starving to death and shooting each other in the streets, right? That's why people string gaudy lights and buy Salad-shooters, to celebrate peace on earth? Naw, I think you've got Christmas all wrong.”
I have Christmas all wrong? Who made you my judge, you silly fur ball? I was not in the mood for this, not at three in the morning.
“What would you do if all of a sudden angels landed on the deck out there and said God was going to bring peace to earth?” he challenged. “Would you believe them?”
I turned over and tried to ignore him, and even though he continued with his sermon, I must have dozed off. When I awoke in the morning, my little bear was on the rocker, nestled up against his pal Smokey.
Only yesterday he had been heckling Smokey, a Forest Service employee as earnest and forthright as his blue jeans and ranger hat proclaim. Griz' attitude dismays him.
“Christmas is my favorite time of year,” Smokey had said.
“I don't know why,” Griz shot back. “Fire season is over for another year -- no more overtime and bonuses for you!”
I could tell Smokey was hurt by the remark, but the brave look on his face never wavered.
“Did you get over your little snit, Griz?” I asked.
The bear gazed straight ahead and avoided eye contact with me. He seemed to have nothing to say.
“Griz! You wanted to talk last night -- you'd better talk now. Are you still mad?”
“I'm not mad,” he said, with only a trace of his usual frown. “But I'm more confused about Christmas than ever. Bergdohle took me to see the angels last night after you went back to sleep.”
“Say what?” I asked, almost amazed, until I recalled his penchant for telling tall tales. Was Bergdohle out last night? I told you both, he shouldn't be out this time of year.”
Last year he was doing acrobatics over the ponds, trying to keep in form, and one of the Christmas bird counters saw him. She added him to her list, even though the mountain jackdaw lives above the tree line in Europe and Asia. The Audubon Society will never let the Peachtree City team live that one down.
“What are you talking about?” I repeated.
I shouldn't have asked. Because this is what he said:
I wanted to see the angels for myself, and Bergdohle took me. He's a master flier, you know. His ancestors have done aerobatics over the Alps for centuries.
Well, he told me he could carry me on his back to the Holy Land and then do some sort of flip and travel back through history. He said if he timed it right, he'd have us in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
I know it sounds far-fetched, but I wanted so badly to see and hear the angels for myself. I thought that would help me understand about Christmas.
Seemed like we flew for hours. Fortunately, what with Bergdohle's shiny black feathers and my warm bearskin coat, the cold didn't bother us.
We flew very high, very high, higher even than we flew from Germany last year. I bet not even a Lufthansa pilot ever flew through a meteor shower. Scared me to death! When I think what an ember from one of those sparklers would do to polyester fur, my knees get weak.
“Do you know where we are, Bergdohle?” I had to shout to be heard over the whistling wind. He didn't answer -- too busy navigating, I guess.
I don't expect you to believe this, but Bergdohle had just opened his beak to tell me he really wasn't sure which way to go, when we saw the Big Bear in the sky.
No, honest, we could actually see him, not just the little outline you call the Big Dipper. Bergdohle was afraid to fly too near, but I told him I speak Ursine.
The Big Bear couldn't have been more gracious. Gave us directions, pointed us to the North Star, and as we passed, he laughed and flipped that long tail of his.
On we went. As we crossed the Alps between Germany and Austria, near Bergdohle's hometown of Mittenwald, he looked for his friends, but they had already moved to their winter feeding grounds in the valleys.
At last he said it was time to turn back through the centuries. He swooped straight up in a great loop -- it took everything I had to hold on! -- and I think we both blacked out for a second, because we were suddenly spinning down toward the earth.
“Bergdohle!” I screamed, and he spread his great black wings only a moment before we would have crashed into the water.
But we weren't over water; we were over land. Desert, I guess. It was night, and we could see nothing that looked like pasture land for sheep. Still, Bergdohle was certain we were in the Holy Land.
“You did it!” I yelled. “You took us back to the first Christmas, Bergdohle. I knew you could. Now we just have to wait for the angels.”
“I gotta rest,” the bird gasped. “I'm exhausted. Flying through time is even harder than flying through space, especially carrying dead weight.”
I let that pass. He had gone to a lot of effort for me, and I appreciated it. Besides, I wasn't going to let anything spoil my chance to be an eyewitness to the greatest event in history.
Continued next week...