Dream Quest One Second Writing Prize
Winner - Winter 2014 - 2015
of Mountain View,
The Power of One Man, With Song
the month of November, during the year of 1980, Staff Sergeant Michael Davis, stationed at Rota, Spain Naval Air Base went
to visit an orphanage some thirty miles down a rarely traveled coastal road to the tiny town of Chipiona. He
drove leisurely, as we took in the scenery, happy with a day away from duties on the base. He needed a
goal for his troops to work towards, and thought a “Toys for Tots” campaign on base would do the trick.
He did not expect to find a magnificent, old Gothic Catholic church, which holds The Shrine of Our Lady of Regla.
Built by Franciscan monks, far from civilization, in the early twentieth century it was a testament to their tenacity.
Nor did he expect to find that the orphans called the falling down building next to it home.
We were in awe at how two building supposedly belonging to each other could be so different. One
in perfect condition, updated, and tended with loving care, and the other in ruins, forgotten through times of hardship,
Thirty-two orphans, dressed in rags, greeted him. Wearing no shoes against the cold cobblestones,
they reached out to him, asking for help. “Tu tienes zapatos?” (Do you have shoes?), “Tu
tienes comida?” (Do you have food?). As the children clung to him, he met the Sisters that cared
for the orphans, and heard their story. Michael hadn’t realized how great the need was.
He saw the leaky roof that was caving in. He saw the wall that had collapsed leaving almost one whole side of this
two-story building open to the elements. There was no heat, no beds, no electric, no refrigeration, a
broken peddle sewing machine, one lone stove in the kitchen, and no bathroom facilities outside of a ditch in the back.
These children didn’t need toys, but the list of their needs was endless. They needed the
necessities that life demands, and as he looked around trying to decide what he, and his troops could do to make a difference,
the children started to sing. The most beautiful sounds of Silent Night echoed through the dilapidated
building. The singing of the children seemed to be in the distance at first, and as the children all
joined in the singing became a power of joy that made this, strong Marine feel weak. The closest he could
describe their sound was that it was happy and sad all at the same time, as if they were joyous in the song, standing firm
against their plight. In that moment, Michael knew what he would do. He hugged every
single child, and bowed to the Sisters promising that he would do his best to help them.
Michael drove way too fast, back to the base in order to start his
plan. Clutching the dashboard, I was white knuckled by the time the drive was over. Upon reaching the
Marine barracks, he saw his troops and had them all fall in. He explained the situation he found at the
orphanage and asked for a vote among the young men, as to whether they thought they could help, or not. The
response was a very loud OORAH! Making me jump with the sharpness and volume of the cry. “Yes Staff
Sergeant Davis, we can do that!” He smiled, expecting no less from his men.
So the task was at hand. Six
weeks to go until Christmas. The timetable that was set was at break neck speed in order to accomplish
the impossible with nothing, but Marines are good at that. On top of their normal duties, training, and
caring for their own families these young men rallied the base around these children. Clothes were donated
by the officer’s wives. Building materials were donated by the Navy Seabees. Food was donated by
the Naval Galley, and work schedules were distributed. There was something else brewing in the
air though. Before you knew it, what started as a simple “Toys for Tots” campaign turned quickly into a goodwill
mission. It was not only for the Americans living on the base, but also for the local population of Spaniards, and Gypsies.
Michael, and his troops went in town to eat or drink people donated to the cause. Every taxi cab driver
they hailed gave. Every business they frequented gave. As the young men walked down
the streets people would come out of their homes, and donate all kinds of things. The response was so
much greater than ever expected. Michael knew if he could keep up the momentum they could not only help for this Christmas,
but they could continue to help in the future as well.
Michael remembered the lovely sounds of the children singing. He knew that a Christmas concert on the grounds of
the orphanage would possibly secure its future. With the help of the base Chaplain, the Sisters at the orphanage,
some hard work from his men, and good weather, it would all come together. As
some volunteers worked to fix the kitchen, so the Sisters could cook properly, others repaired the roof. All
the while in the background the children practiced their singing. Christmas was drawing near. Michael never
questioned his goal, or whether he and his men could pull it off, or not. They were on a mission, and like
any true Marine, the word “fail” was not in their vocabulary.
Anybody that would stop and help, made posters.
Everybody's empty hand was filled with a flyer. Invitations were sent to the more affluent on
the base and in town. Knowing that the Gypsies were not readily accepted among the Spaniards, but secretly
very wealthy, a personal gesture was imperative. So Michael personally delivered the leader of the Gypsies his invitation.
It was unusual for the Gypsies to allow outsiders into their camp, and Michael was taking a big chance.
The last service member to wander onto their land by accident one night, drunk, was beaten unmercifully.
Michael put on his dress blues, and marched right through the invisible boundary, straight to the main campfire.
The Gypsies leader was highly impressed at the courage and respect shown to him. He promised not only to attend the
concert, but to bring all the men of substance in his community with him. This prompted the Spaniards
not only to want to attend, but to give heartily.
The Gypsies and Spaniards gave
so much that it was possible to fuel the buses and vans on base, to haul all these people to the orphanage. Most
people in Spain do not own cars, so transportation was a problem. Michael now had one less thing to worry
about. To hear him tell it, it was never a problem. “It’ll all come together.
Have faith!” We would hear him say again, and again. There was enough money
to buy all the children and Sisters their own mattress, pillow, and blanket. The little ones would all
get Teddy Bears, and the left over money went to the Sisters to use as they saw fit. December 24th was
coming quickly and concern over having the concert on Christmas Eve seemed to not bother Michael. It was
as if he knew it had to be on that night.
December 24th did come faster than anticipated. All the work and excitement made the
time fly fast. The evening was at hand. Against advice from the police, Michael decided he would load
everybody, first come, first serve onto the buses and vans, regardless of which of the three cultural groups they belonged.
He did this because he hoped for a unity of force. He said that, "The only way for it to work was for it to
be done together with one hand, instead of many hands competing.” The longest procession of vehicles
that the town ever saw slowly made its way down the thirty-mile road to the orphanage. Mixing the different
cultures made for a very quiet ride. I remember Michael saying, “You would have thought they were
all going to their deaths instead of going to hear a Christmas concert given by children.”
Michael and his troops had decided that
allowing the people to see the situation as it really was would be the perfect setting. So no decorations were set out.
The grounds and lighting was kept as they would have been, as if the Marines had never come. In
Spain, the Christmas tree is not the center of Christmas decorating. You would be hard pressed to find one in town.
In their culture, families gather and make a nativity scene in their homes. Placing the baby Jesus in his spot on
the eve of Christmas. There was no tree to greet the Americans, and surprisingly enough no nativity scene
to greet the Spaniards. There was no worry about the Gypsies because anywhere there is music, for them
is a time to celebrate.
The people were met with the sight of a dark, falling down building and one lone, very dirty,
little boy. He was dressed in his rags, standing in the courtyard with one lone candle. As
they gathered and started to mill about, they asked each other, “Were we brought here to see this filthy
kid?” “What is this all about?” “Have you brought us for nothing?”
“Where is the concert?”
At that moment, another candle flickered in an upstairs window. People
called out, “Look there’s a light!” Then another was lit, and yet another, until all
the broken windows in the dilapidated building were lit. Slowly the children, dressed in the clothes donated
to them, came down the inside stairway, which was visible from the outside through the fallen wall. Each
child carried a candle. As they moved downward their numbers swelled, until the downstairs main room,
flowing outside into the courtyard was full of light, and the singing of The Little Drummer Boy. As the
song progressed, the children took their places in a nativity scene, placed baby Jesus in his manger, and brought the whole
place to life.
this life that the children brought forth made for a sweet and sour experience for the guests who had dressed warmly for
an outdoor concert. They had the most holy moment sanctified by the old church in the background, and the innocence of children
in the midst of cold poverty singing, as if they were somehow untouched by it all. One woman commented,
“There’s my daughters dress, it looks so good on that girl. I am so glad I donated it.” Another
would exclaim, “Those are the hair ribbons I made for them.” Yet another in tears, holding her husband’s
arm tightly, “Honey, we have to buy them shoes.” “The Sisters need new habits, and the
children have no shoes.”
As the children went from one song to the other, the men from all three cultures milled together,
shaking hands, patting each other on the back, and passing their hats for donations for the 3rd time since they
had arrived. Michael did nothing, but stood far in the back, and watched what
was unfolding. All three cultures were coming together to help a worthy cause right in their own back yard,
that most didn’t even know existed. Given the opportunity to help the children who treated them
with angelic singing, they felt great within themselves. However, the singing made them feel small as well. For here were
children with little to nothing to call their own, but when they sang… it was as if they had all the riches, one
could ask for.
buffet was set while everybody was enjoying the singing, and soon it was time to eat. The townsfolk said
it was the first time in their memory that all three cultures sat, and broke bread together. The conversation
was about what more they could do to help these orphans. Plans to finish construction, install electrical,
and plumbing were made that very night. To see all the men with aged hatreds for each other, gathered
with one common goal of charity, was a sight to remember. This night would be told in stories, for generations to come.
The women made plans to help the young girls, and the men made plans to award apprenticeships to the older
boys. In a big surprise, the children of the guests readily gave their coats to the orphans without asking
permission of their parents. I will never forget the grandmothers who despite their long held differences,
came together, and decided which days of the week to visit. So they could hold the babies, and young
ones that they may learn love.
The evening was coming to a close. As people began to say their goodbyes, the orphans ran to Michael, and asked what
he wanted for Christmas. Kneeling to be on the little ones level, he said, “It would
be an honor to hear the first song I heard you sing.” They sang Silent Night one more time for him.
They sang it slowly, and with so much soul, there was not a dry eye in the house. I will never
say I saw my husband cry, but amidst steeling himself, and shuffling his feet he said, “It’s the finest gift
I ever got for Christmas… you’re the strongest I ever met, and filled with so much love… remember me…
# # #
the author: Born on the Cape of Mass, and raised in New York. I have traveled some of this small world that we
live in, and hope to travel more, to other places in the world that I have yet to experience. Some have said that I found
my passion for writing late in life, but I see myself as timeless. I love to travel, and meet new cultures, and their people.
I currently live in the Ozark Hills of Missouri, deep in the forest surrounded by wildlife, and beauty.