A group of travelers get to know one another under unlikely circumstances in Saperstein and Samerjan's slightly supernatural and hokey holiday tale. After a flight is canceled, the stranded passengers get a lift from a Good Samaritan, but when the van breaks down during a snowstorm, the group searches out shelter and happens upon a remote cabin, where they meet Joshua, who knows far too much about their private pasts. In coming together to create a Christmas Eve they all will remember, they put their ghosts to rest and learn to trust and love their fellow man once again. Saperstein and Samerjan, unfortunately, have a clumsy touch, and their too deliberate handling of characters' traumas really curdles the eggnog. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A Christmas Passageby David Saperstein, George Samerjan
A group of strangers spend a magical, soul searching and healing Christmas Eve. And when dawn comes, they discover that beyond the night of shelter, warmth and food, they have received an even greater and uplifting gift from their host and his dog, and experienced the true meaning of having A Christmas Passage.
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A CHRISTMAS PASSAGE
By David Saperstein George Samerjan KENSINGTON BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 David Saperstein and George Samerjan
All right reserved.
Chapter One MARTA
Normally quiet Fulton County/Brown Field, servicing corporate and private aircraft and a few commuter airlines, was crowded with holiday travelers this Christmas Eve morning. The modern drudgery of air travel-overbooked flights, time-consuming security checks, delays, cancellations, and general rudeness-was held to a minimum at this small facility. But this morning, with snow falling and a heavy influx of hurried, tired, infrequent travelers, civility was discarded as unceremoniously as last year's gift wrapping. The terminal was hot, damp, loud, and odiferous. At the entrance to the one row of kiosks and stores, a banner proclaimed-LAST STOP FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING. Marta Hood wore a pastel yellow sweatshirt and form-fitting Levis over her plump thirty-five-year-old body. Her boots, a pair of well-worn Uggs, were still wet from the accumulating snow outside. The heat in the terminal caused her to carry her ski parka as she ushered her children-Ronny, age eight, and Nancy, age eleven, toward the gate area. Marta stopped in front of the TV monitor that served as a departure board for the airfield. She was nervous. She hated flying. With one eye on her children and one eye on the unsympathetic monitor, she searched for her flight number and gate. The title of an old movie echoed inher mind, Quo Vadis? "Where are you going?" She vanquished the thought and zeroed in to find the listing she needed: Blue Ridge Flight #6224 to Asheville-Gate 6.
What the hell are we doing? she wondered, as she had so often during the past weeks.
Carlisle Lane had its Christmas traditions, some that began months before the holiday season. Knute Lincoln, a retired engineer from an aerospace company, and a man with entirely too much energy to be retired, decorated his house, a red and white clapboard saltbox reproduction, with Christmas decorations after Columbus Day. Disapproving looks and anonymous notes from his neighbors had forced Knute's pre-pre-Christmas activity back to Halloween. But that was not acceptable, either. Finally, for the sake of neighborly peace, he acquiesced and pushed his luminous exhibition back to the more traditional time-the day after Thanksgiving. But the unforeseen consequence had been that Knute expanded his glittering exhibit to a much more elaborate display. His house became a beacon, an explosion of light and color that lit up the entire street all night long. He made the installation and maintenance of his extreme holiday show a full-time job. Word of the "radiant display on Carlisle" spread, and so, from November twenty-seventh until well into January, hundreds of cars slowly made their way to Carlisle Lane for what many described as a cheerful and uplifting observance.
The journey took them past Claudia's gray Cape Cod, sorely in need of paint, but with a fresh Christmas wreath hung on her door by her son-in-law; then past the colonial of Pieter, an expatriate from Holland who in a feat defying gravity had hung Christmas lights from atop a tall ladder with a leaf rake, projecting wires and lights thirty feet above his shingled roof like a giant, incandescent teepee. Next was Steve and Stephanie's house, also a colonial, where a big menorah, strategically placed in the large picture window, tastefully signaled it was also the season of Chanukah. Finally they arrived at Knute Lincoln's Victorian and his storied display. There they stopped for a long moment as though they had arrived at an important shrine. Aware of the traffic behind, people lingered only a minute at most.
Next door to Knute Lincoln's electrified showplace stood Marta Hood's house, a contemporary knockoff of a classic Dutch colonial. But this year there were no candles in the windows, door wreaths, or the old-fashioned sleigh pulled by four life-size reindeer with a jolly smiling and waving Santa in tow. This year passers-by on the lane, out for a stroll in the chill December air, saw no warm green, red, and yellow lights gaily festooned on the Hood Christmas tree in the large front bay window. The house was unadorned. The dismal mood of it, especially compared to the rest of the lane, was striking. Inside the house, Marta's children had their holiday, and lives, dampened with anxiety. Childish anticipation of gifts beneath the tree had given way to fear of the unknown that lay ahead. Their parents were divorcing. Bitterly. The children felt helpless and afraid.
Ronny, a precocious third-grader with a knack for annoying his teachers by reading ahead in the curriculum, had been oblivious to the problems at home. Then one night, in a bedroom cluttered with war toys, tanks, aircraft, and thousands of plastic soldiers, while reading under his blankets by the light of a flashlight, Ronny heard loud and angry voices coming from the dining room.
"Mortgage ... credit cards ... empty bed ... affair ... frigid ... let yourself go ... overweight ..." None of these words made sense to him as they floated up from below and through his bedroom door, but the hostile tone of the voices frightened him. He bravely crept to the top of the stairs and listened. His mother then made a sound he had not heard from her before. She was crying. There was no doubt. The instinct to help her rose in his young body with a rush of adrenaline. But fear of his father's size and short temper kept Ronny from descending the stairs. As his father's voice grew angrier, his mother's sobbing grew quieter. Then there was silence. Suddenly Marta raised her voice with a vehemence that Ronny had never heard before.
"Get out!" Marta screamed. "Get out of my life!"
Ronny clenched his fists as an abiding hatred for his father grew in his heart. He gathered his courage and stood to go downstairs. The touch of his sister's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"No," she said softly. "Stay here. There is nothing we can do."
"What's going on?" he asked, as tears welled up in his dark brown eyes.
"We're getting a divorce," Nancy said.
"You're insane," their father said in the room below. "If I leave, I'm not coming back," he threatened. Marta then unleashed a diatribe that both children would never forget. It would be the stuff of nightmares for years to come.
"All those years!" Marta shouted. "All those years you criticized me about everything ... the checkbook, the house, how I drove your precious car ... even the laundry and dry cleaners. I couldn't get your French-cuffed shirts done the right way. I didn't dress to please you. I wasn't a good lover. I was inadequate. You remember that? Inadequate, you called me, like I was subhuman or retarded. You almost convinced me I was worthless. Almost. Not coming back, you say? Thank God, I say. Go to your girlfriend and abuse her. Get out of our lives! Get out! Get out! Get out!" Marta screamed those words over and over until Nancy and Ronny heard the door slam. Then they heard their mother sobbing. They hurried downstairs and found her on her knees in the foyer. The children embraced her and joined their tears with hers. It was three days before Christmas.
The next morning Marta hurled the gaily wrapped Christmas gifts, one after another, out of the front door. Silver wrapping and bright ribbons glittered brightly in the sunlight. The packages fluttered like wounded ducks shot from the sky. They were aimed at her husband, who had returned. He dodged the last package, but in doing so slipped and fell backward onto the wet lawn. He lay there, looking up at Marta as she stood with her hands on her hips, forbidding him entry and access to Ronny and Nancy, who stood behind her.
Knute Lincoln and his wife, Laurie, had come out to see what was going on. A few other neighbors had also gathered.
"Damn it, Marta! Have you lost your mind?" Robert, six feet, five inches tall, with well-coiffed blond hair, stood up and brushed some mud from his tweed overcoat. Breathless from dodging the gifts, he glanced at the gathering neighbors and decided not to press for entry. The words "Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned" rolled around in his thoughts. And he knew his neighbors, with whom he had purposely little contact, would bear witness against him if he got physical.
"That's it!" shouted Marta. "Go away!" She wore a pale blue silk blouse with the collar turned up, and pleated navy blue slacks. Wisps of hair fell over her eyes, and she brushed them back with her right hand, like a prize fighter clearing sweat from his eyes before launching the next set of punches. "You have any problems, you can tell it to the judge. I called Harold Buckman this morning and told him to file for divorce. Adultery!" she yelled loudly for all to hear. "Adultery with your so-called assistant."
"I just want to give the kids their presents," Robert said plaintively. He took a timid step forward. His body language, the step forward, and an incipient smile on his thin lips angered Marta. But she felt empowered.
"You think that dumb smile, raised eyebrows, and syrupy charm works? Ha! Presents? You gave them their present last night. They heard everything. No!" she said emphatically. "Get lost!" Marta felt a surge of strength course through her body. She knew he was no longer in control of her life, and though the prospect of being a single mom was daunting, she found the thrill of her ability to confront him addictive.
"Are you saying you won't let me see the kids?"
"You got that right." Marta stepped outside, closing the door behind her. She walked forcefully to where Robert stood, stopping inches from him. She was in his face; eyes wide, teeth clenched. "Your relationship with the children will be decided in court. Harold will contact you the day after Christmas with the details. We'll be in Asheville for the holidays. Don't try to contact us there. You know you really don't want to deal with my father." She turned her back on him. Then, over her shoulder, she shouted back, "January fourth. Noon in Harold's office. Get ready to pay for your adultery, big time!"
Marta let a few tears fall as she walked back to the house, but she wouldn't let Robert see them. Slamming the front door behind her, she leaned against it with her arms across her chest. The wide foyer was dimly lit. A long, narrow table with an antique mirror stood against the wall. Memorabilia of a marriage, residue of incomplete events, was still in place. Framed photographs of birthdays, vacations, once cherished souvenirs like a gray pottery jug with the words Current Realities imprinted on it.... Marta glanced at the mini-gallery of her married life and sat down on the second carpeted step of the staircase that led upstairs to the bedrooms. She cradled her face in her hands.
Ronny, with tousled hair and his plaid shirt buttoned one hole off, sat next to her. Nancy sat on the other side. Marta wiped the tears from her eyes, and reached out to them.
"Are we ever going to see Daddy again?" Nancy asked.
"Yes," Marta said, embracing both of her children. "Of course you will. But there will be rules about it."
"Does he love us?" Ronny asked.
"Yes, dear. He's your father. He'll always be your father." She took a deep breath and stood up. "Okay, guys. Now we've got to pack. Grandma and Grandpa are excited that we're coming. We'll have a wonderful Christmas there."
"But, Mommy?" Ronny asked. "If Christmas is going to be wonderful, why were you crying?" Marta forced herself to smile. She hugged Ronny tightly.
"Someday, young man, you'll understand that people cry sometimes when they're happy."
"And you're happy now, Mommy?" Nancy asked. Marta embraced her children with even more ardor.
"But you threw our presents at Daddy," Ronny said.
"This is Christmas, and there will be presents," Marta told them. "This year we're having a real Christmas."
Chapter Two ANDY
Marta, her kids in tow, pressed through the crowded terminal toward the gate area. Outside, she observed that jumbo flakes of snow were blanketing the tarmac. De-icing equipment had rolled out adjacent to aircraft getting ready to depart. As they walked past the crowded airport bar, Marta glanced inside. Smokers sat in their special section, veiled in a cloud of nicotine-filled air, enjoying their cigarettes. Fools, she mused, paying for overly expensive drinks in return for refuge from the dictates of the smokeless world. Sucking death into their lungs. Strangers brought together by a fatal, addictive habit, pausing momentarily on their journey home for Christmas. Marta shook her head to clear a wisp of melancholy. Christmas and divorce. No, she thought, I will not let him ruin one more day of my life. Ronny tugged at her sleeve, anxious to get on the plane.
Nancy watched a pretty young woman at the bar take a long, deep drag on her cigarette while the man in the expensive suit talked rapidly to her. But the young woman seemed disinterested in what he was saying. Her gaze wandered away and caught Nancy watching. The woman smiled and winked. As Nancy smiled back, Marta gathered her children up and moved away with a bounce in her step. Okay, single-mom-to-be, a new year! A new life! She guided the children briskly toward the gate.
Inside the crowded bar, in the no-smoking section, Anselmo Casiano nursed his second Rolling Rock. He had not had one of those in nearly thirty-eight years. Andy, as he preferred to be called, smiled to the notice of no one around him as he reminisced-a beer run to Xuan Loc. Now why did I go there, he wondered? Andy was lately aware of how often, since Maria died, he reflected on the past. They were married a few months after he returned from his second tour in Vietnam. Thirty-five years. So many plans for retirement. Gone. Ovarian cancer took her in six months. And now he was on his way to see his old army buddy George Spillers in Asheville, North Carolina. George was dying too. Leukemia. Agent Orange, George suspected. But the docs at the V.A. wouldn't admit that was the cause.
Andy's thoughts drifted back to the Rolling Rock. The images flooded in, blotting out the snowy landscape outside. A tropical sun baked the flatlands beneath the hills of III Corps. Their jeep's floor was layered with stuffed, pale gray sandbags. A fifty-caliber machine gun was locked and loaded, on its mount, welded to the floor behind the driver's seat. Wild-ass Captain José Morales, a West Pointer on his third tour, drove. Andy and George held on in the back as they sped at sixty miles an hour down the dirt road. A rooster tail of dust rose behind them. God, Andy recalled, Charlie could have seen us coming from miles away. It had been a beautiful day. Three young, stupid, and self-proclaimed immortals on a beer run to Xuan Loc because the word had come over the radio that Rolling Rock was going for a buck-fifty a case. All the way there Andy's heart had pounded wildly, yet now, in the anonymity of the airport bar, he recalled loving every minute of the adventure. The madness of indestructible warriors.
Andy sipped his beer and smiled, shaking his head. No one around him noticed. His thoughts again drifted to that day and their arrival at Xuan Loc. There was that stupid, young MP corporal facing Captain Morales down.
"Roll down your sleeves and get into proper uniform, sir," he announced moments after they had parked. His sleeves? Andy smiled, vividly recalling Morales was wearing black pajamas with infantry crossed rifles on one collar, and his captain's railroad tracks on the other. A black patent-leather gun belt was slung around his waist. There was a notch in it for each firefight he'd been through. Ho Chi Minh sandals adorned his bare feet. The "sleeves" were the least of his military-dress violations. The captain's jungle hat bearing rust stains from grenade pins around the band would have given a more experienced MP a clue as to the person he was dealing with.
All Morales said as he turned to those still in the jeep was, "Did you hear that, guys?" Spillers clutched his M16 while Andy leaned on the fifty. The captain's hand was on the butt of the .45 dangling loosely in his belt. The two MPs standing behind the young corporal suddenly paled, realizing they were in danger of replaying something akin to the OK Corral scenario. The men in the jeep were on a serious mission. There was beer at stake: dirt-cheap cases of Rolling Rock. Thankfully, good old steady George Spillers kept a cool head. He dismounted and stepped between the jeep and the MPs.
Excerpted from A CHRISTMAS PASSAGE by David Saperstein George Samerjan
Copyright © 2008 by David Saperstein and George Samerjan. Excerpted by permission.
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I first want to say, that reading the same overview on the back of the book, just does not do it justice. This is one of the best books that I have every read. It is a Christmas Story that will live in my heart forever. I have often sat at airports or been in large groups and wondered what others were thinking. I live my life not judging others because one never knows why people are the way they are. This book was one, you could not put down. The story plot is not any ordinary story. Each Character in the story has a purpose for being in this place at this time. AWSOME. I will be looking for other books by these authors.
Absolutely delightful Christmas read - or anytime - the setting is an airport group stranded in their quest to reach Asheville, N.Ca on Christmas Eve. A "good samaritan" offers to drive them to their (and her) destination. This story is magical (yes, magic) as in "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". I could not put this book down until I finished it the next morning after starting it the night before. Luckily I'm retired and allowed this guilty pleasure.
The flight from Fulton County/Brown Field to Asheville on Christmas Eve morning is delayed along other flights due to the snowstorm. People are stranded at the airport and struggle with having patience as Blue Ridge Airline¿s Flight 6224 is canceled due to weather.---------- Marta Hood has thrown her scornful husband Robert out (along with the Xmas presents) even though he threatened to never return she and her eight year old son Ronny and eleven year old daughter Nancy are going to stay temporarily with her parents, but she is worried about their future. Vietnam Veteran widower Andy Casiano notices Army Specialist Ilena Burton who feels guilty about being home for the holidays while worrying her brothers and sisters in arms remain in Iraq. Recently unemployed Reggie Howard worries about getting a job. Affluent businessman John Sullivan worries bout his health with the sudden death of his workaholic dad. After time in Florida, septuagenarian widow Amelia McIntosh looks forward to coming home after her last attempt to reconcile with her acrimonious sister-in-law. Lisa Barone and her Alzheimer¿s afflicted father need to visit an ailing relative in Asheville, but with the airport shut, she offers to take the travelers with her in her van. However, an avalanche has blocked the road stranding them as turn around is too dangerous. Each turns to one another for solace as they learn what Christmas is when they find Joshua and his remote cabin.-------------- This is an interesting Christmas tale starring likable individuals struggling with traumas and a deep need to reach Asheville. The ensemble cast is solid with each containing differing personalities and issues. Although the climax is too perfect even with a pinch of the paranormal, fans who enjoy a fun Yuletide inspirational will want to join the stranded band of travelers whose trek is more metaphysical than physical.------------- Harriet Klausner