It is Christmas 1941--after the attack on Pearl Harbor the Philippines were targeted and the Japanese invaded the islands, slowly working their way down from Manila which capitulated (not the case at the end of the war where Filipinos and Americans fought corner to corner against the Japanese. The city was heavily damaged. and the civilian population paid in many casualties). Anyway Louise's father was in the capital city when it fell and there are questions of when, if ever, he might be able to reunite with the family on the island of Panay.
Christmas excerpt Beyond Paradise
Mother volunteered to make a Christmas Eve dinner for the Fletchers. By combining pantries on the compound everyone got a little bit of everything. We received a canned ham plus several cans of green beans, creamed corn, peas, yams, and baked beans. The compound would have to do without this year’s Christmas barrel from the States.
To keep the girls busy, I improvised a Christmas tree using a potted lemon tree the Fletchers kept in their living room. “I wish we had garlands and lights,” said Daisy.
“Now, Daisy, you know we can’t have extra lights this Christmas,” I told her. “Maybe we can make a garland, though. Let’s see . . . what would make a perfect garland?” A month’s ration of canned goods was lined up on the kitchen table. I had a brilliant idea. “Let’s take the labels off and make a chain. They’ll stay naturally curled without glue?” The girls worked busily while I told the story of the three wise men, and how they gave everything they had to buy precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We wrapped the spindly lemon tree with our homemade label chain. “It’s beautiful,” whispered Mae, “just like the baby Jesus.” She began to sing, very high and out of tune, “Away in a Manger.”
We were still singing when Ann and Mother walked in. a smile spread across Ann’s face as she gazed upon our Christmas tree. It was Mother who discovered the nude, unmarked cans.
“Louise, what have you done? You silly girl.” She flew at me. “You’ve ruined these cans. How can I fix a proper dinner?” She began to crying, her hands shaking in anger in front of me.
Ann took Mother by the shoulders. “There, there, Kate. Nothing is ruined. A little confusion, perhaps. Tonight we might have pork’n’beans and other surprises for our Christmas Eve dinner, but we’ll be okay.”
I felt humiliated. There was nothing I could do to please Mother.
In the midst of this scene Mr. Urs burst into the Fletcher’s living room. “Come quickly,” he shouted breathlessly, “It’s Freddy and Reverend Keller on the telephone.”
We ran over to the Urse’s house. I made sure that Mother got to the telephone before me.
“Hello, hello, darling.” Mother broke down crying. I pressed my ear to the receiver, listening as Papa kept trying to reassure her that everything was going to be all right. His voice through the line sounded father away than I wanted it to be.
“I got your telegram. It strengthened me to know you girls were all right.” I was grateful to Papa for saying that.
“Tell Mrs. Urs that Freddy is okay. He’s staying here with me. I was able to get”—the line was crackling—“off the boat. She’s with a missionary family here in Manila. The air-raid sirens wail day and night.” More static. “I love you girls; be brave for me, will you. Poet, take care of Mom until I get—” The connection went dead; there was no more.
I helped Mother get back to the Fletchers’, where instead of looking at Christmas lights we sat in a blackout watching the lighted dial of the radio. Our only link to Manila and Papa was the wireless, but at midnight KZRH and KZRM, both Manila stations, announced they were going off the air. Don Bell of Manila’s KZRM, who always signed off with “Keep ’em flying,” wept as he ended his broadcast. Our last connection to Papa was cut.
The sun rose bright on Christmas day, but I felt no sense of joy. Manila was nearly occupied; Japanese soldiers held most of the city.
Red world dawning.
Fire in the sky.