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Calendar >  Bjorn To Hang Christmas Lights – Thomas Calabrese

Bjorn To Hang Christmas Lights – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  December 25, 2022  /  12 Comments


Eve of Destruction and Joy to the World

Thomas Calabrese – His name was Bjorn John Halverson, but was called BJ for short. He regularly got into fights because he was quick tempered and would rather settle a dispute with his fists than with diplomacy. His parents were routinely called to Grant Avenue Elementary School to meet with school officials. On their last visit, they met with Principal Ted Rayburn, who gave them the latest bad news, “I’ve given BJ as many chances as I can, I have no other choice, but to expel him. This last fight sent two boys to the hospital and the parents are outraged.”

Greg and Anna Halverson did their best to provide a viable defense for their son. Greg said, “BJ told me that the three boys initiated the confrontation and he just reacted.”

            “More like over-reacted. If it wasn’t for his previous record of physical altercations, I might have been inclined to consider a suspension, but one of the parents of the boys who was injured is a California State Congressman and he is adamant about your son’s removal, otherwise he’s going to make things very difficult for all concerned. All things considered I would recommend that BJ find a school in a different district,” Principal Rayburn strongly suggested, “Of course, you can appeal my decision, but I don’t think you’ll be successful, the school board has already been consulted and is in full agreement.”

The Halversons lived in Carlsbad and considered several options for their son including private school, which would have been a considerable expense. They decided to ask Anna’s grandfather, Lucas Jensen, a retired Marine and Vietnam War veteran if he would take the boy in. If he said no, then Greg and Anna would have no other choice but to go the private school route. Lucas was a widower and lived in a three bedroom house on four acres of land in Valley Center.

Anna called her grandfather and explained the situation then added, “I completely understand if you say no. I wouldn’t ask if, but we don’t have a lot of choices. My dad always said that growing up you were adamant about following a code of conduct. BJ needs direction and it is obvious that Greg and I failed in that department,” and started to cry.

Lucas responded, “Hold on, don’t go thinking that you failed. It’s too early to be falling on your sword just yet.  I was thoroughly confused about raising my children, especially when it came to your dad. I tried to instill in them the same values I learned in the Corps, like doing a good job and being a honorable and responsible person. Your father is giving me the benefit of the doubt. He’s conveniently forgot to mention how bad I was as a father when he was a young boy. I got better as time went on because your grandmother reminded me that young minds aren’t always developed enough to comprehend the principles that I was preaching with intense conviction. I was missing one key component in my strategy.”

Anna asked, “What was it?”

            “Patience, I expected my son and daughter to learn at the same speed that I was teaching them. There are children in this world with a lot of spirit who push the limits because they are more eager to find their path in this world than their classmates and friends.  I served three tours in the ‘Nam as an underground combat engineer. I found out was there are Marines that followed every regulation, but couldn’t be counted on when things got difficult and dangerous because they couldn’t improvise. Some people always operate from the head and calculate risk and reward with every decision. Then there are others who believe that if it feels right, then do it and worry about the repercussions later. The truly happy and successful people in this world learn how to balance the two. It sounds to me that BJ operates more from the heart. You can teach someone to use their head, but you can’t force someone to feel from the heart.” 

Anna replied, “How did you manage to get smart?”

            “Not smart, I just lived long enough to learn from my mistakes.”  Lucas said, “I won’t make any promises, but I am willing to meet with BJ to see if we can come up with a mutually beneficial agreement. It also has to feel right. Bring him over this weekend and we’ll go from there.”

On Saturday morning, Greg, Anna and BJ drove to Lucas Jensen’s home on Creek Ranch Road in Valley Center. When they pulled up, Lucas walked outside to greet them. Before they could get out, he suggested, “Why don’t you take a ride around the area and come back in a couple hours. I need some time to talk with BJ,” Lucas opened the back door of the car and said to his great-grandson, “Let’s take a walk.”

As they walked along the country road, BJ whined about his current predicament, “I guess that my parents are trying to dump me with you.”

Lucas scolded his great-grandson, “Don’t run the victim flag up my flagpole because I don’t salute that garbage. At my age I don’t go looking for trouble, but I don’t mind extending a helping hand every now and then if I believe it’s the right thing to do. I’m not looking to be your nursemaid, babysitter, counselor or maid. If I offer my hospitality then I would expect courtesy in return. Your great-grandmother did all the heavy lifting in the child raising department so I’m not qualified at doing this alone. If you want help then I’ll meet you halfway, that’s it.”

            “That’s it?” BJ said, “You’re not going to try and convince me?”

Lucas countered, “Whether you come here or not, I’ll still going on with my life. Let’s be clear about this one fact before we go on any further, I’m doing this for your mother because she has earned my respect, but I’m not sure if you’re worth the effort. Only time will tell about that.  I’ll show you the room that you’ll be using if we come to an agreement and outline the house rules. By the time your parents return, you should be able to make an informed decision.”

BJ was thoroughly confused. He didn’t know if his great-grandfather wanted him to stay or was trying to discourage him so he mumbled, “I guess that would be alright, I just don’t know.”

            “First lesson, don’t mumble, second lesson, be definite…is it alright or not?”

BJ smiled, “Sir, it would be alright?”

“I like the sir part…keep it.” Lucas said.

When Greg and Anna returned from their two hour absence, Lucas and BJ were sitting on the front porch drinking lemonade. BJ smiled at his parents and commented, “Great-grandfather said that we can do a probationary trial period, subject to cancellation by either party at any time.”

Anna looked at her grandfather and whispered, Thank you,”

When school started, Lucas took and picked up his great-grandson every day. There was a certain time for dinner and if BJ was late, he had to fix his own meal. The young boy was responsible for doing his own laundry and keeping his room clean.  Eventually, BJ started to embrace the responsibility that his great-grandfather bestowed on him. He studied hard at Valley Center Middle School, played sports and also became involved in extracurricular activities.

At first BJ would go to school all week in Valley Center then his parents would pick him up so he could spend the weekends in Carlsbad. When he started making new friends in the area, he spent more time in Valley Center.

There was one evening when Lucas and BJ were watching the movie, The Longest Day and Lucas commented, “This movie had 42 international stars, 3 directors, 5 writers and used 31 separate locations throughout Europe. If you were going to make a movie like this today, it would cost you cost over a billion dollars.”

            “You were in Vietnam, how come you never talk about it?” BJ asked.

Lucas replied, “Because I’d much rather watch a fiction movie about war then ditty bop down my own memory lane.”

BJ wasn’t quite ready to change the subject, “My mom told me that you were a hero. I did some research and found out that being a tunnel rat was the most dangerous job in the Vietnam War.”

Lucas laughed, “I climbed in a hole with a gun and a knife and hoped to come back out again. It was more luck than skill. Believe me when I tell you it was no big deal and I was no hero. Do me a favor, drop the subject.”

One of the traditions that Lucas did every Christmas was to go down to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 642 on Hillston Way on the weekend after Thanksgiving to help put up holiday decorations. Since most of the members were older and had chronic injuries they didn’t really like climbing ladders. Lucas gave the assignment of decorating the higher areas on the building and the surrounding trees to his great- grandson. He made this announcement to his fellow veterans, “Bjorn to hang Christmas lights. The legacy begins.”

BJ scampered up the ladder and hung the string of lights along the lower edge of the roof and around the windows. When he was finished, he climbed several trees and decorated them. BJ called down from a high branch, “How does that look?”

Lucas said, “Great job, BJ.”

All through high school, BJ played sports and did well in academics. He came to realize that whenever his great–grandfather wanted to talk about his time in Marine Corps, he would attribute the event to someone else. It always would start off with; there was a guy I once knew.

 At first, BJ asked, “What was his name?”

            “It’s not about the person’s name, it’s about what happened, “Lucas responded impatiently.

BJ would sit back and listened intently and amazingly, each story was related to what was going on in his life at the time.  Coincidence, he thought not.

During every Christmas season while he was in high school, BJ accompanied his great- grandfather to the VFW post to hang the lights. Actually it was the best part of the holidays for him.  BJ took great pride in creating a festive atmosphere for the veterans and their families who attended several events at the Post during the holidays.

After graduating high school, BJ decided to join the Marine Corps. He discussed it with his parents and Lucas.  While they weren’t happy about the current politicization of the military, they supported BJ’s patriotism. Bjorn John signed the papers and requested a 90-day delay before reporting to boot camp in San Diego. During that time, Lucas discussed the Marine Corps in detail in order to help BJ be prepared for the rigors of training and his new military life..   

Lucas was watching a Gunsmoke episode when BJ walked in, sat down and commented, “Which episode is this one?”

            “Your favorite,” Lucas grinned, “It is the eighth episode of season three. It’s called ‘Born to Hang’. Joe Digger is nearly killed by two men who tried to lynch him. Now he’s giving Sheriff Matt Dillion until midnight to bring them to jail or he’ll track down and kill them both. Matt Dillion diverts the man’s anger by offering him a job putting up Christmas decorations around Dodge City. The twist to the story is that the townspeople run out of decorations so Joe Digger wraps himself up with ribbons and bows and hangs himself from the church steeple and when the two men who hung him come into town, he shoots them. Matt Dillion arrests Joe Digger for murder and Joe is sentenced to death by hanging. As Digger is walking up the gallows stairs, he turns to Marshal Dillion with a sly grin and says ‘My pa always said that I was born to hang Christmas decorations.”

BJ played along because he knew that his great-grandfather loved to add his personal touch to various situations, including re-writing screenplays of old television shows, “I remember it well, great episode.”

Only after entering the Marine Corps did BJ find out the extent of his great-grandfather’s accomplishments in the Vietnam War. There was an exhibit on Camp Pendleton and one section was dedicated to the volunteer combat engineers and infantrymen who cleared and destroyed enemy tunnel complexes. Their motto was the tongue-in-cheek Latin phrase Non Gratus Anus Rodentum (not worth a rat’s butt). There were numerous photos with the caption: Sergeant Lucas Jensen, one of the greatest tunnel rats of the Vietnam War.

Six years had passed and it was almost Christmas 2022. As the 19th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom approached, 2,500 troops still remained in Iraq and Sergeant Bjorn Halverson was one of them. He was part of an elite counter terrorism team assigned to terminate high value terrorists. BJ was home on leave and was going to the VFW Post for a December 24th holiday celebration. As they drove, Lucas put on Sirius Radio 60’s on 6 and Barry McGuire’s, 1965 number one hit Eve of Destruction was playing.

            “Appropriate music, don’t you think?” Lucas smiled.

BJ replied, “Without a doubt, what are they showing at the Post, a double feature of It’s A Wonderful Life and Die Hard?”

As they were driving, BJ received a phone call from civilian contractor and former CIA analyst John Ryan. BJ answered the call, “Hey Johnny, did you call to wish me a Merry Christmas?”

            “Merry Christmas, but I also got something else for you,” John Ryan said, “There has been a breach in security and your name and other members of the team have been compromised. Intel intercepted communication and I can’t confirm its accuracy, but it appears that a cartel hit team was contracted by Iranian hardliners to pay you a visit in retaliation for your last mission.”

            “What’s the timeline?” BJ asked.

            “You’re on the clock as we speak,” John said, “I can get a back-up team to you in a couple hours if you want to keep a low profile until then?”

            “Appreciate the offer, but I’ve already got back-up.” BJ said, “Keep me posted if anything more definite comes up.”

After hanging up the phone, BJ turned to his great-grandfather and said, “Ho, Ho, Ho, it’s time to lock and load.”

It was 2100 hours on Christmas Eve and the festivities inside VFW Post 642 were in full swing. The gray van pulled into the parking lot and four men with automatic weapons got out and started walking toward the front entrance. On the roof was BJ with a rifle, he shot two members of the hit team and they went down. Hiding behind a car was Lucas who popped up and killed the other two men. Rather than miss the holiday activities, BJ and Lucas put the dead bodies in the back of their truck with the camper shell and covered them so they wouldn’t be seen.

Lucas commented casually, “We’ll dump the bodies on the way home.”

BJ noticed that a string of lights in one of the trees were not working so he climbed up the trunk and tightened the connection. A cascade of red, blue and white lights started flashing.

Lucas called out, “Bjorn to hang Christmas lights, I see that you haven’t lost your touch.”

While sitting on a branch, BJ played Barry McGuire’s song on his cellphone and said, “It’s the Eve of Destruction and Joy to the World! Merry Christmas to those who serve and protect!”  BJ jumped down from the tree, did a forward somersault, popped to his feet, smiled at his great-grandfather and put his arm on his shoulder. “Did I ever tell you the Christmas story about the warrior Marine who never lost his combat skills?”

 The End

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org


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  1. Tom says:

    Merry Christmas, Tom! The title should have been “Bjorn to be Wild!” Another USMC veteran using his skills for retribution…I’m a sucker for that storyline! But only 4 morts! Gotta do better next time! HA!

  2. wolf says:

    Good Story.

    The youth off today would be more prepared for the challenges of life with some Marine mentoring.

    The VFW Post 642 XMAS celebration Turned into a Die-Hard movie.


  3. Robert says:

    Loved it.

  4. john michels says:

    Merry Christmas Tom! Enjoyed the story.

  5. Skip says:

    Bjorn to live free! Semper Fidelis

  6. Tony says:

    What a wonderful and positive story for this Christmas by Mr. Thomas Calabrese in this Sunday’s Vista Press. Not a bad young man but certainly needed guidance. As parents there are occasions we are to close to the situation and cannot see the problem or the remedy.
    This Marine Great Grandfather set down the rules in life and challenged his grandson to follow them with his promise. It is important for family to pull together during situations like this one. It is not the schools, law-enforcement or military to correct a wayward young person but the parents. It is the parents responsibility to be parents and not their children’s friends. the OTHER entities can enhance a young person learning and the right path if they have the willingness. Nice story and Merry Christmas to all.

  7. Clyde says:

    I remember the Gunsmoke episode with Joe Digger. nice variation. I also remember the song Eve Of Destruction. Good story,

  8. Joe says:

    Another psychological twist with a Marine martini.

  9. Marty says:

    Great story Tom. Hope you had a great Christmas.

  10. Steve says:

    One of my favorite Christmas stories, right up there with Its A Wonderful Life and Die Hard.

  11. Stephanie Boren says:

    That was a very “heart warming” Christmans story. Not in the usual way but in a Tom Calabrese way. Love it! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Tom!

  12. Debra Moore says:

    A wonderful story! I have a grandson that reminds me of Bj. Thank you, Tom

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