I grew up knowing about Ebenezer Scrooge, but my first thoughtful awareness of that story happened in the fall of 1981. Tom Empey was new to Casper and kindly directed that play at church, with a group of inexperienced actors from our congregation. I was a young mother then with a tiny part. Just being in that group, listening to, and memorizing all of the lines of each character, changed my life. A young, exuberant college student played the stodgy, miserly curmudgeon, and then the transformed Scrooge with mature finesse. I was entranced by the powerful words of Dickens as we fumbled along, under the direction of an also youthful Empey then, who wrangled more out of us than we knew we could give. I still smile, remembering Tom Blevins dancing around, playing lively Fezziwig to a T.
Over the years I’ve read the book numerous times and love being immersed in the life and times of Victorian England. Our family has a jigsaw puzzle of scenes from the story. It’s been done so many times, we’ve practically memorized where each piece goes; Marley’s chains, the curtain of Scrooge’s bed, candles on a mantle and Tiny Tim’s cane. I’ve enjoyed many movie adaptations too, including the 2009 3D animated spectacle where snow seemed to whip around us right in the theater. Then, the Casper College production where Tom Empey (who rarely acted himself), played the tall, dark, eerie specter of Christmas to Come – never speaking, just ominously gesturing. Each telling of the story unveils more layers of richness in Dickens’ writing and the message for me.
This year’s rereading finds me again in awe of Dickens’ skillful writing style. His details draw me in like few other writers. Mrs. Cratchit’s pudding was hard and firm like a speckled cannon ball. Fezziwig’s calves shone like moons as he danced. Gloomy streets were choked up with a dingy mist. The grocer’s scales made a merry sound. Potatoes bubbling up knocked at the saucepan lid.
The magic of Dickens’ characters, in any of his books, leads me to introspection. As I witness less pleasant characteristics, my own faults beg change. Am I that cutting, irresponsible, focused on unimportant things, stuck in the past, unaware of others or entitled? On the other hand, I admire the noble attributes of even minor characters, nudging me to become more cheerful, aware of others and more forgiving and caring.
The story begins in Scrooge’s counting house on Christmas Eve. He declines to give alms to the poor, scares away a caroler and unfairly berates his employee, Bob Cratchit. His nephew Fred arrives, issuing an annual invitation to the family Christmas celebration, which Scrooge not only declines, but includes a dismal lecture for his ever happy, congenial and inclusive relative. Throughout the story, Fred forgives and continues being nice. Of his laugh, it was said “that nothing in the world is so contagious as laughter and good humor”. His character adds hope that we might have a positive influence even in the lives of the grouchiest people and never give up extending kindness, with no expectations of anything in return.
When Marley’s ghost haunts Scrooge, bound and chained, we are saddened that he didn’t learn the true lessons of life until after death. Yet Marley desires to help his friend Ebenezer avoid his own torment. Two of his statements are seared in my mind. First, about his fetters; “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it”. Secondly, after Scrooge points out Marley was a good man of business in life, Marley replies; “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”
Fezziwig happily balanced business and fun, with respect and love for his employees. His annual Christmas party filled them with gratitude. Scrooge’s astute observation of his first boss, aside the Spirit of Christmas Past, elicits these comments; “He (Fezziwig) has the power to render us happy or unhappy, to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as if it cost a fortune.” Wow, what a commentary on how we can improve our interpersonal relationships in all walks of life.
In company of Christmas Present, Scrooge sees that in spite of his dismal job, Bob Cratchit loved his family dearly. Though despised by his employer, he is adored by wife and children, who share faith in God and love among each other, even in the poorest of circumstances. In the sadness of Christmas to Come, Cratchit never loses faith.
In conclusion, I return to the beginning when the ghost of Marley asked, “Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which the light would have conducted me?”
Today we associate Ebenezer Scrooge with “Bah Humbug”. Truly, we should remember the man changed by spiritual messengers. A new man who did lift his eyes to his fellow beings. His wise visitors led him to the abode of the poor, back to his family and into the realms of joyfulness and generosity, stating, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”
Finally, as Tiny Tim reminds us, I echo, “God bless us everyone.”