A Christmas Poem: ‘Santa Don’t Cry, This Life Is My Choice’

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Owen Matta was a highly decorated Royal Australian Air Force pilot who flew missions in the European Theater. He came home to Melbourne where he taught electronics for many years at the RAAF Academy and University of Melbourne. He led an active life that included, at the invitation of the U.S. Air Force, breaking the sound barrier in a fighter jet when he visited the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He was a dear friend of the love of my life and had known her late mother from the time they were youngsters growing up in the St. Kilda neighborhood of Melbourne.

Owen had embraced computers and had a lively correspondence with my love and myself, but remained an inveterate letter writer, while noting in the Christmas card sent this year by he and his wife Marie (whom he affectionately called “Bid”) that “I know email is faster, but cards stay longer.”

Owen remained active despite his advancing years. He still mowed his lawn and trimmed trees, although his family has recently talked him out of buying a chain saw. He was an inveterate tinkerer, and recently took apart his heart pacemaker to see how it worked after he received a newer device.

Owen sent us this earlier this week after it was passed on by friend Jane Burnett:

A CHRISTMAS POEM

T’WAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS,
HE LIVED ALL ALONE,
IN A ONE BEDROOM HOUSE,
MADE OF PLASTER AND STONE.

I HAD COME DOWN THE CHIMNEY,
WITH PRESENTS TO GIVE,
AND TO SEE JUST WHO,
IN THIS HOME, DID LIVE.

I LOOKED ALL ABOUT,
A STRANGE SIGHT I DID SEE,
NO TINSEL, NO PRESENTS,
NOT EVEN A TREE.

NO STOCKING BY MANTLE,
JUST BOOTS FILLED WITH SAND,
ON THE WALL HUNG PICTURES,
OF FAR DISTANT LANDS.

WITH MEDALS AND BADGES,
AWARDS OF ALL KINDS,
A SOBER THOUGHT,
CAME THROUGH MY MIND.

FOR THIS HOUSE WAS DIFFERENT,
IT WAS DARK AND DREARY,
I FOUND THE HOME OF A SOLDIER,
ONCE I COULD SEE CLEARLY.

THE SOLDIER LAY SLEEPING,
SILENT, ALONE,
CURLED UP ON THE FLOOR,
IN THIS ONE BEDROOM HOME.

THE FACE WAS SO GENTLE,
THE ROOM IN DISORDER,
NOT HOW I PICTURED,
A TRUE BRITISH SOLDIER.

WAS THIS THE HERO,
OF WHOM I’D JUST READ?
CURLED UP ON A PONCHO,
THE FLOOR FOR A BED?

I REALISED THE FAMILIES,
THAT I SAW THIS NIGHT,
OWED THEIR LIVES TO THESE SOLDIERS,
WHO WERE WILLING TO FIGHT.

SOON ROUND THE WORLD,
THE CHILDREN WOULD PLAY,
AND GROWNUPS WOULD CELEBRATE,
A BRIGHT CHRISTMAS DAY.

THEY ALL ENJOYED FREEDOM,
EACH MONTH OF THE YEAR,
BECAUSE OF THE SOLDIERS,
LIKE THE ONE LYING HERE.

I COULDN’T HELP WONDER,
HOW MANY LAY ALONE,
ON A COLD CHRISTMAS EVE,
IN A LAND FAR FROM HOME.

THE VERY THOUGHT BROUGHT,
A TEAR TO MY EYE,
I DROPPED TO MY KNEES,
AND STARTED TO CRY.

THE SOLDIER AWAKENED,
AND I HEARD A ROUGH VOICE,
“SANTA DON’T CRY,
THIS LIFE IS MY CHOICE;

I FIGHT FOR FREEDOM,
I DON’T ASK FOR MORE,
MY LIFE IS MY GOD,
MY COUNTRY, MY CORPS..”

THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER,
AND DRIFTED TO SLEEP,
I COULDN’T CONTROL IT,
I CONTINUED TO WEEP.

I KEPT WATCH FOR HOURS,
SO SILENT AND STILL,
AND WE BOTH SHIVERED,
FROM THE COLD NIGHT’S CHILL.

I DID NOT WANT TO LEAVE,
ON THAT COLD, DARK, NIGHT,
THIS GUARDIAN OF HONOR,
SO WILLING TO FIGHT.

THEN THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER,
WITH A VOICE SOFT AND PURE,
WHISPERED, “CARRY ON SANTA,
IT’S CHRISTMAS DAY, ALL IS SECURE.”

ONE LOOK AT MY WATCH,
AND I KNEW HE WAS RIGHT.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS MY FRIEND,
AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.”

World War II veteran Owen Matta died in his sleep on Saturday afternoon, December 21, Melbourne time. He was 90.

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  • suzi_campbell

    Shaun…thank you so much for this beautiful entry regarding Dad. We are all devastated at his passing even though we knew it was nigh..
    I will let Mum and my other sisters and brother know of your column..
    ..thank you again..

    Suzi Campbell