PHOENIX
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Dear Mother,

I hope this letter finds you well during this Yuletide. As you can see, I have remained in this town since your last visit.

I know you have never been one to succumb to sentiment at this time of year. Neither have I. But a lot has changed in me. You have met my six friends. I call them my friends, but that word seems woefully inadequate to describe them.

Josiah Sanchez I am certain you remember well. Unlike the preachers you and I have known (the real and the hucksters), while Mr. Sanchez likely has one foot ever-poised on the steps of Heaven, one foot is most firmly set on terra firma. No, Mother, Mr. Sanchez has not turned me into a spiritual man.

But he has taught me to see the Christmas gifts my friends have given me. Not gifts in the monetary sense as you would understand them. But they hold great value nonetheless. In the spirit of the season, I feel compelled to share them with you, my mother.

Chris Larabee has a certain quality about him that compels us to follow him. He is the most fair-minded and honorable man I think I have ever met. He has taught me about forgiveness and second chances by overlooking transgressions of mine that might have once cost him his life.

You remember the charming Mr. Wilmington. He has a joie de vivre that is truly boundless. I have learned about how much it means to enjoy the time one has now. Due to their many years of acquaintance, he is also fiercely loyal to his friend, Mr. Larabee. I envy that, at times.

And the laconic Vin Tanner. His greatest strength is his loyalty. Whatever else he might be feeling--be it anger or frustration or even the love of a woman--he has always managed to arrive when most needed. As you know, I have had limited experience with loyalty. It was a difficult concept to understand.

I do not know how well you remember JD Dunne. He is quite young, even for his age at times. But his earnestness and enthusiasm cannot be denied. He has a certain innocence in his inexperience that reminds me of how jaded and cynical I had become. I have tried to amend that, to some degree, and if I do say so myself, I have had some success.

Nathan Jackson is the only colored man I have ever had an opportunity to know well and, if he is representative of his race, I would not be saddened to know more of his kind. He is a profoundly caring individual about all people, not just his own. At times, Mother, I am shamed to think of how my Southern brethren have treated people like him.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention Mrs. Mary Travis. Her tremendous reserve of inner strength reminds me of you, dear Mother. But unlike you, her maternal instinct is a fiery one. I mean no disrespect to you, but she has overcome extraordinary challenges and faces many more with a quiet dignity and spirit unlike what I am used to in my dealings with the fairer sex. Hers is the type of woman a man could settle down with -should he choose to do so.

This time of year is time for a gathering of families. These men are, in their own ways, as close to a real family as I have known, so it is only fitting I should spend the holiday here. You are welcome to join me and my "family" if you choose.

My best wishes for Christmas and the coming year.

Your son,
Ezra Standish

END