My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Saturday, December 31, 2011

With my banjo on my knee..

I stood on the platform wrapped up in my brown herringbone overcoat waiting patiently for my folks to say their goodbyes. The train's engine huffed its impatience to move out as we said our farewells amidst hugs and tears.
Granddad stooped to face me. My tears made slippery tracks down my cheeks. He had been carrying a case which he now held toward me.
"I want you to have this, boy," he said. "It's my old banjo and I want you to carry it with you." My chubby little fingers slipped through the handle. I clutched the black case close to me. "You behave and listen to your daddy. We'll see you again one day."
As he spoke the train's whistle blasted.
"Come along," dad said to my mum and me. "We need to get aboard."
Granddad rose from his crouched position tusseling my hair. "You be a good boy." A tear glistened in his eye.
Dad turned. Suitcase in hand he stepped onto the train. The conductor was urging us inside as the train lurched to a roll.
"Bye Bye!" I shouted trying to wave and hold my banjo case.
Scooping me up, dad followed my mum through the coach door. We settled in a seat near the window. My grandparents stood on the platform as the train began our journey to South Hampton. I watched and waved while the station grew smaller with distance.
"Here let me put that up," dad said reaching for my banjo case. I held tight.
"Alright then. You can keep it," he said sitting down and slipping his arm around me.
I had no idea what was happening. We were leaving behind dad's family on our way to America. My days of sitting in a highchair watching dad and granddad cobble boots were gone. I was leaving behind everything I knew. All the memories of a child of three would fade with time. The bon fire celebrating Guy Fawkes Night roaring upward past the second story window of my room. The flickering light that woke me from a baby sound sleep to a wide eyed screaming child. Away from the highchair set above the coal bin from which I toppled bouncing amongst the coals to a rolling blackened stop. Away from my dog Whiskey, faithful companion. And away from the only home I had ever known.
We boarded the ship that sailed away from England to the harbour in New York. My mother's brother was there to meet us and drive us to South Carolina. It was dark as the car moved down the highway. There were balloons. We sat in the back seat. A packet of balloons was opened and to my delight they were blown up, tied off and handed to me. I remember the bouncing colors in the overhead light.
The rest is a blur of new places to live. Odd neighbors with cats, the smell of gas from the stove and a pool table belonging to a neighbor which I accidently ruined by ripping the felt with a cue stick. June bugs on a string circling my head in flight, kittens in an old wash house on a hot summer's day and lying in bed beneath a huge window fan drawing the night air through the house to cool us off are a few of the whirl of memories tucked in the recesses of my mind. They are stored away much as the herring bone coat and the banjo and its case.
I took that old banjo out a few years back and gave it to my daughter. It brought back a flood of old sights and sounds which once again have faded back into those recesses.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Maid in Sherwood...

"What to get her?"
I had my two quarters clutched tightly in hand. The shelves at Silvers, a five and dime, were openly displaying the stores wears for sale. Bracelets, rings, earbobs, scarves...there were simply too many choices.
The decision had been made. She was constantly in my mind. When I broke a crayon, it was because her face distracted me.

"Rickey! Pay attention!" The classroom had erupted into gales of laughter. I looked around to see what the joke was. Everyone was staring at me. I sat upright. Mrs. D---- stood up placing her hands on her hips.
"What is wrong with you, young man. You've been day dreaming. Again! I might have to send a note home to your parents if it doesn't stop. See me after class.:
The class erupted in a single syllable, "Ooooooooh!" Mrs. D--- slapped the side of her ruler against the top of her desk. That crack of wood against wood brought silence.
"Everyone! Pay attention! Wawawa wa wa...' I drifted off. She was two desks over. She had smiled at me. I drifted off into day dream number thirty-five.

It was the Sheriff of Nottingham riding along side my Maid Marion.
"You shouldn't be in these woods, my fair lady," he said leaning toward her. Saddle leather creaked in support of his weight shifting to his left foot. His lips formed into a wet smooch heading in the direction of my Marion. He lifted the veil. It was my sweetie two desks over.
I swung to the limb over the well worn path through my domain, Sherwood Forest.
"My Lord," I shouted. The vine that had carried me to my perch now swung out of sight. "It would behoove you not to complete that kiss."
The sherriff sat bolt upright. His horse nickered with the shift of the saddle. His hand closed around the hilt of his sword.
"You dare to stop me, the Sheriff of Nottingham? I have soldiers farther back who will be here shortly."
Skeeeeee! Thump! Twang.
"You are wrong my Lord. That arrow just arriving tells me you are wrong. It is you and I and my most lovely Maid Marion alone here, now."
"Curses," muttered The sherriff.
"Yes, you may ride on and not be harmed," I said.
"NO!" the word erupted from behind trees, bushes and rocks. Heads popped up from behind the various hiding places.
"No, again!" shouted Little John. "We won't allow him to go, Robin. He has been a thorn in our sides. We should do him in now." Stepping from his cover twirling his quarter staff like a baton. "One crack of my staff will open that melon. The forest animals can feast on his brains. Poor eating though it may be for them."
"Wait!" shouted the sheriff. "You can't kill me. Robin lives by a code."
"He's right, Little John. We're the good guys. We have a code."
Little John spat upon the forest floor. "I be sick of this code. We treat this weasel and his band of cut throats with civility and compassion when we capture them. Would they treat us as fairly?"
"No!" The forest erupted.
"He has a point, Robin," said Marion. "Think about it. How may times have you been captured and tortured? At least once a week. You always manage to escape, battered and bruised."
"Aye," said Will Scarlet. "We've sung many a ballad about it. Those while you are gone are not so flattering as those you might hear when you are returning with new scars amidst broken bones. Half what we steal from the rich we can't give to the poor because ole doc Martin collects his fee from patchin' you up."
"You sing ballads while I'm locked in the dungeon?"
"Well, yes, we do. Some are pretty bawdy."
"I'd like to hear one," says I.
'And why not?"
"Lady present. The code you know."
"Are they so bad?" I ask quizzically.
"Aye, Robin," good Friar Tuck interjects. "They best not tickle so fair an ear as the lovely Maid Marion. Perhaps later when we be in our cups."
"Enough! Be gone Sir Sheriff. Leave my forest. Leave my Marion."
With a sigh Little John laid his staff across the stallion's rump. The smack sends the great beast into a gallop.
"Marion, would you please join me. I have a new set of tree etchings you may find amusing. And we have wine the good Friar has liberated for his flock...."

The ruler came down upon my desk. Marion popped into a bit of smoke above my head. The class was laughing again.
"Yes, Mrs. D----."
"I want you to go stand in that corner until class is over.
"Yes, Mrs. D----."
Traipsing to the corner I smiled at my real Marion. She smilled back. Or was that the tail end of communal laughter. It didn't matter. I was hopelessly hers.

Picking up each piece of jewlery took a long time. They all looked the same to me. The prices were all within my range. Which one would she like? How should I know?
"Can I help you, little boy?" A sales clerk.
"Uh, no," I stammered. A crimson wave flowed up my neck engulfing my face in heat and beads of sweat across my upper lip.
"You've been checking out those rings for a long time. Perhaps I can suggest something? How much do you have to spend?"
"Uh, um." The eloquence of an eight year old wasn't helpful so I opened my hand revealing two shiny quarters.
"Well, let me offer this in exchange for your hard earned money." A bright red stone shone from the genuine gold band between his fingers.
"How about this?" Another gold band but this time the stone was a brilliant green.
Well, let's see..." he stirred the display with his fore finger. Up came another.
"This is very nice." A band of pure gold, I just knew it, with a large, clear stone. He wiggled it to show how the light reflected.
"Um..." I began to look around anxiously. My eyes fell upon some lovely feathered shafts. The salesman forgotten I drifted into Sherwood. Such beauties would serve well to feed my merry men the King's deer. I took one off the counter. I placed it at my eye looking down the length to be sure it was straight and true.
"How much are the arrows?" I asked.
"Twenty-five cents each." Came the answer.
"I'll take two please."
"Have you decided against the ring?"
"I have a duty to my Merry Men of Sherwood," I said placing the two coins in his hand. He looked at me like all adults look at kids. I walked down the aisle staring down the shaft of each carefully chosen arrow.
It was a good trade, I thought, pleased with myself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The human fly

"Don't look down!"
Those fatal words. Down went my eyes, my foot lost its grip along with my fingertips. Down I went.
"Told you not to look down. You gotta get back up."
"Don't wanna."
"Ya big baby. Come on. I'll start over with you." He jumped landing on his feet.
We walked back to the side door. It was recessed into the side of the old brick school house. A row of brickwork began the wall at this entrance. It protruded almost a half inch from the face of the wall along the outside of the entire school facade. There was just enough room for the small feet of grammar school children. The edge of the Keds ankle-highs grpped the small ledge which began level with the porch leading into the side door. Another protrusion wrapped around the walls at just eyelevel, at least for a third grader attempting to "walk the wall."
Generations of kids hugged the bricks in an attempt to complete the entire school wall like a fly. Richard had done it.
"It's fun," he said. "I'll show you how." That's how it had begun.

The recess bell had rung releasing Kids from class. Doors had flung open to a flood of tiny humans into the world of sunshine. The midday sun shone bright and warm welcoming the happy voices of children unfettered by desks and books.
"Come on, Rickey. Let's walk the wall." Richard was already turning his feet outward against the bricks to place the entire inside of his feet against the wall facing. His Keds' soles perched precariously on the half inch ledge.
"You have to get as much of your foot on the edge as you can. Next is the important part. your fingers have to grip these bricks." He placed his fingertips on the upper row. The pressure he bore whitened his nailbeds as he stepped away from the porch landing.
"Just don't look down," Richard said inching his hand along the brick layer, then sliding his foot beneath him.
"Just do what I'm doing. It's easy."
"I don't know.."
"Scaredy cat..."
I watched him perfecting his rhythm, hand, foot, body slide. Less than an inch of space lay between him and the brickwork. Quickly he came to the corner and just as quickly he was out of sight beyond it.
"Fraidy cat!" I heard from the other side of the building.
"Fraidy cat!" The call was picked up by the other kids nearby. I could hear the beginnings of laughter.
"I'm not afraid!" I yelled. I jammed my feet up against the wall and tried my weight. My outer foot sagged but it held me. I clutched the brick line at eye level then slid my right hand forward. I inched my right foot along lifting my left from the safety of the porch. I was doing it. I was walking the wall. Well, I was hugging the wall. Walking meant moving which I wasn't to the laughter below me. Slowly I crept sidwise inch by inch. The corner looked a hundred miles away.
"Come On!" I heard Richard's voice from the far side. "I'm alomost at the next corner!"
I hadn't even closed in on this one. Richard was going to finish before I could even round the first.
Budding confidence propelled me onward. The derisive calls of chicken began to die down as they began to latch on to the wall behind me. The calls changed to "Hurry up! Get out of the way!"
With my tongue protruding in concentration I picked up the pace. The corner! I was at the corner. With the chill of the bricks against my cheek, I slipped my hand around the edge searching for a hand hold. Finding it I edged forward and slid my foot around out of sight. Now to pull my entire body around. My cheek scraped along the mortar and brick. Don't look down I reminded myself. One more stretch of my arm and foot places me at the edge. My eyes stared at the corner. I looked up to see both walls rising to the roof a lifetime above. Finally I was facing my next challenge. Twenty feet lay between me and the next corner. Richard was already there feeling around to the longest portion and then he was gone.
"It's easy!" His muffled shout reached me.
I was doing it. Just don't look down. I moved with more agility now. Search, slide, move. I hugged that wall with open arms. All that held me up was fingertips and Keds' soles. I was a mountain climber in the Alps straddling a crevice. Onc slip and I would plunge to a horrible death. Perspiration beaded across my brow furrowed in concentration. A push from behind. I froze.
"Hurry up! The bell's gonna ring soon."
"Don't push." I yelled facing away from my tormenter.
"If you don't move I'll push you off!"
A fall to certain death loomed in my future. It all depended on me.
"OK1 OK! Gimme a sec." Slippery fingers inched over the bricks. I moved forward again.
My progress improved with the threat of total annihilation. One push could disloge me. Determination pushed me onward. The second corner came and went. I looked along the face of the third side. It reached to infinity. Richard was already at the four post mark. He looked back, loosed his left hand and waved.
The next fifteen minutes were filled with sweat and work as I continued walking the wall. Below me, now, were the kids playing tag between the four upright posts. I stepped down onto a set of steps leading to a door separating the wall's walkway for rubber soles. I rested as I slowly walked the top step to the next challenge. One of the kids behind pushed me aside. He jumped up onto the ledge and crab walked to the next corner. I slowly set my foot on the overhang lifting myself up. I faced the corner as I moved onward. Reaching the corner for my next turn I heard the bell ring.
Kids were running to get in line. I saw the rows of children form before my eyes. Doors opened and teachers came out to see that all their pupils returned to class.
I looked down. I held on. I looked down.
"Come on Rickey. We gotta go to class. Just jump down. It's only this high," he said holding his hand chest high. "Look. See. It won't hurt to jump down."
Maybe in reality, I thought, but to my mind it's a cliff in the heights of the Andes. A jump could plunge me to my death.
"Oh stop pretending you're a mountain climber and jump down. I'm going to class." He ran off. The lines for class were fast disappearing. Reality finally interupted my climb and I dropped off the wall. My Keds landed flat on the pavement and I scampered off to my class. My teacher held the door for her last pupil. She smiled as I found my desk.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This little piggy went to market....

"We're going to take your dad some supper," said my mother fetching my coat. "Here you go. Put your coat on while I bag up the sandwiches."
A trip to Armour Star was always an adventure. Sandwiches bagged up, we headed for the car. Mom cranked old Jezebel up, our cars always had a name when I was young, slipped the gear shift on the column into reverse and backed into the road. Clutch, shift and off we went.
"Do you suppose the ladies in the freezers will be there?" I asked leaning forward to see out the front window.
"Not this late. Why?" During daylight hours the ladies would sit at tables behind huge metal doors that slammed shut like a bank vault. On the inside the air was frigid enough to produce a frosty plume out of exhled breath. Their job was to package the weenies, or frankfurters as the package called them. To us kids they were weenies whose lives came to fruition when they were jammed on the end of a straightened coat hanger and held out over an open flame to sizzle and drip grease into the fire with a tssst and an upward blaze. We would place them in a bun slathering on mustard, ketchup, and relish, then stuffed into our pie holes.
To get back to the ladies in the refrigerated rooms I had always been a favorite of theirs when dad would take me in with him to pick up his check for the week.
"Oooh look at you," they'd say. "Such a handsome boy. Takes after his daddy."
I'd blush and stammer as they fawned over me.
"Here, Rickey. I've got some extra coins you can have." There were coins made of plastic with pictures of baseball players that were sealed in the packages as enticements to the kiddies who went along with the mothers to the grocery store. They were thought to be a lure for children, as the cereal boxes offered toys, to beg mom's all over America to buy Armour Star weenies. It wasn't such a popular extra. I don't know of any kids who collected them. The ones I was given at each visit usually found a place in the trash before the trashmen visited the area. But I would always take them with a smile and a thank you, slipping them into my pocket.
"Do you want to try sealing a package?" One of the ladies would ask me every time I came by. Eagerly I'd climb into her chair and fold the cellophane over the cardboard atop the weenies like a Christmas wrap and run it under the hot iron which came down by means of a lever. The heat would make a sizzling sound and the celephane would fuse, sealing in the future hot dogs. After about three or four times the huge thick door would make a loud clack as the heavy lock was thrown back. It would slowly swing out. In would walk my dad looking for me.
"I thought I'd find you here," he'd say. The ladies would praise me for my "work' and tell him what an adorable son he had along with other comments that I would come to know as flirting when older. Dad would just blush and hurry me out of the cold locker, down the stairs of the loading platform and off to Jezebel.
"Here we are," mom would say pulling Old Jez over the railroad tracks leading up to one of the loading docks. I'd jump out carrying the brown bag filled with sandwiches. Mom's door would slam behind me as she shouted, "Wait for me."
We'd ring the bell at the door which brought dad. He'd let us in.
"I'm cooking the bologna. Come on back."
We'd follow up the stairs of the loading dock, into the mixing area which was comprised of several large vats. The floors were of red brick which slanted in areas into drainage holes covered by small iron gratings. Small bits of fat along with scraps of meat would be littered around the floor which had not been swept yet. The mixing vats were like huge grinders into which all the leftovers from the buthchering would be dumped. This would all be ground together and encased in a mesh. This had been done earlier in the day. The mixture had been extruded into the mesh and hung on large trolleys which could be wheeled into the walkin ovens.
They would hang on poles which lay horizontally atop the trolley. When cooked they would be called bologna, or, in kid speak, baloney
Occasionally one or two of the bolgnas would burst through a weakness in the mesh cocoon. These could not be sold in the stores so we were able to take them home. If one did pop through, dad would cut a chunk out of it and hand it to me. It was the best tasting bologna ever. Until I acquired a microwave oven I had not tasted anything so good until I placed a slice in the MW oven. The taste was exactly what I recall. When I first discovered that i was inundated by the wonderful memories of those visits. Yay technology.
After I had finished my sandwich and my folks were talking I'd wander around the open area. I'd chase cock roaches across the floor trying to squash them under my shoes. They would find a multitude of hiding places to stay execution. In my exuberance I'd often slip and fall on the slippery brick floor only to be told to get up off that nasty floor by my dad. When the oven's ringer clicked on signalling the rack of bolognas were ready to be removed, dad would put on his gloves and open the double doors, grab the trolley and roll it out and into the cooling area. The next batch would be pushed into the oven. He'd adjust the temperature gauge and the timer. This done he'd remove his gloves and turn his attention to us.
While walking us to the car he'd pull out a packet of Luckies, retrieve one putting it between his lips. Back would go the pack into his left breast pocket and he'd retrieve his lighter from his pants pocket. A flick of the wheel against the flint would result in a small flame. He'd touch it to the end of his smoke with a deep inhale. It was so much a part of life back then that all of that was not even noticed. He plucked the Luckie from his lips holding it between his finger and thumb keeping the red flame hidden in his palm. I often wondered if that was a holdover from the war when the lit end could be noticed by the enemey, but that was a child's musing.
Dad would walk us to the car. After a kiss from mom we'd climb in. He's watch and wave as we pulled onto the street. Another drag as he watched us leave then he'd drop it to the ground and crush it beneath his boot. I would fall asleep on the way home.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Jolly Old Sad Nick...

One hot arid day a small Bedouin boy threw a rock into this cave between my ears and heard the crack of pottery. This manuscript had been sepulchered within that dark space.

James and John approached Jesus with a new friend whom they introduced as Nick. Nick immediately grabbed Jesus by the arm and walked to the side of the road. He began to speak.
"Your friends are concerned because you aren't reaching enough people with your new religion. They brought me over to help promote you and get you in front of the world. And we can do it, I promise you that. Yeah, you've got a really good idea and it needs to go farther than Galilee. You need my help, that's for sure.
"Now, Jesus, you know you're turning the leaders of the Synagogue against you with all your actions. That's the first group you want on your side. You've got to stop all those things that bring them down on you--healing on the Sabbath, forgiving sins, and beating the money changers--woowee, that was a bad one!
"If you're going to sell your product, you gotta give the people what they want. To reach a wider audience, we need to make a study of the area to come up with a package to get your message out there so it grabs their attention.
"Let's see. We need a logo. All good businesses have logos. Hey, Peter, any thoughts on a logo?"
"I don't know anything about logos. I'm just a fisherman. All I know is fish."
"That's it! A fish! Great idea. No wonder he calls you a rock.
"Now we need to think about what the people want and go from that angle."
Judas fingered the bag of coins on his hip, thinking, 'We've got a good thing here. Money coming in and women who follow us around taking care of us. If we were bigger there'd be more.' He opened up to Nick.
"How about getting a few thousand people together? I could ask a friend to donate his hill. We could advertise it as Jesus' Sermon on the Mount."
"I don't believe that would work. People are too busy to spend an afternoon sitting on a hill. What we need to pull in a crowd is a miracle," said Nick.
"You mean like turning water into wine? I've heard about that one, but I'd really like to see it with my own eyes."
"Oh, Thomas. You've never believed that. I was there. I drank it. It was the best," everyone said in unison.
"Yeah, you could bet a lot of people would come out for a sip or two of wine," said Simon with real enthusiasm.
"How about billboards and short catchy slogans? You know, things to stick in the memory. Like Name it and Claim it!" said Andrew.
Jesus broke in at this point saying, "That's not exactly..."
"Wait, Jesus. We're trying to get the message out there. We're brainstorming here. Give us a few. All Right?"
James and John spoke up, "Hey, wait a minute now. We brought you over for this. Jesus might be a backwoods preacher but he deserves your respect. He's the one you are promoting. Remember? You gotta make him big. He's already promised us seats at his right and left if we follow him. We're ready for that. It's up to you to make him really big!"
"All right," Nick said, a slight smile on his lips. "Let's get back to this rally. Jesus, do you think you can heal a couple of cripples? That's always a good show stopper."
"You really don't understand my message at all. You need to..."
"That's okay. Don't need to understand it. Just need to sell it. You don't want your boys here to be embarrassed because you only reach a few people, do you? Of course you don't. You want them to be proud of a big organization. Don't you?"
"It won't come from..."
"Sure you do. Hey, Matthew, any idea how much tax would be levied on a show the size we're talking?"
"Well, if we rent the tent and cater the affair we could write it off as a business expense. Then we'd clear even more!"
"Hey, Thaddeus. We never hear from you. Do you have any ideas to throw out?"
"Yes, I do. I've been thinking. We need to come up with something to sway a really tough audience. I have a friend in the Sanhedrin, name of Saul. If we convince him then we'd have the world in our pocket."
"Bad idea. Never happen. You'd have to run into that stubborn mule on a lonely road and hit him right between the eyes with a cross-beam. Make him see lights and hear voices before you could even get to him," said Andrew. "He's a man who goes strictly by the book. The last person who'd listen to us. It would have to be God himself swinging that timber."
"Just a thought."
"Well, now. Let's not get discouraged. We're throwing out ideas. Let's look from a new perspective."
Nick, putting his hand to his chin and looking Jesus over, grew pensive. "Hmm..Yes. I believe that would do it. OK! Jesus, I know, now, what we have to do. A whole new look and attitude. We have to change your image. We've got some work to do here. You know people think you're just a rebel. You talk to women in public, for crying out loud! you defend who sho should be stoned. That just ain't right. You gotta stop. How do you expect to get the guys behind you if you break up a good stoning?
"And if you want the women to follow you, you'll have to get rid of that homespun and get you some real nice threads. Something to accentuate your looks. Maybe something in red.
"You know your face looks like that of a man of a thousand sorrows. Definitely a turnoff to the chicks. You've been working as a carpenter most of your life. We need to emphasize your physique. And if you could lose that look, as if you have the fate of mankind on your shoulders..."
"Hold it, Nick. I know you. We've met before. You've certainly got these boys on your bandwagon."
"How long do I have to put up with all of you?" Jesus said turning to his twelve followers. "You do not understand a single thing I've said while I've been with you. When will you see that I am not selling a product to be marketed by the likes of this person? I wasn't sent to offer you a nice ride to the good life. I was sent to fulfill the law. The law was given to provide a way to know God and live a life clsoe to Him. But it has all been perverted by salesmen and others who don't understand the spirit of the law.
"I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly. I am not a business. None of you know where I am going. If you did you would not want to go, but you will.
"I am not a product to be packaged and sold. I am God's gift to you. It is up to each person to decide if he wants this gift. But it comes at a price. It costs you your soul. You must give your life to God. And don't think that upon giving your life to God you will be alone. No. When I leave, the Holy Spirit will come to be with you. He will guide you. But I get ahead of myself.
"You can package and sell the words I utter but you cannot sell the meaning. The meaning comes from within. It is a seed planted in each person's heart. Whether it takes root is not up to those pushing the seeds but to my Father who loves each one. Will each be one of mine? That is between the individual and the Father.
"One day you will hear it said, 'If their purpose is of human origin, it will fail. But, if it is of God, you will not be able to stop these men.' I ask you, can you find a better sales campaign?
"You need to stop efforts to splash me across the country. You must take my words to heart. Love God with all your heart and soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. That is all I teach. No amount of advertising or sloganizing will do more than each one studying my word with prayer and meditation. Those who love God will be with God. That is all the Father wants. Let us end this ,now, and continue our journey to Jerusalem.
"Nick, you can go back into the hot desert and leave these few alone. We'll meet again. Good bye for now."
Nick, no longer smiling, slunk back toward the desert. Jesus with his followers turned toward Jerusalem in silence.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I had a dream...

Christmas Eve? Already? I just told a boy to shoo away from my window. He was making noise and throwing snowballs. He had on an oversized threadbare tweed coat with patches and holes throughout. His long scarf lifted on the wind as he ran away. He turned and got off a hard packed snowball which broke upon the window pane, cracking it.
"You bloody pest! Now look what you've done."
"Merry Christmas to you too, guv'ner!" punctuated with a two fingered "V" pumped into the air towards me.
Now all this is very odd because the urchin disappeared along with the snow as he turned the corner. Looking at the window I still saw the crack.
"Nonsense and stuff," I muttered returning to my wrapping. Christmas, I thought, is such a pain in the arse holiday, what with mandatory gifts and merchants' ads pummeling you on all sides. Not to mention the new renditions of old standby Christmas music. It can hardly be called music since there is no melody . It's just heavy bass booming repeatedly upon savaged eardrums along with unintelligible words screamed into a microphone.
Ah, well. It's time to finish wrappping the gifts. Spend time in lines. Buy gifts with no idea what the recipient wants. Then they spend time in lines to return your unwanted, and unappreciated purchase, for something they would rather have. It's a guessing game that eats up time and money I don't want to spend, but it's Christmas and expected.
Hear that? Yup. Rain. Perfect. The South's version of a white Christmas. Liquid snow due to the 70 degree temperature outside. It's far too warm for nature's miracle of snow covering a multitude of eyesores. Just another wet day.
There, the packages are wrapped. Gift checks are written. Finally, finished with those. Now it's time to pick up the last minute items. Everything will be picked over. I'll have to go out into the crowds, interact with rude sales clerks. They don't want to be working anymore than I want to be buying. They want to be home same as me. It's a miserable season.
I'll just send these e-cards and be on my way....

A tap on the shoulder woke me. "Huh? What? Time to go? I must have drifted off."
"Wake up."
"OK, OK. I'm awake. Wha... Who are you?"
"I'm the ghost of Christmas."
"OH yeah? Which one? Past, present or future?"
"The only one, I'm thinking."
"Huh? What does that mean?"
"Just grab hold of my sleeve."
"Whoa buddy. I don't want anything to do with this. I've seen the movie a dozen times. You show me a bunch of stuff from my past and the present, then you take me to a graveyard where I fall on my knees and beg you to say it ain't so. Does that cover it?"
"What a schmuck. Just grab the sleeve."
"I don't have a choice do I?'
At the touch of his sleeve there was a flash then darkness. We stood in a narrow street bordered by square buildings made of hardened mud. Each one was lighted by lonely pots of oil sitting in small windows cut into the walls. A yellow glow from those flames basked the walls on each side of the alley way.
"What the... Where are we? This isn't any past I remember."
"Shh! Listen."
The clopping of hooved feet echoed off the walls. I heard a voice above those hoofbeats.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes. Try here." It was a woman's voice.
There was the sound of a fist on wood.
The creak of a hinge and, "Excuse me. I need a room. My wife's..."
"Sorry. No rooms available." Followed by a slam.
"Joseph. Please, I need a place lie down. The pains are coming often."
"Alright. I'm trying. It's past midnight. There's nothing. I'll keep trying."
Another knock. Another rejection. Another slam. The clip clop of donkey hooves approached.
"Is there anything we can do to help?"
"No one can see or hear us. We can only observe."
We watched the man, leading the donkey, drop the reins and march to the door across from us.
"JOSEPH! Help!"
"Hold on! I'll get us in here!" he said and commenced beating on the door.
"Hold up there! What's this racket?"
"Thank God. I need a room for my wife. She's in labor! The baby is coming!"
"You stupid gitt. I don't have any rooms. We're full up. You should have thought about it before coming. Now go away and stop hammering at my door."
"Please! Can't you see she's in pain? I'm telling you the baby is coming now!"
"Jonah, what's all the noise here?" Jonah's wife held a lantern high and peered out the door.
"Nothing Ruth. Just some yokel wanting a room. Go back to bed."
Mary moaned.
"What do you mean nothing? Look at that poor girl. She's in agony. She needs a place to lie down. My God. She's in labor. She isn't old enough to understand what's happening. Get her around back and into the stable," she said to Joseph. "I'll bring some blankets. Hurry! Get along with you."
"Thank you." He hurriedly led the donkey around back. He helped the girl off the animal and into the stable.
"Men!" said Ruth as she gathered blankets and a skein of wine. "That little girl can't have been fourteen years on this earth and that geezer she's with has already pushed life into her womb. MEN!"
She hurried to the stable brushing passed us without a look.
"Take this old man out of here and send our daughter. I'm going to need her help with this birth."
"Yes dear," said Jonah. He hurried into the house and out flew a young girl pulling on a wrap to ward off the cold.
"Miriam, get some warm clothes for this young thing. She'll need them shortly. And get a blanket for the little one to come. And bring some water!" she shouted at the girl running back to the house. "Now dearie, try to relax. I've been a midwife for years, so you're in good hands."
She yelled out the door to her husband, "Jonah, take this wine and get that man out of here."
Jonah took the wine skein. He grabbed Joseph by the elbow leading him outside.
"Time to leave, my friend. It's best not to stay when she gets like this."
The two of them walked out into the hills surrounding the village. Jonah gave the goat's bladder to Joseph who sprayed a long line of wine into his mouth. He swallowed and wiped his mouth. A scream came from the stable. He turned the bladder up and squeezed it long and hard. He obiously was not a drinking man. After the third hit his eyes teared up.
"Whoa, friend. you might want to take it easy with that wine."
"Easy for you to say. You don't know what I have to contend with."
"Maybe not, but I've had my share of troubles being married these twenty something years. They work themselves out with time."
"How many children do you have?" asked Joseph.
"Four total. Miriam's the youngest. She's the girl helping Ruth with your wife. She's about the same age as your wife come to think of it. She's really young to be with child. If it had been me I would have waited a year or two before..."
"Ha, ha, ha. You think you know it all, don't you? Well, you don't. That's not my child."
"Maybe I'll take that winebag now. You've had a bit too much. I don't think you should talk about your wife that way. Especially to a stranger."
Talk about my wife that way? What way? Know how I found out? She told me."
That's not the best part. Want to know who the father is? Huh? Do you?"
"Well, I think that's between you and your wife..."
"Tell you any way. The father of that baby is God. Yeah, that's right. God."
"Be quiet man," said Jonah looking around. "You blaspheme."
"No, seriously. That's what she told me. We were betrothed and she went to visit her cousin. It was a hurried trip. We never lay together because we wanted to wait the year of our engagement. So we announced our betrothal and the next day without a word she left to visit her cousin Elizabeth who had found herself with child in her seventieth year. Odd that. Then when she came home she told me she was also with child and that it was the Lord's child in her womb. The angel Gabriel told her that. Well, I couldn't divorce her. She'd have been stoned. The night she told me I had a dream that she was having a baby in a stable , just like now."
"How can..."
"That's not all. We had visiters after his birth. Yes, it was a boy these men came to see. They all said they had come to worship the new born king, the messiah. The child being born now was to be the messiah. That dream was too real not to be heeded. So I haven't divorced her. We had to travel a long way to pay taxes. She was heavy with child but we had to come. And now, thanks to you, she lies in a stable giving birth. Just like the dream. And...and.."
"Here. You do need this wine. Have another drink. I'll go check on your wife."
He hurried to the barn and was met by the cries of the newborn breathing his first. Jonah looked at the child. There was a glow about him that brought a smile to Jonah's face. He turned to hurry back to Joseph. On his way out he bumped into ragged shepherds.
"We've come to see the child born this night. We saw angels in heaven above our field. The heavens were filled with their voices in glorious song. It was they who told us of the child. We rushed here to see and there he is just as they said, wrapped in swaddling clothes."
Jonah had no liking of shepherds. They were dirty and shiftless, smelling of sheep, but he smiled at them, bidding them pass to glimpse the newborn. As he left, they all fell to their knees in worship. Odd, he thought.
"Joseph! Come, see your child. A beautiful boy."
"Are there shepherds from the hills in the stable?" he asked with fear in his eyes.
"Why, yes. How did you know?"
"My dream. Want to know more?"
"There's more?"
"Oh yes. When we get to the stable there will be a star standing over it and three finely dressed men on camels will be dismounting. Their slaves will be untying boxes with rich gifts that they will lay at the feet of the child in swaddling clothes. Gold, frankencense and myrrh. They will say they are three kings from the orient who have traveled far to see the newborn king who will change the world."
"That's the wine talking. He is a beautiful child, though. Your son. No matter if you choose to remain married to the maid, if you love her, and you must, you will love this child. Come with me. Take a look."
"Yes, alright," said Joseph rising unsteadily.
They rounded the corner and in front of them three finely dressed men were dismounting from camels. Joseph and Jonah looked up and there above the stable was the brightest star they had ever seen shining its light directly onto the stable. They looked at each other in disbelief.
The newly arrived visitors were entering the barn bearing boxes before them. The animals in the stalls quietly looked up at the strangers entering then returned their gaze to the child who smiled at them.
The first man knelt before the child laying the gift of gold at his feet. As he stepped back the second repeated the act as did the third in his turn. They bowed their heads and gave thanks. The child looked upon them all and raised his tiny hand then smiled at each one. They backed out of the stable bowing in the the babe's direction. As they stood by their camels they argued for a short while about which direction to take home. They finally decided to go in the opposite direction from their approach. Joseph and Jonah watched in silence as the three disappeared over the hill.
The shepherds backed out bowing just as the previous three kings. They excitedly thanked the two men as they made there way back into the hills followed by the tinkling bells worn by the sheep following along behind them.
It was Joseph's turn to see the child born that night. Mary looked up as he knelt by the manger. She smiled at Joseph. Then she offered the boy to him. Joseph hesitated. The child smiled holding out his arms toward him. Slowly Joseph took the baby into his arms. The baby made burbling noises through his smile. He contiued to look upon his earthly father until Joseph smiled and kissed him gently. The little bundle kicked with glee.
"You told me the truth, Mary. I know it now that I have seen and held our child. God has blessed us and the world."
There was a momentary blackout. Then I was here once again in front of the keyboard along with an empty cup of coffee and... and... my shoe. In my shoe. There's sand. Lots of it. Sand in my shoe? Where did that come from?
"Schmuck!" It was a voice from nowhere. It sounded familiar though.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Look! Up in the sky!

Each year we would drive to Clio, Georgia, to celebrate Christmas. That was Christmas. I was four when my dad brought us to America. It had been his promise to my mother. My first memory erupted into my consciousness as a result of that promise. To sail to the states required immunization. It was smallpox. My generation sports a round scar high on the deltoid of the left arm as proof of smallpox immunization. Mine is on my right arm facing outward near my elbow.
"Hold him!" shouted the doctor.
"What!" yelled my Dad cocking his ear toward him. Neither of them could hear over the screams coming from my mouth.
Wiggling and squirming I slipped from their grasp trying to run for any hiding space. Dad grabbed me by the foot. Trapped. I continued my banshee wailing.
"I got him," Dad yelled into the doctor's ear.
The doctor had placed his needle and dread on the table while he attempted to scrub my left arm with alcohol. I jerked it away.
"I need you to hold him still." The doctor huffed.
"You think I'm not trying?"
Dad put his arm around me to hold me close and still.
"I need his left arm."
"You're just going to have to give it where ever you can. I can't hold him still for long."
I was moving and shaking and squirming to do a rassler proud. My Dad, afraid to hurt such a little human being, was trying to hold me down without cracking my bones. It was a chore he'd not had to deal with before. Me? I was fighting for my life or so it seemed at the time.
"Alright then. There. Hold him. I got his arm. It's his right arm."
"That's fine. Don't think it matters which as long as it's done."
"Right." He applied the alcohol again. I was still jerking my arm in attempts to get away.
"Hold him still!" the flustered doctor said. He dipped the needle into the vaccine. As he brought it to my arm I let out a scream. Then came the puncture. Stab, stab and a dip into the vaccine. All the while my high pitched short screams were bringing people to the door to see who was being killed. Dad and the doctor looked up sheepishly.
"What you doing to that child?" One of them said.
"Trying to vaccinate the little blighter so he can go with his parents to America."
Seeing that I was not being murdered they smiled returning to their own business.
Exhausted by the ordeal, I finally accepted, going limp, tears streaming down my face. Betrayed by my very own parents.
The ragged circle of pin pricks, blood seeping through, was covered to keep me from picking at it. The doctor exclaimed that he had never had such a hard case as this one before. Dad slipped my arms into my coat and we went home.
But I digress.
Usually on Christmas eve eve we would load up a trunk full of presents. We'd take them to members of the family who wouldn't be going to Georgia for the big day. Their Christmases would be spent with other families. This night we bundled up in our heavy coats. Heck, we bundled up in our coats. We weren't rich. We had clothes enough but not coats for the different temperatures. Anyway, we hopped into the car to make the rounds.
We would be driving to Georgia the next morning. My stack of funny books was waiting in the hall to be loaded into the backseat first thing in the morning.
The last stop we made was on old Stono River RD deep in Riverland Terrace. A cozy white cinderblock house was the final destination. Dad pulled up into the drive. I grabbed a couple of packages, my Dad the rest. We climbed the three steps to the front door. I watched my breath turn to a grey cloud of steam. I tried blowing smoke rings as I'd seen my Dad do with the smoke from his Luckie. The door opened. My rings whooshed away.
The screen creaked open.
"Come in. Come in. We have hot chocolate on the stove. Come get a cup."
"Don't mind if we do," said Dad helping me with my coat. After he hung up mom's coat we joined them in the kitchen.
It was a brief visit. We drank our cocoa. The folks talked a while. I visited with my cousins. The packages we handed over. In return we were given packages to take to Georgia for the rest of the family.
While everyone was saying their good byes I slipped out the front door to attempt another bevy of "smoke" rings. The night was still. The cold gripped as it sank into the bones of my legs. I crammed my hands into my jacket pockets to ward off frost bitten fingers. I looked upward to puff out smoke rings of grey against the blackness of the sky. My eyes went beyond the feeble ring. The light of a single star captured me. A vast expanse of black punched with small pinpoints of light overwhelmed me. The blackness swallowed me. The cold wrapped around me. The concept of being utterly alone flowed through me in that moment. My breath became a cloud that disappeared. I continued to stare into the vastness above me. Alone. But high above that single star brighter than all the others filled me with a sense of hope that altered the coldness that had begun to settle inside me. That's the star, I thought. The star that led the wise men across the desert. That's the star that came to rest over the stable in Bethlehem so long ago. That's the star that reminds us we aren't alone in all this universe.
The screen door's creak caught my attention.
"What are you doing out here?" asked my mother.
"Blowing smoke rings," I said walking to the car.
I looked up as I was opening the back door. There was a star there that was a little brighter than the others. It was nothing like the one I had witnessed just moments ago.
"Where'd that bright star go?" asked nobody in particular.
"That's the north star," said Mom.
"No, a moment ago there was a really bright one."
"You mean the Christmas star? The brightest in the heavens? It's there if you look hard enough."
Whether I saw the star over Jerusalem or not is debatable. I know what I felt though. It was the promise of two centuries past. The love of the Lord for us all. A night that is forever locked in my heart.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

all a quiver

As I walked home from school I got caught up in the adventures of Robin Hood. I had seen every thing. My first exposure was on the big screen. Errol Flynn carrying a stag into the big room ended with his tossing the carcass on the dining table in front of Prince John. Technicolor Lincoln green was my favorite color. Then came Richard Todd on the televison drawing the bow and splitting the arrow on Disneyland. In later years Robin came to life again in a series starring Richard Greene. It came on Monday nights. He would draw that string and let the arrow fly straight and true to its target far away.
"Rob from the rich, give to the poor!" my voice rose, the words tumbling out with less than perfect pitch. I shook off my attachment to Robin as I walked up to the little cinderblock house we called home. It was painted pink. The landlord had a strange sense of humor. In the window was the outline of the tree we'd decorated. Slipping my bookbag off my shoulders I ran to the front door. Princess, my collie, stood on the porch wagging her tail as I approached. Inside the door I looked to the right to see that the fuzzy white drape cloth was still bare of presents. When? I thought. When will there be presents under the tree?
I mumbled those words I wasn't supposed to use as I dropped my bag in the chair at the kitchen table. First thing I had to do was my homework. It had been the rule since the start of school. Get the homework done, then go out and play. There wasn't much since Christmas was fast approaching. It was done in minutes. I wasn't much for particulars because our Christmas holiday was soon to be here. I closed up my books, snapped my papers in the three ring binder and shoved it all back into my bookbag which I dropped on my bed. That done I was out the door. Through the weeds bordering the yard and under the broken wire I tumbled into my neighbor's yard. He wanted to play cowboys and indians. I ran around shouting bang bang for a while but it wasn't what I wanted to play. I slipped into Lincoln Green in my mind. Pulling my imaginary pointed cap with a long curving feather at the side I made my excuses and slipped back through the fence.
In my room in the closet was the bow I had gotten a while back. I had about 5 arrows and planned on buying two more this weekend with my allowance. They were outrageously priced at twenty-five cents each. I grabbed my arrows and bow. The door slammed on my way out back. Princess barked as I bent the bow bringing the string to its notch. A lovely bend of wood. A lovely twang of taut string. My target was an old box with a crayon circle within a circle within a circle. I stood a few feet back, drew the newly nocked arrow up to my cheek. Twang! Thunk! My release was answered with a solid hit close to the center. I smiled knowing The Sheriff of Nottingham had much to worry about.
All five of my arrows found their spot on the box in what I would later know was a good grouping. As I pulled them free I thought once again about my biggest hope for Christmas. Carrying arrows by hand was simply poor form. Everybody could see that Robin had a quiver slung over his shoulder with a leather strap attached at both ends hugging it close to his back. After an arrow flew straight and true he simply reached behind him to pull another to be nocked, drawn and released with speed and accuracy. If I had a leather quiver I could be firing off arrows at machine gun speed, I thought. None of this dropping them at my feet to be retrieved by bending over. Why the Sheriff's quick action would make me a pincushion before the second arrow was laying across my bow. I needed a quiver. My parents knew. Believe me they knew.
While I was out back punching holes in my box target, my mother had come home. She opened the back door, "Finished your homework?" Those were usually the first words I heard.
"Yes'm long time ago."
"OK. Your dad will be home soon. you might want to come in and washup. Isn't there something on TV you can watch til he gets home?"
"I'm going to keep shootin' arrows."
"Alright then. We'll be eating as soon as he gets home."
Not much later I heard Dad in the kitchen. I ran inside with a door slam.
"Hey Dad!"
"Horses eat hay," he said. He was seated at the table reading the newpaper. In the afternoon I thought my dad was a newspaper above a set of legs sitting at the kitchen table. His voice drifted over the top of that paper if he spoke at all. I took my bow and arrows back to my room then washed my hands in the bathroom. The house was filling with the aroma of leftovers. I could tell the day of the week by what we ate. It was a life routine. Roast beef on Sunday, leftover roast beef slices on Monday, Shepherd's pie on Tuesday, etc. Roast beef was THE Sunday meal. It was normally cooked to the consistency of shoe leather. My mother always felt meat should be cooked thoroughly.
Supper went quickly.
"May I be excused?" I would ask. It was a requirement to leave the table unless of course one did not eat his vegetables. In that case the answer was, "Not until you have cleaned your plate. There are starving children in China who would love to eat that." Let's mail it to them, I would think, but never utter out loud.
This night I had eaten everything and was given the OK. I ran into the living room and turned on the TV.
"Heck, news," The bane of childhood. If news was on the parents owned the box. Off to my room I went.
"Don't you want to help put the presents under the tree?" asked my mother.
"Yes. Help me get them out of the closet here." The closets were off limits at this time of the year. I never opened them. I never went into their room, but now I was asked in to be given packages. We carried them to the tree and placed them in a semi-cirle underneath. I found mine. It was time to shake and guess. I looked at Dad. He smiled and nodded giving me permission. I picked up a tubular package wrapped in light green paper with a bow made of ribbon at the top. My grin grew from ear to ear.
"This is it!" I yelled. "You got me my quiver! That's all I wanted! A quiver! I already know. Can I open it now?!" I was ready to rip it apart and plunked my five arrows into it.
"It isn't Christmas yet," said Dad. "We'll open one on Christmas eve. If you want, that can be it for you."
"But, I know what it is. I need it to carry my arrows. Please, can't I open it?"
"On Christmas eve.'
Mom looked at Dad. I could tell she would let me. Her face said, he knows. Can't he?
Dad shook his head, knowing her thoughts. His face was slowly filling with a grin. My mother knew what that meant.
Every day I would pick up my package. I'd shake it, mash it and slip it over my shoulder to get the feel of it. Each day I'd stare at it longingly. Each day Dad would watch me and smile. The last day of school came and I ran home to look at my package.
When supper was over and the news had signed off Dad said, "Since we will be driving to your grandmother's Christmas eve I've decided we should open our one package tonight instead of tomorrow."
I bolted out of my chair with a hoop and hollar.
"Calm down, son. Reach over there for your mother's gift," he said pointing at a small one behind the tree. "There you go, dear," he said looking at Mom. There was real affection in his eyes as he watched her strip away the paper.
"Oh, nice. I love it."
I didn't care what it was. I had my package in my hand. "Me now?" I asked.
"No, let's let your Dad open his. That one right over there under the bubbling light. Yeah, that's it."
Oh Lord, I thought. He'll take forever to open that thing. I was right. Slowly, ever so slowly, he would pull the scotch tape away from the paper so as not to rip any part. That done he would unfold the creases with such care that not a wrinkle would show. Then he would hand the almost perfect square of paper to my mother saying, "Save that. We can use it again." And we normally did reuse the wrapping paper in our house. We were all very careful.
He finally opened the box. He would remove the contents say, "Very nice," and put it back into the box. This time he took a little longer replacing the item, closing the box and dropping it beside his chair. That done he looked at me, grinned ever so slightly and said, "Alright. Your turn son."
True to form I had to carefully remove the tape and unfold it so it could be reused. I was trembling with eagerness to get into it. The imposed restraint was nerve wracking for me. There all the tape was removed. With a big grin on my face I folded back the paper to reveal... rolled up paper. It was buthcer's paper rolled to the exact size, shape and squishiness of a leather quiver. I stared in disbelief. I looked from my wad of butcher's paper to my Dad who was stifling a chuckle. My mother was looking at me with sad eyes knowing the grief I felt for my non existent quiver. I turned back to my Dad who had a wide grin on his face.
"Where's my quiver?" I asked on the verge of tears.
"That'll teach you. Never believe your senses. Everything told you you had a quiver, but, as you see, it's paper. You were just so positive I couldn't help but trick you," he said as he leaned over reaching behind his chair.
My tears were becoming large enough to slide down my cheek.
"No need to cry, son. We were just having a laugh. Here's you quiver. We love you, son."
Tears forgotten I grabbed my quiver, kissed my folks, then ran to get my arrows. Into the quiver they went. I started to put it over my shoulder when I noticed...there was no strap, only a loop at the top.
"Hey," I said. "It doesn't go over my shoulder like Robin's does."
"Ah, yes. You grabbed it and ran so fast I didn't have time to finish," said Dad. "Let me show you." He had a belt in hand which he attached. This homemade strap he slipped over my head so that it sat, slanting to the right, on my shoulder hugging my back. I reached for an arrow and whipped it over my shoulder ready to rest on my bow which was still in the closet.
"That's enough excitement for one evening. Milton Berle's coming on. Let's have a watch, shall we?"
With that I put my prized gift in my room and got into my chair in front of the box. I looked at my parents knowing that they always loved me. The "surprise" gift at my expense that Christmas became a by word for later Christmases. We all tried to fool one another each year but none ever topped the reaction Dad got when I unwrapped mine. Our gifts were referred to as a "Quiver" since they were always expected to be a surprise.
"Mind you don't have a quiver there," we'd say as we watched the guessing game being played.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kettle to the pot, pot to the kettle...

It was a small tree. It sat on a table draped with a fluffy white sheet meant to represent snow. It blocked our view out the front window but, when the multicolored lights were lit, it was a festive sight for those passing on the street in front of the house. We had spent the previous evening at the Christmas tree lot choosing the perfect one. Dad always chose one under four feet so it would sit well below the ceiling when placed on the table that for years had been honored as our tree's perch.
It was a few weeks before the big day that we had brought it home. Dad stablilized the tree in the stand so that it stood upright. After this bit of bother his next words were, "Put the kettle on. We'll have a cuppa tea first." While the water boiled he lifted the tree to it's position in front of the window. Mom had put out the drape cloth, the afore mentioned fuzzy snow replacement, which he wound arond the base covering the stand. The whistle of the kettle brought him back to the kitchen table. Mom made the tea, kettle to the pot and pot to the kettle--the English ritual for making a proper pot of tea. While the tea sat drawing Dad would sit pondering the decoration sequence.
Mom and I would sit quietly sipping our tea looking at Dad looking at the tree. Mom would lift the plate of biscuits offering me one. Dad would take one and bite into it absent mindedly while he still pondered the tree. Its presence was filling the air with the scent of pine, a fresh out doors smell which said Christmas. The fragrance of pine needles and baking cookies was heavenly to me. I pondered this as I bit into my chocolate laced biscuit.
As Dad put his cup back on the table, following his second cuppa, he looked at us and slowly rose. With a smile he would say, "Let's get those decorations out, shall we?"
The anticipation erupted, finally, into the tradition of adorning the tree. Mom and Dad reached up into the top shelf of the closet pulling down the lights, garland, and ornaments. Dad's first job, along with words I wasn't allowed to use, was untangling the strings of lights.
"Those blasted elves must get into that closet some time during the year and bugger up these strings," he said with other choice words. When they were liberated from their tangles I would grab one end to stretch it out. He would plug them in to check that they all lit. That done he'd give one end to me. I'd have to stand on a chair to place my end in the tree. Holding that, dad would wind them from limb to limb all the way around. One or two strings would be enough. For a couple of years we had the exotic bubbling lights. Like little candles the base would clip onto a limb with the glass candle sitting vertically. The light was in the base. It would shine it's red, yellow, blue or green light up through the glass candle. After a few minutes the heat of the bulb would cause the liquid inside to bubble. They would be put on last. They were the crowning glory of lights.
Next came the garland. Mom and Dad would loop the long sparkling boa like strings from limb to limb in a spiral to the bottom. The ornaments were brought out then. Each of us would slide the hooks onto the glass orbs then find the perfect limb to adorn.
"Remember this one?" Each of us had our favorite. It always elicited that response. "Remember this one? We got it two years ago. You wanted this one, Rickey. It brightened your eyes and you kept asking for it." Not all of them. Only a few special ones required comment.
My favorite part came next.
"Alright. Here's a handful of icicles for each of us," Mom would say draping long strands of silvery aluminum over our hands. I would grab a a handful and throw them at the limbs. A haphazard conglomerate of silver would clump on there.
"No, not like that," Mom would say taking the mass from the tree. "Like this." She would drape them a few at the time on each limb. Hers looked like icicles dripping down. "Here, try it."
Though it was contrary to my wanting to toss them I would lay them gently across the branches. It looked better but it wasn't as much fun. Dad always shook his head as he watched me. He didn't say much but his smile was comforting.
With the icicles on he would plug the lights in. Colors would burst forth. While we watched admiringly one string would invariably go out. Dad would mumble more words I wasn't allowed to say while he reached for the spare bulbs. For the next 10 minutes or so he would unscrew a light and screw in a new one to see if they lit again. He always seemed to find the burned out bulb at the end of the string. Once again we stood admiring. Once again a string would go out. "Bugga!" Dad would say leaning over for another bulb. Mom and I would sit patiently quiet while he made his way through the string. When all the faulty bulbs were tossed in the trash we would walk into the front yard and stand before the window.
The house lights would be out so that the glory of the tree's illumination could be seen through the front window.
"It's a nice tree," Dad would say. A few more moments of admiration beamed from the three of us as we stood in the cold. That done we went inside and put the kettle on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stockings hung with care

The fire crackled radiating it’s heat into the big room. The grownups talked their important talk and we kids yakked about our important kid stuff. The clock sitting on the mantle began to chime. Nine belss sounded. With that last everyone became restless.
"All right you kids. You need to get off to bed if you want Santa to stop here tonight. He won't deliver anything for boys and girls who sit up too late. So, come on let's get ready for bed."
"Wait! We don't have our stockings up yet," Clyde and I chimed in. "We gotta find some stockings."
"All right, come let's have a look around."
"Get some stockings from my drawer in the main bedroom," said Granma. We always counted on her stockings. They reached from the mantle piece to the floor.
"Come on then."
We jumped up off the floor and rushed into Granma's bedroom and straight for the dresser. We dived into the drawers and came up with white silk stockings. Her room was small with an old iron stove in the middle. The black stove piping went straight up through the ceiling. One year my dad and my uncle had to climb up to remove a stork's nest before the thing could be lit. It gave off a warm glow and we always held our hands out to it when we passed. It was comforting. We did the same thing now before carrying our stockings to the mantle. It was just a ruse to delay going to bed.
The stockings reached to the floor and glowed orange reflecting the fire.
"Wait, mine's got a hole in the bottom. All the stuff will spill out," I said holding the toe for my dad to see.
"Wait right here," he said and left the room. He returned with an old tin washtub which he placed under the toe.
"There," he said with a grin. "Now whatever spills out will collect right in this tub and you won't have to hunt under the furniture for anything that might roll away."
"Thanks, dad," I said as I grasped the toe of the stocking behind my back and ripped it a little more to give the goodies room to spill out and into the tub. Won't this be great? I thought. Santa will wonder why this thing isn't filling up and I'll get twice as much as Clyde.
"OK. OK. You kids head off to bed now."
The grownups shooed us into the bedroom just through the door to the right. My mother followed us in to make sure we got dressed for bed and under the covers safely. The room had been shut off from the heat of the fireplace and it was chilly. We got out of our clothes and hurried into our pajamas covering goose bumps from the chill. Our bare feet froze to the bone as we ran to bed over the drafty wood floors. We jumped in and sank six inches into the feather mattress. My mother pulled the blankets up to our chins and we sank our heads into the down feather pillows.
"Goodnight, boys," my mother said closing the door. She peeked in once more and said, "Now go to sleep quickly or Santa won't stop here tonight and you'll miss out on Christmas."
"Goodnight,'' Clyde said.
"Goodnight," I repeated.
How the heck were we supposed to go to sleep? Santa was flying down from the North Pole and we were too excited. Besides the grownups were still up, talking, eating cake and drinking coffee. "Y'all need to go to bed too!" I yelled through the door.
"We're going to bed soon," said my mother who peeked in once more.
"Gees," I said to Clyde. "They'll never go to bed. Santa will never stop here."
"Nef, don't you know there ain't no Santa," said Clyde.
"Nuh uh, you're wrong," I said. "Where you think all those toys under the tree and in the stockings come from?"
"Our parents."
"You're wrong," I said.
"Nope, I'm not and I'll prove it."
"Yeah? How?"
"Wait til they go to bed and it's quiet. Then we'll give them time to fall asleep and we'll sneak out there and I'll show you."
"We can't sneak out there. Santa will know we're awake and he won't stop."
"You really are a dope, aren't you? You wait. Trust me."
No Santa? He had to be wrong. We waited for everyone on the other side of the door to quiet down and go to bed so Clyde could show me he was right. We waited. And we waited. Clyde had a watch with a glow-in-the-dark dial that we checked time after time. 1 o'clock in the morning and we still heard talking on the other side of the door. 1:15, still talking. 1:30, shuffling around and talking. 1:45, the talk was less. And then, it was 4 in the morning.
"Hey, we fell asleep."
"Quiet. Listen." There was no noise except the slow quiet snoring of someone in the bed by the window. "Shhh, let's go now. I don't hear anybody."
"Yipe!" My foot hit the ice cold floor and I jumped along with my scream.
"Shhh. Quiet. Hold still" No one moved so my yell had not disturbed anybody. "OK. Come on."
I kept my mouth clamped and eased my feet to the floor once again. I rushed to the rug next to the door and Clyde opened it very slowly. The hinge creaked ever so slightly and someone in the bed next to the window moved and said, "Blasfoofoofatnno."
"It's OK. They're talking in their sleep. Come on." With the door open we could see the dying embers in the fireplace. They gave off no light and we couldn't turn on a light because we only used kerosene lamps here and no grownup in his or her right mind would allow a 6 or 9 year old city boy to carry a fired lantern. So here we were in the room with the tree. Packages were neatly stacked beneath it. We eased over to the mantle and grabbed for our stockings which were full of fruit and nuts and small gifts in paper and bow. I even felt into the tub which had several oranges and apples in the bottom. Hee, hee, I thought, Santa was fooled.
"See," said Clyde, "didn't I tell you. They put all this here while we were asleep."
"Nuh uh," I said. "When they finally went to sleep Santa stopped and left all this. We fell asleep and that's when he came."
"You're wrong. Our parent's dragged all this stuff out while we were supposed to be falling asleep. Why do you think they sat up so late?"
"You’re wrong. They were up talking and when they finally went to bed Santa was able to stop. You know we fell asleep after we looked at your glow-in-the-dark dial and it said 1:45. Next time we looked it was 4. That's plenty of time for Santa. So there."
"OK you baby. If you want to believe in Santa Claus you go right ahead. You probably believe in the Easter Bunny, too."
"You don't believe in the Easter Bunny? You still get Easter Eggs and Chocolate Rabbits, don't you? How you think you get those?"
"You're hopeless. Come on. We better go back to bed before they catch us."
He grabbed a package from under the tree and sneaked it back with us.
"What did you grab that for? You can't see," I said.
"Just watch," he said pulling the covers over our heads. "I can see who it's for by the light of my watch. Take a look."
We strained our eyes to the faint luminescence. I wasn't able to see what it was or who it was for though Clyde swore he could read it. We gave up and he sneaked it back to the tree. He ran back for the warmth of the mattress and covers. We settled back into the comfort of feather down and promptly fell asleep. The chickens woke us at sunrise but we just couldn't make ourselves get out of bed right away. The folks thought we were sick. We were just plain cold and that good feather mattress was so much more enjoyable than dressing in that cold.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Watch the birdies....

"Yippee!" I jumped out of the car. The dogs ran through the sea of chickens. Barks and nervous clucks welcomed me to the farm again as they did with each new Christmas. Licks and tail thumps had grown familiar over the years but I was taller this year and they had to strain upward a few inches to meet my face.
"Rickey, you want to help with the packages this year?" dad called after me as I ran for the front door.
I stopped.
"Really?" I said. This was new.
"Well, yeah. You are big enough to carry a package or two. Here. Take these."
I grabbed them and began shaking them as I walked to the screened porch.
"No sense shaking those," dad shouted at me. "They aren't yours."
Fooey, I thought. The screen door slammed behind me. I entered the living room and deposited the gifts in a chair.
"Where's the tree?" There had always been a huge Christmas tree in front of the windows bedected with lights, garland and ornaments. The room was bare.
I ran back to the kitchen. Granma was at the wood stove cooking. She saw me come through and smiled.
"Come 'ere, chile." She waved me over and kissed me.
"Where's the Christmas tree?" I asked pulling myself away from the kissing.
"Well, your grandaddy didn't have time to get one yet. We decided to leave it to Robert but he and his family haven't arrived yet."
Dad walked through the door with mom. "I see you haven't gotten a tree up," he said.
"I was just tellin' the youngen here that his grandaddy didn't have time yet to get one and we were going to ask Robert to find one when he comes."
"No need," said dad. "I can fetch one. Where do they sell them?"
Granma chuckled. "Sell 'em," she says. "Why would you want to buy one? Right past the field we got hundreds of 'em. All you gotta do is walk out with an axe and chop it down. If you don't mind, we'd sure be grateful."
"Rickey, you wanna go find a tree with me?"
It was the first time my dad asked me to help. Well, there was the request ten minutes prior but this one was different. We were going to do something together like father and son.
"Yes, let's go," I shouted.
"Let's have a bite first. Then we can go find a tree.
I settled into a seat vexed we couldn't go right that minute. That passed when I saw what granma was making. Pancakes! Mom place three or four on a plate for me. I grabbed the home churned butter plate as she slid them in front of me. With a knife I cut slabs of that butter and lay them between pancakes. The jar of cane syrup, dark and thick, was so heavy I couldn't lift it. I had to stand up to grip that pitcher with both hands. It flowed very slowly covering the pile of griddle cakes with a heavy layer of rich sweetness.
Dad raised his cup of coffee to his lips as he watched me wolf down my breakfast.
"Ok," I said sliding my plate away. "I'm ready."
He finished his coffee. He put his cup in the saucer as he rose from his chair. "Alright, then let's find the axe."
I ran out the back door with a slam heading for the tool shed. Dad arrived as I walked out with a long handled one.
"I guess we head that way," he said pointing to the pine stand. We had to walk past the little house behind the house. There was a distinct aroma as we passed but it was less disturbing than the evil eyed chickens gathered around back. I kept my dad between me and them. Beyond that we approached a Christmas tree bonanza.
They were all sizes and shapes. We meandered about looking for the right one. Dad had an eye for the perfect tree, the perfect cone in height and fullness.
"How about this one!" I kept asking. I was in a hurry to do some chopping.
"Mmmm, maybe," he'd say still looking.
I saw his eyes light at the same time I decided we'd never find his ideal tree.
Pointing he said, "There. What do you think of that one?"
He had found it. The spot for the angel headed straight for the heavens. The base was completely circular with low hanging limbs crying out for ornaments. It was taller than dad who was a giant to me. He was right. It was the one.
"Can I chop? Can I chop?" I said repeatedly as I bounced around the tree.
"We'll see," he said. That was Dad's no. I settled down and watched him take a swing. Whock! The axe blade bit into the trunk. The cut came about as high as my forehead. Two more swings and the tree began to lean.
This is the part I'm a little hazy about. AS the tree leaned to one side dad said, "Hold on to this." He pointed in the direction of the trunk. AS I moved to grab it there was a loud thwack.
"Rickey! Are you alright?!" He was haloed by the light blue sky, a dark form leaning over me. There were cartoon birdies flying in circles tweeting away. My peripheral vison was dark. "Rickey!"
Dad seemed anxious that I answer.
"Wha happ...?" I mumbled.
"The trunk snapped back upright and hit you in the head. Are you alright?" He grabbed my hand and pulled me upright. My legs buckled. He grabbed me in both his hands and set me upright.
"Are you OK?" he asked again.
"Yuh, uh huh. Did I do alright? Did I help?"
"Oh yeah, you did a fine job. I couldn't have done it without you."
I smiled and straightened my wobbly legs. The tree lay on its side.
"We got a good one, didn't we?"
"We sure did, son," he said. "Here. You carry the axe. I'll get the tree."
Bulky as it was he lifted it onto his shoulder and we started back. My mishap was forgotten as we walked back home victoriusly bringing the tree.
When we arrived at the back door everyone was eying the voluptious tree dad was edging through the door. I followed him through. All of a sudden my mother screamed.
"Rickey! Look at the blood! What happened!" She dropped to her knee and began wiping my forehead. "Hand me that towel! Oh my lord! What did you do?"
Dad came back from the front room after dropping the tree.
"Don't get all upset. It's worse than it looks. He's fine. Ask him."
I had no idea what the fuss was about. Dad had taken it all in stride. What was the problem?
I saw the problem when the towel came from my face. It was saturated in blood. It had poured from the diagaonal cut between my eyes. The trunk of the tree had snapped back to its upright position when I had reached to hold whatever dad had asked me to hold. In its abrupt return my face was in the way and it knocked me to the ground where I had lain for several minutes, unconscious.
My mother grumbled for a while. Dad assured her I was fine for just as long. I sat while she cleaned the gash and bandaged it. My only thought was to decorate the tree. It was too much attention over a cut dad thought was nothing to worry about. After a bit the angst died down and we went into the front room to place the tree upright.
We waited until the evening, when the others arrived, to begin decorating. AS for me I have the best memory of that time along with a keepsake. I've carried the daigaonal scar between my eyes all my life. It fits right into my worry lines never noticed by anyone but me. When I look into the mirror I remember the first time I had a father son moment. There's always the faint twitter of cartoon birds flying in a circle when I remember dad telling me to shake it off.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shhh, we're hunting squiwwels...

"Careful. You don't want to scare him," whispered Clyde waving me to a stop. I froze. The woods were quiet early in the morning. The occasional crow call could be heard in the distance. Sparrows darted from tree to tree. Clyde's attention was on the rather large grey squirrel sitting on one of the limbs of the pine in front of us. Slowly he raised his .22 rifle, took aim, and pulled the trigger. There was a light pop. The sqirrel fell to the ground.
"I got 'im!"
"Yay!" I shouted. We ran to the spot. "We can dry out the pelt and make a "coon" skin cap." Davy Crockett was the rage.
"But it's a squirrel," I said.
"Oh who cares," Clyde said looking at me like I was a country bumpkin. "It's a fur pelt."
"We'll leave him here and pick him up later. Have you tasted squirrel before?" he asked me.
"Nuh uh."
"You're gonna like it. Tastes like chicken."
"Why not just eat chicken?"
"Good grief, nef. Don't you know nothin'."
"Guess not."
"Remember this tree." I answered OK as he trudged off deeper into the wood.
We'd left really early that morning without telling anyone where we were going. Kids were left to themselves back then. Grownups had stuff to do that didn't include children underfoot. It was always best we be scarce while they were taking care of preparations for Christmas.
We had mentioned the day before we might go squirrel hunting so we could add to the feast in a couple of days.
While we were traipsing around the woods that bordered the dirt road leading away from the farm a small drama was unfolding in the kitchen at great grandma's house.
"Anybody seen Clyde?" asked my grandmother (Clyde's mother).
Everybody shook their heads or answered no.
"Land sake's where is that boy?"
"I saw him and Rickey walking up the road to the branch," said Richie, my cousin. The branch was a small stream of water turned brown from all the leaves that lay upon the bottom. It was called the branch because, duh, it branched off from a larger stream somewhere deep in the woods. All us chilluns used to gather at "the branch" to socialize and get away from the dull world of grownups.
"When did you see them?" asked my grandmother.
"I don't know. Early on."
"Thanks, darling," said my grandmother. "Kids just being kids."
Every thing was fine then until Richie mentioned the rifles we had in hand.
"What?! Rifles? What rifles?"
Granddad piped in, "The .22's that were in the closet. They said they were gonna hunt squirrels yesterday. Remember?"
"No! I don't remember. You let Rickey take a .22 rifle along with my baby, Clyde, to hunt squirrels? What were you thinking? You know Rickey will end up shooting Clyde. Oh my baby boy. You need to go find them now."
"Now settle down, Miss Meddie. Those two will be just fine. We used to go ahuntin' all the time for squirrel when I was a youngen. Don't you worry your pretty head about those boys."
My grandmother stopped fretting out loud but she continued to worry about her baby boy, Clyde out with a child who carried a .22 rifle.
Heck I was 6 years old. Clyde was 10. We were way big. We knew how to shoot a gun.
All that was unbeknownst to us as we continued deeper into the woods. I kept stepping on twigs. They would crack under my feet and Clyde would give me the stink eye each time. Finally, we stopped. He waved me still and pointed up into the branches above. Silhoutted against the blue of the sky was the rippling tail of another large squirrel.
"Want to try a shot?" Clyde asked.
"Oh, yeah," I whispered.
"Come over here, quiet-like, and lean your gun against this tree. Yeah, that's right kneel down and set your sight squarely at his center."
I knelt by the tree holding the rifle up against the trunk and took aim squarely at the squirrel with the agitated tail.
"OK. Pull the trigger once you have him in your..."
Pop! I pulled the tigger and a second later the squirrel was knocked from the limb and fell a few feet away.
"Wow! Nice shot, nef," he looked amazed.
"You mean I got him?"
"Huh? Didn't you see him fall?"
"No, I closed my eyes when I pulled the trigger."
"Did not."
"Did too."
"Amazing." He shook his head as he walked over to gather up the limp body. "It's a grey fox squirrel," he said walking back to me. "Nice on, nef."
We walked around looking up into the trees for more game but the squirrel population had obviously decided not to take chances when two such deadly shots roamed the forest floor.
"Guess that's it then," said Clyde after a while. "Let's go get the other one. We'll have to skin them before granma can cook 'em."
Retracing our steps we found the first victim of our prowess with the gun. With each of us carrying our spoils we trudged up the dirt road with rifles resting in the crook of our arms. We bragged about our skills as huntsmen as we kicked up dust from the red country road.
Meanwhile, back at the farm.
"They've been gone a long time," Said my grandmother. "We need to go looking for them. I know my baby is lying in a ditch bleeding. Oh whose idea was it to let Ricky have a gun?"
"They'll be coming up the road any time now. Stop worrying so much. Rickey won't shoot Clyde."
"What if he trips and the gun goes of? Oh, my poor baby."
"What if Clyde trips and the gun goes off. Rickey could be hurt too.'
"Clyde would never do that. He's much older and so much more responsible'"
"There. Look out the window. They're walking up the road now. Looks like they are holding up a couple of squirrels too. Now let 'em be. They've proved that they are both responsible with those guns. They both know how to handle them and not be reckless."
We approached the gate. Clyde took my prize and motioned for me to open the gate. I slid the plank from its slot freeing the long wooden gate. We walked through and I closed it and replaced the wood lock. Clyde handed me the tail of my squirrel. We continued on past the screened porch. My grandmother and granddad stood there watching us walking past. We both held the dangling squirrels by the tails in their direction. "It's gonna be squirrel for dinner tonight."
Granddad looked pleased. Grandmother seemed to sag into his arms as we continued to the gourd barn. An old wooden shelf was attached to the outside of the gourd house. We lay our two grey critters on that shelf and leaned the rifles against the wall.
"What do we do now?" I asked.
"Now we skin 'em."
He took out his pocket knife which was always sharp. His dad had taught him how to whetstone sharpen his folding knife to a razor edge. He dug out the blade and took the first one. As he was slitting the skin open Richie came up.
"Watcha doin'?" She asked hands behind her back head cocked ot one side.
"We're skinning these squirrels for eatin'," Clyde answered.
He had slipped the skin over the head and scraped out the insides which fell to the ground at our feet. Amongst all the innerds and feet plopped the testicles.
"Boy, he's a biggun," boasted Clyde.
"How do you know he's a boy?" asked Richie moving in closer to see.
"You're stepping on the proof right now," Clyde said with an evil grin
She looked down and lifted her foot. On the ground she saw two soiled grey and pink orbs.
She let out a scream and ran back to the house. We laughed and laughed as the screen door slammed shut.
When Clyde finished cleaning up the meat, we hung the pelts on the gourd barn wall.
"That'll dry 'em out til we can cure 'em and make hats." With that we marched into the kitchen with two pink carcasses for the pot. My great grandmother took them and made them into the best stew I had ever eaten in my short life. Clyde and I had brought home the bacon, well, the squirrels, that day. We had done our part. We were all happy. My grandad who enjoyed squirrel and my grandmother, especially, as she hovered over her darling boy, Clyde.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

To Grandma's house we go....

"Do we have all the gifts?"
"They're in the trunk."
"In the suitcases in the trunk."
"how about something to keep Rickey occupied on the trip? His constant 'Are we there yets?' can rankle."
"Smitty bought him a stack of funny books. They ought to keep him occupied til we get there."
"Alright then let's go."
Dad cranked up the new '52 Ford, put her in gear and started to back up.
"Wait! Where's the boy?" Dad noticed, as he reversed the car, that I wasn't in the back seat.
"Oh dear. In the rush I forgot he had to visit the lavatory one more time," said my mother. "I'll go get him."
A few minutes later she lead me out the front door. I climbed into the back seat over the stack of comics. I was oblivious to the fact I had almost been left behind.
"Alright. It's off to your grandmother's then," said dad as he faced backward lining up the car to back into the road.
Five minutes into the journey to Clio, Georgia, I was lost in a brand new Bugs Bunny funny book. Gone was the excitement of Christmas gifts. I was lost in the cartoon world for the next hour or so. On tap were the adventures of Baby Huey, Heckel and Jeckel, Mighty Mouse, Super Mouse, The Little People, Little Iodine, Little Lulu, Uncle Scrooge, and Mutt and Jeff. My ride was over before I knew it. We had arrived at the farm.
When dad came to a stop I jumped out of the car to be greeted by the dogs that lay about the yard. Clucks and feathers filled the air as they bounded over to me. I was showered with licks and thumping tails in their eagerness to greet me. It was easy for them since I was at their level They weren't big dogs so much as I was was a little child.
Clyde had already arrived the day before. The front door slammed as he came out eating a sandwich.
"Hey, nef! Come on in. Lunch is on the table."
I looked to see if my parents were coming. They were gathering packages from the trunk. Dad waved me on.
In through the front porch past the fire place, home to a crackling log dropping from the grate, beyond the pot bellied stove in the big room and into the kitchen we ran. The long table sat in the middle of the room bedecked with white line. The length of it was covered in ham, turkey, chicken, vegetables from the garden, potatoes, sweet potatoes, casseroles and pitchers of tea along with the aroma of perking coffee on the stove behind me.
"Grab a dish, Honey, but first give your old gramma a kiss."
I tiptoed up to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek as she bent down to recieve it. She smiled at me turning to my folks as they in, "My that chile has grown since last."
Everyone agreed while I turned my attention back to the steaming dishes on the table. It stretched practically from wall to wall and for a little guy. The turkey near the end was the largest I had ever seen. I stared into it's butt end from my vantage point. Clyde was about a head taller and could view the entire table content with a single look. I saw only what was on the outer edge as I walked around it.
"Here you go, Rickey," said my mother handing me a plate. "What would you like on it?"
"Just a turkey sandwich, please." Clyde and I had things to do. I didn't want to be slowed down with a heavy meal nor take the time to eat it.
Mom handed me the sandwich which smelled of home made bread. I ran out the back door following Clyde.
Our walk around the farm took us past several outter buildings. The smoke house wasn't far from the house. We never went in there. We passed one small building which, for me, was the gourd house. Inside hung the shells of gourds drying out. Granddad used to bore a hole in them along with a smaller hole in the stem through which he placed a leather thong for hanging on a pole. He used them for the Martin Houses he would replace every spring on the pole in the back yard.
"They eat up the mosquitoes," he'd answer when I asked why he gave houses to the Martins.
To the right,as we made our way to the pasture, was the sugar cane press. It was two heavy cylinders placed side by side with gear interlocks at the top. These cylinders were placed within a frame and a long arm of wood with a yoke at the farther end. It was attached to one of those thick metal cylinders. At the far end a mule was yoked so that he could walk in a circle which set the cylinders into motion. They would rotate in opposite directions due to the gear teeth at top. While they turned sugar cane was placed between them and with the mules forward motion the cane was crushed on it's way through the big round blocks. The juice was collected at the bottom into which the sugary water would drain. This juice was later boiled down into the syrup that sat on the breakfast table each morning to be poured on pancakes. It was the best cane syrup I have ever tasted.
Beyond that was a pen which held pigs that would usually be asleep in the mud as we continued past. Behind that was the gate to the pasture which was our destination. There were cows in the field as we unlatched the gate. We'd both enter and relatch it and walk on to the timber line at the far end of the field. There was no bull to hamper our journey. After reaching the pines we'd look for squirrels' nests for future hunting trips, future meaning the next day early in the morning.
When we sighted several we would head back to the house with a stop off in the barn. At the corn crib we'd take several ears of the dried cobs and run them through the corn stripper. It would twirl the cob down into the pitcher like opening and shear off the kernels of corn producing a rough cob at the bottom.
"Grab the corn," Clyde would say as he gathered up the naked cobs. I'd put the dried niblets in a handy sack and follow him up into the loft. It was strewn with mountains of hay which we'd kick aside on our way to the open door above the main doors below.
"OK, give me some of that corn and watch."
We would lay on the loft floor and inch our heads over the side. Clyde dribbled the dried kernels over the side. The chickens in the yard would find the patch of corn and with happy clucks commence eating it. We watched for a while. After a small herd of cluckers bobbed for corn Clyde would reach back for one of the cobs. He'd slowly slide the cob out the window displacing hay which drifted down onto chicken heads. If they'd heeded that warning from the sky and run like Chicken Little the next few moments wouldn't have bothered them at all. But they continued to cluck and peck at the ground.
The next moment would explode with the words "BOMB AWAY!" Down would rain a cluster of corn cobs into the middle of the pond of pullets. Bup, bup, bup was the sound of cobs bouncing on the ground amid squawks and feathers flying from scattering chickens. The dogs would join in the fun barking and chasing the cackling fowl as they ran for cover. When things settled down Clyde would pour more corn from the window. The chickens would eventually return and the sequence would begin again. It was a ritual after a while.
Of course when the grownups realized we were the cause of the cacophony we were hauled in and dealt with. It was usually a "Don't do that again." to which we answered "Yes'm." Until we did it again.
Those were the most joyous Christmases of our lives I believe. Christmas was piling in the car, driving to Georgia, and meeting with all the rest of the family at my Great Grandmother's house.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A man for all teasin's

At our house there has always been a tradition of surprise packages under the tree. Not a surprise like a new car or diamond necklace. No sirree. The presents under the tree were always fair game for the shake and guess game. Dad was the champ at this game. Sometimes he didn't even have to pick it up. He could look at it from across the room in his easy chair and say it's an indoor pool with an automatic bottom skimmer. Invariably he would be right though the pool was just an example of his practiced eye. We could never have fit such a gift in a rectangular box underneath sparkly paper. It's just an example.
The rest of us at the bottom of Olympus would have to pick it up, shake it, toss it (if it were light enough), and approximate its weight in our attempts to guess. Invariably our guesses were wrong. But the game was the thing. To give the appearance of one thing while being something totally different.
One Christmas when I was very young, prior to my entry into Riverland Terrace School, the local grammar school, my mother decided to fool the Duke of Deduction. The night before I'd taken a lovely little package done up in blue with a rich green bow to him. He looked at it and said, "You can put it back, now, son. I don't need to handle it. It's an electric shaver."
My mother was standing behind my dad. I saw her face grimace. Then, as if a light had gone on in her mind, she smiled and went about her business.
Next day after my dad had left for work and I was still asleep, my mother picked up that package with the shaver and very carefully unwrapped it. She removed that electric razor and filled the box with hard candies. The weight was aprroximate and the package tight without the rattle of loose packing. It was perfect. She smiled to herself as she meticulously rewrapped it. She replaced it in the same spot. It looked completely undisturbed in the placement under the tree. Me? I was oblivious to the scheme. I was too young to be devious. Dad's all knowing ability was just another part of life, like breathing.
The excitement of Christmas was building to a frenzy in my little brain. Santa was coming tonight! It was Christmas eve and to relieve some of the excitement in preparation for sleeping through Christmas Eve night, dad came up with an idea.
He announced, "We'll open one package apiece to night.'
My eyes went wide as I took in all the packages under the tree. I had shaken and rattled all of them. Picking one would be a chore. But not too much of one. I grabbed the biggest.
"OK. If you want that one. But it's said that the best things come in small packages." It was dad's way of trying to steer me toward another choice. It didn't work. Bigger is better in a child's eyes.
My folks sat and watched as I carefully unstuck tape. My relatives used to make fun of me being so persnickety in my unwrapping technique. It was something I learned from my dad. He was always very deliberate in his actions. I copied him like any son would. Finally, I had the box naked of paper. Inside was a Western Ranch model with small plastic men, horses and cows upon flat plastic bases. The ranch house, barn and corral was perfect for my interpretation of the wild west. It was just what I wanted. After a hoop of joy I hugged my folks and fell to playing.
My mother was next. Dad gave her a box wrapped in Santa paper. She took her time opening it and found a watch. Her face lit up and she kissed dad as a thank you. She showed it to me. It was a silver Timex, the watch that takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'.
"What about dad? Where's his present?" I asked. "Which one do you want, dad?"
"I don't need to open one. I'm fine," he said.
My mother went to the tree and picked up her special package.
"No. It's only fair that you open one too." She smilled as she handed it to my dad.
"Alright," he said with a knowing smile. "I'll open one too."
"Yay!" I said.
His slow and deliberate unwrapping took forever in child years. He placed the paper aside. "Keep that. It can be used again." Ever the man of the depressin years, dad saved everything for future reuse.
He opened the box. His face became a mask of puzzlement. Inside was not the razor he had foretold. Inside was an array of hard candies of all color and stripe. He stared at it for a few minutes then looked up at my mother who was grinning like the Cheshire cat. Her moment of triumph was lost in a child's voice asking, "But mom where's the electric razor you bought?'
Her smile waned as dad's waxed. The triumphal expression went from my mother's expression to dad's. It was almost palpable as it drained from my mother's face into my dad's.
The triumph my mother so richly deserved was snatched from her grasp by a child's innocent question. We teased one another about that for years afterward.