Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas when I was a boy

Dad would always haul in the yule log on the back of Old Paint, the pinto stallion who had served us so well for so many years, especially when it came to stump-pullin' and plow-haulin'. Paint consistently faded in the homestretch at Pimlico, so he wasn't of much use there, but as Zeke, one of the hired hands we kept on hand used to say, "They ain't but two kinds of hosses in the world, and he's one of 'em." And none of us could say him nay. Or neigh, for that matter.

Well, Christmas Eve would come around, and we'd all sent our letters to Santa, in hopes that he'd land on our roof with toys and whatnot. No underwear; we had plenty of those snap-front boxer shorts and it would be many years before society took the wraps off the discussion of what sort of underwear to sport while watching "Commando." Popguns, Hopalong Cassidy lunchboxes, Erector Sets, x-ray specs and baseball equipment - now, that's what we had in mind. Dad would go trap a peasant for dinner, and then there was always a row in the kitchen because Mom had specifically told him she wanted to roast a "pheasant." But really, look how close he came! Dinner would be sumptuous and to top it off, we'd have either a figgy pudding or a figgy newton, depending on what kind of year it had been at the Lazy 'C' Ranch. Zeke used to say, "They ain't but two kinds of years...reg'lar, and leap!" And with that, he would jump up as high as he could go, click his worn boot-heels together, do a sort of buck-and-wing dance around the barn, and then land right back in his stupor.

After dinner, why, that was the one night Mom had no trouble getting us to go to bed, because it was Christmas Eve, and we knew that a special man from up north was coming our way - Guy Lombardo. No, that was New Year's Eve. Santa Claus was able to slide down our chimney once he had his flue shot, and he would bring treats, and then in the morning, soon as the milking was done and the hogs were slopped and the hosses were groomed and the eggs were candled and the screen door was patched and the beefsteak was pounded and the barnyard was raked and fences were mended and the well was dug and the haystacks were stacked and the swords were beaten into plowshares, why it was time for bed, so we'd get our presents later the next day. Zeke used to say the only difference between December 25 and December 26 was that everything went on sale real cheap early in the morning on December 26, and it was to be many years before I figured out just what the hell he was talking about.

Mom had some cousins who lived in little Sicily, down in the seagoing part of our town. Their surname was Braggadocio, and they always boasted about everything. But we'd troop down to their house one night during the holidays and hear about their Christmas in Balamer, MarioLanza.

Of course, we all forgot about school for the entire two weeks of Christmas break. Even if President Roosevelt had come on the radio urging us to study hard and learn about the new world yet to come in his third term, we would have switched over and listened to The Great Gildersleeve or something. History was a lot easier to learn then, as there was much less of it. Spanish, we could learn from the two Mexican farmers who had a place in nearby Tortilla Flats. Their names were SeƱor Center and Don Cornelius. Biology, of course, we learned from hanging around the stockpens. All the girls took Home Economics and knew a hundred ways to use old flour sacks to make dresses, napkins, tablecloths, and, if they had enough of them, even new flour sacks! We guys took shop classes where we learned to short-circuit an electric fence, mend fences, heal broken hearts and reunite the disenchanted. The shop teacher was unusually enlightened. Grammar was, of course, hardly important to us; as long as we could remember to always split infinitives, we'd be fine. The grammar teacher also taught cooking, so she taught us a lot about dangling participles while she prepared an omelet. I can still remember writing this sentence in my diary: "Hurrying to finish lunch, Mrs O'Hoolahan's frying pan overheated."

And of course, in Geometry, we already knew all the angles.

Now and again, I like to think back on those carefree days. If you ask my favorite memory, well, it would have to be that snowy Christmas morning when I was about 8. I was hanging around under the window of the town miser when he suddenly threw open his window and asked if I had seen the goose in the A&P window. I said yes, and I knew the butcher had gotten in trouble for it, too. But the miser said that sleeping on a goose-feather pillow always made him feel down.

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