Thursday, December 22, 2011

Memories of Christmas Past

By Rob Watson

The following is an essay that I wrote many years ago. Wife found a pile of hand written papers that was a collection of my writings from the past. She then made a project of searching out all that I had written, neatly typing them, and presented them to me as a book. "The Nearly Complete Works of Rob Watson". A birthday present, as I recall. It will have less impact as I edit out names and locations, but I will do my best to have it make sense. You should know that I believe in the Christmas Spirit/St. Nick/Santa Claus or whatever you would call it, as a real, if gossamer being. Following is my argument for the existence of same. I promise not to change more than a word or two in any sentence to preserve the style of the original. Parenthetical expressions are text added to the original.

My Christmas Story

Today I was thinking about Christmas; about what makes Christmas Christmas. I was thinking about Christmas blues: you know, we all have them. And, I was remembering a Christmas whose remembering chases the blues away and summons the Christmas Spirit.

It was back in the Sixties. Before Viet Nam  and Watergate, before reality shook the foundations of youthful idealism, before bills and notes and the daily grind began to wear away the edges of The American Dream. It was the Summer of my youth, though I did not know it then.

Best Friend and I announced to all our friends that a Christmas party would occur at our trailer (mobile home where we lived together) the day before the Christmas vacation started at college. One by one, our professors announced tests would be given that day after the party was to occur. One by one, our friends announced they would not be coming to the party... all except one, but of course who was counting.

Best Friend and I had our Calculus test at 8am that last Tuesday of classes, and like good students, we were diligently applying ourselves to the books when... BAM! BAM! BAM! issued from the wall of the trailer and a loud voice called from outside, "Whar's the party?!"

Rich Friend had been given a three bottle liquor case, stocked with vodka, rum, and Jim Beam. He had come to show off his gift and to share it with his friends. (We properly disposed of all three) We laughed and told stories long into the night, getting into the spirit of just about everything except Calculus. I can assure you, I do not remember anything about that test. Afterwards we exchanged holiday greetings and headed off to enjoy the holidays.

College is in the north central part of State. Home was seventy miles west northwest. I decided to take the long way home... about 370 miles south southeast to Big City. Maybe I could visit friends along the way. Small City found me visiting my cousin and his family. He showed me their Business Location. I know you would not be interested, but I was. We had lunch and I headed south. The girl in Smaller City was not home when I called. I decided to sleep in the car and try again in the morning. No Luck.

Next stop was Even Smaller City. The girl there had been a pen pal for two years. and was expecting me. We spent the day shopping, making homemade ornaments, and cooking... really sampling, all sorts of good things from her mother's kitchen. Tradition forces the women of South State to load up the table when company comes. This mother was  South State... Real South State... and in the Christmas Spirit... You know what I mean?!

Next morning found me headed northeast toward Big City. My brother and his family lived there. Sister lived north of Big City. I would go to Brother's first. Sis-in-Law was getting ready for a Christmas party at her daughter's kindergarten. She was going to be Santa Claus. I am (sometimes) no dummy and I was fully aware of what she had in mind, but I played hard to get anyway. "Sis-in-Law, isn't that Santa suit a little large for you? Aren't you going to sound funny trying to Ho, Ho, Ho? What? Me? I'm kind of skinny. Well, if you think it will be OK." My car even cooperated in the deception. It was Santa Claus Red.

Sis-in-Law gave me a sack full of presents and a map to the kindergarten. She went ahead. I waited until the appointed hour and followed... all decked out as a jolly fat man in a funny red suit. I don't remember ever being very excited about Santa Claus, though I believed in him and wondered how he did his magic. I was sort of blase' about him. It was his toys that turned me on. That day changed the way I felt about old Santa.

I took the long way around the school yard. Sis-in-Law was inside priming the kids for my arrival. I waved and Ho, Ho, Ho'ed a bit. I asked the children if they were all being good... can you guess what the answer was? I told them I had some gifts for them, that others would come on Christmas. These kids looked at me as if I were the wonder of all wonders. Their eyes were wide with wonder and excitement. They obviously thought Santa was something special. (Each present had a name on it) As I gave out the presents, the sack looked emptier and emptier. The emptier the sack got the more worried the un-gifted children looked, until the sack looked completely empty and one child had not received a present. (the last child, by pure luck of the draw, was my niece. She was on the verge of tears.) Magically, another one appeared. I pulled her up on my lap and gave her a hug. Niece Graduated from the university last summer. (as far as I know) she does not know that Santa was me. Would you spoil a little kid's illusion.

As I waved "Good Bye" a lady from the next classroom nabbed me. "Santa, would you visit our class, Please?" (I mean, what would Santa say? "Buzz off lady"?) "Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas. Have you all been good little boys and girls?" This lady gave me a lesson in tact, strategy, and thinking on my feet. The kids lined up to talk to me and I began to wonder how Santa, who, of course knows everyone, would call these kids by name. When the first boy came to shake hands, the lady said "Santa, you remember Johnny..." "Yes Johnny, how are you this year..."

I left there on cloud nine, floating off in a very warm and pleasant Never Never Land when a lady from a school across the street came and asked if I would visit their school. "Ho, Ho, Ho... "

One of the things I enjoyed best of all was playing with my niece and nephews. That afternoon we had a ball. Next morning I drove to my sister's home. Sis and Bro-in-Law needed to go to town for shopping. I got to baby sit  the kids.  Niece, Nephew, and I played all afternoon and half the night. When Sis goes shopping she goes shopping. Fortunately, she is the type a husband can trust with his checkbook. They didn't get back until well after I put the kids to bed.

Next morning found me on the road again, headed for Smaller City and the girl there. Then I would be homeward bound. An encounter on the road provided the contrast that puts really special things into their proper perspective.

As I pulled out of a small town, I saw an older man hitch hiking. He was bundled up against the cold and had a TV Guide in his hand. I stopped and offered him a ride. He was just going a little way, he said. He was the caretaker of a church camp. He had gone to town to get the TV Guide so he could watch all the holiday football games. He lived alone and everyone at the camp was gone for the holidays.
"Can't you visit some of your relatives?"
"Nah, ain't none of them worth the trouble."
"What about friends?"
"I ain't got no car and the bus is too expensive."

My last sight of the man was of his back as he walked down the driveway toward the forest that lined the road. Over the drive was a sign that announced the name of the camp. The man's head was bowed and his shoulders slumped. He walked with a spiritless shuffle. The wind rustled the paged of the TV Guide in his hand. With answers floating all about me, I began to wonder about the Christmas Spirit.

Today, I can give you the answer. Christmas is the welcoming of God's Son into our lives. It is friends and family, laughter and the retelling of old tales. It is shopping and buying and wrapping presents. It is hurrying and rushing to get things done; too busy to remember those things that trouble us. Christmas is the magic and wonder and the sparking giggle of a small child. But the Christmas Spirit is necessary for all these things. The Christmas Spirit is the giving of one's self... even to those who do not appreciate it.

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