Stuck in the Mud Santa

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This Christmas I got carried away with my hand-made gifting. Mom called and asked me: How are you going to knit three sweaters before Christmas? And she’s a super knitter/crocheter/sewer giver! Nine pair of PJs, seven hats, and three sweaters later, Loved-One exclaimed, “You really are working your fingers to the bone!”

It must be all the cancelation that made me do it. COVID-19 sure has wreaked havoc on what I have come to expect at this time of the year. Until last night, we didn’t even have snow.

All this made me think of one of my favorite childhood memories.  One where everything seemed to go wrong.  Maybe 2020 will leave behind memories that we look back on with appreciation, if not fondness.

For my loyal readers, yes, this is a repeat story.  But wait, isn’t that true of all the best Christmas stories?

Just like any little girl, I could hardly wait for Christmas.  I studied the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Wards catalogs daily and made up my list for Santa.  The things I wanted could fill Santa’s sleigh up all by itself, so I knew only some of the gifts I asked for would arrive.   I marked a star by the most important ones:  A cowboy hat and a derringer just like Bat Masterson’s on Have Gun Will Travel.

I prayed for snow, ’cause how was Santa going to get to my house without snow?  The grey clouds only spilled down raindrops and the heavy frost in the morning would never do.  I knew, ’cause when I took my sled out on the frost, Mom yelled at me, “That’s going to dull the blades.  Take your sled back in the garage.”  I dragged my sled back over the grass and down the little sidewalk to the garage.

“Good Lord, that sets my teeth on edge,” Mom said covering up her ears.  How could a sound hurt her teeth? I thought, Guess that’s what happens when you get old.

I was probably selfish praying for snow, ’cause I just wanted Santa to come.  Anyways, it didn’t snow; it just got warmer, until not even frost was on the ground.  Mud was everywhere.

“When I was a little girl, Grandpa told me Santa came to houses alphabetically, and our house was last because our last name was Zyber,” Mom told me.  “That’s why some years there were just a couple of toys left in Santa’s bag.”

Holy Makerel!  At least my last name started with C.  There I was being selfish again.  All that selfishness might land me on the naughty list.

In bed at night, I heard Mom’s sewing machine whirring away like mad.  In the morning, everything was closed up tight, the sewing machine tucked down into the cabinet and not a thread in sight.  Hmm… that was super-strange.

Christmas Eve, Deanna, Bonita, and I got the biggest knee-high stocking we could find out of the odd-sock bag and hung them over a chair.  Santa came in the keyhole at our house, ’cause we didn’t have a fireplace and the chimney landed Santa in the furnace with no way out.  Mom wanted a fireplace like nobody’s business, ’cause she said our house was the draftiest thing she ever lived in and when she died she was gonna be cremated ’cause then, at last, she would be warm.

Just like always, I got down on my knees and said my prayers out loud so Mom could check me.   I was memorizing the Our Father ’cause I had to know that for First Confession along with all my sins;  Our Fathers got assigned for penance after Confession scrubbed my soul clean.  Catholics only said memorized prayers; we never made up prayers on our own, like they did over at my friend Betty’s house.

Up the stairs to bed, we went, ‘Slap the Bear’, just like always on the way up.  That’s where somebody yells “slap the bear, everybody included,” and starts slapping the hind-end of the person in front of her.  Only the first person in line had a slim chance of getting away, and of course, the last person who had nobody to slap at.  Mom probably invented that game to get us up the stairs faster than blue-blazes.

We brushed our teeth, and climbed into bed.  It was Bonita’s turn to sleep on the cot, so I cuddled up tight to Deanna to keep warm.  “Get your hair out of my face,” she said.  She hated my hair, so she drew a line down the middle of the bed with her hand, and told me to stay on my side.

“We forgot the cookies and milk,” Bonita sprung up like a jack-in-the-box, looked out the window, just in case Santa was out there on the lawn, like in that poem.

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Trees and Tinsel

Everybody has their traditions, especially around Christmas.  We had lots of baking, sewing, decorating, and making construction paper chains; and of course,  getting the Christmas tree.  I’m not sure where we got our Christmas tree when I was really little, but I sure have a lot of memories of cutting down our own; right out in the field on our farm.

Dad had a good friend from work named Don.  I was never allowed to call him Don, ‘cuz that’s disrespectful, and I had to respect my elders.  There’s no commandment about elders, just parents.  Still, my parents said I had to, so if I didn’t, it was still a sin against honoring mothers and fathers.  Anyways, I called Dad’s friend, Mr. B, cuz that’s respectful, the same thing for his wife, too, only she was Mrs. B, of course.  Anyways, Mr. and Mrs. B bought some land from Dad and built a house, and became our neighbors.  They had a son, Scott, and a daughter, Sandy.

Scott’s dad and mine got a grand idea to have a Christmas tree farm.  They hoped to sell Christmas trees someday and make a whole lot of money, then they could say, ‘money grows on trees.’ But that never happened.  For one thing, it takes a long time to grow trees, and they sorta lost interest.  For another thing, it takes a lot of tending to get good-looking Christmas trees: pruning and training the branches to grow straight, and those two dads were way too busy working overtime for Ma Bell, to be out in the field babying Christmas trees. In the meantime, Scott got asthma from drinking drain cleaner he found under the kitchen sink, and the whole family moved to Arizona where the air was easier to breathe and Mrs. B’s hair stayed as straight as a pin and never got frizzy like it did in the summer when she was our neighbor. Those are stories for a different day. This story is about Christmas trees.

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Sledding, Santa, and Sin

These 40+ year old sleds are completely origin...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a little girl, summer lasted an eternity. I thought school would never start again. Once school started, I looked for snow.

Before I went to bed, I knelt in front of Mom and her part-knitted mittens going round and round on four needles for the next kid who poked a thumb through last year’s.  Mom was a knitting maniac.

Way away in the spring I was gonna make my first communion, so I practiced the Act of Contrition kneeling down in front of Mom and her knitting. The Act of Contrition is the prayer I had to say after I confessed all my sins and had my soul scrubbed clean for Jesus. It’s a special prayer to say you’re really sorry for all the bad things you did or might be planning to do, and you promise with all your heart to keep away from sinning and not to even think about it. Prayers say things fancy for God. I had to say, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended thee,” instead of just “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, God.”  I guessed God likes fancy words.

My friend Beth got to pray with her own words.  She was Methodist. If I could do that, I’d pray for snow, that’s for sure. Anyways, I had to say fancy words like “I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishment.” Being Catholic sure was good for the vocabulary.  Mom said God knows what everybody needs.  No sense in bothering him, if he already knows everything.  He’s different from Santa, who only knows Continue reading

Yesterday’s Thanksgiving

The seasons seemed so long when I was a little girl.  I couldn’t wait for summer, by August it seemed like the sweltering heat would never leave and make way for fall.  Once school started, I wondered when-o-when would the snow arrive.

I jumped out of bed when it was still dark, just to see if any snow fell.  The ground was white and the willow branches sparkled stiff.  Hurray, it snowed.  My heart gave a leap in my chest and at the same time I looked at Bonita, she looked at me. 

“It snowed,” we said right together, then “You owe me a Coke,” ’cause the first one to say that, wins.  We don’t really get Coke, it’s just a game. 

Mom never buys pop, except for Vernors if somebody is sick, or when she’s making that special fruit cocktail she makes by throwing a whole bunch of different of fruit together and then pouring brandy all over it, and letting it sit for a couple of days so all the flavors blend together. Yuuummy.  

Mom scoops the fruit cocktail into a beautiful glass that looks like the kind movie stars drink from with a skinny stem that you hold with three fingers and curl your pinky out in the air.  I saw Hoss on Bonanza do that once.  He’s my favorite Cartwright brother.

Right before dinner, Mom poured some Vernors on top of the fruit, and sat one glass in the middle of each place setting.  I had to sit still, which is kinda like torture, ’cause for one thing it looks so pretty, and for another thing, the Vernors bubbles up into my nose and makes me want to sneeze and breathe in deep at the same time ’cause of all that gingery smell mixed with the juicy, fruity smell. 

I waited until the prayer was over before digging in, then I was super careful, ’cause it’s a glass-glass and a delicate glass-glass, so easy to break.  I bet you guessed already, but Mom only made that stuff on special days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I was all dressed up.  Another big reason to be careful and stay clean.  I was terrible at that.  Somehow I got dirty even when I tried not to.

Anyways on days when I thought the first snow fell, I got electricity going in my legs and arms, so quick as lightning I got out the door to feed the chickens and do morning barn chores.  Darn it all, nothing but a heavy frost.  The grass looked all blue-white in the dark, but it crunched underfoot like a million robin eggs got dropped from the trees.  Nothing to scuff with my toe; nothing to roll into a ball; nothing to scoop up with my mitten and taste, all crunchy-clean in my mouth.  Darn it, only a heavy frost.  Man-o-man, when was it ever going to snow.

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I looked up at the sky:  not a cloud in sight.  The Milky Way spread out above me as far as I could see and the constellations twinkled bright as Dad’s eyes did when he tried to keep a secret; only the sky was navy-blue velvet and Dad’s eyes were light-light blue. 

I only knew how to find the Big Dipper.  I looked for my name up there in the stars like St. Therese did.  Nope.  I looked back at the grass all blue-white, teasing me into thinking it snowed.  Maybe God’s a practical joker; it was time for snow to come. He knew that; He knew everything, so He knew how much I wanted it to snow.  That would be a mean joke, like Uncle Gene’s, not a funny one like Dad’s, where even if it’s not all that funny, I had to laugh ’cause of his eyes, and ’cause the corners of his mouth twitched up begging his whole face to smile and begging me to smile, too.  That made me laugh out loud, even when I didn’t get the joke.  

Well, maybe God was busy trying to feed the hungry people in China. That seemed more like the God the Sisters told me about in catechism.  I took one more look up at the heavens before I headed back to the house for breakfast.  Nope, no snow-clouds and no  “A”; just the Milky Way and bright stars all over heaven just a-giggling down at me.

Grandma told me the older she got, the faster time passed, until the seasons just blurred together.  That seemed so strange back then, but now I have that same experience.  It seems like summer just left, and now I’m getting ready for Thanksgiving and before I know it, Christmas will be here. 

Each season is alive with beauty: new growth in springtime, flowers in summer, crisp colors of fall.  Frost has its own sparkling beauty, disappears before I have my fill.   

When I was little, the seasons seemed so long, yet I missed the splendor; now that I’m older,  all that beauty just seems to slip away before I’m ready to let go.

Perhaps God does, indeed, enjoy a good joke.

Happy Thanksgiving. For most of us, it’ll be different. Maybe the most memorable of all!

Hot as the Dickens

This week promises to be into the 90s, with growing humidity.  Just thinking about it makes me remember hot summer days when I was a little girl and a not so little girl.

I never even heard about air-conditioning when I was a little girl.  If anyone told me I would think that was make-believe, or something only rich people had.

We had fans.  Fans that we propped up in windows to cool us down at night.

I shared a bedroom with Deanna and Bonita.  Deanna wanted the fan to blow out because that would pull all the hot air out of the room.  I believed the fan could blow the sound of crickets and frogs over me, along with the smell if lilacs and peonies or fresh cut hay; whatever was out there.

Bonita never said a word because that would mean she had to take sides so she just stayed quiet like she never even thought about it.

Together we compromised.  Each day one of us got to choose.  Bonita had to keep track so she didn’t get on anyone’s bad side:  one time facing in; the next time she got to choose, facing out.

Sometimes avoiding something is way more work than just sticking your neck out and blurting out an opinion.  Anyways, I hardly ever stopped myself from blurting stuff out.  Mostly because I didn’t think about it until it was too late.

Seems like time slowed down on super-hot days in the summer.

I could just lounge around all day long and read one of my Weekly Reader Book of the Month books. Of course, I couldn’t really do that on account of chores to do, like weed the garden and hang clothes on the line and teach my cow, Ladybird, how to walk like a show cow, stopping her front feet right together and her back feet with one back and one forward, so her udder showed the best way possible. On super-hot days, me and Ladybird took a break from training.

Hanging clothes wasn’t so bad, cuz they started out cool and wet.  Sometimes it seemed like they got dry before I even got a load up, but I never took them down until the whole four lines got filled and dried and Mom said I had to, cuz that meant another job:  folding clothes.

Deanna liked to get some sort of board game going, like Monopoly.  Nancy, from across the road came over, and Tommy next door, and sometimes Diane and Mike from down the road.  Lots of kids playing Monopoly meant the game lasted forever and a day. That got super-boring.

Sometimes we played card games like Spoons, I Doubt It, and Oh Hell but we changed the name to “Oh Heck,” so we didn’t have to go to confession. That’s before I learned about wooden swearing and before I knew it was just as bad to say a word that meant the same thing as “Hell,” and maybe even worse cuz you were trying to pull one over on God.

I never told my blood-sister, Connie, about wooden swearing, so she kept on saying “fishy damn” instead of “dam it.” I figured I’d just let sleeping dogs lie on account of one rule I really liked about sinning: You have to know it’s a sin and do it anyway. I figured if Connie never knew about wooden swearing, she could “heck,””fishy dam,” “shoot,” and “fudge” up a storm and God could just tell the devil, “Sorry dude, she didn’t know.”

Mostly, we played outside cuz mothers didn’t like kids in the house. Sometimes we had pogo stick contests or hula hoop contests. Nancy was super good at hula hooping.

If the day was so hot we could hardly move, we waited until nighttime to play outside cuz by then things started to cool off and all those chores took up time during the day. Night’s when we played Piggy in My Pen. Another game that can last forever. Or at least until bedtime.

Piggy in My Pen is sorta like Hide and Go Seek, except instead of saying “1-2-3 on Bonita,” you say, “Bonita’s in my pen.” After that, Bonita had to stay in my pen, which was the boxelder tree, until she got a signal from another Piggy. The game didn’t end until all the pigs got caught. Which most nights was never.

That’s me with our dog, Bingo. Bonita’s got one of our cats. It looks like Deanna just got all our tennis shoes off the line.

The day is already on its way to being a scortcher. The air-conditioning is on. I have chores to do. The first thing I need to do is finish the edging around the flower beds and along the curb. After that, I’ll be inside reading and working on my next novel, working title May His Tribe Increase.

What will you be doing in this heat?