Christmas Twenty O’ Four

This year I have sat down earlier to look to my friends and give them the story I have promised for a while now. I have been promised that the debacle of last year will not be repeated; like I am supposed to believe that. The little hairs on the back of my neck still stand up whenever I hear someone knocking on a door.
Oh, well the best laid plans… or something like that, so once again here I sit on Christmas eve trying to come up with a simple Christmas story that will be good enough to give to my friends and make up for my regressions of the past. I want you to know that I did start thinking about this story way back in March of this year, just for the record. Hang on there’s the door… you don’t think that… nah, they promised me, didn’t they. I’m back, now let’s get to that story… what’s that, the door; oh, it was just someone that had the wrong door. Yeah I know that’s how it all started last year…. Thankfully, they didn’t have any packages, so there’s no reason to get too worried about anything. Well I think that maybe this year I should tell you about; no I have just the story…
Christmas in our house was a huge thing and to this day I’m not sure why. It wasn’t as if we had a lot of money. Maybe it was to make up for all the things that we were told no to over the year. Every Christmas morning my brother and I would walk into the living room to a Christmas gift bonanza. Oh sure, maybe our toys weren’t the ones that we’d begged for all year and maybe they weren’t even the top selling toy of the year. That never seemed to matter to us as we took out each toy and played with it. I can only remember a hand full of those toys and some only because I have seen them in pictures, but as a kid it never mattered. The work up to Christmas was nearly as exciting as the day itself, the sneaking around trying to find out where our parents had hid the Christmas presents.
One Year my brother and I spent what seemed like a week marking every squeaky board we could find to the front stairs and the back stairs in the house so we could sneak down to the front room without waking our Grandfather or mother. I don’t remember why we wanted to be there without them, but I do know we had a hard time getting down when we want to. It never failed that my Grandfather would catch us at least twice and would send us back to bed or we’d hear our mother and Grandmother still awake fussing over the presents. This Christmas we had a plan when we had the spare time we would walk the hall way and scratch the plaster wherever there was a squeaky board. Taking a knife my brother had, at least I think it was his, we’d creep the hall as softly as we could and mark the board. In theory on Christmas morning we would step out of our room and with a hand on the wall, we would search out the scratches and step over the boards in question. How well did it work you ask? Well… I know I didn’t know what time it was when we made our first attempt, yes first attempt, because our eagle ear grandfather caught us two steps out of our bedroom. Perhaps it didn’t help that our bedroom was just a few steps behind his, or that the house at that time was just shy of a hundred years old and when you exerted enough pressure on any of the boards in the hallway they squeaked, go figure. I don’t remember when I learned that our original trek that year was near three thirty in the morning and the reason we got caught so quickly was that Grandfather had just headed to bed and that mother was still up downstairs. But all that didn’t matter to us when we opened the door to the front room and crept in about two hours later. He caught us at least one more time before we succeeded, and the hard sought after treasure that awaited us was ours. Then again I think he finally fell asleep considering how early it had been when we made our first attempt and the grownups had just finally gone to bed. Wall to wall toys, as I look back at it now I often ask myself ‘I wonder what the poor people were doing.’
I had intended this to be a little about me and then a story much like some of my other works, but for some reason I decided to change all that and instead take a different approach to this Christmas story. Perhaps it’s because of all the politically correct crap I have been listening to, I won’t bother you with my rant here this is not the spot for it, so once again I’ll spare you my rant and rave over it all; in this essay that at least.
Whatever happened to the traditions of Christmas, have they all passed by the wayside to be replaced with newfangled things? Why, is it that we haven’t continued those traditions? Why have we not taken those traditions and added to them? What happened to getting together with friends and family on Christmas Eve gathering around the tree, enjoying each other’s company, remembering and telling stories of Christmas’ past? When did we stop going door-to-door singing carols to wish our neighbors a merry Christmas? Remember the great toys and games that you got when you were little?
After high school, I used to spend my summers scrapping for work and playing in a small community band, we were nowhere near ready for Carnegie Hall or even anything close to it for that matter, we were lucky to have been invited to play at the local fireman’s field days, what am I saying, that’s where we had the most fun playing. Talk about you’re not yet ready for prime time players, our best piece was ‘Stripper’ and between pieces the beer cans flew more than the pages of our music, but that I will leave for another time. We did have our serious concerts, there were ice cream socials and things like that, but when the drum kit isn’t complete until the cooler is filled with beer; what more do I have to say about that. I only mention this so that you will know a bit about our group when it came to Christmas.
Our band leader, who was also a music teacher at the local high school, would invite us; the ‘Up the Creek Community Band’ to his home for a party, well annual Christmas party anyway as most every time we got together was a party. Christmas however, was different we would meet at his home for a little cocoa for those in the band that were under age, for those that weren’t our cocoa was accompanied with a little schnapps if we so desired. We would all give each other a hug wish each other a Merry Christmas and talk for a while. When we felt that we were sufficiently um warmed up and ready we would begin.
This was our time to not put our instruments to work, it was our time to use our voices, some of us were quite good, and others well who cared how we actually sounded I know we sure didn’t. We would gather in front of his home climb onto the hay covered wagon if there was one and we would head out. Most of the time it was pulled by truck by one of the members’ parents or a friend of the band, I seem to recall one year that wagon was pulled by a team of horses, it was a beautiful site.
There were usually about fifteen of us, or so and we would go up and down the streets of Newport singing Christmas carols to any and all that would listen. We had the houses that we absolutely had to stop at, not because of our partying ways, but for whatever reason or other. There was those that had been sick recently, or perhaps just needed a little extra cheer, maybe a death in family, or just been plain lonely. We as members had very little choice in where we went as our fearless leader had pre-planned our journey for us. There were those that would bring out hot cocoa for all, those that didn’t and those that would bring out a little gift for the band as a whole. Some would invite us in usually those that had a family member among us. What didn’t surprise us were the faces of the people we sang to, the front doors would open wide. Those that could would come out onto their porches or front steps, while others would open the door and pull back the curtains from their front windows and watch. As we moved from house to house, each of the families would bid us all a Merry Christmas and thank us. There was never a time that we were chased off or had a door slammed in our faces, never once were we met with a Bah Humbug. Well, maybe a Bah Humbug or two but it never lasted long. I wonder what the ACLU would have to say about that… oh wait I promised didn’t I; never mind.
At the end of our caroling we would sit were we could at our leaders’ home usually out on his porch having another cocoa, or schnapps, talking to each other making sure that we were all ready for Christmas. We would hug one another again as each of us went home, wishing Merry Christmas’s and Happy New Year’s all around. No matter what was going on in our lives we all left happier than when we came, I can‘t be sure if it was the cocoa or the schnapps, but I doubt it was either of them, I am quite sure, it was the season, the night, the love, the caring and perhaps just a bit of Christ and God as well.
As I sit here, somewhere between nowhere and everywhere writing this piece, remembering Christmas’ past and I think that while Christmas is for children, that special look their little eyes and that sparkle when they open that one gift that makes it all worthwhile for them, I think that it is the adults that get the greater gifts. I look back with fond memories of childhood Christmases, the gifts that filled the floor of our living room and sneaking down stairs to get that first look. My brother and I used to stand frozen in place our eyes wide and jaws on the floor for at least minute, well maybe just a second or two, before diving in.
So to you my friends and family, I ask that this year and from now on you remember your past Christmases and smile, regardless of how much or how little you had. Remember why we celebrate it, remember how we used to feel and take that warmth and use it. Raise your mug and remember everyone that has ever touched your life, remember your relatives, smile for them, for they are watching. Look to your children if you have them; look to your grandchildren if you have those as well, those of us without children we will be looking to you our friends and family. I want you all to sing a song of Christmas and tell those that say that you can’t sing… well sing anyway, give them a hug, wish them, as I do you now, a Very Merry Christmas… and tell the ACLU to kiss our collective… So much for sparing you my ranting… MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.

2004 December


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