Thursday, December 22, 2022

Walkin’ In A Winter Wonderland

For a small child, Christmas approaches with the speed of molasses, visible on the horizon just after Thanksgiving, teasing, waving from a distance, laughing at the impatience of babes.  It comes a step closer when Mrs. O’Grady, always the earliest in the neighborhood, tucks a trio of candles with red-orange bulbs in the upstairs front windows of her streetside apartment.  Now and then, an overeager disc jockey slips Jingle Bell Rock into the day’s playlist, maybe a few flakes of snow flutter down.  Will it ever get here, the small boy wonders, and what largesse will Santa provide?

Then one day—can it be?—Mr. Pennywhistle’s old red pickup truck appears on the corner lot, followed by a couple of flatbeds laden with the greenest Christmas trees anyone ever saw.  Jackie Mercier’s older brother Bunky, who knows about these things, announces the downtown Christmas parade is a piffling week away and the seminary lights are going up on Sunday.  The children can feel it now, sweeping in on the wings of carolers, taking center stage in the brilliant department store windows, encouraged by the first light snowfall.   

There are really two versions of Christmas, after all, the real one being the holiday we celebrate while still believing in Santa Claus and the dimmer imitation that occurs after that.  Small children, you see, are willing to suspend reality and believe in Magic and elves and aerodynamic reindeer, all foolishly abandoned by silly older kids and adults, who obviously don’t know how to have fun.

Some moron reports one day that there is no Santa Claus, but doesn’t he watch the local TV weatherman who tracks Santa’s course across the planet?  If something is on television, it must be true, right?  Eddie McFuddle, that brat from third grade, says something called the logistics are impossible, that St. Nick can’t be everywhere all at once, but why not?  Works for God, doesn’t it?

Everyone thinks what children like most about Christmas is the gift-getting, but that’s not true.  What excites them most is the feeling of Wonder that Christmas brings, the ebullient joy in the atmosphere, the airborne elixir that makes grouchy old men smile and taciturn nuns trip the light fantastic.  Everyone is happy, even old Mr. Grabbit on the corner.  Eleven months a year, when a ball inadvertently falls into his yard, he scoops it up and runs into the house.  At Christmas, the old crustacean throws it back like a guilty fisherman.

Christmas means our homes will have visitors, relatives and friends who visit once a year to engage in small talk, backslapping and serious alcohol consumption with our parents.  They will pat us on the head, maybe hand us a dollar and dispense well-meant but silly advice to enrich our journey through life like “You should grow up to be an engineer, Billy, that’s where the money is” or “Everybody can’t play for the Red Sox, kid, you might want to have a backup plan.”

The Wonder Years seem long at the time, but they are a mere speck on the windshield of Life.  When we finally concede the unlikeliness of Santa we unknowingly abandon Magic, leave a fairyland world where the days are filled with light and anything is possible, and we can never go back.  Years from this time we will forget most of the gifts we received but we will never forget these rapturous moments when Santa Claus sails through a snowy sky, bliss rules the Earth and dreams come true.  It might be the only time in your life you don’t want to get too smart too quickly. 

“In The Lane, Snow Is Glistenin’…”

Now, some people will tell you that Christmas stands on its own, needs no embellishment, can do quite well, thank you, without snow.  This is utter folly.  You might as well tell a kid not to apply butter to his corn on the cob or add mustard to his Fenway Frank.  Snow is essential, best served up in walloping big doses that enable the construction of impregnable forts and carrot-nosed snowmen.  Snow is necessary for atmosphere, for sleigh rides, for snowball fights.  How’s a lad to make any money without walks to shovel, automobiles to uncover?  Even after kids lose faith in the magic of Christmas, they still believe in the wonders of snow.

Noone is immune, really.  Even would-be sophisticated college kids yield to the temptations of snow.  Once, a group of fun-loving students from haughty MIT gathered to roll up the world’s largest snowball, then pushed it all the way out onto the exceedingly busy Memorial Drive, which runs along the Charles River in Cambridge.  You might not believe this, but the world’s largest snowball was enormous enough to block up both lanes of traffic on the busiest artery in the city.  Being the skillful geniuses that Massachusetts Institute of Technology students are, they contrived a way to pour water on the snowball and freeze it, thus making it difficult to break into pieces.  The snowball sat for a very long time while passing pedestrians tittered and drivers cursed and policemen scratched their heads.  Finally, someone thought to invite a few firemen to the party and the snowball was slowly vanquished, but not without a fight.  False alarms were called in to distract the firefighters and it was several hours before the street was cleared.  Many of the firemen were irked, but one of them smiled merrily and had to admit “You’ve got to appreciate the artistry involved.  And who doesn’t like seasonal humor?”

Snow is immortal.  It may take a leave of absence to travel somewhere else but it will always return.  Snow is a muse.  Artists paint it, photographers try to capture its essence, songwriters celebrate it, poets like Robert Frost embellish it.  Here’s what Frost had to say:

“The way a crow shook down on me
The dust of snow from a hemlock tree
Has given my heart a change of mood
And saved some part of a day I had rued”

Of course there will always be wiseguy poets like Gary Schmidt:

“The light made the snowballs look yellow.  Or at least I hoped that was the case.”

A Little Romance

They met at a little gathering spot in the University’s Student Union, she sitting in a booth with a smiling girlfriend, he walking by with a college pal.  The young women invited them to take a seat, they did, conversation flowed, people laughed, phone numbers were exchanged, light promises were made.

The taller boy called the taller girl one day and a meeting was arranged at a park with a pond at the center of campus.  The boy, who came from the East, related tales of life in New England replete with blizzards and baseball and history.  The girl told stories of a very different existence on a Native American reservation, her father an Indian Agent.

The boy liked the girl very much and the girl liked the boy.  They went to the movies together.  They dined on banana splits at a sweet shop.  They had dinner at a cheap restaurant with a tiny menu.  They walked together a lot, automobiles being a great luxury in those days.  The boy was always very respectful of the girl.  At night, she returned to the dormitory and he to a room in an old lady’s home.

Time passed, emotions rose.  When they kissed on a bench by the pond on a twilight evening, the tall girl from the Indian reservation made it known by her actions that something more was required.  The boy said he would make the arrangements.  The boy and the girl had but limited experience in these matters and the excitement was palpable.

A few nights later, the boy whisked the girl in the back door of the old lady’s house and into his small room, adorned with a bed, a desk and little else.  They were careful to be quiet as this was a forbidden adventure promising severe retribution if discovered.  The tall girl smiled as the boy helped her unbutton her clothes.  The bed creaked a little too loud as they fell into it, bringing muffled laughter.  In a warm room in an old lady’s house on a chilly winter night in December, the Eastern boy and the Western girl shared a night of rare bliss.  “Merry Christmas,” said the boy, a few days in advance.  “I’ll say,” replied the girl.  The next morning, the tall girl left before the old lady arose to start coffee.  The New England boy kissed her out the door.

Two days later, the boy met the girl one more time at the downtown bus station.  He was leaving school for good, moving back east, had a nice job waiting in Manhattan.  The girl would stay in school one more year, then move back to the reservation well-armed with great knowledge to help her aging father.

“I know I will never see you again,” said the tall girl.  “I know I will never meet anyone like you.  Just do me one last favor—don’t turn around when you go to the bus.”  The boy had a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat, but humor was his saving grace.  “You’re sure that’s not something you saw in a movie?” he asked.  “No, it’s not,” she said, laughing and crying at the same time. “I have seen about three movies in my whole life.  Just do as you’re told and get on that bus.”

The tall boy from back East walked up the steps into the bus with tears running down his face.  The sympathetic bus driver touched him on the shoulder and said, “Are you sure you want to be leaving that woman?”  The boy tried to smile and said, “I’m not real sure of anything.  Well, maybe one thing.  I’m really sorry that all these years I’ve been rooting for the cavalry.”

That’s all, folks….and Merry Christmas from The Eastern boy and the Western girl, wherever they are.