The Christmas Box
Entry # 3:
The following excerpt is found on a storage box, used to house Christmas ornaments, a bedraggled cardboard arrangement, upon which I began scrawling an annual message, careful to affix the date each year. Some of the messages are filled with hope and whimsy; others, with dark forebodings of dire straits. Still others contain a blending of the two, a more accurate description of life up here on the mountain, on Bell Springs Road, and possibly where you live, also.
January 9th, 1987
Christmas comes but once a year
and never is it late;
That gives us almost a year
To think of ’88.
If we still are poor as mice
When next year rolls around,
I guess we’ll all agree it’s best
And not be getting down.
I can’t think of a period when times were harder, except for when I was student teaching. I was working primarily for Amaka, before she went off the deep end, and we were getting by on a string. I was working simultaneously for Michael, taking care of some logistical work, mostly on weekends, or late in the afternoons, after I had left Amaka’s. It was work that I had begun while I was still doing carpentry for him. At some point during this period, we also built the barn for Michael, one of the last projects that Tom worked on, before he and Reiko moved to Hawaii.
Yet, even in the face of difficulty, here I was talking about making the best of it, and not getting down. There was always a strong sense of community up here on the mountain during the Holiday Season. We made Christmas cards, and sent them out early enough to get responses. We took advantage of the vast amounts of mistletoe hanging everywhere in the oak trees, occasionally low enough to the ground to be able to access without a ladder.
We were no longer interested in selling red ribbon-wrapped mistletoe in front of Sav-on Drug Stores for fifteen cents a bunch, but it was still nice to see a sprig up under the arch, between the kitchen and the pool room. We always got out the red and green candles that Pauline had given us back when we had first moved up, that we had kept to bring out each year at Christmas. And we got together a lot over the Holidays and partied.
Ann, the boys and I had a tradition of stopping in at Robert and Pauline’s every Friday afternoon/evening, on our way home from the school. There was always that sense of exhilaration that Fridays brought to us who taught in the school system. Everything would be just fine, if we could only make it to Friday. It didn’t even matter that I went home on the weekends and spent the whole time catching up. At least I was doing so in my kitchen at home, without thirty of my best friends accompanying me.
In the early years, of which this was one, I used to spend one of the two weekend days in my classroom, because I was big into the bulletin boards, and because I could grade in the classroom, more efficiently than I could at home. I could use the tables at school upon which I would spread out the assignments to be graded. I suppose I could have reduced my workload, by reducing the number of assignments I gave students, but that never seemed to occur to me; it occurred to the students, and they were kind enough to point that fact out to me, but I did not want to short-change their education, so the beat went on.
The Holidays presented opportunities for entertainment, that otherwise were less likely to occur, like the bridge games. Casey was not quite at the stage where he could sit with the adults yet, but Annie had enthusiastically taken up the game, so Robert, Pauline, Ann and I could play whenever we wanted. And there was the Holiday poker game, usually slated for New Years Day, but also likely to take place any time we had a quorum of six players. These games were, by definition, a lot tamer than the games we played with Jerry Drewry, where Rex, Bear, and any of the old-timers might have joined us. Those games began around seven in the evening and would go until the wee hours, when Jerry would be well into his ritualistic rendition of the poetry that he had learned while soldiering in Korea.
There were several gatherings of the clan during the early years, when Eric through Laura had small people accompanying them, and everyone mingled together to open gifts, eat meals, and play with one another. On one memorable Christmas gift-opening session, we were gathered around the living room at the big house, with extended family spread out, all over tarnation, the hum of activity at a screech level, with Ann and I trying to orchestrate the distribution of gifts to all three boys smoothly.
Upon presenting one particular gift to Lito, who was maybe four at the time, we watched as he predictably ripped the colorful paper from the box and tore off the lid. He reached in and grabbed a handful of something from the box and thrust it happily into the air. “Styrofoam!” he squealed with delight, as Ann reached over to indicate that he might dig a little deeper in the box to see if there wasn’t something with a little more substance than styrofoam. Meanwhile I was already thinking of how easy it would be to shop for a kid who was pleased as punch to open up a box of styrofoam. How about a box of crumpled up Christmas wrapping, or maybe some corn flakes? This should be easy.