The Christmas Box
Entry # 1:
The Puzzle Hog
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.
It snowed a lot this year;
The witch is still around here.
Boy, some things never change.
At least some of those things are
good-like working jig-saw puzzles,
doing work that is enjoyable,
hanging out with the boys and playing
in the snow. In parting, I only
hope that as the years tumble past
one another in a frenzy of speed,
that we appreciate the life we lead,
up here on Bell Springs Road.
Hasta proximo ano.
Christmas, 1992, represented the third Christmas that I taught, so we were already into the groove that all teachers find themselves in, when it comes to survival mode. Though I was still bringing school work home with me, I dealt with it in the wee hours of the morning, so as not to give off the notion to anyone else, that this was any other time than Christmas.
The boys were used to seeing me at the table, with neatly distributed piles of grading stacked all over the kitchen table, overflowing onto the pool table, if necessary. However, during Christmas break, I kept that noise volume down as I scrambled to try and compensate for my frantic agenda the rest of the year. The boys knew that for sixteen days, I was going to be available for a list of diversions which began with the pool table we were just talking about. It was always sixteen days, because it was three weekends, sandwiched around two full school weeks off, amounting to sixteen days.
We had gotten the pool table from Eric, back when Kevin was still a resident on the mountain, so that should date it to the mid-eighties. It was not a fancy model, but for that reason, I was always willing to allow the boys to play on it. In bringing it into the house originally, we had managed to allow the felt to brush for an instant, up against the deck railing, as we brought it into the pool room. The result was an isosceles triangle in the center of the table, that was a reminder from the beginning, that the felt was fragile. To this day they, nor any of their friends, have ever inflicted a single mar on that table.
Meanwhile, it was one playing field where brute strength and brilliant intellect meant nothing, as geometry and coordination meant everything.
We saved the brute strength for malling up manzanita wood, and the brilliant intellect for the bridge table. In 1992, Casey would have been ten, so by then we had the bridge gig going full speed. Of course, in those days, “full speed” meant about four hands at the max, before words and insults would fly, and just short of fisticuffs, we’d call it a game. The concept of “civilized” within the context of the bridge arena, was what I was aiming at, and it did not come easily, nor overnight.
Speaking of uncivilized, Maxine Grace Shins was obviously still terrorizing the neighborhood. Enough said, when you think that we routinely referred to her amongst ourselves as the Witch. Sad.
In 1992, playing in the snow would not have included snow boards as of yet, so it still meant getting out the wooden toboggan, and going up and down the hill, between our place and Matt’s cement tank. For years I used to say that the only time I did not mind snow, was the sixteen-day-break at Christmas. Let it snow. That stretch of hillside above Matt’s tank is free of manzanita, and the angle is pretty decent. At least it meant tobogganing for the boys.
Christmas, 1992, was one year after I tore the ACL on my left knee, and still two years before my Christmas, 1994, reconstructive surgery. No tobogganing for this old cowboy after Friday, December 13th, 1991. I got over that, but I never got over not being able to play baseball. I don’t even dare pitch, because I rely too much on my reflexes, and they would get me into trouble by the bottom of the first inning. Someone would either hit a screamer to my left or my right, and I would instinctively dive for it, or a little pop fly would hover, lingeringly off to my right, so I would be shoving off with my left-ouch, there it goes, and there I am on the sidelines with the ice pack and the bong. What’s you gonna do?
I will tell you what I did. I got out a jig-saw puzzle and commenced to turning all of the pieces face up, while separating the edge-pieces for someone who likes to do that part of the puzzle. I do them last, if I do them at all. I like to start in the inside, and work my way out. All of the boys have done puzzles at different times in the past, some more than others. As you might imagine, Casey finds it hard to sit for very long periods of time, so he would flit in and out of the action. Ben could like one puzzle, but skip the next, and Lito would work them if he was around, always perched to swoop down down at the last moment, and puzzle hog the last little bit. We would return to finish off our labors, and Lito would have been one step in front of us. Better one step in front of us on the puzzle table, rather than the dinner table.