The Christmas Box
Entry # 10:
It Came Out of the Sky
And it Wasn’t a Sleigh
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.
Dear Christmas, 1987
How are you? We trust 1987
Has treated you well. Only time
will tell, which is the subject of
This message. Thank you for your
This was the inaugural message on the box. It was not terribly inspiring, nor enlightening, for that matter. It is obvious that I was addressing next year’s Christmas, but I had not quite gotten to the question format yet.
1986 was a year I spent working primarily for Bart, down in the valley, and Amaka, on the back side of Cow mountain. I have talked enough about Amaka, so I will spend a few minutes writing about Bart. He is one of many East Coast transplants, who ended up here in Northern California, a hard-working, driven man, who alienated a lot of people over the years with his direct approach.
Many find Bart’s manner to be intimidating. He fastens his eyes upon yours, and locks in on your gaze. I have met guys like Bart before, and I have no trouble with eye contact. His hair, when I was working for him, was brilliant red, as was his beard. His hair was wiry and bristly, and I always thought it looked as though he had just stuck his finger in an electrical outlet.
He was one of the original pioneers, up here on the mountain. He talked about moving up here to the dome, in the early seventies, and growing reefer in rows like corn, stretching out along the ridge top. Now he was into tomatoes, to the tune of forty tons of organic tomatoes, the first year he went all out down there.
Bart had bought out my brothers and a couple of other guys, from a 250 acre parcel, down in the valley, where he had started an organic produce farm. When my brother Tom relocated to the Bay Area, to build homes with Matt, he had sold the house that he and Reiko owned up here on the ridge, and Bart had bought it.
Rob and I went to work for him right around this time period, and added on a little pantry to the big house. Bart was impressed enough to extend his offer of employment to us, to do work at both the dome and the farm. I worked pretty steadily for Bart, all the way up until I went to work for the school district. You can say what you want about Bart, but he never left me hanging for my wages. Ann had to chase Bonnie around a couple of times, but it was always understood, that I was not conducting any kind of business, such as he might be more familiar with, and that I needed my wages when they came due.
Actually, one of my sharpest memories comes from one rather alarming afternoon down at the farm, when a helicopter swooped out of nowhere, and prepared to set down in a field adjacent to where we were pounding nails on a newly constructed feed barn. The suddenness of the visitation had the adrenaline flowing, but Bart had the presence of mind to grab for his wallet, and ask us how much he owed us. His point was, “I better pay you now, while I still got it. Those lawyers are real sharks.” To me it sounded like a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Another time, when Rob and I were working up at Bonnie’s, a painter from Boonville was there, doing his thing. At one point he was looking for something, and he checked in the backseat of a car that had been collecting dust for the previous several weeks, in the parking area, outside of Bonnie’s. What he found was a plain brown lunch bag, with fifteen thousand dollars in it. When he brought it in to Bart, his noncommittal response was, “Oh, I wondered where I put that.
However, the most important thing that happened, was that there was a kid’s swing set, down at the dome, which had outlived its purpose, Bart’s youngest daughter already being in the middle school, when I was working for him. As Christmas rolled around, I approached Bart and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and hauled it back up here to my place, where I stashed it carefully in the bushes, up at the flat spot, exactly where Casey built his house.
Of course, it was Casey who spotted the hiding place of the three-piece playground equipment. In addition to the swing set, there was a slide and a monkey bar set, all freshly hand-painted candy apple red. Though I was disappointed that they had stumbled on the equipment, I simply pointed out that there was no way that Santa could have gotten all three of those pieces of equipment into the sleigh at one time. I thought it was quick thinking for an old guy, and if the boys didn’t believe me, they were smart enough to keep it to themselves.