AS I LIKE IT!
December 23, 2016
The following story appeared in my first book, Delta Days as A Christmas Tale. It is still my favorite Christmas, so I have revised it for AS I LIKE IT!
My Favorite Christmas
The wind whirled down from a gray winter sky of scudding dark clouds, and spits of sleet and snow eddied around the building. I was sitting on the front steps of my grandfather’s Ice and Coal business in Ruleville, Mississippi watching the ice form on the eaves. My grandmother had bundled me up to the point of immobility, so I could hardly move, but I was toasty warm.
The ice business fell off dramatically in the winter months, but the sale of coal made up the difference. The coal truck drivers were returning from their delivery routes, and I knew them all. They were my friends, and they doted on me like a young prince. This was my favorite time of day.
I walked over to the group of black men and said,
“Hey, ya’ll. How’d it go today?”
Louis, one of the drivers, smiled and said,
“Just fine. Everyone is expecting a cold night, so we all sold out.”
Wade, one of the other drivers, grinned and said,
“Well, Mister Tommy, you excited about it being Christmas Eve?”
“I am! I was only four last year and didn’t understand it all, but now that I’m five, I can’t wait.
“What’s Santa gonna bring you?”
“That’s kinda got me worried. Billy’s big brother Don told us that there’s no such person as Santa Claus. Besides, even if there was, we don’t have a chimney.”
The plant foreman, a gnarled and wrinkled black man named Crip, spoke up and said,
“Don’t you worry none, Mr. Tommy. Don Story would sit on a stump and swear the tree had never been there, and anyway, we don’t need a chimney. I’ll wait tonight and let Santa off the roof with my ladder. He’ll get in.”
Not only was it Christmas Eve, but it was also Saturday, and pay day for the drivers. Today they would get their Christmas bonus, in addition to their weekly pay. By the time everyone had checked in and been paid, it was close to quitting time, so Crip told them to take off early.
With a round of “Merry Christmas,” the men left for home. Crip and I sat on a wooden bench on the ice house platform and watched as the late afternoon morphed into a cold winter night. Snow began to fall in big fluffy flakes, and soon the parking lot began to turn white.
Crip lit his pipe and said,
“Looks like we may have a white Christmas this year, just like Mr. Crosby’s song says.”
I huddled into my coat and said,
“That’s my favorite Christmas song.”
“Yep, it’s mighty pretty,” Crip replied, as he stood and leaned on his crutch.
“Lets you and me go shut down Big Momma.”
Big Momma was the massive Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine that provided power for the ice house. It sat just outside our apartment’s kitchen door, and its thumpa, thumpa, thump, thump was the background sound of life at the ice plant. I loved Big Momma: the way it sounded and the way it smelled of diesel fumes and machine oil. Crip always made sure I was along when he started it in the mornings and shut it down at night.
After we had shut down Big Momma, Crip left for home, promising to come back later to let Santa down the ladder, and I went through the kitchen door. My grandmother was busy fixing supper, and I climbed onto the counter and sat watching her do her magic.
Her kitchen, the largest room and the nerve center of our little apartment, housed a large two door ice box and a double oven, kerosene-fired, big, black stove. This was my favorite place in my entire world, and tonight, I was engulfed in a cloud of savory cooking smells. Tonight, my gradnmother was making fried quail, rice, a rich, brown gravy, canned butterbeans and homemade biscuits. I’ve always figured this was what God had for supper.
As I sat propped against the cabinets, Bing was singing his new song; I’ll be home for Christmas, dedicated to all of the men fighting around the world on Christmas Eve. As I look back, I realize that I’ve never felt as happy, safe, or secure as I did on that winter evening in 1944.
After we ate supper and cleaned the kitchen, my grandmother and I joined my grandfather in the small living room near the front of our apartment. The room had a jacket coal stove radiating waves of warm air, and it was decorated for the holidays. There was a six-foot high fir tree, decorated with glass ornaments and colored lights, which, if one went out, they all went out.
My grandfather sat near the stove in his goose down vest reading the Memphis Press-Scimitar, listening to the large console radio with the big green light that told you that it was on. At 7:00, the CBS evening news came on, and Mr. H.V. Kaltenborn began with the war news. The Germans had punched a huge hole in the American lines and had been racing to the English Channel. A small band of American paratroopers had stopped them dead in their tracks at a little village in Belgium, called Bastogne.
After the news, the Lucky Strike theme song came on, and we sat listening to Your Hit Parade. Intermixed with ads talking about Lucky Strike going to war in a green package, we heard all of our favorite Christmas songs, as well as a few new ones like Chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. By the time Frank sang his version of White Christmas, I was drifting off to sleep.
I sat on my grandfather’s lap while my grandmother opened up the sofa and made my bed. Crip knocked on the office door and waved to me, and soon, I was fast asleep. The next morning when I woke up, the stove was roaring and the smell of coffee and frying bacon filled the room. I looked under the tree, and sure enough, Santa had made it down from the roof.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!
The Saturday Serial will return next week!
Categories: As I Like It!