Christmas Past

By A.H. Watson

Looking down the lane from the highway, I could see the lights from John?s car as he turned into the farm road.

Earl, sitting besides me, muttered in his scarf, ?60 years and the old bastard never changed. What did he say when you called?he couldn?t come last night...or tomorrow?"

?Well, Earl?I tried. Told him we would meet him at this old ?shotgun? cabin at 9 pm. Then I figured we would show up at 9:30, making his ass wait for a change. What?s the time now, 10:00? Hell, Earl, we can?t even beat the prick at being LATE!"

A crunch of gravel sounded against John's gas tank.

?You boys waiting for something? The light shinning through the back window makes you two big-eared goofs look like you have been hanging out with Charles?waiting for the Great Pumpkin."

?Sorry I am late Hen but something?"

Came up," Earl and I replied in unison.

"That?s right, girls; I like the way you can talk along with me. You two picked a bitch of a night, 23 degrees, spitting snow. Where the hell are we? and why?"

?Earl and I were wondering if you would remember that day?you know, the day when we were kings?and ruled the world?

"This is the tenant house on the old Flint River farm. The one where that white trash Tom Weedy lived." Henny said this while pushing the car door open and moving toward the old shack.

?No, that place had a barn directly behind the house, Hen, God, do I remember that Barn."

?It blew down Judge in that '86 storm." Henny answered, as he peered through the crooked door into the two-roomed shack.

The Judge stomped his feet and followed Earl and Henny into the cabin, thinking to himself?there is nothing as cold as old empty cabin that has been sitting for years?just waiting, just marinating in the evening chill, waiting for four old farts to return.

Return?why? What is that old bastard up to now?

To give meaning to the past ?or better understand the present, at least that had been my original intent, Henny thought to himself, knowing that John would be wondering.. but never answering the Judge out loud.

Last week around the fire we had discussed how cheesy Christmas had become with all the sniveling and whining by the ACLU Jews, the atheist and trolls. After the boys staggered home, I sat and enjoyed the best time a fire gives; when it goes from trying to give off heat to that magic moment when it looks as though it wishes to save each wisp of heat as the coals collapse on themselves; much as a bad marriage? or a good affair.

Watching the coals slowly die is done so very often in the South during so very many of life?s ?third and ten" situations, that it comes with the Good House Keeping Seal and should almost be considered ritual.

But one single night we acted as kings.

We made decisions we considered best for certain peoples lives, but far above any effort, that even in those distant years, could be considered within the law. If fact, given to some city prosecutor, the Judge later told me, could have not only ruined our businesses but put us in the pokey for 5 - 15 years.

During the week, four of us - Earl, Sam, the Judge and my self-made list of people we knew that were really struggling in life. Doc Mel had insisted on joining us when we had asked about a young nurses aid with children.

She had mentioned to Earl at his last visit ?just how hard it had become to raise a young boy considering her husband recent death."

Doc had later that spring, in fact, given our four souls a powerful endorsement.

?You know, Henny, you and that big bubba with the cape and cane (meaning the Judge) do just enough nice things to get off my shit list a couple of times a year."

Doc said she worried about a few of her young patients that had never returned to the clinic, most likely because their fathers were too proud to take charity. Going with us would give her a chance to see them and hopefully the mother as well.

As many of you must know, small things take on greater or different meaning rapidly. As the boys fell into the program, they enjoyed spending the evenings discussing various needs and how best to get them to the person with the most need.

It would be impossible to describe deprivation most Southerners would carry in those days rather than be thought a non-provider. Out in the County there were children that came to school daily with no shoes.

Poor? Not really, not different from most. The ones really hurting were those on that thin line and something else happens. The milk cow dies. The crib corn mildews or the insects get it. The well goes bad or the wife comes down with one of twenty or so diseases. It was possible for whole families to perish?alone, in dire straits, unknown to the community at large.

Even then, when you look at the genesis of the individual case, some personal weakness is most often the reason for the final collapse.

Southern pride was a harsh master. Yet, even the false variety seems to have been better than today?s lack of respect or pride in anything of real value.

We finished the more local calls by a horse and wagon festooned with Christmas colors and goodies. We had tried our best to deliver gifts we knew the families could use. For the woman there would be something ?small, just for her? and if she sewed, partial bolts of cloth or some other womanly things. We, of course, left those purchases for Doc Mel.

For the men it might me two big plugs of tobacco. In one case I remember, we ordered him twenty-five Layers and twenty-five Ducks.

We gave him sufficient chicken feed for raising them.

We went to the house to give the children fruit, candy, and clothes. Even in this it was necessary to be extremely careful. Some of the children had never seen actual tangerines or bananas. Never wrap a gift that is to be un-wrapped in front of the parents. Just tell them that you had extra and though they might enjoy.

Hope you are never caught having done so without thinking, and then are forced to see the face of the parents as his child tears open, with gleeful abandon, the used clothing, candies and fruit.

But for the good parents, the loving parents, it is just a momentary moment of self-hurt and quickly changes into the joy that the child is then feeling.

After that night all of us better understood my father?s oft-said prayer.

Lord, when you come for me ?(there is no hurry, mind you)
And I stand before your Throne?
Please put me with the poor children
As they can find happiness with?
Little more than a stone

?So this is where you are at!" we three had been lost in memory of that night and this particular tenant farm long ago.

Sam?s shout through the door had spooked the three of us though none would have admitted it with less than a beating.

?Well, I see you found my note with no problem." Then turning to Earl and myself?the Judge said, ?I put it under the Wild Turkey whiskey bottle on the back shelf of the bar at my house.

You down to stealing a poor man?s whiskey, Sheriff?"

?You just baiting the trap Judge. You knew I would fix a ?roadie.? And start looking. Why we here, bitter memories for this old man having to play the mad nigger?that one last time. For all the real good it did, I still sometimes wish I hadn?t."

In town, that night long ago, the boys had let Doc Mel off at her house, dropped off the mules at the dairy, and prepared for one last visit.

Earl?s car was used because it was from out of town. We filled it with candy orange slices, those little bell shaped hunks of sugar covered with cheap chocolate, peppermint bows, the little wax bottles full of sweet colored water, children?s clothing, woman?s things, a basketball, net, and shoes. There were canned goods and even a roasted bird and fixings.

And then, there were the four of us?worried, but anxious but get on with it and back to warm friendly fires of Henny?s den or our own home.

?Henny, you remember me calling you to the office and all we went through trying to find an answer to the story the Deputy had loaded on my shoulders earlier in the day?"

The Judge asked this while stomping his feet on the cold boards of the cabin as we all returned to that night? in our minds.

Sam said, ?I remember we never discussed it. I could have used some discussion, Hell; I can use some even now, forty years later!

The Deputy told the Judge that the Weedy fellow was beating his wife something awful. Seems the Deputy?s sister lives near them and can hear the screams, but lately they have been somewhat muted which in white trash language means things have gotten worse. Last night she heard the boy yelling ?No Daddy I don?t want to do that" or something like it.

Sometimes the law is an ass. Even if the mother or child would tell you all the things the bastard was doing ? and they won?t ? given a fine or even jail, the mother and son would starve with out his sorry presence.

When we arrived at this cabin Earl ask where Mr. Weedy could be found. Told the barn, the Judge and I started bringing the accumulated goods into the home with the help of the mother and her son.

Earl and Sam entered the barn; at the side of the house Sam had slipped into a black Army knit hood and Earl into a white hood made from one of Mrs. Penny?s best pillowcases.

?Amos Weedy we have come at Gods call, to set you right" Earl had hardly spoken when Sam hit Amos a full blow to the stomach. Lying in the straw Sam gave Weedy as bad a beating as I have ever seen given. All the time he was asking Earl to ?pull his ?nigger off?n him" and telling me he was "a member in good standing with the Klan, back on the ridge, in Alabama."

Sam, in a quiet I can still hear, then squatted besides Amos and told him the following.

?Amos, I ?know?ed your type all my life, and you best realize I am different. If this nigger has to come back - I will kill you, Amos - and never think it more that a falling leaf."

If you ever touch your wife again I will kill you. If you touch your son again, either I will come back and kill you, or you will be sent to prison as a molester. After a little fun with you, your fellow prisoners will slice you from one ear to the other."

?Think of me as your own private, magic, nigger, if you wish. You be walking on the street, you won?t even see me - when I snatch you - If you ever touch that boy again."

?I won?t even tell the other trash that a black man whipped you. Not unless you go and make some fuss about the whipping and then I will tell them I even took the shotgun right out yo?hands."

?The boys on that white trash ridge back in Alabama would pure love that. ? Earl further threatened to Weedy, through a dry mouth, as they hurried back to the car.

Earl said, ?Sam after you were though with him I couldn?t even find my balls? as I remember. But I did think to tell him not to move out of the county until we were satisfied.

?How many laws did we break that night? A few but think about today. Hell, we would never have gotten out of town with out being arrested for the Merry Christmas painted on the Wagon.

That?s why Sam, That?s why I wanted to meet here tonight. We have done a number of good things in our rowdy lives; remember the corn and the foundation it started?

Everything we did could have put us in jail that night, but did you boys know; the Weedy woman moved to Athens started a business cleaning all the professors? houses. You know, them liberals that just love free housing and no housework.

Her son played high school basketball and was the last white to be dropped from the college team. Seems he didn?t know how to walk with the ball or palm it."

Sam quietly asked, ?What happened to her old man?"

?He was killed. Hell! I was afraid to ask Sam. Thought it might have been you that ?done the evil deed," Henny said grinning.

?Could it be done one more time? you reckon?

?Never! Hell you would get shot - then jailed." John mumbled in his cape.

Henny, by chance, turned over a old board from the Weedy barn, there was found a rusted, bent, Basketball hoop.

Even the Judge stared at shape for quiet minute along with Earl Sam and Henny each lost their private memories from forty years.

?Well, I have a small list? stop by my place and we will see."

Only Sam had noticed that Henny seemed to walk straight up to that board with the hoop attached...before he flipped it over with his toe.

2005 A.H. Watson, all rights reserved.