This newspaper comes out on Christmas Eve, an otherworldly day. Or so it has seemed in the past. As a child, it seemed odd that Christmas was almost here. I wondered how Santa Claus got in our house. We didnít have a chimney or a fireplace. There was a pile of logs near our grain bins, but that was for another house, torn down long before I was born. I imagined Santa as some sort of shape-shifting creature from the X-Files, able to contort his way down our furnace without being burned.
We spent Christmas Eve night at my grandparentsí house in Allerton, until my grandpa, Paul Jackson, died in 1996. Then we drove to Clio to my aunt Phyllis and uncle Geraldís house. Eventually, the date moved to a couple of weeks before Christmas, and then stopped altogether.
My grandpa was good at carpentry. He was a religious man who never lost his temper. They moved to Allerton after retiring from their farm. We still have a few feathers from the peacocks they raised.
Grandpa often warned me about the boogeyman, but since he said it in a joking tone, I imagined it as a ridiculous creature. For some reason it looked like a duck-billed dinosaur with black-and-white stripes. I saw it in my mindís eye walking through his front door.
My family was often the first among my relatives to get to his house Christmas Eve, in the afternoon. The timber to the north and the little stand of sugar maple trees near our well were covered with ice and frost, the sun turning the limbs prismatic. It is curious that winter makes use of fewer colors than summer, but is able to do so much more. A few years after we moved from my childhood home, a December ice storm broke down the limbs of the trees in our front yard, leaving nothing but their stumps as graves. The beauty was heavy and blinding.
We drove west into the sun through the sleeping land of winter. My grandparents had an artificial tree, with white and shiny boughs meant to look like ice and snow. My cousins and I played hide-and-seek in the long house. The best place to hide was in the master bedroomís closet in piles of clothes. Grandpa liked to play dominoes, and some of the adults sat at the kitchen table for this diversion. Everyone brought food. My sister liked chocolate-covered cherries. My brother liked coconut cream pie. The food was spread on the kitchenís counters to choose from. A miniature wooden hayrack my grandfather made sat in the middle of the dining room table, as the adults discussed the results of their year.
I remember watching the stars go by through the frost of our car window, as we drove back home through the snow.
I donít recall it being hard to sleep Christmas Eve, like the song says. Evil things did not appear that nightóI did not have to worry about the boogeyman, so I slept well. Nothing haunted us in our beds. All bad spirits were drowned out, frozen under our pond until spring. This included the spirits of the people around me. Our lives were not always easy. My parents worried about money. For that day, money did not matter. My dad wanted us to have more than just what we needed. One Christmas before I was born, he paid for presents by hunting raccoons and selling their pelts.
There is also the infamous story of my dad shopping for mom, and being asked my momís bra size. He did not know, so he demonstrated to the clerk by holding out his hands. The clerkís face got red.
One thing we could count on was for our parents to provide us with a Merry Christmas. My dad told me the story of how he and a few other country boys in Vietnam killed a water buffalo and held an ad hoc barbeque for Christmas. He was on listening post that year instead of being home. He and his buddies got in trouble, because they werenít supposed to kill water buffalo. Iíve wondered whether this one missing Christmas makes him appreciate it more. I know he appreciates his family. My dad does not like me to write about Vietnam because he doesnít want to think about it. But sometimes it is necessary. Just contemplating that story makes me appreciate what I have, and what my family has done for me.
I enjoyed the essence of Christmas as a child. It is difficult to find the words to describe it. I suppose it is like a candle. The only reason the flame flutters and almost dies is because we are breathing. And when we hold our breath, the flame is perfect.