Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stop Pulling the Covers, Billy

As a child living in a dilapidated old frame house with a coal burning stove in the center of the living room with no indoor plumbing, no running water, with two bedrooms for six children and two, sometimes three adults, with the outside temperature during the winter sometimes -15 degrees, with snow, fueled by a howling north wind blowing it through the loose window frames, my brothers and sisters and I had the time of our lives.  This was never more true than at Christmastime.

I sometimes wonder today if children in America could ever possibly visualize what it was like to play guessing games or read the Sunday “funny papers” under a mountain of covers on Christmas Eve in a freezing bedroom.  Never mind there was little prospect of any Chirstmas gifts except for the school classroom exchange (local merchants anticipated these exchanges with a good supply of sacks of marbles, dainty handkerchiefs, Big Chief writing tablets and boxes of crayolas.)  I was astonished not long ago to learn Big Chief writing tablets were no longer being made, alas, alas!  There was of course the Christmas Eve church service with children receiving sacks of candy with an apple or orange in the sack.  Later, under our mountain of covers we laughed, imagined, created wonders of our minds, thought of the unfortunate children in India and Africa, told stories, ghost and otherwise to brighten our lives with magic and wonder.  When we would finally settle down for the night it was in anticipation of knowing we had hardly begun to explore all that magic and wonder.  A whole world awaited us.

Most modern families give the best they can for one another in the family at Christmas.  There will be a young person who will receive the gift of a new car perhaps and mom or dad may find a new expensive watch under the tree.  Children will give and receive from the abundance of all the good in the stores of America. We will each celebrate Christmas as we are wont to do, sometimes frugally, sometimes excessively.  This is Christmas as we’ve learned to express it.  But for me, one of the greatest of all Christmases would be if I could have my three-year old brother back, he of the fatally ruptured appendix.  What he and I would do would be this:  He and I would turn down the heat in the house until it was freezing.  We would jump into our bed with a mountain of clothes on and a mountain of covers over us.  We would make a tent of the covers and we would tell stories, ghost or otherwise.  We would play “Three sailors went to sea, sea, sea to see what they could see, see, see.” We would laugh and be merry and would know of a certainty that to be a child in Kansas, in the winter, was the greatest of all blessings.  I like to think, my imagination is at work here, that just before we snuggled down to sleep I would say to Billy, “Merry Christmas, little brother” and he would repeat it back to me.

Such a time that was, so much laughter, so much happiness, so much pleasure, so much joy.  And here is where my spirit soars to the starry sky.  Just before sleep, from under the covers, out of the great winter night, my brother and I might hear, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, to people of goodwill.”


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