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Chapter Seven


Christmas Eve at Mommy & Papa’s House


            The family had always gathered at Mommy and Papa’s on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, except now they were gathering at our house, too, since we lived with Mommy and Papa. So, for a few years, Joey and I were already there waiting for the aunts and uncles and cousins to open gifts and eat and play with all the new toys. But before that……….

            I believe that on the Christmas Eves, in the nineteen fifties, the spinning of the earth actually slowed down to an…almost…dead…stop. I know, because I was there. How else would you explain it being the longest day of the year? It couldn’t have been that I was a kid waiting to go to my grandparent’s house to open gifts that night. I don’t believe kids today get as excited about Christmas Eve as I did. Maybe it’s because they don’t get to open gifts on Christmas Eve or maybe they just get gifts all year round. Either way it just makes Christmas Eve not so special?

            What actually made Christmas Eve the longest day for me? It wasn’t so much the anticipation. Lord knows, there were a lot of things I anticipated during the rest of the year and none of them created the longest day syndrome. I believe what made Christmas Eves the longest days of my young life was; there was absolutely nothing to do but…wait.

            Of course, it all started out with me and my brother waking up earlier than we did on a school day. Only problem was, we weren’t going to school. At least, that would have made the day go faster. So my brother and I would just try to play quietly while we waited for the sun to come up.

            My dad would get up and go to work for part of the day. He was smart. He had a job. I wished I had job, at least on that day. Then, maybe, it wouldn’t have been such a long day. At least I would have had something to do.

            We only had the one car, so my mother couldn’t take us anywhere. It didn’t matter, though. All the shopping was done. My brother and I had already sat on the wino’s lap and told him what we wanted for Christmas, while he breathed on us with his foul breath and leered at us through crusty, bloodshot eyes. We had already seen all the Christmas parades the weekend after Thanksgiving. And we had already driven through Highland Park to see all the Christmas decorations we couldn’t afford.

If it was night we could sit and watch the house across the street with its one string of lights in a large tree that looked like a lightening bolt as it blinked off and on, while their next door neighbor’s Great Dane chewed on the plastic lamb in the nativity scene. But that stuff mostly happened at night and it was daytime. And on Christmas Eve during the daytime, there was absolutely nothing at all to do. We would try to play, but it was so hard to stay focused with those old and broken toys. We really needed new stuff.

 So we would sit in the living room and watch television with our mother. In the fifties there were only four channels to watch. (I didn’t count the new educational channel 13 as it only showed educational stuff back then.) We didn’t have any means of watching anything that wasn’t on these channels, which mostly had soap operas during the daytime. When my brother and I finally got so rowdy our mother couldn’t hear whose baby Dr. Tom was having, she would tell us to go play somewhere else.

            Finally daddy would come home in the early afternoon and separate my brother and I by making us go to our own rooms and close the doors. I don’t think we were that bad. He just wanted us apart so we wouldn’t kill each other and away from him so he wouldn‘t kill us.

            Now, in the fifties most kids didn’t have television in their rooms, and they certainly didn’t have video games and computers. So, let me tell you, sitting in your room alone, back then, did not make time go any faster. In fact, it slowed down almost to the point of time-reversal. Now we get into that old space/time-continuum thing that has haunted children since the beginning of…well…time.

I thought, at any moment, I would be going into the past to relive my short childhood. I was starting to see my life pass before my eyes. I had heard about this phenomenon just before you die. Was I dying? How cruel a hoax would that be, to die before I got to open my Christmas presents? Which brings up that age-old children’s prayer: Lord, please let me live through Christmas. Amen. Yes, dying would make time really stop. And it was going so slow, now, the next step would be stoppage. So, instead of going into the past, as with time-reversal, I would go into eternity, which brings up that old, no time at all, thing. Then I would ponder what death would be like and how eternity works. I mean something that never begins and never ends. What’s that all about? And then I would start to think about things that were really hard for a kid to understand.

            I have found it best that children not think about things they don’t understand. After all, they might actually invent something by doing that. And we can’t have children inventing things for us, now, can we?

            But, be that as it may, I had to do something before I died or went crazy. And if I went crazy they would lock me up in a cold, dreary dungeon with Vincent Price and I would never get to open gifts again, because I would be sealed up inside a wall and nobody would be able to hear my screams. I would be sitting inside that wall doing exactly what I was doing inside my room, sitting there watching the minute-hand on the clock as it…as it…as it didn’t do anything, like; move.

            I had to do something…so I started making faces in the mirror. It was amazing how I could stretch my skin into different shapes until I looked like something from Twilight Zone or Porky Pig or Gabby Hayes or, with a little creativity, Donald Duck, even though I never could talk like him. So, then, I tried to talk like Donald Duck for a while, and then I looked at the clock. Oh goody. Another minute had passed.

There was just five more hours, five more hours…on Christmas Eve? I’ve lived through weeks that were shorter than that. What was I going to do?

            Sleep. That’s it. Time passes fast when you’re asleep. I’ll just go to sleep and before I know it, my parents will wake me up to tell me it’s time to go. That’s what I’ll do. Sleep.

            Lie down on the bed and close my eyes. There, I’m sleeping…I am no longer awake. I’m dreaming. I’m running through a field of Christmas presents and I’m not allowed to stop and open them until some sweet morning in the fullness of time, in the sweet by and by, when I’m really old and don’t care anymore…I barely open my eyes and look through the slits. After all, I don’t want to wake myself up. The clock laughs at me. Another whole minute has passed. Why do the words, p-a-s-s-e-d and p-a-s-t sound the same and mean practically the same thing. Why aren’t they just one word, instead of two? Why is Santa Claus a jolly fat man instead of a skinny solemn woman? Why am I sitting here thinking of these profound things that adults should be thinking of? After all, I’m just a kid. It’s time to go find an adult and pass this burden on to them.

            Okay. Well, there you have it. This was the world inside my room and my head on Christmas Eve. Somehow the day eventually came to an end when the sun, which had been in the sky for several days straight, finally set somewhere out in the west, where children still had two more hours before they headed for grandma’s house. Eat your heart out California kids. I’m on my way to Mommy and Papa’s house. It was time to load the gifts and ourselves into the car.

            All the Christmas movies and stories and, of course, all the pictures on the December calendars, always showed families in sleds or driving the car to the grandparent’s house on Christmas Eve with snow and icicles glistening in the moonlight. It was beautiful and I always thought of that as we were piling into our 1955 white and canary yellow Ford Fairlane with the windows rolled down, because it was about 88 degrees outside. Sure, some Christmas Eves were cold, but there was never snow in Dallas on the 24th or 25th of December. I think it may have been a decree ordained by God. I’m not really sure. But I do know that God has never given me a white Christmas. After all, what have I done that’s so bad? Never mind. We won’t get into that.

            Since cars, back in the fifties, only got about three hundred yards to the gallon, daddy would fill up with gas on his way home from work, because, about 6:00pm on Christmas Eve, the whole world would close down until December 26th. Dallas felt like a ghost town as we drove to the Land of the Gar, where my grandparents lived, the longest 4 and 3/10 miles in the world, at least, on that night.

            With all the gifts in the trunk, we would position ourselves into the car. I always had to sit directly behind my daddy and he would swing his right arm around to see if it would make contact with the side of my head, while he could continue to look straight out the windshield while holding the steering wheel with his left hand. He said that was so he could hit me without having to stop the car if my brother and I got rowdy. If we forgot and started to get just a little rambunctious, he would say, “Don’t make me have to pull over and take off my belt.” Let me tell you, he never had to back hand me while driving or pull over and take off his belt. For one thing, unlike parents today, my brother and I knew his weren’t idle threats. Besides, there would be other days to get a beating. This was Christmas Eve. Even soldiers stopped fighting on Christmas Eve.

            The a.m. radio station was playing Christmas music. The radio stations would play Christmas music all day on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day only. There was none of this everyday Christmas music from Halloween to old Fezziwig’s birthday on December 27th. That way we didn’t used to get sick of Christmas carols. But, even though, we kids in the fifties didn’t need Christmas songs to get us in the spirit.

Okay, that’s enough chit chat. Let’s get this show on the road. It’s time to go to Mommy and Papa’s house. Although I’m not sure why I was in such a hurry, because once we got there we still had to wait. First of all, we had to wait on my cousins, who always went to their other grandparent’s house first. So they always showed up late without exception.

            Once my cousins got there, the waiting was a little more bearable, but we still had to wait. We could play, pretty much unabated, as the men were talking and the women were busy setting the table and preparing dinner. That’s right. We had to eat before we could open gifts. And we kids always ate fast knowing full well that the adults were not in a hurry. They would talk and eat slow and, then they would have to clear the dishes and wash them…by hand.

            It was amazing that no one got hurt on Christmas Eve at Mommy and Papa’s house, because all the kids were bouncing off the walls, wrestling and tackling and tickling each other in the living room around the Christmas tree. The only reason we got away with it was because Uncle Bill, who was a hyper-kid at heart, was wrestling with us. If he wasn’t there we would have all been in big trouble. Of course, if he wasn’t there, we probable wouldn’t have been so hyped-up.

            Finally, all the pokey adults would saunter into the living room and calm everyone down with their rules. Chairs were brought in from the dining room and everyone had to sit down while one designated person, usually someone responsible, which left out all the kids and uncle Bill, handed out the gifts, one at a time.

            In the span of about 15 minutes there was wrapping paper and ribbon and bows strewn all over the room and the kids were looking for more gifts to open. All that waiting for just 15 minutes that seemed like 5 minutes? Was that it?

            Most of the toys were outside toys and we couldn’t play outside. Now what were we supposed to do? The adults were happy just sitting and talking, but we kids were ready to go home and get ready for Santa Claus. So we played in the wrapping paper and boxes, which was kind of fun until the adults saw we were having fun and started cleaning up the mess.

            They were always looking for ways to spoil our fun. It wasn’t enough that they bought us underwear and clothes for Christmas. Now they had to take away the trash we were playing in. We were never going to grow up and do that to our children. But back to the 1960s, when………

One Christmas my cousins got new walkie-talkies and, as was the custom in our family, the women cleaned the kitchen and the men played with the children’s toys. So the men and boys took the walkie-talkies and walked down to the field talking to each other with the toys. Of course they were so close they could hear each other without them.

            After awhile Papa took one of the instruments and was trying to contact a small plane that was flying overhead. I took the other walkie-talkie, slipped several yards away, and pretended to be the pilot of the plane. I said, “We need a police officer to go over to Redondo Dr. and pick up a man who’s illegally trying to contact our plane.”

            Papa very sheepishly handed the walkie-talkie to my uncle and walked back to the house without saying a word. I told the guys what I had done and we headed for the house to see where Papa went. We found him sitting quietly in a chair in the den. Anytime Papa wasn’t talking something was wrong. And to make matters worse I said, “Papa, there’s a policeman outside wanting to talk to you.” All the blood seemed to drain from his face as he stood up to go outside and face the music. I instantly felt bad and told him what I had done. He half-heartedly chuckled like he knew it all along.


Bully for You


            Everyone has at least one memorable bully in their past. Mine was Carol Wayne. A boy named Carol is destined to be a bully. There were other, lesser bullies, but Carol Wayne was a classic. He was always running his long, thin, black comb through his very oily hair that formed a duck-tail on the back of his neck. He always wore his black leather jacket, even in hot weather. He also wore black motorcycle boots with horseshoe taps on the heels.

            His type was beginning to go out of style, because the new bullies were wearing black, pointy-toed shoes with a new style of tap called a “pony tap.” It was thicker metal and made a more solid sound in the empty hallways. The new bullies flipped their shirt collars up and rolled up their long-sleeves.

            I always tried to avoid bullies because I was so stubborn I would let them hurt me before I would do whatever humiliating, bully-thing they wanted me to do. The only time bullies ever pick on anyone is when someone is watching. Have you ever seen a bully pick on someone when no one else was around? No, you haven’t. Let me tell you how I discovered this truth.

            When I was fourteen I got a Dallas Morning News paper route and, on my first morning I was to meet the carrier who was quitting and go with him as he rolled and threw the papers. Guess whom I met on that dark, lonesome street at 3:00 a.m.? Carol Wayne.

            My heart shuddered, when I saw him standing there in his black leather jacket, but after five minutes I was gripped by a different kind of fear; a fear that alien body snatchers were trying to take over the world, one person at a time, and they had already gotten Carol Wayne. But they had made a mistake. This alien Carol Wayne was nice.

            This Carol Wayne even gave me the big box of rubber bands that he had left over, since he wouldn’t need them anymore. You see, the real Carol Wayne would have kept them to shoot spit wads at the teachers or to snap against the back of someone’s sunburned neck.

            No sir, there was definitely something wrong here. This went on two or three days until I took over the route by myself. The next time I saw Carol Wayne at school I said, “Hi,” to him and he told me to do something that was physically impossible, but I had to smile. My life was in order again. The aliens had returned the real Carol Wayne, and I was glad. At least I knew what to expect from the mean one.


The Land of Push-Cars and Clubhouses


            Every summer from 1961-65 Rabbit and I spent building push-cars and clubhouses. We always had a clubhouse in either Mama’s backyard or Mommy and Papa’s backyard. Sometimes we got mad at each other and there would be a clubhouse in both back yards.

          It was about this time Rabbit and I nearly burned Mama’s house down for the second time. This time it wasn’t something as stupid as playing like we were camping in the closet. This time we were doing something creative. We were going to make candles, and I learned something that day that I have never forgotten. You don’t pour water on burning wax. Like I’ve said several time before, I learned everything the hard way.

            I shall never forget that ball of flame rolling up the kitchen wall, across the ceiling, then down the opposite wall. I know this, because, when Rabbit ran out the back door, I stayed, mesmerized by the event that left the entire kitchen black with soot.

            Rabbit and I spent the next few days in that kitchen, washing everything and painting the walls and ceiling. To this day I have never tried to make candles again. I never went camping in a closet again, either. There’s something to be said for learning things the hard way. You usually learn ‘em good. Rabbit and I did a whole lot more stupid things. We just never did the same one twice. Or at least I never did. I can’t speak for Rabbit.

            We did have a clubhouse that burned down in Mama’s backyard, but I don’t believe that was our fault. Everyone accused us of leaving a candle burning, but I think Muley’s daddy burned it down. He lived next door to Mama and was always complaining that our clubhouse was an eye sore. And now, looking back, it probably was, but at the time, to us, it was beautiful. That particular clubhouse was two stories tall, which was why Muley’s daddy could see it from his yard.

            We also built push cars that were eyesores, too. We built one that was a clubhouse on wheels. It had four walls and a roof with a window in front and it weighed about two hundred pounds. Once we got it going down the street it picked up momentum on its own, and the street wasn’t even sloped.

Its maiden run was great until the first curve. That’s when the clubhouse fell off the chassis and broke into pieces. Unfortunately, I was still inside. I was skinned up, but blood wasn’t gushing and no bones were sticking out, so we immediately started building another car.

            Rabbit and I got bored one day and got all my plastic model cars, that I didn’t care about anymore, and stuffed firecrackers inside them and set them on fire. They would explode, spewing flaming plastic all over Mama’s patio. Firecrackers were much more powerful back then.

            When Rabbit and I got together we always thought of something that would get us in trouble if we got caught, and we usually did get caught. And to make things worse, when I reached the eighth-grade Rabbit was in the seventh, so for the first time in our lives we were going to the same school together.

            One day at lunch we thought it would be a neat trick to loosen the top on the saltshaker, since we were the first ones to sit down at that table. The first person to use the salt was this poor kid who only got a dime each day for a bowl of beans. When he dumped the whole shaker of salt in his beans and started trying to scoop it back out I felt like the biggest jerk in the world, and at that moment I think I was. I bought him another bowl of beans and I never pulled that practical joke again. Why do they call them practical jokes, anyway?

            Rabbit and I walked a mile to school and in that mile were railroad tracks, fields, a park, a coin operated Laundromat, a convenience store, a service station, a veterinarian, and the Rock Courts. And don’t forget, the creek was only a block away flowing parallel to our school route. There were just too many distractions for a kid.

            One day on the way home we passed a house with stacks of boxes and stuff by the front curb. One of the boxes was full of comic books and we were excited as we carried away our treasure. We looked in every box we found on the rest of our way home, but our joy ended quickly when we opened a box behind the veterinarian‘s office. I tore open the top to see one open eye of a dead dog staring up at me, its tongue hanging from its open mouth. I can’t hear the Beatle’s song, I Am the Walrus, with the line, “Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye,” without thinking about that incident.

            We decided the comic books were a one-time deal and we occupied our minds with other things to get into. We started collecting Coke bottle caps. Coke had a contest with states under the cork in the bottle cap. The object, of course, was to get all fifty states and glue them on a poster Coke provided. We filled several posters, each one missing the same state. The state no one got.

            Then we started buying peanuts in little red containers, because they had random denomination coins in random containers. Sometimes we would actually find a penny, nickel, or a dime. One time I even found a quarter. Of course, over a period of time, we spent about ten or fifteen dollars to find fifty-seven cents.

            I used to have dreams where I was finding money lying everywhere I looked. I couldn’t fill my pockets fast enough. I would awake from the dream, then try in vain to go back to sleep and into the same dream. It never worked.

            But one day Rabbit and I had that dream come true, when a Laundromat went out of business. This was not the Laundromat we passed on our way to school. This one was four blocks in the opposite direction from Mommy and Papa’s house. We went by there the day they were taking out the washers and dryers and we found quarters and dimes and nickels all covered with the filth that had accumulated between and behind the appliances. They were so slimy none of the workers would touch them. But we would have picked up money covered with yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog‘s eye. We had already been to the edge and come back. We could handle it.

            When it was all said and done we probably found less than ten dollars, but we had lived our dream. How many seventh and eighth graders can say that?

            One spring day in 1963, on the way to school, Rabbit and I met our friend, Goober, who suggested we skip school. It didn’t take us long to make our way to the creek, where I spent the longest, most boring day of my life. After about thirty minutes all the fun was gone, like the flavor in a piece of Bazooka bubble gum.

            And to make it worse, when that week-long day finally ended, we got home to find out everyone knew we had skipped. I was staying after school at my aunt and uncle’s house and when my uncle got home from work, he whipped me, per my mother’s orders. Then, when I got home my mother whipped me. Then, when I got to school the next day, Goober, Rabbit, and I each got five licks from the principal. I got an extra one because I wasn’t wearing a belt. We also got detentions and I was grounded. They really didn’t want us to do that again. They didn’t have to worry about that, though. The boredom would have been punishment enough, because I wasn’t skipping school again even if I hadn’t gotten caught.

            I didn’t always need Rabbit with me to get into trouble, but it helped. Together we thought up a lot better schemes than when we were alone. But there was a night when I wished I had stayed with him. If I had, I wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.

            It was the last day of eighth grade, a day to celebrate. It was a Friday, and that night Rabbit and Muley camped out in Mama’s backyard, while Shannon, a classmate who lived at the Rock Courts, camped out with me in Mommy and Papa’s backyard.

            About one o’clock in the morning Shannon and I sneaked out. We tried to get Rabbit and Muley to go walk around with us, but they wouldn’t go. And like I said, I wish we hadn’t gone either.

            Our first stupid move was running when we saw a cop car. We ran through a used car lot and Shannon cracked both shins on an iron rail fence that was about 12 inches high. He fell flat on his face. And like a good friend, I ran off and left him.  He finally caught up with me near Mommy and Papa’s. His face was bleeding and he was limping, but no bones were sticking out, so we laid low for awhile, then went off in the other direction, through the Rock Courts, behind the vet’s office (We didn’t open any boxes) and into the well lit, all night Laundromat. There we discovered someone had broken into some gumball machines. Like an idiot I started to get some of the gum. Fortunately I was with someone who had an inkling of intelligence, who stopped me from leaving fingerprints at a crime scene, and we moved on. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough intelligence to suggest we go back home.

            We stopped at the closed service station to get a coke from the outside drink machine, which had not been broken into, when the same policeman we had seen earlier, pulled in the drive making the service station bell ring. We knew he was the same cop because he asked if we were the boys who ran from him earlier. We were busted.

            He took us home and woke up our parents at about three a.m. Mother just told me to go to bed. She would deal with it in the morning. She woke me up at seven a.m. to “deal with it,” because the police were back to take Shannon and I to the police station for questioning. We were suspects in a crime.

            They questioned us, separately, about the gumball machines for about two hours. They pumped me until I was crying, which didn’t take much pumping. I just told them the truth and, I guess, they finally believed us, because they let us go. I was so thankful I hadn’t left my fingerprints at the crime scene. The truth would have been a lot harder to convince.

            Needless to say, I didn’t get to campout in the backyard anymore that summer, but that fall I did start going out at three a.m. every morning, when I took over Carol Wayne’s paper route.


The Day That Scared the German Boy


            November 22, 1963. Everybody who was over five years old remembers where they were on that day. I was in the ninth grade, which was still in jr. high in The Land of the Gar, when they made the announcement over the p.a. system that President Kennedy had been shot. They let the radio play in the classrooms for the rest of the day. Everything else stopped.

            Several kids and teachers were crying, but nobody cried louder than a German boy, whose family had just moved to the United States about five years earlier. I’m sure he had heard all the stories about Hitler from his parents and grandparents, and I guess he thought somebody like that was going to take over this country. But L.B.J wasn’t like Hitler. For one thing, L.B.J. didn’t have a mustache. Even though I do believe he was behind Kennedy’s assassination. But, that’s just me.





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