A request poured in that I rerun a Christmas column of years past, something about my dad.
But I don’t have a Christmas Day column this year and I’m wondering if the request confused a childhood Christmas remembrance with any of a half-dozen tributes I’ve made to the late J.T. over these decades of columnizing.
So I thought I would adapt for the blog the column of 15 years ago or so about the Christmas of 1959 in the little four-room house on Arch Street Pike due south of Little Rock nearly to Baseline Road.
It was a happy time. I was 5, 6 and 7 when we lived in that humble house, and those were vividly formative years.
I spent days studying the busy highway and memorizing the makes and models of the big-engined cars, the Chevys of 55, 56 and 57, the Fords, the Mercurys and the Pontiacs.
These were years my dad would always recall as his happiest. He singularly ran a rural garbage route by morning, worked at the Nabisco cookie-loading warehouse by night, and, in between, raised hogs and chickens. He never had so much money, he would recall years later, lamenting that the workload had proved too great and he’d given up the garbage business.
But he had some money for once, enough to grace our driveway with a gray-and-white 1955 Pontiac, which, upon purchase, he took screaming down the southern reaches of Arch Street at 95 miles an hour while mom pleaded with him to slow because “you’ve got those kids in the car,” meaning me and my younger sister.
Dad bought some boxing gloves and I knocked the neighbor kid plumb off the porch. J.T. was proud enough to tell about it over and over.
One afternoon while dad was working, of course, I was climbing along a clothes line and fell and gashed my skull on the corner of a wash tub. Mom and the neighbor lady wrapped it and I went on about my business — rendered by the blow the unique liberal in our Church of Christ clan.
I ran upon a rattlesnake coiled and noisy in the curve of the trail to the hogs, and my mom chopped it to near-death. A tarantula came up in the yard and my sister was coaxing it closer, calling it “birdie, birdie,” before my mom realized the situation. I had my tonsils taken out and came to post-operative consciousness in a children’s ward with the Three Stooges playing and I laughed so hard I wound up throwing up blood that night and nearly dying.
So I wrote once about that Christmas Eve of ’59, when I’d just turned 6.
Excited, I lay half-asleep in the pre-dawn hours. Perhaps it was the noise that awakened me. A tent was being set up for me in the living room, by a Santa Claus who said a curse word or two over the project, my mother joked the next morning.
It occurred to me that Santa wouldn’t curse, but that a certain J.T., 15 years removed from Marine infantry duty on Okinawa, was bad about that.
What happened, as I wrote in that column, was that I could have sworn that, as I lay there half awake, I could feel the presence and weight of Santa Claus as he sat on the the foot of my bed. I was entirely too shy to sit up and actually confront him, but I could feel him there as sure as the world, and was as comforted as unnerved.
I wrote that this represented the power of a child’s imagination, and thus actually was Santa in a way, thus the magical spirit and essence of the holiday.
So a friend called that morning and said what I’d written had been so beautiful, explaining in such a clever way that it had been my dad sitting there at the foot of the bed, looking over me after finally getting the blankety-blank tent erected.
My friend asked: That was what I had meant, right?
It is now, I said.