A Christmas Memory

December 24, 2016

We were very poor, when I was a kid. Presents consisted mostly of necessary items such as shirts, socks and underwear. “Toy” was a word I related to mostly from watching TV commercials.

My cousin Louisa May, oh how she loved seafood and dolls. Her parents scrimped and saved and bought her a used Barbie doll. She would sit under the dining room table and pin shrimp on the Barbie.

Christmas dinner often consisted of root vegetables from the root garden and rusted truck parts from our truck farm, mashed or boiled. Meat was rare. There were some years when all we had was the result of my dad shooting robins with an air rifle, and every two of us at the table would share the teensy, boiled robin breasts. The winter of ’55, we were hungry and barely alive, and we ate the cat.

We drank milk from our own cow, an old bossy named Ring, who we would adorn with sleigh bells for the holiday, and sleigh bells on Ring rang riotously. Her milk and butter were bitter but balm for beggars and better than bleak blank.

Desert would be frozen winter berries of unknown species and withered poison ivy leaves. We would eat the brightly colored berries and leaves and then vomit them into the vomit bucket at mid-table. We children had the task of cleaning the grandparents’ bibs and mouths and mustaches and laps, of berry bulimia.

Grandpa would give each of us a hand-rolled cigar fashioned from dried prairie grasses, and we would light up and smoke and sing Christmas songs, until the children coughed their lungs out. Oh, the laughter!

After the Christmas meal, my job was to take all the robin bones and bury them in the back forty, even though we were so poor we only had a back twenty. Then I would swab the outhouse in case company came. Company never came.

After chores, I would hunt in the fields for a special stick, for carving. I would strip the bark with my Barlow knife, until I had a smooth stick, that “became” a conductor’s wand, a sword, an old man’s cane, a slave owner’s whip, a girl’s private parts. I would always name it “Dicky the Stick,” and Dicky and I would play and play, not a care in the world.

At sunset, the family would strip naked and take turns having a bath in a metal washtub in the kitchen, with cold well water heated by the woodstove. The children always went last. But I didn’t care. I had my stick stuck up my ass, so that I could play with my Dickey in bed.

We had a loony old great-aunt who would wander the halls at night and slip into my room and attempt to breast feed me, and this was so comforting, if dry. This was my Christmas mammary.

I am alone this Christmas, but there are plenty of sticks in the front yard, for carving my new Dicky. From Scout the Cat and me, Merry Christmas, and don’t eat the berries!

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: eugenebaldwin.com. I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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