A Child’s Christmas in New England by Philip Scott Wikel

christmas-scene_onyx

Hi Folks,

I hope this post finds you and yours well and celebrating the season in whichever way your tradition dictates. Whether its Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, Solstice or Sadeh, Christmas or Pancha Ganapti, I wish you all the best.

Following is my version of the Winter Tradition; at least as it was when I was a child. Ours, my family’s and mine, was one steeped in the Christian and Secular Tradition. Informed by the Christian Bible and embellished with the story of Old Saint Nick, we observed the birth of Christ and the Spirit of Giving embodied in Santa.

I hope you will enjoy this little story of mine and I also hope you will enjoy the company of good friends and family at this magical time of year. “Magical” in that, for many, all differences are set aside and an overarching sense of togetherness and good will are the markers of these days.

So without further ado, here is my A Child’s Christmas in New England (or somewhere thereabout), inspired by my favorite poet Dylan Thomas who decades ago wrote his A Child’s Christmas in Wales and for who I named my son.

Mele Kalikimaka! Slainte! Merry Christmas! Le’chayim! Matunda ya kwanza! Feliz Navidad! Etc! Etc!

A Child’s Christmas in New England by Philip Scott Wikel

(Video At Bottom of Page)

One Christmas was never quite like the other in those years in upstate New York, nearby the black dirt and the pines and Sugar Loaf Mountain all covered since Thanksgiving with a healthy velvet of white; slick, crisp and slippery (depending upon the time of day, night or clouds, and angles of the sun).

One Christmas was never quite like another, but all, from the morning of my eyes to the time when this snow-packed, snow-suited, frost-bit and chapped-lip boy went bounding toward the adulthood that swallows us; left as such to wish for the simple truth of a greyish-yellow snowbound sky, and snowflakes that gave chase and cooled the tips of tongues.

And then there was the radio that gave us the freedom of a snow day:

“Following are the school closings for the greater Middletown area…”

“That’s mine,” said little Philip, squealing with glee.

“Quiet! I want to hear mine,” said Chris, the big brother, chomping at his bit.

“Quiet both of you,” said Carol, the sister sandwiched between two boys and wishing at least one was a sister.

“Breakfast is ready,” mom yelled from the kitchen.

Dad was off climbing poles restoring salvation to the phoneless, cut off by the crack of swirling winds with the intermittently gloved fingers to saving the hands that made us and brought home the turkeys and hams and the makings of egg nog, nutmeg and spice. Trudging in snow, cerrelled and scarfed, he strode like Gawain or Arthur and breathed deep draughts of freezing ether and blasted forth great clouds of short-lived warmth that fought with the air like messianic gospels, swallowed but never digested. His fight was alone in the cold, while we fought each other down the stairs that led to breakfast and a snow day on the edge of a Christmas vacation; two glorious weeks sans schoolbooks with unfettered sledding and ice-skating on the pond turned silver and soft where the seven year wreck sunk slowly in the ice-covered muddy banks and forgot about the factory. The brick factory and all its industry now defunct, but red and lettered forever in the walls of my school and every home that rose from its opening to its closing, decades later; its oral history a tradition known only by the few who dabble in trivia of livings and lives once lead.

Seven days ‘til Christmas,” exclaimed Philip, “better get this letter to Santa, who’s coming?”

The mailbox was just around the corner but, breakfasted and warm and snug in their snow day, the brother and sister couldn’t be bothered.

Perhaps I’ll see Mike McGar, he thought, and his guns and souvenirs from WWII or Mario and eat lasagna or Punky and his seven sisters or maybe still I’ll see Kevin and the whole of the Foley clan and they’ll invite me for egg nog and games and staying up all night if we can.

The days blend then, one to the other, and the clarity is in the coming, and Santa and drummer boys in the whistling wind of carol-singing strollers, mufflered, mittened, and smitten with the instance of meeting a thankful face and regular requests for more.

“Should we shovel driveways? Old Mr. Deanotoris might slip and fall,” said Philip.

“He pays good too,” replied Chris, well on his way to becoming an accountant.

“You’re like Ebenezer.”

“No, I just know what makes things go ‘round… come on little man, I’ll split it with you.”

Each driveway seemed to say something about the occupants of the house. This one had two strips of cement and one must be careful to keep on the track, and, at the same time, in spring they had more places for grass to grow. Another was blacktop and potholed and it might be said these folks could scarcely afford our labors and it was Christmas spirit that gave them to open their purses to two boys of seven and eleven. The Fancher’s house was a grail of sorts, and shiny. Ms. Fancher, the “lollipop lady” in summer, had a park named for her and the icicles that hung from her long porch glistened like silver corinthian columns and we’d get five dollars for just the walk, and tipped with candy canes for the family.

“You boys be good now, Santa’s watching, and be good to your mother and father,” she’d say as we left now moving to the far reaches of a tundra which seemed to encompass the known world. Brother would tell then of Jack London in the Yukon and cutting dogs open to keep your hands warm and I’d be glad that home was just a block away and that we hadn’t a dog for brother to butcher.

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8 Prospect Ave. Middletown, NY

Flour, sugar, water, ginger, oil, baking soda, salt.

Dry stuff first, then wet; mixed in a Pyrex bowl.

Knead it,

roll it,

cut it (allowing for windows and doors)

then bake it.

White frosting mortar,

red & green M&M’s,

peppermint candies and red hots.

The kitchen is filled with the heavy scent of gingerbread.

“Now don’t eat too much of the icing, it’ll make you sick and rot your teeth.”

“Ok mom, but my stomach already hurts.”

“Drink some club soda. And Carol, can you hand me the icer.”

A classic “Saltbox” blueprint pressed in the pages of a 1962 Betty Crocker cookbook. The instructions written in a hand long since passed on.

“It’s important to get the first two walls together straight and strong.”

“Here mom, I’ll hold’em.” says the little boy.

“Thank you Philip, and Carol, can you get me a wet towel.”

Mom breathes heavily through her mouth, though her lips are close together. The air makes almost a whistling sound and Philip thinks how like music or the sound of the wind it is. Mom is copying the weather outside he thinks. Jack Frost north winds blowing across the continent and threatening to collapse the gingerbread walls. The weather sent dad out on overtime, fixing phone lines.

Her thumb struggles against the icer and turns red in places and flushes to white in others and the pressure looks to Philip as if it might hurt.

“Hard to push that thing down Mom?”

“Yes, but I’ve got it. It shouldn’t come out too fast or too slow. Do you want to try it?”

“You better do this first part mom. I’ll try on the next one.”

“Ok, hold the two walls up and steady.”

Philip holds the walls up and hopes his hands won’t shake or wobble. He feels his shoulder muscles tighten and his fingers tense. He starts to breathe like his mother and now he’s Jack Frost.

“Steady,” says mom.

“I’m trying,” says Philip.

Mom squirts the icing all the down the length of the walls where they make a corner together. “Ok,” she says and motions for Philip to let go. Mom then wiggles the walls so they fit tightly.

“Hold’em again, please.”

She squirts more icing on the inside and the outside of the walls and leans and takes a long satisfying breath.

“You guys want to go out and play now? This is going to take a while to dry.”

“I’ll get my sled.” says Philip.

“Your big brother should be down by the pond. Get your warm jackets on and I’ll see you in about an hour.”

Sister Carol has the watch and Philip admires that she will be the one to know when it’s time to come back. Out through the back door, the ground crunches under their feet with Philip nearly falling as he walked down the back steps. There is a layer of ice under a couple inches of snow and his rubber boots can’t find friction.

“Hurry up you little poop,” his sister says.

“It’s icy,” says Philip.

“Well step down hard like me.” Carol steps down hard and Philip sees that her footsteps are deep and the ridges around her footsteps serve as support walls for her boots. They don’t slip and she strides like an eskimo around the back of the garage and into Mr. Van Leuven’s yard.

“D’ya think we could toboggan Mr. Van Leuven’s yard?” Philip asks.

“Not steep enough,” Carol replies.

They trudge through the open space of the yard. The snow is deeper there in the open space away from the trees and it threatens to sneak into their boots. Philip keeps his head down watching for it to do so and runs head first into his sister.

“What’re you doing?” he asks.

‘My underwear is crawling up my butt,” she says, adjusting the seat of her pants.

“You’ve got a wedgie,” Philip says smiling.

“Shut up you little poop.” Carol says.

At the guard rail where [Washington] street turns and goes down they drag their sleds around the end of the rail and look for signs of their brother and other kids. Their breath is like pipe smoke and Philip thinks how it looks like they’re a couple of Godzillas about to burn each other.

“I’m Godzilla,” he says and rushes at his sister, “Rarrrrrr.”

“Get away you little dork.”

“Stop calling me names or I’ll tell mom.”

“I’m sorry,” she replies smiling, “you little dork.”

“How’d you like it?” he says.

“All right, I’m sorry.”

“I’m going first.” he says and jumps in front of his sister. The trail is steep but smooth. In summer it’s strewn with craggy rocks and divots but the ice has filled it in and Philip flies like an Olympic luge racer on a Yankee Clipper. He negotiates the twists and turns with grace, ducking beneath “sticker” bushes as he nearly derails a couple of times, then slows to the opening of the woods, where he grabs the sled’s “leash” and begins to drag it toward the pond.

He looks up at the hills which they call the pines and is projected in his mind along the dusted treetops and imagines himself again as Jack Frost; this time flying and blowing the snow into little tornadoes. The pines are his Sherwood or Black Forest and he situates himself among them as some claymation figure from the Christmas shows on TV.

Carol comes sliding in behind him, red-faced and smiling.

“The trail’s perfect huh?” he says.

“Yeah that was a good run.”

The two continue walking toward the pond.

“Can I drag your sled for ya,” asks Philip.

“I’ve got it, thanks.”

“How do ya think the gingerbread’s doing?”

“We’ve got a little time.”

“I love you sis.”

“I love you too.”

The two would be grounded together soon after and it was because they loved each other that it would be ok.

Snowmen rolled in spheres that revealed the green of grass beneath and, stacked in threes we endeavored to emulate the likes of which we’d seen on TV with Rudolph and Hermy, Silver and Gold, Yukon Cornelius and Heat Miser, the story of Jesus and Nestor the long-eared donkey, an ugly-duckling made blesséd in the great act of carrying divinely chosen mothers.

In the evenings when dad returned from Siberian drifts and pole-high wind-chills we huddled on an itchy couch and wound ourselves for a concert of five voices in the firelight, Mitch Miller songbooks chocked with chestnuts roasting, winter wonderlands and Merry Gentleman resting with the chiming of silver bells and memories of our grandparents in Yonkers and the clean streets of Manhattan made glorious with garlands and “Chock full of nuts” cups of coffee and hot chocolate with peppermints, the buildings lit like candies dancing toward a sky that reached for the convening of Santas race around the world.

John Denver shared Aspenglow and taught us the beauty of a cowboy’s Christmas, myself riding a black beauty in the heart of plains with thanks given to the stars that cities never see. And I would imagine his Zachary as me and think dad would have sung this to me if song had been his life. Talk then turns to the wooded journey for our tree and me pretending I’m Tiny Tim and finding a pine branch to use as a crutch.

And in the end the scene descends to a baby in the manger placed by my mother with loving insistence and a wish for another year filled with love and hardships overcome.

Children asleep, parents take the last minutes of this silent night to assemble that which Santa hadn’t time then settle in for a few hours rest and the best day of the year when all will rise to the birth of Christ and open the gifts given in His honor.

Ticket To Ride, Chapter 21: Life is happening to everyone…

1963 Meet The BeatlesTherapy Session Four

“What about your father Morgan?” asked Dr. Nolan

“You know I think I’m ok with him… I’ve been thinking of things he and I did when I was a kid and things he did…”

“Like?” she asked.

“Like when I fell out of my bunkbed when I was nine and we were pretty far from the hospital.”

“And?”

“And well… the heat of the small cab of the truck mixed with the smell of old socks and souring buttermilk made me want to throw up. My father sensed my unease and opened the wing window. The churning lessened, but as it did, the pain in my head came back tenfold; the same way the buttermilk at first eased Uncle Rex’s scotch-induced ulcer, then turned on him.

I was a little more than nine and the night before, my cousin, four years my senior, had let me have the top position in our bunk beds. It was one of those early triumphs, an epiphany, the sort of thing that would only be eclipsed later in my life by events like getting my driver’s license, falling in love, getting laid and turning twenty-one and having my first legal drink.”

Dr. Nolan smiled.

“I’d climbed the ladder slowly, savoring my ascent to glory, like one of my childhood heroes who’d summitted the Citadel; then the sweet sleep of the conqueror. But by 3:00 in the morning, restless in the sleep of the victor and a dreaming celebration, I‘d managed to roll off the edge. Those three feet or so of sleepy weightlessness must have been blissful to my subconscious. Wham! A formica desk broke my path downward. A couple of inches to the south and I would’ve cleared it and landed, much more comfortably onto some of that ‘thick pile’ shag carpeting.

Uncle Rex finished his buttermilk and threw the empty carton on the floor of the truck. His stomach cooled a bit temporarily but then went into overdrive. His face said it burned and he said ‘Damn stomach!’ and I was startled and couldn’t help but shit in my pants. And this movement on the far end of my digestive tract prompted a surge from my stomach.

I remember saying ‘I’m gonna throw up.’

Uncle Rex pulled over in time for my father to carry me clear of the truck. I bent over and puked in the tall, dry Northern California grass then felt a sudden sense of well-being.”

“On vacation in California?” Dr. Nolan asked.

“Yeah… middle of nowhere.

Then my father asked if I was all right?

I told him I felt better.

Rex threw out an old towel which from there to the hospital served as a makeshift pair of pants, an outfit I wouldn’t have to duplicate until years later when, on a late night surf trip to Seaside Park, a few wiseasses thought it would be cute to separate my friends and I from our pants while we were out surfing.

I saw a deer and asked my dad if he saw it too. I remember he said ‘Yes,’ sounding relieved, he didn’t think I could see.” He looked over at Rex, then pulled me a little closer. He’d woken to a screaming child, his bloodied son reaching around in a dark room trying to find the door.

For the first time since the fall, he was assured I hadn’t lost my sight. And for the first time in that long hour, I felt like everything was going to be okay.

I’m his only son. And looking back I can appreciate what he must have felt. That morning, in that sour-smelling truck, on that little mountain road, in the hour from Uncle Rex’s horse ranch to Sebastapol, my father and I had nothing of greater importance in our lives than one another. And for the rest of our vacation, the bottom bunk was just fine…

… that’s the way I like to look back now.”

“You and your dad are connected despite his anger.”

“Yeah… I mean… when I was little he came in and out of being cool. But now, just the cool stuff is sticking…

… I realize now that life is happening to everyone…

and though I know the connotation here might be that we are somehow victims…

what’s important is how to take hold of it?

How many times did you try or thought you were trying only to come full circle?”

“A lot.” Dr. Nolan answered.

“Life is happening to everyone… but like the little girl who knows the right time to move into the circle of the turning rope, there seems to be a space in time wherein you can join in and jump.

When I was a little boy I had a blue Schwinn “Stingray.” It had training wheels and I had wavy, dirty-blonde hair smoothed back with Vitalis. It was spring, 1963, in Portland, Maine. I was four and, down the street, Miss Summer’s garden, which seemed to encompass the known world, was in full bloom; wildflowers and bees, pollen and posies.

That Christmas I would stumble across the hiding place for presents. And I would, for the first time, feel a certain sense of unease about the world; how what was, may not be. This bit of uncovering wouldn’t be fully realized until several years later when, on Christmas Eve and needing to pee, I caught my father stuffing Christmas stockings with candy. It seemed we both felt the loss at the same moment; he mine, I his, me mine, he his. I don’t recall either of us saying anything. Just eyes meeting, his mouth slightly open, neither of us breathing, the fantasy dimmed. The holiday became something else. Belief became dependent on faith, not holy faith, but the faith that warms the motions we go through in ritual. When the veil’s lifted you can either smile or deny. I turned away for a while.

At age seven we took the training wheels off of my bike. My father held the seat and ran behind me. I could feel how his hand steadied the bike. My hands sweated against the blue plastic handle-grips. My eyes didn’t want to look beyond the handlebars but I was aware of the old maples that lined the street and all of the houses of all of my neighbors moving by me. And my best friend, having already learned this, sat comfortably on her pink girls bike, leaning against the curb.

‘I’m gonna let go,’ my father said.

‘No,’ I replied in a voice that seemed small to me and probably even smaller to my father.

‘You’ve got it,’he said as he let go.

I could feel myself pedaling wildly now. The handlebars struggling back and forth.

Leaning. Gravity. Crash.

My father caught up with me and reached down to help me up.

‘You OK little man?’ he said.

‘I guess…’ I said

‘You did well kid. C’mon let’s try again.’ he said.”

 

“Nice story Morgan. Keep the good stuff,” said Dr. Nolan.

the mouse: a “children’s” story

mouse-damage-wiring-chemtec-pest-control copythe mouse: a “children’s” story

philip scott wikel ©2002

1. Once upon a time there was a beautiful neighborhood full of green trees and flowers and butterflies of every color. Children would play freely as their parents and grandparents sat on the porches of their homes and told stories of wonderous faraway lands and magical Christmases and days filled with adventure.

2. Then one day the people stopped going outside and the children sat in front of the television as soon as they came home from school.

3. The neighborhood had a blue glow at night created by the light of televisions, which made it impossible to see the stars.

4. A mouse named “Augustus” lived at the “Small World” Pet Store on the Corner of Main Street & Madison Avenue.

5. Most of the mice here would eventually become food for the two boa constrictors (hannity & rush) if not for the help of, of all things, the neighborhood cat named “rainbow.”

6. The mouse heard through the neighborhood grapevine, an actual dormant grapevine that runs along the back fences of the whole block (which served as an information highway between pets who’d found homes and pets still in the store), that there was room for a pet in a cottage down the way and that there was a nice little boy who lived there who’s daddy couldn’t afford to buy him one.

7. This particular night Rainbow scratched a hole in the rotted window pane and liberated the mouse.

8. He rode on rainbow’s back to the outside of the house, passing above “Satellite’s” yard. Satellite jumped and clawed at Rainbow. But rainbow was cool and just kept moving slowly with a smile on her face. Satellite’s owner is named Aidem. He owns the local satellite network and most of the houses on the street. His house is the biggest and sits in the center of the block.

9. “Here you go little guy,” says Rainbow, “you’ll be safe here, Dylan’s a good kid and his dad’s nice too.”

10. He appears through the vent of the wall heater and runs around the base of the kitchen cabinets and into the den where the father is reading a book to his son.

11. He is somewhat frightened of these strangers but is courageous enough to decide on getting a better look at them.

12. He climbs the magazine rack, perches on top of a copy of the New Yorker to spy across the room. They looked awfully big from there.

13. He climbs a computer cord to the top of the desk. Then scales a lamp that was made in the shape of a lighthouse. From there he looked around nervously. He was at eye level with the father now. He looked pleasant enough.

14. Just below him and beyond a wind-up robot was the half-eaten cup of Instant Macaroni & Cheese. The mouse was hungry so he risked being spotted. He jumped into the cup and finished its contents.

15. Then the father shifted in his seat and the mouse ran to hide behind a picture of Dylan’s grandparents.

16. He went back down the cord, behind the magazine rack, then scurried behind the videotapes, stopping briefly to admire a copy of The Rescuers, and moved on to hide in the trunk of a black toy ’58 Corvette.

17. The boy saw him jump in and he moved slowly to grab the car.

18. Don’t be afraid little mouse, he said, why don’t you get in the front seat, the steering wheel works and I’ll turn on the power. The boy was very happy and began making plans for adventures with his new friend.

19. Outside through the window the landlord Aidem passed by. He saw the boy with the mouse.

20. He went back to the main house.

21. Then he came back and knocked on the door.

22. The boy’s father answered the door.

23. I saw your boy with a mouse and I must presume that since you can’t afford Aidem TV that you can’t afford a pet. Here are some mousetraps. Put them out and kill that thing or I’ll report you to the Pet Store. I don’t want mice around here. Mice get into the wiring of things.

24. What did he want daddy?

25. He gave us these things.

26. Mousetraps, what are we going to do with them?, asked Dylan.

27. Well they’re for killing mice.

28.  I have a better idea, says Augustus.  We can use them to catapult playdough at Aidem’s pitbull, satellite.

29. Your mouse can stay “sport.” We’ll give him the birdhouse to live in.

30. The boy jumped up and down and hugged his father.

31. The mouse, who’d overheard the conversation, smiled.

32. The next morning they set up the two mousetraps with a generous helping of extra slimy playdough. They whistled to satellite and he came charging at their fence. On the count of three they launched the playdough. It landed on satellite’s eyes and he couldn’t see and crashed into the fence and was never able to bark again.

33. That night there was no blue glow to disturb the stars and in the starlight you could see new buds on the grapevine. Everyone loved it but no one could explain the change. No one, except perhaps Aidem who, since no one was interested in staying inside and watching TV anymore, lost all his money and had to take a job cleaning the cages at the Pet Store.

34. The neighborhood was beautiful again full of green trees and flowers and butterflies of every color. Children played freely again and their parents and grandparents sat on the porches of their homes and told stories of wonderous faraway lands and magical Christmases and days filled with adventure.

A Child’s Christmas in New England

Hi Folks,

I hope this post finds you and yours well and celebrating the season in whichever way your tradition dictates. Whether its Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, Solstice or Sadeh, Christmas or Pancha Ganapti, I wish you all the best.

Following is my version of the Winter Tradition; at least as it was when I was a child. Ours, my family’s and mine, was one steeped in the Christian and Secular Tradition. Informed by the Christian Bible and embellished with the story of Old Saint Nick, we observed the birth of Christ and the Spirit of Giving embodied in Santa.

I hope you will enjoy this little story of mine and I also hope you will enjoy the company of good friends and family at this magical time of year. “Magical” in that, for many, all differences are set aside and an overarching sense of togetherness and good will are the markers of these days.

So without further ado, here is my A Child’s Christmas in New England (or somewhere thereabout), inspired by my favorite poet Dylan Thomas who decades ago wrote his A Child’s Christmas in Wales and for who I named my son.

Slainte! Merry Christmas! Le’chayim! Matunda ya kwanza! Feliz Navidad! Etc! Etc!

A Child’s Christmas in New England

by philip scott wikel

One Christmas was never quite like the other in those years in upstate New York, nearby the black dirt and the pines and Sugar Loaf Mountain all covered since Thanksgiving with a healthy velvet of white; slick, crisp and slippery (depending upon the time of day, night or clouds, and angles of the sun).

One Christmas was never quite like another, but all, from the morning of my eyes to the time when this snow-packed, snow-suited, frost-bit and chapped-lip boy went bounding toward the adulthood that swallows us; left as such to wish for the simple truth of a greyish-yellow snowbound sky, and snowflakes that gave chase and cooled the tips of tongues…

Continue reading “A Child’s Christmas in New England”