What We Got Here
- Season’s Greetings : Pick your party.
- Over the Double Nickel : Near away.
- Previously, in The Legend-News : An Old Home Café Christmas Eve.
- “Sing Silent Night”
You may have noticed that the winter solstice has just occurred, prompting revelling of all sorts: Christmas, Saturnalia, Festivus, Yule, Pancha Ganapati, Yalda, HumanLight, Kwanzaa, Feast of the Winter Veil, Holiday Number 11, Xmas (no, that’s not a misspelling of ‘Christmas’), Refrigerator Day, Life Day, Xistlessnessmas. Happy Holidays to All!
And if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoy the summer! Because up here in the North, we’re fracking freezing!
Over the Double Nickel
It’s a Too-Small World
“Far away” is much nearer than it used to be.
When I was a kid, peddling my bicycle around the block was a half-mile trip of great proportion. (One block equals one-eighth of a mile, for you non-Chicagoans.) I walked two blocks to school; three blocks to the nearest big shopping area; and five blocks to my grandparents’ house. Beyond those destinations lay a city that I only heard about, except when we’d go down to the Loop to see the Christmas displays.
My family moved two miles north, and my journeys became further: the second elementary school that I attended was four-and-half blocks from home; high school, a mile-and-a quarter (ten blocks). And I walked to and from the Loop — about 60 blocks, one-way. My world was becoming bigger.
In the summer, my dad would drive us up to Portage, Wisconsin for a week or two of vacation. That trip took about two-and-a-half hours, in those days of 70 miles-per-hour speed limits, and that was the longest trip that I ever made by car. But we took Interstate 90 to get there, and made only one stop along the way, so I didn’t quite know what lay between Chicago and Portage except for the “end of tollway” signs around Rockford.
In-between those travels there were the family visits to friends and relatives, who were always more than a few miles away. Sometimes, if we had been invited to a party and the weather was bad, we would beg off, citing the climate and the distance. Yeah, we could actually claim that driving five miles was a hardship!
I can’t do that now, telling someone that “I can’t attend your party” because you live 40 miles from my house. “It’s only a hour drive”, and not the two hours or more that it would have taken, fifty years ago. And so I occassionally find myself driving home after midnight, from a venue that would have been a day’s ride by horse, one hundred years ago.
I don’t have a problem with distance; after all, I’ve crossed the U.S.A. in five days, and driven from McHenry, Illinois to Silverton, Colorado in two days. (Unfortunately, those trips required traveling on Interstate highways. Fast, but boring.)
I miss the days when a trip was something that you planned. Today, a trip is more “get in the car, and we’ll be there in a few hours”. Better roads and better cars have redefined “local” as “less than a half-tank of gasoline away from home”, instead of “the city limits”. Once, I could argue that making a visit “across town” wasn’t in the cards for today; now, I’m expected to speed along the expressways to Chicago, forty-five miles away, on a one-day notice.
I’m still planning some big trips (notice the “planning”). I want to drive the route of US 66 to Los Angeles, and take the Lincoln Highway from coast-to-coast. But I’ll spend weeks on those adventures, because I want to see what is between here and there. I want “far away” to be far away, and not just a hundred miles downstate.
“Over the Double Nickel” is an occasional column by Ed. Floden, who refuses to accept your reality. Collect them all!
Previously, in The Legend-News
Of course, no Christmas is complete without a Christmas story. I wrote this one back in ’03 (that’s pronounced “ought-three”, you young whippersnappers). I thought about updating it, as I think that my writing has improved since then — I heard that! You! In the back! Shuddup and siddown! — but I decided that you could use a good chuckle at my ancient, rambling prose.
From the stories of Old Home Café: The Next Generation , it’s
Episode XXVIII: The Night Before Christmas
(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2003 December 24.)
Snow was falling as Jon cleaned the tables that night, preparing to close up the Old Home Café at 10. Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and the Café would be closed, not to reopen until 5 A.M. on the 26th. He yawned as he worked; he’d been at the Café since opening that morning, and he was tired.
Out in the lot sat two 18-wheelers, their engines idling to keep their drivers warm. They’d be gone in a few minutes, hoping to beat the storm that was coming across the Rockies tomorrow. For now the snow in Pisgah was just flurries, sticking to the frozen ground and piling in the corners of the curbs, but the roads were relatively clear.
Jon picked up the mike on the Café’s CB, which was always tuned to Channel 19. The channel was silent now, until Jon hailed the rigs outside. “Hey, drivers. This is the Café. Last call! Do you want some road food?”
“Yeah, a quart of Colombia’s best and a burger sound good,” say one driver. “Ditto on the coffee,” said the other.
“Trudge on in. I’ll get the burger started,” said Jon. “10-10,” he added, clipping the mike back on the unit before going to the kitchen and tossing a couple of beef patties on the griddle. Then he when to the counter and checked the coffee. Not enough for two, he noted, so he started a second pot.
A few minutes later, the drivers walked in and stomped the snow from their boots. “Thanks for the holler,” said one. He was wearing a red NASCAR cap and a blue Carhartt jacket. “Nick Santos, out of Custer, South Dakota,” he said, shaking hands with Jon. The other driver introduced himself as “Chris Knowle, from Denver. Been so long since I’ve been home, I’m not sure where it is.”
“I hope that you get home soon,” said Jon. “I’ve had a few holidays away from home, myself. I was working for Uncle Sam at the time. I’m Jon Bach, proprietor of this fine eating establishment.” The three men shared a smile.
“Overseas?” asked Nick.
“Underseas,” said Jon. “Submarines. Six years in the Navy. I spent a lot of time without seeing the sun.” He checked the progress of the coffee: almost ready. “Your thermoses, gentlemen? I’ll fill ’em up.”
Jon took the stainless steel containers back to the kitchen, where he first flipped the burgers then washed out the thermoses before pouring a quart of hot C into each. Capping them, he returned them to Nick and Chris. “Thanks,” he heard from both.
“What’s your loads?” asked Jon. “Must be important, if you’re out on Christmas Eve.”
“Canned goods. Vegetable and stuff like that,” said Chris. “I’m hauling the lot to a shelter in Boulder. Picked them up from a charity in St. Joe.”
“And I’ve got a load of donated toys,” said Nick. “Used stuff, mostly, but some new. They’re going to an outfit in Rapid City. They’re giving them to hard-luck kids around town. And I gotta be there by morning,” he said, looking at the weather outside, and hoping that he really wasn’t seeing the snow falling even more quickly.
Jon scooped the burgers off the griddle and wrapped them. “Who gets these?” he asked.
Chris raised his hand. “But I only asked for one,” he said.
“It’s on the house,” said Jon.
“Well, thank you! ” said Chris.
Nick rose from his seat. “Sorry to dash, but I’ve gotta go.”
“Me, too,” said Chris. “Or I’ll be late for my Christmas dinner. Jon, it was nice meeting you. Probably catch you again in a few weeks,” he said, shaking hands with Jon. “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that other stuff.”
“Same here,” said Nick. “I don’t get out this way much, but I’ll be sure to stop in again.”
The drivers waved as they stepped outside and walked to their rigs. Jon shut down the coffee maker, pouring what brew remained into his own thermos. He heard the diesel engines roar as the drivers stuck their trannies in gear and headed out. A final greeting came from the CB: “Merry Christmas, Old Home Café!”, said Chris. “And to all a good night!” added Nick. Jon grabbed the mike and hollered back, “Merry Christmas to you, too!”
Jon clicked off the CB, turned off the lights, and locked the door. As he walked away from the Café, heading for his house three blocks away, he passed the parking lot. Jon gave the view only a quick glance; but a few steps later he stopped, feeling that something was wrong.
He looked back at the parking lot. There, in the middle of the lot, were two clear spots where the trucks had sat. Those spots were clear of snow, and a light dusting covered the remainder of the lot. But he didn’t see any tire tracks! Neither of the lot’s driveways showed that anyone had driven out of or into the lot, and the snow was not falling quickly enough to obscure any tracks in the two or three minutes since the drivers pulled out. Then where are those trucks?
He heard the sound of a distant engine, and looked toward the west. There was no truck over there; only the red lights from an antenna tower shone through the blowing snow. Then Jon realized that the lights were getting smaller, and they were rising in the sky. For the next minute he watched those lights as they faded into the distance. He thought that he heard bells jingling, but that was ridiculous, he decided.
I need sleep, he thought, as he walked home on that Christmas Eve.
“Sing Silent Night”
(C.W. McCall, Bill Fries, Chip Davis)
From the LP
When the snow falls on Christmas Eve,
And everything’s white
I sit by the window,
And remember another night
When Mama played the organ,
And we turned off all the lights
And we all stood around her
And sang Silent Night
The organ is quiet now,
And Mama’s gone
The sound of that Christmas Eve
Will live on and on
We sang all the old carols,
The hymns she loved to hear
And she played them over, one by one,
From memory, and by ear
And then she’d find the ancient album,
With its pages turned gold
And the crayon-colored paper star
I made so long ago
But brighter than any star
Was the love in Mama’s eyes
As she said, "Merry Christmas, kids",
And she kissed us goodnight
And the organ’s quiet now,
And Mama’s gone
But the sound of that Christmas Eve
Will live on and on
The years have gone by now,
Since that last Christmas Eve
But the joy is still with me,
And the love will never leave
When Mama played the organ,
And we turned off all the lights
And we all stood together
And sang the last Silent Night
The Christmas display that I want. (Thanks to Crispy Critter Ed Myers for the pointer.)
The Legend-News is published almost monthly by TechRen Enterprises, faking competency for 13 years. Copyright 2010 TechRen Enterprises. Send subscription requests, unsubscribe demands, complaints, kudos, suggestions, news and other contributions to Legend-News@cw-mccall.com. Almost everything in The Legend-News has been written by Ed. Floden, except for the stuff that he blames on someone else. “Against stupidity, the very gods themselves contend in vain.”