Sisters in Crime

Please join me for a two hours presentation to the Tucson Sisters In Crime on March 21st from 10-2.  Details are posted on L. D. Bergsgaard Facebook Page.  I look forward to meeting you!

 

A Christmas Story ( 10 of 10)

 

I’d never seen my mother stopped in her tracks or speechless. Then the tears came and she bent down and hugged me, lifting me off the checkered linoleum floor and twirled us in circles. My father was right about women, they were unpredictable and they could change their minds faster than a spinning top. She set me down and sprung into action or maybe reaction would better describe how fast she recovered and had the five new guests seated and served, and even blessed with an abbreviated prayer. Lucky Joe found the lutefisk; dried cod fillets brought to near life by a lye bath, and boiled to the consistency of Jell-O to be quite agreeable, even tastier than the netted sturgeon he routinely hauled from the muddy Missouri. The boys stuck to the Swedish menu. Conversations never lapsed as the ever-urbane Uncle Herman regaled the new ears with tales of his wife’s ancestor’s voyage on the Mayflower and a story filled with personal details about Teddy Roosevelt’s victorious charge up San Juan’s Hill. He paused only once to light a cigar that thereafter rested between his fingers but for an occasional puff at a point in a story where a semi colon might be appropriate. My mother surveyed the scene approvingly, although perhaps aided by Mr. David’s wine as evidenced by checks blushed like a Raggedy Anne doll. She opened the dining room curtains affording a delightful view of floating snow the size of cotton balls. There never was a Christmas Eve where time passed so unnoticed or pleasantly. Uncle Herman’s cigar was but a mere stub and he slowed in his speech when my father stood, a sure sign that a departure of someone would be eminent.

I hadn’t noticed when our guests had arrived that Lucky Joe had carried in a brown paper bag, soggy but intact. He lifted it to his lap and softly announced that they brought a few unworthy gifts for his hosts. His nephews delivered a small package wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper to our family members. No one spoke although O Little Town of Bethlehem played on the AM radio in the kitchen and Uncle Herman, head nodded to his chest, gave an occasional snort as a prelude to a symphony of snoring.

I accepted my small package, squeezed it, sniffed at the newspaper, and gave it a shake. It rattled. I wondered if Lucky Joe was savvy to my mother’s tricks. I tore into the paper and it revealed Lucky Joe’s snake tail, the lucky one with 13 rows of rattles.

Mike had completed his inspection, lift, view, sniff, squeeze, and open. Lucky Joe’s foot, the jackrabbit’s furry foot, that he claimed gave special powers to the owner. A charm Mike would later claim cast a magical spell over Valerie.

My father discovered a cigar packaged in a fine metal tube. He unscrewed the top and breathed in the aroma.

My mother was still assessing her gift, likely the only one she’d not had a sneak preview of in the last three decades. “Oh, good gravy, Joe, you shouldn’t have.” Her eyes lit with delight when she held a gold cross necklace that sparkled in the candlelight. I’d seen the same at Woolworth’s and knew it must have cost the entire Christmas budget.

“Well boys, can you help me with the gifts for our guests?” In an act of generosity that could have caused a coronary for my father who stood and led us to the broom closet where he’d secreted our gifts from the earlier shopping spree. He handed me the gift wrapped Mr. Potato Head and the fountain pen. Mike took my mother’s gift that would fit Rhonda and we both watched while my father plucked the bow from her package and attached it to grandma’s ivory handled cane that had rested in the closet since her death. He took the silver Zippo lighter with the U. S. Army insignia from his pants pocket, rolled it in some red sparkly gift-wrap and set out down the hall.

I believe the only disappointment was when little Lukey opened the fountain pen. I tried to ease the pain by slipping a platoon of green plastic army men into his coat pocket before they departed.

All great meals need to end with a sweet dessert. Every one of our Christmas Eve meals ends with a birthday cake with a single candle. A few years back, Mom explained to me that one thousand nine hundred and fifty-six candles would likely set the house on fire. She brought the chocolate cake with its candle and sang Happy Birthday as she set the pan on the dining room table. Lucky Joe stood and harmonized with her. Joe’s brother, Rhonda, the boys, Lukey and Jimmy, joined in the choir as soon we all did. Up until then I’d always viewed the Christmas holidays as a break from school and learning; this was the year that my mother taught me that Christmas was not a day in my life, Christmas is a way of life.

A Christmas Story (9 of 10)

Scenes Five and Six – I just stood there flushed and stunned without any recollection of what occurred although I suspect it concluded with a visit from an angel suspended from the ceiling and announcing “Peace on earth and good will to all men.”

 

 

………………..

“… and may there finally be peace on earth,” my mother finished her dinner prayer using less time than it took to burn the two long candles illuminating the dinner table. My father added a brief Norwegian prayer in his native language. Then there was a moment of silence serenaded by the crackling wood fire that my father lit in the fireplace only once each year. Too much heat goes up the chimney.

The seating arrangement was non-negotiable, Uncle Herman at the head of the table, his wife, Cora, sat to his right, then Aunt Tillie, her brother, Bill, then my father at the other end and to his left my mother and completing the family, us boys. The Christmas Eve meal reflected some ethnic competition. For the sole Norwegian and his offspring, Lutefisk, kulb, a block of cow’s blood mixed in flour and cream, and oysters. For the Swedes, which was everyone else, I guess, mashed potatoes, and Swedish meatballs. Before we passed a platter, my father raised a glass of dark red Mogen David wine and toasted his wife and the ladies who’d prepared the feast. I took the opportunity to steal a glance at the tree, still without a single gift beneath it.  I resisted the urge to add a salute of my own to my mother’s cooking for fear it would be too transparent as an attempt to remind her about the part of Christmas still missing, but at least we had the gifts we’d bought earlier in the day and the aunts were always good for a silver dollar and some black socks. Those gifts had to be delivered personally and were always attached to a kiss leaving a year’s worth of red lipstick on my cheeks and the lingering smell of Woolworth’s finest perfume, Ode to Joy, in which the older ladies never failed to bath prior to dinner.

The platters had all made the first pass when a meek, barely audible, knock summoned our black dog, Duchess, from under the table and to the front door. I almost beat her there having deluded myself into believing it was the postman making an emergency delivery from Monkey Wards with an entire division of U. S. Army soldiers that I’d circled in the catalog with my mother’s red lipstick. It had to be, or maybe the real Army Jeep and the live monkey I’d found advertised in the back of the Superman comic, required a special courier. God Bless America, a damn Jeep and a monkey, ain’t America great!

I hardly recognized Lucky Joe, his face, head, and shoulders so covered by fresh snow. And I’d never seen his brother without a beard and with his hair slicked back and a broad smile. The two boys peering between their uncles, I recognized from our morning shopping trip. My mother appeared behind me. There was, in adult parlance, what could only be described as an awkward moment. Lucky Joe seemed to sense this and offered, “Little Moose, he invited us to dinner tonight, Christmas Eve Dinner.”

“Of course, yes, sure, please all of you, come in. Dad come here and take their coats.”

The four guests came slowly through the old oak door, stomping snow from their feet and followed by a tall dark skinned woman with hair as black and glossy as a raven. Rhonda was her name and her relationship to the others was left unspoken. She had soft eyes, large and the color of a tanned deer hide. They stood in the living room taking in the strange smells and shifting uncomfortably. “Dad, you and Bill move the kitchen table into the dining room, I’ll get the dishes. Little Moose, YOU, help me in the kitchen.”

Blissfully unaware of the tumult I’d initiated, I followed along with Duchess, who misunderstood our move as a change in venue to get table scraps. In the kitchen, my mother pivoted on me faster than a NBA point guard. “What is this about? You never told me about this. Did you ask your father? Did he know?” She continued firing questions at me. My thoughts moved to formulate a response that would be required as soon as she ran out of steam. A short-term solution would have been to blame my father. He was famous for ignoring such information, and had I truly told him, he truly would have forgotten. But by golly it was Christmas, I was under a lot of stress what with memorizing my lines, Butchie farting in my face, and a very conspicuous dearth of Christmas presents.

“I invited Mister Joe and his family when I saw them in front of Greenbergs this morning.”

“What were you thinking? What …”

“You’re the one who cancelled Christmas. You’re the one who said I was greedy and that Christmas is about giving not taking.”

A Christmas Story (8/10)

My recollection of pageants and plays, recitals and rehearsals is that they dragged time out as if someone had laid the hourglass on its side. Consequently, I never retained much of a recollection of detail, just the highlights:

 

Scene One – three shepherds spy the bright star and deliver that observation in a single sentence, delivered in three parts to allow each student a speaking part. Four years ago, several mothers complained that their aspiring actor/actress just stood next to the manger looking stupid. My mother told the women that she couldn’t change how they looked but agreed to give each a speaking part. “Hark, there in …” “… the sky, it’s …” “a new star.”

Scene Two – three wise men, myself included, entered stage right, opposite the lowly shepherds. The tallest wise guy pointed to the yellow star hanging from the church ceiling. “Behold, a star in the East.” The next tallest guy came up with the bright idea to follow the star. “It’s as the prophets promised, let us follow the star.”   The three of us strolled off towards the star.

Scene Three – a battery-operated lantern is turned on by Joseph. My mother forbids any form of flame. The small switchman’s light illuminated Joseph and the blessed virgin played so splendidly and appropriately by Valerie, the parson’s daughter who’d captured my brother’s eye last year. My mother observed they were a handsome pair and that such a coupling might move Mike a step closer to the seminary she’d longed for him to attend despite his insistence that he intended to make a career out of throwing a baseball. The blessed couple delivered their lines among two live sheep, a white goat, and the donkey starring Butchie. He’d gotten into the role even swishing his tail in my brother’s face.   Butchie could be counted on to breathe life into the deadest of scenes.

Scene Four – the three wise men arrive at the manager joining the shepherds and the animals in the little barn, all admiring the holy family. The tall wise man announced, “We, three Kings from Orient Far come bringing …” Now here we were given equal time for each of the kings. I’d moved into the number two slot and was set to continue the royal pronouncement. I pulled my robe sleeve up a bit to reveal the seven or so words I was responsible for. Unfortunately, the scalding bath with soap and scrub brush had faded my crib sheet tattoo. Memorization was the backup and I’d about mastered the verbiage and was about to spew it forth when Butchie swung the donkey’s hind end towards me and emitted a nasty hissing fart that made my eyes water and the donkey’s tail appear to wither. In an act of self-preservation, I tried to hold my breath to avoid the fetid fumes that seemed to absorb increasing amounts of available oxygen. My stomach began to churn, my lunch was backing into my throat and it required strength previously unknown to me just to stand still until the noxious cloud began to thin. This was no ordinary fart from a child; this was a game-changing contender in the arms race. A hard act to follow and whatever I’d recalled was floating alongside Butchie’s gas stirred by the single fan hanging above the congregation. Decades later, I’d watched memory experts with amazing recall of people names using association. “That man has large rough hands like a farmer … Mr. Fields.” Without knowing the method, I was saved by Eddie Goldberg seated uncomfortably in the front pew. Gold! “Gold …” I shouted and stalled. Mrs. Hildebrand, in her thick Germanic accent, gave me a hint loud enough to rustle the two sleeping ushers in the back pew to jump to their feet collection plates in hand. “… Frankenstein and Meryl,” I said in my best theatrical voice. It seemed like there was more so I shouted what my mother later told me was last year’s line for the Easter pageant, “Hallelujah, he’s risen.” I’d finished strong despite the soapy water and unpleasant flatulence.

Scenes Five and Six – I just stood there flushed and stunned without any recollection of what occurred although I suspect it concluded with a visit from an angel suspended from the ceiling and announcing “Peace on earth and good will to all men.”