Edgar Heard the Bells, All Right

xmas bells

by Erin Abernethy,
with apologies to Mr. Longfellow and Mr. Poe

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play.

YA’LL HUSH FOR TWO MINUTES AND PLAY NICE!
AND QUIT MAKIN’ THE DOG PEE ON THE CHRISTMAS TREE!

Hear the loud alarum bells–
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now their turbulency tells!

MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! HE TOOK MY FIRE TRUCK!
YOU PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW!

And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.

WAH! WAH! WAAAHH! WAAAAHHHHH! WWWAAAAAAAHHHHHH!
HUSH, OR I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHIN’ TO CRY ABOUT!

In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!

DADDY, SHE HIT ME! MAKE HER QUIT!

I thought how as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll’d along th’ unbroken song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.

SOMEBODY TAKE THE DAMN BATTERY OUT OF THE SMOKE DETECTOR!
IT GOES OFF EVERY TIME I OPEN THE OVEN DOOR!

Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire

MAMA, THE CENTERPIECE IS BURNIN’!
SISSY KNOCKED THE CANDLE OVER!

And in despair, I bow’d my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

YA’LL BETTER SETTLE DOWN RIGHT NOW OR AIN’T NONE OF YA GOIN’ TO THE CANDLELIGHT SERVICE WITH ME AN’ MAMMAW!

Oh, the bells, the bells, the bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!

IF YOU DON’T GET TO GO TO THE CANDLELIGHT SERVICE, SANTY CLAUS WON’T COME AN’ BABY JESUS WON’T LOVE YOU AND YOU’LL GO TO HELL!

“For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.”

MAMA SAYS YOU’RE GOIN’ TO HELL, SO THERE!
OPEN THE KITCHEN WINDOW AND CLEAR SOME OF THIS SMOKE OUT!

How they clang, and crash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour

GRAMPAW SMELLS FUNNY, AND HE AIN’T SNORIN’. IS HE DEAD?

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

WHAT’S A SEIZURE? CAN I HAVE ONE TOO?

And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a Runic sort of rhyme

I AIN’T TAKIN’ NONE OF YA’LL ANYWHERE WITH ME EVER AGAIN–
NOWHERE, NO WAY, NO HOW!

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With Peace on earth, good will to men.”

NOW HUSH AND SAY THE BLESSING!
HURRY UP BEFORE IT GETS COLD!

Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
To the tolling of the bells
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

AMEN. YA’LL DIG IN.

© Copyright 2004 by Erin Abernethy. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015.

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Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD)

xmasmeds

by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax

Memo to staff psychologists: please insert the following sheet into your copies of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). At this time of year, it is likely that you may see an increase in complaints of depression. Be aware of the diagnostic criteria for the specifier Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) as well as this new category, Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (or WHAD).

Criteria for Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD):

At least five of the following symptoms have been present over the majority of a two-week period, and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms is either (1) Winter holiday-related complaints or (2) general lack of jolliness.

NOTE: Do not include symptoms that are clearly due to a general medical condition (for example, pregnancy) or delusions or hallucinations (for example, seeing dancing sugarplums during alcohol withdrawal).

1. Winter holiday-related complaints

2. Marked lack of jolliness and good will

3. Loss of interest in nearly all activities (do not include sitting in a stupor in front of the TV during football playoffs)

4. Significant weight gain or increase in appetite (especially cravings for “special” foods such as turkey, fudge, rum balls, etc.)

5. Insomnia (including sleeplessness due to carolers outside who just won’t shut up) or hypersomnia (including overdoses of tryptophan from excessive turkey consumption as well as repeated viewings of “Frosty the Snowman” reruns)

6. Psychomotor agitation (including twitching and “bite reflex” exhibited at the sight or sound of Salvation Army bell-ringers, but not including seizures due to those little chasing lights)

7. Repetitive vocalizations (such as “fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” or “Ho ho ho!”)

8. Fatigue or loss of energy at the mention of weekend shopping at the mall

9. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt when unable to come up with “the perfect gift”

10. Discoloration of extremities (such as red nose – do not include redness due to excessive alcohol consumption from self-medication)

11. Paranoia, as evidenced by random vocalizations such as “He knows when you’re sleeping! He knows when you’re awake!”

12. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, particularly when changing lanes in downtown traffic

13. Recurrent homicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a homicide attempt (including attacking the mall Santa with a picket from the fence around the “Santaland” display) or a specific plan for committing homicide (do not include shooting at the neighbor’s plastic rooftop reindeer)

14. Bizarre ideations (including, but not limited to, belief in elves, talking reindeer, and peace on earth)
Keep Calm and Hibernate

Statistics indicate that WHAD symptoms may be more apparent in individuals employed in retail occupations, but WHAD has been diagnosed over a widespread range of demographics.

In most cases, WHAD symptoms decrease significantly after 6-8 weeks, though flare-ups may continue until St. Patrick’s Day.

There is currently no treatment for WHAD, although symptoms may be alleviated by mild sedatives, antipsychotics, or a weekend in the Bahamas.

© Copyright 2003 by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015.

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The Narcissistic Parent’s 10-Point Guide for a Happy Thanksgiving

YLF_053

by Patrick Redding

[Author’s note: I trust our readers to be intelligent enough to know that this is satire and intended to be humorous. Although it’s not my intention to offend, it could happen. Sorry about that.]

1. Invite all the relatives you can possibly think of, no matter how long it’s been since you saw them. If you haven’t seen them since a funeral, be sure to mention that. Forget love and money; guilt’s what really makes the world go ’round!

2. Invite some other people too – church acquaintances, people you see occasionally at work, your mail carrier – whoever you can drag to the table. Thanksgiving is about sharing. If certain family members don’t seem keen on traditional clan gatherings anyway, having strangers there is sure to put everyone at ease!

3. When people offer to help cook, twist it around and ask them why they don’t like your cooking. If they offer to bring some fancy-pants special dish like cranberry-nut-almond-brussel-sprout stuffing, graciously accept their offer but again, make sure they know that you know they don’t like your cooking. Don’t worry if you sound offended. They’re family; they should understand!

4. If you know that certain individuals in your family have special dietary needs, such as diabetics or vegans, be sure to go out of your way to let them know how special you think they are. Take pains to assure them that you’re making dishes just for them; ask them for recipes if you have no idea what they can and can’t eat. If they feel self-conscious or think you’re being a condescending bitch, that’s really not your problem, is it?

5. Alcohol or no alcohol? It really doesn’t matter; the alcoholics are going to drink in their cars on the way over anyway. If you don’t drink, you can self-righteously criticize everyone who can’t get through a nice family meal without self-medicating. If you load up yourself, though, you have license to say and do pretty much whatever you want and not worry about apologizing later – not that you’d do that anyway, because you’re always right.

6. Before you eat, make everyone hold hands and say grace. You certainly don’t need to kowtow to the sensitivities of a couple of atheists or pagans in your family. After all, they embarrass you every year by not showing up for your church’s Easter programs or Christmas cantata. What would Jesus do? Jesus was a hippie! Don’t listen to that long-haired peace-and-love crackpot.

7. If you skip grace, you can still make people wish they were somewhere else by making everyone around the table take turns telling what they’re thankful for. You may want to skip this part if you have any children who have recently married someone you don’t like, as they’re likely to gush about how thankful they are for their loving spouse, and no one wants to hear that crap at the dinner table.

8. Even though other people’s lives aren’t nearly as interesting and fulfilling as your own, make certain you include everyone in dinner conversation, even if you don’t know much about what’s been going on with them. Surefire topics to start a spirited conversation might include the recent elections, your son’s “friend” and how much he reminds you of that Boy George fellow, your youngest daughter’s weight gain, your oldest daughter’s failure to produce grandchildren. After all, just because you’ve opened a can of cranberry sauce doesn’t mean you can’t open up a can of worms too!

9. After dinner, insist upon making up take-home plates of leftovers for each and every guest, especially the ones who didn’t seem to eat much. There are starving children in Ethiopia who’d be grateful for a good plate of food, and you shouldn’t be shy about pointing this out to the uncooperative little brats who are trying to slip out the door before you’re done with them!

10. Once everything’s done and your guests have managed to escape, take a moment for yourself to reflect on what a good person you are to provide such a loving family home for such undeserving little buggers. Take out pen and paper and dash off letters to let them know how disappointed you are that they seemed upset with you for no good reason. Don’t forget to mention how they embarrassed you in front of everyone by not helping out with dinner or laughing at your jokes. Make sure they know that attendance at Christmas is mandatory and you expect them to be on their best behavior!

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Saturday Concert Series #7: The Blues Brothers

We thought that our last Saturday Concert Series of 2014 should be a New Year’s Eve show, and while researching the possibilities, we came across a real bit of musical history.

Blues BrothersOn New Year’s Eve of 1978, the historic Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, CA, held its final show before closing its doors. Once home to rock legends such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, the fifty-year-old old arena had finally become so dilapidated that its structure was considered beyond repair.

Winterland’s last New Year’s Eve was a long night of music by the Grateful Dead and the Blues Brothers. Saturday Night Live alumni Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi led the all-star line-up of blues greats including Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, and the Grateful Dead played until dawn.

You can get the Dead’s set on DVD, of course, but we thought you’d like to see the Blues Brothers as well. Belushi shows he has the pipes to carry off blues and soul classics as well as being generally entertaining, and young Aykroyd is no slouch either. Bonus: that’s young Paul Shaffer in the ruffly shirt on the keyboards.

The Blues Brothers: Last Show at Winterland, 12/31/1978

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Rites of Winter

Catalonian Sun Goddess

“Catalonian Sun Goddess” by Stuart Yeates. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

by Hunter MacKenzie & Erin Abernethy

Most winter celebrations, rather than celebrating the unique weather phenomena of winter itself, have traditionally centered around the winter solstice. This usually occurs on the 21st of December, and is the turning point when the longest night of the year heralds the return of the sun as the daylight hours begin to lengthen again.

There are a couple of general themes that recur in winter observances: 1) celebration of a miraculous birth, and 2) the transition of seasons or calendar years. The transition between seasons or calendars generally involves participating in activities to assure success in the coming year, and often includes a period of hedonism and frivolity followed by a cleansing process.

A great number of sources are available both online and off which describe how the modern “Christmas” holiday evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) from its original roots; that being the case, we’ll note just a few points concerning that, but won’t go into it in too much depth here. Instead, we’ll mainly cover some of the more obscure folklore related to the midwinter festivities.

Regarding the miraculous birth concept, it’s interesting to note that Christians were not the first to put forth the immaculate conception idea. Before people fully understood concepts of biochemistry (and quite a few still don’t), any number of things from mistletoe to mushrooms were believed to spring from, essentially, nothingness. Mistletoe, which appeared in the treetops without any apparent need for being rooted, seeded or planted, was simply accepted as a divine gift. How it went from being a “gift from the gods” to being a way to get a kiss out of someone who’d rather give you a slap in the face is not quite clear.

In a similar vein of thought, early Egyptians believed that the sky goddess Nuit gave birth to the sun at the winter solstice. (Apparently it was necessary to repeat this every year, however, despite the fact that giving birth to a glowing ball of fire once ought to be enough for anyone, goddess or not.) Other deities who were believed to have been born at this time include (but are certainly not limited to) Horus, Dionysos, Mithras, Osiris, Adonis, Apollo, Balder, and Jesus. Interestingly, many of them were given similar titles which reflected their status as a solar deity: Light of the World, Sun/Son of Righteousness, etc. The Egyptians, in fact, used the image of an infant to represent the newborn sun, and on its “nativity” or “birthday,” the winter solstice, they brought out this image to be shown to his worshippers. If analyzed from a philosophical perspective, this long line of deities and babes born of mysterious origins might suggest that as long as there have been humans on earth, they have exhibited an almost compulsively egocentric need to impose personification upon forces of nature.

Turning now toward the less controversial theme of transition of seasons and calendars, let’s look at some customs related to that. One prominent feature of many traditions of this season is the Yule log. Many have noted that the burning of the Yule log is most likely a survival of the ancient custom of lighting fires at the winter solstice to celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Although one might reasonably assume that a “Yule log” comes from one of the evergreen varieties of the yew tree, it was traditionally oak, a fact suggesting that at least some of the ideas associated with the burning of the Yule log might derive from earlier beliefs linking the oak tree with Thor, the Norse god of thunder. (This association can also be noted in Clement C. Moore’s Night Before Christmas story in which he names two of Santa’s reindeer Donner and Blitzen–German words meaning “thunder” and “lightning.” Thor was also said to ride through the sky with reindeer, and some sources indicate that the image of the flying reindeer might come from the fact that reindeer are prone to eating a certain type of wild mushroom which has hallucinogenic properties.)

Most of these ideas connected with the Yule log fall into the category of rituals performed to assure good luck or success in the coming year (or at least averting disaster). Throughout various areas of Europe, the Yule log has been credited with protecting the house from fire, thunder, lightning strikes, and hail. It has also been used as a protection against sorcery, including curing and preventing various maladies of cattle and saving wheat from mildew (which were often thought to be the results of sorcery). Additionally, it has been said to heal swollen glands, make seeds thrive (if a piece of the Yule-log is used on the plow, or if the ashes are scattered on the fields), promote a healthy flock of chickens (or lambs or calves or pigs or kids) and drive away vermin from under beds. Nowadays, of course, people’s beliefs are more “advanced,” so the burning of Yule logs has been largely replaced by homeowners’ insurance and the year-round consumption of antidepressants.

To obtain these protections and cures, various procedures were employed concerning the Yule log. Some involved burning the log just enough to char the end, and then keeping it in the house throughout the year to insure success. Most rituals, however, involved burning the log bit by bit over a course of several nights, and using the remaining pieces (including the ashes) in appropriate circumstances where a bit of extra “luck” might be desirable.

Incidentally, aside from the regular Yuletide log-burning customs, some ancient cultures also believed in “hearth spirits” who needed to be kept happy. This usually involved thoroughly cleaning the house to prepare for the visit of the hearth spirit, who entered by coming down the chimney. The spirit was usually depicted wearing a red hat and coat, and was believed to deliver blessings or punishments.

In northern cultures where trees were decorated with lights and tinsel during the winter festivities (the lights being in honor of the sun and the tinsel being representative of either melting snow or the semen of the gods, according to various sources), after the holidays the branches were cut off the tree and the trunk recycled as the May Pole, which was then re-recycled as the next year’s Yule log.

Typically, Yule festivities begin just before the winter solstice and run for several days and nights, ending at Twelfth Night, when it was generally held that the final trappings of Yuletide–wreaths, decorative greenery, candles, etc.–should be removed. This custom apparently no longer holds true, as in parts of the United States it is not unusual to see life-sized plastic nativity scenes left on front lawns well into February, at which point the traditional gifts of the three wise men may be simply replaced with boxes of Valentine candy.

The sequence of holidays around Yule is related to the old celebration of Saturnalia, a winter festival held in honor of the Roman deity Saturn. During these festivities, all public business was suspended, schools kept holiday, friends exchanged gifts, and slaves were allowed to eat at the same table as masters (which at that time was considered a great liberty). Saturnalia was also a time of great license, when the typical constraints of morality were thrown aside and people indulged in behaviors which were not allowed under ordinary circumstances.

Many cultures throughout the history of the world have set aside periodic times when the normal rules of society are suspended. These “Roman holidays” during which the pent-up urges of human nature are given free expression occur most commonly at the end of the year. Cultures which adhere to less repressive rules of behavior generally have not found it necessary to designate specific times to indulge oneself. The Nicolaites, for instance (Gnostic followers of St. Nicholas) believed that the way to salvation was through frequent sexual intercourse.

When the transition is made to the new year, it is typical to drive out the demons and troubles of the old year in order to begin anew with a clean slate. In Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) celebrations in Scotland, for instance, traditions once involved lighting bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels, tossing burning torches, dressing in the hides of cattle and running around the village while being hit by sticks. At midnight, doors and windows were opened to let out the old year and to let in the new year. Household utensils were rattled and banged to drive away any remaining psychic vestiges of the old year. It is uncertain whether these activities would be any more or less likely to rid one’s house of any lingering devils than the present-day custom of shooting off fireworks (and, in some rural areas, pistols and shotguns) until all hours of the morning.

Some Scandinavian winter festivals involved a couple of men prancing around in a goat costume, occasionally having a third person riding them. In 18th-century Sweden, the goat came to be regarded as a gift bringer in a similar role to the present day Santa Claus. Although this idea has apparently died out, some Scandinavian parents continued to use the seasonal icon of the goat to admonish their children into good behavior, much in the same way that American parents warn their children that Santa is watching to see who is naughty and who is nice.

The goat symbol also turned up in Poland in the form of little pastries shaped like goats or cows and handed out as treats to carolers. One of the group of carolers generally carried a bundle of sticks, and after caroling and receiving treats, the caroler would then hit the host/hostess lightly with the stick and wish the household happiness and good health in the coming year. Those who did not reward the carolers with treats were subject to having nasty tricks played upon them–having trash dumped in front of their house, their gate torn off, their fences vandalized, etc.–and would not receive the blessing for good luck during the new year. Considering the alternatives, it would seem much easier to bake up a batch of goat cookies for the carolers.

Connecting the goat to the winter holidays might seem odd to some, but consider this: during the part of the calendar year when these festivities occur, the sun is in the zodiacal sign of Capricorn. Although Capricorn is traditionally symbolized by something called a “sea goat,” the word Capricorn is closely related to the Latin caper, meaning “goat.” And far from being evil, nasty, demonic creatures, goats are more inclined toward capers (pranks and tricks) and capering (playful cavorting and jumping about).

After the revelry of the holidays has died down and the demons have been expelled for another year, many people carry out further rituals for success or good luck while others engage in divination to get a better idea of what the new year may bring. Various cultures place great emphasis on the food to be eaten on New Year’s Day; everything from black-eyed peas to hog jowls are reputed to bring the eater good luck during the coming year–in fact, it almost seems as though the more repulsive the food, the better one’s luck will be.

As far as divination, some practices designate a particular night (for instance, the “Mother Night” among followers of Norse beliefs) in which dreams on that night are believed to foretell events that will take place in the upcoming year. One Russian tradition involves sitting between two mirrors with candles in order to see “between the worlds.” A German custom suggests that burning fresh boughs from a fir tree will allow the future to be divined in the smoke patterns. There are copious amounts of folklore relating to predicting weather for the coming year, of course, and many of these survive and are reprinted from year to year in almanacs.

Our present-day custom of making New Year’s resolutions probably stems from a combination of the licentiousness of the old Saturnalia celebrations and the desire to rid one’s house of evil spirits for the new year. Overindulging on New Year’s Eve or behaving like a drunken goat at the office Christmas party might cause one to have second thoughts the next day and swear off such behavior. Embarrassment is short-lived, however, which is why most of our New Year’s resolutions rarely last past the following week, and why we’ll need another holiday party the next year to let it all out again.

On that note, we wish you a happy holiday season, no matter what you’re celebrating. May you have more fun than a herd of flying reindeer.

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Mama Earlene’s Christmas Letter from Shady Creek, Tennessee (2014)

Mama Earlene's Christmas Letters

by Patrick Redding

Merry Christmas, y’all! Well, I missed getting a letter out to y’all last year on account of having the swine flu from eating too much bacon. But this year has been pretty good to us and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

First off, my 27-year-old problem child Haley June seems to have finally got herself straightened out and has a good job for a change. Miracles do happen! Y’all know what she has been through the past several years with her divorce and then losing her job at the massage parlor when the place got raided. Then there was that mess last year with Social Services trying to take her young’uns, and me having to take them in. But things are finally starting to look up for her. She has finished school and got a degree online, with the help of Denver, her youngest (he is 9 now and a real whiz with computers), and we are all just so proud of her!

Now, some people around town have hinted that Denver might have hacked into the school computer to get her that degree, but I say they are just jealous that things are finally turning around for her. And Denver says that he would not do such a thing anyway, because the community college’s computer system is not enough of a challenge. So there you have it.

Anyway, Haley June is now a college graduate and started work at the Helping Hands Nursing Home. Mostly she is emptying bedpans right now. But with any job you have to “start at the bottom,” ha ha. Social Services says that if she does good there, her boys can go back and live with her after the first of the year. I will be sorry to see Denver and Cody go, but I am not getting any younger and it is hard for an old lady like me to keep up with kids their age, even if they do just stay on the computer all the time. They think I don’t know they look at pictures of naked women but I believe that’s better than having them running around the neighborhood and peeping in windows the way their daddy used to do.

Cody is still trying to finish second grade, by the way. He is 10 now. It took him three years to get through first grade, so if he keeps going this way, he will be old enough to drink and vote by the time he gets to high school. That ought to make him real popular with his classmates, I reckon.

Now, as for Haley June’s sisters, Sue Ellen says she and Larry are thinking about having another baby! I think she is out of her mind but there is no reason she should listen to me – after all, I’m only her mother. They already have six. Luke, their oldest, cannot seem to stay out of jail, bless his heart, he is just fascinated by setting things on fire. Maybe if Sue Ellen and Larry weren’t always running off to Niagara Falls or Hawaii to have fun, he might could have grown up to be a fireman or something. But far be it from me to criticize. After all, their other five have done OK. Well, Starla is behind at college because she spent awhile in rehab after she got all whacked out on one of those fancy new designer drugs. But she is getting better, and has met a friend or two in rehab. I hope they are good Christian girls; they are probably not, but I am praying for her anyway, even though she sasses me something awful when I tell her so.

The twins, Matt and Jonah, are both working at the new Wal-Mart. Mostly they stand around in the aisles and throw melons at one another, so we’ll see how long that lasts. The problem with those boys is that nobody ever told them they needed to get good grades or learn how to do anything but play high school football, and they are just not NFL material, no matter what Larry would like to believe. But at least they are working. Josh is a senior in high school this year and is in the Physics Club. He is a real smart one and I kind of worry that he and his friends might build a bomb, but he is anxious to go away to college so maybe we are safe, ha ha. Caleb, the baby, is 8. He started third grade this year and already has a girlfriend! Anyway, that seems like quite a handful to me, and I don’t think Sue Ellen needs to be popping out any more. If you agree, you might say something to her, as she has told me to butt out and mind my own business!

Haley June’s other sister Tina is still married to Harris, so her four kids have not run him off like I thought they might. He has hung in there despite them being a rowdy little bunch of hellraisers. They still go over and shoot pellet guns at Mavis Claymore’s plastic reindeer every year, and every year she calls and hollers at me about it. I tell her she ought to be calling their mama and adopted daddy, and she just tells me he is a pansy-ass lightweight, as if any of that is something I can fix. I would not be at all surprised if she starts shooting back at the little monsters. Harris’s sister Katie is also staying with them now; she looks after the boys in the afternoons while Tina is at work, and does all the cooking and cleaning and so on. I know Tina likes having somebody else around while Harris is out doing his plays and stuff at the college, and the two of them are just as thick as thieves. I just hope somebody in that house can get those little hellions under control so Mavis will stop calling me!

My brothers Cephus and Orly are still in jail for that business with the homemade guns. Cephus got another six months tacked on to his sentence when he got caught making moonshine in a wastebasket. Orly may get out next summer on good behavior if he doesn’t listen to his brother and stays out of trouble; he is a trustee now and works in the laundry. I told him it was about time he learned how to do his own wash. Maybe he will do mine for a change when he gets out, ha ha.

Grampaw Bobby and Grammaw Ida are doing pretty good, I reckon. Thanks to Denver, Grampaw Bobby was able to get hold of that Sterling Marlin shot glass he had been lacking to make the complete set for his Nascar collection. Denver found it for him on something called the E-Bay. I don’t know exactly what that is but I reckon it’s a big old flea market on the Internet or something.

Grammaw Ida had a scare back in the spring when she took a tumble on her back steps; she was letting her little Pekingese out to go potty and I reckon it must have had to go really bad because it just barreled right over her! She thought she might have broken her hip, but it turned out nothing was hurt too bad but her pride. After that she got herself one of those smarty phones to carry in her pocket for emergencies. Denver fixed it up for her and showed her how to use it, and then the dang little genius showed her she had the Internet on it and some kind of website about rescuing dogs. Now she’s got four of those yappy little boogers, so it’s a real good thing she and Grampaw Bobby live in separate houses!

Mama celebrated her 97th birthday this year, and as it was a slow news day, the man from the Channel 9 morning show came out and they tried to interview her but it did not go well. She pitched a fit and called him a little piss-ant and threw a beer mug at the camera man’s head. We took up a collection for him to pay for his stitches, and he agreed not to press charges or anything but the reporter fella got his nose all out of joint about her calling him an ugly name. I told him it was nothing against him, just that she has always said, “Don’t never trust a man wearin’ a toupée,” and he was, but I reckon he thought none of us hicks had the sense to know that. I don’t know if you have seen his show, but my stars, it looks like the man let a polecat curl up on top of his head for a nap! Anyway, Mama sends you all her love and says, “Early to bed and early to rise means you miss Jeopardy and have a bunch of damn fools on your TV in the morning.” Words of wisdom!

Anyways, that is how we are all doing here down in our little corner of the pea patch. Hope you and your’n have a real Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as that little ol’ Tiny Tim said, “God help us ever one!”

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Mama Earlene’s Annual Christmas Letter from Shady Creek, Tennessee (2007)

by Patrick Redding

Merry Christmas, y’all! Well, it’s been another humdinger of a year here, so let me just bring y’all up to speed on the happenings in our neck of the woods. I had thought the biggest news of the year would be my daughter Tina’s wedding, but she and her new husband sort of took all the fun out of it when they just up and eloped (more on that later). As it turned out, we had bigger fish to fry when my brother Harvey tragically lost his life in a self-inflicted lawnmower accident.

My brothers are talking about opening up a gun and ammo shop. You can never go wrong investing in artillery. People will always want to buy guns and shoot things even when money is tight.

Yes, it is true that Harvey got run over by his own lawnmower. Those who knew Harvey well surely won’t be surprised that he could manage to do such a thing, but for those who only saw him acting like the big fool that he was at family reunions and so on, I will try to explain what happened. You see, he had gone over to mow Mavis Claymore’s big old yard in front of that new house she bought on County Road 141, and that is where he met his untimely end. Now, there have been some very unkind rumors going around, and I just want to set the record straight right now by saying that I do not believe for one minute those tales that Harvey died of a heart attack when poor old Mavis (bless her heart, she has Alzheimer’s, you know) wandered out into her front yard without a stitch of clothing on. I also do not believe those other stories I have heard that he slipped and fell while he was standing on the back of the mower trying to peep into her bathroom window. Those who knew Harvey know that he is just not that kind of man; if he wanted to get a look at Mavis in her birthday suit, he would have just come right out and asked her. But all those wild tales aside, here is what I have been able to piece together about what really happened to poor old Harvey.

In case y’all don’t live around here, let me explain that for years we have had a string of massage parlors along County Road 141. They are unsightly and encourage bad behavior, but they do employ a number of our local young folks who might otherwise be standing around on street corners and selling drugs they stole from their grandparents. I like to think that it is better to work with your hands for an honest living, and that if you do not have the necessary skills to run a cash register or bag groceries, then working in one of the massage parlors might provide you with a steady income and keep you off welfare. At least that is what I told my youngest daughter Haley June when it began to look like she was going to flunk out of night school. However, they passed some kind of law at a town council meeting back in the spring, and Sheriff Mack closed down a bunch of them massage parlors (putting 25 people in the unemployment line, but I reckon that don’t matter none to him) and it was while one of the deputies was in hot pursuit of one of the working girls that Harvey had his accident with the lawnmower.

It seems that the deputy had chased the young lady out of her place of employment at the Bee Hive before she had a chance to get her street clothes on, and Harvey (who always had a soft spot for a naked woman in distress, bless his heart) jumped off the lawnmower and rushed right over to give her the shirt off his own back. He was so eager to help the young lady that he forgot to set the brake on the lawnmower, and it just ran over him before he even knew what was going on. (The mortician told us he probably didn’t feel a thing, as drunk as he was.) So that is what happened, and I would discourage you all from repeating any of those tales we have heard people whispering around town. He was not sneaking out the back door of the beer joint and riding his lawnmower home in the hopes of avoiding another drunk driving charge like some people said. Nor was he out there at that cheap motel with a married woman like some other people said (Lynda Creedy is legally separated, not married, and besides, she was there with Bill Hicks, not our Harvey, at least not this time). To be perfectly honest, we all know that it was sheer coincidence that he was not up to no good when he got chopped into chicken feed by his own lawnmower, but he is gone now, and rather than speak ill of the dead we should all pray real hard that he has gone on to a better place, although I doubt it.

Besides Harvey getting killed, our family was dealt another blow when little Haley June lost her job at one of the aforementioned massage parlors. She had been trying to go to night school to get herself a good job and support her two kids instead of living off her ex-inlaws like she has done for the past year, but she was never good at taking tests (except the home pregnancy kind, ha ha) so she had dropped out and got herself a job at the Bee Hive, where she had pretty steady work until Sheriff Mack closed the place down. It is a shame when the law harasses people trying to make an honest living. Little Haley June is talking now about moving out to Las Vegas, where she says there are better opportunities for people in her line of work. I have always told her she should use her God-given talents to the fullest but I do hope she does not decide to go way out yonder to work. By the way, thanks to all of y’all who chipped in to bail her out of jail so that she could be home with her children instead of sitting in the lockup with the rest of those old drunks and floozies.

As for Haley June’s sisters, Tina got married this summer to that Harris man, the drama teacher over at the community college. We had wanted to have a big wedding down at the church for her and invite all of y’all to it, but she pitched a fit and said she did not want all that fuss so instead of a nice wedding and reception with her family and friends, she and Harris snuck off and done it in some government office and went to Tastee-Freeze for hot fudge cake afterwards. She did not even take time off from her job at the garage to go on a honeymoon, even though I offered to keep the kids for her if they wanted to go off somewhere romantic like Gatlinburg. But anyhow, we wish Tina and Harris all the best and hope that her four kids will not run him off.

Now as for Haley June’s other sister, Sue Ellen and her husband Larry took a trip to Niagara Falls this summer. Everybody else in the family has always gone to Dollywood for vacation, but Sue Ellen has acted like she is better than the rest of us ever since she graduated from secretarial school. She wanted to see Niagara Falls so Larry rented an RV and they drove up there for two weeks with four of their six kids. Starla had band camp and could not go, bless her heart, she loves her clarinet and can play a pretty fair tune on it although she is getting to be awfully high-strung being around all those other band kids, and we are afraid she may want to go to college and become a music major if Larry doesn’t put his foot down. Luke, their eldest boy, is still away in juvenile detention, so he did not get to go on vacation either, of course. We are hoping they may let him out soon since they say he has not tried to set any fires in about two months now.

My brothers Cephus and Orly have managed to stay out of jail again this year, which might be some kind of record for them, staying out two whole years in a row. They are talking about renting one of the buildings out on County Road 141 and setting up a gun and ammo shop. I told them that you can never go wrong investing in artillery, that people will always want to buy guns and shoot things even when money is tight. I do not know if they will have any trouble getting a license to sell guns since both of them have spent so much time in jail, but I would not want to discourage them from their hopes and dreams by mentioning it. Also, I am tired of them asking me for money and would welcome any gainful employment that they might be willing to do since they spent all last year hanging out in the garage and working on a car which still will not run.

Grampaw Bobby and Grammaw Ida are both in good health and good spirits. They get along a lot better since Grampaw Bobby moved into his own house with his collection of Nascar memorabilia. Grammaw Ida has him over for supper every evening, and on Fridays they drive into town together to get groceries and check out the flea market. Sometimes we even see his truck parked outside her house overnight, ha ha. She says she will not spend the night at his house because she does not care to wake up and see a life-size cardboard race car driver staring down at her.

Mama is still about the same, bless her heart. She celebrated her 90th birthday this year with a box of cigars that drove us all out of the house for a day or two, but most of the time she is pretty good about sticking to the light 100’s she switched to last year. She sends her love to all. I asked her if she had anything she wanted to add to our Christmas letter, and she said to tell y’all, “Light beer don’t go with chicken wings,” and, “Don’t never marry a man who trades cars more than once a year.”

Anyways, that is how we are all doing here down in our little corner of the pea patch. Hope you and your’n have a real Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as that little ol’ Tiny Tim said, “God help us ever one.”

© Copyright 2007 by Patrick Redding. Republished 2011, 2014.

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