Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dan Verner's Holiday Tale

Thank you, Dan Verner, for this touching Christmas piece that demonstrates we are all connected by and worthy of the same source of love.

Up on the Housetop
A Holiday Tale Drawn from the Shoebox Where the Biscuit City Chronicles Are Kept

Quite a few years ago when our children were much younger (and so was I), I heard a lot of strange variations on Christmas songs, mostly courtesy of my children: things like ''Chipmunks roasting on an open fire/Jack Frost picking at your nose'' or ''Walkin' 'Round in Women's Underwear'' on a local radio station. The kids also made it a point to sing repeated choruses of two songs I could not stand, ''Jingle Bell Rock'' and ''Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'' which l felt a little better about when l discovered that Les Paul played guitar on it.

One of the strangest songs, though, if you really look at the lyrics, is ''Up on the Housetop.” It’s positively surreal, filled with sentence fragments and disconnected images. ''Up on the housetop, reindeer pause”--so far, so good, if we assume that these are Santa's reindeer and not some misplaced arboreal species. Then, ''Out jumps good old Santa Claus”--from the aforementioned sleigh, we assume, although it isn't specifically stated. Then, a puzzling, disconnected fragment—“Down through the chimney with lots of toys''--again, we assume it's the selfsame Santa from the previous line. Next, an explanation: ''A1l for the little ones, Christmas joys!'' A1l right--we've established in a bizarre, convoluted fashion that reindeer are on the room, Santa is in the vicinity, and toys have descended through the chimney. Then comes this odd commentary: ''Oh ho ho ho, who wouldn't go; oh ho ho, who wouldn't go?” The ho ho's are produced by Santa, I suppose, but what does ''who wouldn't go'' have to do with anything? If it's a question, who wouldn't go where? Up on the housetop? Down the chimney? Isn't that dangerous, especially for children? The next two lines are even more distressing if they're connected to ''who wouldn't go'': ''Up on the housetop, click, click, click'' (the aforementioned reindeer) and ''Down through the chimney with good St. Nick! '' Apparently the song expects children to climb ''up on the housetop'' and then slide down a filthy, carcinogenic chimney with someone they haven't met before. With songs like these, no wonder children are often hyper and confused all throughout December. I know I was...

I was most troubled by the fact that our house didn't have a chimney. For that matter, it didn't have central heating--a floor furnace served well as long as all the doors were open. It was also wonderful to sit on through cold mornings and read. But given that, how did Santa get in? I asked my mother this pressing question, and, as usual, she had a ready reply: ''He comes in through the stove.” This made a certain amount of sense because the stove did have a chimney.
lIwas satisfied for a while with this explanation, though I did worry about the stove being left on accidentally and frying Santa to a crisp. This would have been a tragedy of monumental proportions since l would not get anything for Christmas (something I had been threatened with for months anyhow). The down through the stove arrangement worked out well, since we left the obligatory milk and cookies on top of the stove where they were kept warm by the pilot light. After what happened the year I was seven, though, my mother changed her story to Santa coming in the back door with his magic key. She had to say something, and, of course, 1 was ready to believe it.

I was at my usual position Christmas Eve after I was supposed to have gone to bed, at my window, searching for signs of an airborne sleigh and reindeer. The first hint, l thought, would be the sound of sleigh bells, and I imagined I could hear them faintly again and again. The stars shone brightly in the midnight air and I dropped off to sleep at the window.

I was awakened by a bright glow from the house next door and a tremendous roaring noise. Huge flames were shooting out of the chimney, and instantly I knew what had happened: Georgie, that “special” boy who lived there, had turned on his oven to try to catch Santa Claus and was even then frying fried the jolly old elf.  That was the only possible explanation--and I had to try to save him. I hoped Santa would have the presence of mind to lay his finger aside of his nose and rise up the chimney, but as 1 watched, nothing happened. I had to act.

''Santa Claus is burning! Santa Claus is burning!” I screamed, running into the hall toward my parents' bedroom. I was violating the most basic rule of the house: 1 was supposed to be quiet while my parents were asleep. But I didn't care--if this wasn't an emergency, what was?

My mother and father sat bolt upright in bed, dim figures in the twilight. ''What in the world…” my father started.

“Dad! Mom! Georgie started a fire to try to catch Santa Claus and is burning him up! Hurry! Do something!''

This didn't make a whole lot of sense, but my father leaped from the bed and began putting on his pants.  My mother checked the window. ''The Shores' chimney is on fire!” she cried. “Hurry!”

''That's right,” I screamed, ''and Santa is frying! And all my toys!'' I knew he hadn't been to our house yet. I hadn’t heard him.

My mother and I watched from the window as the chimney continued to burn. Mr. Shore, who was at home because all the bars were closed, came weaving around the corner of the house carrying a ladder and a hose. My mother's hand flew to her mouth. ''Oh, I hope he's not going to...''

We watched silently as he put the ladder to the roof and climbed unsteadily up, trailing the hose. My father had arrived by that time and, unable to do much else, steadied the ladder. Mr. Shore reached the roof and jammed the hose down the chimney. The flames went out quickly, replaced by thick billows of smoke. He turned to go back, caught his foot on the hose, and rolled down and off the roof. My mother gasped and ran for the phone.

Half an hour later, my father came back from helping load Georgie’s father into the ambulance. ''Is he hurt badly?'' my mother asked.

My father shook his head. ''Nah. He was too pickled to be hurt.”

My mother sighed, ''They say the Lord takes care of drunks and children. Then she quickly added, to me, ''That doesn't mean you should drink.”

I wanted to ask about Santa Claus, but thought better of it. Besides, l hadn't seen the reindeer on the roof. They must have flown away at the first sign of fire. I hoped my toys were safe. I went to sleep with only slight misgivings.

The next morning, the presents from Santa were there--everything I had asked for, in spite of not having had a very good year. As Ron and I tore through the wrappings I couldn’t help but notice that some of the paper was ever so slightly singed. It's a good thing Santa is magic, I thought. There are lots of ways to get hurt in this world.

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