Of Ghosts And Flying Reindeer

The Christmas season certainly has a lot of traditions attached to it, doesn’t it?  From what we actually celebrate (namely Santa, Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus) to countless family practices within countless households, traditions hold a significant place within our society.  We’ve all got our favorite ones, too, don’t we?  But do you ever stop to think about where they came from?  “How did this tradition start?”, is a question that can produce some interesting answers.

Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus are both historically accurate occurrences (although tradition has put Jesus in a manger on Christmas, when he actually was at least a few months old by the time the wise men found him on December 25)*.  When it comes to Santa, though, the earliest accounts of this fable only date back to 1821 with a children’s poem (author unknown) titled “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight”.  At that point, the earliest drawings depict Santa being pulled by just one reindeer** (and you’d think that Rudolph would have been that reindeer, what with Santa needing his glowing nose and all).

As a result of these foundations for most of our holiday traditions, it has led to one of the biggest and most well-known traditions of them all:  Christmas carols!  Obviously, many are about the birth of Jesus and quite a few are about Santa as well.  But then we also have carols that are simply about our traditions:  sleigh rides, children playing in the snow, chestnuts roasting over a fire and the food we eat during the holidays.  One of these songs is called, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.  Ever heard that one?  I didn’t hear it until I was working for an upscale hotel restaurant in my early twenties.  My first Christmas season there, I actually heard a few songs that I never even knew existed (and I was even one of those kids growing up who would listen to Christmas carols as soon as Thanksgiving was over)!  This one really threw me for a loop, though.  And let me tell you why…..

George Wyle (the vocal director for The Andy Williams Show), along with Edward Pola, actually wrote this song for Andy to sing on the show in 1963.***  It’s a song that’s all about traditions.  But when I heard the lyrics within a certain part of this song, it stopped me in my tracks and forced me to do a double-take on what I had just heard.  Here is that part of the song:

There’ll be parties for hosting

Marshmallows for toasting

And caroling out in the snow

There’ll be scary ghost stories

And tales of the glories of

Christmases long, long ago

Do you see it?  Who on God’s green earth associates scary ghost stories with Christmas??  What does that even look like?  Can you picture it?  You and your family are sitting in a comfy room in front of a cozy fire that crackles and hisses in the fireplace.  The smell of pine fills the air from the garland of real pine that lines the mantle above it.  Across the room is a beautiful Christmas tree, glowing warmly with the colors of red, blue, orange and green.  The gentle flames of candles scattered around the room cause firelight to dance on the walls around you.  You have just taken part in one of the best Christmas dinners you’ve ever had–every dish that every family member is known for making the best of was part of that meal.  Suddenly, as everyone is basking in the serene atmosphere that surrounds them, Uncle Joe blurts out, “Hey, just between you, me and the fence post, has anyone heard about the ghost of the truck driver that was killed in that horrible accident a few years back?  They say he still roams these parts, looking for the kids that ran out in front of his truck.  Anyone seen Billy lately?”

Apparently somebody thought this was a good idea, but why?!  Talk about a really weird and disturbing tradition!  After much contemplation, the only connection that I can make is that this could be referring to the ghosts in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.  Then recently, I learned that it was actually a Victorian tradition to tell ghost stories at Christmas time (could explain why Dickens’ story was considered such a classic).

So, needless to say, not all traditions are worth carrying on!  Personally, I’m glad that that one has fallen by the wayside….

Enjoy your traditions, my friend.  And have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!!

 

* DVD entitled “The Star Of Bethlehem”.

**Wikipedia, “Santa Claus’s reindeer”.

***Wikipedia, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.

A Near Miss

Many years ago, when I was working for that armored truck company I told you about, I had to be to work at five in the morning.  I was an hour away from my job, so I was on the road pretty early.  On one of those early mornings–sometime in late winter or early spring–I had an interesting encounter with…..well, let me tell you about it.

I used to take a backroad to the state route that took me into the “big city” where I worked.  I was tootin’ down that backroad that morning, cruisin’ it somewhere between 55-60 mph.  It had been raining all night and was at that point a cold drizzle.  As my headlights illuminated the road in front of me, I could see some odd movement in the road ahead.  Since it was dark out and everything was wet, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing.  But something was definitely there!

As I peered through my windshield and the drizzle outside, something tall and large moving in the middle of the road began to materialize out of the dark mist and drizzle about fifty yards in front of me.  I was stunned to realize that what I was looking at was a human dressed in an olive-green rain suit running down the middle of the road in the same direction I was going!  Just as stunning was the realization that if I didn’t act swiftly, I would likely be hitting this person dead-on with the grill of my car!

I remember all of this in extreme slow motion (the usual mental reaction in a stressful situation), although it all happened within a time period of about twenty seconds.  I hit the brakes and narrowly missed hitting him as I flew passed him on the road. (I screeched passed him on his right side.  He later told me that the car was so close to him as it passed that he could feel the air movement of the rear bumper as it passed inches away from his right calf.)  When I hit the brakes, I started to fish-tail to the left (another reason he felt the bumper so close to his right calf).  It also caused me to drift left across the center line into the on-coming lane once I had passed him (by God’s protective hand, no one was in that lane at the time).  Just as I began to get the car under control and thought “this may be all there is to this little episode”, I found out why this guy was running down the center of the road.  Just as I was gaining control of the car, I saw in my headlights two head of cattle trotting down the shoulder of the oncoming lane in the same direction I was going!  And that’s when the driver’s side of my car smacked into one of them, sending me into a slow, wet one-hundred-eighty-degree spin.

As I was slowly spinning, I saw  I was heading for someone’s front yard and a telephone pole, complete with a guide-wire angling down and into the ground beside it.  (Hasn’t this been harrowing enough?  What’s going to happen next?  It’s like a movie plot unfolding or something.)  Since it had been raining so much, the dirt shoulder of the road was now a muddy mess, so I slid easily across the dirt shoulder and onto the grass of the front yard. (If it hadn’t been raining like it had and that had been a hard shoulder, I fully believe that would have caused my car to begin flipping as it hit the shoulder and the grass of the front yard.)  It is at this point that it occurred  to me that this car was an older convertible.  If I were to flip, I would have no protection whatsoever.  So as I’m literally along for the ride and am continuing to watch this all unfold, this was also the point that I decided we would never own another convertible again.

As I slid into the yard and the pole and guide-wire got closer, it began to be clearly evident that the car was going to just miss the pole and come to rest against the guide-wire just behind the passenger door.  It was just as if God had instructed my guardian angels to nestle that car right into that spot.  I sat there, staring at the telephone pole that was less than a foot in front of the passenger-side headlight.  The man I almost hit ran up to my car door to check on me.  Turns out that this was his front yard!  We were both pretty shaken up and extremely thankful that no one was hurt.  I got the impression later, however, that the cow that I hit may have been hurt pretty bad.  Never was able to find out….

God really came through that morning!  Just one more experience on this journey with Him that confirms His faithfulness to me and my family.

 

Two Deer And A Senior

Do you remember the M65 trash bag story I told you about that involved me and my best friend from high school?  That story is worth checking out, but to refresh your memory a bit, Rick and I go way back to middle school years.  I was usually the “straight man” while he was the comic, delivering various jokes, stories, goofs, pranks and the like which always resulted in laughter–if nowhere else but from Rick himself.  This, of course, brought laughter from those looking on anyway because he’s just got that kind of a laugh.  Ever known anyone like that?  It’s truly a gas!  (And sometimes that was also the reason he was laughing…..odors most foul.)  So with that little tidbit of background information, the following is something he shared with me when we caught up recently:

Rick has a large field behind his house that more or less separates his property from his Dad’s.  Sometime before hunting season, he and his son, Parker, built a deer blind for this season’s hunting escapades.  Here’s what it looks like:

 

Yes, you’re right, that’s him (apparently contemplating what took place in yonder field).  And yes, you’re right about that as well:  it is made almost exclusively out of old doors.  It’s rather ingenious, actually.  He made use of what he already had–these old doors came from an old barn behind his house–even cutting strategic openings into the doors to be able to shoot in any direction.  He and Parker have each gotten a deer from this blind, even sleeping all night in it to do so.  And, believe it or not, a high school senior actually had pictures taken with this blind!

That being said, this is where it gets…..interesting.

The deer that Rick shot, he gutted in the field to the left of the blind in the picture above.  To the right of the blind, his Dad keeps a trailer:

After gutting the deer, Rick got inspired with wisdom and grabbed his Dad’s trailer, bringing it over to where the deer was in the field and loading the deer into the trailer to avoid dragging it up to his property.  He then brought it into the old barn that he got the doors from to let it bleed out.  (To do so, he backed the trailer into the barn and hung the deer from a rafter that was over the trailer.  Then he put a bucket in the trailer underneath the deer to catch everything.  I won’t go into detail about what ended up being in that bucket, but suffice it to say that it was more than just blood.)  Once this was completed, he put the trailer back in the field where he had gotten it.

Shortly after this, his Dad needed the trailer to haul some Christmas decorations.  At one point while he had the trailer loaded with Christmas stuff, it was dark outside.  He needed to get something out of the trailer and with it being dark out, he just groped around in the trailer, trying to find whatever it was he was looking for.  His groping suddenly stopped, however, when he found his hand deep inside the bucket that Rick forgot to remove from the trailer.  I imagine Rick’s Dad completely forgot what he was even looking for, his focus totally absorbed with where his hand was at that moment.  It’s just my observation, but there probably should have been a second bucket to catch something else that was probably coming up as well.

Rick and his Dad share a similar personality, so I’m not surprised at all that apparently neither one saw that the bucket was still in the trailer, even during daylight.  Rick said that his Dad still isn’t laughing about it yet.  I wonder how long that will take…..

The Dog Poo Yard

As much as that lightning was enlightening, I can’t help but feel that the highlight of my mowing experience was the infamous yard with the dog poo.

The first yard we had to mow every Friday morning was “The Dog Poo Yard”. This place consisted of an open front yard with a back yard that was completely fenced in with a six-foot tall wooden fence painted red. It was the back yard that no one among us wanted to set foot in. The home owner had at least three very large dogs that were allowed to roam free in the back yard.  They would leave mountains of smelly nastiness anywhere they wanted to and then the home owner would do absolutely nothing about picking up those rank piles of poo before we were to mow there.  (This memory is so distinct that, even though this occurred 16+ years ago, I could take you down the exact street to the exact house and show you the exact back yard where this dastardly deed was done.)

So every Friday, our experience there would go something like this:  We leave the shop with the foreboding feeling that we are embarking upon a doomed expedition.  As we drive to The Dog Poo Yard, we reflect upon the life we’ve had….fond memories of loved ones and good times with friends.  A question floats across my conscious brain:  What’s the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life so far?  Was it really that bad compared to this?

We arrive at the house and park in the driveway.  We just sit there for a minute or two, gearing up for the inevitable and watching the wisps of green and yellow vapors from the dog poo piles wafting up and over the back yard fence.  Then one of us says, “Well, I guess we should get this over with.”  We all heave a heavy sigh and exit the truck.  We get the two big mowers, weed whip and blower ready, taking as much time as possible to avoid being the first casualty of the dog poo mine field awaiting us.  A period of time is spent with “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to determine who will be on the big mower in the back yard.

This, of course, means that the guy on the mower doing the front yard takes as much time as possible–including mowing at a much slower speed–to make sure that every blade of grass is cut exactly right (after all, it is the front yard and everyone sees the front yard, right?).  On the opposite extreme, the guy mowing the back yard is in a quandary:  Do I mow at the fastest speed to get this over with (knowing that this means I can’t see the poo piles coming at me until it’s too late)?  Or do I mow slower to avoid stepping in the poo piles (risking olfactory overload and a complete mental shutdown)?  No matter who lost the Rock, Paper, Scissors game, we were all very adept at “The Dog Poo Dance”.  This consisted of the mower operator moving his feet any way he needed to in order to avoid stepping in the freshly mowed-over piles of dog poo (think of fancy breakdancing footwork and you’ll get the right picture of dog poo dancing).  If he was feeling particularly daring, he did the Dog Poo Dance at the fastest speed on the mower.

If no third person was with us, the first one done with mowing got on the weed whip.  This was almost worse than mowing, because sometimes those poo piles were very close to the edges of the yard where the weed whip needed to trim grass.  This meant that, as hard as the guy on the weep whip tried to avoid it, the weed whip line would make contact with the dog poo, whipping dog poo everywhere (including the shoes, socks and legs of the weed whip operator).

The safest job for that yard was getting on the leaf blower.  All that consisted of was walking around the yard (in as many pre-designated dog-poo-free places as possible) and blowing cut grass around.  Of course, it was a good idea not to blow pieces of dog poo on anyone that might be close by….but we won’t talk about that.

Once the yard is completed and everything is loaded back up on the truck and trailer, we all stand around the truck, assessing the outcome of our venture.  The smell is still hanging in the air, mostly due to the fact that we’re standing next to the dog poo remains that are mashed into the mower tires as well as what is probably on the bottom of our boots.  With watering eyes and no signs of permanent injury, we all look at each other with smiles on our faces, triumphant in knowing that we once again overcame and conquered The Dog Poo Yard.