By Doug Elwell
Slush—the streets and sidewalks were littered with slush. Slush marked the Christmas season in Pinhook the year I was eight. It seemed the sun had fallen over the horizon never to return. It was dreary. Smatterings of snow fell during the long nights, rain drizzled off and on during the short days. It was ideal weather for growing slush.
I left the house to walk uptown to do my Christmas shopping. It was my first solo excursion into the market place. I was very proud. Though only three blocks away, it was difficult to get to Main Street and the stores around the square without getting my shoes soaked in random clumps of slush strewn over the sidewalks. I felt the cold wet seeping into my shoes, soaking my feet. The squishing began somewhere between the Farm Supply and the welding shop. By the time I passed Taylor’s Heating, I gave up trying to dodge the islands and rows of slush on the sidewalk. Then it turned into play as I jumped and stomped in it to watch it splash in all directions.
I don’t remember if it was at Taylor’s or the doorway to the Eastern Star Hall, but near there someone rigged a small, raggedy speaker to a radio or record player to broadcast Christmas music up and down the street. Silver Bells rang out thin and tinny as the speaker struggled to bring Christmas to Pinhook. It was being asked to do more than it was capable of, but it tried—heroic in a way, I suppose.
In the Christmas season we become children again. It is a magical time to wonder at the arrival of Santa and his bag of presents. It’s important to convince Santa that we’ve been mostly good since last Christmas. Boys seem to struggle with this more than girls, but usually in the end we decide we’ve been good and deserve a present or two.
At the village square a single, threadbare string of colored lights encircled the park. Hung from the lampposts, their uncertain Christmas colors chased away the grayness of the afternoon. In the five and ten cent store I selected gifts I knew would highlight the family gift exchange on Christmas morning. I found a diamond studded comb for Mother for fifty-nine cents. Father was to be the proud owner of a box of three cotton handkerchiefs for the pocket of his suit coat—seventy-nine cents. I got my sister a cardboard box of three large red paraffin lips filled with sugar water for fifteen cents. I wanted to get her the box of buck teeth, but she already had them. I stepped up to the cash register and counted out my dollar and fifty three cents. She said everything came to a dollar and fifty eight, tax included. Luckily I had a nickel extra and handed it over. I was proud of the gifts I had for my parents and, yes, even my sister. I reluctantly included her on my shopping list at the last minute for insurance purposes. Though I was eight and had pretty much resolved the Santa conundrum, I wasn’t ready yet to leave anything to chance.
Silver Bells takes me back to that Christmas when I was eight.
Back home, Mother dried my stinging toes and feet, “Harry Edwards, don’t you know you’re going to catch your death with those wet feet? What’s the matter with you anyway? How did you manage to get them so wet?” Without giving me time to think up a good lie she patted my feet with a towel and continued gnawing on my ears, “Blah blah and blah blah and don’t you ever blah blah again blah blah. Do you hear me?”
“Now get yourself upstairs and put on a dry pair of socks. Then I want you to blah blah your shoes blah blah with newspapers blah and put blah blah on the register to blah.”
When I came back to the warmth of her kitchen I stuffed my wet shoes with newspaper, put them on the register. A steaming cup of cocoa, no marshmallows, awaited me at the kitchen table. She knew I didn’t like marshmallows in my cocoa. She was a good mom.
Doug Elwell was born in Chicago, Illinois then grew up on the prairie in rural downstate where he spent his formative years. He explores the influences of place and community in our lives through creative non-fiction and fiction short stories. His work has appeared in The Oakland Independent, the first edition of Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark, True Stories Well Told, Every Writer’s Resource and Midwestern Gothic. Doug can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.