A Christmas Story

A story by Jack Siler



A Christmas story

Version I

I was raised across the river from St. Louis back in the days when dust storms still rolled out of Kansas and got as far as great, clouds of evil brown walls that hit our town. But in the winter there was compensation when all was white. Every winter was the same, snow of a foot or two everywhere and it was a misery, perhaps, for the grown ups, but we children loved it. The police blocked off a street that sailed downhill for eight or ten blocks so that every night we could go for long sled rides under the watchful eye of our parents, usually Dads, police, and street lights. Mothers had the good sense to stay home in the warm.

As the holidays approached the world was white. Thanksgiving was a classic event. We looked forward to the turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce. Before the day of stuffing - by both definitions, we would take baskets of food to several families we knew would not have been able to afford a feast. That was part of our Thanksgiving and Christmas rituals. We weren't rich, that was the territory of the man who owned the glove factory or the other one whose plant manufactured steel balls, but by the time I was old enough to go sledding my father was on his financial feet again after losing everything in the great crash and gaining me, literally. The same week, I crashed out the stock market began to crash down.

Christmas started approaching as an air of excitement. School was out the 15th or so. It was a holiday and long before the day itself there was a buzz and we started talking about what Santa Claus - or somebody - would, could, or should, hint-hint, might at least bring us.

So it was everything classic from the tree in the living room to the town square festooned with blinking lights. All of this, of course, was before Christmas was just a commercial event. There was still a lot of magic about it.

Well, I grew up, went to the university, got a diploma and a wife the same day. It was crazy good and thrilling. And it was a February with snow and cold and her jokester brother really did jack up the rear wheels of the car while we were in the church getting hitched. We ran out under a flood of rice and rose petals, jumped into the car to go on our honeymoon and ha ha! Hello wheel spin. Everyone thought that was funny and once I caught on I guess I did, too.

We honeymooned in Florida and fell in love with Sarasota which was just a small town on the Gulf's bright blue waters, a warm weather version of the Hamptons or Provincetown in the summer. Art was real and exciting before commerce and money became the sole measure of success. Everyone knew everyone and fun, light hearts and creativity prevailed. We never left. We were on a years-long honeymoon. With 15,000 neighbors - before Sarasota's touristic bulimia hit- life was almost too much fun and exciting to be real. Then our first December arrived.

So there won't be snow. Maybe we should go to a beach party. Everything seemed strange. I mean we had a good time, exchanged gifts between us and with a few of our good friends. We did go swimming and we did enjoy it, yet it never felt right.

Waving palm trees were great, but they just weren't Christmasy. Pine trees were simply not a southern Florida native. Nativity scenes on the lawn of the churches with cotton instead of snow was pushing it when the temperature was in the 70s (yes, it was warmer then.)

Slowly, Christmas faded as a big event. Family was up north in the snow and friends, well, friends were friends, but it wasn't the same thing. By the time our children were old enough to go sledding, we couldn't imagine going swimming in December, that was for the "snowbirds" who'd just arrived for a brief holiday. That had nothing to do with us.

But somewhere up north in the snow of small towns there was Christmas and sledding and the real spirit of the holidays at least until big business completely took it over.

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  Sarasota, Florida


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