General Fiction posted December 9, 2013 Chapters:  ...12 13 -14- 15 

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Continued from Silver Spoon

A chapter in the book Follow the Fence Row Home

Santa Takes a Ride- Part One

by emjaihammond

~~“Hurry up, Clyde!  We’ll be late for church!”  With that, I swallowed the last big bite of dinner and hurried to get ready. 

I combed my hair, parting it down the middle.  No matter what I did, the cowlick on the crown of my head would spring straight up in the air.  I licked my hand and tried to plaster it down.  It sprung back up, even worse than before. No luck!  I reached for Leonard’s hair crème and decided I’d borrow a little.  Worked just fine, I thought to myself.  I turned my head and looked in the mirror.  It looked a little greasy on white blonde hair, but at least it stayed put. I washed anything that I thought Ma might be able to see, and dried off with the same towel Art had just finished using.  It was damp and with the wash tub still full of soap suds, I was sure he had taken a full-fledged bath. Heck!   I just had one last Saturday! 

The family was scrubbed and clean and wearing their best clothes.  Feeling a little guilty, I quietly observed the palms of my hands.  Nope!  They’d pass.  I managed to rub most of the dirt off of me and on to the towel.

Art and I continued to be on our best behavior but the excitement of things to come was hard to control.  The whole Kennedy clan was in attendance and dressed in their Sunday best.   I saw people there that hadn’t been to church since last Easter.  The place was packed!  Pap and my Pa didn’t always come with us on Sunday morning, but they would not miss going to church on Christmas Eve.  Once I’d heard my Pap say, “God understands how it is with me and my son.” 

My grandma chimed in, “Yes Pap, He knows how it is with the two of you.  That’s why He wants you both in church on Sunday!”

At least for today, Grandma got her wish.  Pap took off his hat and squeezed in next to Grandma.  There he sat with his granddaughter on one side and Grandma on the other.  Grandma’s happiness was complete because he wore his best Sunday suit. 

Opal leaned forward, and peaked around our Grandfather.  At first glance, I hardly recognized my cousin.  Why, she was almost pretty!  Her dark hair was pulled back tight and fastened at the top of her head with a ribbon and a big floppy bow.  Dark, loose ringlets fell down her back, ending just above her waist.  I’d only seen her with braids.  She had a new Christmas dress and shiny black shoes; most likely a gift from Grandma.  She turned her head and flashed a big grin at Art and me.  With every movement, her big floppy bow fell over and landed in her eyes.  Grandma fussed over it, to make it stay in place.  Opal looked frustrated.  

It got the best of us for a minute and we laughed and pointed at the floppy bow hanging down over her eyes. Opal wasn’t the type for frills.  The bow looked out of place on our tomboy cousin.  She was the one girl in school who could out-run me.   Truth be told, she had beat me in arm wrestling once or twice too.  It’s kind of embarrassing that she beat me, and I don’t like to talk about it. I guess she’s pretty nice as girls go ‘cause she don’t bring it up much.
Grandma moved swiftly and wisely to pull Opal back in her seat with an admonition to pay attention in church. 

Art and I tried harder than usual to thwart the temptation to tease her, at least for now.  Too much was at stake, but I think we both made a mental note to remember it.

Aunt Lizzie sat down in the pew with Grandma and Pap.  A son placed strategically on either side of her, she watched for any sign of a child out of line.  She corrected them swiftly and quietly with a thump on the head if they misbehaved.  She had her hands full with Opal and her little brothers, even though the three kids spent a lot of time with Grandma and Pap.  Their Pa left a long time ago, leaving Aunt Lizzie to raise them herself. 

Aunt Lizzie was my favorite aunt.  She was built round and soft and her eyes were kind and full of spirit. She was a jolly woman, with enough spice and spunk to make it on her own.  Times were hard for Aunt Lizzie but it didn’t kill her spirit.  She kept going, putting one foot in front of the other. Like my Pa, she worked hard until things got done, never complaining.

Our one-room school house doubled as our Baptist church.  Its windows were decorated with wreaths made of evergreen and red ribbon had been weaved through each one.  There was a festive look and feel to the building. I spent too much time in here already for my liking.  I was forced to keep my nose in a book, while my mind was somewhere outside those windows.   Seems to me God spent a lot of time makin’ mother-nature.  Why would He object to me talkin’ to Him from out there?

As I looked outside through the school house windows, my attention was stolen away.   The sun disappeared behind a bank of dark clouds.  It had only begun to descend in the west when giant snowflakes began to fall, quickly covering the ground in a blanket of white.
I took another elbow to the side.  That was Art’s way of bringing me back to the present.  I tend to get in trouble for day-dreaming. 

I looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of Grandma givin’ me, “the look.”   I guess most kids know all about the look.  Grandmas are real good at it.  There is something in their eyes and then there’s the funny way they hold their mouth, kind of stiff like.  My Grandma gets these little wrinkles up high on her forehead, probably from holdin’ her eyebrows up there like that.  I deflected Grandma’s look, and I turned my head. 

I was trying to look straight forward, determined to stay out of trouble.  But, as I faced forward, I found myself lookin’ square into the eyes of Uncle Johnny King Jones.  Our preacher, Uncle Johnny was an older man and he was from the old school when it came to evangelising.   His heart was sincere but his loud booming voice unsettled me just a little. 

He lifted up his bible and looked up at the ceiling while he prayed.  I looked up to see what he was lookin’ at, but I didn’t see Jesus or angels or nothin’.  I thought to myself, man!   If there’s any angels around here, he’s sure goin’ a pray ‘em right down on top of us!

Uneasy, I scooted a little closer to Pa.  He kind a smiled a half-smile, like he knew what I was thinking.  Pa slung his left arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer.  Then he quietly lowered his head and closed his eyes in silent prayer.  I looked at Pa, strong and silent and prayin’ to the Lord, and to the Lord only. 

I looked up at Brother Jones, whose words were honest and sincere, but a little bit loud on my ears. I thought to myself, if Pa believes in prayin’ to the Lord, then I’m goin’ to do the same.  But, I think I’ll do it like my pa. 

To be fair, Brother Jones can’t hear a thing, so I guess I can’t fault him if he gets a little too loud.  I bet the Lord hears my Pa’s prayers just as well, though.

The pews were filled with Kennedy cousins.   Skites, Bones, and Charlie Dan were down front.   They were accompanied by an assortment of aunts and uncles, all sitting with one eye open, watching for kids about to go astray.

I took no notice of Millie Brown when she sort of stood up across the room and waved at me.  She whispered real loud during offering time, “Clyde!  Hey, Clyde!  Merry Christmas Clyde!” 
How embarrassing!   I slowly slid down in my seat, trying my best to disappear.  I hid my red face behind Pa’s shoulder, peaking ever so slowly around him.  Millie’s ma had pulled her back down in her seat. 

Right then and there, I sure started prayin' she’d stay down and quiet.

Art couldn’t help himself.  He elbowed me in the ribs, yet again.  He was doing all he could to hold it inside but I heard muffled laughing before he clasped his hand over his mouth, revealing a big grin.   As for Opal, she didn’t bother hiding anything.  She laughed out loud at me, only to be shushed by Grandma. 
We prayed and sang Christmas carols as we filed out of the pews and out into the falling snow.  The usual goodbyes were said.   Every kid got a bag full of hard candy and Uncle Johnny Jones gave me an affectionate pat on the head.  He immediately reached for his handkerchief to wipe off Leonard’s hair cream, but didn’t miss a step in saying his Goodbyes and Merry Christmas to all of his flock. 

Then, off we went.  I carefully but forcefully found my way out of the crowd and down the steps, avoiding all things female.  I was followed by a bunch of young Kennedy boys.  We met by the giant oak and talked about what we hoped to receive for Christmas.  I guess even Christmas wasn’t enough to distract my cousins because they all got on my case about Millie.

“Clyde’s got a girlfriend!”  Bones threw his head back and laughed. 

"You sweet on her?”  Charlie Dan threw in a few kissing sounds to top it off.

I started to feel the blood rush to my head.  The muscles in my stomach tightened and I
feared what would happen next.  “It’s Christmas Eve, it’s Christmas Eve…”  I kept telling myself those words, as I held it together for the sake of St. Nick!

Art read my thoughts and pulled me away from our cousins.   He shoved me into Leonard’s waiting Model T.  Before I knew it, I was home and stripped down to my long underwear, ready for bed.  Art had saved my bacon at church and my Christmas Eve too.

The girls went to bed early and Leonard was out with one of his girlfriends.  Art and I said our goodnight to the folks and went to our room.  We each took a turn saying our prayers, like we did every night.  Then, pulling back the quilts on our bed, we climbed in. 

Once in bed, we pulled the covers over us.  The cold winter nights required more than one quilt on the old feather bed. We were beneath so many, we could barely move our limbs.  They were weighed down by the old-fashioned patchworks.  We were thankful that they warmed us on a cold night like this.  We were snug and safe, and we usually fell asleep quickly.  Usually, but, this was Christmas Eve.

“Art!”  I whispered loudly so he could hear me through the buffer of covers.

“What!”  He hollered back.

“Did you hear that?!”

This continues from the last chapter, Silver Spoon. The dialogue and the narrative are both written largely as the family talked in that time and place. There may be words that are not quite correct and there may be phrases considered to be cliche in writing. They are there because families use this type of language in real time. I try to stay fairly close to truth in the way they talk and in the way they lived, even though the story is based on truth and partly a work of fiction. It takes place in late 1928, in the mid-west.
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