This is a repost collected via the way-back machine in a nearly hidden digital archaeological strata from the beta days of Open Salon. It was my fifth post, put up in May of 2008, but it's really a Christmas story of sorts which is why I'm posting it again. We all know that OS is pretty much of the moment, that not much digging goes on, but that's ok—in a way it keeps the content and ourselves vibrant. I'll be approaching my 4th OS anniversary before too long—not many member numbers below mine of 198 still haunting the halls here.
This is a family Christmas story, when the kids were still quite young and we all lived vicariously through them to experience the wonder and beauty of the holiday. They're grown now, but home for a more subdued celebration. It's a time for love and reflection. I hope you enjoy this story from our and OS's past.
Happy Krismahkwanzahanukah to all, with much affection.
This has been an oral story—a wannabe story-teller’s tale. I’ve told it several times and tried as best I could to get into that role while doing so. I’ve prefaced the remarks by warning those relatives present who had witnessed the activities to hold their tongue and not shout out interrupting “that’s not the way it happened!” as I was semi-serious about being the story-teller in a traditional mode.
I’ve also usually started out by talking about another story altogether, one told by a favorite author as a way of emphasizing the importance and responsibility placed upon the one passing on the oral history of the family.
Sherman Alexie is a Native American, from one of the tribes up near Spokane. He’s successful, having many books published and one series of short stories turned into an award winning film. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight In Heaven, was crafted into the movie Smoke Signals, which garnered some acclaim as a distinguished winner at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a favorite movie of mine, and features a string of small epiphanies for me every time I watch it.
An important character in a supporting role is Thomas-Builds-The-Fire. He had taken it upon himself to be the tribe’s story-teller, a mantle of considerable responsibility that has the additional burdens of providing a connective fabric for the community to maintain the continuity of history in linear time from past to present to the future. It was his job to create a social matrix that anyone willing to listen could tap into and thus reinforce the bond of communion. It also got him cool or needed stuff as he could barter for things in exchange for telling a story.
This is the way it happened.
At the time our youngest was four years old, and mostly good, but that night he had been a stinker. He was sent to his room for time out, with the hope that he’d settle down on his own. The banishment was due in part to the maelstrom of activity in the house that day, so it was natural that he’d be keyed up. He was normally one of the centers of attention, being the youngest and therefore considered the family pet. The focus that evening was elsewhere and perhaps he felt a little frustrated that the spotlight was diffused.
My bride’s family was in town for the Christmas holidays. My brother-in-law, his wife and their three kids were staying with my father-in-law, not far away, and they’d come over in the afternoon for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. We all got along, it was hectic, but nice. That night was for the extended family and all the hubbub. The following morning, by comparison, was more quiet and subdued.
They arrived in late afternoon after spending the day out in “the country,” my wife’s ancestors’ homestead. The family pioneers had settled the land while Texas was its own country still, before statehood. The community out there was comprised of a church, a former one-room schoolhouse now a community center, the homestead and family cemetery and farmland. On one of the farms the old white-colonnaded homestead is still standing, and was featured as the location film set in the movie State Fair—the one with Pat Boone, AnnMargaret and Pam Tillis. (There’s no reason to watch this movie other than your knowledge that it was filmed at the family ranch.)
The traditional feast for Christmas Eve is lobster tails and filet mignon—it required a bit of work but was well worth the effort. It’s nice when the challenge is met of having everything come out on time and done as close to perfection as is possible. A port wine sauce for the meat, warm clear butter for the lobster, mashed potatoes, asparagus and dinner rolls complimented the main courses.
It was during dinner that our youngest started acting up. He accepted the finger pointed to his room as inevitable, and trundled off to his solitary confinement.
Dinner was done, conversations still ebbed and flowed, and the dishes, pots and pans were being worked on amid contented and sated smiles. After things were restored to some order, my bride and partner realized that the little banished one had been quiet for some time. She went to check.
As one would expect, with all that expended energy, he had fallen fast asleep. And based on prior experience, it was deemed expedient to get him up and stand him in front of the commode before putting him back in bed and under the covers. He was frog-marched, still fast asleep, to the bathroom and placed in the strategic position. In a combined motion, the pants went down and the toilet lid and seat went up.
We all heard the blood-curdling scream. We heard the noises from the dash down the hallway. The door flung open and now panic stricken bride sprinted into the den, arms pumping, eyes wild.
Yes, of course she had abandoned her youngest flesh and blood child. We then realized there had been a secondary scream. After a second of paralyzed inaction we all dashed for the bedroom narrowly avoiding the Laurel and Hardy congestion at the doorway.
The forlorn child was trembling in fear.
It was quickly ascertained the mother’s bond was broken by a rat. One that had apparently crawled though a roof vent stack, down the pipe, through the sewer pea trap and into the toilet bowl—confused and waiting to be released. And released it was, only to be met with a large two headed monster screaming into its drenched and pinched little face.
The rat had vanished. It was then left to me to deal with it—not because of any prior experience or expectation, nor because I was the master of the house—but because no one else wanted to.
I quickly formed a plan. There were no firearms in the household, and I did not wish to blast holes in the home or anyone in it. But as the relatives had spent the day at the country, the brother-in-law had, as a rite of passage for the children, purchased several pump action Daisy BB rifles. I figured one would do minimal damage, and perhaps none if the plan worked.
Of course the children from the two families wanted to be witnesses, and were allowed to stay in the room. Even our little one was excited about what might happen next, his terror just moments before quickly forgotten.
I got some towels from the connected bathroom and stuffed them under the doorways to prevent an escape into the other parts of the house. It was crowded in the small bedroom, but simple enough to guess what had happened. The rat had gone to ground under the bed. A quick kick lifted the mattress and the guess was confirmed. As rats will do, it ran the perimeter of the room, scuttling along the baseboard and directly over the bare feet of the previously terrified child, who screamed again at three octaves above high C and jumped.
All the kids decided that was enough and left me alone as the rat’s only nemesis. It was a big rat, a honking big Norway rat, the mother of all Norway rats. And it had gone to safety again under the mattress so it was time to modify the plan. I moved a chest of drawers to angle away from the wall, to create a dead end. I pumped the BB rifle to its maximum pressure, and kicked the mattress up again to spook the rat. True to form it sped around the walls, only to find itself confused and hesitant for an instant in the trap. But I had taken my station and was ready for that moment and fired. The beast somersaulted and began to run back the way it came. It took two more shots to put it down, but not before it sprayed some blood on the wall and on some of our son's picture books.
It was done, it was dead. I picked the rat up by the end of its tail, put the butt end of the BB rifle on my hip and walked out of the room. Well, I had to put the rat down to remove the towel from under the doorway first, but then proceeded down the hallway to the waiting families. At the time I thought I should have torn my t-shirt for a more dramatic Rambo-like effect, as it turned out that was not necessary.
The first thing out of my bride’s mouth was a surprise. “Oh, honey…I didn’t know you had that in you,” she said with a hint of what may come later. It was better than being Fabio on the cover of a bodice ripper. The aphrodisia of manly manliness is a powerful drug.
I intended to nurse my advantage.
Now here follows a few of the other illustrations for the book, these done by the youngest, the third of three. I should also mention that the story in the book is not the way it happened—exactly—they took liberties. Mine is the only true story—the one spoken aloud in the tradition of storytellers.
Perhaps Evan felt that the cuisine wasn't up to his standards, which added fuel to his fussiness fire.
The third of three battling the dread toilet monster
The children considering whom to sacrifice
Image at the top by my oldest son that was part of a collaborative book that was published in 2009. The other images are by Evan, the third of three. The black and white depictions of the family are from the Ron and Joe graphics collection that I've used for years—purchased and used with permission.
The book was the second in the series that our youngest and the bride wrote together. He also illustrated most of the images in the book. It's called Evan Brain's Christmas List and Other Shenanigans: The Boy Warrior Fights Evil. It's still available on Amazon.
Thanks for revisiting and my best wishes for you that your 2012 is your best year ever, the Mayans notwithstanding.
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