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Archive for the ‘Funny Stuff’ Category
There were no bell-ringing Santas on downtown Kingman sidewalks and none in stores. Santa Claus didn’t show up until early evening on Christmas Eve at the Elks Club.
The guy in the red suit and white beard stood at one end of the hall by a huge tree with lots of lights and decorations. Kids and parents entered the front doors and formed a line to chat with Santa. My sister was too shy to talk to him and hung back with Mother and Dad. My conversation with Santa Claus was brief because I figured by this late date what was done was indeed done. Nothing I said at that moment would influence what showed up under the tree in the morning.
We headed to the table where the Elks handed out Christmas stockings made of red netting to each child and took ours. The disappointment began on the way to the car when I opened the top of my stocking. The unshelled nuts were okay, especially the walnuts, but the orange and the ribbon hard candy were heartbreaking. What I would have given for one of our chocolates or a piece of fruitcake, but those goodies were all gone.
Bedtime was 8 o’clock for the little kids. I was five years older, so mine was at 8:30, giving me alone time with the gifts under the tree. But Mother announced she and Dad were going to bed and that I should, too. I felt cheated, even a little mad. I’d show them. When they went to bed, I’d sneak into the living room and hide behind the overstuffed chair. Then I could play with the presents all I wanted and maybe catch a glimpse of Santa making his deliveries. I’d discover how he really got in the house, probably through our front door because it wasn’t locked. We didn’t have a fireplace, just a single 220 space heater.
I waited a couple of minutes and tucked in behind the chair. When I woke up it was too dark in the room to see anything, not even the tree. Had Santa come and gone? I was too sleepy to investigate and dragged myself back to bed.
Gift previewing began before sunup. I crept into the living room and began to feel my way around. Couldn’t really see, but my fingers interpreted most soft lumps and hard things as probably mine. I went back to bed and waited for dawn, or for the little kids to wake up so I could direct their explorations and blame them for waking Mother and Dad. After several more single and accompanied trips to the tree, I called out, “Mother, come see what Santa brought us.”
Mother wandered out in her robe, turning on lights and bringing order to Christmas chaos. Then Dad appeared barefoot in Levis and a white t-shirt, wielding his new movie camera with a light bar as bright as the sun. All Dad’s Christmas movies featured smiling, red-faced, squinting children and his wife making silent joyful noises and go-away-don’t-film-me gestures.
Paper and ribbon heaped high, opened gifts spilling out of boxes, as laughter and happy chatter filled our little house. Then it was time to get dressed and arrange our gifts on our beds, while Mother started the turkey baking in the electric roaster oven.
We grabbed our gifts and hurried to the bedroom to get dressed, make our beds and lay our gifts out for all to admire. We had to make it fast because Dad was in the living room un-decorating the tree. That meant he would soon be gathering the mountain of paper, boxes and any presents left on the floor to haul out to the trash with the tree. We absolutely knew we lost great gifts in Dad’s Christmas Day decorations purge but couldn’t prove it.
Mother prepared Christmas dinner pretty much singlehandedly, and it made her a bit cranky. As I got older I was allowed to stuff celery with pimento cheese from a jar, slide jelled cranberry sauce onto a plate, put black olives on a relish tray and set the table.
There were seldom guests or other relatives invited, except for my grandmother who breezed in fifteen minutes before dinner was served at 2:00, dress to impress. She always looked and acted so regal, which encouraged our best table manners, such as they were. Granny probably thought she’d dined with coyote pups, as she breezed out the door shortly after pie.
Leftovers put away for later feasting, we girls would wash the dishes afterward, which I thought terribly unfair because Mother used every pan in the kitchen. After the kitchen was cleaned, we’d show off our gifts to Mom and Dad and play with each other’s new toys.
Another Rucker Christmas would slip into memory as we climbed into bed to dream of sand wash sledding, perfect Christmas trees and six Hershey bars.
The Sunday two weeks before Christmas, Dad hooked up his hunting buggy, Sputnik, to the back of the pickup. Mother packed a lunch of tuna salad sandwiches made with lots of mayonnaise and chopped onion, Fig Newton cookies, fruit and a jug of instant iced tea or lemonade. She didn’t buy soda pop.
Dad always maintained a sort of chuck box in his vehicle that held survival essentials for a picnic or stranding. The rectangular metal box usually contained a loaf of Rainbow bread, a bottle of French’s yellow mustard, an onion, a couple of cans of Spam and Hershey bars. And a pint of Canadian Club whiskey for warming emergencies. He also threw in a machete, a length of heavy tow chain with hooks on the ends and the giant jack. We would need them all at some point on our Christmas tree hunting party.
The weather was usually sunny, windy and the temperature in the fifties.
The five of us piled into the pickup’s cab and drove up to the Hualapai Mountains foothills. Dad turned off on a rutted dirt road and drove about a mile through the scruffy junipers, cactus, and scrub oak. He parked off the road and unhitched Sputnik. We loaded the gear in Sputnik’s small bed. My sister Rhonda and I rode on top of the spare tire. Dad and Mother sat on the front seat with my little brother because he got carsick in the back.
Maybe it was my praying that saved me from that miserable mal de auto my sister and brother suffered on these thrill rides. More likely I didn’t get sick because I didn’t like running behind the car. Which was my dad’s cure for car sickness. My brother could have been a marathon star for all the training miles he put in behind various vehicles during his childhood.
Dad loved driving Sputnik off road, over boulder fields and side-hilling in steep terrain, taking us where no wheeled vehicle had gone before. I preferred easing down sand washes that flowed through rock-walled canyons. The smooth ride over the sand was what I imagined riding in a horse-drawn sleigh over snow was like. I asked Dad if that were so because he knew pretty much everything.
“I don’t know. Haven’t been sledding in the snow. But I have an idea.” He stopped beside a big clump of cat’s claw bushes and ordered everyone out. Dad pulled the tow chain from the back, hooked one end to Sputnik’s spring shackle and dragged the other end to the bushes. “Stand back,” he yelled and climbed in the driver’s seat. The engine revved, wheels spun sand, the chain snapped taut and Sputnik leaped forward. A rusty boat-looking thing popped out of the cat’s claw on the chain’s hook.
“Hop on, kids,” Dad called, grinning. “Let’s go sand wash sledding.”
“No, Raymond,” Mother cried, spreading her arms to hold us back. “What is that thing? It looks dangerous!”
“It’s a 1939 DeSoto car hood,” he said proudly. “A great car.” His smile faded at her worried expression and he added, “Perfectly safe. I’ll go slow.”
And away we went on our first desert sleigh ride to the tune of Jingle Bells . . .
Baby brother, too
Dashing through a desert sand wash
On an upside down car hood
Behind a 65 horse V-8 open sleigh
On an Arizona December day.
In my family, the term goodies has always referred to tasty treats, usually sweet and often chocolatey. My mother was not a baker. She bought cookies in bags and made cakes from boxed mixes, which were usually off because I developed a taste for dry cake mix that I sneaked out of the bottom of the box.
Mother knew how to order the best goodies for Christmas. I found where she stashed them in the hall linen cabinet. Individually wrapped caramels were the only candy left. Not my favorite but I was starving for goodies and glommed down half the box. And instantly felt like I was about to explode. So I shared the rest with my little sister and brother.
“Melinda Kay!” Mother yelled a few minutes later. “Come here!”
Another in a long chain of UH-OH moments ensued and would have launched me out the front door and down the street if I’d felt well enough. I sluggishly pulled myself to the hall.
Mother stood at the open cabinet, holding two handfuls of empty caramel wrappers. “What in heaven’s name is the meaning of this?”
Ahhh, there it was, Mother’s eternal question—of imponderables such as President Eisenhower’s continual golfing, the popularity of Sack dresses, what my little brother had done in his training pants, and my ever flawed behavioral choices.
“Ummm.” It was too close to Christmas for truth. Maybe if I could throw up, that would change the outcome of this impending clash. I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“These aren’t candy. They’re my diet Aides caramels to help me lose weight.”
I leveled an appraising gaze on my always round little mother. “Do they work?”
She had three cats and a dog and a lame vegan tiger named Spritz.
Spritz had been donated by a circus that could no longer afford the liability insurance.
At first the cats and dog were terrified of the great beast but over a period of weeks they grew to be a family. The biggest cat, Papa Grey, couldn’t understand why the new cat wouldn’t hunt and started to bring Spritz nice freshly caught mice. Finally Spritz ate one and immediately craved another. It had been warm and soft and rich to the palate. So much better than oatmeal and soy gruel. In his heart and mind ‘something’ clicked into a new position and he began to change inexorably into a very real tiger.
Two cats and the dog were missing when she realized that Spritz was somehow different and scary. She went outside to call Animal Control and watched through the window as the tiger sprayed his scent on her recliner. Ah, she thought, Spritz was more than a name.
The Animal Control officer was kindly. He called for assistance from the zoo and, after the tiger was gone, helped her remove the damaged furniture, wrote her a ticket for harboring a wild animal and asked her out to dinner.
“All in all,” she mused over a perfectly chilled martini, “a rather nice ending.”
I like to believe I was born in the perfect place, to the perfect parents at a perfect time for what I wanted to accomplish in this life. But I was restless. From that 2:00 o’clock hour on a scorching August afternoon in Northwestern Arizona when 8.3 pound me was pulled out of a 100 pound young Norma Jean, I dreamed of being somewhere else. Anywhere. Anytime. And I was in a hurry to get there.
I didn’t appear in this world with travelin’ shoes, just the lifelong urge to find some that actually fit. One early day my long, even then, feet carried three year old me out the front door and down the unpaved street. I made it several dusty, hot blocks to the first sidewalk of downtown Kingman before a pickup truck pulled up beside me.
“Where are you going, Melinda?”
I looked straight ahead and kept walking. Faster now as I was about to pass the slouchy wood building with sagging screen doors opening on the street, a creepy place where funny old men “flopped” and little girls must beware.
The pickup stopped, blocking my escape. “Melinda,” the driver repeated, climbing out of the cab, “where’s your mother?”
Blistering wind whirled dust around me in a miniature tornado. My eyes stung as I squinted at my options: floppy old men lurking on my left and right in front of me, Mrs. Oswalt, a tall mother in a cotton dress whipping around her long legs who confined her little boy in the truck where she intended to capture me.
She took my sweaty little paw and bent eye level with me. “Where are you going, honey?”
I gave up and announced, “I’m going to the Corky Pig!” I let her lead me to the pickup.
She stopped and looked down at me with a frown. “But that’s way up on Hilltop. A couple of miles from here.” She continued to mutter this refrain the whole ride home as if to make an impression upon me of the impossibility of my quest. When my mother answered the door, Mrs. Oswalt pushed me forward, releasing my hand, and repeated this horror story to her.
As long as my mother lived, when we talked about my congenital wanderlust, she would protest how she hadn’t even realized I had left my room to walk to the Corky Pig, a hole-in-the-wall barbeque place miles away from our little house. They’d taken me there one time. “And it wasn’t that good,” Mom would always laugh.
But as the Mmmmmmelinda song goes: When a girl’s born restless and has a taste for adventure, she’ll put on her big boots that are made for walkin’. That’s just what she’ll do and walk all over—for barbeque. Or to the Dairy Queen with a penny, but that’s another sunny tale.
When I entered the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s 2015 Literary Contest, I wasn’t sure which genre category my novel, BITTEN, fit. I settled on Romance/Women’s Fiction as my heroine is reunited with a long lost lover and she’s an older woman trying to regain her power after being betrayed by her husband. The Paranormal/Fantasy category would have worked as BITTEN is actually a very DIFFERENT and funny vampire story.
I shared with my fellow authors in our Editing Coop that I thought Women’s Fantasy would be a good genre descriptor for my story about a menopausal vampire who becomes more powerful than her maker. It was suggested that the word fantasy might have racier connotations than I intended. And wasn’t the word fantasy sometimes pejoratively used to describe women’s stories, issues and interests?
When I think of fantasy, I remember the old fairytales of Cinderella, Rapunzel and Scheherazade that entertained and encouraged me as a little girl growing up in a tiny town in northwestern Arizona. Nowadays, modern Disney movies such as Brave and Frozen are inspiring little girls and much older ones like me to be the stars of our own fairytales despite age, illness, or circumstance. I want Women’s Fantasy genre and my book, BITTEN, to suggest positive, even outrageous, potentials that inspire readers to live, laugh, love and dream.
But that’s just mmmmmmmmmmme.