As I have related before every year I do a limited edition custom Christmas card. The year after I put it on my blog as a Merry Christmas to all my readers. This is the first story of all the cards. See the previous posts for my other cards, all poems. Hope you enjoy it. -- Bill
The Night Of...
He is old. Impossibly so. Old as long as he can remember, as long as anyone remembers. He must have been young once, everyone was young, once. So many years have passed since his youth that the very memory of it is a memory. He is fat, also. But he is sure that wasn’t always so, that he remembers.
They called him “big boned” and a “corn-fed country boy.” A man who was big and strong, like of legend and song. Long ago, not when he was young but certainly less old, he, ax in hand, chopped down half a forest. The owner told him to take what he needed and he did, not a stick more. It was an old growth forest, even then, some said biblically old. Then, alone, he hauled the timber mile after mile to build a business and a home. Well, a house, it wasn’t a home until she came, but that is another story.
Life yielded to time, muscle to fat, and the morning to a series of long, deep inhalations of air, short violent exhalations of the same, and an assortment of grunts and groans. Getting up was made more difficult by the shift in hours this time of year. He tried to work nights year round. It didn’t work. So, as the busy time of year approaches, he shifts his hours, going to bed earlier and waking up later until he can work the night through.
He awoke to the smell of coffee. At least, his wife saved him the jarring buzz of an alarm. Even though, he continued to lie, thinking. Wondering if he will ever not wake up. Just how long was he expected to do this? More often these last few years, he wondered why he did it any more. Had he outlived his usefulness?
Countless others were already performing his job anyhow. Yet, they missed the subtlety, the artfulness he liked to believe he brought to the job, often replacing quality with quantity and the punitory with ignorance. Perhaps he could find a replacement, turn operations over to someone younger, and train them in the traditions. Meanwhile he will continue to do as he has always done, as he was chosen to do, until he knows different.
He had to get moving, this night was the culmination of a year’s worth of work, around the clock, and massive product deliveries. He sucked in some air and held his breath as he maneuvered his considerable bulk upright and to the edge of the bed. “Whew,” out goes the breath. He just lets his bare feet dangle for a moment over the floor. It will be cold. Everything is cold here. He tried different types of insulation, increasing layers of clothing, forced air, radiant heat, and a Franklin stove in every room. It didn’t help. The cold always found a way in. You had to get used to it.
At the very least, you must co-exist. Most days the cold receded un-noticed to the background like the static of a needle on an old record album. He heard the music and shut out the noise. On this day that would not happen and he set his feet on the floor acknowledging the shock with a couple of halting breaths. Once feet hit the floor, it was better to move than linger. In his red flannel long johns, he padded his way to the washbasin. If the coolness of the floor didn’t fully awaken him, the splash of cold water did. The mirror reflected back a tired stranger, in dire need of some grooming. Under the spell of an immutable deadline, he ignored the basics. A brush and a comb will have to do. Tomorrow, he’ll tend to his wild white and scruffy white beard.
Next to the basin sat a chair and in the chair mother arranged his work clothes. At this age, he called his wife mother, not that she had any children of her own, still she was mother to so many. These clothes were an improvement over the old ones. He used to wear stiff leather breeches and an equally stiff leather coat. Over that went a cloak made from the hides of two full-grown grizzlies. The whole arrangement was warm, but difficult to work in. He loved the old ways and begrudgingly accepted his new work uniform, foisted on him by marketeers and consultants. It is the only thing they ever did he liked.
Now, he worked on two pairs of woolen socks. Over his flannel underwear, he put on a red sweatsuit. Then, he slipped on a pair of fuzzy shearling pants, dyed red. Layers—that was the key—layers provided warmth and mobility. Suspenders kept them from falling down.
Gore-tex, air exchange systems, and fine waterproofed leather keep his feet warm and dry. The large buckles and cuffs on his boots are a nod to tradition than necessary function.
At least partially dressed, he could have breakfast. The days of skirt steak and half dozen eggs are over. Coffee, grapefruit, and a warm bowl of oatmeal are now the breakfast of choice. A concession to his sweet tooth being maple and brown sugar flavored oatmeal.
It is almost time.
On go the matching coat and a large patent leather belt to keep it in place. He pulls his hat down tight. Every year guaranteed that he’ll experience bad weather at one time or another. Finally, his well-worn deerskin lined gloves are loyal old friends.
A floorboard creaks as he heads to the door and reminds him of all the things he has neglected these last hectic months. No time for that now. His itinerary will be waiting for him programmed into the new GPS system. Everything will be ready. He gave control of those things to others. He will make up for his negligence later, but for now; he kisses his wife on the cheek and whispers a quiet “thank you.” She’ll worry. All these years he never had a problem, but it doesn’t change her feelings. Before he opens the door, he pauses to clear his throat.
The door opens to cheers and the spring in his step returns. He spreads his arms to encompass the cheering mass. His eyes twinkle as he smiles and laughs. His employees always see him off with a pep rally. There are pats on the back, “good lucks,” “boss,” and the odd tear. He tries to hide the welling up in his eyes. He liked the job. The listing. The compassionate balancing of accounts. The act of distribution. Every year this scene made him more and more emotional, the old fool. A gift of a heated ergonomic car seat will make the trip extra comfortable this year. There is one thing left to do.
And in a booming voice, he calls out, "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"