Fiction Chapter II
Grandma Askews’ stories scared Billy B. He wondered if he would have time to grow up and experience some years as an adult. Billy B. wondered why Grandma was not speaking about Santa Claus and his reindeer and the elves making Christmas toys for the children of the world. His cousin, Gene, loved the Biblical accounts of the last battle…Armageddon… and Grandmas’ favorite Biblical reference regarding the blood rising as high as the bridle of a horse. Gene was into monsters…especially Universal Studios Monsters. He also was a science fiction fan. The idea of an apocalyptic end to the earth that he lived upon…seemed to brighten his day. Neva J. had asked her mom to read the Christmas Story from the scriptures. Grace began to read…
‘Jane, we must go and see about your dad,’ said Billy B. As they proceeded on their bicycles across Eldorado they could not believe what their eyes told them. There were abandoned cars and people laying on the snow-covered sidewalks and some appeared to be dead. The Pharmacist stuck her head out of the drugstore and called out to the three children. ‘Please come and help me…a family has passed out at the soda fountain,’ she implored. Chet said, ‘My God…those are horses…a lot of horses…and they are running right down the middle of the street.’
‘For unto us a child is born, unto us, a son is given…,’ Grandma Askew read. Billy B. woke up from his Christmas nap and saw that Jane and Chet had fallen asleep…as well. He was safe in Grandma’s Beulah Heights Home. There were cookies to eat and more fudge…and some of his mom’s famous coffee cake…
Billy B.. is old now…but he thinks of that Christmas nightmare…on a serene Christmas day in 1963…
Fog is the word of the day. The fog that you can wear. We have all been down with colds…and the fog seems appropriate for the moment. As I reflect on the New Year I am struck with how little we do to celebrate it in the Brooks house. The extent of our New Year’s Revelry would be a couple of outings with our good friends, Laura and Jim, and many years ago when we attended another church…at a fellow parishioner’s home to watch football… Usually, MJ toddles off to bed and I wait up to see the New Year come in…and creep into the bedroom to give her a New Year’s Kiss…if she is not asleep. We old folks sleep sporadically. A two-hour nap is like pennies from heaven.
New Years Resolutions are not my foray any longer…although they were for many years. I do recall a resolution that I made some time ago to walk for my health every day of the New Year. I kept it faithfully for 6 months. Since my retirement, I have walked every day as a matter of habit. My retirement vow or plan was to walk and read and write. I have fallen into the habit of doing all three on a daily basis. My hobbies require about 4 hours per day…and that is enough for this old fellow. I enjoy staying engaged on a wide and diverse basis. I want to hear and learn things that I do not already know. I want to be challenged regarding the things that I believe that I know… Actually, I want my thinking challenged…why do I believe the things that I believe…have I considered all sides of the argument…do I know the downside of my accepted beliefs…
So, what is on our horizon? What does past practice prognosticate as future behavior? The first problem that comes to mind is the continued division in our country. We are not coming together and if anything…we are pulling further apart. The world of work has changed and is in the midst of change. Restaurants across the United States can not find enough help. Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale is experiencing difficulty in attracting people to their openings…and they are the largest employer in our region. Our Pandemic has caused many of us to decide that we are, ‘Mad as Hell and that we are not going to take it anymore,’ as the newscaster from the movie Network proclaimed. The U.S. exists on Servitude Labor Pay. Our country operates on the backs of the working poor… Covid 19 has changed this paradigm and it will not go back to its former self. Church has changed. Faith Communities have altered their composition…and Faith Leaders have yet to understand the shift in this tried and true form that has worked for hundreds of years. Churches will either change…or die…
There is a shift coming in the monopoly of the upper 2 percent. The Great Unwashed have seen the light and realize that they are getting the short end of the stick…and they are tired…and determined for change. People are weary of seeing the CEO drink Crystal and eat Fau Graus and they do not have enough to pay their light bill…they do not have enough money to feed their children…they die for lack of health care…because they can not afford it. Marie Antoinette said, ‘Let them eat cake,’ but the cake is stuck in our throats…
Fiction Chapter 1
Billy B. was going to the Theatre for a between Christmas and New Year movie. 1963 had been a difficult year with the assassination of President Kennedy occurring just last month. His mom, Neva J., had still not stopped crying and Christmas seemed hollow after the death of their beloved President. Jane and Chet had been over to participate in the shared opening of their presents. Billy B. had received, from Santa, a Big Swinger, Polaroid Camera…and he had been taking photos of everything that he saw. Chet got a Visible Man and Jane received a Visible Woman. The figures were fascinating in their anatomical accuracy. Jane mentioned that her dad was coughing a lot…and that he could not sleep due to the severe cold that he had. Chet remarked that his mom, Thelma, had been sneezing often and she seemed listless. President Johnson was on television walking around the White House with his Beagle Hounds.
Irma La Douce was the Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemon movie that was playing at the Orpheum. Billy B. settled in for a long enjoyable Sunday of watching Irma La Douce over and over again…until closing time. As Billy B. watched Shirley MacLaine portray Irma La Douce on the silver screen…he decided that he loved her… When Neva J. came to pick Billy B. up…she was coughing uncontrollably. Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen…and she could barely communicate…Billy B. told her to move over and let him drive the 1957 Chevrolet Convertable…and she did…without complaint. When he arrived home he helped his mom into her bed and then the phone rang. Jane said, ‘Dad is really sick…can you come over and help me with him…I do not know what to do for him.’ Billy B. said that he would be there as soon as he could get his mom settled. Then, there was a knock at Billy B.’s back door. It was Chet and the look on his face was more frightening than any monster mask that they had ever tried on. ‘Billy B…..Mom is dead…’ Billy B. invited Chet inside and said that they would telephone Ferrel Hospital to send an ambulance to Chet’s home in Parrish Addition. Billy B. rang the Hospital and let the ringer sound 20 times or more. Finally, someone answered and said that they were the custodian and there was no one available to take their call as sick and dying people were being brought in every door…and there was no more room…
President Johnson was on CBS and he was saying that they had discovered that there was a virulent flu spreading rapidly across the United States…and that it was incumbent on everyone to wear a face mask and stay away from other people…until the government could find out how to cure the virus.
This is the best Christmas ever…Billy B. thought as he scooped another ladle of dressing onto his plate. Grandma Askew gathered all of the adults and children around her after the gifts were opened and the food was eaten and told them a story. ‘Hard times are coming…Armageddon…and the 7 Last Plagues of the Wrath of God…and the scripture says that the blood will run-up to the horses’ bridle,’ Grandma Askew said. Billy B. was full of Turkey and Ham and Oyster Dressing…and he held his Big Swinger Camera aloft and took her picture as she spoke. ‘Life is precious…but it is not guaranteed,’ said Grandma. ‘All of us should get right with our Maker,’ Grandma Askew intoned. About that time Jane was at Billy B.’s side and wanted to show him her new Barbie Doll and Ken to go with her. Billy B. noticed that her Ken Doll looked very much like his GI Joe…but he was an Action Figure…not a doll…like Neva J. called him.
Barry Goldwater was now on TV and saying that he believed that the flu was not a pandemic like the Democrats were saying and that it would soon disappear like the regular flu does each year. He saw no cause for alarm and suggested that everyone go home and enjoy the peaceful interim between 1963 and 1964. He noted that he had been told that there were only a few cases and that they would soon be healed by modern medicine. Billy B. and Jane and Chet rushed to Chet’s house and verified that Thelma was dead…and no longer needed an ambulance…but rather….and undertaker…
Do you enjoy a good burger…I know that I do…Jonathon and I had some tasty burgers at Buffalo Wildwings recently. When I entered the eating establishment I knew that I was behind the times…as it had television screens on every wall and in all nooks and crannies. There was so much going on…it was a bit difficult to take it all in. Jonathon told me that the restaurant had been in Carbondale for 15 years…and yet it was a new experience for me. It is fun to have new experiences.
Life brings me constant surprises. When I was young I was satisfied that I knew the score and what inning I was in…now I neither know the score nor that ballpark that I am in. New Year means new beginnings. I am not speaking of exercise programs or weight loss efforts…in particular. When the Old Year goes doddering off and the Baby New Year comes bouncing in…we are all young again in our purpose and intent and new roads to travel. I am watching an adaption of the book, Station Eleven, on HBO/Max and one of the characters said, ‘I do not want to die and discover that I lived the wrong life.’ So many facets of living call our name and beckon for us to join in…we often do not do so because the area is out of comfort level. At times…being out of your comfort level is the greatest adventure that you will ever have…
Around the corner are good things waiting for each of us. Many of us are closet artists. We want to paint…or write…or act…or sing…but we are afraid of what others will think or say… ‘Be not afraid…’ Many of us would like to try out for Theatre…but we are afraid of the judgment of our peers…wanting to do something is over half of the battle. Our New Year is a Clean Slate…write upon your slate…it is your slate alone to write upon…make a piece of art that has never been seen before…
Santa Claus could not hardly put one foot in front of the other. He had been traveling for 48 hours to ensure that all the children of the world received a present for Christmas. Billy B. and Chet and Jane and Daryl had accompanied him on his Christmas Eve Flight and had been amazed by the diversity of our planet. They had been to India and to Paris, France. They had visited York, England, and Destin, Florida. They had visited Capetown, South Africa, and Melbourne, Australia. This year they brought not only toys but Vaccines for Covid and thus they had seen most of their loved ones. They were received with love and tears of gratitude…and prayers for their safe journey.
Mrs. Claus welcomed her tired hero with a cup of hot chocolate and a foot rub. He also required two Tylenol for his sore back. Humphrey reported to the Boss that this had been their best Christmas ever…and that they had visited more children and spread more Christmas Cheer than ever before. There had never been a North Pole Outreach for the health of the children like 2021. With the help of the nurses that accompanied them…and Billy B. and Jane and Chet and Daryl…who had coordinated the Santa Vaccination Program…they had jabbed 1 billion children and their parents. Lauren Bacall told Santa that there had never been a Christmas Eve like this one… Santa smiled a satisfied smile and was glad that he did not retire like his doctor in Destin, Florida had told him to do for his health…
Rudolph told Santa that this had been his best Christmas…ever… He was thrilled to have led the team of Reindeer to bring hope and health and life to so many of the children of the earth… He went on to tell Santa that he had signed his contract for an additional five years…if Santa would stay at the helm of the operation. Santa said, ‘I can do no less than my lead Reindeer…I will stay another five years…if my health holds out.’ All of the North Pole Elves cheered for Santa and Rudolph…and then proceed to take and long winter’s nap…
The last week of 2021 is dawning with unseasonal warmth. MJ got me a wonderful scarf from Brooks Brothers…(I like their name)…and I thought that I hope it gets cold enough for me to enjoy it this winter. It is 68 degrees in Carbondale…and I think that the normal temperature is in the 20 to 30-degree range. The wind has been howling around here with gusts of over 40 miles per hour. When I was a youngster the weather was very cold and snowy and icy…in our neck of the woods. My neighbor’s drainage tile washed out from under their driveway the other day…and then the herculean wind blew it into our portion of the pond…and Jonathon and I fished it out. It appears that the neighbor either does not realize that it is her tile…or does not care.
MJ and I are traveling to Florida for a few days in January…if our flight is not canceled. Over two thousand flights were canceled today…and many over the Christmas Weekend. We are a people of the short term solution. Our Congress continues to pass stop-gap measures to keep the finances flowing…without approving a budget. We crave the simple answer to complex problems. Many of us bought the idea of a 90-day Pandemic or 6 months…or certainly no more than a year…but we have an illusion of control that the Virus…does not share. The actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, says at the conclusion of the movie, Don’t Look Up, ‘We really did have it all…didn’t we,’ while reflecting on his character’s love of coffee and all of the exotic beans and methods of preparing his favorite brew.
Uncertainty is the path that we trod. Not only is each day a gift…each moment is as well. Whenever I enjoy a good Christmas I think…what a humbling privilege…so many folks did not have a Christmas full of love and warmth and good food and good fellowship. Past practices do not always guarantee future results. Ill health and reversals and misfortune are just around the corner for each of us…God’s Grace is all that protects us. There is a scripture that I have endeavored to live my life by, ‘Pride goeth before destruction…and a haughty spirit before a fall.’
Fair treatment for all is a worthy goal. Not simply the white race…not simply the Christian faith…all people. God made us all…he loves us all…it is our mandate…to love each other.
A great Jonathon Brooks Blog!
This week has many fun activities planned in my life’s story. It’s my easy time of year again. For this week and next weekend my Christmas vacation from work dances on. So I’ve been making plans with friends to meet here or there and enjoy each other’s company.
Catching up on some good books are another part of the next seven days. There are two Christmas books I’d like to read and a third young adult novel I’m hoping to finish reading today. Reading is my favorite pastime.
It is time once again to create, to write, my yearly Christmas story. This should be accomplished by the close of the day on Friday. There’s a vague image in my mind as to the plot of this story. From this ghost of a thought a story shall emerge and be born.
Dad and I would like to see the new movie…
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We had a wonderful time at Ira Kaye’s and Ron’s house yesterday. Our niece, Tara was there with her children and our great niece and nephew…Tyler and Paige. Mike our nephew was there and I am never around him that I do not think what a great person that he is. He almost has his pilot’s license and he is a wonderful father. Tara is someone who I am exceedingly proud of. Paige and Tyler are simply a delight! Ira Keye prepared a wonderful Christmas feast. Ron found our fire…and we smoked some Rye Whiskey…and liked it…and laughed accordingly… I left the Christmas Celebration feeling full of love and happy to have such a wonderful family.
I viewed part of the new movie, Don’t Look Up, on Netflix while we were in Salem. I finished it at home…Christmas Eve Evening. The movie reminded me of the value of critical thinking. Reluctant to give the plot away…let me just say that the leaders of the fictional story framed the apocalyptic news that two scientists brought them in their own political and economical expediency. When the scientist endeavored to explain the imminent end of the earth…the media softened the message into Facebook mush. Human interest stories gained far more attention than their life/death message. Finally, the possibility of economic gain superseded the protection of the only planet that any of us have to live on.
Once…someone asked me what I did as a child. I was somewhat embarrassed when I answered that I enjoyed thinking… a lot. Now…I also enjoyed swimming and playing pool and riding my bicycle…and Old Maid… However…there is no shame in…thinking… Everything is not what it appears at Face Value. Friends and neighbors may tell you that something is the truth…but it may not be… Many years ago a friend tried to convince me that I should join his church…where the minister did much of the thinking for the congregation. I responded that I make a lot of mistakes…but I much preferred to think for myself.
2022 is less than a week away. Although it seems more like a month than a year between Christmasses…there will be many challenges in the New Year. I will be seeking a life of purpose and to follow God’s will as I perceive it with the brain that he gave me. Or as the Poem Invictus says:
‘Out of the night that covers me
‘Black as a pit from pole to pole,
‘I thank whatever gods maybe
‘For my unconquerable soul.
‘In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.’
‘Beyond the place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me unafraid.’
‘It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.’
So, the time has arrived. Christmas Eve is here and the Christmas Lights are strung and the Christmas Gifts are wrapped and Christmas Turkey is unthawing. I have heard it said that a lot of pizza is consumed on Christmas Eve. Santa has already begun his journey. Christmas Dinners are being prepared for the homeless and the poor. Our hearts are full of the joy of the season…our cup runneth over.
Christmas Wine is being uncorked to facilitate it being able to breathe. Some of us are scurrying to buy that last-minute gift that we either did not have the money for…or could not find. We look for the conclusion to the Story of humanity’s redemption and the end of suffering and death and pain and hate and strife…when in reality…tomorrow is the beginning of all of our hopes and dreams…if we choose…
December 26th will come as sure as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. After Christmas Sales will be in every department store…and the lines will be long to return items that do not fit or that the person who received the gift does not want. There will be Christmas Leftovers to eat and movies to watch and relaxation to enjoy… We will refresh and renew and look toward the New Year with hope and anticipation. But will we forget what manner of woman and man that we were today and on Christmas…and what the Spirit of Christmas whispered to us when our hearts were full of love for our fellow man?
It is a quiet/hectic day in Little Egypt. Traffic is backed up in Carbondale…and that is not usually a problem. Markets are full of women and men looking for those last-minute accouterments for their magnificent Christmas Dinners. There is a bit of a frenetic nature to their shopping…as if they do not hurry…the Holiday may transpire without them. Social Distancing has been left by the curbside of Social Expediency. Christmas comes but once a year…but are we ever truly ready…
Reminiscing is enjoyable and comforting. My friend, Steve, purchased a subscription for me to a magazine entitled, Reminisce. I remember celebrating Christmas at the annual Building Services Christmas Party during the late 1970s’. There was our superintendent, Mr. O’Hara, who was a person who I desperately wanted to please by doing good work…especially after he had hired me during the fall of 1978. It was a Potluck Dinner and the Service Employees Union put it on each year. My supervisor, Joe, told me to be careful which coffee urn that I drew my punch from as one of them was spiked…a lot. I happily noticed that he kept returning to the Spiked Urn. I sat among my colleagues and considered how blessed MJ and I were in that I had a job that would turn into my career and the pay and benefits were wonderful for Southern Illinois. We were looking at several days off with pay…and a better bonus could not have been offered. Then I saw a group of executives come in at the back of Muckeleroy Auditorium in the Agriculture Building. It was the Physical Plant Director, Mr. Tony Blass, and the Vice President for Campus Services, Mr. Clarence Dougherty. Mr. Dougherty, known as ‘Doc’ shook the hand of every person in the house…and I was thoroughly impressed. I felt rich beyond measure as a Building Service Worker I for Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.
Kindness is Christmas…for me. When someone reaches out to me…and I feel their humanity and their concern…I understand the Christmas Spirit…and why Scrooge was so excited when he was given a second chance. The Spirit of Christmas is really in each of our hands…when we outstretch them to our neighbor in need. Christmas is ethereal and solid…it is concept and practice…it is hope and the delivery of that hope…
Many years ago…in our last century…I felt the kindness of a church full of dedicated and hardworking people. MJ and I and Aaron and Jonathon attended the Christmas Eve Service at First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, Illinois. I had never attended a Christmas Eve Service before. The minister preached a short sermon that was right out of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. The lights were dim…and then they were snuffed out as we sang Silent Night by candlelight. I could see Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit in the corner. Afterward…each smiling face of my fellow Presbyterians greeted me with the words, Merry Christmas, and I knew what the words meant…in my heart.