Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gift Rap

During the two-hour drive up to my family’s holiday party in Bay City this past weekend, I asked my two boys what favorite Christmas gifts they received growing up.

For older son Greg, it was a SuperTechmo Bowl for his Nintendo 64. For Scott, it was Venom, a plastic replica of Spiderman’s evil arch-villain. Their choices are representative of their personalities too for reasons that I need not get into. Wife Wendy chimed in that her favorite gift as a child was Baby First-Step, a large doll that you could take by the hand so it would toddle along with you like a baby taking its first steps.

One of my very favorite finds under the Christmas tree growing up was Horrible Hamilton. HH was a giant plastic monster that lurched across the carpet on his four claws whenever its string was pulled. Cities, fortresses, whole armies fell before Horrible Hamilton’s relentless charge--so long as those cities and fortresses were built out of playing cards and plastic soldiers.

Would there be such a memorable gift among our family’s exchanges this year? As it turned out, yes there was. My youngest brother lives in South Dakota, too far away to attend our holiday get-together, but he mailed a large plastic crate filled with surprises. So heavy it required two people to retrieve it from my parent’s home and take it to the party venue, my father’s gift was protected with extreme bubble wrap, the kind that might protect dinosaur bones.

When dad stripped away the bubble wrap, we saw why it was so carefully packed. It was the large bare white skull of a buffalo. Awesome! My father has collected arrowheads, Indian beadwork and clay pipes for decades. He had pointed out some interesting looking buffalo skull artwork on a previous trip west. Still, I’m sure he wasn’t expecting this.

Though a few of the women at the party may not have looked too kindly upon this ancient artifact as a gift, it just oozed history from every crack and orifice. Possibly, it could have roamed the plains of South Dakota when Buffalo Bill hunted there. It certainly would look stately in the space above my folks’ fireplace if they had one.

Even better would be mounting it outside, above the garage door where normally you might find a basketball backboard and hoop. Dad could be the first on his block, heck--the neighborhood, to have a brooding remnant of our nation’s past standing watch over his street.

Instead, dad says it will probably go onto a wall of his computer room which is already adorned with his collections of historical artifacts. That’s cool too. Puts me in a retro mood just thinking about it. Hmmmmmmm, maybe I should hop over to E-Bay to see if I can find Horrible Hamilton.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Xmas Request

My blogging buddy Lisa asked me to put up a poem here that I sent to her. It was an Xmas poem that I'd written many years ago. Although a bit dated, it's mostly accurate so far as our family's Christmases.

It's December again with a sharp nip in the air
And the shopping ads warn 'not a moment to spare.'
You run hither and yon, so is your mission
To find the right gift, such is tradition.

It comes and it goes too fast to think
Of why it is we raise such a stink.
Baking and cooking and wrapping till weak
Searching malls and toy stores, shops and boutiques.

But when I do pause to remember years past,
When our kids believed in Santa Claus last,
There were big family parties in rented dance halls
And looking for hoofprints in Christmas snowfalls.

Cutting a tree after a ride in the snow.
Then warming yourself by the fire's warm glow.
Grandpa gave treats to the grandkids himself.
With a wink of his eye, he looked like an elf.

Christmases now aren't like Christmases then.
Even the eve's midnight mass starts this year at ten.
And the big family party has been put to bed,
Now that grandma's near ninety and grandpa is dead

Closed is the farm where we cut the scotch pine.
They hope to be back, they say when we whine.
I'm hoping our kids when grown can remember.
The real fun that can come in December.

Pinatas and contests and carols and games
Playing with cousins and recalling their names.
Forget all the gifts and the presents, I'm wishin'.
Cherish the good times. Be that your tradition.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BUSTED at Christmas

A couple true holiday stories from many years ago . . .

Our two boys learned the art of sibling rivalry very young. They fought often even as pre-kindergartners. Though they could be best of buddies, they just as often were the worst of enemies. Once just before Christmas they were at eachother’s throats again, so I took Greg to the grocery store with me, leaving younger brother Scott with his mother. Maybe a little hiatus from eachother would cool them off.

As Greg and I rounded the corner into another aisle, who should we find sitting in a makeshift yuletide display but Santa Claus himself. When he spotted Greg, the jolly old elf waved him over to sit on his lap. Greg did. Santa asked him the usual questions: age, wish list, had he been a good boy this year. Then he asked Greg if he had any brothers. Greg replied that he had a younger brother.

“And how do you get along with your brother?” Santa asked.

BUSTED!!! By Santa himself. Greg didn’t answer. His face sank, his head bowed and his shoulders slumped. Lucky for Greg, if he would have burst into tears, it might not have set too well with Santa’s employer there at the store. So Mr. Claus quickly said something to the effect that he was sure Greg tried to get along with his brother and cheered Greg up with a candy cane.

I asked Greg recently if he remembered any of that. He said he didn’t, which isn’t surprising since it happened about 20 years ago. That’s too bad. Classic moment.

For my second little anecdote, we have to go back about 40 years or more when I was the eldest and thus leader of three boys and one girl in our family. As Christmas approached, my fear was that my younger siblings would wake up before I would, sneak by my bed which was near the upstairs landing and head downstairs to open presents whilst I slept.

So late Christmas Eve I rigged up a snare with a broom, string, and some pots and pans. I created a trip wire so that anybody trying to walk past me would set off a noisy alarm. Then I went to sleep.

In the middle of the night came a mighty racket. Pow, Clank, Rattle! BUSTED!!! But it wasn’t my brothers or sister. It was our toy Pomeranian who was ensnared, and then panicked, dragging the string with the pots and pans along the upstairs floor. Oh, well. Successful test, I guess.

Next morning I asked my mother if she heard the racket upstairs. “Yes,” she said in a scolding tone. She wasn’t too appreciative of my plan, brilliant though it was. Heck, and I always thought that having a son like me made life more interesting anyway.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Oh Woe, NaNoWriMo

Wow, that NaNoWriMo internet writing challenge to create a novel in a month was a real adventure. There's nothing like the exhilaration you feel immersing yourself in your own imagination, creating characters and situations that seem almost as real as real life.

Though I did reach 50,000 words, thus becoming a "winner", my work is by no means ready for public consumption. Too many things "evolved" between the beginning and the end. A character who might have been svelte and handsome at the beginning became hulking and ugly by the end, not because it was part of the plot, but because I did not have time at the end to check what I had written at the beginning.

Even the genre changed. It started out as a romantic mystery, for which I thought I could enlist my wife Wendy's help since she's a huge fiction fan, of romantic novels in particular. But her opinion after reading the first few chapters was, "This isn't something I normally would read." She said if I were writing romance, I needed to include more hand-holding, loving gazes, and long walks.

Screw that! So my novel changed to a mystery-suspense-thriller that included a climactic bar fight and car chase. And I no longer let my wife proofread the chapters. There are still romantic elements, so I figure my novel has cross-over appeal. I even included a cat among the story's protagonists, in case the folks from Disney think about adapting it to the screen. I left no literary stone unturned.

The working title and tagline are Return to Salem--A beautiful young woman must uncover the secrets of her past to reveal why she is being stalked by mysterious strangers. Doing so unleashes a chain of events that ends in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil.

Cool, eh. Anyway, that's how I've spent my last month. It's kept me so busy I had time for little else. While my adjacent neighbors have been putting up all kinds of colorful Christmas decorations, my yard and home remain unadorned. Since I did have time in October to construct an elaborate Halloween yard display, my neighbors probably figure we're a family of satanists.

And neither is this blog the official end of my hiatus, since I continue to have computer and internet access problems. In fact, in the final days while I was rushing to complete my on-line NaNoWriMo, my computer screen would suddenly freeze up and the hard drive would whir to life. That lasted for a few minutes before I was able to continue. Maybe my computer was doing his own NaNoWriMo, or maybe he thought I was working him too hard . . . I don't know.