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For “Shower Customer Number Nine”

Photo by Elena Jefferies Whatley

You can almost hear the collective sigh.  It’s the day after Christmas, and it’s Sunday, and it’s quiet.

Christmas is a funny holiday. Pegged to the old pagan winter solstice celebrations, it’s on the calendar now as the time Jesus was born. For the record, if I’d been a Wise Man I’d of brought the baby Jesus a Howlin’ Wolf record. Anyway, to his followers the word “pagan” is now a pejorative with satanic overtones. The world just goes ‘round and ‘round.

Yes it does, and no matter what our pretentious, self-important selves do or say, we don’t stop time or the earth’s orbit either and this remains the time of year our northern hemisphere is tilted furthest from the sun.

As we’ve done for years, we spent time at our friends’ farm outside Brenham, Texas. Then it’s on to Houston for more friends; a few small living- room hoedowns (yours truly pictured above, be-hatted, and I bet a lot of you had just such scenes); a Christmas Eve family reunion that has gone on since just after World War II.

A friend went caroling in Austin, an event she doesn’t miss because every year in the neighborhood a now-adult Downs Syndrome fellow waits smiling for them in the window. Steal that image of love, Grinch.

Speaking of the Grinch, this year my close friend Chris’ grandkids sang the Grinch Song, accompanied by their father and grandfather. If the Grinch could have heard the purity in their voices he would cried, “I’ve been saved,” and reformed on the spot.

Out on the road between stops on Christmas, I’m buying a tall cup of coffee at the truck stop and I hear a matter-of-fact voice on the loud speaker: “Shower customer number nine, your shower is ready. Shower number three. Shower customer number nine, your shower is ready in shower number three.”

Room at the inn, for a bath anyway. So, I’m thinking,  “Who is shower customer number nine?”

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

I get back to Austin and my daughter tells me Happy just died. He was an old, South Austin barroom shuffleboard king, and he made and sold Happy Jack’s Roadkill Jerky, which probably tasted about like it sounds. With patience and love of craft, sport and the friendly bet, he taught young folks, including my daughter, to play shuffleboard. She cried when she told me he’d passed.

The coming and going this time of year, the time of the long nights, seems a cruel injustice, a mockery of our stories about the birth of a god-child and life everlasting. Then I think, yea, but it’s all why we start singing in the first place.

And what about the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, when the War to End All Wars came to a brief halt as British and German troops crossed No Man’s Land to sing songs with one another?  What kind of patriotism is it that leads a guy to shoot the fellow who sang the alto on “O Tannenbaum” with him the night before?

The planet makes sure we all share the long nights and the short nights too. But there’s a paradox to Christmas after all. It’s a day that fairly cries to become all days. Like the troops on the Western Front, it turns out we can stop time briefly (and gloriously) but only in the tragic knowledge that none of us can really stop it at all. You’d think we’d quit listening to the emperors and princes who claim they can if enough of us kill and die for their claims.

Anyway, all’s quiet on Interstate 10 today, the day after Christmas, and the road wraps like a ribbon around me and you and “shower customer number nine.” Christmas doesn’t last forever, and nobody’s kiddin’ nobody that it does. And that’s why the day after seems a little more peaceful than the day before.

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Glenn W. Smith

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