A child's 'Christ bus' in America

Fruit mince piesMost of all I remember scents and smells: pies of various savours and size, glorious new basketballs, smoke wriggling from the fireplace where birch and beech and pencils and young squirrels and once a baseball cap all burned fitfully; the avuncular smell of wet rubber boots steaming on sprawled newspapers by the door, the dense brown cigar-and-sweater scent of uncles rumbling in their chairs, and the murky cinnamon sea of egg-nog.

There were seas of sound, too, the radio yammering the Knick game, the snickering of cousins, the snarling of clan elders not at all averse to pinning the fingers of children snatching for a slab of turkey before they, the elders, have fully dismembered said mountainous bird, my brothers and I all have knife scars from clan elders who were mighty quick with the blade, being of ancient lines of warriors and knowing full well what they were about weaponwise.

And there was the roaring of the father downstairs where he is fixing yet another godblasted storm window smashed by his sons as wild as wolves, and the slim rustling prayer of the mother sliding gracefully through each scene beaming like an actress, and the bark of a brother barfing in the back yard because he won a bet by eating 20 snickerdoodles made by our cousin the nun and he, the brother, did not think this would affect him overmuch but o it did o god did it o god that is hilarious look at the colors, which thank god for heavy snowfall is all I can say.

The afternoon shuffled along like a quiet road, and I dozed by the fire, buttocks facing the roasting squirrels and pencils, and in the evening we listened to that preening queen Fulton Sheen chanting Mass on the radio, and no one knew where the paper plates were at all one bit, and we snuck a beer from a sleeping uncle, and someone female and mature read Dylan Thomas aloud, trying unsuccessfully for his cracked drunken Welsh lilt, and there were so many pies you could not choose among them but sat stunned amid mounds of mince, until a grandmother, tart and Irish and smelling of stern and unforgiving soap, gave you such a vast slab of each that your plate looked very much like a whole pie its own self.

Sometimes then we were allowed to open a few presents, just because, although the Great Unraveling was always in the morning, and once I remember opening a present on which a very young niece had written MARY CHRIST BUS with all her might, with every iota of her tongue-clenched diligence, and if I was a wise man, which I am not, I would have saved that scrap of extraordinary American literature, and folded it into my battered wallet, so that I could even now, a thousand years later, pull it out ever so gently, and open it up with the utmost care, and see the world as it is, ancient and glorious and fragile and timeless, and written endlessly by the young. And so then finally to bed.


Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland.

 

Topic tags: brian doyle, christmas reflection, mary christ bus

 

 

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