• christmas mayhem •

Hm…kids are in bed?…check. Presents arranged under the tree, yup. Puppy stockings hanged at puppy eye-level, yessiree. Everything is as it should be, and yet…something is missing, or so it seems, to me. It just doesn’t quiiiite seem like the Christmas’, of my childhood, really, nothing like the ones I remember: and it isn’t Bing Crosby, crooning ‘White Christmas’, or commercials with Santa riding electric Norelco shavers down fluffy hillsides on TV. Something doesn’t seem…for lack of a better term, sufficiently, ‘Christmaseey’, to me. Hm, what could it be?
On the couch, under a light blanket of fleece, and with a snoozing pup on my lap, I sit comfortably, reflecting (mostly), with affection, on the Christmas’ of the past, of my childhood memories.
I recall…the smells, under the smoking, incandescent, two-inch colored bulbs that would burn the hair off’n a hog, of burning tinsel, of a house filled to the brim with sniffing, farting, wheezing (visiting) relatives, snoring to beat the band. Beneath are background sounds: from the back wall, from behind the tree, the, ‘color wheel’, with it’s changing light, bathing the ceiling in reds, then blues, to greens, to yellows, then, again, to red, to blue, to green, to yellow, with it’s, ‘creek-creek’, creaking sound, perpetually…and then, it comes to me–the full recollection of the, ‘main event’, which I shall, to you, dear reader, relay, with alacrity:
Even though I am so very nearly forced to sleep with my sister in her bed, that it makes my skin crawl to consider (I am, six, maybe?), all because ‘Grammaw’ says she’ll “be darned” if she’s “…gonna spend another sleepless night getting kicked in the back by (her/she), ‘that whirligig’,” and sister, decrying, “Me, sleep with ‘Pee-bag’? I would rather DIE than wake up WET again! MOTHEEEER!!!”, things seem to have, in the end, worked out just fine, for me.
I am ensconced on the floor, quite happily, under a floral linen sheet, on a thing momma calls a ‘pallet’ (is that a ‘Texas’ thing, or does everybody have them?), me, ‘keeping time’, like no metronome, ever, kicking’ my legs, languidly, ‘stretched out’, all three feet of me, and so very nearly directly under the tree, as to be, for me, a spritely woodland fantasy: and looking up, a mighty spruce, redolent of sap, the tree-topper scrunched at an odd angle to the ceiling, which, due to it’s unnatural girth and size, the tree is actually pressing against it, I see.
(Dad had apparently got a ‘huge deal’ at the Kiwanis, ‘yearly sale’ for the behemoth tree, since no ‘ranch-style’ homeowner in a fit state of mind, would even consider buying it–not if he wanted to stay married, that is, or, at least, that’s what most of the least intrepid men imaginable, had said, the woosies.)
And then I hear it, from waaay, up top of it. A glass ornament, descending: (*bing!bing!bing!*) hitting every branch, on it’s way down, and then (*crash!*), it ‘busts’ on the floor, by my head, right next to me. In the changing light of the creaking, ‘color wheel’, the detritus looks, to my six-year-old eyes, like a castle in ruins, which, of course, I think, absolute perfection, naturally. Then another irreplaceable ornament comes cobbling down, with the same cascading rhythm: (*bing! bing! crash!!*) ‘Wait a sec,’ I think. ‘One, okay, that’s an accident, but two? Uh, oh!’
Then, from up in the tippee-top of the tree, an unearthly mewling, and a rustling, emanates. Mandy, that stinkpot, she’s in the tree!
‘How’d she git’ up there?’ I wonder, and, ‘There’s gon’ be hill t’pay!!’ (We weren’t allowed to say, ‘hell’. Or, ‘shoot’, or ‘dang’, none of that good stuff.)
Did I mention that the entire floor was wall-to-wall with sleeping bodies? Brothers, sisters, cousins, relatives of every age, and make and model, a proverbial potpourri of large and teeny bodies, and overlapping arms and legs, every ‘which-a-way’ …then (*snap!), the tree makes a sound that can only mean one thing, ‘tiiiiimmmbeeeer!’, that big sucker is a-comin’ DOWN! KEEERRRRRRAAAASSHHHH!!!!!! “AAAAAAHHHHHRRERFGG!” Screams ensue, in every octave at once: cries of horror, shock, and dismay, entreaties for mommies, pathetic moans, and declarations of every caliber, all of it, muffled by a ton of poking, bending branches, bursting ornaments, entangling electrical cords, clinging tinsels and popcorn strings; everywhere, wall to wall, were scrambling bodies, writhing in pain. All in all, a sap-tinseled, hellish hysteria! What a sight to see.
It was heavenly.
Parents, aunts, uncles, extended relations of every description, together with exclamations too pithy to print, groggily rousing. Lights flicking on and off, a melee of scrambling feet, shrieking moms, cataleptic kids and crying babies– And Gramps, at the wet-bar, sitting on a high stool, above it all, surveying the scene, and, with a ‘clink’, and a ‘snap’, of his old Zippo, and lighting a Lucky Strike, and laughing, to beat the band: laughing, laughing, laughing, with his dried-out vocal chords, like Zeus had swallowed an organ-grinder, and his monkey, and Gramps, slapping his knee, as if it could possibly need further punctuation, the ensuing cacophony.
“It’s a nightmare! A nightmare!” says momma, over, and over again. “I’ll make coffee,” says Gram. “Where’s…that…damn cat!” mutters dad, through clinched teeth. “I’m gonna…just wait…’till I…” (Dad never could finish a sentence, sufficiently, when on a ‘killing spree’.)
And then, I’m here, and now, again, and it’s Christmas Eve, the kids are abed (dreaming of iPhones and X-boxes, presumably), and all is quiet, except for the pooch, snoring quietly next to me, and then, it comes to me. I realize what I’ve been ‘missing’, all this time. It’s quiet. All too quiet, or so it seems to me.
“Christmas mayhem,” I whisper, to myself, mistily, as I empty the last drips of egg nog, into a half-filled glass. (Those ‘dang’, kids have drunk ‘most all of it.)
‘Oh, that’s OK’, I think. (I always add a little milk, too, ‘thick’, ‘straight’, for my taste, anyway.) I add a bit of ‘one percent’. A dash of nutmeg. Ooooh! That first sip! Yum.
Standing in the kitchen, with the ‘fridge’ light slashing convivially across my toes, I come to the conclusion, that, maybe, just a little, I shouldn’t mind a teensy bit of, ‘mayhem’, with my Christmas, just for old times’ sake.
‘Well, the day is still young,’ I think. ‘Anything can happen.’
The kids. I grin. They’ll soon be awake.
~ Tim Burchfield
(Revised 12/25/16)



• the joy of imperfection •

Don’t get too organized on me,
if you please, love;
I like a little disorder with my chaos:
the muzzy, uneven in-distinction,
of the lawn that looks as if
it’s never known an edger,
or, at least not since
the heady days of Johnson’s Wax,
that came in yellow cans, with the impossible lids that required
a nickel coin, to open,
when of a Sunday,
the family unit, entire,
would turn out,
with plastic buckets, and busted sponges, and grins,
and used-up burp cloths and kitchen towels,
and a water hose,
to wash the Ford Galaxy Five Hundred, to perfection,
then, to smear, in circular motions, nice and thick,
and creamy yellow,
the Johnson’s on,
then to rub away,
with the burp cloths,
and kitchen towels, (and, of course,
the requisite ‘elbow grease’,)
to shine, shine, shine,
that baby, mommadaddy,
and baby Jesus, hallelujah,
Praise The Lord!
(’till you could see yourself,
in the pristine finish!)
the white crusty residue.
And me,
I always liked to leave a bit
un-rubbed, someplace onboard, that you couldn’t see, ’till you stood way back to admire your handiwork, which we always did,
just to hear, once again,
of a Sunday, the clamorous Unitarian unity of the family unit,
as we came together,
as one voice, unto the Lord,
of a Sunday,
to the smell of fried chicken,
and of mashed potatoes,
and black-eyed gravy
wafting from within
Momma’s kitchen,
with they shouted,
which they invariably did,
“Brother, you missed a spot!”
That’s the joy of imperfection.
~ Tim Burchfield


• novel new hampshire •

• novel new hampshire •
To have had weekend vacation trips
as a kid, to me, then, as now,
was a goodness.
Still, it remains in me, what I recall:
beautiful dreams, betimes,
still visit me
of novel New Hampshire.
Mom and Dad
wouldn’t even wake us up,
but bundle us all together
like floppy dropsy dead-weights
like little sheaves,
clad in pinks and blues and greens,
like little lost lambs,
bobsy-haired kittens
and crew-cutted puppy dogs,
we kids, pajama-clad
with footies on, and all:
we little languid lumps of sleepiness,
all cool fingers and toes,
all soft cheeks and runny noses,
all scab-clad foreheads
and knees and elbows –
bundled all together
into the old Pontiac,
still sleeping,
sans safety belts,
together with blankets,
and cased pillows,
and favorite stuffed rabbits
and Barbie dolls.

And so, upon waking,
we would find ourselves, happily,
driving up and down,
and all around
the curvy county roads,
of scenic,
New England! –
surrounded to the full,
to our sleep-crispy
crusty young eyes,
charmed and astonished –
literally transported,
into another world,
of misty mosses, mystic forests,
and farms.
At times, I still go there
in my mind:
then, and now, once again,
on those curvy back roads, I go,
in and around that place
of fond memories,
I ride, mentally,
then I —

Imagine ancient
lichen-mottled stone walls
and rustic fences and gates,
sun-dappled pastures
and farm roads rising and veering
to the left or right,
past a venerable old maple,
then out of sight,
speculation leading
to centenarian clay-red barns,
silos and egg-shell-white,
shale-shingle-roofed farmhouses with red doors facing,
old hunt’n dogs lazing on, or under, paint-poor porches,
International Harvester
trucks and tractors,
ignition keys hanging
in plain sight,
and rust-edged farm equipment scattered in a random manner,
just pleasing to the eye,
as desultory conversation
is to the ear; yonder,
a tire-swing calls silently
for one to remove one’s
shoes and socks
and to “swing under our branches, friend”.

I have been down some of those very roads,
smelled the smoke
of third-and-fourth-generation oaken-mantled stone-warmed hospitality,
eaten bacon and eggs
cooked on cast-iron stoves,
toasted to fresh-squeezed orange juice
from Demi-tumblers, gotten as dividends
from boxes of Duz detergent
from Promotionals, on commercials featuring a mega-hairdooed,
then barely-twenty, Dolly Parton, (“Holy smokes!”
Gramps had declared,
and on a Sunday night,
“I gotta get my hands on a couple o’ them things!”)
on the now defunct
round-screened black-and-white TV, with the rabbit-ears,
with double-flags
of crimped-on aluminum-foil ,
a tribute to the Great Martian Envoy,
who’s arrival was long-awaited,
and sorely missed:
bundles of Montgomery-Ward
and Sears & Roebuck
depicting wool-clad girls and boys, rubber-booted and scarved,
merrily zooming
down snow-covered hills,
the originals
lovingly rendered,
done in vivid watercolors,
by none other
than one of Norman Rockwell’s lesser-known contemporaries, whose endangered
dreamed-of immortality
relies solely
on these yellowing depictions:
apple-cheeked smiles
and peals of silent laughter
as apropos as anything
of a guy whose contemporaries called him ‘Sketchy’
all of his working life:
haunting, taunting,
these string-tied tributes
languish in the shadow of the old TV, for that day, that dizzying,
long-overdue day when
the Martians may finally land.

(There is, no doubt, friend,
a story there,
just as there are stories
in every crawl-space, attic
and root-cellar,
under every dog-ensconced porch, and at the bottom of every well.
Of course, some stories
are too precious to tell,
so if you ask,
all you will likely get
is a sad, cryptic smile
shared between long-married hosts, a furtive glance
at that corner of the room
to check for dust-bunnies,
and an invitation to play Scrabble or Go-Fish,
the perfume of ‘No harm done ‘,
filling the vacuum
of the pervading air.)

Memory-Tupperware is everywhere.
Oh, yes,
And love.
~ Tim Burchfield