Small Town Holiday
My hands were freezing as I walked. I held on the lighter in my jacket pocket for dear life, giving it a flick every two steps I took for that half-a-second of warmth. The clouds held heavy and dark. I walked past the old little league field that was covered in snow. The back cage towering out of the ground and it looked like seeds grew metal. Man, and Earth, rich and poor, metal and dirt. These are the things I used to think about walking to go dig through the butt cans behind the local Weis grocery store looking for half smoked cigarettes. If I was lucky, I would find a half a pack somebody left on the bench amidst getting called back in to register 5 for a sudden run on condensed milk. I didn’t know what day it was, just that it was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I didn’t buy anybody presents that year, and for the past few holidays I don’t recall getting my mother anything, I guess I didn’t think about it and I always felt guilty. I just thought about walking over to my dad’s jobsite the next morning making up some reason why I couldn’t see him for Christmas and maybe he would give me a check for twenty-five or fifty bucks. He still worked hanging dry wall at the new medical center. Working under a union contract, was a lucky thing to have back then. I lived up in coal country for a while and all the union jobs flushed out of the small towns with the mines. The towns never recovered.
The next morning, I woke up on my make shift pallets I was using to sleep up off the floor. I rearranged my things in my backpack and headed down to the saloon off second street, figured I’d grab a drink and wait for my father to go on lunch break. At around noon I walked over and waited at his truck.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
He always asked that the same way. Would put an emphasis on the ing. I couldn’t wait to sit in his truck, and for him to turn the heat on. As soon as the door closed he asked if I wanted some money. He knew that’s why I came there. Before I could even reply he quipped
“I don’t have it.”
“Nobody has it these days.” I said.
I would have called my mom and swindled her into taking me to McDonalds or something but I didn’t have it in me to lie to her again. It was a lot easier lying to my dad.
He reached in his lunch box to grab his sandwich and a beer. Being early December, he left it in his truck and the weather would keep it cold. After a few words of beating around the bush, he asked how my mom was. He always did. I lied to him again. She could care less about him but it’s me she was worried about these days, but he didn’t need to know that.
“She’s great!” I said. “We have plans for Christmas so I just wanted to see you now.”
I didn’t have anything planed for Christmas. I didn’t have anything planned for the afternoon, or the next… however long. He turned the truck off, I opened the door and hopped down. I walked around to his door. He gave me a hug and said here before you go…. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a check for fifty bucks, and on the memo line it said Merry Christmas.
“I had a feeling I would see you this week, so I put this in my jacket for safe keeping.” He laughed to himself.
I could have cried.
I got what I wanted.
Walking away I thought about my dad’s oil tank in his basement to keep the house warm. I thought about the hole in the floor you had to step over to get in the bathroom. I thought about him eating Christmas dinner at the bar down the street from his house. I thought about him getting hurt and laid off a few months later.
I didn’t have anything I wanted.
Photograph and Words by Parker Reinecker - http://www.intheparkphoto.com