Tales From The South: Christmas Lights
I don’t remember Midnight Mass that year, my fourth Christmas. I do remember the ride back home standing behind Daddy’s right shoulder blade. I always rode there and that night was no different. Crammed with us into the cab of his 1953 Chevy pickup were my brother Dick, my mom and the baby Teresa on her lap. I remember the noise of the heater as it blew lukewarm air into the cab. And I remember being cold. I kept looking out the back window at Bert and Jim, who were huddled against the truck bed. They were teenagers, old enough to ride in the back of the pickup. Even though it was a frosty night, Mom wouldn’t let them miss Mass. I can only imagine how cold they were.
We were the only vehicle traveling that two-lane, farm-to-market road across the lower panhandle of Texas as our headlights stabbed the darkness in crooked beams. It was as black a night as I ever saw. The stars were close enough to set a child’s imagination on fire. I recall searching the sky outside the back window. And I can still hear Daddy chuckling, “See him yet?”
I also remember the exact hour and minute we arrived back at the oil lease. Mom asked Daddy for the time just as we crossed the cattle guard — 2:24 a.m. Daddy was exact. Mom sent us right to bed, four boys in two small, metal-framed bunks. The room was hot from the gas stove under the window. My brothers were asleep in minutes, but I stood at the window, just to the right side of the stove, and pulled the window shade out over my head. I kept my nose a fraction of an inch from the icy glass as I continued the search. It may have been an hour or it may be have been a few minutes. I know I dozed off a couple of times, wakening when the cold, damp window pressed my face. I remember a car came down the cliché road; its dual headlights peering straight at me as it passed the house.
… Then I saw it. I hadn’t learned my directions yet, so I can’t tell you if it came from the north or the east. The red light was blinking slowly, on and off, as it silently crossed the sky. There was also a white light glowing behind and above the red light. I could almost make out the chubby features of Santa’s face. I looked over at the three large lumps under the covers, and then back at the light. If I woke them up, they would only laugh and tell me it was an airplane.
I watched the light until it was completely gone, crawled into my side of the bed and closed my eyes. Satisfied, I quickly fell asleep.
Pat Sweeden, born in a west Texas oil patch, moved to Little Rock, Ark., after high school. He credits writing instructors Gene Lyons, Chuck Anderson and Paula Morell with inspiring his adventures in creative non-fiction.
As an official sponsor, along with Argenta Arts Foundation, of "Tales from the South," a radio program taped each Tuesday at Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock, Ark., featuring southerners telling their own true stories, AY brings you this monthly feature of highlights from "Tales from the South." The program is broadcast Thursdays at 7 p.m. on KUAR (FM89.1) in central Arkansas. You can find it streaming online at kuar.org; or listen along with 140 million European listeners on World Radio Network Sundays at 9 a.m. at wrn.org. For more information, log onto talesfromthesouth.com.