This is my Christmas Eve blog post, and I want to use it to thank all of you who bless me—friends, family members, students, and those who read what I write, particularly those regular readers of this blog. To be honest, it sometimes gets tough to come up with new posts, but I keep trying just in the event that something I say might prove useful to you and your writing. I’d also like to use this post to ask you to be mindful of those for whom this time of year is difficult. With that in mind, I offer up this excerpt from my memoir, From Our House, a story about a Christmas that was lean for my family because my mother had lost her teaching job. My father sold a load of hogs even though he would have preferred to have waited for a better price. He was surprised to arrive at the stockyards only to find a picket line of strikers standing between him and the money he needed so we’d be able to have Christmas:
One of the men came to our truck, and he tapped on my father’s window with his axe handle. He was a man with a crooked nose, pushed over to the side, broken, perhaps, in a fight. He was wearing insulated overalls, and he had the hood of a red sweatshirt pulled up over his cap.
It took my father a while to roll down his window, working at it with his hook.
“You think you’re going to sell some hogs, boss?” the man said, and I understood somehow that calling my father “boss’ was an insult. It was obvious that the man and the others like him were the ones in control. “Is that the ticket?” he said. “You intend to give those scabs some business in there?”
“We came a long way,” my father said. “My wife and my boy.”
I had never heard him call me his “boy,” and for a moment I felt as close to him as I ever had.
“Didn’t you know about this strike?” The man placed a finger against the side of his nose, leaned over, and blew a gob of snot onto the fender of our truck. “Where the hell are you from?”
“No,” my father said, “I didn’t know.”
I had never seen him cowed by any man, and I was embarrassed for him.
“You turn around now,” the man told him. “You go on back. You don’t want to take food off my table, do you?”
My father raised his hook to slip it over the spinner knob, and the man saw them, then, those hooks, and he got flustered, turned shy. “I didn’t know,” he said. “Neighbor, you must have been through some rough times.”
I saw my father start to work the muscles in his jaw, like he was chewing on something, the way he always did whenever he was mad at me. “I’ve done all right,” he said. “Don’t you worry about that.”
“Sure you have, neighbor. I bet you have.” The man took a step away from our truck and pointed the axe handle toward the gate. “Tell you what. I’m in the Christmas spirit today. Go on. You drive on in there. You probably need to sell those hogs more than I need to stop you. Go on ahead.” The man moved on down the road, waving his axe handle. “We’re going to let him in,” he shouted. “He ain’t got no hands. What say we do him a good turn? He’s a good boy.”
My father sat there, staring straight ahead. He sat there while the men peeled back from the gate.
“Roy,” my mother said, and her voice was kind. “We can turn around if you want to. We can go home.”
My father used his arm to pull the gear shift lever into low. “No, you heard the man,” he said. “It’s almost Christmas.”
Now, I can imagine what it must have taken for my father to have driven past the men who had gone quiet, who cast quick peeks at us and then looked down at their feet or off to the horizon, not wanting to be caught staring at those hooks. They were quiet, thankful, perhaps, that they were whole men, and their silence only announced that my father was a handicap, a man other men could feel sorry for, men who didn’t know his temper, a temper he had to stifle because he was a stranger, far from home, and it was almost Christmas, and he had to sell those hogs.