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Jake's Christmas Story

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Jake kept walking, stopping occasionally to let ladies with their children, like lines of ducklings, pass by as they came and went in the shopping district. Some carried bright packages or large paper sacks with small, mysterious items inside.

There'd be no Christmas shopping for Jake this year. Maybe we should say, no Christmas shopping for Jake AGAIN this year. Who would he buy gifts for, after all? He was alone, and he was a loner. These two things don't always describe the same person, but they did for Jake.

Christmas had not always been that way. He had grown up in a regular family, like everyone else, its just that these last few years had ridden him hard and he didn't see fit to add his "nothin' " to anyone else's list of their own troubles. He'd meet somebody some day, it just wasn't the right time. So, until then, he just got by. Made do. Did without. Pulled he ends till they met. He wasn't hungry and he had a roof over his head, but he expected to provide better for someone else than he expected for himself.

As he walked he thought about his truck, still sitting in the cold, out at the job site. He'd parked in a soft spot, and when the old battery wouldn't crank it, he also couldn't push it up onto the dry to "bump" the engine with the switch on and letting his foot off the clutch fast. He was the last man off, so there was no one even to help him out. He'd get 'er going tomorrow. He'd walk in early and meet up with some of the other guys on the crew. That wouldn't solve the problem with the old worn out battery, but he'd park it up on a rise anyway. He wished now he had an old Ford, with the crank on the front.

A nicely dressed mother with three little girls nearby popped out of a shop door, right in front of him. He stopped as they swarmed about and the lady looked right at him. His soiled clothes and worn boots gave him away as a common workman. He smelled faintly of gasoline and grease, not because of his current truck problems. He just always smelled faintly of gasoline and grease. She hurried away, with her three ducklings lined up behind, and Jake walked on.

He thought back to a Christmas he remembered as a boy. Things were sort of grim and the family was down to a small bag of cornmeal and one chicken. They sure did like having that fresh egg every day or so, but it was Christmas and a pan of cornbread sitting all alone in the middle of the table was not an image anyone really wanted to experience.

Of course there were no gifts to pass around. At Jake's house gifts were pretty rare even in a good year. But this year was even worse. It was so bad that Jake's Daddy was down to smoking just two cigarettes a day. One in the morning after a cup of what was passing for coffee and one in the afternoon when he came back from the mill. That didn't do his constitution any good and Jake went to school with bruises now and then to show for it. He wished Daddy could go back to a pack a day again, it would make his life easier.

But, Christmas Eve was different at Jake's house that year. Daddy called the boys in and sat them all down. They figured they were all in for a whippin' and Daddy didn't want to chase them down one at a time.

What a surprise they had when Daddy reached in his big overall pocket and pulled out slingshots for each of them. They were beautiful! Smooth oak handles, scraped with a broken whiskey bottle. Just the perfect size and chosen for the right grip and spread between the arms. The rubbers were made of an inner tube that just couldn't take another patch. A little bit of tight twisted baling twine held the rubbers to the wood, and the ammo pockets were made of the old tongues out of some worn out shoes. Waste not, want not.

For one of the only times in his life he heard his Dad wish everyone a Merry Christmas. You would have thought a toy store had sent a special train to Jake's house the way those boys danced around, hugging each other, then Daddy and of course, Mama.

When he could quiet them down, Daddy started talking. "OK, boys, listen to me now." And, listen they did. " It's still light so I want you to go out to the road and practice. The county put that gravel out there for a reason. Then, when the sun comes up tomorrow, you boys split up and head down the valley. There's rabbits and squirrels and doves, and if you're good enough, there's quail, too. Now, get going, all of ya." He didn't have to repeat any part of it. In fact, he seldom had to repeat things. With a whoop, the boys were gone and the house was quiet.

Jake smiled to himself as he walked along. He remembered that the chicken had finally died of old age.

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