THE ART OF RAYMOND (II)

…Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker!

There was a collective silence in the room broken when the sound of a very young voice stated, ‘That guy ain’t even got underpants on.’ The ice broke. The grandkids hooted and laughed. The adults tried to muffle their laughs.

Dad shook his head and told Raymond, ‘Take that damn thing off the table. Put it someplace where we can eat without having to look at it.’

Some of us began to clear the wrappings. Some began to take the plates from the pile and hand them out to be set in place. The little ones, declaring how hungry they were, moved to their chairs at the card table.

Mom hadn’t moved or uttered a sound since she had finally unwrapped her gift, and then she said, ‘Raymond’. Slow, dragging out the name softly at first and building into a shout, followed by sounds of angry crying. Everything stopped. The grandkids stopped laughing. The adults stopped getting the table. Raymond set the statue back on the table.

‘Six months! Six months,’ she said when she manged to speak. ‘Oh, I know you’ll love it, Mom. Six months he left me guess what it was. Six months waiting for that, that… I don’t even know what to call that damn thing

‘The guy in the store said it’s called The Thinker, Mom. It’s great art. A Frenchman made the original,’ Raymond told her.

‘Great art?’ she repeated. ‘Great art?

Now Mom was a small town farm girl who never went further than fifty miles from where she was born until she crossed the river into Wisconsin to watch me play in a high school football game. She had her own idea of what great art was. It was something that you would find in a church, or in a parochial school, or reproduced on a funeral home calendar. The only time she went in a museum was a high school field trip to the Natural Museum, a spooky building by the state capital, that had a real mummy in it. She never forgot the mummy. She never went into a museum again. Great art, humph.

‘A man without a stitch of clothing on…And he’s sitting on the pot.’

That observation got the grandkids laughing again. And some of the adults also.

Mom continued and everyone fell back into silence. ‘Two years,’ she sobbed, ‘Two years Raymond was gone. And, oh, how I missed him. Two years every night, on my knees praying he would be safe. Praying he wouldn’t get attacked by a polar bear or that the Commies wouldn’t bomb that radar place. Two years.’

‘Attacked by a polar bear,’ said the same young voice that mentioned the absence of underpants. ‘That’s scary.’

‘Two years and boy was I happy when he made it home from the service in one piece. And I was so happy even when he bought me a Christmas present way back in June. I figured it might be one of his tricks but I didn’t care. Then I thought maybe it wasn’t a trick. But I never thought it would be something like this. A naked guy…’

‘Sitting on the pot,’ the little voice helped his grandmother finish. ‘I’m hungry, Mommy. When can we eat?’

‘Oh, and another thing’, she said pointing her finger at her youngest, ‘You told me you bought it in a store on Seven Corners. There ain’t a store there. There’s only antique shops. Used things. Old used things. Couldn’t even buy me something new. Bought me something used.’

Raymond took the used statue into the living room and brought back another present, which he set down in front of Mom and asked her to open this present. He promised it was not a trick and it wasn’t used..

She unwrapped it down to the box it came in. It was a home-made ice cream maker. She didn’t cry but she pushed it away.

‘Now why would I ever want to turn a crank for a couple hours just to get a couple ice cube trays of flaky ice cream, when I can go to Huber’s store and buy any kind of ice cream I want. And probably cost less too. Home- made ice cream maker,’ she flicked her wrist to signal Raymond to take it away.’

Today the easiest way to give a present to a hard to please person is to give a them a gift card. Let them get their own gift. Not so in the 60’s. The idea of a piece of plastic with strange markings on it could be a substitute for cash or check was as far fetched as thinking there would ever be a contraption you could sit on the kitchen table and order anything from around the world. And the darn thing wouldn’t be connected to anything, not even a wall socket.

And Raymond had done the 60’s version of cash card. You give the hard- to- please a gift you know they won’t want, or even bother to open the box. You place the reciept in a sealed envelope with the name of the gift and the store where it was bought on top of the box. The recipient just takes it back to the store and redeems it for something they want. Oh, you could give cash or write a check but the money would just get mixed up with monies used for everyday expenses, not something special. Mom knew what Raymond had done. The sealed envelope was in plain sight on the top of the box. She just wanted another shot at him.

‘Mom,’ Raymond said, ‘Tomorrow I’ll bring you to Monkey Wards to exchange it for something cool. Okay?’

He did. She did and bought a blue flannel robe home. It cost more than what she returned and Raymond made up the difference. The robe became the mainstay of her everyday wardrobe.

The Thinker sat by the tree and we all believed that come the 6th of January, Epiphany, when the Christmas decorations were taken down, the statue would be thrown out with the tree. But not so. It sat there afterwards, a few feet away from the rocking chair where Mom fell asleep each night watching TV. Come summer when Mom wanted a cool breeze while she ironed clothes in the living room, she used the statue as a door stop for the front door.

And then one day it disappeared. Since the movie, The Christmas Story, was years from being made, Mom could not be accused of staging a variation of the accident used to get rid of the unwanted leg-lap.

‘I set up the ironing board and I must have not locked the legs because as soon as I put the iron on it, it took a nose dive and the iron flew off and smashed The Thinker’s head. Couldn’t glue it. Just small chunks and dust. Had Raymond throw it in the trash barrel when he came home.’

‘Did he feel bad about his gift being broken.’

‘Heck no,’ she said, ‘He couldn’t care less about it. The statue wasn’t the real gift. The trick he played was the gift he wanted to give me. Proof he’s still the same old Raymond we remembered. ’

And to paraphrase a show biz declaration:

And that’s an un-wrap, folks

 

THE ART OF RAYMOND (I)

           

 

The Art of Raymond (I)

The gag-present in Elmer’s Goat was probably thought over for a year and came to being in about an hour. The gag-present in The Art of Raymond was a glance in a store window, a spur-of- the-moment purchase and then it steeped for six months, finally boiling over at Christmas. The recipient of the first enjoyed the joke. The recipient of the second, well…

No one would fault Mom for suspecting that Raymond was playing one of his tricks on her when he came in the house on a Thursday afternoon, carrying a large something-or- other wrapped in shiny paper, with a big ribbon encircling it from top to bottom.

‘Mom, guess what? I was going to Seven Corners Hardware to buy some tools and when I walked past a shop I saw this in the window, and I knew you’d love it,’ he said, as he set the package on the kitchen table.

One of his tricks, she knew it; but she didn’t care. He was back home after two years in the Army. As the three older kids moved out one by one the house grew larger, emptier, and quieter each time one of them left. And when the baby of the family left, it really sucked the excitement of raising a family out of her life. Some parents can’t wait for the nest to empty, but not Mom.

Now at least he was back. She knew he would bring back some of the old excitement in the house. The youngest of four, but always the leader in laughing and tricks and stirring things up. Grandpa use to say that you could just see the wheels turning in his eyes when he cooking up his next mischievous thing to do. The little ‘angel’. Maybe bringing home that present was a sign he was breaking out of the quiet mood he had been in since he came back.

When she had mentioned to Dad how Raymond seemed different, older, Dad pointed out that the Army brags that they make men out of boys. Plus with the three older ones gone, there was no one around to tease or to encourage him. Or maybe he is just resting up. He’s had two years of dreaming up some new tricks.

Raymond had been a guard at a secret radar post in the woods up in Alaska. Thirty miles from the nearest town, he told her. Pretty boring. Both the post and the town. He said to break the monotony in camp he would volunteer to dress up in a protective padded suit and let the dog trainer sic the guard dogs on him. In town the main attraction was the small bar that served bad beer and Tombstone pizza. The beer and pizza were more dangerous than the attack dogs. Whenever she tried to find out more about his time in the Army he would just tell her it was secret. Loose lips sink ships, what ever that meant. He was a soldier, not a sailor.

She made a move to unwrap the gift but stopped. ‘I suppose you want me to wait until you have a bigger crowd to laugh at your trick,’she said.

‘Mom, it’s your Christmas present. You have to wait until Christmas to unwrap it. I’m going to put it in the living room right by where the tree always goes. Be handy come Christmas.’

‘It’s six months ‘til Christmas. Go hide it in the barn.’

‘It is going in the living room,’he said. ‘You’re a big girl now and I know you won’t peek at it. Besides, I had the man wrap it with all kinds of newspapers and cardboard so you can’t feel what is inside.’ Then he took it in the living room.

The first few months Mom tried to guess what it was. She came up with some possible guesses and a few improbable ones. It became a game between the two of them. One time she guessed it was a statue and she caught a quick smile on Raymond. She continued with other guesses, but every now and then she would go back to statue, and finally she declared that it was a statue.

From then on she tried to guess what kind of stature. She narrowed it down to a statue of the Madonna. She went further and declared it was Our Lady of Fatima or maybe Our Lady of Lourdes. Satisfied that she had nailed it, she backed off thinking about it, except when she had to move it to dust mop.

But it took over her thoughts again as Christmas grew closer. Christmas Eve was the time for the kids and their families to spend in their own homes. For Mom and Dad, it meant putting up the tree, preparing for the big dinner the next day, and Midnight Mass. Early afternoon saw the children and grandchildren arrive bringing food for the big meal and presents to be opened after the meal.

Except this year Mom insisted that she get to open Raymond’s gift because she wanted to use it for a center piece on the table. Everybody agreed because they were all anxious to see what had been sitting in the living room for all those months.

Raymond had the last say though, and he had no objection just as long as Mom stuck by her promised to keep it on the table throughout dinner. He also had a big grin on his face. I, for one, suspected a trap; but Raymond moved fast and set the package in front of Mom, who had scissors in hand to make short work of the ribbon, shiny paper, newspapers, cardboard Scotch-taped together.

And as she peeled each layer off, she kept repeating that she was right, it was a statue, it was a statue. She kept vacillating between Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima.

And as the last covering fell away, the statue was revealed. Only it wasn’t Fatima or Lourdes or even a Madonna. It was a replica of

For now, as they use to sign off back in the day:

Stay tuned, same place tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of the story.

AN AROMA OF COOKIES

holiday                  A TALE OF THE SEASON 

 

She told me of this incident that occured prior to her first Christmas as a single parent.

To date, the two children, her son who had just turned seven, her daughter not quite four, hadn’t noticed how she had been pinching pennies, cutting corners, living from paycheck to paycheck; but with Christmas coming…

The tree would have to be smaller. A lot smaller. Presents would have be fewer. More emphasis on clothes. Less on toys. The usual Christmas feast would be more like an everyday dinner. Dessert, usually a Lazy Susan array of puddings and pies, candies and cookies, would be only her traditional oatmeal cookies. A lot of oatmeal cookies. And to sweeten them, the two children would help her with the baking.

The additional heat from the oven made the kitchen extra toasty. The sounds of Christmas from the radio made the event more festive. And the aroma of oatmeal cookies filling the house gave a promise of a happy Christmas, in spite of…

The sight of her two elves, clad in their pajamas, working happily away, gave her joy and pushed her fears aside. She’d work again on finding a better paying job after the holidays. But for the moment…

The boy’s hand was perfect to form the right size mounds of dough; and after he placed each clump on the cookie sheet, he twisted a little curl on top.

It wasn’t that easy for the little girl. She had to take two handfuls and crush them together. Then tried to plump it into the correct shape. She didn’t bother with a curl, but pinched off a little nibble as a reward.

It was almost time to take some of the cookies out of the oven when there was a knock at the front door. The young man of the house went to see about it. When he came back, he told his mother that it was two men from church. They had two bags of Christmas food, Care Packages they called them, for the poor people.

He said he told them that they must have the wrong address ‘cuz we’re not poor’.

She told me how she panicked. Weren’t poor!!!  She hoped she would have time to catch them and get the offered food. But first, she couldn’t let those cookies burn. She quickly pulled out the sheets and put them on top of the stove; but in her haste, she burned her thumb on the last one.

She gave a little yelp and sat down, blowing on her thumb. Her little doctor quickly pressed her thumb in the butter stick, and her little nurse offered some TLC by volunteering to kiss her owie.

It was too late to chase down the two men. And she was glad that it was. Had she ran after the them and taken the food parcels, she would have embarrassed her son. And she would have acknowledged to the two children that there was money problems.

Besides, looking at her two most favorite people in the world, made her realize the boy was right when he said they weren’t poor. They were very rich in what counts, family.

The little lady finished off the after-work cookie and milk and hurried to bed. She said she wanted to go to sleep real quick. The house smells so good, she explained, she knew she was going to have lots of sweet dreams.

The man of the family hung back. Finally, with a knowing smile, he asked if he could change what he had asked Santa to bring for his mother.

She said it depends. If he told her what the change is, she would write Santa a letter the next day at work and mail it and wait and see if he got the request in time.

He smiled and said he wanted Santa to bring his mother an Oven Mitt so she wouldn’t burn her thumb anymore. He gave her a kiss and went off to bed.

 

And now, years later, she’s carrying on a tradition she began just before her second Christmas as a single parent. Her elves, this year, are three of the grandkids. It’s a sleep over at Grandma’s, but the special sleep over. It’s the cooking- baking sleep over.

Like always at the cookie-baking party, the oven makes the kitchen extra toasty. The Christmas sounds from the radio has been replaced by Christmas sounds from the MP3 player; but nothing has, nor nothing can, replace the aroma of the oatmeal cookies, that fills the house.

The three children have their own way of making the shapes, but the twist of a curl on top has been lost over the years. But not so, the little pinch for a nibble of the dough.

There’s much more baking to be done each year, and the cookies have to be packaged, thirteen to each plastic bag that has a zip lock to hold in the aroma. The next day, the four of them will bring the cookies to the parish school gym to be placed in the Christmas food bags for the parish poor.

When the baking is finished for the evening, she gives the children a small glass of milk and a fresh cookie. Then with a kiss, she sends them off to bed, with the admonition to have sweet dreams. She knows she will have sweet dreams, and sometime in the night, she will imagine hearing a long ago voice reminding her that ‘we’re not poor’.

Over the years she often been asked her secret why her oatmeal cookies taste so good. ‘Real vanilla,’ she replies, ‘Real, not imitation! And,’ she adds, ‘A dash of faith. A dob of hope. And a dollop of love.’

Here’s wishing all of you that the holidays of your choice be filled with the love of your  family and the aroma of cookies.

AN AROMA OF COOKIES

holiday                  A TALE OF THE SEASON 

 

She told me of this incident that occured prior to her first Christmas as a single parent.

To date, the two children, her son who had just turned seven, her daughter not quite four, hadn’t noticed how she had been pinching pennies, cutting corners, living from paycheck to paycheck; but with Christmas coming…

The tree would have to be smaller. A lot smaller. Presents would have be fewer. More emphasis on clothes. Less on toys. The usual Christmas feast would be more like an everyday dinner. Dessert, usually a Lazy Susan array of puddings and pies, candies and cookies, would be only her traditional oatmeal cookies. A lot of oatmeal cookies. And to sweeten them, the two children would help her with the baking.

The additional heat from the oven made the kitchen extra toasty. The sounds of Christmas from the radio made the event more festive. And the aroma of oatmeal cookies filling the house gave a promise of a happy Christmas, in spite of…

The sight of her two elves, clad in their pajamas, working happily away, gave her joy and pushed her fears aside. She’d work again on finding a better paying job after the holidays. But for the moment…

The boy’s hand was perfect to form the right size mounds of dough; and after he placed each clump on the cookie sheet, he twisted a little curl on top.

It wasn’t that easy for the little girl. She had to take two handfuls and crush them together. Then tried to plump it into the correct shape. She didn’t bother with a curl, but pinched off a little nibble as a reward.

It was almost time to take some of the cookies out of the oven when there was a knock at the front door. The young man of the house went to see about it. When he came back, he told his mother that it was two men from church. They had two bags of Christmas food, Care Packages they called them, for the poor people.

He said he told them that they must have the wrong address ‘cuz we’re not poor’.

She told me how she panicked. Weren’t poor!!!  She hoped she would have time to catch them and get the offered food. But first, she couldn’t let those cookies burn. She quickly pulled out the sheets and put them on top of the stove; but in her haste, she burned her thumb on the last one.

She gave a little yelp and sat down, blowing on her thumb. Her little doctor quickly pressed her thumb in the butter stick, and her little nurse offered some TLC by volunteering to kiss her owie.

It was too late to chase down the two men. And she was glad that it was. Had she ran after the them and taken the food parcels, she would have embarrassed her son. And she would have acknowledged to the two children that there was money problems.

Besides, looking at her two most favorite people in the world, made her realize the boy was right when he said they weren’t poor. They were very rich in what counts, family.

The little lady finished off the after-work cookie and milk and hurried to bed. She said she wanted to go to sleep real quick. The house smells so good, she explained, she knew she was going to have lots of sweet dreams.

The man of the family hung back. Finally, with a knowing smile, he asked if he could change what he had asked Santa to bring for his mother.

She said it depends. If he told her what the change is, she would write Santa a letter the next day at work and mail it and wait and see if he got the request in time.

He smiled and said he wanted Santa to bring his mother an Oven Mitt so she wouldn’t burn her thumb anymore. He gave her a kiss and went off to bed.

 

And now, years later, she’s carrying on a tradition she began just before her second Christmas as a single parent. Her elves, this year, are three of the grandkids. It’s a sleep over at Grandma’s, but the special sleep over. It’s the cooking- baking sleep over.

Like always at the cookie-baking party, the oven makes the kitchen extra toasty. The Christmas sounds from the radio has been replaced by Christmas sounds from the MP3 player; but nothing has, nor nothing can, replace the aroma of the oatmeal cookies, that fills the house.

The three children have their own way of making the shapes, but the twist of a curl on top has been lost over the years. But not so, the little pinch for a nibble of the dough.

There’s much more baking to be done each year, and the cookies have to be packaged, thirteen to each plastic bag that has a zip lock to hold in the aroma. The next day, the four of them will bring the cookies to the parish school gym to be placed in the Christmas food bags for the parish poor.

When the baking is finished for the evening, she gives the children a small glass of milk and a fresh cookie. Then with a kiss, she sends them off to bed, with the admonition to have sweet dreams. She knows she will have sweet dreams, and sometime in the night, she will imagine hearing a long ago voice reminding her that ‘we’re not poor’.

Over the years she often been asked her secret why her oatmeal cookies taste so good. ‘Real vanilla,’ she replies, ‘Real, not imitation! And,’ she adds, ‘A dash of faith. A dob of hope. And a dollop of love.’

Here’s wishing all of you that the holidays of your choice be filled with the love of your  family and the aroma of cookies.