Businesses in Canton shuttered early on fall Fridays as the high school drum major marched a mile of black and gold uniformed musicians round the Courthouse Square. The proud city folks followed the band in a joyful procession to Ben Roberts Stadium. Even hard workin farmin families finished their laborin ways before the sun went down so they could make their way to the famed field.
The mighty Canton Panthers were consistent champions in the Choctaw Conference. Daddy mostly told stories about playin the vulgar boys from Yazoo City on Thanksgivin Day. Moma said the playin only served as a prelude to a brawl. Each season there were multiple newspaper stories about cheatin refs, protestin parents, bus paintins, whiskey drinkin, and blood lettin. One year, the white trash boys from Yazoo burnt YCHS in big letters in the middle of the Canton field.
I loved watchin the Panthers, no matter the opponent. But, I was hypnotized by the All Superior Marchin Band and its rivetin version of the famous Rockettes up in New York City. These spellbindin dancers never disappointed with their halftime high kickin extravaganzas.
I often pretended to be the leader of the band usin a tomata pole as my baton. Sadly, my egg layers were much better at squawkin than marchin and dancin.
Every year after the Canton Christmas parade ended and the band’s famous dancers had retired to their usual seats at The Panther Pit, Daddy and Moma took us to Sears and Roebuck so we could deliver our letters to Mr. Clause, who looked a lot like Mr. O.D. Crawford if ya looked real close.
Every year, I spent manya long nights by our fireplace thumbin through the bulky Sears Wish Book to complete my wish list. And, Mr. Clause got it right every year.
While Daddy went walkin and Moma went shoppin at Kenwin’s Dress Shop, I went over to Sterling’s to buy some Bazooka bubble gum. Then, I checked out the gorgeous window displays at the Buttross’ Department Store. I said hello to Mrs. Buttross. She was one of the kindest women in Canton. Then, I went to Sabb’s Store. I said hello to Mrs. Sabb, Miss Jean Taylor, Mrs. Gilbert, and Mrs. Davi. They claimed every kid in town as their own. Next, I popped inta Ben Franklin’s. I gave the Bartons a big wave. Then, I went to give my biggest wave to the electronic wavin Santa in the window at Noble Watts Jewelers. Then, I gave a Christmas greetin to Mr. Joe and Little Joe and Mrs. Pat at Iupe’s Specialty Clothing. Then, I was off to Stanley’s Department Store to look at the Western Boots I had included in my wish list. I made sure to tell Mrs. Breeland to make sure to tell Mr. Clause which ones I really wanted. Then, I went down to Fred’s to say hello to Mr. Jolly Massey and his wife Mrs. Tommie Jean. When I finished my Christmas greetins at Mr. Gowdy’s, I went to sing and dance round the fifty foot tall silver singin Christmas tree on the Courthouse lawn. I twirled round and round the tree til I got stone drunk and fell down unable to move a single muscle. The entirety of creation turnt inta a vibrant kaleidoscope spinnin round and round to the tune of Santa Clause is Comin to Town.
The clipity clap of horses’ hooves kept time to the music as they pullt elaborately ornamented carriages through the city’s streets that were alive with the laughter of joyful friends. Church choirs filled the air with sacred singin. The savory essence of freshly baked breads and cookies permeated the grinchiest hearts. And, twinklin lights added to the magic of the Victorian decorations.
Time was warm. And, the barkin dogs’ rendition of Jingle Bells still rattles round inside my head.
After my musical retreat concluded, I flew along with Rudolph as he pullt Mr. Clause and his sleigh from light pole to light pole round the Courthouse Square. After I finished flyin, I rode a majestic carousel steed. After I had enough spinnin, I joined Moma and Daddy at Sulm’s Store. Mr. Sulm had come to Canton from Germany in 1875. Daddy said that when he was a little boy there were signs on every fence post on every road that said,
Sulm’s Sells It.
We got outta the crowded store juss in time to grab a peppermint milkshake at Mr. James’ Restaurant and crossed the street to watch the Mayor light the beacon in the cupola for the twelve days of Christmas. The old Courthouse never looked better.
My favorite part of the night was when all the town folks and all the farm folks joined together to sing.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm and all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep, sleep in heaven, heavenly peace
On our way home, we always drove pass the First United Methodist Church to see their amazin Nativity. Once we arrived at home, we all sat next to the fire and watched Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Linus tell about the real meanin of Christmas. Then, we watched the WLBT radar and Mr. Woody the Weatherman to see if Mr. Clause and his reindeer were gittin close. I had to make sure I had time to fall fast asleep.
He sees you when you’re sleepin.
He knows when you’re awake!
One bone chillin Christmas Eve, I asked Moma how Mr. Clause would be able to slide down the chimney with a blazin fire burnin in our fireplace. She smiled and said,
Santa’s elves know that farm folks all round the world burn fires at night to stave off the sharp teeth of winter. Like Santa, the elves got a list. But, juss to be safe, I’ll leave the back door open for Santa.
I smiled real big and said,
That’ll help him keep his suit clean. And, that’ll make Mrs. Clause smile.
Granmaw always said,
Cleanliness is next to godliness.
And, godliness is what Christmas is all about.
Happy Birthday Jesus.
I placed the chunky chocolate chip cookies Moma and me had baked and some freshly squeezed milk from Miss Barrett’s milker on the small table next to the open door. Next, I checked each hook holdin the red and white stockins to the mantle while Daddy and Moma settled in for a long winter nap in front of the jagged flames in the fireplace.
Then, I double checked the strands of silver tinsel that decked the freshly cut evergreen. Then, I straightened the sparklin star one last time. Then, I admired the fancy foiled papers that sparkled seductively as the colored lights moved to a soft sentimental melody playin on Daddy’s radio.
Kyrie among the nations. Kyrie among the nations. Kyrie among the nations.
I nodded a nod of grateful appreciation to the Nutcrackers who were standin tall and doin their very best to ignore the flickerin fantasy before um. Sweet aromas rose up from the culinary indulgences Moma had lovinly prepared for our Christmas feast. The still coolin sausage balls inspired instant salivation. I drew in a long deep breath. Resistin the teasin pull of the aromatic temptations, I smoothed the shiny red spread, gave a small silver bell a tinkle, and headed off to bed confident that everythin was perfect for Mr. Clause’s late night visit.
In no time at all, all the farm creatures, great and small, stopped their stirrin. A bewitchin silence soon blanketed everythin. Even the soft whispers of the wind through the naked pear and plum orchards withdrew from the delicate holiness lit by the shinin of a single resplendent star.
I knelt down at my bedside and said a prayer for the gift of a white Christmas. But, I knew this Christmas would be juss like all the other brown Christmases in Mississippi. So, I closed my eyes and waited for the Sandman to cue the Sugar Plum Fairies to take the stage and start their dancin.
Curtain! Curtain! Everyone! Curtain!
As the curtain rose, an ancient ethereal preluded filled the night air. Next, a young boy with the voice of an angel began to sing,
Jesus refulsit omnium
Pius redemptor gentium
Totum genus fidelium
Laudes celebret dramatum
Quem stella natum fulgida
Monstrat micans per authera
Magosque duxit praevia
Ipsius ad cunabula
Illi cadentes parvulum
Pannis adorant obsitum
Verum fatentur ut Deum
Munus ferendo mysticum.
After the conductor took his final bow and gestured to the young boy, an introduction in a heavy tongue boomed across the blackness of the empty stage.
In another world. In another time. Our story continues.
A thousand slowly lit candles revealed the faces of a great cloud of witnesses. Then, the saga of a solitary son, a compassionate prince with a transparent heart, unfolded from the majestic tongues of boyish Christmas cantors.
Next, a dozen skilled dancers, all male, executed an adagio to a descendin scale of melancholy. Once the accompaniment ceased, only two dancers remained standin, back to back.
All the instruments went mute when the prince slowly strode to center stage. Then, the upright dancers circled round him pullin and gropin at his body. Then, they jumped up and down as they spun the prince round and round. Then, they twitched and jerked til they fell drunk at the prince’s shoeless feet.
An energetic wintry wind started howlin. And, a tremblin chill embraced the empty spaces amongst the dimly lit architecture that had been wrecked by a mighty battle. Drums of doom spasmed as ravenous hounds, crouched on the edges of the shadows invoked trepidation.
Two coins of unalloyed gold for the High Priestess of Perpetuity. The measured sacrifice for dreams and loves still sleepin beyond the lightless shroud.
The moon revealed its face as frosted flakes began to gently fall. A sorceress’ alto prayer permeated all things seen and unseen. Then, a slowly movin mute ceremony. Hugs from two saints. A torn cloak. A kiss from the sorcerer in dazzlin white. A now naked prince. Exposed for all to see, to gape, to whisper, to turn in shame.
Plop. Plop. Ripples filled a pool. Flames scattered. The moon hid behind risin smoke. The darkest hour was now at hand. The whole earth shook.
Then, flutes fluttered like the love call of the first birds of the mornin. The bloomin sun began chasin away all dismay. A huddled crowd chanted,
Hail gladdenin light. Hail gladdenin light. Hail gladdenin light.
Bells began to clang and peal. An enchantin tenor sang of a broken curse and a boundless spring. A fruitless tree began to glisten and blossom. Trumpets announced the end of cold dark years. The prince traded his crown for another. Symbols crashed. And, a rainbow of promise stretched its way across the dawnin sky.
Then, a cruel cock with a broken clock began to crow.
Cock! A! Doodle! Do! Cock! A! Doodle! Do! Cock! A! Doodle! Do!
Stirred from my slumber, I heard a commotion on our roof.
What was that? Could it be?
I threw open the windows and looked out into the Mississippi darkness. Then, a hearty voice pierced the brisk silence,
Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Dunder and Blixem!
I didn’t see him. But, I heard him. I really did. I heard Mr. Clause call out to his reindeer.
No. He didn’t mention Rudolph.
—About the Author—
David Paul Stewart grew up on a working farm outside the picturesque city of Canton, Mississippi. He and his partner and their two bulldogs currently reside in Arlington, Virginia. David earned an undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University and a Masters in Theological Studies with an emphasis on just-peacebuilding from Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC. His thesis, “Peace in the Poet’s Path,” calls on Muslim and Christian female poets to join in grassroots efforts to promote justice and peace worldwide. His soon to be published books on poetry include: Muted Screams, Cries for Justice, Echoes of Eros, Divine Pathways, and Sacred Stanzas.
Check out David’s previous story about young love gone fishin: “Unda the Stars”!