by Nick Brady
We woke up Monday morning aware of several things. First, that there was no school for over a week, second, that it was Christmas Eve, and third, that Mom was cooking bacon. It was the bacon that opened our eyes.
Being closest to the kitchen, Kevin was up first. He tended to be the first up anyway, but the proximity of his sofa to the frying pan assured that he would be first at the table.
I was up next and had to wake Joseph. He was a person of many and varied talents, but he had quickly developed a cozy relationship with Kevin's former bed and seemed reluctant to leave it. But once he became aware of the smell of bacon floating through the air he came right around.
After the obligatory pass through the bathroom we lined up on the sofa like birds on a wire, waiting to be fed. Dad had claimed the easy chair but was only pretending to read the paper as he sniffed the odors from the kitchen where Mom was doing her morning magic.
The unresolved question was what we were going to do with this awkward and unclaimed day that stretched between Sunday and Christmas Day. Our shopping had been done yesterday and everything was wrapped and hidden. Ours were stashed in shopping bags stuffed in our bedroom closet. Mom had her presents hidden away in some mysterious place known only to her. She would be busy today preparing the Christmas feast and it was our responsibility to get the hell out of the way so she could work unencumbered.
It was a bright clear day which would rise to the mid 40's. Mild enough to ride a bicycle, too cold to want to ride it far. Our discussion migrated to a showing of the new movie "The Godfather" at the Orpheum. That was accessible by bicycle and would fill the time before Joseph and I had to report to church for a last minute attempt to work the kinks out of the music for the Christmas Eve service later that evening. The discussion was ended by Mom's call that breakfast was ready.
The kitchen table sported a centerpiece of a small poinsettia surrounded by platters of crisp bacon and hot pancakes. There was butter, syrup, and pitchers of milk and orange juice. Heaven. We descended on the table like a swarm of seagulls and consumed everything in sight, staying just ahead of Mom's attempt to replenish the pancakes.
The first showing of "The Godfather" was at 11:00 so we killed a little time by watching the TV sports talk about the Bowl games to be played the next day. At 10:30 Joseph, Kevin and I pulled our bikes out of the shed and rode the 10 blocks to the movie theater and chained all three together to a light pole. Since Kevin was with us there was no thought of repeating our trip to the balcony. We decided we were too full of pancakes to make popcorn interesting so we went half way down and picked three seats on the aisle. After ads for the snack bar and rushes of coming attractions the movie began.
"Did you know that Marlon Brando put sliced apples in his cheeks to make his face look fuller?" Kevin asked. I didn't, Joseph did.
It was a good movie, although we agreed that the scene with the baseball bat was a little too graphic. It had warmed up a little after the movie so we detoured through downtown to look at the Christmas displays in the store windows. Tomorrow was the big day.
Back at the apartment, lunch was bologna sandwiches, chips, and a shared jug of Pepsi. Mom was busy with tomorrow's dinner. We ate on the sofa and watched a football game, then another football game.
Joseph and I were to be at church by 7:00. We would not return until after the late Christmas Eve service. Mom, Dad, and Kevin had indicated that they would attend so if Dad would give us a ride we could all come home together, and we could leave our bikes at home. It didn't really matter what we wore since we would be wearing the blue choir robes, but Mom wanted us to wear white shirt and tie, so we did.
It was all hands on deck in the choir room. There was a hand bell choir I didn't know we had that were playing a couple of things with us, and some brass instruments as well. I guess they had been practicing separately because they jumped right in and it sounded great. Most of the music was traditional 'We Three Kings' and 'Hark the Herald Angels' kind of stuff, but we had three anthems for the evening. There was a LOT of music. It was hard work but I was kind of excited to be part of it.
We worked straight through to 10:00 with only a pee break. The service was to begin at 10:30 so we had a little time to get a soda from the vending machines. Some nice church ladies had set out some trays of sandwiches and fruit to sustain us for the long service. This was obviously a big deal and while it was all new to me, I thought it was cool.
"How long is this thing?" I asked Joseph.
"It should let out about 12:15," he answered.
"That's almost 2 hours!"
"Yes, well the idea is that when the service is over it's Christmas morning. It's sort of like a vigil," he explained. "It is what we call a 'high' service, incense, lots of fancy stuff."
"What's the deal with incense?" I asked.
"I think incense symbolizes prayers rising up to heaven, or the Holy Spirit, or something like that. It is traditional for high, or rather important services like Christmas and Easter. It is sort of old fashioned but tells you that it is an important occasion. Everything we do is based on ancient tradition. I can't tell you the history behind it all. It is just the way we have always done things."
"Oh," I said.
It was time to suit up and show up, so we put on the blue choir robes and trooped out to the Narthex to process in. There were lots of young boys in red cassocks with waist length white cottas over them to carry candles, acolytes in white albs to assist at the altar, adult readers in black cassocks and white surplices, followed by the choir, with clergy bringing up the rear resplendent in white and gold vestments. This was not what I had grown up with but it was beautiful, and I loved it. It was quite a parade.
I looked to see if Mom and Dad had made it. I saw them at left center with Jack, and to my surprise, Dr. Anderson. I elbowed Joseph. "There's your dad," I whispered. He smiled and nodded. He had already seen him.
The pipe organ roared to life and the service began. The servers, the choir, and the clergy stretched almost the length of the nave. The choir peeled off on either side of the chancel, and the clergy and servers proceeded to the sanctuary, as the various parts of the church are named. All the while the choir and congregation was singing. It was cool.
The service was filled with music. Between each prayer or scripture reading there was music. Some the choir sang, some everybody sang, some was by soloists I had not heard before. I guess, like the hand bells and the brass instruments, these parts are rehearsed separately then get put together for the big service. I felt like I was just a small part of it, but I was a part, and it sort of thrilled me. I didn't have to understand all the whys and hows to know that it lifted my spirits.
I looked out at my family, my Mom and Dad, and my brother Kevin. Jack too, he was part of my family, even Dr. Anderson, they were all smiling and singing. Much of the service consisted of alternating readings and music. The nativity story from Luke was read and after each part there was a hymn that repeated the same thing, "Away in a Manger", Hark the Herald Angels Sing", We Three Kings", they set the story to music. The last part of the service was Communion and everyone came up to the front to receive the elements. Wow, I thought, this is the real Christmas.
After the service we all met in the Parish Hall for goodies. There was a table filled with trays of cookies, cakes, cheeses, fruits, little weenies on toothpicks, all kinds of good things. There was soda, and wine, and two bowls of punch. One was spiked and they jokingly called it Episcopal punch, and the other was not. That was the Baptist punch. We were directed to the Baptist kind.
By now it was after midnight and Christmas morning. Everyone was wishing each other "Merry Christmas" and hugging. I hugged Mom and Dad, Joseph of course, Jack, even brother Kevin. I saw Joseph and his father exchange Christmas greetings. They stepped to one side and talked for several minutes. Then Dr. Anderson came to greet Mom and Dad.
"I can't thank you enough for looking after Joseph," he said. "As I'm sure you know, this has been a difficult time for us and it has been wonderful for Joseph to be able to stay with you, especially now that it is Christmas. I am truly grateful, and I don't pretend that I will be able to repay you." The way he said it and they way he shook Dad's hand left no doubt of his sincerity.
Dad smiled and hugged him. "Merry Christmas," he said. Mom did the same.
"Well, it is getting late," Dad said. "We should be going."
Jack walked out with us into the frosty Christmas morning. "Merry Christmas to you all. You people have been my family since I came to the apartments. I can't thank you enough."
Mom hugged him. "We love you Jack. We are blessed to have you here. Goodness knows you have earned your keep. If you would like, why don't you come down and have some breakfast with us. There might be something under the tree for you."
"That would be nice," Jack agreed.
"I will send the boys up to get you. I doubt we are going to get up too early in the morning," She laughed.
When we got home we were all tired. "We are going straight to bed," Dad said. "You musicians should be tired, you have been singing your hearts out for over 5 hours. The music was beautiful. Your mother and I have decided that perhaps we should show up for church more often than Christmas and Easter, but don't hold us to that," he laughed.
One more round of hugs and we were ready for bed. Kevin flopped down on his sofa, and Joseph and I went to the bedroom.
Joseph sat down on Kevin's bed. "I am rather tired, Nicky. I don't think I have the energy to do anything but recline."
"Me either. Don't worry, you're safe from me. I'm pooped," I smiled. "As Mom used to remind us, the sooner we get to sleep the sooner Santa can come."
Joseph smiled and nodded. "Actually Nicky, if you don't mind I think I will go in the kitchen and fix myself a cup of tea to relax. Go on to sleep. I will just be a minute."
"Sure," I yawned and stretched out. I knew that sleep was only moments away.
I woke up at about 9:00. I was never able to sleep very late on Christmas morning. Joseph did not seem to have the same problem. I went over to where he was sleeping and blew in his ear, causing him to wake with a start.
"Arrrh, Nicky! What are you doing to me?" he grumbled.
"Wake up sleepy head. It's Christmas. Let's go see if Santa has left anything for us."
"Not me, I haven't been particularly good," he protested.
"Oh I don't know, I think you are pretty good," I made a grab for his crotch which caused him to move quickly.
He swung his feet to the floor. "I'm up, don't attack me."
We pulled on sweats and stumbled into the living room. Mom and Dad were up and Kevin was sitting in the easy chair looking smug.
"Merry Christmas Nick. Look what Santa brought us," he pointed to two brand new bicycles next to the tree.
"Wow! Thanks Mom and Dad," I yelled.
Dad shook his head. "They must be from Santa otherwise I have no idea where they came from."
Kevin and I looked them over. "Man, Specialized Expedition, 15 speed gearing, drop bars, bar end shifters, chrome fenders, bottle cages, these have everything!"
I looked at Dad. "You didn't get these?"
I looked at Joseph who shrugged. "The tag says from Santa," he pointed out.
"I haven't been that good," I admitted.
"Me either," Kevin seconded.
Joseph had this sly smile that could only mean he was the Santa.
"Where did these come from Joseph?" I demanded.
He smiled. "Your father said we could not compensate you, he didn't say that we couldn't get you something for Christmas. I thought you might need something better than an old hand-me-down bike, and heaven knows Kevin needs something so he can keep up with us."
Dad looked uncomfortable. "But these are expensive bicycles. This is too much."
Joseph smiled and said to Dad. "A wise man once said, if someone wants to do something nice, don't rob him of the opportunity."
Dad opened his mouth, then closed it again, recognizing the source of the remark. "You know you didn't need to do that, Joseph."
"Nor did you need to take me in and show me so much kindness," Joseph reminded him. "I would rather not try to keep score. Kindness begets kindness."
Kevin and I both hugged Joseph from either side. "Thank you brother Joseph. Where did you hide these bikes, how did you sneak them in here?"
"It was Santa," he insisted.
Kevin and I went back to examining the bikes until Mom reminded us that there were other presents under the tree that might have our name on them.
"Oh, that's right. Our presents!" I remembered that our bag of gifts was stashed in our closet. We ran in and brought it out. "Santa must have left this in our closet."
"We handed them out by size, this one is for Mom, this one for Dad, and the big one is for both of you." I said.
"They are from all three of us," Kevin informed them. Mom and Dad opened their big present. They were very pleased with the toaster oven. "I have always wanted one of these. I can bake cookies in this without using the big oven."
"Baking cookies is a great idea. You might want to test it soon," Kevin suggested.
The cologne was a surprise. "Oh, Galore! This is very nice," Mom enthused, sniffing at the cap. "This is heavenly. I have never had this. Smell, honey."
Dad took a sniff and smiled. "This is a gift for us both." Then he looked at his Infinity for Men. "Umm, so is this. I don't have anything this nice. Thank you guys," he looked sideways at Joseph. "Good choice."
There were two that were obviously framed pictures. "One for Joseph and the other for you guys," I handed them out. The framed photo was of the three of us with Santa. One for Mom and Dad, the other for Joseph. Our parents were pleased, Joseph was almost teary eyed. "I will treasure this forever. It will remind me of my brothers and my best Christmas ever," he said with sincerity.
There were two sets of packages from Mom and Dad, one set for me, another for Kevin. We knew what they were. Every Christmas we received brightly wrapped packages containing socks, underwear, new jeans and shirts. They were appreciated but not exactly a surprise. When we were little there was also a mystery gift, a prize toy or something that we had hinted for.
This year we had sort of forgotten to do much hinting. We were a little beyond the toy stage although it was always nice to get something fun. This year it appeared that the parents felt we needed something educational because the mystery gifts were clearly a book of some kind. In fact there were three of them, one with a label for Joseph. Naturally we saved them for last.
Joseph was encouraged to open his first. "Chopin: The Man and His Music" by Huneker. Joseph was thrilled. "Oh, I saw a review of this, it's just out and said to be excellent. What a thoughtful gift, thank you very much."
I was next and found "Make the Team in Baseball" by Clary Anderson. "Hey thanks, baseball season is not that far away and I really want to make the Edison school team. Great choice."
Kevin opened his to a paperback copy of "Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us" by Walt Kelly. He whooped. "I love Pogo and this is the very latest one. We can all enjoy this."
There were three nicely wrapped packages left. "Aren't you going to open those?" Mom asked.
We laughed and said variants of "Oh what could they be?"
"How do we tell which is whose?" I wondered.
"Open them up and see what color they are," Joseph laughed.
We each opened a package then began passing the sweaters around so that Kevin had yellow, Joseph had red and I had the green one. "What a surprise!" We said in unison.
Dad laughed. "I assume you did your shopping together. Those are nice sweaters."
Mom asked. "Are you ready for a little something to eat? Why don't you see if Jack is up and would like to join us?"
We looked at each other. "Shall we?" I asked.
The three of us clomped up the stairs as loudly as we could and pounded on Jack's door, shouting "HO, HO, HO!, MERRY CHRISTMAS!" And other loud greetings.
We paused and waited, listening at the sounds of footsteps and grumbled curses. The door opened to a scowling Jack. "For Pete's sake guys! I hope you know that you probably woke up everyone in the building."
"Sorry, I didn't think of that," I apologized.
"Merry Christmas anyway," Kevin said cheerfully. "Mom sent us up to see if you wanted to join us for breakfast."
Jack sighed. "Yes thanks, and Merry Christmas to you too. I'll be right down."
We went down the stairs much quieter than we went up. We resumed our inspection of the new bicycles and Jack joined us a few minutes later.
"How do you like those?" he asked.
"We love them," I said. "You ask that as if you knew they were here."
"I should, they have lived in my apartment all weekend. I helped Joseph bring them down last night after you guys were asleep."
"Santa, eh?" I scoffed.
Joseph laughed. "Who knew that Santa was a freshman at TU?"
Dad had a pot of coffee ready and he poured out six cups and passed them around. "Milk and sugar on the table," he said, and started another pot.
Mom had bought some nice trays of coffeecake and laid that out on the table with milk and juice. She had just warmed it up in her new toaster oven and it was hot and delicious. We made short work of it and another pot of coffee.
"What are you doing for Christmas dinner?" Dad asked Jack.
Jack hesitated just a little. "Oh, I have plans."
"Talley's?" asked Kevin.
Jack grinned. "They have good food."
"I won't have you eating Christmas dinner in a restaurant by yourself when we have plenty," Mom insisted.
"I won't be by myself," he argued.
"Who'll be with you?" Kevin asked him.
"Well, Pablo and Juan," Jack answered.
"We have plenty. Please come and bring them with you," Mom urged.
Jack protested. "No, I couldn't, not on such short notice. That would be a terrible imposition."
Dad put his hand on Jack's shoulder. "Really now. Christmas is for family, and you are part of our family. You have been like a brother to Nick and Kevin, and Joseph too. Please join us and bring your friends."
"That is very kind of you. If you are sure, I don't know how I could refuse. I will let Pablo and Juan know the change of plans and I'm sure they will be delighted," he replied gratefully. "What time should we be here and what can we bring?"
"Be here by 2:00 and don't worry about bringing anything. I think I will have plenty and nothing is open on Christmas Day anyway, so just come," Mom smiled.
Kevin and I had determined that the new bikes were properly adjusted and ready to ride. "We have lots of time before dinner, can we ride our new bicycles?" I asked. Kevin seconded the motion.
"It's fine with me," Mom said. "Put on your coats and be sure you wear your helmets."
"Let's all go," I suggested. "Joseph has his bike here and Jack, you can ride my 10-speed."
Jack said. "That sounds like fun if I can remember how to ride a bike. Let me go up and get a jacket and I will call Pablo."
A few minutes later we were all ready to go. Jack had to raise my seat up higher for his longer legs, but I had it in good shape. Kevin and I did a few turns around the parking lot to get our seats and handlebars adjusted to suit us, and we were off.
"Where are we going?" Joseph asked as we started down Denver to the Riverpark.
"Let's ride out to Chandler Park," suggested Kevin. "That's just straight out 21st Street."
"Today would be a good day to do it. There won't be much traffic on Christmas morning," I agreed.
"I am following you guys," Jack said.
"I have never been to Chandler park," Joseph admitted.
"it's nice up there. It is on the top of a big hill and you can see everything to the East," I told him.
We sailed down to 21st Street then west over the bridge. We rode single file on the curb side but there was almost no traffic. We stopped at the light on Southwest Boulevard, then across the overpass crossing the railroad yards to the stop sign where 21st Street became Avery Drive and turned left. The only traffic we encountered was that of other bicycles. This was a popular ride for serious bikers.
"It's about 5 miles to the park," Kevin told us. He seemed to know everything.
The road wound along the Arkansas River under old trees. Soon we veered off to the left and up a long hill to the park. It was a good climb and we had a chance to try out the gearing.
"Wow, 3 gears on the crank and 5 on the sprocket, we can climb trees with this setup," Kevin was excited. "This beats that dirt bike all to heck."
We stopped halfway up the hill where the road curves sharply and looked back towards Tulsa. "My, what a view," Joseph exclaimed. "Look, there is all of downtown, the river, and to the south we can see ORU and the Maybee Center where we went to see the Globetrotters."
Jack puffed. "It's OK with me if we stop and enjoy the view."
I unzipped my jacket. "I am warmed up now. That is a good climb."
After a few minutes we rode on up the hill to where the road leveled off and started through the park.
"There is a nice swimming pool up here somewhere," Kevin said.
"There is is," I pointed. "We could ride up here and swim next summer."
Joseph looked around with a smile. "This is wonderful. Another new experience, eh Nicky?"
Kevin pointed off to the right towards the river. "There are cliffs over there where people go rappelling."
"I did some rappelling when I was in Boy Scouts," Jack said. "That's a lot of fun."
We stopped near the pool where there were picnic tables under the trees. Joseph had equipped our new bikes with water bottles in the cages. I had filled them before we left and we passed them around.
"We could pack a picnic lunch and come up here and swim and explore," I suggested.
"I suspect we can put these bikes to good use as the weather gets better," Joseph agreed. "These bicycles will be a treat for all of us."
"This old 10-speed is a decent bike," Jack observed. "I just might borrow it now that you have a new one."
"It really belongs to Joseph," I acknowledged. "But I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
"Consider it yours Jack. Merry Christmas!" Joseph laughed.
Jack grinned. "I accept, thank you sir. I can ride this to class and save gas in my old truck."
We rode around exploring the area, getting off to walk over to where the cliffs were, and admiring the view. We got back on the bikes and took a side road that ran beneath the cliffs and looked back up at where we had been.
"It doesn't look so far from down here," Kevin said.
"It always looks farther when you are looking down," Jack chuckled. "I can show you guys how to rappel if we can get some decent rope."
"This is going to be fun," I declared.
"There are lots of places we can go. We need to check out Turkey Mountain next time," Kevin suggested.
"We have all week," Joseph observed.
We looked around a little more then decided to start back. When we got back to the top of the long hill to the park, Jack told us to wait.
"It will be fun to go fast down this hill, but it will be hard to stop at the bottom. Let me go down first and I will wave for you when it is safe to roll through."
We waited until Jack waved us down then pumped as hard as we could until we had outrun our top gear, tucked down out of the wind and went screaming down the long hill, leaning around the curve at the bottom and stopping when it leveled out.
"Wow, we were flying!" Keven shouted. "That is the fastest I ever went on a bike!"
"Me too," I said. "We need to get those speedometer, odometer gadgets to see how fast we are going."
"And how far," Kevin added.
Joseph laughed. "And so starts the great adventure. That was exhilarating!"
We took our time riding back, stopping to check out this and that, waving at other riders going in both directions. We felt like seasoned riders and predicted that we would be soon.
"There are lots of bike trails around here. We are just getting started," Kevin pointed out.
We stopped when we got back to the Rivertrail and sat to rest.
I asked Joseph. "I noticed you talking to your father last night after the church service. Did he have any news about your mom?"
Joseph nodded. "That is what we were talking about. He went out and visited her last Sunday. He said she was very remorseful at what she has put us through. He said he felt like she was really serious about getting sober. At least she acknowledged that she was an addict and wanted to change."
"That is a big step," I said.
That is the first step," Jack pointed out. "That is very encouraging Joseph, but she has a lot of work to do."
"If you don't mind my asking, how do you know so much about alcoholism?" I asked Jack. "I have never seen you drink so much as a beer."
"That is a long story," Jack confided. "I guess the short version is that my mother's brother, Uncle Bill was alcoholic. He was a fun guy, I guess my favorite uncle. He struggled with drinking for as long as I can remember and tried everything, but just couldn't kick it. He finally committed suicide."
"That sucks," I didn't really know what to say.
"He had a son about my age, my first cousin Matthew. We were really good friends. When he was 15 he came home from school one day and found his dad hanging from a tree in the back yard."
We were all very quiet. "I decided that I was not going to drink, and never have since then," Jack said softly.
"Did you before then?" I asked.
"I was playing with it, you know, like some kids do."
"My initial experience wasn't very good either," I admitted.
Jack sighed. "I don't know why some people can handle it and some can't, but one theory is that it's genetic. I just decided that I didn't want to take that chance."
"What did your cousin Matthew do?" Kevin asked. "I mean was it hard for him?"
Jack nodded. "It was. He didn't seem to be able to get past it. I think somehow he blamed himself. He started doing drugs and has had a really hard time."
"It is a family disease," Joseph shared.
We sat and pondered that for a few minutes. Then Jack stood up and said. "Let's get back and see what's cooking."
We rode back to the apartment and walked in to the heavenly smell of roasting turkey. Mom was in full gourmet cook mode. We washed up, changed clothes, sat down to find a bowl game on TV and salivated.
A little before 2:00 Pablo and Juan knocked on the door. Jack ran them upstairs and they came down with three extra chairs. They helped Mom set the table and lay out dinner. There was a big turkey looking like something out of a magazine, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, a nice fruit salad, and all the trimmings. There were iced glasses of tea and places set for eight crowded around our little kitchen table.
We all joined hands and Dad said the blessing. "Dear Lord, thank you for this day, thank you for this family, thank you for this food, and bless the hands that prepared it. Merry Christmas. Amen!"
Appropriately enough, dessert was a birthday cake.
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