Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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HomeEducation / CultureRevel without a Claus

Revel without a Claus

By Tony Deyal

Listening to the Christmas song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth…” I started laughing loudly because if I tried that I would have to make it “ten front teeth” with more to come, especially if I go past 79 and head into the eighties or worse, the nineties. Fortunately for me, and so many other people, my Christmas starts with stories of the past.

My earliest Christmas memory was when my mother bought me two guns with all the trimmings (what we called “gun and sack”). They were all wrapped up in paper that said, “Peace On Earth”. It left out “And Goodwill To All”. It also did not say, “And no respite or sleep for the wicked” because I was not a Lone Ranger. All the other neighbourhood boys had begged for months and together we had our own gunfights but not in an OK Corral. It was not okay for our parents and we got corralled to stop the noise. This made me remember my friend Shuey who we heard was arrested by police. He had already spent time in the YTC (Youth Training Centre), an institution that locked up young offenders between the ages of 16 to 18. We had missed Shuey in our Christmas “house-to-house” drinking and eating, especially the ham.

When I asked Shuey, “What happen to you boy?” he told me that he was in mister Ali’s store doing his Christmas shopping early when the police came and locked him up. I was aghast, “But those police really hate you! Just because you went to YTC, they think you are a criminal. Listen, unless it is Santa Claus who sent them, there is no crime against what you were doing!” He then replied: “The reason they came is that mister Ali called them and tell them I was in his place.” “So, what wrong with that?” I asked. He replied with his head down, “Well it was three o’clock in the morning when he heard me in the store and called the police for me.”

Among the memories that are still important to me was what all families and their children had to do in the days before Christmas. It was called “putting away the house”. You had to have a new “oilcloth” tablecloth, metal curtain rods, linoleum, a little Christmas tree with artificial snow on silver paper and, more than anything else, the curtains.

The living room curtains were the piece de resistance. New living room and dining room furniture of shining chrome and plastic backs proved the point that a chair was still a chair even when there was no one sitting there. But a house was not a home without curtains. Even when Christmas was just around the corner it did not turn the bend until the curtains were up and our mothers stepped back to admire their handiwork. Driven round the bend yourself with having to wait for food and find some nails and pound your fingers, you were merely a bit player who just strutted and fretted, but of no great pith and moment, signifying nothing really. The curtains were stage right, left and centre. From the inside looking out it was impossible at the time to appreciate the drama, the curtain call.

The neighbours, unconscious of their parts, played them to perfection, peeping and peering through their curtains to see who was better. If they pulled their curtains angrily down, you knew that the Jones’s were not merely caught up with, but were passed and surpassed, drawn, quartered, and torn asunder. No chimney for Santa Claus to pass through. No problem. No ham, no ginger beer, no sorrel even, still no problem. But no curtains meant no Christmas. That was the long, short, broad and tall of it all.

In remembering those days, I am convinced that if the Lord is a tree, he has to be a Christmas Tree. It is literally the root, branch and heart of Christmas. It is the sparkle and the soul. Initially, my Mom bought trees made from wire and green painted paper covered with foil and metallic tinsel, with bulbs and pine cones hanging on them. She then had me cover them with artificial snow sprayed from a can. For many years now, it has been a live pine tree. We already have one in the living room.

A big pine tree up to the roof with lights and more lights, blue and shiny. Even now the thought, the event, the occasion is like Rudolf’s red nose, lighting up the past, present, and future. I still see my mother on her Singer machine and can almost hear the “brrr” of the electric motor. My four children have grown up. But even now I think that if the stick of a blind man creates a new darkness, the hopes of the young illuminate Heaven and Earth.

Another of my memories was from my days working for the sugar company in Trinidad and decided to have Santa Claus land from a plane to meet, greet and give toys to the kids of our employees and the community. Our Santa was appropriately built and willing to play the part. He had never been in a helicopter before and in the ups and downs went from black to green and, as the helicopter dipped, swooped and landed, to white, whiter even than the cotton beard that was by now wildly askew. Shaken and shaky he was helped out of the helicopter. As he stood trembling and queasy, he saw approaching him at speed, a phalanx of parents, children in tow. Within seconds, he was engulfed by the mob, his sack emptied and looted. Fortunately, the police arrived and were able to save him from further indignity. The sack was never found or his beard.

The one I will never forget is when we lost all our money in the club and decided to go from house to house as a “parang” or “parranda” group. This is a Venezuelan term for four or more men serenading people. We saw it as getting some money from the homeowners for our singing or, even better, like Maduro, threatening them, in this case with our singing, and getting them to pay us to leave. We had made some money and then our leader, Dadoi, took us to a darkened house in Cassava Alley and started singing, “The First Noel.”

When we hit the chorus, “Noel! Noel!”, Mrs Noel was up first and started to shout, “All youh no good so and so, this, that and the other, (ancestry-based expletives deleted), you have nothing to do but wake up people in dey bed etc etc”. Mister Noel jumped out of a dream of swimming in Jack Iron and pulled out his wicked shining blade, running outside in his “sliders” or homemade boxer shorts, and threatening to kill everybody, their mothers, fathers and related anatomical attachments. We scattered. Dadoi and the money were not seen again for that Christmas.

*Tony Deyal was last saddened while listening to carols on the radio about peace on Earth. Unfortunately, they didn’t say where but he knew it was definitely not Trinidad.  

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