A Christmas Letter by J.T. Townley was published in The Red Anthology of Hitherto Unknown Writers (No Record Press)
DEAREST KITH, KIN, Etc.,
The New Year already, and me just getting these cards out! Time marches on, and, sorry to say, none of us is getting any younger. Despite my sister Jen’s crackpot theories, cosmetic surgery will only hold the wrinkle-imps and sag-demons at bay temporarily, or until the silicone starts to leak, whichever comes first. No doubt about it, the sands of time are again running low. As The Eagles—or The Black Crows?—sang all those years ago, “To everything, turn, turn, turn.” Right, they were. There is a season (turn, turn, turn) and a time for everything. I’m paraphrasing. All that spinning can sure give a gal the vertigo, not unlike swilling eggnog straight from the carton! Jingle all the way is what I’m saying. ’Tis the season, folks, so Season’s Greetings!
Here in the Shaw household, we’ve had our ups and downs, our highs and lows. We’re not so unlike you or anyone else. It all evens out in the end—we hope so, anyway. Jim, our breadwinner, finally went back to work after a year’s sabbatical spent, in large part, moping around our newly-finished five-bedroom home right here in the Palmetto Springs subdivision, just two blocks from our former residence. Jim’s been driving everyone up a wall. Earlier this month, though, he won Podiatrist-of-the-Year at the annual conference in Palm Springs . We were all so proud! It was sure nice to get him out of the house for a while, too, except for the fact he couldn’t account for the extra four days he spent down there, incommunicado. He claims he switched hotels; he contends he forgot to charge his cell phone; he asserts he was on the golf course all day. The partially disintegrated business card of one Dr. Erika Marks, Foot Specialist, appeared enigmatically in the wash, however. The load was completely ruined. The investigation is still in media res, but we’ll keep you posted.
The Shaw offspring (Arnie, Mary, and Marie) strove harder than ever this year, realizing a number of important goals while, with a little prodding, setting myriad and multifarious more. It’s paramount for children nowadays to have ambition, and it’s a parent’s responsibility to insure they get it. The Shaw kids never rest on their laurels, which are voluminous! Not if they want to maintain their domestic privileges, like Macaroni Mondays and the summer Car Waxathon, they don’t—which, of course, they do.
Our eldest, Arnie, has already reached the midpoint in his eighth-grade career, which has been replete with numerous triumphs. A natural musician (can you say prodigy?), he’s been accepted as one of thirteen flautists in the John J. Palmetto campus ensemble. Arnie is the sole piccolo! He was also welcomed into several prestigious and exclusive organizations, including the National Junior Honor Society, the P.E. Kickball “Red Squad,” and the Home Economics Baking and Knitting Society. Despite his skin condition, which Dr. Mueller’s helping to keep in check, Arnie’s also becoming quite the ladies’ man. He’s always been so precocious! Maybe it’s a bit early for him to start dating, but at least he’s not wasting his time surfing the nudie sites anymore.
If you can believe it, the apples of my eye have outdone themselves again. That’s right! The twins, Mary and Marie, have surpassed their previous accomplishments this year, and the whole world needs to know about it. If you don’t already, where have you been? My little blonde wonders are both straight-A students, but that goes without saying. Mary, the elder by three minutes, took the blue ribbon at the Mary K. Palmetto Elementary art contest with a masterful rendition (pastel-and-watercolor on bed sheet) of Pablo Picasso’s world-famous painting, “The Lovers.” Marie, my other blonde starlette, was awarded highest honors, hands down, for the third year running at the annual All-Palmetto Beauty Pageant. That means we’ll be keeping that purple satin sash and second-to-none cubic zirconium tiara here in the Shaw domicile, thank you very much! As a duo, Mary and Marie won first prize in this year’s community talent show for a tap routine to that perennial favorite, “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Their hand-stitched sequined tutus were just darling! My pair of beauties are pursuing other avenues of self-edification as well, including French and Russian conversation classes, voice lessons, kickboxing, and peewee football cheerleading. They both say “please and thank you” and “yes, ma’am and no, ma’am,” and they know where to place the soup spoons and wine glasses. They’ve already mastered the formal curtsy, too. Besides frequent confusion about their names, nothing can stop these two!
Waldo the Wunderhund, our treasured basset-dachshund, had himself a busy first quarter, too. Absconding through his doggie-door, Waldo was picked up five times by Animal Control. He’d been, we only later learned, sowing his wild oats. One of his many partners-in-crime was a pedigreed Pekinese named Pearle. Displeased with Waldo’s lascivious ways, Pearle’s owner, Mr. Gerrig, “accidentally” backed his new canary-yellow Hummer over the poor mutt. Jim went over that afternoon and scraped Waldo off the driveway with a shovel; the funeral was held in our backyard. I cried, Jim cried, Arnie cried. The twins, who loved Waldo more than their own brother, bawled their sweet blonde heads off. When we threatened to press charges, Mr. Gerrig offered to foot the burial bills, which we accepted. We’re pressing charges anyway.
By the way, you know that baby we had last month? He’s our fourth, and he’s doing fine. We named him Kale. That’s a family name, from Jim’s great-grandfather or great-stepfather or someone. Though ugly for a newborn, Kale’s doing fine. He’s spending a lot of time with Jim’s mother over in Michigan , where the air is cleaner. We have some Polaroids of him we’ll send around, if we get the chance.
After numerous, pressured inquiries, we have more to report about the Palm Springs affair. “How do you know this woman?” we asked. “She’s a professional colleague,” responded the defendant. “How do you know this woman?” we insisted the following day. “We were classmates in podiatry school,” came the evasive response. “How do you know this woman?” we asked later that afternoon. “I’m not,” Jim attempted, “going to have this discussion with you. I’ve already told you who she is. You know we have a professional relationship. Professional, Bev. So do me a favor? Just drop it, okay?” No, actually that was not okay. I wanted to know who this hussy was, and what she thought she was doing ruining my dark load with her perfume-saturated business card. Who did she think she was running around with my husband in Palm Springs , on or off the golf course, in or out of a hotel whose telephone number the good Dr. Shaw had decidedly not passed along to his lawfully-wedded wife? So the inquisition continued. “How do you know this woman?” we demanded, impatiently, on several other occasions, usually once every half-hour or so. As soon Jim confesses to everything, further particulars will be relayed.
Well, another year has come and gone and won’t be back, and the SUV War rages still. The Deaux family, redneck Cajuns from down on the bayou, are a bunch of lardass ignoramuses, if you’ll pardon my French. They were our across-the-street neighbors before we relocated down the block and around the corner; now, thankfully, we only see them at neighborhood association meetings. There’s no love lost between us. We thought, with our moving, they would forget our names, our faces, the variegated patterns of our all-terrain tire tread. Forget, they have not. Probably, as a memory aid, they took digital photos of us on the sly, or nabbed our cash-advance checks from the mailbox, which is a felony. They’re a bunch of load-mouthed, frog-eating felons, and they run the “French” restaurant and bakery in the strip shopping center across the street from the Super Wal-Mart. French is what their restaurant is not. Listen, folks, I’ve been to Paris , France —twice—on long holiday weekends, so if anyone should know what French is, it’d be me. On their redneck menu, you’ll find blackened croco-gator, crawdad étoufée, and possum ’n’ biscuits. Anyway, the daddy frog’s name is Bob Deaux: “Rho-bair,” he insists, twirling the waxed tips of his handlebar mustache. “Okay, Robber,” I oblige, “whatever you say.” Because of the muddin’ he and his spawn have done in their rusty International Scout, we’ve had to re-landscape our brand-new front yard three times already. It’s getting spendy—not that we can’t afford it. While both Jim and I were attached to the Suburban, we recently swapped it for a tricked-out metallic ebony Lincoln Navigator just so we could wreak fresh havoc on those dirty swamp-dwellers. And Jim’s already started looking at Hummers, along with beefier SUV’s such as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, for when Arnie turns sixteen. We may’ve lost the battle, but we’ll never lose the war.
The rest of this story is available, with many wonderful others, in the completed anthology