A Christmas Memory


Another Christmas day is rapidly approaching, and with it, another year of outcry from the so-called culturally elite .

No Christmas tree allowed at the statehouse in Rhode Island.  Arkansas school children prohibited from watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” because an atheist parent objects to the scene in which Linus quotes from Luke 2.  Nativity scenes banned across the country.

All of this flap over the celebration of the birth of Christ brought back a Christmas memory that always makes me smile.

The year must have been 1968 or ’69.  Our neighbors erected the first life-size (or nearly so) Nativity scene that I had ever seen in their front yard.  It was really something.  Stable built with sawmill slabs, floored with hay, and characters arranged (which were lighted for night-time viewing) around the manger.  It was a lot of work and quite a spectacle, especially since we lived way out in the country.  Not much chance anyone was actually going to see it — except us.  We lived right across the road, and it was practically at the end of our driveway.

It looked like this photo:


Now like I said, these folks put a lot of effort into this Christmas display.  The crowning touch was that it was wired for sound — full stereo — with a continuous loop of Christmas music playing from speakers carefully hidden in the stable.

The only problem was that there wasn’t a big selection of tunes on that loop.  The only song I can remember hearing — over and over again — was this one:

To this day, I can’t look at a Nativity scene and not hear Buck Owens.

Enjoy the Christmas season, and don’t take yourself too seriously.  It ain’t about you.


Oh Baby, I was Bound for Mexico

“I don’t know much about Cinco de Mayo,

I’m never sure what it’s all about.”

“Mexico” by Cake.


In my last post I wrote about some of my Mexican friends who are living here in Alabama.

Whenever I talk to them about their homeland, a funny thing happens:  I wish I could go there.

They say “the grass is always greener on the other side.”  I guess that’s true.

A famous New York Yankee catcher also said “wherever you go, there you are.”  I know that’s true.

I’ve only been to Mexico once.  I was a little boy, and my mom and I went just across the border during a visit to my aunt’s home in Arizona.  I think it was just for a few hours — a kind of a “just to say we’ve been there” side-trip.  I’m not even sure which town.  It’s just a vague childhood memory at best.

But there is a Mexico that exists in my mind’s eye.

It is a land of green mountains.  The air is dry and the language is lyrical in my ears.  There are adobe houses and barefoot kids and cobblestone streets.

Roosters wake me each morning just before sunrise.  I put on my jeans and boots and go down to the square.  I sip my cafe and watch the people go by.  I’m working on my latest novel.  My publisher wants it now, but he is going to have to wait, because we never get in a hurry down here.

It’s a nice dream.  One that’s hard to shake.

And for some reason I seem to have it most often on Mondays.

Leaves and Laws

As a described in my last post, the Redhead and I have a conflict each year around late fall.  I guess you might say we suffer from a “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD).  She hates a yard full of leaves and I hate to rake them.

Last year was my first escape from the dreaded job.  I spent most of the fall in a walking cast trying to avoid a surgery that I couldn’t.  The Redhead hired-out the leaf removal — some local landscaping company, which consisted of a thirty-something year old white guy with a clip board who drove a sixty-something thousand dollar pick-up truck.  Two of his Hispanic workers did the job in one day.

This year we cut out the middle man.

These men were “undocumented workers.”  Well, that’s not exactly true.  The have documents (Social Security Card, Driver’s License, etc), but they are fake.  Forgeries.

I didn’t ask to see their papers.  But I know.

Fake documents are not uncommon, even in sweet home Alabama, which reportedly has the “toughest immigration law in the United States.”  Our law is so tough that those who knowingly hire undocumented workers are considered law-breakers themselves, and as such face heavy fines and penalties.  Accepting forgeries is no excuse.  We must use the national database, “E-Verify.”

I’m not worried though.  I’ve read the law.  There is an exemption for “domestic help” and “yard workers.”  Those crafty Republican state legislators.  Can’t have some reporter snooping around and discovering  you voted to run all the Hispanics out of the state when you have Lupe at home washing the clothes and cleaning the house.

I understand Alabama’s immigration law.  It was a vote of principle.  If the government of the United States of America won’t enforce her own laws then we will.

But Alabama is not a border state.  Mostly what we have here are people who come looking for work and a better life.

Many have left in the last couple of years in fear of the state law.  That’s too bad.  Lots of jobs are going unfilled because of it.  Otherwise not much has changed.  They didn’t go home, they just moved to adjacent states.

It’s also too bad because most of these folks are  much like you and me.

In fact, I’ll go a step further:  an undocumented worker is a great Alabamian.

Not convinced?  Consider this:

  • They work hard.  The two that handled my yard work have full-time trade jobs during the week.  I paid them their regular (skilled) wage.  They worked all day, and made sure to ask me to remind my neighbors that they would be available next weekend if they needed any work done.
  • They pay taxes, for which they’ll never receive benefits.  Even fake documents insure Uncle is going to get his cut, right off the top.
  • They want a better life for their kids than they had, even if it means working long hours and living in the shadows.  Most that I know are very family oriented.

The political irony in this is that all these values tend to lean Republican.

But the Republican party had no solution for the problem in the last election other than “self-deportation.”  And this stance, quite simply, cost them the presidency.

Here we are a few weeks later.  Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio are currently the new “stars” of the GOP.  Perhaps the leadership has finally decided to address the problem with a real solution, one that will allow permission to work and maybe even a path to citizenship.

Or more likely, they realize that they will never win another presidential election without the Hispanic vote.

Tree Man Blues

It is as regular as the season.

I have a lot of trees around my house.  Every fall the leaves rain down in my yard until every horizontal surface is blanketed in brown.  Lawn.  Drive.  Walk.  Porch.

The covering is complete by mid-October, but the trees are far from finished.  Copious amounts of leaf-fall will continue until mid-January.

This bothers me not-in-the least.  I am a forester after all.  I spent a good portion of my life walking through woods, which are, by the way, quite often filled with leaves.

The Redhead, however, doesn’t share my tolerance for the natural processes.  She is a city-girl, and as such expects her outdoor environment to be a little more orderly.  Like most city folk, she is unable to see that there is an order in the apparent chaos.  And she doesn’t like to wait until mid-January for the final leaf to drop.

I believe she suffers from an untrained eye — and a lack of patience.  Any attempt to remove the leaves that have fallen while their leafy brothers still hang above is, in a word, stupid.

She believes I refuse to rake leaves.

And she is right, of course.  I am a forester, as I have already pointed out.  Foresters don’t rake woodlands when leaves pile-up — we burn them.  We call it a “fuel-reduction” burn.

I have offered to perform the service free of charge, but the city-girl (and the neighbors) tend to frown on such practices.  They fail to appreciate the application of a natural process in the hands of a skilled forester.

Like I said — an annual conflict, as regular as the season.

This year I had a plan.

More about that next time.