25 December, 1998











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Photo by Dan Chapman ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment Group

A Thought for Today

You get a lot more if you’re willing to settle for a lot less.



Being a night person, most of the time Mom worked the swing shift in North Las Vegas, first in Lincoln Snyder’s soda fountain and later as a barmaid at the Northside Tavern; but once in awhile she would trade shifts, which meant that if it was summer and there was no school Billy and I would be free to go where we wanted to without much supervision. Our favorite place was the city dump.

If it was a weekend and there was no one around we would play on the tractors and cranes that moved the rubbish and debris. During the week we’d slide on our bellies past mounds of refuse, hiding from the attendants, who would always try to chase us away.

One Christmas Eve one of the bartenders got drunk and couldn’t report for work the next day so Mama worked a double shift. It was wonderful. We had the whole day and evening to play at the dump and it was our idea of a real Christmas. What treasures we found that day. A floor lamp, an easy chair with half the stuffing gone, an old box of somebody’s discarded toys, old clothes, and more bottles than we could possibly carry to the market to redeem for the meager deposit.

Sometime during the afternoon it occurred to us, as a surprise for Mom, to redecorate the house with the furniture and odd bits of bric-a-brac we’d found at the dump. Billy had a red and yellow wagon and we must have made twenty trips, lugging all our goodies home. Of course, to make room for these treasures, we had to move all the furniture and trunks already in the house out into the front yard. While we were doing this, someone came by and thought we were having a rummage sale. I couldn’t believe it when Billy came running in to tell me he’d been offered $5 for Mama’s dresser. What a source of newfound money!

In just over two hours we were able to sell all the furniture we’d moved out on the lawn, plus the curtains from the windows, pots and pans. And Mama’s doilies. We even sold the oilcloth off the kitchen table for twenty-five cents.

It would be dark soon and so we had to complete our refurbishing before the light faded. I don’t think either of us ever worked so hard. In the end we were both so tired we fell asleep on the torn and soiled, but pretty, satin bedspread we’d replaced on Mama’s bed after selling off her comforter.

You can imagine her surprise when she came home from working two long shifts serving drinks to merrymakers and refereeing bar bouts between Christmas drunks. Perhaps ‘surprise’ is not the correct word. I’m not sure what is.

Mama was too tired to spank us but she screamed and cried a lot. Though at the time we couldn’t understand why. She had the new floor lamp. Even if it didn’t work it could probably be fixed. And, our latest kitchen table was larger than the old one. I had nearly mashed my thumb while hammering a two-by-four in place to replace a missing leg. It now listed a bit, but the angle wasn’t so bad that utensils and plates would likely slip off.

The curtains were very different from the old ones; while there were only three windows in the living room, there were now twice that many curtains on them. I distinctly remember Mama having said many times that she’d like to get rid of that old junk in the house. ‘Just for a change.’ Well, now she had her change. We hadn’t yet found a replacement stove, but there were more than enough pots and pans left over from the sale that could be used if and when we did.

Mom continued to look dazed, but she came to life again when she started to sit down on the new davenport. It collapsed completely under her, all three sides falling away. It was then that I handed her the envelope containing the money we’d received from the sale of the old furniture: $71.30. It had been planned as a Christmas gift all along, and Billy had written in crayon on the outside of the envelope, To Mama, Merry Christmas from The Katzenjammer Kids.

Mama didn’t speak for a long time, but when she did she just looked up and said, "Merry Christmas." And it was.

- from "Finding My Father," 1975, 1976.


Today it belongs to Jay Leno:

“Joan Collins is marrying a man 30 years her junior; they met over dinner – he was delivering Meals on Wheels. For those who’d like to send the couple a gift the registry is the gift shop at Cedars of Lebanon.”


notable birthdays Chet Baker o Robert Bly o Jose Greco o Harry Guardino o Corey Haim o Tim Hardin o Elizabeth Hartman o Paul Hornung o Floyd Kaiber o Susan Lucci o Connie Mack o Buzz Miller o Ruth Roman o Vincent Sardi, Sr. o Helmut Schmidt o Joan Severance o Harry Shearer o Eddie Vedder o Madame C.J. Walker
Rod's random thoughts We must continue to believe that many are the men of peace
who from time to time will set out to walk among us.

If you loved my face as much as you love Christmas, I’d be safe from year to year.

Christmas is more than a celebration, it is a time of summing up.


Too much was asked of one small virgin
that she should be an architect
and labor as a workman does
yet do so in an angel’s guise.

Those of us who think ourselves experienced
are given scriptures as The Daily News
and told beyond all doubt that they are fact.
Present fiction has a truer ring
than some old writings of another time.

Men have sailed beyond the ocean’s edge
and even walked out on the moon;
Why not a virgin birth?
Well, there was no television then
and Norman Mailer has no notes
he scribbled at the scene.

Still if man today can build with vision
and tear down with lack of conscience,
yesterday’s young virgin birth
is hardly miracle enough to turn our heads.
The marvel is that some of us are still around
to celebrate this august birthday once again.

- from “The Carols of Christmas,” 1971

© 1971, 1975, 1976, 1988, 1998, 2001 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith
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