PICTURES OF THE HEART
A CHRISTMAS STORY
By Jim Jolly
Jimmys looking at them womens pictures again, my sister, Margaret, shrieked at Mom, who had sought refuge behind the bathroom door. Meanwhile, my two brothers, Robert and Mark, were beating the door off its hinges. Their noisy din rattled our tiny house like the ball in a referees whistle, blowing one of the many fouls on the dysfunctional breakdowns in our family that day.
Fortunately for Mom, the dead bolt I had installed earlier that month held. As the angry demonstrations continued in the hallway, Moms headphones played soothing Liberace tunes as she waited for the mob outside the door to dissipate. Peace and sanity were rare in those days, save for her lengthy conversations with me over pie and coffee while the others were out clubbing baby rabbits and what not.
I was (and not to brag here but
) an overly bright young boy with a natural curiosity about the mysteries of my world. Women were a huge piece of that puzzle.
Margaret was right. She caught me gazing at my collection of beautiful womens photos. When she ran to tell, I hurriedly crammed the offending images back into the cigar box and shoved them down the hole in the sheetrock beside my bed.
Mark had made that hole with his foot after Robert played one of his psycho pranks on him. He promised to give the attention starved Mark an Elvis Presley haircut. What resulted was one of the ugliest Dutch boy cuts known to man. Just imagine a rounded bowl of hair evenly shorn around the equator of the head at ear level with bangs parallel to the ridges of the eyebrows, framing the face in a rather squareish box of unflattery.
Only I was able to appease Marks fury by pointing out the similarities between his
do and that of Joan of Arcs from a picture in Roberts magazine celebrating everything French.
Mom rewarded my peace making by baking me my very own Karo nut pie. She encouraged me to share with the other children but I declined, pointing out the failures of President Johnsons Great Society program.
We dont need a mob of welfare hogs at the family trough! Mom agreed, then Theyll thank you later!
My point here, it is important to note, is not to condemn others so badly in need of condemning. I would be perfectly within my rights and completely blameless
for doing so. But my purpose is to weave a small tale about the power of visual images.
Once, we found a photo of my dad opening Christmas presents at his girlfriends house. She died a few years later and he married her older sister. They divorced when their minister painted a picture in their minds of them roasting in the front seat of hell tormented by a slobbering fire devil.
Pictures are powerful, feeding our visions as we chart the courses of our lives. That is why shamans and witch doctors throughout time created horrific statues representing vicious deities who could not wait to eat us as our mortal scraps fell from lifes table. This kept everyone in line and the donations rolling in.
In a way, you might say, Margaret was Mark and Roberts high priestess, making scary faces and trickery so that they would do her bidding, which at this time was to find my secret box.
Without her prodding the boys were content to nap slack jawed as they drooped about the furniture all day. Not to digress by much at this point, but this slovenly behavior
resulted in the death of Taffy, our beloved dog. During one particularly intense snooze-a-thon they rolled over on Taffy and her box of newborn pups, killing all. They tried hiding them under the hood of Moms car at Margarets behest. They were grounded and I got another Karo nut pie. The Great Society rules still applied.
A traveling photographer made a portrait of Mark, our soon to be departed Taffy, and me in our living room. It is a treasure of mine to this day, except that is not Mark in the shot but a stand-in. Mark was in one of his sour moods after an unsuccessful attempt at poisoning a nest of baby birds rendered him completely inconsolable. One of the neighboring Fullerton girls agreed to pose as Mark. With some heavy eyeliner and great gobs of Dippity-Do (hair grease for women), voila! An amazing likeness.
Future beholders of said masterpiece often asked, How can that be Mark? Hes not scowling.
Meanwhile, the unsuccessful witch-hunt for my stash of beautiful womens photos ran on for about two years. My hiding technique was simple. I had a large framed picture of our Lord preaching the Sermon on the Mount and placed it in front of the now forgotten sheetrock hole. They were afraid to come near it (at this point I am reluctant to add that I had won the biblical print as a prize in Sunday School.)
In those days it was nothing to see Margaret screaming through her bullhorn taunts of derision aimed at Robert and Mark as they dug craters everywhere in search of the golden cigar box that would seal my fate, the smoking gun that would degrade me to the rank of Mommys Little Disappointment. They even missed the night of their baptism because of her obsession.
Aw, quit yer whining she bawled, And dig. The Lord will be here next week, wont he?
As Christmas approached I threw myself into my charitable work. One of my duties was to visit old Sister Abigail, an elderly nun, who lived in a cardboard box right in the heart of Sherwoods infamous Delmont district. Denizens there were especially notorious for letting their pets run loose and leaving out their cans a day or two beyond trash day. The cardboard box was actually inside a very nice house owned by a kindly parish couple. Abigail just liked sleeping in a cardboard box.
She loved my Sermon on the Mount print as well and begged me to let her keep it over the Christmas holidays to show her dearth of visitors. Forgetting about its purpose for covering the hole in the wall, I relented and handed it over to the grateful nun. She was not as keen on the Sermon on the Mount as she was over the fact that I had won it in an essay contest for protestant children entitled, Why I Should Be Pope.
Her quivering thank yous still rang in my ears as I awoke the next day, which was Christmas morning. I rose before the others in order to prepare my annual blessing of the presents when suddenly a piercing victory wail exploded from my room. I knew Margaret had found the Holy Grail, my cigar box of beautiful women in various poses.
Into the living room Margaret stormed, her eyes fixed on me in a maniacal gaze, prize in hand, shouting victoriously. Just then she tripped on one of Roberts fashion wigs (he was always leaving them strewn about) and down she went. My photos rained to the floor in a blizzard, exposing them for all to see. There were hundreds of them. Most showed a smiling Mother Teresa in her noble work among the leprous poor of India. A few were of Eleanor Roosevelt on a visit to flood ravaged Appalachia. Many were the Andrews Sisters entertaining our war-battered troops. And so it went
admirable women doing admirable deeds.
At first no one spoke. Finally I began.
Mom, I know that raising this brood is a near impossible task. I have collected this montage of brave and capable women for you to view and gain courage and inspiration during the awful challenges that lie ahead.
My mother hugged me, choking back tearful sobs of gratitude. Then she sent the others, my accusers, back to bed without opening their presents.
Later on the surly children were allowed to resurface and open their gifts, but under my tight supervision, of course. Most of the good pie was gone by then. However, there was still plenty of mincemeat, also an oily gruel complements of Sister Abigail, and a full bucket of headcheese our dad had sent for our Christmas that year. After the bad children washed and put away all of the dishes, Mom poured a beer for just herself and me.