~chapter nine~ ~children & dark angels~ ~part three~ ~Christmas by Joe~

WordWulf By WordWulf, 21st May 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Domestic Violence & Abuse

~momma stood in line half a day~after waiting an hour for the bus~it was sixteen degrees but had stopped snowing~wasn’t much left in the santa claus shop~she did the best she could with her certificates~the elves were tired but wrapped the presents~she picked up her sad little load~headed to the bus stop~got home & warmed up with some hot coffee~she was excited about christmas~she was glad & I was glad she was~

~Christmas by Joe~

~it is unwise to trust folks who kill mice~

Momma continued to work but was being pressured by her boss to take a break before the baby was born. She said he was afraid it was going to be born in his bar. It was a cold and icy winter so Daddy couldn’t have been working anyway but he kept himself so drunk he couldn’t see straight. He spent a lot of time at the Dog House and would hustle Momma for her tips while she was working. She complained to me that Daddy was spending her money faster than she could earn it and this was another reason her boss wanted her to take off. The event of her pregnancy and Daddy’s extreme drunkenness were just plain bad for business. Momma was back to stealing whatever was left on the plates in the bar restaurant so we had something to eat. She and I worked together on this as always. If Daddy brought her home, she hid the garbage in her coat and slipped it to me. I scraped off the ashes and egg shells before feeding it to my brothers and sisters. We couldn’t heat it up if Daddy was home and coherent. He wouldn’t have his kids eating, by God, garbage.

A couple of days before Christmas, Daddy cut back on his drinking. Christmas Eve I snuck out of the bedroom after my brothers and sisters had all gone to sleep. Momma helped me drag the big box into the living room. I had painted and fixed toys for everyone then wrapped them in newspaper and tied them with string. All except Jackie’s. I had straightened the axles on a big semi-truck and a red farm tractor. I arranged these on the outer edge all by themselves so Jackie would see them the moment he came out of the bedroom. Momma had the gifts from the Santa Claus Shop. She had stood in the cold and snow for four hours one day to redeem her certificates. She wasn’t satisfied with what she picked out because she was so far back in line that everything was picked over by the time she had her chance to choose. I hugged her, told her it didn’t matter. Those gifts had been wrapped at the Santa Claus Shop so they had real festive wrapping paper around them and ribbons and bows.

There was no Christmas tree and no colored lights, not so much as a candle lighting the room. I felt a tear slide down my cheek as I stood back to look at the pile of gifts in front of the couch. They were bathed in an arc of light from the street through the new glass of the window whose blanket curtain was in use in the bedroom covering my brothers and sisters. The couch without cushions as a backdrop to the display of presents was the most beautiful site I had ever laid my eyes on. Momma patted me on the back. There were tears in her eyes and she seemed too choked up to speak. She squeezed my arm and walked in to the kitchen to finish her coffee with Daddy.

I returned to bed and waited for the lights to go out in the kitchen and this happened soon enough. When I was sure Momma and Daddy had gone to bed (there were no squeaking springs), I got their gifts out of the kids’ closet where I had them hidden and placed them on the floor with the rest. I was making my way quietly back to the bedroom when I heard a noise at the front door. It was after ten o’clock and I wondered who it could be. I peeked out and whispered her name under my breath. “Joe.”

There was a small Christmas tree on the front porch. It was decorated with bulbs and candy canes. And there next to it was another humungous basket of goodies and food just like the one the nice couple brought the family on Thanksgiving. Best of all were two smoked hams. Momma wouldn’t have to cook. I took the tree in and arranged the presents around it. It was then I noticed a gaily wrapped package poking out of the food basket. It was about the size of a shoe box and had a tag on it that read: For Tommy from a friend, Merry Christmas. The light outside the iced-up window shined into the room and divided itself around the little tree in slices of sparkles all its own. I hugged the gift to my chest and thought to myself, ‘We’re gonna have a bright Christmas morning just like everyone else this year.’ My Christmas angel has a name.”

Christmas morning was everything I thought it would be and more. Jackie held his tractor and truck in his lap. He rocked them back and forth and tears ran down his cheeks. The package from Joe had two model cars in it, a forty Ford pickup like Daddy’s except it was a hotrod and a fifty-seven Chevy.

Daddy was too sick to be upset about Joe’s ‘handouts’. Going on the wagon was getting harder and harder on him. He shook really bad all over and the whites of his eyes turned yellow. Jackie and I helped Momma set the table and once again, thanks to Joe and the Salvation Army, we ate like royalty. Daddy wasn’t interested in food.

Five days later Momma’s water broke. Daddy took her to the hospital. She was in labor and, rather than wait in the waiting room, Daddy went to the Dog House to tell everyone and celebrate. I was bad worried but just had to wait.

The Christmas food had run out and so had commodities since it was the end of the month. Jackie came home from his roaming and called me into the bedroom away from the other kids. He closed the door and leaned against it, a big fat smile on his face. “Guess what I got?” he taunted.

“I don’t care, Jackie,” I said. “Aren’t you worried about Momma?”

“Lookie here!” Jackie pulled a fifty dollar bill out of his pocket and waved it in front of my face.

He had my attention now.

“Where’d you get that?”

“Mean ladies in the groc’ry store,” Jackie said in a singsong voice.

“How?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Same ol’ way,” Jackie said. “She starts whuppin’ the ol’ man in the store an’ he goes after her, jus’ kissin’ ‘er butt an’ I walk off with ‘er purse!”

“Oh Jackie, I moaned, “You are gonna get in serious trouble one o’ these days.”

“Not me!” he insisted. “What would ya like for supper, brother?”

“You can’t go back to that store,” I said.

“I ain’ stupid,” Jackie replied. “I’ll go to the Safeway over on Fed’ral instead.”

I shook my head doubtfully. “They ain’t gonna let a l’il skinny kid like you spend a fifty dollar bill!”

“That’s why I’ll use this!” Jackie grinned. He took a twenty dollar bill from his other pocket and waved it around above his head.

“Oh Jackie, where’s her purse?” I asked.

“I toldja, I ain’ stupid,” Jackie quipped, “I’m gettin’ tired o’ messin’ ‘round’ wit’ you. You want somethin’ or not?”

“Okay, okay” I gave up, felt myself salivating at the idea of real food, “That canned stew, four cans and Royal Crown Cola and...”

“I know, I know, Spanish peanuts,” Jackie interrupted.

He went out the door and I had that feeling, that awful feeling in my guts, that one day Jackie wouldn’t come back. It would be just like this and I would never see him again. He did come back, though. We stashed our goodies and hid the stew cans so Phillip wouldn’t see them. He was so hungry, he probably wouldn’t have noticed if he ate out of one of them directly. We were all that hungry and, thanks to our robber brother, we had what we imagined to be rich folks’ stew for supper one more time.

On the last day of 1960, the Sterners were evicted, moved out by the sheriff. Daddy had come home sometime after I had gone to bed the night before. I didn’t want to wake him up but, when I heard a knock on the door and saw a man with a gun and badge standing on the front porch, I went into Daddy’s bedroom to tell him the police were outside. He must have been sleeping lightly for once because he wasn’t startled and got straight out of bed.

Daddy knew a man who knew a man who knew a man with a place for us to move to. Since he was home, the sheriff allowed Daddy the time to wrap the family’s belongings in blankets. I helped and we tossed them in the back of Daddy’s truck. I found some boxes in neighbors’ trash in the alley. We put our Christmas toys in them. Jackie and I set the boxes in the truck. The radios and dishes fit in another box. The furniture, what there was of it, had belonged to the prior tenants. Daddy said we didn’t need it where we were going. The sheriff’s men had it out on the curb in short time. When they tried to lift the dresser thing, it wouldn’t budge. They opened it and saw the hundreds of liquor and beer bottles filled with water. Their eyes found Daddy’s face and his eyes found mine. Daddy shook his head sadly but no one said a word. I nudged Jackie with an elbow and the two of us emptied the bottles and carried them out back to the trash. Liquor bottles, to my knowledge, have never been worthy of redemption. It’s one of those little things in life that just, plain and simple, feels right and makes sense.

The first man previous Daddy knew, got us set up in a ‘tenement house’. I had no idea what that meant but was soon to find out. It was crowded and uncomfortable, not easy to manage, but Daddy stuffed all six of his teeth-chattering cold children into the cab of his old Ford pickup. We didn’t have far to go as it turned out. Our new place of dwelling was only seven blocks away at 29th Avenue and Wyandot Street.

Daddy parked the truck behind a dark and forbidding, austere behemoth of a building. I had never taken notice of the place before while Momma and I were out gathering cigarette butts. We never ventured east of Zuni Street and buildings like this awful edifice were one of the reasons, that and the derelicts who lived in them. It was difficult to imagine the Sterner family sinking any lower than the house with the plywood window. I was ten years old and still had a lot to learn about the process of losing and sinking.

Daddy picked up Linda. She snuggled into his shoulder and stuffed a thumb in her mouth. I hoisted Lily up onto my hip and Jackie carried Cheryl. Phillip was the caboose of our sorry little train. There was no rear entrance to the building so Daddy led us down a path through the hard dirt yard. Broken glass and other trash each played their bit parts along with the stench of garbage to give the place the breath and appearance of a dumpsite. Up the eight steps to the stone front porch we went. A broken screen door hung by its bottom hinge and performed a chilly winter dance.

The hallways were as filthy as the yard, their walls decorated with fine art genitalia. Whatever sex education we Sterner children lacked was offered to us now each and every time we pounded up and down the creaking wood of those inner sanctum tenement steps.

“Don’t look at that shit,” Daddy admonished offhandedly.

As we rounded the second story landing, close on Daddy’s heels, a small brown girl lifted her dirty skirt and hiked up a leg to provide access for a tall black boy. He mounted her standing. His lips spoke to my eyes. “Mind yer own business, white boy!”

I hurried to catch up with Daddy. Glancing back, I saw Jackie and Phillip scurry past the fornication in progress. We marched all the way to the top of the building, which was the fourth floor. There was no light in the stairwells so it was a dark climb with just a bit of light on the landings which each had a small window. Our unit was at the end of the hall, number seven whose door faced north. Daddy set Linda down and his shaking hands fumbled for the key. He finally found it but as soon as he touched the door, it swung open quite on its squeaking own. We peered into a dark room, furnished with a broken down bed just inside the door and a closet with its door missing. What light there was, came from a bare bulb in the kitchen which was just to the right of the door. A tall young man appeared from the gloom of the bedroom and gave us all a scare.

“Hi, my name is Thurman. My mom lets me come over here to take a nap. I guess I won’t no more now you’re here.” He squeezed past Daddy and disappeared into the darkness of the hall.

“Okay, this is it,” Daddy said. “Phillip, keep an eye on your sisters. Tommy and Jackie, c’mon. Let’s get our stuff carried on in here.”

The humpers were still humping but this time I didn’t look and certainly didn’t make eye contact with the black boy. I hurried fast around that corner.

“Hey, get out o’ there!” Daddy yelled as we made our way around the side of the building.
A bunch of kids clutching armloads of our belongings jumped from the back of his truck and ran down the alley. The first thing Daddy checked was his tools. They seemed to be all there. The blankets with clothes in them hadn’t been taken either. Jackie’s tractor was gone and the two models I had put together. The thieves were children and had obviously gone for toys first.

“Grab the blankets and clothes,” Daddy ordered, “I’ll get my tools.”

Jackie and I would have preferred to guard the truck to protect the last of our toys but knew better than to even suggest such a thing except to each other. Daddy struggled with three buckets of tools and it was all we could do to carry the blankets containing the family’s clothes. As we had been so many times before, we were ants once more. When we came down for the last load, all that was left of our Christmas toys were some building blocks and a couple of dolls.

When we were on our way up from our final trip to the truck, Daddy gestured to the writing and crude sexual acts depicted on the walls. “You guys heard what I said about ignoring that shit, right?”

Jackie and I nodded our heads. We couldn’t wait to read those messages top to bottom, every single one. The tall black boy was leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette when we passed him. He snorted, blew smoke through his nose, and smirked at us. The brown girl was nowhere to be seen.

Inquiries: wordwulf@gmail.com
©2014 graphic artwork music & words
conceived by & property of
tom (WordWulf) sterner 2014©
~also available at Amazon ~
~chapter one~
~chapter two~
~chapter three~
~chapter four~
~chapter five~
~chapter six~
~chapter seven~
~chapter eight~
~curse of days~


1960, Alcoholism, Art, Christmas, Christmas By Joe, Colorado, Credence, Denver, Family, Free, Memoirs, Momma, Mommas Rain, Money, Mothers, Parenting, Philosophy, Photography, Poverty, Religion, Sons, Survival, Tom Wordwulf Sterner, Violence, Wikinut, Writer

Meet the author

author avatar WordWulf
I write novels, poetry, songs,nonsense & lies. Sometimes truth sneaks in when I ain't lookin'.

Share this page

moderator Steve Kinsman moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


Add a comment
Can't login?