Well, here it is Christmas Eve and I should be saying all kinds of gooey Christmassy stuff, but they have already been said a thousand times or more and besides when you read this it will probably be past Christmas. So since you are reading this after Christmas is past let me tell you about a childhood Christmas past.
Now some of you may know I was born and raised in Central Africa. Now don’t be alarmed I have been totally civilized being as how my parents were missionaries and all. Their being missionaries meant that we were to do everything for the natives at Christmas time and not for ourselves, well, that’s not quite true, but story tellers are allowed to tell little white, or big black, lies ain’t they?
However, what we were going to get for Christmas from our parents was never a surprise. We knew what it was long before we ever opened the package because if it wasn’t something my mother or father made for us in the still of the night and hid from out prying eyes, we had to order it from the Montgomery-Ward catalogue.
Most of you probably have no idea what that is. Suffice it to say, Monkey-ward, as it was affectionately know, was a company you could depend on to ship all they way to Darkest Africa, and believe me we were in the darkest part of Africa. You couldn’t get any further into darkness than we were, but I digress…
As I was saying, it was in June that we kids poured over the Monkey-ward catalogue trying to decide what the $3.00 item was that we most wanted. That was our Putu (Stateside) spending limit always being reminded that it was worth 4 times that much by the time shipping was paid for it to go from the warehouse in Chicago, Ill. to:
Aba, Belgian Congo
Via Cairo, Egypt.
There, now you have my Africa address, but I’m not there anymore so forget it.
If we were lucky, the item ordered in June arrived in time for Christmas. But that’s not what I want to tell you about, so again, I digress…
What I want to tell you about is a present that we got from a naked little kid after the Christmas Morning sunrise service. He came up to the porch where we were having breakfast and put down a bamboo basket with three mongooses in it. My parents thanked him profusely as good missionaries should, but they didn’t really think too much of the gift. I mean we often got presents of monkeys, Guinea fowl, parrots and even young antelopes sometimes. We kids, by that I mean my 2 younger brothers and I were elated. After all we were raised on Rudyard Kipling stories and poems.
Did I mention that my dad used to read to us three boys every evening before going to bed? Beats watching TV together – we didn’t even have radio to listen to. Oh, yeah, he read all kinds of stuff, including the Bible, but he also read lots of Kipling’s stories and poems and other stuff. To this day out of the blue will come a line from one of Kipling’s poems, “So here’s to you Fuzzy-Wuzzy to your home in the Sudan. You’re a poor benighted heather, but a first class fighting man.”
Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF has always been and still is one of my favorites.
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
But again, I digress…
Like I was saying, we were very familiar with Kipling’s books including the Jungle books and knew the story of Rikki Tikki Tavi the brave little mongoose who fought and killed the big, bad, black cobra, Nag. Now you may not be aware of this, but Central Africa has an abundance of both big, bad, black cobras and mongooses.
Well, we each claimed one of those little weaselly looking things and of course name one Rikki, another Tikki, and the third Tavi, but they looked so much alike that we couldn’t tell the difference.
For three or four days we gave them a little raw meat there in the cage and then opened the cage to let them run around putting meat close to the cage and then stopped feeding them all-together. Eventually they would crawl into our laps and let us pet them. When that happened my sister, who was five years older than me, would scowl and say, “Don’t let that mangy thing get near me,” which of course meant we chased her with it.
I don’t know that any one of them ever killed a cobra, but I do know that my mother conceded that there seemed to be less mice and rats around the house. But again, I digress and I must get back to the point, and it is this, of all my childhood Christmas presents I remember that one the most fondly, in fact I don’t remember one other childhood Christmas present.
So, my Christmas wish for you is that it will bring you something you fondly remember for a long, long time, even if it is only a smile from someone dear to you.
And if you are good little boys and girls next time I’ll tell you a story about my awful sister, my pretty good dad and a big, mean cobra.
Until then, Happy New Year to all and to all a Good Night.