Mom and Her Most Unhelpful Family
In my last post I recalled my mother's favorite Christmas. I'll now focus on possibly Mom's least enjoyed Christmas. It's the story about meeting 2 very odd characters on Christmas day in downtown St. Louis. Mom would have been just as amused as we were by these Christmas strangers, but she was back home cooking dinner for 12.
Mom would have enjoyed meeting our strangers.
In fact, Mom never met a stranger. Here's a cartoon my brother drew as a teenager, poking a bit of fun at Mom's habit of inviting just about anyone to our family gatherings. In the drawing Mom is chatting with a fictitious grocer and bag boy who are happily attending my wedding. Had Mom been able to join us on that Christmas afternoon when we met our drunken strangers, David would have had good cartoon material...Mom inviting "Bulldog" and "Tipsy" to our holiday meal.
Christmas of 1981
It was a nice Christmas...a white one. Our grandmother, Daw had been released from the hospital the day before. The "kids" were all in town, filling the duplex with Christmas morning chaos. But by afternoon, Mom was a bit frazzled. There would be 12 for dinner (some extras this year) and the house was a mess. Daw was resting after a fall that morning (caused by our boxer, Ted) and we still hadn't made our Christmas visit to Aunt Ruth's. Mom was distracted by a painful shoulder ailment and some details over a real estate closing, but she insisted she could get the meal ready, if we would take the gifts to the nursing home. "Just be home in time to help me lift the turkey from the oven."
By mid afternoon, the 5 "kids" (my husband Don was now one of the Meyer clan) were shooed out of the house with gifts for Aunt Ruth. (Luckily the house didn't look as bad as this until New Year's morning.) We made it only a block before running out of gas.
We abandoned Mom's car and took the Pontiac Don had borrowed from his mom and headed into the city on I-55.
We had made it fairly close to the brewery when we noticed the steering wheel was steaming! The car made it halfway up the exit ramp before dying. Luckily we had 4 pairs of hands to push the car to the nearest gas station, which was closed.
An Eerie Part of Town
The gas station sat on a dreary street of abandoned buildings. (photo taken recently when searching for our memory spot) But we weren't the only ones with car trouble at the closed station. There were some others who offered their bucket of water to cool the engine...which didn't help.
A Bar on Christmas Day!
The area may have looked dead, but we actually had a choice of 2 corner bars to enjoy some holiday cheer while we waited for AAA. None of us can remember the bar's name, but it looked kind of like this. We ended up choosing the nicer of the 2, even though Don recognized the building from a recent news clip about a bar bombing.
The interior wasn't nearly as bright or orderly as this internet photo, but we wouldn't have dared taking photos even if we'd had a camera. I remember 1 bartender and 8 slumping customers looking up when our nicely dressed group of 5 walked in. All eyes were upon us until someone in our group answered the silent question with, "Our car broke down." The customers seemed satisfied and turned back to their drinks.
We called AAA and were told it would be a long wait, so we ordered some beers. We gathered some strength then made the dreaded call to Mom... to give her the news of our hold up.
Luckily there was a pool table and some video games for distraction. I faked interest in Pac-man, to avoid stranger interaction, (I was less brave then) while sneaking peeks at the dismal surroundings. I recall lots of faded Christmas decorations that clearly stayed on display year round. There were girly calendars and half-lit neon signs. I only sipped at my beer to avoid hunting for a ladies room.
At the bar, there was one particularly weathered character doing most of the talking. The bartender called him "Bulldog". I strained to understand his slurred speech as he shared a bit of holiday wisdom with the few sitting nearby. "You know, Christmas is the only day of the year you gotta have dignity." I turned away, afraid I might laugh, then worried when he got up and wandered my way. But he passed me by and headed for my brother and sister at the pool table, where he shared the same Christmas wisdom. My younger brother Dave told Bulldog he agreed 100% with the dignity advice. My sister Jennifer was always relaxed around a pool table and I was concerned she might just laugh in Bulldog's face when he gazed into her eyes and murmured, "You know, you are as pretty as can be."
The tow truck finally arrived and the driver argued about payment since the car's owner (AAA member) wasn't with us. My older brother, Chris who had just passed DC bar exam, argued well and even talked himself into getting a ride with the driver and his wife up in the cab.
We were finally able to reach Don's Dad who came to pick up the rest of our gang and drive us to the repair shop to meet Chris. While we nibbled on Fritos from a vending machine and answered calls from Mom (she had the shop's number, now) we heard some details about Chris' ride in the tow truck. Evidently the driver and his wife were "celebrating Christmas" on the job. The first thing he told Chris was "You can ride up here, but keep your hands off my wife." Then as they headed up the ramp to I-55, the feisty driver offered Chris a swig from an open champagne bottle and asked, "Ever gone 90 while towing a car!" We're lucky Chris ever made it to Christmas dinner.
By the time we made it home, Mom and the guests had everything under control. Dinner was 3 hours later than planned, but Mom was a good sport and laughed with us as we told her about Bulldog and Tipsy, the tow truck driver. Dear Aunt Ruth was willing to celebrate a day late and we all went to bed happy.
(This photo was probably taken a few years earlier, but I'll bet Chris carved the turkey with the same smile in 1981!)
Thank you, Christmas Strangers
You didn't teach us a whole lot in your tipsy states. But you gave us a good story to tell for many years to come!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers