Hands across the waters, a Christmas story, Part III
By Algie Ray Smith

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

Algie Ray Smith is an accomplished writer who is the author of several books. For many years he wrote a locally based Christmas serial for the local print newspaper. This series of stories written for The Logan Journal takes place in Russellville and Norway in 1941.

The day after Thanksgiving was cold, but sunny. School was dismissed for the holidays, Charles Browning and sister Muriel were out riding their bikes, his a red Schwinn Phantom and her a white-walled Huffy with a rattan basket attached to the handle bars.

Muriel pulled along side her brother and yelled, “I’m winded. How ‘bout we take a rest?”

Charles braked to the curb. “Okay by me. Can you make it to the stadium? It’s only two more blocks.” She nodded that she could..

They guided their bikes behind the elementary school and parked them against the north stadium wall. “Can you scale this wall?” Charles asked.

Muriel studied the stones in the wall for a bit. They were irregular and jutting out, affording easy hand holds. “Sure. Don’t think that because I’m a girl, I can’t do everything you can.”

Charles laughed. “Okay, but let me climb up first, and I’ll give you a hand down if you need it.”

Muriel waited until her brother was atop the wall, then she followed him easily. Together they walked across the field and sat down on the steps leading to the band section. “This place is the bee’s knees,” Muriel exclaimed.

“Sure is. I was here two years ago. That Thanksgiving was the first game played on this field. Dad and I came, while you stayed home and helped Mom roast the turkey.”

“Well, that’s what I wanted to do. I don’t understand football. All that banging their heads together and fighting over a little ball simply does not make any sense.”

“It was a great game. We tied Bowling Green 6-6 when everyone said we’d lose by 12.”

Charles reached into his red and black plaid wool jacket pocket and removed a candy bar. “I got a Three Musketeers. Want some?”

“Sure.” He split the bar into three sections and gave one piece to Muriel, who plopped the whole of it into her mouth.

Charles looked across the field, now pitted with cleat marks from the game the day before. Charles had missed that game because his mother had insisted that they all go to Grandmother Mary’s house in Glasgow for dinner. “This is one of the nicest high school fields in Kentucky. Cost a whopping $90,000. Can you imagine?”

Muriel continued to chew her candy. “I can’t imagine $1,000. I thought you could buy the whole town for that much.”

“Next year,” Charles said dreamily, “I’m going out for Coach Elvis Donaldson’s team. And, you know, in a year or so I might be as good as Clifton Davis…or Clarence Kurtsinger..or even Homer Chapman.”

“Homer who?” Muriel sputtered, her mouth still sticks from the candy.

“Homer Chapman. You know what the newspaper calls him? ‘Our Galloping Ghost!”

“He’s good, huh”

“Good? Once he led the Panthers to a 12-0 win over the Madisonville Maroons; then he almost single-handedly stomped the Elkton Elks 21-0; then he helped us to beat Dawson Springs 21-6. In that game he scored a 70-yard touchdown that was called back because we had a 15-yard penalty.”

“Got any more candy?”

Charles, who really was very hungry, broke off another third of the candy and passed it to his sister. “Don’t eat this too fast. I’m keeping the rest for myself.”

Muriel took a tiny nibble of the sweet treat. “Do you think I could be a cheerleader? I already know a yell.”

“Let’s hear it.”

Her candy forgotten, Muriel stood, clapped her hands and yelled slowly. “You…got…the…sugar…you…got…the…cream. But…we…got…the…Coach, and…we…got…the…team. RAH! RAH! RAH!

She leaped off the steps and did the splits, ending with “PANTHERS!”

Her brother clapped his hand gave a pierced whistle. “Good! Good! But did you know I can recite the Loyalty Song?”

“You can?”

“I’d better. I had to write it 50 times for chewing gum in Miss Geneva Cornette’s class.”

“Okay. Let’s hear it.”

Charles placed his hand over his heart and performed perfectly. “Fling out the dear ol’ flag of black and gold, lead on your sons and daughters, loyal and bold. Like men of old, on giants placing reliance, shouting defiance: os-key-wow-wow. Amid the verdant hills that rise o’er our land, for honest labor and for learning, we stand, and unto thee we pledge our heart…and our hand, Dear Alma Mater, R.H.S.” He sat down, apparently pleased with himself.

“That’s not all of it, Charles; you left out my favorite lines: Che-he, che-ha, che-ha-ha-ha; che-he, che-ha, che-ha-ha-ha. Panthers, Panthers, RAH! RAH! RAH!”

“Gee, so I did.”

Muriel nibbled at the candy. “You know what Priscilla Evans told me?” Charles shook his head that he didn’t have a clue. “You know those men’s heads out front?”

He nodded that he did. “Well, Priscilla said they were our first basketball team. Is that true?

“No, silly. They’re all famous athletes. Jack Demsey was a boxer, Jim Thorpe, a runner, a baseball and football player, Paavo Nurmi, a long distance runner; Red Grange was the real Galloping Ghost in football, and Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth played baseball.”

“How do you know all that?”

“It’s a guy thing.”

“You know what we need,” Muriel changed the subject about as often as Charles has been combing his long black hair since he has been trying to get a senior girl named Fannie Greer to notice him. “You and I need to get ourselves some real square nicknames.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because all the real square upperclass students have them. There’s Jimmy ‘Slim’ Parrish, Shirley ‘FoxTrot’ Pillow, Barclay ‘Boochie’ Griffith…”

“I don’t know. I kind like my moniker. My friends already call me Chuck.”

“Chuck’s a natural for Charles. Now, me, I like Nannie Mae Doss’s nickname. Everyone calls her Goat”

“I’m rested, “her brother said, “And now I’m hungry. Let’s ride down to Mrs. W.H. Hughes’ Parkview Grill and get some cheeseburgers.”

“Oh, that sounds rootie kazootie.

Later, while they were wolfing down cheeseburgers and chocolate malteds, they discussed the up and coming Christmas. Charles said that he hoped he would get a Remington 20-guage shotgun, while Muriel said that he wanted one of those new Junior Miss Singer Sewing Machines.

Muriel slurped the rest of her malted through her straw. “I’ve been wondering…what are we getting Mom and Dad. We always pool our money, don’t we?”

“Sure. How much you got saved? I have nearly five bucks from helping strip tobacco and from hulling walnuts for that guy down on Jockey Alley.”

“Jeze, Louise, I only got $3.50. Is that enough for me to pitch in?”

“I suppose. Girls don’t get many chances to make money like boys do.”

“I got an idea. Let’s go over to Settle & McClean’s Jewelry Store and see what they got that we can afford.”

“But Dad doesn’t wear jewelry…just his wedding band and his watch.”

“Then we can go to Berkman’s and look at neckties.”

“But we gave him a tie last Christmas.”

“Mom says that a man can’t have enough ties.”

“We can go to Young’s Department Store. I saw some matching scarves and glove sets that Dad might like.”

“Charles,” Muriel chided. “We CANNOT give Dad gloves. Remember, he has only one arm. What would he do with the other one?”

“You’re right as rain. We wouldn’t want him to think we were not being thoughtful.”

Suddenly, a light lit in Muriel’s eyes. “I have a brilliant idea, the perfect gift, one, I bet that’s never been given before.”

“What’s that? Is it expensive? Remember we hardly have $9.”

“It’s perfect I tell you. And to think I thought it up myself.”

“Stop the suspense. What is it?”

“Dad uses gasoline, right?” Charles nodded that Dad did, indeed, use gasoline. “Simple. We go over to Squire’s Gulf, buy $4 worth of gasoline, and get a receipt for it. Then we tell Mr. Squire that Dad will be by later to get the gasoline. We put the receipt in a box and wrap it up all pretty.”

Charles smiled. “You know, you might have hit on something.”

“Let’s go, then. It’ll be fun buying gasoline without a car. And, who knows, this might catch on with other people who don’t know what to buy their dads for Christmas.”

“And Mom? What shall we get her for Christmas?”

“Oh, she never has enough stockings. Let’s buy her several pairs of those nylon stockings. The new ones. They don’t have to take a garter belt.”

“Good idea,” her brother answered.

And off they went without a care in the world. The people they met on the streets were in high spirits, their stomachs bulging from all the Thanksgiving leftovers. They had coffee, tea, sugar, bread, and flour in their cupboards. The war was clear across the ocean. “We’re not in the war,” their father had said at Sunday dinner,” And I’m thankful for that.”

But what Charles and Muriel didn’t know, what all the people of Russellville, of America, didn’t know, was that December 7, the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would say was “a date which will live in infamy” was right around the corner.

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