Golden Opportunity: A Christmas Story, Part I
By Algie Ray Smith


Posted on December 11, 2014 3:58 PM



Each year, Russellville author, educator & businessman Algie Ray Smith writes a Christmas story with a local theme. This is Part I of his 2014 offering.

"Doesn’t seem like Christmas,” Ghent observed looking up from the Stephen King novel he was reading. “Hasn’t for a long time.”

His wife Sandreen closed the Nora Roberts book she was immersed in and asked, “And what is Christmas supposed to seem like? Sleigh bells? Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Children building snowmen?”

Like many older couples Ghent and Sandreen spent much of their time in nostalgic repasts. Hennie was the name he used in high school where he played an oboe in the marching band. Sandreen, some 50 odd years back, had been a cheerleader at one of the county high schools. She was called, of course, SANDY.

Ghent cast a furtive eye at the pathetic little white plastic tree on a table in the corner. The tree appeared even more pitiful with the pink aluminum star on top and the pulsating green-red-blue-yellow dancing lights.

“That tree is an atrocity,” he stammered. “It’s not any better than no tree at all.”

“Yes, Dear, I agree; but you were the one back in 1998 who said it was a waste of time and energy to get a big cedar tree and decorate it….then haul it all down again before New Year’s.”

Hennie reached for the cup of Nescafe…instant…that had been warm an hour ago, took a small sip, and returned it to its moisture stain on his chairside table. “Do you remember our first Christmas together, Sandy, in…….”

“In 1962, Dear.”

“Yes. 1962. I haven’t forgotten.” (He had! He had been about to reply 1960.)

“Now, that was a B I G Christmas tree. Found it in the woods back of the Bouldins on the Franklin Road.”

Sandy sighed, closed the Nora Roberts novel, and sank back in her chair. “Our first Christmas as married folk. We played Bing Crosby’s Christmas album while we loaded that tree down with lights, strings of popcorn, and red and green roping.”

Hennie’s milky eyes brightened. “And the angel on top was much better than that old star. Whatever happened to Angie…that’s what we called her?”

Sandy learned forward and took a deep breath. “Angie. Angie the Angel. She had butterfly gossamer wings, a golden halo; and she was holding a candle that bubbled. Oh, one year…25 years or so back, you dropped her.”

He nodded. “And the bubble burst. Her head flew off. We never did find one of her wings.”

“I guess I tossed her out with the garbage. But, let’s see…I kept her halo. I have it, I think, in my sewing basket.”

Hennie was about to say that the contents of her sewing basket was about as mysterious as the insides of her large black pocketbook, but he knew better than to go THERE,

Instead, he sighed, “Those Christmas banquets you prepared. Ummm. Ummmm. I can almost taste the pineapple ham and the sourdough rolls.”

Sandy laughed. “Too much trouble now for just the two of us. But I still serve you Banquets.”

“Yes. Banquet microwave dinners.”

“Your idea,” she began.

Hennie realized he had better steer clear of that subject, too. “Sandy, do you recall the exact time and place we first met?”

She brought her right hand to her brow. “Let me think on it…a girl never forgets these things…Dec. 22….uh,….Dec. 22, 1958.”

“Right you are!”

Her eyes took on a faraway look. “I had just crossed 4th Street and was headed up Main to meet Mother at Thurmond’s Furniture Store. I had been down at Kuhn’s Five and Dime. Mother was in Thurmond’s looking for………”

 

++++++++++++++++

Seventeen-year-old Hennie Howitzer was determined to find something nice for a Christmas gift for his mother. He knew that she shopped at Leedom’s Department Store, so that was his destination. Only two more days until Christmas, he realized. He had to get busy shopping.

As he entered Leedom’s, he saw two of his teachers….his math teacher Mrs. Rector and his music teacher Mrs. Carver…chatting with Dickie Bagby, one of the star players on the basketball team. He overheard Mrs. Rector saying, “Now, Dickie, all you guys were in fine form. You won the county tournament again.”

Dickie laughed. “Don’t we usually?”

Mrs. Carver noticed Hennie, who had stopped and was listening. “Hello, Hennie. Out shopping, I suppose.”

“Yes Ma’m. I’m trying to find something nice….for my mother.”

“Oh, what does she like?”

“Well, she has a tartan winter coat; but when she wears it, she has only an old white scarf for her head.”

Mrs. Carver joined in. “They have some very warm woolen scarves here. I saw some at the back of the store. I’ll bet Hotoo will be delighted to show them to you.”

“Thanks. Thanks a lot.” Hennie started to the back of the store, but stopped and turned. “And Merry Christmas, Ladies. Merry Christmas, Bagby!”

“Back atcha.” Dickie smiled his Charlie Brown smile.

“Did I hear someone mention my name?” It was Hotoo dressed all in festive greens and reds.

“Yes, Ma’m. Could you show me some winter scarves for my mother.”

“Certainly. We have a large stock. We received them last week in time for Christmas. I still have a goodly number. What’s your mother’s favorite color?”

“Red. She’s kind of like Miss Agnes Davis in that choice.”

“Fifteen minutes later Hennie, his gaily wrapped package in hand, slowly made his way up Main, stopping at every store to admire the displays in the windows. Logan Department Store displayed an assortment of men’s sweaters and hats. The Citizens National Bank had an 8-foot tree covered entirely in lights and icicles. At Perry’s Drugs Store, Ough Page was staring out the door. Hennie nodded at him and mouthed, “Merry Christmas.”

When he stepped from the curb at 4th Street, he saw HER! She had crossed the street, both arms loaded down with packages. As she stepped up on the sidewalk in front of the Southern Deposit Bank building, she stumbled. One of her packages fell to her feet.

Quickly, Hennie crossed to her, saying, “Let me get that for you.” He knelt and picked up the package. Handing it to her, he looked into her eyes. He knew her! “You’re a cheerleader for the county.” As soon as he said it, he felt foolish. Of course, she was a cheerleader. She was wearing a cheerleader jacket.

“Thank you very much. Yes, I’m a cheerleader. My name’s Sandy. And you’re…….”

“Hennie. Hennie Horwitz. I go to city high.”

“Well, I certainly knew you didn’t go to my school. You city boys are so debonair.” They both laughed.

Sandy was very attractive. She had a round face, a small nose, a blond pony tail, and blue eyes that sparkled. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. A Golden Opportunity.

“Say, Sandy. Would you like to go to Duncan’s Drugs for a soda. I see you’ve been shopping. I bet you could use a break.”

Before Sandy could answer, a rather short lady bundled up like a polar bear came from Thurmond’s and yelled, “Hurry along, Sandy. We have to get home before your Dad does. I haven’t even thought about what we’re having for supper.”

“Yes, Momma. I’ll be right there.” She looked at Hennie. “Gee, that was very nice of you to ask, but I guess you heard my mother calling to me. We’ve been here most of the afternoon, and we have to get home.”

A flash of inspiration struck! “How ‘bout tomorrow?” Hennie asked. “If you’re in town tomorrow, the invitation still stands.”

“Okay. I’ll be in Duncan’s at eleven tomorrow morning.” Then she turned and hurried up the street.

The next day Hennie was in Duncan’s Drugs Store at 10:30. He loitered around near the front door and browsed through the books on the comics rack. He kept looking out the window. He really didn’t expect Sandy to show.

But at exactly 10:55 the door swung open letting in a blast of snow and cold air. “SANDY! You remembered.”

She laughed. “Why shouldn’t I? It was only yesterday you asked me.”

“Okay. Okay. I’m teasing.” He pointed to the yellow Wate and Fate scales by the door. “First order of business….” He produced two bright pennies from his pocket….”is to have this machine to tell us our fortunes.”

She eyed the scales. “Are you sure you’re simply trying to see how much I weigh?”

“No, now step up, take this penny and push it in the slot next to your birth month. I promise I won’t peek; but you have to promise to read your Fate that appears in the window.”

“Okay, I guess.” She took the penny and stepped up on the scales.

But Hennie did cheat….a bit. He took a quick glance and watched as she put the penny in the JANUARY SLOT. Ah, one piece of information about her.

“You’re not peeking, are you?” Sandy asked.

“No. Read me your Fate.”

“It says, ‘You are very desirous of a banana milkshake.” Then she stepped of the scales. “Your turn. Do you need a penny?”

“Nope. I have my own.“ He stepped on to the scales and pushed the penny into one of the slots. She didn’t cheat…didn’t peek, so she couldn’t tell his birth month.

“Okay, what’s your Fate?”

“Hmmmmm. It says, ‘You will share a banana milkshake with someone shorter than you.”

 She pretended to be offended. “It does not.”

 “I’m afraid it did.” He stepped from the scales. “Come on. Let’s make both those fortunes come true.”

Hennie guided Sandy to the soda fountain where Pete Simmons was completing a root beer float for a lady who worked at First Federal. The lady placed two dimes on the counter, took her order, and walked away. As she passed Hennie, her eyes lit up. “Merry Christmas, Ghent.” She nodded at Sandy. “And a Merry Christmas to you, too.”

“Merry Christmas,” they both answered.

At the counter where Pete was now busily wiping a white cloth across the green finish, Hennie chirped, “How about some service here.”

Pete looked up. “Hold your horses.” He finished his wiping. “Now, what will you have?”

“We’d like a banana milkshake…..with two straws.”

Pete smirked. “The last of the big time spenders. Don’t suppose I’ll be getting a tip, will I?”

“Sure you will. Stay out of pool halls.”

As Pete busied himself making the milkshake, he asked, “Who’s the young lady? Don’t believe I’ve seen her in here with you before.”

“Oh, sorry. Sandy, meet Pete, the best soda jerk in the universe. Pete, meet Sandy. A really neat girl even though she’s county.”

As Pete added a banana, ice cream, and milk to the mixer, he threw back over his shoulder. “You better be on your toes, young lady. This guy comes in every day almost with a different girl. And make sure he doesn’t ask you to pay.”

Sandy didn’t know how to respond, so she remained silent.

Just then Buster Page, who had returned from delivering a prescription, came over and stood at the end of the counter. “When you got a second, Pete, fix me a Coke and a pack of Nabs. I skipped breakfast this morning.”

Pete finished the banana milkshake and placed it on the counter before the young couple. “Young lady…Sandy. Make sure he doesn’t squeeze your straw or he’ll hog it all.”

Sandy laughed. “I’ll keep one eye on my straw and the other eye on you.”

Pete grinned. “Oh, I don’t bear watching. He does.” He turned and drew a Coke from the big red soda machine, snagged a pack of Nabs from the Lance rack, and stepped over and began to talk to Buster.

“When did it start snowing?”

“A few minutes ago. Looks like it might be a white Christmas after all.”

“You haven’t forgotten that you’re coming to our house for dinner tonight, have you?”

“I certainly haven’t. I wouldn’t miss Joanne’s Christmas cookies for all of Santa’s reindeer.”

The front door opened again, and Charlie Ball shuffled in. Mr. Duncan, who was behind the prescription counter at the back of the store, took note of Charlie’s entrance. Quickly, he made his way to the candy counter where Charlie had stopped and was admiring the boxes of Whitman candies.

“Today’s Thursday, Mr. Duncan,” Charlie chanted. “Tomorrow’s Christmas.” He pulled a harmonica from his frayed coat pocket and blew into it. The sound was like a train engine starting up and then abruptly stopping.

“Jingle Bells. Jingles Bell.” Then he took off his hat and held out his hand.

“No nickel for you today, Charlie.”

Charlie looked hurt, as if he might tear up and cry.

Mr. Duncan smiled. “No nickel, Charlie. Look, here’s a quarter because it’s Christmas.

Charlie’s face lit up. “Thank you, Mr. Duncan. Thank you.”

Mr. Duncan reached across the counter and picked up a small box of chocolates. “And here’s a Christmas treat. Now run along. You’re busy. I’m busy. I’ll wager you haven’t been to see Mr. Davis at the Citizen’s National Bank.”

“Gotta go. Busy. Busy.” Charlie shuffled out, stopping to hold the door for Levi Hodge and his mother. “Today’s Thursday, tomorrow’s Christmas.”

Back at the soda fountain Hennie pulled in his breath as hard as he could. SQUEZZEXTTTTT “You know what means in Turkish?” Sandy shook her head. “It means EMPTY.”

She pulled her straw from the banana shake and licked it. “Not really. I think it means you’re greedy.”

“Oh, so you think? I’ll order up another one.”

“It’s been fun, but I can’t linger much longer. Mom wants me to go to Bill’s Shoe Shop and pick up Dad’s boots. He’s had new soles put on. They’re the boots he uses when he milks the cows.”

“Bill’s is right around the corner. That shouldn’t take you long.”

Sandy looked at the Coca-Cola sign over the front door. “Yes, but she’s picking me up in 15 minutes. I have to help her with the Christmas baking this afternoon.”

Hennie’s eyes brightened! “Say! There’s a New Year’s dance at Teen Town next week. How about being my date?”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t. New Year’s Eve is Wednesday. Wednesday is a church night. We never miss Wednesday night prayer services.”

“But the dance is not until Friday night. What do you say? Will you at least consider it?”

“I’ll have to ask mother…..”

Hennie ripped a napkin in half. “Here. Give me your phone number. I’ll call you after Christmas.”

Sandy took the half napkin and the yellow pencil he offered. “I suppose that would be okay.”




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