Lawrence – My Hometown
Me and Charles Dickens
By Richard E. Noble
Every time I think of this story I laugh. It seems so Dickensian. What I like best about this story is there is no rush for me to write it. No one is going to write this story before I get to it. When you are done reading this story you will not say, That is the exact same thing that happened to me when I was a kid. This will be a Richard Edward Noble classic.
My mother liked to knit and crochet. Whenever she had a free moment she was putting a fringe on a handkerchief, knitting or crocheting hats, mittens, afghans or whatever. We had decorative doilies on the arms and headpiece of every chair in the living room. Her only outlet for most of this stuff was Christmas time – she dumped them onto my little cousins and my aunts and uncles.
But, in my mother’s defense, I must say that her handcrafted items were usable. Unlike that pair of cufflinks and matching tie clip that floated around the family for about 14 years. I think I got those genuine, solid stone, maroon cuff links and matching stone tie clip six different times.
I gave them to my Uncle Vinnie the first time. What sweet revenge it was to watch his face when I gave them to him once again about six Christmas transfers later.
When I got them back the first time, I remember how shocked I was. How could anybody recycle a Christmas gift? I ran and showed them to my Mother. “These are the ones I gave to Uncle Vinnie two Christmases past,” I complained. She laughed. When she gave them to me to wrap for a new victim, I immediately wrote Uncle Vinnie’s name on the card. My mother said, “You can’t do that.”
I said, “Watch me.” She laughed again.
When Uncle Vinnie opened that box and saw those cuff links and matching tie clip, his little smirk of a smile vanished. He looked at me. I beamed, a little angel waiting to be stroked.
“Well thank-you very much, Richie. These are just what I needed.” Sure they are. You’ll “need” to palm them off on some other sucker next Christmas.
Little did I realize that rotating Christmas gifts was an ancient tradition.
But when it came to my mother’s crocheted and knitted hats, scarves, mittens, doilies and whatever everyone was bubbling with praise. My mother felt that their praise was sincere. I always felt that what they were really saying was, “God Mary, when are you ever going to have enough money to buy a real present. This knitted crap is getting rather old, ain’t it?”
In any case, to make a long story even longer, my mother decided that the praise from the relatives each Christmas was sufficient to send her little waif, Richie, off into the streets periodically carrying a cardboard suitcase full of her handicrafts, to be displayed as for profit items before neighbors on their doorstep.
Oh my god! The humiliation! I couldn’t believe on that first occasion that she was actually serious. When I laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea she made such a big deal out of it, day after day, that I finally relented. Besides the fact that I was still too small and she was too big for me to take on mano a mano.
It was about two weeks before Christmas on that first occasion. It was early afternoon and it was flurrying. I had my stupid cardboard suitcase and she forced one of her dumb hats onto my head as an ad – it was alternating rows of red, white and blue with a pom-pom and some little Christmas bells on top. I tried to walk without bouncing.
I couldn’t just walk around the block and mosey on home because I knew she would grill me when I got back. What houses did you go to? What did the lady look like? What kind of furniture was in the apartment? I had to go to at least one real home.
I walked around and around and around. I wanted to pick a nice house – one with nice people inside. I didn’t want anybody yelling at me. I didn’t want to meet any girls from my school class. Can you imagine?
I found a nice looking home about two blocks away. The tenement was painted well – no pealing, scabby spots and no bubbles or rotten siding or steps. It was cream with dark brown trim. It had a big, open front porch. There were Christmas lights in all the windows and a pretty tree in a corner with a window on two sides. It was real Christmassy. A person couldn’t have all that type display and then be mean and nasty. Of course, we had the same display at our house and we weren’t all that friendly.
I drudged up the steps. The hall door had a bell in it. We had the same thing on our hall door. It looked like a roller-skate key or the doohickie on the back of a windup toy. You rotated it clockwise and it rattled – almost like a bell but not really. I rattled it. An old lady came to the window and peeked at me. I didn’t look at her. I pretended I didn’t see her. I rattled again. I heard her open the kitchen door down the hall. Then clomp, clomp, clomp down the hallway. I couldn’t stand the thought of facing the lady eye to eye. So I opened my cardboard case and held the lid up in front of my face thus displaying the dumb crocheted hats in the stupid box but not my head and face.
The old woman opened the door, saw all the hats in my cardboard box and screeched. I didn’t know whether to run or what. What the heck was she screeching about? Was there a rat in the box, a dirty pair of underwear … what?
“Oh look at all the beautiful hats,” she said.
Is she kidding me, I thought. I lowered my cardboard box, display suitcase slightly – just enough so that I could peek up at the lady.
“Did you make these hats?” she queried joyously.
(Yeah right, I knit hats instead of playing baseball? Give me some slack will ya lady.)
“No ma’am my mother did.”
“Nancy! Come here and hurry.” Oh no, Nancy was an eighth grade girl from St. Rita’s. I recognized her. Maybe me being a little runt she never paid attention to me. Hopefully she wouldn’t recognize me.
“Oh I know you,” she said. “You’re Carol’s little brother.” She was in the same class with my older sister. Great!
The old looking broad and her daughter or granddaughter were so thrilled with all the hats that they called in all the neighbors. Of course they all had daughters who went to St. Rita’s too. I was totally humiliated. I was a glowing, flaming red. I thought I was going to have a nose bleed.
They wanted to buy all the hats. All the girls were putting them on and running to a mirror. My mother told me to get at least 50 cents each. I told the first lady who wanted a hat that the price was 50 cents and she said, “No, no here’s a dollar. By the time I left the apartment I had sold one hat for as much as $3.50. I returned back to the house with an empty cardboard box full of money. My mother went nuts.
The good part of this story is that everybody was happy. I saw all the girls wearing my mother’s hat at school everyday and they didn’t bother me – no pinching cheeks or coochee, coochee baby talk.
The bad part of the story was that my mother then wanted me to go out every night before every Christmas selling hats – she had a ton of them. She had them under her bed, in the closet – everywhere. What had she ever planned to do with all those stupid hats?
I pulled a Tom Sawyer on some of my buddies. I told them that selling my mother’s stupid hats was great fun and if they came with me I would give them some money. But the first time we got a door shut in our faces, they were gone. So there I was every Christmas, poor little Tiny Tim or Rickety Richard out in the cold and snow, selling crocheted hats door to door. My mother finally let me stop when I started sporting a four o’clock shadow. Cute is only cute on little people.
Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on Amazon.com. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for bookstore discounts and volume sales.