“Walking Backwards for Christmas”: Chapter 7, Part 3: “The Holly & the Ivy” [and a couple of previews]
They’d stopped back in Edgbaston, picked up the Indian spices Mum and Cressida had used in the samosas, before returning to a butcher in Solihull for a bit of ground lamb and a grocer for some fresh garlic and some canned peas and mushrooms. Mum had the idea of making a kind of Lamb Christmas Pie with the ingredients, in place of the roast beef, becoming an elongated brick in Grammer’s freezer. Stan felt a bit embarrassed about causing so much trouble, but Mum assured him that adhering to deeply held beliefs was never anything to feel self-conscious or apologetic about. Besides, we’d now have roast beef for New Year.
Mum laughed at our playing Auntie Gene’s Oscars game and wondered where we’d found it. Without thinking, I told her where—forgetting what lay immediately adjacent. Mum and Grammer looked over at the box, and inevitably at the guitar as well. “Where d’ee find it?” Grammer asked me. “I’ve looked everywhere for that with no luck.”
Stan and I should’ve anticipated this moment but we hadn’t. Our words fell over each other as we stammered out semi-coherent and sometimes even contradictory versions of events. Both Mum and Grammer had their eyebrows raised with that “you-are-now-officially-on-thin-ice-be-careful-what-you-say” look.
Coughing up the truth was still a bad option but it was the least bad one available.
“Gramfer gave it to me,” I said. “He taught me how to play, and then he gave it to me.”
Mum turned to Stan. “Did you see an old man teaching guitar to Reggie?”
Stan demurred, “I saw an elderly gentleman hand Reggie the guitar and Reggie played for us later on but I was talking to…someone else while the actual teaching was going on, I think.”
There was a recent photograph of Gramfer on the mantle, pushed behind some other stuff as Grammer prepared for her weekly visit from the chimney sweep. Stan wouldn’t have had achance to see it beforehand. Mum showed it to him.
“Is this the elderly gentleman you saw, Stan?”
He nodded. “That was him. He told Reggie he couldn’t touch the guitar again though until his grandmother picked up the bluebells and read the attached paper.”
Grammer still remained skeptical, but Mum was softening.
“Mum,” she said to Grammer, “where, at this time of year, in the midst of this icy winter rain and snow, would the boys find fresh bluebells?”
Grammer nodded reluctantly, untied the ribbon and unwrapped the scroll. She read its contents and nearly fainted away. Stan and I quickly moved the guitar and case as Mum sat Grammer down in the comfy chair.
Grammer looked at Stan and me, then at Mum. “You don’t suppose …”
Mum started to laugh in spite of herself. “That they wrote it? It’s been a few years since you’ve seen the penmanship of an eight-year-old, hasn’t it? To say nothing of the capacity of children their age—even bright ones—for verse like this. Mum. You know whose handwriting it is, you know who wrote it. I’ve only one test left to see if it’s true.” She turned to me. “Reggie, you’ve never even held this guitar before today, have you?”
I shook my head. “No, Mum.”
“And now you can play it?”
I nodded vigorously. “Yes, Mum. Ood y’loike t’ hear me?”
Yes, Reggie, I ‘would’—not ‘ood’—‘like’—not ‘loike’—for you to play me something.”
I gingerly picked up the guitar and sat down on one of the hard chairs by the table. The music that had materialized during our tea was still in the case and Stan took out “The Seven Joys of Mary.”
I didn’t have the screen to help me.
It was buried with the rest of my swag in a sack in the entry hall, but with Stan singing a confident descant, me on melody and Mum doing alto, it sounded good enough. I did nothing on the guitar but half-barre chords and throw in a few ornaments, but it was in Gramfer’s style and good enough to convince them I really knew how to play. Mum said she was running extremely late and had to be off.
“Please, Mum,” I begged, “jus’ un more. F’y’does nothen else t’cel’broate Christmas, yow ’ave t’ sing this.”
Before Mum could either decline or start correcting my speech, I struck up our family version of The Holly and the Ivy—Stan right with me, God bless him. By first refrain, Mum and Grammer were singing along. And even in that cold, dark, drafty room, with droplets flowing in from the windows and down the walls, Christmas warmth enveloped us all in a way I’ve rarely known, before or since.
© 2014, 2015, 2017 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
That’s the conclusion of Chapter 7, but NOT the conclusion of the book. The end of Chapter 7 takes you exactly two thirds the way through. There’s still Chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11 to go – and they’re not going to be posted
And, I’ve saved the best for last.
Reggie and Stan’s adventures aren’t over yet; in chapters 9 and 10, they’ll meet up with a rather unsettling angel, before trying to create some Christmas warmth and joy in “Soggyhall.” Meanwhile, Chapters 8 and 11 take us to 1976 Los Angeles, halfway around the calendar from Christmas, where the grown (24-year-old) Reggie (now “Reg”), whom we haven’t seen since The Prologue, but who’s been narrating this tale, is fighting a new inner darkness. He has a “visit” from Gramfer and meets up with another unsettling angel as he attempts to use the guitar and its magic to dispel the darkness.
But to find out how it all ends, you’re going to need to get the book, “Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall,” third edition. It’s available in paperback for $6.49 from Amazon HERE.
Meanwhile, some news about Volume One of he sequel, “The Bluebottle Boys.”
In “The Bluebottle Boys,” it’s – officially – spring 1962, although you wouldn’t know it from the freezing air and the snow on the ground. Reggie and Stan are now 10; their families now live on both sides of the same semi-detached house in Edgbaston – including Stan’s new teenage didis. Cheeky, trying to coax their hair into pompadours, Reggie and Stan may not be the wide-eyed little angels they were in 1960. But they’re more goodhearted than ever, enough to take the overweight and socially awkward Ian Tippins under their wing. Especially after Ian suffers a grande mal seizure at school that leaves him set upon by a trio of upper class bullies and shunned by most of the rest of his classmates.
In Volume One, the three will be arrested, confront ghosts and demons in a cemetery after dark. They will form a doo-wop group with four boys from the slums, and connive a way for all seven of them to sneak into the rock concert of the year. In the course of all this, Reggie will meet again with Bethany, along with some wise, protective beings with human bodies and doglike heads, and a mysterious gentleman who’ll have a significant impact on Reggie’s life.
I’ll begin posting Chapters 1 through 8 of “The Bluebottle Boys,” Volume One, when I return on January 10. Happy Holidays, all of you, and God bless.
G. H. McCallum
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