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The Christmas Walk

by

Hilary Flanery



T hink with the wise but walk with the vulgar." I recalled the old German saying, as Bridget, eleven years old, shouted at Campion, seven..."You idiotic freak of nature!"

So...I talk to myself and walk with my children.

Campion accidentally bumped into Bridget running to escape his other sister, Nora, twelve, whose stocking cap he had pulled off.

"Moronic!" Bridget charitably asserted.

"Christopher Columbus!" Nora had just portrayed Jo in their school play, "Little Women". "Give me that!" The little woman punched Campion, retrieving her hat.

With the seven younger, of our ten children, I was taking our annual Christmas walk to Crestwood mall to see the decorations and have lunch. Then it's off to St. Patrick's bookstore, down the road, to visit their chapel and be reminded of what Christmas is really about.

Cold and menacing, the clouds spit icy pellets. I struggled to straighten the wheels of two-year-old Paddy's machine on the slippery sidewalk. I call the stroller a machine. If it's not human, it's a bothersome machine.

This morning, while pulling wet towels out of one machine and throwing them into another, a third machine rang. I answered.

"This is First Security. Do you have an alarm system?" Sales calls.

"A pit bull, and a magnum!" I snapped, hanging up.

Discombobulated, I pulled the wet towels out of the dryer, threw them BACK into the washer and stood, conflicted, trying to figure out what I just did.

The machine rang again and started blathering. One of my psychologist husband's patients was leaving a message on another machine.

"Mom!! Campion wiped his bottom with the shower curtain!!" Bridget tattled.

"WHAT?!!" I shouted, answering the phone.

"Hello?" A woman.

"This is Mrs. Flanigan." I said, grabbing a roll of toilet paper from the hall closet.

"I'm one of Dr.'s patients and I need help."

"For God's sake, use TOILET PAPER!" I threw the roll at Campion. "I do." She said.

"Not you. I'm sorry. What's the matter?" I asked.

"I'm depressed..."

"You're depressed." I interrupted. "St. Hyginus, I gotta kid, who just used my new cloth shower curtain as toilet paper and it's the first curtain I've bought in 15 years..."

The phone went dead. I guess the thought of buying a new shower curtain, once every 15 years, was too much.

"It is!!" Screamed six year old James jumping on Jack, nine. Gregor, our fifteen year-old son, slid over to pry them apart.

"Uncle Moms, a vowel is long in a word if the word ends with a violent e." James had taken to calling me Uncle Moms.

"A silent e." I corrected.

"A violent e!" James insisted.

"Fine." Sometimes it's better to settle for an e that's violent and a child that's silent.

The wind whipped us across the busy intersection of Watson and Sappington, into the mall's parking lot. Machine wheels were spinning everywhere scaling icy inclines.

One woman, talking on a machine, in her Mommy McChine, probably going to McDonalds, drove dangerously close, fishtailing.

"Wow, did you see that?" Campion cried. "I almost got hit by that car! I practically risked my life to kill myself!!"

Sleeting harder and darker than God's pockets, we slid into a store door, ready to enter the pink, plastic, perky world...of Mall.

"May I help you?" A saleswoman slithered from behind a rack, nervous about children's hands molesting her merchandise.

"We're just blazing a trail to the mall." I said, making friendly conversation. "The wind-chill factor must be 10 below."

"Are these all your children?" She coiled.

"Why yes." I beamed. "Yes, they are."

"Isn't that a bit irresponsible?" She struck!

"Irresponsible?" I froze. "Oh, no, dear, I'm not irresponsible. I'm irresistible."

Taking hold of Paddy's machine, I kicked the locked wheels, ordered the children to line up, and marched out of her den down the desert of tiled floor.

As merchandise parted like the Red Sea, I led my people towards the promised land...the New Canaan...the Mt. Sinai of all Mt. Sinais! The land of milk...and money...the Mall!

It was a winter wonderland.

Each shop entrance had a green Christmas tree covered in cherry red bows and silvery tinsel. From the mall ceiling hung evergreen ropes decked with gold and blue balls.

Strolling down the corridor the children delighted in the shop windows.

One displayed snowy hills dotted in black firs surrounding a frozen pond with children ice-skating.

Another, an early 20th century parlor, had family members gathered round an upright piano singing..."Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"??!!

"Is nothing sacred?" I exclaimed.

Pulling them away, I spotted Gregor at a different window. We joined him.

It was a lingerie shop, displaying ...leopard push-ups, leopard panties, leopard nighties. Just like that first Christmas, "...and there were shepherds tending their leopards..."!

"St. Sexburga!" I cried, smacking Gregor. "Let's eat!" That should be safe.

Atop Mt. Escalator, we descended towards the fertile food court, flooded with manna!

"Disgusting!" Jack pointed.

Tucked in a corner of the food court, were teenagers locked in a passionate embrace.

Reaching the foothills, we surged...like a herd of turtles.

"St. Nymphodora...move!" I pleaded, pushing them away from Sodom and Gomorrah. They stared, hoping to see...some "morrah".

"What are they doing?" Jack asked as I shoved everyone to a table.

"Eatin' supper before they say grace!!" Now that's sex education.

"That guy must really be insane!" Campion pointed at another boy walking by with an earring protruding from above his eyebrow. "He's got a pierced ear on his forehead!"

"Lucy!" Paddy cried. "Lucy" was what Paddy called soda.

Lifting him from the stroller, I plopped down on a chair, standing him on my lap. I grabbed his outstretched arms as he chanted, "Lucy, Lucy..." His sweet little chubby face, framed in brown curls, cheered me. I sang...

"Venus de Milo was noted for her charms. But strictly between us, you're cuter than Venus, And once more, you've got arms!"

"Mo-THER!" Bridget was embarrassed.

"Okay. Tell me what you want." Handing Paddy to Nora, I solicited Gregor to help carry the trays piled with lunch and "Lucies".

"Grace, kids." I announced, back at the table.

"Awww, Mom." They complained.

I prayed an Irish blessing that's been in my family since God was a boy..."Father, Son, Holy Ghost, who eats the fastest, gets the most!!"

"MO-ther!" They yelled, and dug in.

The aroma of fresh sesame seed buns and cheeseburgers covered in mayonnaise dripping down the sides of their mouths onto the table warmed my heart...I didn't have to clean it up! Golden, salt-studded french fries scooping up red tomatoey ketchup splattering all over brought a smile to my face...I didn't have to clean that up either! Pinch my toes and call me a jelly donut...it just doesn't get any better than this!

"Hey, what's with the putor?" Gregor asked. "It's taking forever to load, these days."

"Load? Who's gotta' load?" I sniffed, leaning towards Paddy. He wasn't there.

"Where's Paddy?" I asked.

"Christopher Columbus...he's talking about the computer!" Nora complained.

I was no Marmee! The only thing Marmee and I would have had in common, after a couple of kids, were that we both had "floppy-discs", I thought clutching the front of my blouse, looking for Paddy.

"Okay, Little-Miss-Woman, I know all about 'downloading'. I've been changing 'downloadings' for 20 years and it's been a long 'hard-drive'!" I wiped my mouth with a napkin. "Kids, where is Paddy?" I crushed the napkin in my fist.

"Dunno." Gregor shrugged stealing a french fry from Jack.

"Get your own fries, you pimple-face-a-phobic!" Brotherly love.

"What?" I threw my eyes around the food court, frantic. "Where is Paddy? He was here a minute ago." I screamed his name backing up and knocking over my chair.

"Paddy!!" I shouted again. "Lord, help me!" I prayed like a sinner in a cyclone. My child was no where to be seen. I began spitting out orders.

"Nora, run up to the other end, Gregor, go down by the doors to the parking lot. Jack run into the bathrooms, I'll check the escalator. Bridget stay here with Campion and James in case Paddy comes back!"

Tears welled up in my eyes. I ran to the escalator hoping to see Paddy going up the stairs. "Paddy!!" I screamed. I turned back to the food court and shouted his name again. "Paddy...Paddy!!" My heart was beating hard and fast. I cupped my hands in front of my mouth to help throw my voice farther. "Paddy!!" Nothing. All I could hear was a whooshing in my ears. Everything seemed muffled, even my own voice. This must be what it's like to drown. My throat tightened. "Paddy!" I dropped my face into my hands. "Oh Lord, help me, please help me."

"Trouble?" A man spoke.

I looked up Mt. Escalator. There was a mall security guard gliding down.

He was at least 6' 4" tall but his navy baseball cap, monogrammed with a sky blue, "Security" above the bill, made him look taller. His navy cap matched his trousers and his shirt matched the sky blue threads of the word "Security". His eyes were the same shade of light blue as his shirt but with an aged look. He couldn't have been more than 35 and his after-shave had an unusual scent...vanilla.

"Help me. I can't find my two-year-old. He was here a minute ago. We were having lunch and now he's gone!" I squeezed the guard's arms.

"What was he wearing?" He asked, walking me to our table.

"A navy blue turtle-neck with a Christmas bear on it. His pants are green with striped candy canes. He has curly brown hair, and calls soda...'Lucy'." I sat down and sobbed.

"It's okay, Mom." Bridget came over holding Campion's hand as James climbed on my lap.

"I'll find him. Stay here in case he comes back, understand?" He asked.

I nodded, looking up. He was gone.

"Let's look in the lost-in-fountain." James suggested.

"That lunch was so good, I'm sick." Campion consoled.

"Mom, I told one of the restaurant workers that Paddy was lost and he called Mall Security." Gregor and Jack arrived back.

"Christopher Columbus, did you find him?" Nora asked, sounding more like a timid Beth than Joe.

"Stay here." I took Campion and James's hands, pulling them towards the mall doors to the parking lot. Paddy might have wandered out, or worse, someone had taken him out. That thought seared my soul.

Staring out the glass doors I saw that the sleet was, now, a curtain of snow. Pushing them open the cold caught my breath. I looked to the right; the cold chapped my face. I looked to the left; the cold froze my tears.

"Mom, we're freezing." Campion and James were shivering; their heads frosted white.

"Oh, boys." I pulled open the heavy doors and stepped back in, numb. I couldn't breathe. Where was my child?

Head, hanging, I moved towards my other children, each one precious, each one a gift from...

"Lucy!"

Looking up, there was the guard...with Paddy.

I ran and clutched Paddy to my heart.

"Where was he?" I asked. I smelled vanilla as I patted the springy curls of his head.

"Wicks n Sticks, up across from the escalator." He explained. "Nice place. Candle scents can be soothing for your soul. Little children know those things."

"What is your name?" I asked.

"Benjamin Dictus. Everyone calls me Benny." His eyes sparkled.

"Benny, I can never thank you enough!" I touched his arm.

The girls yanked Paddy out of my arms and I turned away from Benny to make sure they had a good hold on him. He would not get away again. When I turned back, Benny was gone.

"Pimple-a-phobia." Jack teased Gregor.

"Buck-tooth-a-phobia." Gregor held Jack by the forehead letting him box the air.

"Where did Benny go?" I looked around.

"Did you find your child?" Another security guard showed up.

"Yes! One of your guards found him! Benjamin Ditka." I looked past the guard.

"Not Ditka, Mom. That's Mike Ditka, the old Chicago Bear's football coach. His name was Dictus, it's Latin." Gregor corrected, shoving his brothers towards our table.

"I'm head of Mall Security. There aren't any guards named Dictus working for us." He assured.

"He had on a uniform just like yours...didn't he kids?" They stared, as if I was lying like an eyewitness. "His name was Benjamin Dictus, and he found my son upstairs in the Wick n Stick Shop."

"The Wick n Stick Shop? Shoot, that store's been closed since October. The owner was from out in Hermann and he drowned in the Missouri River, last September, trying to save some little kid." He reported.

"What?!" I shivered.

Hermann, Missouri is a German settlement, tucked in the Ozark hills above the Missouri River. Ninety miles west of St. Louis, Hermann's vineyards yield grapes for wines that rival the Mosel.

"A real hero, that guy. Got the kid to some fisherman in a boat, then he got sucked under by the current...drowned. Real sad." The guard shook his head.

"Oh my." I took hold of Paddy.

"Anywho...glad you found your boy. Gotta' get back to work." He left.

The children and I cleaned up and put on our coats. The wind was howling so I tucked the baby blanket tight around Paddy.

The children ran outside, throwing their heads back and sticking out their tongues, swallowing snowflakes for dessert.

We trudged through the snow, reaching the intersection of Watson and Sappington, and waited as the traffic lights turned from Christmas red to Christmas green.

I veered right, where the backs of a few stores butted up against our subdivision.

"Do we have to make a visit?" Jack whined.

I grabbed Jack's ear. "You'll not be turnin' into some of your relatives, me-boy, with their '...oh the church is near but the road is icy; the bar is far away but I'll walk carefully.'." I pulled him into St. Patrick's.

"Merry Christmas." The nuns caroled. "May we help you?"

"We're making a visit." I kept a hold of Jack's ear and walked towards the chapel at the back of the store.

"Go ahead. Father is saying Mass."

I whispered, "Okay. We're not staying for the whole Mass. Remember...thank God for Mr. Dictus, and thank God for lunch and thank..."

Campion interrupted. "Okay, Mom, we got it." He wiped his runny nose on the arm of his coat.

"Blow your nose, boy." Still holding Jack's ear, I grabbed Campion's and led them both towards God. That's called, "praying" it by ear!

The children genuflected and entered a pew. I lingered at the back with Paddy.

Campion went over to a side altar with a starched-white linen cloth. What was he up to?

He took the altar cloth in his hands, blew his nose, wiped it, and returned to the pew.

St. Symphorosa and her Seven Sons, I'm gonna' kill that kid and tell God the alligators ate him!

"Dominus vobiscum." Father prayed, Paddy and I entered a pew.

"Et cum spiritu tuo." We answered.

I prayed.

Who was Benjamin Dictus?

Father intoned..."Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth...Hosanna in excelsis. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini..." Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts...Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord...!

One line caught my attention. "Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini...'Be-ne-dictus'?...'Ben-ny-Dictus'!"

"You're thinking of Mike Ditka...His name was Dictus, it's Latin." Gregor had said.

"Be-ne-dictus"..."blessed"...it WAS Latin!

Outside the wind's shrieked. We needed to go.

"Merry Christmas!" We waved to the nuns.

"It's snowing even harder!" The children delighted, running towards home.

Outdoor lights twinkled. Reds, greens, and sparkling diamonds dotted icy evergreens flocked with pillows of white as smoke curled out of Christmas chimneys.

Running into an open field, leading to our backyard, the children dropped making snow angels.

"Gregor, who do you think Benny Dictus was?" I quizzed.

"Doesn't matter, Mom." He scooped up a mitten of snow. "'Benedictus' means 'blessed' in Latin and we were blessed. Latin is straightforward."

"Gregor, you are truly a wise guy." How come wise guys are always in fields?

"So am I!" Campion pronounced.

"What?" I asked.

"A wise guy! I know some Latin, too!" Campion overheard us. "I told Father Stanislaw, in catechism class, some Latin." He reported.

"You did?" I raised my eyebrows.

Standing erect, legs apart, chin out, and hands on hips, Campion declared..."Hasta la vista...bay-bee!!"

"You idiotic freak of nature wise guy!" Bridget charitably proclaimed. "That's Spanish!"

"Oh." Campion shrugged.

"You moronicus!" Gregor threw his snowball at Bridget's mouth.

She was speechless. This WAS a day of miracles!

"Christopher Columbus! Let's make some hot chocolate!" Nora shot home leading the three oldest boys.

"Wait up!" Bridget spotted James standing by me.

"Uncle Moms, I love Paddy." James bent down and kissed his sleeping brother. "I hope we get another baby."

"Yeah, for Christmas!" Bridget hurrahed, and they ran home to our raised-ranch with raised-hopes!

A sparkle, from the stroller basket caught my eye. There was a bottle of wine and vanilla scented candle in it.

I picked them up.

The bottle read...."EST AMICITIA IN VINO"..."THERE IS FRIENDSHIP IN WINE", the first Latin I ever learned...being Irish and all. Underneath that..."Hermann, Missouri". On the plastic, wrapped around the candle, was written, "Wicks n Sticks".

"Oh...my!"

My grandmother always said, "To each Saint his candle." and now...his bottle of wine!

I placed the gifts back in the basket.

The field, blanketed in a white brocade, topped by a canopy of clouds, reminded me of that first field. Paddy reminded me of that first Child...

There a darling baby lay, Pillowed soft upon the hay, And its mother sung and smiled, This is Christ the Holy Child.

Heading towards home, I recited aloud ...the fields shall be joyful, and all things that are therein. And "therein" the deep snow, my machine full of love, I sang as I shoved...

"A Benedictus Christmas to all, and to all...Hasta la vista....bay-bee!!!"





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hilary Flanery is the mother of 10 children...6 boys, no lamps (the boys break them all) and 4 girls. She has been happily married for 27 years and is known to be certified insane. We know this to be a fact as her husband is a Clinical Psychologist. He has a Ph.D., or "sheep-skin"; she has a B.r.A., or "sheep-dog"; it rounds them up and gathers them in!



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