Long as we can remember (durn near), these words’ve shown up in Bulletin Board on Christmas Eve: “BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Yes, dear Bulletin Boarders, it’s time once again for that ‘gen-u-wine original an’ perennial Cowboy King Christmas Classic’ — which we’ve been treatin’ ya t’ (’r inflictin’ on ya) ever’ Christmas Eve since way back in ’92 (’ceptin’ fer ’95). May it last a hundred years (an’ it’s a-gittin’ thar, ain’ it?)!”
Alas, our “poet lariat,” The Cowboy King (writing from his cabin in the Arden Mountains), has informed us that, the respect for property rights being too rara an avis on the Internet, he would not offer “The Night Before Christmas at M’ Home on the Range” to BBonward.com. Our rejoinder — that Bulletin Board has been published not just on newsprint but also online for many years, and that, so far as we knew, no one had wrongly appropriated his poem from either the Pioneer Press or TwinCities.com — was right on point but ultimately unpersuasive. Too bad.
We thank him for all of the years when he allowed us to run “The Night Before Christmas at M’ Home on the Range.” We never tired of it.
We hope that you will be suitably entertained, in The Cowboy King‘s absence, by yet another fine circus tale from Tim Torkildson: “My first Christmas away from home was spent in Venice, Florida, in rehearsal with the Ringling Brothers’ Blue Unit.
“By a series of fortuitous missteps, I had been offered a contract as a First-of-May and told to report for rehearsals by December 20th. I sped back north to the ancestral home in Minneapolis prior to the deadline, the news of my employment in the buffoonery department leaving my parents agog. They had both predicted my abysmal failure at such a hare-brained venture; now here I was, waving my contract in front of their aging, sagging faces with a complete lack of familial piety.
“It was a wonderful moment for a kid who had spent his life, up until then, being told by everyone to stop daydreaming and fooling around and start buckling down to real life.
“After making the rounds of high-school pals who were now either entombed in factory jobs or carousing at the University of Minnesota, I fled the gelid embrace of winter for my very own roomette on the Ringling train in Winter Quarters, and the rigors of rehearsal began.
“Richard Barstow was the rehearsal director and choreographer that year. A Broadway camp follower, his low opinion of clowns was demonstrated clearly by his first stage instructions to us at rehearsal: ‘When I’m not using you, please stay out of sight, and never sit on the ring curb!’
‘This wispy-haired rake handle kept us busy all day doing dance steps to the accompaniment of his raspy screams and withering sarcasms. There was no time to work on our clown gags, except in the late evenings after rehearsals. That’s when Mark Anthony, Otto Greibling, Dougie Ashton, and Prince Paul would meet in solemn conclave to decide what the ring gags would be and to distribute tattered, hand-me-down walk-arounds to the First-of-Mays, such as myself, who didn’t have any original ideas about what to do.
“I was given the ancient ‘balancing a rubber ball on a parasol’ gag to extract some chuckles from the crowd. This consisted of a cheap Japanese paper parasol and a rubber ball with fishing line attached to it that had a loop at the other end. Once the loop was placed around the crown of the opened parasol, I could spin the parasol while apparently balancing the rubber ball on its edge. Of course once I closed the parasol and put it over my shoulder, the audience could see the rubber ball dangling on its invisible thread.
“Since clowns got only half-pay during rehearsals, I was forced into extreme frugality. No car, of course. I rented a bike from a shop in downtown Venice to take me places. My meals came from the Winn-Dixie store, where a smoked turkey leg cost 50 cents and a bag of oranges a quarter. That, and numerous PBJ sandwiches, provided all my nourishment.
“While I gloried in having my very own private space on the circus train (previously, the new clowns had bunked barracks-style on one of the train cars), I was a bit put out by the hygiene arrangements. Each roomette had a fold-out sink, and there was a bathroom at the both ends of the car — but there were no showers. For that, I had to rely on the one single shower stall at the rehearsal arena. It serviced all 30 clowns, and the Bulgarian acrobats. I had to get there mighty early to shower or risk being late for rehearsals, which started promptly at 9. While turning a blind eye to tardiness in the star acts, if a lowly clown were a minute late, Barstow broiled them with vituperation, via his microphone, until they shriveled up and blew away.
“So my days and nights were busy; except for Sunday, when the show took a welcomed Sabbath rest. Sundays, I would wander along the canals throwing coral rocks at the ‘gators or spread out on a blanket at the beach listening to the mewing of the gulls and the hissing of the surf — marveling at my good fortune, yet wondering if this were really how Charlie Chaplin got his start.
“There were no rehearsals on Christmas Day, so Kevin Bickford, Tim Holst (both First-of-Mays), and I shared a taxi into Sarasota to eat at the Golden Buddha. The three of us ordered shrimp fried rice, sweet-and-sour pork, and egg foo young, washed down with copious amounts of tepid tap water that the waiter brought after we had shot down his suggestion of tea or bar drinks a dozen times. Tim and Kevin were from small-town Illinois, so we were just three unremarkable Midwesterners holed up in a dimly lit and depopulated Chinese joint on the most sentimental day of the year.
“We spoke about our dreams, what we wanted to accomplish. Kevin wanted to become a famous magician; his dad did amateur magic shows for the VFW back in Illinois. Holst was determined to get into circus management, because that’s where the money is. His dad was a mailman — one shoulder permanently lower than the other from carrying that heavy satchel for 40 years.
I really didn’t know what I wanted out of life yet. ‘Maybe just to make people laugh — that would be a pretty good deal,’ I said at length.
“Yeah, they agreed. Nothing wrong with making people laugh. But unless you’re Bob Hope, there ain’t much money in it.
“‘But it should be steady work,’ I hazarded, ‘cuz everybody likes to laugh.’
“They didn’t reply; our fried rice had come, so it was time to dig in and let our plans take care of themselves.
“Afterwards we took a taxi back to Winter Quarters and went our separate ways. I spent the evening in my roomette, reading ‘W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes,’ by Robert Lewis Taylor. I still recall Taylor’s narrative detailing Field’s penchant of opening bank accounts in every town he ever visited while in vaudeville. That sounded like a pretty good idea to me at the time.
“I can’t vouch for Kevin or Holst, but my first Christmas away from home did not generate a pinch of homesickness or loneliness. I was a professional clown about to embark on a nationwide tour, I owed no man one red cent, and, for the most part, I liked my fellow performers. The world was not only my oyster, but the lemon, salt, bread and butter were on their way as well.”
‘Tis the season!
And: The Permanent Family Record
Luv.Mom writes: “Subject: Hi, BB — Merry Christmas!
“We had our family Christmas celebration last week because that’s when most of the family was available. Several are in the military, so you adjust to their schedule.
“We had the feast, the stockings, the presents under the tree, lighted all the candles on the Advent Wreath, and sang carols along with rhythm instruments.
“The highlight was reading the choices everyone had made for their Christmas giving. For several years, we’ve asked the family to choose a needy situation for the money that we would ordinarily spend to give them presents. It is Jesus’s birthday, we reasoned, and he said that when we give to the needy, it’s the same as giving to him. We assured everybody that on their own birthdays, they would get presents.
“We started with one charity and sent the catalog out for each one to choose where their Christmas gift money would go. Lately we’ve had a list of needs from our missionary son’s work in Albania. This year we opened it up to any other charity they wanted. It was so interesting to see where their hearts lie.
“Our 20 grandchildren range in age from 9 to 28.
“Zeke (20) chose an international anti-trafficking organization.
“Sophia (9) chose the building fund at her church: ‘We need more space for Sunday School rooms.’
“Christiana (26) went to Samaritan’s Purse and chose food for a needy family and baby chicks.
“Annie (28) chose her church in St. Louis: ‘This church serves so many low-income families (including me) that there is always financial need. I’d love to give them a real contribution.’
“The most popular choice was to buy English-class supplies for needy students in the program at the church in Albania. Those choosing supplies range in age from 11 to 25.
“Andy (26), our civil engineer, said: ‘I’d like to make a dent in the $10,000 they need for a retaining wall at the church in Albania.'”
“Our sons and their wives also made choices. Peter and Kristen chose scholarships for Camp David (prisoners’ kids), and Susann sent a list of five places, bless her heart! David asked if it was too much fun to support a soccer field their church is building. (Of course not. How can anything be too much fun?) Dan and Dawn chose chairs for the Albanian church, hoping they can get them in time for the Christmas program.
“Most of the selections came by email during the past several weeks, and it was really heartwarming to read their choices and also their expressions of appreciation for the opportunity to give.
“It really IS more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:32)”
‘Tis the season!
Wicki-Yah reports: “As usual, I think I will get Christmas preparations done early, and here I am, two days before Christmas Eve, getting a little crazy with the to-do lists.
“Shopping! By request, we are giving family ‘experiences’: museum memberships and lessons, from dance to karate. But kids need packages under the tree. And I want my children, as old as they are, to have something to open, too.
“Harley Man will get clothes, because he never shops for his own clothes. I also want to buy him something I find cool. He will never use it, whatever it is. But I will still get something. He will expect it.
“The Disney Darling wants a book about horses, a Disney DVD (Really? We missed one?), a bottle of pop, a 300-piece puzzle and a ream of paper. Yes, she wrote a ‘ream of paper.’ And a pocket folder. It is the same list every year. I will comb the stores for something more.
“Cleaning! We will host just our family for Christmas. They all lived in this house. They know it is cleaned only for company and Christmas — both apply.
“Wrapping! I remember the years when the kids would have to wait to open gifts until I finished wrapping them. I will not give a gift in a Target plastic bag. That is an in-law thing. Not in my house, no sirree!
“Baking! I have eight kinds of cookies done, but I forgot Harley Man’s favorite. He says it is OK, but I know better.
“Cooking! There will be Swedish meatballs and potato sausage, platters of cheese and red-potato salad and lefse and lingonberries and green Jell-O we later feed to the garbage disposal and a cookie plate overflowing with everyone’s favorites. Orange rolls rising on the back of the stove that will perfume the house on Christmas morning — followed by a lovely prime rib and ‘Minnesota potatoes,’ rich with cream and butter and a touch of nutmeg, broccoli salad and crescent rolls. A birthday cake for the Disney Darling. And more cookies.
“I will go shopping today. I will bake when we get home from Mom’s group-home party tonight. Tomorrow, I will brave the weather and the crowds and go to at least three grocery stores in a frantic search for green Jell-O and beef consommé. I will likely pull an all-nighter tomorrow night, when I will clean and wrap gifts in matching, themed paper with perfect bows. If there is time, I will get out a few of the Dickens Village houses and set them up on the piano. I will wash the china and shine the candlesticks. And I will sort through the piles of albums to find the Reader’s Digest boxed set of Christmas music, and carefully dust each of the seven vinyl platters, making a mental note of which ones will go on the turntable first. (And while I am thinking of it, I will dust the turntable, too.)
“It is all about saving traditions, this re-creation of the sights and sounds that bring our memories to the surface. It is about the familiar things that cause a lump in your throat and a warmth that goes from your heart to the tips of your toes. It is the actions that say ‘You are home.’
“I am convinced my family will not know these things matter until they are absent. And so I will not cheat this Christmas. And then on December 26, with a glass of Irish Cream in hand, I will lament that once again I have exhausted myself. And I will vow that next year I will keep it simple. A vow I really never intend to keep.
“Because, among all the other traditions is this: It wouldn’t be Christmas if Momma didn’t pull out her crazy!
“Merry Christmas from the Harley Household to you all!”
The sign on the road to the cemetery said “Dead End”
Electronic Board of the Church on Lexington in Shoreview Division
Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul: “Subject: Customer-friendly.
“The latest message on the electronic board of the church on Lexington in Shoreview:
“‘OPEN ON SUNDAYS.
“‘EVEN ON CHRISTMAS.’”
Now & Then
Comic Strips Division
Semi-Legend: “This ‘Red and Rover’ cartoon from December 14
reminded me of Walt Kelly’s annual mangling in ‘Pogo’:
“‘Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
“‘Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
“‘Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
“‘Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!
“‘Don’t we know archaic barrel
“‘Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
“‘Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
“‘Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!
“Some dogs in the strip had an alternate verse:
“‘Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
“‘Polly wolly cracker ‘n’ too-da-loo!
“‘Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
“‘Antelope Cantaloupe, ‘lope with you!’
“Cecil Adams’ ‘The Straight Dope’ column has a more convoluted version, but I’m sticking with my memory.”
BULLETIN BOARD NOTES: That entry from “The Straight Dope” says that there were six verses to “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie”:
Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!
Don’t we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker ‘n’ too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloupe, ‘lope with you!
Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly,
Gaggin’ on the wagon, Willy, folly go through!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarm bung-a-loo!
Dunk us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an’ polly voo!
Chilly Filly’s name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly’s jolly chilly view halloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, woof, woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, goof, goof!
Our theater of seasons
Reports Doris G. of Randolph, Minnesota: “Quiet winter day in the country.”
Night Vision Division
Scott from Afton reports: “I got this guy on my trail camera awhile back. It was in my front yard. As he came into view, the flashing of the camera must have made him curious, as he decided to come over and look at what was making the light.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Make sure that camera is all set for tonight.
On Christmas Eve, there’s no telling what sorts of wild action you might see!
Band Name of the Day: The Crazy Mommas
Website of the Day (some things never change): The Official NORAD Santa Tracker