by Anne Caryl
Ellis always said Walter
Olick was mean spirited that Christmas of ’63. And maybe he was right. After all, Christmas was supposed to be a time
of good will and peace on earth. That year, Christmas fell on a Wednesday, which meant a lot of Reasonites had to go back
to work on Thursday. Walt Olick felt cheated.
It wasn’t that
he hated his job. Walt liked working at the tire center. He simply didn’t believe other people should have opportunities
he didn’t. If the county clerk didn’t have to show up on Thursday morning, by gosh, then Walt should be able to
sleep in as well.
Anyway, the trouble
started at Hay Ride Christmas. The whole town came out for the Jingle Parade, when everything that moved was outfitted in
bells and lined up to cruise Main
Street. Walt mounted one of Reason Hardware’s cheaper toilets onto a car trailer and affixed
a motor to it so the seat would go up and down as a loudspeaker played the sound of a toilet flushing. He spread glue all
over the toilet and covered it in silver glitter. The lid went up and down, and a little elf hand attached to the lid with
fishing line that was nearly invisible, seemed to reach up out of that toilet bowl every time the seat lifted. The whole thing
was synchronized to an old recording of Bing Crosby crooning “Silver Bells.”
Sarah Stoddard was mortified.
After all, it wasn’t Halloween Reason was celebrating. It was Christmas. Sarah didn’t have anything to say about
the Bison’s Club float with the Twelve Days of Christmas each portrayed by a girl dressed in a swimming suit, standing
next to a calling bird or a cardboard piper, enthusiastically ringing a hand bell. That was different. It was in questionable
taste, still it didn’t make a comment about the holiday. But a toilet, for Pete’s sake-- So Sarah wrote a letter
to the editor of the “Informer”
Walt read the letter
and steamed up. He’d been feeling a little embarrassed about the whole parade thing before the letter, but now he was
just plain mad. He didn’t mean anything by the toilet. It was just something that—well, like the little old ladies
with the blue hair, it had seemed a good idea at the time. Now, though, now he had to stand his guns. He took the toilet off
the float and set it up in his front yard. He hung a string of white lights around the bowl and put up a sign that read “Stool-Tide
Greetings.” The fact that Sarah was Walt’s cousin made the situation a source of entertainment for Reason.
A photo of the Christmas
toilet wound up on the front page of the second section of The Denver Post. Sarah nearly had an apoplectic fit.
Walt decided that, the
damage being done, he might as well run with the ball. He stuffed a pair of hose with cotton and pinned them into the legs
of his old long Johns. Then he shoved a plastic Santa figure into the top and set him onto the sequined toilet. The effect
Sarah drove by and was
moved to tears. She would’ve stopped and had it out with Walt right then and there, but she remembered she and Walt
would have to look at each other across the Christmas table at Grandma May’s house. She decided to distance herself
from the whole thing. She felt better as soon as she made the decision.
Meanwhile, Walt was
getting his share of heckling at the tire store. Ellis Bass, who ran the store office, got inspired and stacked old tires
like a tree. He spray-painted them green and wrapped a banner of little orange plastic “sale” pennants around
them for decoration. The other men who worked at the store wore Badge-A-Minute name tags made using photos of the toilet.
Sarah—to disassociate. He took down all his holiday decorations, the toilet included. He refrained from saying “Merry
Christmas” to anyone and, when he caught himself humming along to carols on the radio, rubbed a big pinch of alum on
The week before Christmas,
carolers started showing up at Walt’s door. It seems every preacher in town thought it was his personal mission to redeem
Walt. Walt opened his door the first time…came out in his stocking feet and stood shivering on the front step while
the Episcopal Youth Choir, under the direction of Louella Pierce, sang all six stanzas of “The First Noel,” followed
by a cheery rendition of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” After that, when he heard carolers on his block, Walt
just shut off his lights and hid out in the bathroom.
Christmas Eve, Sarah
stopped off at Walt’s to make sure he was planning on dinner at Grandma May’s the next day. When he came to the
door, Sarah nearly fainted. Walt hadn’t shaved, and his five-o’clock-shadow had become a dark forest of scraggly
dead branches covering the bottom half of his pale face. His wrinkled shirt had ketchup stains and smelled like old cheese.
Sarah tried holding her breath, but then she couldn’t talk, so she said what she had to say through clenched teeth.
That made her sound like James Cagney in an old gangster movie.
“I want to apologize,”
Sarah told Walt. She told him she was sorry things had gotten so blown out of proportion. After all, it was Christmas and
they were family and….
Walt nearly bawled.
He was sorry, too, and wanted this whole thing to stop. But he didn’t know how to get out of it without looking so darned
foolish. Sarah agreed. They hugged, though Sarah disengaged quickly. When she got home, Sarah soaked that jacket in half a
cup of baking soda to erase the scent of Walt’s self-imposed exile.
Christmas Day, a clean-shaved
Walt drove the two miles out to Grandma May’s farmhouse. The sky was bluer than he ever remembered it. The skiff of
snow that had fallen and blown clear during the night dusted yellow corn stalks standing in the field. As he made the turn
into the drive, a rooster pheasant dove in front of him into a clump of dry grass. The farm house, white against the sky,
was outfitted in green garlands and wreaths and there was a big red bow on the gate. Walt stopped the car right in the middle
of the drive.
He understood, now,
what Sarah had been so upset about. The whole toilet thing had seemed a poke at Christmas. And Christmas had nothing to do
with working an extra day, or with his glittered toilet, or with the painted tree at the tire shop. It had to do with love
and peace—not just his, but peace to men of goodwill everywhere. And family. It was about love and family.
He dug out a handkerchief
from his glove box and wiped his nose and eyes. And then and there, he promised—like Ebenezer Scrooge—to always
keep Christmas…within Reason.