As I set pen to paper today, it is Boxing Day. It doesn’t mean anything to most Americans. Some have a passing acquaintance because of an English association of one sort or another. Briefly summed, it is a public holiday in England, the day after Christmas. It grew out of an 1800s tradition of the upper classes bestowal of “boxes,” or gifts upon the servant class. Think Downton Abbey. Nearly a half-century ago Miss Susan and I, married for one year, were spending our first Christmas away from home and family. Engaged in the Fulbright scheme, I was teaching young lads at Bristol Grammar School in the West of England, founded under a charter from Henry VIII in 1532. Maurice and Vera Chapman, parents of one of the students at the school, Stephen, and officers in the Parents’ Association, had taken the young Americans under their wings to make sure that we were not left alone at Christmas. We were amazed to discover that we were invited back again the next day for Boxing Day. Two days in succession of mirth and merriment—good food and wine—just the style the Young Goat would strive to emulate over the years.
During that Christmas Holiday the Chapmans took us on a number of day trips. We visited Wells Cathedral, Glastonbury Abbey, Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole, Devon (yes, clotted cream on scones with strawberry preserves, thank-you). We visited Cardiff, Wales...all about Gloucester and Somerset. On one of the day outings we went south to the sea at Bournemouth where we had tea and then to a quaint place—I remember it being more village like—Christchurch. As we window-shopped I was magnetically drawn in to a place filled with shiny brass objects, many with a nautical purpose. It was a very expensive place to be, particularly on a three hundred dollar a month expense allowance. As I pondered the pricey pieces of brass, I looked for something we might take back to the States as a memento of this particular visit to the south coast of England. I spied a hefty doorknocker beautifully done in the shape of a lion’s head. Everybody’s seen one. It seemed massive—at least three pounds. It was a bit dear, as the English are wont to say. But I was not about to leave without it. How practical was this little memento? It would be well not to misplace it because it would be six years before we owned a front door on which to mount it, much less a house.
Christmas Eve 2014
This past August Mother Superior and the Goat set out on a journey to Bloomington, Indiana, home of that fount of knowledge, Indiana University. At the urging of some of my classmates in the early 1970s doctoral program I had organized a two-day reunion for those of us who survive and can remember who we are (minimally four or five times a day). We celebrated our successes (largely fantasies) and couldn’t recall any failures, toasted Old IU, and went our various ways. Because we were so far south, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed suggested that we must proceed further in that direction to Elizabethtown to where the lads were educated through the elementary schools. And so we did. Staying next door to where we lived, with the Coxes, we had a chance to visit the old neighborhood and remark upon how the saplings we had planted were now mighty oaks.
In a bit of irony, our visit to E’town, as E’tonians spell it, coincided with a social/political event that was taking place on one of the evenings we were out and about. Son Timothy’s best friend, Jim DuPlessis, and a good friend to Son Patrick as well, (although there is some urban legend that he is directly responsible for four of PJ’s ten broken bones...I’m only repeating what I hear...have no direct knowledge....) was having a fund-raising pie-fest to support his run for the KY House of Representatives. Because we were in the immediate area of the DuPlessis For House Pie-Fest we stopped in to pay our respects and engage a few hugs with Jim and his wife Marcy. Jim sort of lived at our end of the street; there was a bit of a crowd at his house with four other siblings. During the course of the evening I told Jim that we had been up and down the old street looking closely at the houses and such and that I still retained deep regrets about not taking the old doorknocker off the front door when we sold the house. Jim suggested that I just go up to the house and ask the owner how much it would take to get the knocker. “Everybody has a price,” was how he put it. I put myself in the owner’s place and figured how much I’d want if I had to repair the holes in the door, sand, prime and repaint it, and figured the number wouldn’t compute for me. We did have a good laugh over it.
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The USPS truck pulled into the driveway about 3:15 PM Christmas Eve, the driver running, not walking, no signatures required on this last delivery day. I walked out to the front stoop to pick up the package and bring it into the house where Mother Superior was putting the finishing touches on the gifts the Grands would be ripping apart tomorrow afternoon. Gosh, there is something here from “The Dupe,” I said. “Er, I mean, Representative, DuPlessis.”
Mother Superior hefted the box. "It's heavy," says she. "I think Jim's sent us a Christmas fruitcake.
Yup, feels like a fruitcake."
The Goat has rambled enough! It is the state of his mind; little can be done but to smile and humor him. If you happen to find yourself in his company, offer him a pint. An English ale will do nicely, a Bass, or maybe a Whitbread.
The Season’s Best to you and yours, and Happy New Year as well. We send our love and affection, and hope to hear of you in 2015. Below you witness the greatest joy in our lives...God bless....