And so, the blue Chevy wheezed and whistled and gained speed, on the dark road that led to the gathering in the magnificent cathedral on that Christmas Eve.
The crew of five shivered as the wind found it’s way through the multitude of cracks and holes that adorned the calamitous car, and created a type of biosphere peculiar to the large family. Mixed with the frigid air were the fumes of the industrial age, Matty imagined… Oil -saturated smoke, and the sweet aroma of Prestone antifreeze fought for dominance with the acrid odor of raw gasoline, as the carburetor dumped unmeasured amounts of fuel, much of which bypassed the burning process, but effectively created a menacing threat to the exhaust pipes in the 12- year- old car. As they heated to sufficient temperatures, they triggered the inevitable explosions that the children got used to-  Massive backfires that embarrassingly announced the family’s  arrival at important events like the Midnight Mass at the Church of St. Mary….

Boom!!!


“Jesus! ….. Help us,” Matty added, turning a blasphemy  into a prayer… They had arrived, at the furthest parking lot at the towering church,  by choice, as far from the main doors as possible, anticipating the offensive blast…
It was enough to scare the younger of the seasoned crew, even though this had become commonplace.
“Matty… is it going to blow up?” queried a nervous Lucy.
“You wish,” replied the 15 year old boy… “I’ve been praying for that, all year, and, it hasn’t happened yet!”
“Well, that last explosion sounded like a bomb! Are you sure, it’s safe to start the car again, so we can get home?”
“Ain’t sure of nothin’!” Matty laughed, mimicking a favorite TV character…”And, why do you think I call this heap of metal a ‘bomb’ anyways?” He laughed loudly, and opened the door. “Let’s get out of this thing before someone spots us!”
That was enough incentive for all the kids. After all, even if they had little in the way of material things, they did have standards…Mostly, that they be spared SOME of life’s humiliations… Something that Matty had gotten used to. Not being spared, that is.

Let me explain this, with a little story. One of many, that  was created by the introduction of this lovely car, into our little family. It’ll only take a minute… or two… OK, maybe three!!

The story starts about three or four months prior, when the high school sophomore was preparing to get ready for school.
It was one of those nice fall days in the early part of September when the calender insists it’s nearing fall, but everyone is reveling in the last throes of an Indian Summer, wistfully dreaming about the lazy, carefree days that are now history as a new school year has started and the rat race has begun for real.
Matty  looked down at the runny eggs on his plate, and then at his dad, who was frantically trying to force a raw pancake to bubble in the center, so that he could flip it over to brown the other side and add it to the stack that was already cooked.
“Uh… Pop, are you almost done with the pancakes?”
“Just about… this doggoned pan burns everything, and your mother doesn’t want me using the bigger one- that copper bottomed one. I could be done with all of this, if I used the better pan!! Why? Can’t you eat your eggs without the pancakes being done?”
“No, it’s not that… uh, I was hoping if you were done,  if I could just throw these eggs on the pan before it cools down, for a minute.  The eggs are really runny. I just can’t face eating them like that!”
“Oh man… I knew you’d have some problem with them… Do you EVER like the way I cook them?”
“Sorry, Pop… I’m not trying to make more work. I just can’t eat them with runny yolks or when the white part is uncooked like this… Only Gerry eats them like that.”
“Yeah, well, that’s because he’s not so finicky! Can’t you see it’s getting late? I’m running out of time, and so are you, unless you want to be late for school!”
Matty glanced up at the wall- hung ‘schoolhouse’ clock. “It’s only 6:55… I have enough time, even if I cook these longer…”
“OK… I’m done… Do your thing. Wouldn’t want to wreck your day from the very beginning.”
The lanky boy didn’t take the bait. Instead, he stood up and waited to the side, holding the plate of uncooked eggs, until his dad vacated his position in front of the big white stove carrying the stack of half burnt pancakes away with him. It only took a minute or two, to flip the eggs over on the hot skillet, until the yellow yolks paled and hardened…
Matty breathed a sigh of relief and emptied the pan onto his waiting plate. Then, he grabbed the maple syrup from the counter where his father had left it, and returned to the table to eat his breakfast.
His sister walked by and headed for the kitchen door.
“How are you getting to school, Lucy?” Pop asked.
The girl released the door knob and turned back towards the table. “Oh… Well, Gail and me are walking, like usual. Why?”
“Oh, so, she’s waiting for you then? Well, never mind.. I was going to offer you a ride, but, if Gail is waiting…”
Lucy glanced at Matty nervously and quickly replied, “No, no…We’re fine! Thanks, anyways, dad! Gotta go!” And with that, she darted through the door before anything more could be said.
This left the middle-aged carpenter muttering to himself… Well, more or less. Matty was really his intended audience…”Geezz! What IS it lately? Noone seems to want to ride with me… What’s the deal, anyways? Do I smell funny, or something?”
Matty buried his face behind the sports page he was reading and continued to eat, but, with more resolve, dreading the possible question.
But, it was no use. He was trapped. The rest of the school- aged kids were gone already, on buses or heading to school afoot. “Matty, why don’t I give you a ride? You haven’t gotten a ride yet, this fall!”
The boy swallowed the mouthful of flapjacks, searching his brain for a good excuse. “Well, that’s OK, Pop… I have enough time. I don’t really need a ride…”
“Oh, it’s like THAT, huh? You too?  Is every kid afraid of riding to school with their dad?”

There are times in life when these questions should be left unanswered… Considered to be rhetorical, if you will. But, the boy’s father knew that his oldest son was a loving and sensitive boy, so, he had played his cards with that in mind.

“I wouldn’t want to put you out, Pop… I mean, the high school isn’t really in the direction you’re heading…
“That’s OK… It’ll only take me a little bit out of the way. I have enough time for that…”
Matty started to add to the excuse, but took one look at his dad and surrendered.
“Well… ok, then, Pop… If you have the time, I’ll get that ride…”
“Great!! I mean, ok!  Finish up, and I’ll get my lunch packed and we’ll go together!”
The blond haired boy sighed, and finished the eggs and pancakes on his plate. Suddenly, they were tasteless and he had a hollow feeling of dread, deep in his guts. ‘Why me?’ he thought. ‘Why not, Gerry, or ANYBODY else?’ The die was cast, however, so the teenager braced for the trip, and thought about a strategy of getting dropped off somewhere far enough away from the front of the high school so that the humiliation could be kept to a minimum…

With his lunch packed, the father of 7 opened the kitchen door, and turned to see that Matty was following.
“OK, time to hit the bricks! Looks like it’s going to be a great day, right, son?”
‘Son’?? Matty looked at his dad… He never addressed him like that! But, the last two breakfast patrons walked through the yellow- painted door with the nine little windows in the upper half and headed out to board the blue Chevy. The blue bomb… The blue…
Matty came up short as he and his dad rounded the corner to the driveway…
“What happened to the car? Where did it go?”
The blue station wagon had vanished! The driveway was empty!
Matty was stunned, and confused at the same time… How in the world could a hunk of junk vanish like that? Stolen?  What thief in his right mind, would steal a broken down, wreck of a car like that? He looked at his dad, who was continuing to walk on, apparently nonplussed!!
“Pop!  What happened to the car?”
“Ehmm… Just follow me.” He continued walking, unfazed, and headed around the corner of the lot and down the major road in front of the house, heading north…
The blond boy didn’t know what to think, but, he had little choice, so he followed his father, who seemed to be hurrying now, glancing at his watch…”Wow, it’s getting late. Hurry up, Matty!”
The two picked up the pace as the mystery continued… But, soon, they reached the crest of the hill, and, there, on the side of the road, just beyond the treeline, sat the miserable arc, seemingly sunning itself…
“What the…” Matty started to say.
“OK… Give me your books… Here… I’ll unlock the doors and put them on the front seat. You get behind the car, and, when I tell you, start pushing… I’ll keep an eye out for traffic. If we time it right, I can roll into the road, and the hill will do the trick.”
“Huh? The trick? What trick?”
“Oh, well, the starter is shot… Yesterday, it finally bit the dust, so I parked the car on this hill when I got back from work. You know, so we could jump start her this morning. If I just get a little push, I can get her fired up, once she gets up to speed!”
Matty was stunned, tho he shouldn’t have been… Suddenly, it was all becoming clear! He had fallen for it, ‘hook, line and sinker’!! The ride to school had been carefully planned for this very reason…. He sighed, and handed his books over. Then, he positioned himself behind the dust covered back of the Chevy, and waited for the word.
His dad got in the car and rolled the window down. “One last thing, Matty! Once I get her started, run like hell and catch up, OK? I don’t want to slow down much… I might be blocking traffic at that point! Just run and jump in, OK?”
“Yeah, right…” the boy replied, disgusted. Good school clothes. A filthy car. Traffic. What better way to start the day?
And so it went, like some bad dream. The boy pushed as hard as he could, once the word was given. The car was heavy! Even on the hill, once the brake was released, the tires were kind of flattened from the overnight slumber, and resisted the boy’s efforts at first. Gradually, tho, after putting everything he had into the chore, the blue hulk started to move, and finally it was creaking down the road and gathering speed, in direct contrast to the traffic that was now screeching to a halt, behind the sad spectacle…
Matty ran after the car, and reached the passenger door, just as the machine sputtered to life, and the smell of raw gas filled the air, followed by a huge puff of blue smoke… The car lurched, and raced away, until Pop finally hit the clutch and the brakes, giving the boy time to catch up again and jump into the still moving tank.
Of course, now the teenager’s hands were filthy, and the shoulder of his shirt was covered with the road soot, mixed with the slime of burnt oil that clung to the back of the car.
“Good job, Matty! You did it! Now, I’ll get you to school, before you’re late, so that you keep your perfect attendance record!”
Matty just nodded. He was still absorbing the whole scenario, including the subterfuge that his father had deemed necessary to hook him into the half- baked plan.
Within minutes, the crowds of kids appeared, walking along the sidewalks, and crossing in front of the slow moving traffic as the high school buildings came into sight. Matty turned to his dad.
“I’ll just get out here. I can walk, the rest of the way…”
“Nonsense! I’ll drop you off closer! You must be a little worn down by that pushing and running to catch up, and all!”
“It’s OK… really…”
But, it was too late, as the light changed, two cars ahead. The car picked up speed, and to Matty’s complete despair, turned into the main driveway to the new school and pulled up at the entrance. No less than 50 kids stood, talking in groups, as various cars dropped off classmates and pulled away, their pretty painted fenders, glinting in the sun.
“OK, there you go!” announced the clueless dad, as he screeched to a halt, smoke billowing from the rumbling exhaust… “Have a good day, Matty!”
Matty reddened, and opened the rusted door. “Thanks for the ride, Pop”, he said sheepishly. And, with that he got out, and shut the door.
Pop waved, and with a big grin, hit the gas, sending a huge plume of blue smoke into the crowd of teenagers, who stood there, fanning futilely at the blue haze, and choking as it reached their eyes and lungs. Matty walked through the middle of the crowd, basically in shock, not even reacting to the sickening smoke. A few kids laughed and snickered but most of them understood, or so it seemed, and looked at the boy in the dirty blue shirt with sympathy….

It was a very large dose of humility for the 15 year old, even tho he had never been a prideful person…

But now,  we should return to the main story… After all, this is a Christmas Story, more or less!!!

So, the five kids exited the car into the bitter cold of that December night, and started to walk towards the church in the distance… Matty looked skyward just in time to see the first snowflakes of the night tumble from the grey sky.  He caught one on  his tongue.
“Oh boy, looks like we’re going to have a real, hard- core, white Christmas!”
His older sister looked up at the sky and grimaced, nervously. “I hope it waits till we get home, to really get going. I’ve never driven in a snow storm before. And, the tires on the car, really aren’t so good. Like everything else on the car…”

Matty nodded in agreement. “Yeah, well, I hope it hold’s off, too.”
The group of Catholic kids marched on, finally joining the throngs of worshippers streaming towards the doors of the giant church and  the joyous bells that rang out into the heavy winter night, beckoning the faithful on that Christmas Eve…

Continued in part 6…

 

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