Punch Drunk

by Calendar Hacksaw

Hello, dear reader. I hate to disappoint, but if you’ve come knockin’ on my door looking for an inspirational column to set the mood for Kwanza, Christmas, Hanukkah or Ramadan, you’d best look elsewhere. Perhaps Wayne Moody contributed something this month. If not, look to Herb Benham or Robert Price to satisfy your needs. Until I achieve some long overdue recognition from the Weaver Creek Press Club or the Walker Basin Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, I’m just not willing to don the sheep’s suit and write any holiday theme columns. After all, this is Twin Oaks, where we’re expected to be significantly out of step with the rest of the chorus line. So, just put on your Sunday best, loosen up your billfold, and enjoy the season for all it’s worth.

If you made any sense of the above paragraph, you’re doing far better than me.

Last weekend, an old friend used an airplane to fly into town and we drove out to San Bernardino, where we had attended high school and graduated from puberty, with honors and all rites properly bestowed. The occasion was to hook up with a couple of other old fellas, Jay and Forrest, who were preparing for an estate sale the following weekend, and our assigned task was to keep their minds off their deep, personal losses. It was a tough task, but Jere and I were up to it.

The work was well underway when we arrived at the house. It was not lost on any of us that the dearly departed residents of this comfortable abode, J.J. and Nadine, had hosted so many of our "soirees" during our high school years and beyond. This was hallowed ground, upon which we would tread lightly and with reverence.

We had been a close-knit group in high school; a "brotherhood" of perhaps 13 boys, with me being a full two years younger than most. But I barged my way into this elite assembly without hesitation, only to stand silently aside and watch as they went off to college and/or Viet Nam, leaving me behind to clean up the mess.

Our gatherings had been very special in so many ways, but none was more special than the annual holiday get-together, almost always held in this very same house. Invitations were mailed, and no RSVP was required. Part of the excitement from year-to-year was seeing who would attend. Those who couldn’t make it would often call during the festivities, and we would line up at the wall telephone in the dining room to take turns running up the poor fool’s phone bill.

It was a night for fine spirits, as well, and 25-year-old bottles of Chivas Regal weren’t uncommon. Sharing was encouraged. And, women, a succession of girlfriends and wives, beautiful all; not for sharing.

Around 8:00 p.m., J.J. would haul in the punch bowl and fill it with ginger ale, then add a bottle of his "secret elixir." The party punch probably had the lowest alcohol content of any beverage present, but tasted too good to resist and contributed significantly to maintaining our sobriety as the evening wore on. We took care of ourselves, and each other; no one got hurt and no one got arrested. There was food aplenty, as Nadine brought forth one appetizing snack after another.

Now, we found ourselves back here again, under different circumstances, but almost at the same time of year. Perhaps this would be the last holiday party. Two additional friends soon arrived, Clabe and David, raising to six the number of old men in the garage, and it quickly became obvious to all that getting any real work accomplished would have to wait for some other day. Out came the chairs and beverages, to slake our butts and thirst. We walked in circles, sniffing each other’s name tags, and determined that only three of the six were still drinking, only two of five still smoked, three of six were hearing-impaired, one had a triple-bypass and two still partook of cannabis. Also, no one had thought to bring along a guitar, banjo, Dobro or fiddle, even though two of the six are professional musicians and at least one other is a serious amateur. Another "senior moment," multiplied by six. It would be an acapella night.

Well, as the evening wore on, some of us got hungry. A vote or two was taken, after which the six pack of us piled into an ’86 Mercedes and headed off to a nearby Italian joint where we were warmly received. For the next 90 minutes or so, we were treated like royalty by a crew of nice looking young ladies whom we would have given our eye teeth to have known many decades ago. They attended to us most professionally, and I can only hope our gratitude and gratuity was satisfactory.

Once back at the house, the liquor overtook some of us, and Jere strongly suggested that the fireplace be put to good use. A handful of guys repaired to the garage where they began destroying old wooden furniture, and in no time at all we had a woodpile suitable for Texas A & M. Once lit, it took off like the McNalley fire, and for a minute or two I thought the whole place would go up in flames. But it settled down quickly, and served as a fine centerpiece for the evening.

At about that time, the spirit and whiskey lifted Jere, and he launched into a wailing rendition of "The Royal Telephone," to wit:

"Central’s never busy, always on the line;

You may hear from heaven almost any time;

Tis a royal service, free for one and all;

When you get in trouble, give this royal line a call."

Words & Music by Frederick M. Lehman, 1919

Needless to say, we all quickly picked up on the refrain and joined in:

"Telephone to glory, O what joy divine!

I can feel the current moving on the line…"

I think you get the picture. Choir practice, again, and the neighbors must have thought we were bleeding a goat.

J.J. and Nadine would have been proud. Well, not really. But tolerant and understanding.

Calendar Hacksaw normally receives notification of journalism awards at calendarhacksaw@highdesert.com, and would probably win many more if he didn’t have a bad habit of inserting the names of local people and places into most of his columns. But what’s a good rural column without a mention of Carol Staats or the Hummingbird Ranch?

Last Month "Thunderhead" Next Month