This time of year always gets to me.
I remember mother’s “countdown to Christmas” calendar where we would peel open one window for each day. And literally, the first thing in the morning, running barefoot to the kitchen in nothing but my tighty-whities, peeling open that window counting down 22, 21, 20 days ‘til Christmas, while the Christmas music from mom’s miniature winter village set filled the dining room with Christmas spirit.
It was the anxiousness of waking up every hour on Christmas Eve night to check and see if I was good enough for Santa to make it to my house yet. But, also, being too nervous to open the door, walk down the hallway and look. And so, I would just lay in bed and listen, hoping to hear him stacking the presents underneath or our tree.
It’s the holiday traditions of family gatherings: food, laughter, cards, toys, BB guns, and new ways to mix an alcoholic drink, (and for a few awesome years, going out drinking to the Hi-Li with the cousins Christmas night… after all, they ARE open 365 days a year.)
There has always been so much love and support filling our stockings and hearts this time of year, when it’s coldest, and when we need that warmth the most.
Now, as I grow older (and stay out waayy earlier), I find myself wanting to hold onto that, to spread that, to cherish that, and to recognize that love as much as I possibly can.
But, to be completely broke and honest… I haven’t had the money over the years to spoil those that I love as much as they deserve.
And over all of those dollar menu and re-gifting years, I have learned that love does not come from your bank account; it comes from your heart.
It comes from those memories of Crown Royal Euchre tournaments with Uncle Matt, Aunt Patti and the cousins. It comes from the homemade cookies, haluski, and mixed drinks that mom spent hours making. It comes from the hustle and bustle of a spread-out family who will do everything in their power to make it to YOUR Christmas celebration, on top of the other 6 that they had that day.
And so, being the broke ass, scarcely-semi-talented writer that I am, I took it upon myself to capture who we are and where we come from in a poem just about that.
I’ve had several requests to read this poem, already. So Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, it is my stressful pleasure to give to you, Where We Come From.
Where We Come From
Mostly empty Old Milwaukee cans, stashed
behind the wd40 and lined quarts of oil,
clamor from this year’s litter of curious
Calico kittens; and there’s new stubborn
Slovak blood rolling down the old stains on
Grandpa’s greasy knuckles. But he just
grunts like the buck at the backyard apple
tree, where he built cousin Ju-Ju’s square
plywood tree fort that now gives shelter to a
lost nerf football and a few forgotten GI-
JOE army men; there was a time, back
before he had us grandkids searching
faithfully for “purple-assed-buzzards,” that
he would have cursed at the pain of a
slipped wrench on a buddy’s rusted old
Chevy, back when the pain of hard labor
could still make new scars, like the blizzard
of ’77 when the water pipes froze solid and
he lumbered out into the wind and fury, both
before and after work, to stretch a garden
hose across the driveway in order for his
little girls to take a cold shower. Or, back
when Grandma’s open heart would carry in
another stray animal, or another friend
without a place to go, back when the guest
bedroom was always full, and no mouth
would go unfed, unless it was hers or his; a
cursing time, but a blessing time; when he
taught little girls to feed the horses,
peacocks, and chickens before school, so
that they could run off to class learning how
to live with the shit on their shoes; or how to
get dirt and blisters on their hands, shoveling
out the chicken coop into five gallon buckets
to fertilize the sweet peas and cabbage; or
plucking bloody feathers from a freshly axed
hen for dinner, and standing on a bucket at
the sink in the garage washing out the
gizzards; or thumbing off dried shit from
those brown speckled eggs with a grease
bubbled bar of Irish Springs soap, eggs that
were gathered on the ice or in the mud, both
morning and night. Then, sending them off
to church, neighbors, or school, in saved
cartons to those who needed them more than
a house of half full stomachs. “There is
always someone less fortunate than you,” I
remember Grandma would often remind us,
while ignoring another one of my temper
tantrums on the floor of Kroger’s candy
aisle as we filled church Christmas baskets;
or then, when she had to cash in her silver
certificates in order to buy Pamra’s braces.
But now, here in the garage, Grandpa’s new
greasy bubbles on the same green bar of
soap turn my small, dirty-fingernailed hands
grey while I watch him wipe that still
stubborn, Slovak blood dry on Aunt Penny’s
new birthday flannel. And the dogs are
barking at mom walking across the hill,
while Grandma is sweeping leaves from the
chairs and swing on the patio, as more
familiar faces sling gravel up the drive; their
hatches filled with homemade pie, pagachi,
and corn on the cob for the fire. The cousins
are dressed too nicely; and later, we will be
scolded for our creek soaked shoes and grass
stained jeans, swinging at lightning bugs
with sticks, and bragging about sleeping in
the tent all night, but waking up, instead, at
the foot of Grandpa’s snoring bed in Aunt
Patti’s old basketball sweats.
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Jacob Paul Patchen
Jacob Paul Patchen is a strong advocate for love, family, and laughter. He is his mother’s favorite child, his grandfather’s ornery double, and the one who offers the blessing before holiday dinner. With his background in poetry and his open heart, he sees the world in a transcendent light. With a deeper understanding of the importance of life’s “little things,” enriched by his time spent at war in Iraq, Jacob offers a philosophical, light-hearted, and insightfully energetic tone to his writing style.
Jacob is an award-winning writer and poet from Cambridge, Ohio. He was the recipient of the Beulah Brooks Brown Award in Poetry and was selected as the feature writer for Muskingum University’s creative writing magazine, First Circle. Jacob graduated from Muskingum University with a bachelor’s degree in English while focusing on creative writing, journalism, and speech communication. Since graduating, Jacob has written a script for a feature film, started a blog, thebackroadrevival.blogspot.com, (which has made him semi-famous in a small town), and is currently finishing up his debut book called, "Life Lessons from Grandpa and His Chicken Coop: A Playful Journey Through Some Serious Sh*t"
Growing up a few miles outside of a small village in the rolling hills of South East Ohio, Jacob spent most of his youth playing sports, spending time outdoors (i.e. climbing trees and hiding from babysitters), and finding his unique voice in writing. Feeling patriotic, he enlisted into the Marine Corps. Reserves during his senior year of high school. During his six year enlistment in the Infantry, he was deployed to the Al Anbar Province, Iraq in 2005. After his return from Iraq, with a better understanding of life and a renewed appreciation for opportunity, Jacob enrolled into Muskingum University to pursue a formal education in writing.
He is now living outside of Cambridge, Ohio where he balances part time work with full time play.