A Child's Christmas in Wales - Part II

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales,
and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped
hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like
Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the
jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before
the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy
hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It
snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and
I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not
only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of
the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of
the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and
grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman,
opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas

"Were there postmen then, too?"

"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet
they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that
the children could hear was a ringing of bells."

"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"

"I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them."

"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."

"There were church bells, too."

"Inside them?"

"No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops
and storks. And they rang their tidings over the bandaged town, over the
frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea. It
seemed that all the churches boomed for joy under my window; and the weathercocks
crew for Christmas, on our fence."

"Get back to the postmen"

"They were just ordinary postmen, found of walking and dogs and Christmas
and the snow. They knocked on the doors with blue knuckles ...."

"Ours has got a black knocker...."

"And then they stood on the white Welcome mat in the little, drifted
porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their breath, and jogged
from foot to foot like small boys wanting to go out."

"And then the presents?"

"And then the Presents, after the Christmas box. And the cold postman,
with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the tea-tray-slithered run
of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound boots like a man on
fishmonger's slabs.

"He wagged his bag like a frozen camel's hump, dizzily turned the corner
on one foot, and, by God, he was gone."

"Get back to the Presents."

"There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach
days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like
silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters
like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims
of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin
there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts
had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from
an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in
which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer
Giles' pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about
the wasp, except why."

"Go on the Useless Presents."

"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and
a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets
and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain,
a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a
most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who
wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass,
the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling
sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and
pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels,
humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of
bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And
Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers,
complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make
the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall
with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes:
you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and
you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking
a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast
under the balloons."

"Were there Uncles like in our house?"

"There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. And on Christmas
morning, with dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I would scour the swatched
town for the news of the little world, and find always a dead bird by the
Post Office or by the white deserted swings; perhaps a robin, all but one
of his fires out. Men and women wading or scooping back from chapel, with
taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddles their stiff black
jarring feathers against the irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas
brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled
beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched
the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and
the mulling pokers. Some few large men sat in the front parlors, without
their collars, Uncles almost certainly, trying their new cigars, holding
them out judiciously at arms' length, returning them to their mouths, coughing,
then holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion; and some
few small aunts, not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that matter,
sat on the very edge of their chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break,
like faded cups and saucers."

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