Joyous memories of Christmas past
Vail CO, Colorado
It was the day before Christmas and the back seat of my car was splattered with dog blood. (Now that is a scene not often depicted in a Norman Rockwell Painting.)
During the winter of 1976 Keith, Kevin and I lived in a trailer, which is not to be confused with a modular home, double or single-wide. Though it hadn’t rolled in many years, our hovel had wheels. One hundred and fifty bucks a month got us a three bedroom aluminum shack, with a port-a-potty out front. It had running water but the sink and shower drained out a hose under the dwelling, causing a frozen gray-water pond. Of course this was totally illegal, but we paid rent to a Sherriff’s deputy so we thought we were okay.
Our cozy abode was located on a pile of dredge rocks next to a junk yard. It was poorly built and barely insolated but we could keep it at about 50 degrees with a small propane heater that we lit with a match.
At that time in my life, I was quite irresponsible. Luckily I was living with two people who were much worse, thus making me feel better about myself.
Our propane tank lasted about 10 days. When it was my turn to refill it I’d wait until it was about three quarters empty, call the propane guy and wait with cash as he would not give us credit. (For that I can’t blame him.)
When it was Keith’s turn he would allow the gas to run out and then wait to refill it until we badgered him into it. Keith let the propane run out the afternoon of the coldest night in almost 20 years ” 41 below zero.
At 2 a.m. I zipped into my sleeping bags and used what blankets I had to cover me.
At 4 a.m. I crawled between the mattress and box spring. My dog Cody, a large German Shepherd, did not have to be asked twice to join me. Between the mattress, sleeping bag, blankets and shared body heat, we managed to make it through the night with little sleep but no damage. Everything in our home froze ” toothpaste, shampoo, even whiskey; the warmest place in the house was the refrigerator.
I got up at around 6 a.m. and went into Keith’s room to yell at him. His room was empty, he had spent the night elsewhere.
The nearest potentially warm place was my car. I let Cody out, started the car and waited for the heat. Cody came back with one ear missing just as the engine warmed up.
I never found out who or what took off the tip of my dog’s ear and I must say he didn’t appear all that bothered. He just seemed happy to be in a warm vehicle.
I put him in the back seat and we drove to the gas station for coffee and to use the phone to call a vet. Cody kept shaking his head, spraying blood on both the seat and ceiling. My car was a 1963 Ford Galaxy with bald tires, a bad engine and two of the four doors welded shut; I wasn’t too concerned.
The vet stitched up my dog and Keith showed up at the trailer with money and a small wood burning stove. He borrowed money from his boss and someone gave him the stove because it was old and dangerous. We dragged the stove into the trailer and cut a crude hole in the wall for the stove pipe.
When the propane guy came to deliver the gas we asked him to take a look. He told us our stove was not safe, so we decided to use it only when we were home.
On the day before Christmas, Kevin, Keith and I went out to gather firewood for our stove’s maiden voyage. I am sure we didn’t have a wood gathering permit. I’m guessing we were trespassing but we filled the trunk of the Galaxy with enough wood for a Christmas Eve fire.
Kevin and I had not yet forgiven our friend for his transgression ” far from it. We were in the midst of an angry argument about how Keith’s laziness nearly caused us to die of exposure when we stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. Only one of the rear doors worked so he had to walk around the car to climb alone into the back seat. Once our passenger was settled in, an uncomfortable silence prevailed. We were all still angry but we didn’t want to argue in front of a stranger.
Through my rearview mirror I saw the hitchhiker checking out the clotted blood on the seats and ceiling, then he glanced at the axe on the dash.
He asked uneasily what caused the stains when Keith said gruffly over his shoulder, “Blood,” then said nothing else.
Luckily I was going about five miles an hour when the hitchhiker jumped out of the still moving vehicle. By the way he ran down the road, we could tell he wasn’t injured.
Kevin asked, “What got into him?”
We nearly burned down our trailer that night. It is those happy memories that make the holidays special …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.