Age 11: The Love of a Child is Timeless

By Cal Evans
Christmas time in the Evans household meant only 1 thing, road trip to ORLANDO! My mother’s parents live there and almost every year that I can remember, we made the trek, from wherever we were based to our Christmas Mecca, Nan and Pop’s house. My 11th Christmas was no different. We had graduated from our lovable but terminally ill Datsun to a 1970-something Oldsmo-Buick Station wagon and we now towed a travel trailer with us anytime we left the house for more than 30 minutes.

Whoever said that it was not the destination but the journey that mattered never made the run from Miami to Orlando. It’s flat, it’s empty and in the middle of the night, it’s very boring for an 11 year old whose sole companion is a sister who now no longer drools but is fond of launching projectiles over the seat at me and then screaming like a banshee if I dare retaliate. Shanda had graduated to master of deceit. It seemed at times that no matter what I was doing, no matter how innocent I was a single scream from her and I was again in purgatory. But at least she’s not drooling anymore.

Five hours later, I stumbled through the door of Nan & Pops house and into the kitchen. Weary from the drive and looking for munchies. Usually about the time I made it to the table and started to inspect the goodies, Dad would press me into service as a pack-mule. For the next half hour, I unloaded presents, suitcases (Does this one go in the house? front bedroom or back?) and other assorted boxes and crates.

Dad, showing again that he is wise beyond his years, brought his own portable room; 36 feet of living space dedicated to himself and Mom. It was a palace compared to what the rest of us had. He had his own TV but most importantly, he and Mom had their own bathroom! This was a luxury that even Nan & Pop did not enjoy for the season.

Christmas was in full bloom at Cassa de Crabtree and we were rolling downhill to the big moment. That one moment in time each year that every child looks forward to: the presents. At sometime in my early childhood, all the Crabtree in-laws got together in a clandestine meeting complete with secrete handshakes and passwords, to decide that presents would be opened on Christmas Eve instead of the traditional Christmas day. There was some discussion of a cover story, but as Dad explained it to Shanda and I he was tired of little yard-apes waking him at 5 on Christmas morning. This way, he could sleep till noon if he felt like it. This was the same man who decided early on that I didn’t need to believe in Santa Clause. A decision I never minded but that irritated the parents of my peers in elementary school. And so it was that on Christmas Eve, we all gathered in the living room of my grandparents to exchange gifts, love, mirth disguised as Christmas cheer…but mainly gifts.

Five minutes later, and the living room was a war zone. Shards of wrapping paper were still fluttering in the air from the frenzied scene. Toys that were never meant to fly were being hurled about gleefully by children ignoring the parent’s pleas to stop before they break something. Screams of “MINE!” echoed though the silence of the night. And the Adult men were already migrating into the den to see what was on TV. On this particular Christmas though, one adult was still seated.

My grandfather, “Pop” to 3 generations of children, is a wise man. He’s also a handy man. His garage has more tools in it than a Home Depot before a Labor Day sale. If it were not for the fact that he is a sincerely devout Christian, I am convinced that he would lay out a prayer mat 5 times a day and pray towards Sears. The man loves tools, things for keeping tools in, books about tools, things made from tools, things made to look like tools and any other knickknack that can even be remotely tool-related. Over the years, he’s received, as Christmas gifts, some of the most bizarre tool-related gifts, among them, almost anything that Craftsman ever put their name on. He is a wise old tool wizard.

But this Christmas, Pop was just sitting there, holding a box. He slowly turned it over in his hand, treating it as if it were made of fine crystal and not wanting to break it. Slowly, he turned it over and continued to read it. One by one, the adults ignored him and went on their way but I just sat quietly and watched as puzzlement crept over his face. Finally, from the den, one of the son-in-laws hollered, “Watcha got there, Pop?” not bothering to turn from the TV and only feigning interest.

“Not quite sure.” pop replied, “Says on the box ‘Potato Clock’.”

Ashley spun his head around dropping whatever toy he had and rushed over to Pop.

“I gave you that Pop!” he squealed. “It’s a Potato Clock! You put it in a potato and put it in water and it’s a clock and it tells you the time.” He babbled almost at the point of incoherence. “I saw it and knew you would just love it.” he said, his face beaming as if a clock powered by a potato was the most normal thing on earth.

Pop stifled a giggle – a skill that my uncles had not yet mastered – and looked down at Ashley. “And I do son. It’s perfect. Let’s go put it together.”

The uncles, now realizing that the drama unfolding in the den was infinitely more amusing that anything on the 3 channels of TV they could get, started guffawing. They rolled. For some reason that to this day I can’t explain, they found the concept of a clock powered by a potato to be the funniest thing they had seen. Bad jokes floated through the air, raining down with the weight of my mother’s biscuits. Each one trying harder and harder to be funny, and each succeeding less and less. But this didn’t stop them from laughing at each other as men that age will do.

Pop and Ashley retired to the kitchen where the noise was only a dull roar. When they emerged, Pop held a glass of water with half of a potato balanced on top by 4 tooth-picks. Out of the top of the potato grew 2 yellow curled wires attached to an LCD display with the correct time on it! Ashley walked beside him, radiantly beaming. Let them joke all the wanted (and they went late into the night before the last joke-biscuit was floated) Pop said he loved it and that was all that mattered.

I look back on these Christmas journeys to Orlando. The memories are fading to a warm glow now. I remember them all fondly, no matter how they seemed at the time. Wherever I am at Christmastime, in my heart, I’m still in Orlando. And I’m sure somewhere in Pop’s garage, buried deep among the shelves of router bits, saw blades and every imaginable socket wrench size ever forged, somewhere back among the shelves, there is a small box labeled Potato Clock containing a small piece of love from an 8 year old boy


Age 6: The Humpty-Clause

By Cal Evans

Cal’s First Law of Nature:
Mothers are the most precious of all the natural resources we have.

I can’t recall many memories of my childhood that my mother was not a part of. In some way, shape, form or fashion, Mom was always there, the ever-present guardian of beauty, truth and wisdom.

Mom taught me to read but more than that, she taught me to love to read. She taught me that there are things beyond my imagination and that’s ok as long as I continue to expand my imagination. She taught me that biscuits need not be foodstuff but could be paving stones or, in time of national emergency, weapons.

She taught me the 100 reasons shopping should be considered as an Olympic event. And that age old piece of wisdom handed down from mothers to their children since time immemorial; “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” But one of the greatest gifts my mother gave me was the memory of my 6th birthday.

I attended kindergarten at a small church school in a suburb of Mobile, Alabama. I will confess that I do not remember much about the school, my peers, the teachers or even Mobile at that time. But I do remember my mother explaining to me that for my birthday, she had arranged to have a party for me at school with all my friends. She prepared the goodies and even a special treat. For my birthday that year, we were going to have a piñata!

My birthday, being in December, usually has somewhat of a Christmas theme. Usually it’s not overt, but let’s face it, that time of the year, where do you find anything but red and green napkins and plates. This year was no different. We had the room decorated up for Christmas, were served red Punch-Aid in festive Christmas cups and everything was a red and green wonderland.

My piñatas was no different. Shaped, for all the world, like a 3 foot high egg, it was painted to look like Santa Clause. Actually, it more closely resembled Humpty Dumpty if Humpty had cotton balls glued all around him and was hanging from a stick.

And so we had a party. After cake and goodies, Mom brought him out to the squealing delight of 10+ kindergartners. There she stood, beaming with delight as we all squealed happily starring up into the smiling face of Humpty-Clause. Mom and the teacher tried to calm us down to explain to us what a piñata was and the part we were to play in this ritual.

As they explained, the room began to grow quiet. The squeals of delight faded as they explained that we were to take the stick, put on the blindfold and swing at the piñata. We missed the part about candy flowing from the broken piñata; all we could think of was that we’ve just been told to smack Santa upside the head with a stick. To a 6 year old mind, this is a concept to be grappled with for a moment. After all, if you were successful, you got candy, but what happens if you failed? Did Santa know you were out to split his skull open? How would this affect your gift this year? There were major issues that had to be carefully weighed here. I’m firmly convinced that years later several therapists have heard renditions of this story from patients.

Slowly, the groups split into 2 groups. There were those of us who, like myself knew that there was no Santa Clause or at least were willing to chance it for the candy. The other group, were the mortified ones. As the news of Humpty-Clause’s imminent demise sank in, they slowly began to tear up and cry.
So there we stood, our class of 10 raggedly divided into 2 groups, one group trying to claw their way into Humpty-Clause, the other working up a full-pitch wail at the atrocity that was about to be committed. In the middle were my mother and the teacher, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. And Humpty-Clause hovering scant feet above our heads on the pole Mom was carrying him on like a disembodied spirit of Christmas.

Then, passing the piñata to my teacher, Mom took me aside. Since I was the birthday boy, I was to have first shot at cracking Humpty-Clause’s head wide open with a sawed off broomstick. While this might sound fair and sweet, it occurred to my 6 year old mind that this would put me at a significant disadvantage. See if I actually did crack it open, I’m standing there with a blindfold on as candy pored out around me. If I’ve got a blindfold on I can’t see the candy to grab it. This was not to my liking at all but for Mom’s sake, I went along.

She placed me under the piñata, blindfolded, spun me around like a top for a minute or to and then began to wield my wooden broadsword to the urging shouts of my classmates, almost all who now wanted the candy, Humpty-Clause be damned.
THWAK! A good solid blow. I could feel the stick resonate in my hand like a bat after hitting one out of the park. I knew I was well on my way to busting that piñata open and into candy Nirvana. Well, I was half right, I had busted something. I took out a chair. Gotta swing higher.

POW! Yes, that felt different. It was up higher; it was a solid surface, a little more solid than I thought paper should be but still, I could tell I made first contact from the squeals of delights around me.

Energized by drawing first blood, I flailed about even harder. POP! BIF! BANG! ZOOM! On and on it went. Surely, by now candy must have been everywhere and Humpty-Clause would have been in tatters on the floor. Then I heard my mom say “Ok, Cal, let’s give someone else a turn.” Much to my surprise, as she took off my blindfold, Humpty-Clause was intact and still grinning at me. Grinning in defiance the paper surface not even scratched. I glowered back at it menacingly. There he hung, silently mocking me, laughing at me for my weakness.

I let the next child go, and then the next and the next…finally, my teacher mentioned to Mom that something had to be done because we were fast approaching nap time. Besides, after a while even watching someone whack the snot out of Santa gets old. We were getting restless and scouting out other targets. Still after all of us had taken a stab at him, there hung Humpty-Clause, grinning back at us, his treasure safe within his rotund, unscathed, shellacked belly.

Finally, her mother super senses tingling and sensing that things were going awry, Mom, in her infinite wisdom (which had obviously been set aside last night as she made a piñata out of newspaper and polyurethane) took a knife to Santa’s belly like she was gutting a fish. With a flick of her wrist, Humpty-Clause released his treasure trove.

Once again, squeals of delight came from my classmates as candy poured from the eviscerated Santa. Laugher as we innocently fed on the stuffing pouring out from him. I glanced up, he was still grinning at me but it was now a vacant stare I knew I had won. My eyes moved over to my mother, standing there with her piñata, her hair slightly disheveled. She was smiling down at us looking for all the world, like the most lovely angel in the world…who had just slain Humpty-Clause.

Love you Mom.