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AFTERWORD A Child’s Christmas in Texas BY AMANDA TOERING Santa looks like he just swallowed a mouthful of something really foul. Heaving himself into the bed of a pickup he somehow folds his portly self down, onto a bale of hay. Two mottled tail-wagging bird dogs scamper around him in the bed of the truck, barking and nipping at his legs. It’s my hometowns first Christmas parade No one knew how or where to get a reindeer. If Christmas was ever in the air, it has long since evaporated; December feels like someone stuffed July into a heavy coat and buttoned it up tight. Santa has sweat stains, his acrylic beard is soggy and limp, and those of us in the high school band are wondering if polyester is subject to spontaneous combustion. We mill about in the street, practicing our parts special marching-band arrangements of “Jingle Bells” and “0 Come All Ye Faithful.” A trumpet player stands next to Santa’s truck, and blasts a shrill note almost directly into the nose of one of the bird dogs. The dogs avert their eyes, trying to ignore him, but finally succumb to fits of howling and woofing. Santa just hooks his elbows under his knees and wheezes. This place is the cement capital of Texas one-horse town whose one horse has long since been put down. Still, a sizable bighaired, toothpick-chawing crowd has turned out for the parade, which the Chamber of Commerce hopes will become as much of a tradition as the Methodists’ World Wrestling Federation fundraiser and the Fall Festival street dance. \(There’s some speculation that the parade is nothing more than a public excuse to see what our first stoplight looks like at night. It’s the real kind with red, yellow, and green and it looks pretty much like we expected it to. On unspoken cue maybe it’s the final cast of daylight, or some sort of collective adrenaline rush the parade marchers spontaneously line up under the luminous stoplight. Fire truck. Mayor-in-convertible. Drill team. Marching band. 4-H horse club. Citizens on riding lawnmowers. Girl Scouts. Santa. The parade route is short, but so is the town. We’ll march from the bottom of Main Street to the top of it, a total of four blocks. As we pass by the turn-of-the-century, two-story storefronts the bank once robbed by Bonnie and Clyde, a woodfloored grocery that smells like rotting apples, three beauty shops, the town’s newspaper the old brick buildings will light up, in a dazzling, blinding display of Christmas cheer. When the procession reaches the city park at the head of the street, the front of the line will hang a sharp left and collect in the drug store’s parking lot. Then the official town Christmas tree, in the park, of course, will be lit. By Santa. It couldn’t have been planned better by Macy’s. t the first crack of the drumroll, an expectant hush blankets Main Street. Traffic halts without the aid of the new stoplight. To the pained delight of onlooking children, hands over their ears, the fire engine blasts its siren. The procession lurches forward. We march up Main Street; the ‘crowd goes wild. They clap along with the drum cadence and wave at their marching acquaintances. We wave back, if discreetly: a short nod of the clarinet, or the flick of a pompon, or the twitch of an eyebrow. Every chest in the band swells as the drum major spins on his heels, continues to march backwards and raises his gloved hands. By the time the first Jingle blares out of the horn section, we’re one-third of the way down Main Street. Over the music, we can hear the bird dogs howl in tortured har mony with the wails of the siren. Dauntless, we continue to play. But the mapwork on the face of the crowd has changed; there’s confusion, somewhere. Hands fid dle with buttons and hood ornaments. Boot toes pick at cracks in the sidewalk. “Is that ‘Jingle Bells’?” a woman asks, as the snare drums rip through the one horse open sleigh and cymbals drown out laughing all the way. Our bass drums \(whose thunderous presence has been widely acclaimed in chance of making spirits bright. The dogs’ agony is amplified, and the horses behind us are growing skittish. Two stories above the street, the Christmas lights suddenly flare, on cue but the crowd, still morbidly fascinated by our cruel rendition of the familiar carol, doesn’t even look up. The drum major waves his arms, draws his finger across his throat, and “Jingle Bells” fades out, front to back. Slowly, the spectators lift their eyes. They step back, look up. They look to the eastern row of buildings. They turn. They look up, up, at the western file of buildings. They look to the northern end of Main Street, and down to the south, and back again. Across the tops of the buildings, light shines in short streaks. At least half of the storefronts are 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER