Today’s hurried world makes it a bit difficult to identify with one of my favourite Christmas poems. It isn’t just that the language takes us back to a time gone by or that we hardly ever do things like chawnk green apples anymore; its that pent up excitement children have when something great is going to happen. Even a mischievous, carefree boy will settle down and mind his p’s and q’s for Christmas. So in the midst of all that ‘getting and spending’ I enjoy remembering when life was simpler, or at least seemed so, and all you had to do was be good. Or remembering times when you played outside in the sun or jumped in a lake instead of sitting in a dark room in front of a computer monitor. Seems even the getting and spending part is inside in that dark computer cave away from the hustle and bustle of fellow shoppers with gift lists for loved ones swimming in their heads!! Does the world really have to move on so much!!
Well, maybe my penchant for the past has something to do with scanning and repairing old family photos lately. The mischievous young boy with barely contained energy, being as good as he ‘kin be all dressed up in suit and tie for this portrait pictured here is my father, John Darby Howard. He is the one who introduced me to Jest ‘Fore Christmas by Eugene Field when I was a child. It was contained in his (and later mine too) favourite book of poetry, One Hundred and One Famous Poems, An Anthology Complied by Roy J. Cook. That well loved and tattered 1929 volume is still in the family along with many copies bought down through the years to hold and share and give.
I’d like to say that even in 1929 Roy J. Cook was aware that time and technology does move on and how much we need poetry and stories that do remind us of how special life and relationships really are. I wasn’t planning upon initiating this post to share the compiler’s Preface but will indeed introduce it before the poem. It is wonderful in its own right. You’ll notice that I have carried it with me as part of it is quoted in my blog heading. The need for poetry and the need for retreat into nature go hand in hand. And, I like to think there is poetry in photography.
Roy J. Cooks’ PREFACE
This is the age of science, of steel—of speed and the cement road. The age of hard faces and hard highways. Science and steel demand the medium of prose. Speed requires only the look–the gesture. What need then, for poetry?
There are souls in these noise-tired times, that turn aside into unfrequented lanes, where the deep woods have harbored the fragrances of many a blossoming season. Here the light, filtering through perfect forms, arranges itself in lovely patterns for those who perceive beauty.
It is the purpose of this little volume to enrich, ennoble, encourage. And for man, who has learned to love convenience, it is hardly larger than his concealing pocket.
Jest ‘Fore Christmas
Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain’t a girl – ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes, curls, an’ things that’s worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an’ go swimmin’ in the lake –
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for bellyache!
‘Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain’t no flies on me,
But jest ‘fore Christmas I’m as good as I kin be!
Got a yeller dog named Sport, sick him on the cat;
First thing she knows she doesn’t know where she is at!
Got a clipper sled, an’ when us kids goes out to slide,
‘Long comes the grocery cart, an’ we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worrited an’ cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an’ larrups up his hoss,
An’ then I laff an’ holler, “Oh, ye never teched me!”
But jest ‘fore Christmas I’m as good as I kin be!
Gran’ma says she hopes that when I git to be a man,
I’ll be a missionarer like her oldest brother, Dan,
As was et up by the cannibuls that lives in Ceylon’s Isle,
Where every prospeck pleases, an’ only man is vile!
But gran’ma she has never been to see a Wild West show,
Nor read the Life of Daniel Boone, or else I guess she’d know
That Buff’lo Bill an’ cow-boys is good enough for me!
Excep’ jest ‘fore Christmas, when I’m good as I kin be!
And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an’ still,
His eyes they seem a-sayin’: “What’s the matter, little Bill?”
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an’ wonders what’s become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am so perlite an’ ‘tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: “How improved our Willie is!”
But father, havin’ been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When, jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!
For Christmas, with its lots an’ lots of candies, cakes, an’ toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids an’ not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an’ bresh yer hair, an’ mind yer p’s and q’s,
An’ don’t bust out yer pantaloons, and don’t wear out yer shoes;
Say “Yessum” to the ladies, an’ “Yessur” to the men,
An’ when they’s company, don’t pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin’ of the things yer’d like to see upon that tree,
Jest ‘fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!
Wishing everyone a joyous season wrapped in the love of family and friends, a haven away from the hurry!!