Jest ‘Fore Christmas

John Darby Howard being as good as he 'kin be !


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?

Great need!

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!


Eugene Field


Wishing everyone a joyous season wrapped in the love of family and friends, a haven away from the hurry!!


~ by Judy on December 12, 2015.

14 Responses to “Jest ‘Fore Christmas”

  1. Yea, good choice for this season: evocative one might say. But, Judy, do tell, what is ‘to chawnk green apples’?

    • Well, for me it was always a kind of sound word. I can just hear the crunch of the apple as vigorous young teeth boldly sink into it. Maybe it is one of those words you’ll find only in the poem which used it? I used to love crunching nice fresh apples!! Yummmm….. 🙂

      Glad you liked the seasonal poem, I just think it is classic. Makes me think what young boys were like in the 1920s and 1930s…in a Huck Finn sort of way!! I mean look at that face on my Dad!! 🙂

  2. That’s funny. When I read “chawnk green apples,” I read it as “chunk” — as in, “throw.” We used to have crabapple wars galore, and if you had a good eye and a steady hand, you could inflict some damage.

    My favorite line from the introduction is, ” And for man, who has learned to love convenience, it is hardly larger than his concealing pocket.” Such wry humor. We’re missing that these days, too.

    What I especially like is your weaving together of beauty, poetry, simplicity, nature, and photography. I actually found myself making an oblique reference to Plato’s “good, true, and beautiful” in my comment section today, and I realized that those three are in short supply, too. Who cares to write a graceful sentence? Which politician tells the truth? Who cares about the good when the bad seem to profit. And so on…

    In any case, this is delightful. I don’t remember reading it before, although those first lines do resonate a bit. It’s the sort of poem — and language — which slows a person down. That’s probably exactly what the poet intended.

    • Well, when I first read CPs question what came to mind first was the word chunkin as in “Can’t you hear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?” I always thought of that as a sound word too. The sound of paddles cutting the water and in fact chunk can refer to dividing something. So its funny how you read words and intuit their meanings in context, what is that connotation vs denotation? When reading we can go by feel sometimes and that is what messes up SAT tests where they want the ‘best’ meaning for……. too tru!!

      Yes I think that is a great observation on the poem, that the author intended to slow us down. I took the pace from the times but likely the poet set the pace with his words to put his readers there.

  3. A trip through the Internet revealed “chawnk” as a form of “chank:” to eat noisily or greedily. Sadly, it took some doing to find this definition, since the one most likely to come up in a search is a contemporary slang use for a sexual act that is absolutely not possible with apples, so don’t go there, Judy!

    • Oh, I am so glad you spent the time. After, CPs question I looked myself and found some of those sexual references and nothing which I thought fit. My understanding was always maybe a ‘lusty crunching’ because I love the sound and texture when you take a bite out of a green apple, or even a red one!! I mean enjoyment of food can be sensual. So I am really happy you found some word history that ties in. Yay!!

  4. WONDERFUL! 🙂 Sending you much love, and I hope you eat lots and lots of candies so you bust out of yer pantaloons. I sure am, already!!

    • Would you believe I just started back on my ‘healthy’ diet today ‘else I will be busting out my pantaloons!! See how long that lasts with Christmas goodies on the horizon!!

      A very Merry Christmas to you and Skyler and your brother and everyone in your family!!

      • Heeee! I’m sorry I’m just now responding, but that’s funny. 🙂 At LEAST you’re even considering a diet! I just ordered CANDY! Uhhh… That’s bad. Especially since I should have been on a diet LONG AGO. Happy 2016 to you!!!! Here’s to a happy and healthy year, with candy.

  5. This is a brilliant post Judy, a great one for the holiday and even better for the New Year. The backstory about your father (great description as the mischievous young boy with barely contained energy) introducing you to Eugene Field’s poem “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” sets up the rest of the post so well. Stories are what makes us who we are, this passing on of knowledge and wisdom ~ as you say it makes life special, and relationships vital.

    I never thought of the idea of poetry in photography, but from this post I can see and believe it. And for the New Year I will take to heart the words of Christmas you have brought to us: “But, thinkin’ of the things yer’d like to see upon that tree, Jest ‘fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!” Thank you for the introduction.

    • I’m thrilled you enjoyed the post and the poem. I should say that Eugene Field was know as “The Children’s Poet” and wrote besides this one such works as ‘Little Boy Blue’,’ Wynken, Blynken and Nod‘, The Duel (about the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat), and many many more. He was a wonderfully sensitive and clever writer. Some poems may be more about children than for children but sweet and nostalgic for any reader. He had eight children three of whom died before maturity, two as infants and one as a little boy, but I have never read that Little Boy Blue was written after his little boy died. But, it never fails to give me goosebumps when I read it. But, you can see the author’s appreciation of childhood and that lovely sense of humor he had.

      • I will have to check out these other poems. I’ve heard of Little Boy Blue and The Duel. Anyone who has an appreciation for childhood has a step up on life 🙂

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