I waited and waited for the rain to stop. It didn’t. I finally started carrying my things to the car with an umbrella. Traffic was murder, so I skipped the trip to the bank and hit the freeway. I hate driving on I-40, but because of the possibility of freezing on the mountain roads, I opted to stick to the well-traveled path. And it was well traveled.

Amazingly, the interstate was in better repair than usual. The last time I drove it, traffic was reduced to single lanes for miles in at least six places; this time, it was only three. Unfortunately, I hit the worst of it after dark. Near Clarksville, the road becomes a narrow stripe of concrete bounded by potholed asphalt, which forces you to ride with one wheel on a glassy smooth surface with the other wheel in a ditch. As the ditch fills with water, it’s more like skiing on one side and my car always wants to twist sideways. Of course, there had to be someone right on my ass with his high beams on all the way through.

I took two books with me: William Stott’s Documentary Expression and Thirties America and Documenting America 1935-43. I was in a particularly voracious mood, and read over half of Stott’s book before midnight the first night. The next morning, Christmas Eve, was perfect. A light snow had started to fall at six a.m. and by the time I got up it was coming down smoothly in large flakes. By noon, about four inches of powder was covering everything. It was much more pleasant than the rain. I got on the net to check the weather cams back in Little Rock and saw that it was only falling where I was. Wasn’t that special?

Mom had been baking for days, and decided she wanted a break for Christmas eve. She asked me if I’d go out for pizza. As I crossed the freeway, headed back to Ft. Smith I noticed that though it was snowing, none of it was accumulating on the ground scarcely two miles away. The roads were clear and sparse; the pizza place was having a “no kids” day so it was quiet and nearly empty. The snow continued to fall all day, but while the surrounding landscape looked brown and wet, the area where I was became increasingly beautiful. Just around the corner at the Choctaw casino, I laughed for a moment while I picked up a newspaper for my father. The newspaper vending machine was covered with snow, as it displayed the headline: “No White Christmas for Ft. Smith.”

It dawned on me that it was rapidly becoming a Christmas tradition— pizza on Christmas Eve. For some reason, another thing I connect with Christmas is Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus— I first read it on Christmas day, and I now make it a point to watch Taymor’s film version some time during the holiday season as an antidote to all the “It’s a Wonderful Life” vibe. It was a holiday thrill to have a cherry pie ready to pull out of the oven a few days ago during the penultimate dinner scene, though my companion thought it might be in questionable taste. But I digress, as usual. The sobering thought for Christmas day, as the snow melted away, was that my parents will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in March— an achievement, by any standard.

But I ran out of things to read this year— well, almost. Mom suggested that I give a book my father got for Christmas a few years ago a try. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929-1945 is a weighty tome of around 800 pages, and I only managed the first 250 before I came home. I suppose it might seem strange that I often spend holidays reading, but its sort of a family tradition. Though my father doesn’t read as much anymore now that cataracts have impaired his sight, my mother continues to read novels at a constant clip. I suspect that’s where much of my appetite comes from. In our family, the central entertainment was always just sitting around and reading.

The trip back was clear and uneventful, and I’ve got so much work to do. Stott’s book opened up new vistas to explore, including the proletarian fiction of the 1930s. His book (the parts that weren’t merely singing the praises of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) attempts to argue that in the 1930s there was a “documentary impulse” which manifested itself in all the products of that age. There’s so much more to say on that, and I’d like to do a full close reading of the book. But for now, I’d just like to publicly thank you all for reading and hope that your holiday was as nice as mine.

4 thoughts on “Holiday”

  1. Here’s wishing you a fantastic 2003 🙂 Glad you had a happy holiday with mater and pater et al. It is truly a marvel these days to see couples make it to their 60th, never mind still be happy with the choice they made. With luck, if my father survives his current medical crises, my parents will celebrate their 60th in February. Treasure your parents and your family while you have them.

  2. So it’s not just his sublimely beautiful photographs, there’s another reason for my profound admiration of Walker Evans — Stott’s Documentary Expression and Thirties America must have had a greater influence on me than I’d realized.
    Thanks for all your hard work and marvellous insights, Jeff. I look forward to more in the year to come.

  3. My family spent most of Christmas day reading, though nothing quite so weighty as the books on your holiday reading list. I have been reading Great Expectations and the rest of the family are currently reading sci-fi and fantasy. (which is what you would catch me reading more often than not)

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