In an old part of the city one of the best spots to work is by the window of a creaky-floored, tin-ceilinged all-night cafe. The square, real window panes have Christmas-light-edging around the view of a snowbanked, pavered street and narrow shops on the other side with their evergreen and twinkling garlands. The sidewalk below glows from the warmth that invites friends and lovers and tattered wanderers alike. Good music, bursts of laughter, and pleasant voices telling stories mix in.
Some friends come by, pull chairs close, and tell about their ice-skating at the city rink tonight. Earlier today I had promised I'd buy them coffee afterwards. Stories of hockey (haw-key) come up. I recall mine, having just bought a hockey puck at the Red Shield (Salvation Army) store--not just any hockey puck, though. It's a genuine, used, CHA, maple-leafed gift for one of my brothers, who is a collector. We grew up skating every chance we could get, and I think of the Fire Department flooding for rinks and how we brought sack lunches and delighted over free hot chocolate at the warming booth. Each new season, we traded in our outgrown, used skates for used skates that pretty much fit depending on how many socks were worn, at the ACE Hardware. How they made a little money was charging for blade sharpening and selling blade covers. I tell them about the scar on my chin--how I got it playing hockey--high-sticked after making a goal, no less. And, being on crutches right now stinks. So we laugh and talk about skating, life, love, and family fun. They tell me how much they love that their mother can kick someone in the seat of the pants and the person will thank her for it later, because, of course, she only does it because she loves them. Their mother, the former Dairy Queen of New York State, rode the train to Chicago and sat on Santa’s lap at Macy’s while I took a picture. There was no line, and Santa was amiable. Two middle-aged businessmen, apparently foreign visitors, observed and pondered our “custom.” One of them took out a camera and made a souvenir photo, while the other one sat on Santa’s lap . . . all the same . . . smiling and wishing and hoping.
Pushing their chairs back away from the little table, they linger on goodbye. Midnight mass, Christmas Eve--you'll call us, ok?
Outside, the ribbon ends of red velvet Christmas bows, softly flapping, frame the winter night.