This is yet another of my almost-true stories about Christmas. However, unlike most, in this story I became not only the author but the protagonist, as well. Although in the final version, which you are about to read, I gave Freddy the Logger the credit, whom some of you may know from reading The Springdale Tales, in actuality, I was the Santa in this story. The Darigold milk truck was, indeed, stuck in the snow, and I happened upon it in time to strike a bargain with the route manager and thus procure the milk for distribution. That Christmas Eve, armed only with a Toyota 4X4 full of milk,
I made the first (and possibly the last) ever Santa's ride distributing milk to all the needy families I knew in Springdale. Coincidental to this story, I also managed to capture what I feel is the essence of a real-life character you know by his non de plume of Freddy the Logger. I hope you enjoy it...
by Homer Pheeder
Copyright by Dave Laird
Freddy the Logger roundly cursed the guy in the gold Honda driving ahead of him on the highway that meanders between the set of hills that separate Loon Lake and Springdale. He had been following the car since Deer Park and had not once been able to pass in the heavy holiday traffic although he had stuck his head out the window several times to yell at the driver ahead to turn off and let him pass. When that failed, he resorted to leaning out the window sporadically to describe the errant driver's family tree, and almost got a face full of half-frozen road sludge for his efforts.
Here it was,Christmas Eve and Freddy, against all his better judgement,had gone to Spokane to make some last minute purchases for his girlfriend. Of course, on the way home, he had to stop at the Red Hound Tavern in Deer Park to pick up reinforcements,in the form of a half-rack of Ranier Ale since miles, like cutting logs in Stevens County, are often measured in cans of beer. It takes half a rack to log a half-acre of ground, and a half-rack to drive 200 miles.
His rancor on the rise after fighting the crowds in the mall, Freddy the Logger was in no mood for a long, slow drive home behind some farmer in a clattertrap smoky Honda. It was getting close to dark, and his personal bar stool at the Reservation Tavern was calling to him as certainly as a wife might call her husband in from the fields.
He took another sip from his beer only after surreptitiously checking both mirrors for sign of the State Patrol.
"Screw Christmas!" his muttered darkly. "...n' screw all the prairie Hebes that drive Hondas, too.", he added, bringing to mind his generic slur for anyone of questionable race, creed or political affiliation.
Freddy the Logger has been an instinctively curious man since birth. If something appears abstract, obtuse or otherwise the least bit out of the ordinary, without fail he turns aside, stops dead in his tracks inexorably altering his path to investigate. Ahead, on a obscure side road off Highway 395, he could clearly see that a big milk truck he'd earlier noticed sitting alongside the road had not yet moved since his trip to town.
"Why would anyone park a milk truck clear the hell out here?" Freddy mused. "With the damn temperature down close to zero, if they sit there long enough, they are gonna' freeze that load of milk up tighter'n a witches tit."
Like the predictable creature of habit that he was,he gingerly tapped the brakes and pulled off on the side road, driving down the narrow farming road to where the truck was parked.In his headlights, he could see clearly why the truck hadn't moved. The wheels on the passenger side of the big rig had slid off the roadway into a deep drainage ditch, trapping the truck in what amounted to chest high snow.
"Goddamn got her stuck good..." he laughed to himself. "They'll need a crane to pull her out of there."
Someone, obviously the driver of the truck,came walking over to the side of Freddy's truck, wrapped in an oversize flannel mackinaw.
"Looks like you got a problem there friend," Freddy commented dryly, rolling down his window. "Do you need a lift somewhere, or maybe somebody to make a phone call for 'ya?"
"Nah." the driver said bitterly. "I already called twice, and there's nobody in the shop to come out with a tow truck until 8 a.m. tomorrow. The milk is already froze up tighter'n a drum so I'm in no hurry. I got a thermos o'hot coffee in the cab, a full load of fuel and as long as the motor still runs, I'm warm. Just stuck is all. "
"Y'say the milk is froze up?" Freddy asked, his mind whirling.
At first, Freddy didn't make the connection. The truck was stuck, the milk frozen, and that was that. With a flash of genius spawned by idle curiosity tinged with opportunity, suddenly it was upon him. There was nothing wrong with frozen milk, if you put it in the refrigerator and let it thaw, why it was just as good as milk you bought in the store.
"So, what are you gonna do with all the frozen milk?"
"Shit, I don't know. The law says the comp'ny can't sell it to the public after it's been froze so I guess they'll just dump it. I've been here since four this morning, waitin' on a damn tow truck, so I say 'piss on 'em. They should have thought about the milk back several hours ago before now."
"Christ, that seems a shame." Freddy murmured unctuously. "I hate to see all that milk goin'to waste." He paused, then looking directly at the driver, as if to read his deepest thoughts, and asked,"I don't suppose that's there's any way I could talk you out of some frozen milk, since they're gonna dump it anyway, now is there..."
"What the hell are you gonna do with 3000 gallons of milk?"
"Well," Freddy scratched his chin speculatively, "I don't know if I could carry all 3000 gallons in this old truck, but I got a good use for as much as I can carry. Y'see, I know this hog farmer, kind of a broken-down old hippy hog farmer up the road here a piece, and I know he can feed the milk to his hogs. I'm sure he would be grateful, and I damn sure know those scrawny hogs of his would be tickled to death to have something better than the crap he feeds 'em. Why all the poor bastard feeds 'em is corn cobs and molasses..."
"I can't see where anyone would bitch." The driver muttered. "I had this happen once before, and gave some froze-up milk to a family down by Medical Lake, and nobody said squat."
He thought a second more, then added, "Well, I guess it won't hurt anything. Pull yer truck around back and take as much as you want. If you'll pardon me, you're gonna have to load it yourself, 'cuz I'm gettin' back in the cab where it's warm."
Without further ado, Freddy backed his old one ton truck gingerly up to the rear of the milk truck, wisely putting on a pair of heavy wool gloves, proceeded to load his truck up to the gunwales with gallon after gallon of frozen milk in white plastic jugs, humming to himself the whole time.
When there was no more room for not even one more carton in the back of his truck, he climbed into the warmth of the cab, popped the tab on a fresh can of ale, and pulled back around the front of the stalled truck.
"You have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, hear?" he yelled out the window at the driver sitting inside.
Once back on the road, he started speculating about his new fortune, over and over, like a cow chewing on its cud.
"Now what the hell am I gonna do with 500 gallons of frozen milk? You should have started thinking about that before you loaded it on the truck. Here I am, half froze myself, and all I have to show for it is a truck load of frozen moo juice. Too bad it wasn't a damn beer truck." He cackled briefly at the thought. "Yeah, too bad it wasn't a beer truck all froze up in the snow, now wouldn't that be wonderful..."
They say that the stars of heaven must keep many secrets, since they witness everything that takes place here on earth below. Late on winter's nights, when the temperature sinks off the end of the thermometer out by the back porch, folks in these parts say that if you have the courage to step outside in the frigid night air, you can hear the stars whispering to one another bout the latest scandal to rock the tiny hamlets that lay scattered over the valleys and hills of Stevens County.
However, on once upon a Christmas Eve, there was a secret, of which not even the stars have whispered, for a mysterious real-life Santa Claus came to town, delivering a load of real Christmas cheer, and disappeared in the same mysterious manner as he arrived.
All dressed in a faded, moth-eaten red flannel suit, with a set of moldy-looking fake whiskers that wouldn't fool anyone for a minute, Santa rode into town riding in a sleigh drawn by a tired, down at the ears jackass that occasionally brayed, thus waking up every dog in town. This strange visitor went methodically from house to house in Springdale on Christmas Eve, banging on doors, waking up everyone, and in general pissing off half the damn town.
He came to my door just after eleven o'clock, just as I getting ready to turn off the Christmas lights for the night and go to bed.
"Merry Christmas, there Homer!" Whoever was hiding behind the suit and whiskers obviously knew my name, but was obviously stinking drunk, for he stood there in the front porch light weaving erratically back and forth like a tree in a high wind.
"What can I do for you?" I asked, peering uncertainly at him, trying to guess who this mysterious visitor was.
"Come on and pick yerself out a few cartons of milk out of the back of my sleigh. I was runnin' kinda late this year and ran out of presents before I hit this dog-piss of a town, so I made a stop along the way and grabbed some milk, but the damn stuff froze flying this way, so you'll have to let it thaw."
"Goddammit, Homer, I told ya before, I got some milk out in my sleigh, and although it's froze up, let it thaw a while. It's fresh whole moo juice. Just a little hard is all."
Out on the lawn there was a strange noise, and in the dim light of the Christmas lights in the front yard I could just barely see a big gray jackass hitched to a sleigh. He was standing there on three legs, stamping his fourth foot in the snow, his big ears flopping back and forth in the half light.
Christmas Day, the entire town was a'clatter, like a collection of beer cans in the back of pickup truck on a bumpy road.
Some say that it was Juan Guiterrez, all dressed up in a Santa Claus outfit. because nearly everyone recognized that it was his mule pulling the sleigh. Others say no, it must have been Joe Red Deer, because it was his sleigh that the jackass was pulling. Yet both men, when confronted, seemed as startled to hear of the exploits of the night visitor as everyone else. They both left hastily to check their possessions, returning a short time later to announce that although both items had obviously been in recent use, they had been returned as mysteriously as they had been borrowed.
Yet, among the children of the town, the tale is still being repeated, over and over that Santa Claus, Springdale's very real Santa, came to Springdale that year.
Little brown Indian eyes grow bigger and bigger with the retelling of how, in the middle of the night, Santa arrived with a real sleigh and a reindeer, and while he was there, gave their families as much milk as their refrigerators could carry. For that Christmas morning when they woke up and saw the their gifts under the tree, they each could clearly see outside in the snow, the tracks of where the sleigh had driven up into their yards, and where the reindeer stood by while Santa delivered the presents.
Some even say, with a knowing look, that Santa probably must have been pretty burned out from his travels that year, because everywhere that Santa went that night lay crumpled Ranier Ale cans in the newfallen snow.
A legend of Springdale-town was born, and as this tale is retold by hundreds of Indian and near-Indian children, it too, like Christmas, will grow.
As for that Christmas morning, Freddy the Logger sat on his personal barstool, a fresh glass of his cherished ale sitting in front of him.
"Christmas? Santa Claus?" he says, eyeing those around him warily. "Thas' a bunch of whoopie. Bah Humbug."