We live halfway between our family to the east and our families in the south and so we have always been the ‘meeting’ place for everyone getting together at major holidays like Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, Labor’s Day, 4th of July.
In our heyday, 35 family members would come, and the kids being close together in age and young, we’d play games outside, when possible, and stretch our imaginations when we all had to be inside together at close quarters, so to speak.
As the years dwindled away, so did the number of people, with kids going away on their own or getting married, etc. The last fifteen years or so, the crowd has switched to mostly my wife’s sister and brother and their families, her folks and my son and his wife and one of our daughters and her family. So the ritual nowadays is the ‘locals’ coming over for Christmas for dinner, at which time, everyone gets to open up a little present or two and then we all sing and play games of some sort.
Thus, it was my wife’s father, or grandpa as we called him, …it was his job to be on the floor on his late 70’s/80’s knees distributing the presents to everyone.
Before I get to the poem, I have to tell you that anytime we would take a ride or go somewhere together on the highway, he would always point out every J.B.Hunt semi that he spotted. He just took a fancy toward that company’s truck for some reason. So my wife and I took to buying 1 instant lottery ticket for each person and I made a J.B. Hunt truck out of cardboard for him as a present one year and we put all the tickets in the cardboard truck until they were passed out to everyone after they all opened their presents.
That gives you a little background to this following poem, which I have to read at every Christmas gathering.
THE CARDBOARD TRUCK
Of all the Christmas’s in my past,
I’ll best remember Christmas last
and grandpa ‘neath the tree on his knees
gathering presents to pass around
making sure, for everyone, a present he found.
And the last of the presents ‘neath the tree
was a poorly wrapped present for him, from me
and he picked it up without emotion and
setting it back down, “Clarence, look closer, ” grandma cried,
for part of my present was hidden inside.
The part of the present I put inside, I prayed would bring him luck,
though the part of the present, I wanted him to like, was the home-made cardboard truck.
But in that instant, the cardboard truck brought something else – an obscure clue – and it wasn’t that grandpa was really tired, and I think a lot of us, knew.
But the hidden lottery tickets to his face brought a smile
and as he stood up and walked out of the room for a while,
I looked at the cardboard truck on its side by the tree on the
as I listened for grandpa’s cries from the kitchen, of good luck….
forgetting, for the moment, the cardboard truck.
For all that I can remember is that every trip we took,
everywhere we went, everywhere he’d look
and find in the most uncanny of places,
a J.B. Hunt semi making a haul
and missing not one, he’d point them out, all.
So I pondered not long about what I could make
for grandpa for Christmas that home he could take
and look at and smile and set on a shelf
remembering his younger days when he depended on luck
while driving the big rigs… like the cardboard truck.
When he returned to the living room, I mustered up guts
and asked him if he won anything and he said, “not much,”
and quietly went over, hands in his pockets,
and sat down by grandma and said not a word
and his silence was deafening and I wondered who ‘heard.’
But when the call came for coffee and cake and for pie,
he was first to jump up and said “hi” passing by.
And the kitchen again bustled like it did hours before
until someone spoke up and said “something is wrong”
and back to the living room we went for a song.
With everyone seated on every available chair
we threw out suggestions on which song we should dare.
And the ’12 Days of Christmas’ was the song we selected
and everyone chose them a part for the tape
and I gazed at the clock and the hour was late.
I looked ’round the room, was proud what I saw.
There was Steven and Michael, Matthew and Pa,
though Pa wasn’t singing, his hands were in flight
conducting Kevin and Nancy, Cindy and Sue
Steve, Grandma, Betsy and young Lonnie, too.
But with people now tired and taping all done,
presents were gathered and soon everyone
were starting their cars for the night air was cold
and after kisses and hugs and talk of next year
everything left that was everything dear.
I hugged my Babe tightly for the job she had done
and we were all in agreement that the day had been fun.
I went to the living room and sat in my chair
and turned on the television and propped up my knee
and saw the ‘J.B. Hunt’…… hidden back behind the tree.
He’d forgot all about it and left it behind
but I’d often remember and call and remind
him that the cardboard truck was here on the porch
and for nearly a year, it hasn’t moved from its place
except one day of the year, now, it will have a new space.
In the year that’s gone by, Pa has passed on
but his spirit here at Christmas will never be gone
and each Christmas Day on the floor ‘neath the tree
will be a poorly wrapped present that will bring us good luck
and be brought to us all by…the cardboard truck.