Here’s a Dickens of a Christmas yarn
This is my favorite of any Christmas column I’ve written. It has been published several times; last time was 1998. So here it is again. Merry Christmas.
There warn’t a mite of doubt that Jake Marley died with his boots on. The M was still on the brand of the S-Bar-M Ranch, but Big Eb Scrooge was in the saddle, and he was riding alone, pardners.
And Big Eb was the orneriest, no-goodest, low down sidewin-din’ polecat in these parts.
Why, when his own nephew trotted his pinto up to the ranch house to wish Big Eb a Merry Christmas, the old coot come out on the porch with a shotgun and says, “Humbug, dagnab it! Git off my property ‘fore I runs you off!”
And I wouldn’t treat a rattlesnake the way Big Eb treated his top hand, Slim Cratchitt.
“Please, Big Eb, suh,” says Slim, “cain’t I wait until the day after Christmas afore I goes off on that 2,000-mile cattle drive you got scheduled for Dec. 25?”
“Cuss it, man,” snarls Big Eb, “next thing you’ll be asking me to let you use a horse.”
“But I want to be home with my young-un, Tiny Tex,” Slim pleads. “He’s been feeling poorly ever since that coyote chawed his laig off.”
“Well, OK,” says Big Eb, reluctant-like, “but I expect you to work 366 days next year to make up for it.”
Well, sir, Big Eb gobbles down some hard tack and beans and turns in for the night. Quicker’n a woke-up jackrabbit, up pops the late Jake Marley alongside Eb’s bunk, dragging his saddle and tack and branding irons and such. “Hellfire and damnation!” cusses old Eb.
“That’s about the size of it, pilgrim,” says Jake’s ghost, “less’n you start in riding tall and shooting straight. Now, three ghosts I been bunking with are gonna sashay in here and set you a-heading proper down the Yuletide trail.”
“I think I druther wrassle a cactus,” moans Big Eb, shaking like a heifer in a bull pen. But it were too late. In lopes the Ghost of Old-Timey Christmas.
This ghost gets Eb recollecting how Christmas Day was before he got himself all meaned up — how he used to ride into town wearing his shirt with the mother-of-pearl buttons, show off his Winchester at the turkey shoot, give out silver dollars to his friends and acquaintances and dance all night with the prettiest girls at the shiva-ree down at the church hall.
Next thing, along rambles the Ghost of Christmas Nowadays. The spook shows Big Eb what a nasty cuss he’s been acting like, what with Eb’s nephew allowing that it would be less painful to set down on his spurs than to have an uncle like Eb and little Tiny Tex pitifully cheering up his dad by saying that his leg problem would at least help the family save money on stirrups.
Lastly comes the Ghost of Newfangled Christmas, who convinces Big Eb that if he don’t mend his harness, he’s in for an early trip to boot hill and won’t nobody care two hoots down the rain barrel that he’s gone to his last round-up.
Well, pardners, I’ll be willow-switched if Big Eb didn’t change direction faster than a longhorn herd that come on a rattler. He rode out and shot a couple of fat range hens for Christmas dinner for his nephew and Slim Cratchitt. He give Slim a cayuse to use around the spread and carved a fancy crutch for Tiny Tex outen an old broke buckboard shaft, to which the little nipper ups and says, “God bless the whole dang bunch of us.”
And these here days, folks down thataway say that nary a soul has a more rip-roaring, sod-busting, gullywasher of a good time at Christmas than Big Eb Scrooge.