Here’s a Dick­ens of a Christ­mas yarn

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - OPINION - Jim Smart Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­

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 SBar-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 sidewindin’ 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 shiv­a­ree 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, sod­bust­ing, gul­ly­washer of a good time at Christ­mas than Big Eb Scrooge.

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