A December Memory

by Bill Monson

When I think back to my childhood Decembers in Galesburg, it's almost always late Saturday afternoon. Milton Cross and the Metropolitan Opera have just finished on the radio. I stand at one of the west-facing windows in my parents' second-floor bedroom to watch a pallid sun setting on a hazy western horizon.

Our back yard below is already in purple shadow, its day-old snow crusty and marked with tracks, mostly squirrel and rabbit. There are fat brown sparrows on the bird bath, which now serves as bird feeder, eating frantically before heading north up Blaine Avenue to a stand of evergreens where they spend their winter nights. I've seen a cardinal at the bird bath, too – but usually in the morning right after Dad has spread bird seed on his way to work. By now, Mr. Redbird is at the tip top of one of the neighborhood elms, singing his good-bye to the sun.

Yes, there are still elms in this memory-- magnificent, tall, spreading elms--their bare limbs reaching out from the Wallers' yard to the south and the Felts' yard to the north – to frame the December sunset.

We have no elms at 128, but there's a cherry tree at the southwest corner of our house, another down at the bottom of the yard with an apple tree; and I can see abandoned robin nests in all three. There are squirrel nests in the elms, and our neighbors have nailed small platforms about eight feet off the ground on some of them. Each platform has an ear of feed corn on a spike so the squirrels don't even have to leave their trees to feed.

But can they spend a winter in those nests? Maybe they've moved into the lofts of the two or three barns which still stand in the back yards of some of the homes on our street. I know there's a squirrel nest in a hole in the trunk of one of the Felts' front yard maples. I've seen a squirrel come out of it to feed, and he's been storing maple seeds in it all Fall. My Grandmother Watts likes to cite squirrels to me as good examples of individual industry; but she mutters Irish imprecations against them when one of their volunteers sprouts in her flower beds in the Spring.

There are storm windows on the bedroom windows, but I can still hear the throbbing thunder of a Burlington steam locomotive as it struggles to pick up speed headed north with a freight on the main line. Because the trees on Fulton Street are bare, I can see its bulky silhouette in the setting sun on the viaduct along Lincoln Street; and a plume of frosty white smoke flecked with rose pink at the top rises high in the calm air as the train crosses North Street.

Soon, Mom will call from the kitchen downstairs to warn my sister Sue and me to wash up for supper. Dad will come home soon from the market, we'll eat, and then spend the evening as a family in the living room listening to Saturday night radio. There will be Grand Ole Opry on WMAQ and later, after my bath for church tomorrow, The Chicago Theatre Of The Air on WGN with an opera like my favorite "The Chocolate Soldier" – IF I can stay awake through an interminable editorial by the Chicago Tribune's Col. Robert McCormick.

The sun is gone now, and so are the sparrows. The Burlington freight is north of Fremont with only a wisp of smoke to mark its passing. Night is settling over our back yard. There's a light on in the kitchen of the Grimes house behind ours on Fulton. Mrs. Grimes is fixing supper for her husband Sherman and their son Willy.

Unbidden, I go to wash up and then skip down the stairs to help Mom set the table for our supper. After all, Christmas is coming; and there's still time to rack up some good-behavior points.