The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Santa Claus or Kris Kringle?

By Ernest F. Reynolds © 1989

Issue: December, 1989

Just before Christmas in 1920, as refuges from Tug River mine wars, we moved near Pawama. Our cousins had located on a mountain road about three miles away. By scenic route through laurel thickets, over hill and dale, they were closer. On a pre-Christmas visit we agreed the two families would open presents, and breakfast at our Giatto hollow hideaway.

Aunt Maggie of Dutch parentage was a magnificent cook. Her five children spoke strange jabberwocky, blame the Dutch.

Unseasonable sweltry weather brought us out barefooted. We chased up and down road, looked into the laurels, knowing those jabbering cousins would put spizrinctum into Christmas.

About eight o'clock we heard a clamor; bugles, fifes, trombones and maybe a bagpipe, who knows? The Dutchmen came cross-country. Leaping and sliding downhill, they shouted and laughed, wailed now and then, when bottoms drug rocky ground. Aunt Maggie was slower, laden with steaming foreign foods.

They could as well have stayed home; they weren't interested in our presents from Santa Claus. They wanted to show their loot from Kris Kringle. They jabbered selfishly and blew us down with their loud tin horns when we talked. Their presents were richer and more plentiful. We wanted to swap Santa for Kris Kringle.

Breakfast call brought out one diner, Grandma. Our Papas were away, work was so hard to find.

But like fleas on a dog, we clung to a fat Santa, and like Elmer's glue, our Dutchie visitors stuck to the elf. To avoid conflict our mothers said, "Santa Claus and Kris Kringle are different names for the same old man." All cousins insisted that Kris Kringle was a jolly old elf, a mere midget, maybe a dwarf. That wouldn't fly on our side of the hill. We knew Santa bulged, top, bottom and center. Down with the Dutch!

Being younger, one fewer, and more clannish than our kin, we attacked in formation. Our tomcat vamoosed, but our dog stayed on. Girls belabored their counterpart by plaits, and curls. Boys chose weapons, brassy tin horns preferred.

Grandma quit roast honkenfluffer ala Strasberg to help squelch the ruction. After combatants were separated and scolded, Aunt Maggie told Mommy, "You must get your Tug River warriors out of these woods and into civilization."

Mom said, "If your Santa Claus remains a shriveled-up runt, there'll never be peace on the Zuider Zee."

Hoofbeats sounded. Uncle Bulgy and Papa had ridden all night. Uncle Bulgy said, "We took strawberry shortcuts."

Pa put Santa-Kris Kringle away. He said, "Kris is a runt like me, and Santa Claus looks like your Uncle Bulgy."

"What did you bring us?" cried nine greedy tots.

From a letter Papa read, "We have work at Pawama Mine. You may report in, after Christmas."

Passing around the one serviceable tin horn, we gave our Santas a nine-kid salute.