Born and raised in Cardiff, Wales, Lynn Elliott, a professor of English and creative writing at Chico State University, shares family memories with groups around the country. He's now reworked his autobiographical tales into "The Story of Another Child's Christmas in Wales" ($10.95 in paperback from Memoir Books). Elliott is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, Dec. 24, at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM).
Decorations have "all mystically appeared, overnight, in James Howells' department store, Queen Street, heralding the beginning of Christmas season in the sea-faring capital city of Wales, Cardiff. I am four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven years old, chocked full with accumulated memories of food, joy, song, and jolly, wind-swept shoppers."
Mostly Lynn is eleven, a celebratory mixture of naivete and sarcasm. Reading the book, listening to the tone, I thought of Jean Shepherd's voice-overs in the classic film A Christmas Story. Young Lynn is lurching toward adulthood.
"Last year," he says, "before the prospect of Lynn attaining manhood entered my parents' minds, I got a cowboy suit for Christmas. Dressed in my boots, spurs, leggings, chaps, shirt, gun belt, guns, waistcoat and one-gallon hat, I sidled out of the front door into Forrest Road, seeking a show-down with Billy-O the Kid, the bully who lived ten houses down from ours. Did Wyatt Earp ever fight in snow? No time to ponder the question, as an iceball--not even a snowball, but an iceball!--hammered into my ear and slid slowly, like a polar iceberg, down my once-warm neck. I reentered the sheriff's office, crying for my mother and vowing that next year I'd get a snow-scooping machine gun. . . . "
There are drunken carollers, oddball neighbors, Tiddles the cat exacting revenge on a certain boy's Meccano set tower, but everything moves toward Christmas Day night and the Elliott family gathering, the flowing elderberry wine and singing relatives, and Auntie Bess ("a diminutive woman with a voice like an air raid siren"), all tinged by quiet news that Grandma Elliott may be celebrating her last Christmas. And for grandma: Lynn's boisterous, be-wigged performance as Ethel Merman.
How can one be sad this night when "everything's coming up roses"?