GK: I was never sure when I was a kid that we'd actually have Christmas because according to my father, it was much too expensive.

WB: It's all I can do to pay the heating bill around here. Where's that cold air coming from? Do you feel that? How many times do I have to tell you people to close the door behind you? Would you listen to me for a change?

GK: Dad was one of the Dark Lutherans. He believed that if you got too happy and you let it show, it'd make God angry and He'd smack you, so you should act unhappy. For good luck.

WB (OFF): Who's leaving these lights on in here? Look at this! Lights on! Everywhere! People walk out of a room and they can't turn the lights off! It's unbelievable.

GK: The Dark Lutherans believed that life is a short dark tunnel and you just get through it as fast as you can and get to the other side where the real bliss is. But my mother was a Happy Lutheran. They believed that, hey, God loves you, so be glad for it, and come to church when you can, and do your part, and bring a hot dish when it's your turn, and if you could sing in choir this year, we'd sure be grateful. She believed in making things as bright and pleasant as possible.

BA: I got a nice Christmas tablecloth today.

WB: You what????

BA: It was on sale. Green with little red ornaments embroidered in the middle.

WB: We've got a whole drawer full of tablecloths!

BA: This is a Christmas tablecloth.

WB: What--- are we going to get Christmas sheets and pillowcases? why not buy a Christmas carpet while you're at it? It's all I can do to pay the light bill. I walk into rooms ---- lights blazing away ---- nobody's in there. Doors wide open---- cold air coming in ---- people don't listen-----

GK: She tried to cheer him up by playing Christmas music on the radio, but that was just more electricity down the drain as far as he was concerned. But he sort of liked Bach. Bach was Lutheran, and he's part Happy Lutheran, part Dark. Like most of us.


WB: Johann Sebastian Bach had twenty-three kids. I'll bet he knew something about people not closing doors behind em. That's why he wrote so much music ---- it was an excuse to get out of the house! --- I went downtown, I couldn't believe what they're charging for Christmas trees this year. You could buy dinner in a restaurant for less than what they're charging for a tree! It's robbery.

BA: We'll wait until Christmas Eve---- they always mark em down---

WB: It's still robbery. Tree ---- presents ---- turkey ---- people leaving lights on ---- leaving doors open ---- we're trying to heat the whole outdoors. Christmas tablecloths. You people seem to think I'm made out of money. (KNOCKS ON DOOR) Who in the world is that? I hope to God it isn't--- Oh boy. It's her. And she's got her stupid boyfriend with her.

GK: My older sister was the rebel of the family. She dropped out of Concordia and went to the University and majored in art. She wore lipstick. She was a Democrat. To my father, she was the soul of irresponsibility.

WB: Did you ever stop and think about how you're going to support yourself with a degree in art? Did you?

TT: It never occurred to me.

WB: Well, maybe it should.

TT: All you think about is money.

WB: Somebody has to.

TT: Why don't you ever think about love or beauty or transcendence?

WB: If somebody paid me to, I'd be happy to.

TT: I hope I never get to be like you.

WB: I'll let you know if you ever get close.

TT: Can't you say hello to Michael?

WB: Hello.

TR: Hello.

WB: You're the English major, aren't you.

TR: Yes, sir.

WB: Thought so.

TT: How come it's so dark in here?

WB: It's perfectly light enough to see by.

TT: Who are all these guys sitting in the dark with their instruments?

WB: What does it look like? It's a brass quintet. Your mother hired them. You wouldn't believe what these people get nowadays! You could go and see a Broadway show for what you have to pay one trumpet player to come and play some music. It's unbelievable. So why don't you guys play something? What? I should pay money for you to sit? Play something.


GK: My sister was a Happy Lutheran, like my mother, and I'm a Dark Lutheran, like my dad. I've always been careful, especially around Christmas time. Careful not to go too far. Knowing that just when things look good, that's when you need to look out. Good luck is the worst thing that can happen to you. Nothing is free.

WB: How much you pay for this wine, huh?

GK: Six bucks.

WB: Six bucks! You hear that? Six bucks. The kid's got a brain on his shoulders. Lot of guys go around throwing ten, fifteen, twenty bucks at a bottle of wine. This is a six dollar wine. Good screwtop wine.

GK: It's good, isn't it.

WB: It's as good as wines that cost thirty, forty, bucks. You did good. Huh?

GK: That's right.

WB: Huh? Am I right?

GK: That's right.

WB: Am I right? Isn't this good?

GK: It's a good wine, isn't it.

WB: It's darn good. Here's to you. (CLINK OF GLASSES) I raised a good kid here. Got a good job in the warehouse. Thirty-six years he's been at it, right?

GK: That's right, Dad.

WB: Another twenty years and you can retire. Got your house paid for. Got a good retirement plan. Right?

GK: That's right.

WB: You're set. What else you need? Nothing. Right?

GK: That's right.

WB: Keep that fuel bill down, keep that light bill under control. Right?

GK: That's right.

WB: I look over at your place next door, I see it dark, I think: that's my boy. I brought him up right. Right? Huh?

GK: That's right. But God played a cruel trick on Dad. My sister the rebel married her boyfriend, the English major, and the two of them started writing these feel-good inspirational books, basically anti-Dark Lutheran books, called Macaroni And Cheese For The Soul, and they earned millions of dollars. They've got homes in Bermuda and Cozumel and Santa Barbara and Nice---- and my sister tried to make up with Dad.

TT: Why don't you and Mom come and visit us in Bermuda? We'll give you a cottage all to yourselves ---- you can stay as long as you like --- beautiful beach. A patio. Mom can swim. You can lie there in a hammock. You'd love it.

BA: Why don't we go, honey? Maybe you'd like it.

WB: "Why don't we go?" Listen to her.

TT: It's beautiful there, Dad. You'd love it. Come.

WB: Sure. Sit in the sun. And what happens to this place? Huh? Furnace goes out---- pipes freeze, boom ---- toilet bursts, boom ---- place is flooded. Floors are ruined. You can't just leave a place like this. What are you, crazy?

BA: We could get someone to look after it----

WB: Like who?

BA: Like your brother----

WB: My brother can't take care of his own house, let alone ours.

BA: Or my brother----

WB: Your brother! Get real.

BA: It's only for a couple weeks.

WB: "Only for a couple weeks" --- listen to that. Do you know what damage a burst toilet can do in two weeks? Do you? Huh? ---What is it?

GK: The musicians want to know if you want them to play some more---

WB: Of course! I'm paying em until seven thirty. What---- they on a lunch break? Play something for crying out loud.


GK: Of course, if Dad had wanted to go to Bermuda, my brother could've taken care of the house, he lives right there. (FOOTSTEPS. DOOR OPEN. FEET ON STAIRS) My brother's been living in Dad's house for years, but sometimes we go for two or three weeks without even seeing him. (FEET ON CONCRETE, SLOWLY) He keeps to himself. Hey-----? you in there?

TK: Don't turn the light on.

GK: How can you see in here?

TK: I see fine. Don't turn the light on.

GK: Why not, Larry?

TK: It hurts my eyes.

GK: The folks are wondering if you're going to come upstairs.

TK: Why?

GK: Why do they wonder? or why come upstairs?

TK: Both.

GK: Because it's Christmas.

TK: So?

GK: Christmas is a joyous time of year, Larry.

TK: Who said?

GK: Well, it just is. It's a happy time.

TK: When did that start?

GK: Larry---- please. Come upstairs. We have cookies.

TK: I like it down here. I got my own cookies.

GK: But everybody you know is upstairs.

TK: That's why I want to stay here.

GK: You don't want to be with us?

TK: Not really, no.

GK: But it's Christmas.

TK: That only makes it worse.

GK: What do you mean?

TK: I don't like people staring at me.

GK: They won't stare at you.

TK: Yes they will. They say they won't, but they sneak looks. I can see em do it.

GK: But---- you're going to spend Christmas down here? In the cellar?

TK: I've got it fixed up real nice down here. Come here. Take a look. (FOOTSTEPS, CREAKY DOOR OPENS) See? I've got my own little family in here.

GK: Larry----

TK: It's a real family. In a real house.

GK: It's a dollhouse, Larry. It's toys----

TK: It's real to me. This is my family. I'm happier with them. They have their own little Christmas tree. And look.

GK: Musicians.

TK: See---- I dressed them up in little costumes.

GK: Those are nice.

TK: I made the hair out of cotton balls. I made their instruments out of balsa wood.

GK: Those are nice. And that's a nice carpet remnant.

TK: That's their field. They're shepherds. They're out in their field watching their flocks and playing music. ----You think that's nuts, don't you?

GK: No, no.

TK: You think that's nuts---

GK: No, that's fine.

TK: You say that, but you think I'm weird.

GK: Do they play music?

TK: I think they do.

GK: You can hear them play?

TK: Yes. I do.


©1997Garrison Keillor