MAJOR IN THE MANGER – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.


People who meet my dog Major never forget him. Nor should they. The imposing yet good-natured, apricot colored English Mastiff weighs 172 pounds, one hundred pounds more than me.

Major is my boyhood companion. The brother I never had. For us every day is an adventure as we seek out the crannies, characters, and mysteries of Corydon, Iowa, my hometown.

Today, two days before Christmas, is no exception.

We awaken to snow silently engulfing the streets, sidewalks, yards, and houses of our town. My favorite climbing tree’s boughs bend under the weight of the eleven inches of snow that have fallen so far. I pray that none break.

Gazing at the falling snow, I hurriedly eat my bowl of warm gooey oatmeal, drizzled with half-n-half and brown sugar. I am eager to embark on the four-block trek to the Methodist Church where Dad will prepare for the Christmas-eve candle light service. He is bringing me along to help (so Mom has time for her top secret Christmas stuff). Ready for an adventure, I bring Major.

Off we go. Tromping through the snow—thick coats, boots, gloves, and stocking caps quickly flecked with white. With Dad leading the way, we forge a path to the church through the snow. We tromp by houses with frosted windows, lights on, and coal furnaces belching smoke out chimneys. Occupants eating breakfast and sipping hot coffee to fortify themselves before soon going out in the snow and cold.

The church sits off to the Northwest of the town square, whose prominent feature is the redbrick Wayne County courthouse. On normal days people going to the square and its cafes, shops, movie theatre, and post‐office walk by the church. Today, not being normal, we are the only folks out and about…so far.

We arrive at the church, a manger scene adorning its front. The three-sided structure with roof and straw covered floor, houses life-like replicas of angels, wise men, parents, and assorted animals. Each pays homage to the baby Jesus. As do the assorted snowdrifts and icicles that embellish the time-honored depiction. Dad heads into the church, Major and I stay outside.

Slam! The door closes. Major’s and my adventure of the day begins. Major deftly sprints to the manger, where he starts burrowing into the straw. His overly enthusiastic burrowing topples a donkey that ricochets against a camel. I reset both then dig an igloo-like hole in the snowdrift that covers the left wall.

With Major happily ensconced in the straw, I slide into my hole. We lie in wait. It is cold. I am wet. Major’s breath forms icicles on his snout. We wait.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. On high alert we hear Gene the mailman’s footsteps as he goes about his appointed rounds, undeterred by snow. Head down, he comes closer. We are ready.

“Merry Christmas,” I say in my deepest six-year old voice, trying not to giggle as I do. At the same moment, Major, covered with straw, stands up and barks out a greeting. Startled, the mailman falls face first in the snow. Dusting himself off, looking around, the mailman nods to Major and me and continues his rounds.

Minutes later we hear Elbert (aka Pid), the town-barber sleepily crunching toward us. At the perfect moment, my “Merry Christmas” and Major’s booming bark provide Elbert a heart-pounding wake up call. After catching his breath and patting our heads, off to work he goes.

Millicent, my music teacher at school and the choir director at dad’s church, crunches her way toward our hideout. She is singing, “A WAY in THE Manger…” When at the opportune moment, we offer up our heartiest “Merry Christmas” and “Arf”, Millicent turns, without missing a beat comes into the manager. Out we come. Into the church we go.

Adventure over. The walk home is a solemn one for Major and me. For Dad not so much, as the prideful smile on his face shows.

In my Heartland, the adventures and colorful characters that fill my days teach me valuable lessons. On this day, I learn about the appropriate boundaries of mischievousness from Gene, Elbert, and Millicent. And my good buddy Major teaches me the true meaning of companionship.


Note: This is the third post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.