A Christmas Story

The glorious ride of the Aberdeen HS Art Club

by Tom Scocca

I can't say whose idea it was for us to get into the Christmas Street Parade with Steve's car, the Stevemobile. We were 16 years old and our schemes didn't really have individual authors; we just kept resonating on our shared frequency, and things would happen. For this one it was Steve, of course, and me, and Wendy, and Mark. 

Two years before, we'd been freshmen, marching down Christmas Street with the marching band (trombone, trumpet, clarinet, and trumpet again, respectively), freezing despite our heavy gold tunic jackets, tartan drapes, and towering synthetic-fur busbies. We'd gotten out of the marching band, but once you've been in a parade, who wants to go back to watching from the sidewalk? 

image courtesy of the author

The Stevemobile was a 1970 Dodge Coronet 440, dark silver-gray. It got its name because its styling, especially the twin pinched ovals of chrome running like eyes around the headlights and split grille, made it look like some cousin to the Batmobile from the TV reruns. Among the other hand-me-down Detroit iron and the Volkswagens on the high school parking lot, it had a degree—a degree—of panache. Relatively.

Christmas Street was a short jaunt down West Bel Air Avenue, our town's de facto Main Street, past the First National Bank and Frank's Pizza and the stationery store that sold scout uniforms in the back. Before long, the center of retail would shift west toward the I-95 interchange, with new shopping plazas and big box stores going in where the sand pits were. For now, though, downtown remained downtown, maybe 30 or 40 percent as charming as a charming small town's downtown would be. The town motto was still "Agriculture and Armaments" then. 

I don't suppose I told my parents what we were up to when the Stevemobile rolled into our driveway on the morning of the parade. Steve and I had been going places and doing things together since I'd moved to town in second grade; by now, our little gang could pursue its business with minimal supervision or explanation. We were good kids. Even granting Mark's long history of self-inflicted sprains and broken bones, our judgment was sound. Steve, in particular, had a brother and sister who'd passed through the high school as model citizens before him, and by some transitive property he had acquired the air of a responsible older sibling. 

What's more thrilling than being a teenager during the holiday season? Everyone knows the best part of Christmas is the windup to it, a model for your own life. Time is short but you stand outside it with your comrades; the anticipation of the future is merely the background energy in your all-absorbing current moment. We had scrounged or bought a collection of seasonal decorations and art supplies—streamers of tinsel, cutout snowmen or Santas, posterboard, tape—and one of us, Wendy, I believe, had got a bag of candy canes. The showstopper was a fake Christmas tree, decorated and two feet tall. 

We rode downtown, parked at the rear of one of the banks—right behind where the band was milling around—and got to work. We were not half-assing this. We decked the Coronet with decorative elements from bumper to bumper, until it was indisputably a festive offering. The point was not to interrupt the parade, but to participate. The Christmas tree, we taped securely upright on the hood. For a final gesture at legitimacy, we wrote ABERDEEN HIGH SCHOOL ART CLUB on a piece of posterboard and attached it to the passenger-side door. No one could say we weren't the Art Club. 

Somewhere up ahead of us, the opening ranks of the parade began moving off toward the start of the route. The band mustered up and headed out. The Stevemobile followed, at a safe but connected distance, and whatever was behind us followed us. We wound around the back side of downtown and then there we were, rolling slowly down the middle of West Bel Air Avenue, the crowd on either side of us. 

Every December that ever happened, as Charles Dickens knew, runs superimposed on every other one. Sometimes I am in a hard wooden pew, the air suffused with light and incense on a cold night, singing: "Mild He lays his glory by / Born that man no more may die." Sometimes and always I am in the front seat of a Dodge Coronet, looking out the windshield at a two-foot Christmas tree and a mass of spectators. Unless Mark was the one sitting up there, or Wendy. Steve, certain and steady at the wheel, was at the halfway mark of his allotted time on Earth, though none of us had an inkling then and it seems almost beside the point now. We were in this together. 

We threw candy canes out the windows of the Stevemobile to the public till some parade supervisor ran up and told us to stop, so as not to lure children into the roadway. This was an unfair assessment of our throwing skills, but we accepted our obligation, as parade members, to follow the parade safety rules. No one else raised any sort of challenge or objection. On the VHS tape someone took of the event, as we passed the reviewing stand, the announcer did a double take at the unlisted entry and then, reading off the car door, credited us as the Art Club. 

We got to Route 40 and that was it. We parked the Stevemobile and stripped it back to its usual condition. The Christmas Street Parade was over; the Christmas Street Parade would go on forever.