HomePublicationBurbankChris Erskine: Over the River, Through the Woods

Chris Erskine: Over the River, Through the Woods

I was pumping the brakes through the Sepulveda Pass the other day, and I just needed something not to go insane: Karen Carpenter … Nat King Cole. Am I the last man in America still listening to car radio? Yeah, probably.
“All the bright, precious things fade so fast,” Fitzgerald noted. “And they don’t come back.”
Of course, the holidays come back. Year after year after year. Buy the eggnog. Cue the carols.
Once in a while, I wonder: How many Thanksgivings do I have left?
Fifteen? Fifty? Should I eat a dozen turkeys this year just in case?
I plod around the house now like Willy Loman, in my old tartan slippers, wondering when Smartacus will get home from college, and how long he’ll stay before he darts off with his friends.
“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go …”
Know who’s going to really hug him? Me. Cakes. And our pet wolf, White Fang.
White Fang has been super morose since Smartacus left for college, not good company at all. She sits in front of the TV with me, and when I try to start a serious conversation about Loni Anderson, all she does is sit there glumpy, with her chin resting on her mittens.
“Where has he gone?” she wonders.
FYI, my son Smartacus is to arrive Wednesday on the 6 p.m. flight into Burbank airport. Mind picking him up?
No? OK then.
With 10,000 other parents, we form a carpool lane stretching all the way to Glendale, trying to be patient, but not being patient, as our college kids text from the curb: “WHERE ARE YOU? WHERE ARE YOU?”
As you know, Burbank is usually a breeze. But no place is a breeze on the day before Thanksgiving, not the bakery, not Bristol Farms, not even the better bars.
I kind of like the bustle, to be honest. Anticipation is everything.
“The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow …”
Oy, the humanity. Oy, this fruity, fruppy season of winter sermons and one-nostril head colds … of digging in the closet for old sweaters, of praying the rum and the Visa hold out till Dec. 24.
“Over the river and through the woods, trot fast my dapple gray …”
As self-therapy, I started singing it around Labor Day. As you know, coping with a difficult person can be quite a challenge. Especially if it happens to be me.
“You’re in charge of the cheese this Christmas,” Suzanne announced the other night.
“Brie? Asiago?”
“Hallmark,” she explained. “And Streisand’s Christmas album.”
OK, that’s perfect for me. I’ve split the firewood. I’ve pulled the canoe from the pond. In my mind, I live in a 200-year-old cottage in New Hampshire, where the maple syrup is running and woodsmoke tints the hillsides a little blue.
“Over the river and through the woods, and straight for the barnyard gate …”
We sang it the other day at the Kiwanis meeting, propelled by pastries and free coffee.
Yeah, I’m now attending Kiwanis meetings? Big deal. Would you rather me camp in some seedy midWilshire saloon?
Look, for one moment, please set aside my overly decorative, obbligato view of the world and embrace a Kiwanis meeting for what it is: 90-proof Americana. Fellowship. Simplicity. Free coffee.
Camaraderie is pretty cheap you know, the only thing left in America that doesn’t cost three times what it should. I mean, you should see what I just spent at Ralph’s.
Anyway, God and Norman Rockwell still reside in little church halls like this one, where the Kiwanis meet weekly for song and fellowship.
Roll your eyes all you want, but when was the last time you sang “Over the River”? Fifth grade? It’s a Thanksgiving classic. Trust me, Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger wished they’d written it.
I’m here at the Kiwanis’ pre-Thanksgiving bash to speak briefly about books and family and the invisible joys we warm our hands on.
“So this little girl is sitting on her father’s lap,” I explain. “She says, ‘Daddy, I really hate this one boy in my class. He’s sooooooooo icky.’
“And her daddy says, ‘Well, maybe you just don’t understand him. Maybe he’s …’
“And the little girl goes, ‘No, no, no, Dad. I really hate this icky awful boy. (beat) But when we’re married…’”
Too short this Kiwanis meeting. Like life, it lasts an hour.
When the meeting is over, I sign a few books.
“Can you sign it to my son and his daughters?” someone asks.
Can I ever.
Here’s to all the bright, precious things.

White Fang hasn’t really smiled since my son went off to college.

Please consider my new book “What the Bears Know” as a holiday gift. It’s full of warm, wise and funny reflections on Steve Searles’ remarkable life as Mammoth’s “Bear Whisperer.” Also, join us at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 for a talk at the Santa Monica Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd. The event is free. {Pages} bookstore will be selling the book.

First published Nov. 23-25 in Outlook Newspapers.


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