(Christmas carols playing.)
Ah the holidays, that time of year for fireplaces and hot spiced cider, the sounds of crinkling wrapping paper and children squealing, and, of course — THE CURSE OF OLD MAN CLONCH!
(Carols segue to ominous music.)
When I was a kid, it was tough being bad during the holidays, because my kindly mother kept reminding me about Old Man Clonch. He was the ANTI-SANTA!
She warned that Old Man Clonch lived way up on top of Lookout Mountain west of our Colorado home, and all year long he and his wicked minions scanned the world with atomic-powered X-ray telescopes looking for bad boys. Then on Christmas eve he climbed aboard his cobweb sleigh drawn by seven snarling wolves and swooped down on the homes of ornery kids and stole their gifts.
He didn’t bother with chimneys either. He came right in the front door.
Mom always pointed to trees on top of the mountain and said, “That’s where he lives. Sometimes you can catch a reflection of sunlight off his X-ray telescopes, and at night if there’s a full moon you can hear his wolves howl.”
So for a while I was wary of the holidays and Old Man Clonch, but I wasn’t really frightened. By standards in those days I led a pretty clean life, even though my mother kept me looking over my shoulder.
When I told my friend Smooth Heine about Old Man Clonch, he said, “Aw, your mom’s a liar. When school lets out, we’ll hike up that mountain and you’ll see.”
So a week later when school recessed for the holidays, Smooth and I packed lunches of canned sardines and crackers and headed up Lookout Mountain. It was a steep climb, and five inches of new snow had fallen in the night.
By noon we were only halfway to the top, hungry because we’d eaten our lunches in the first half hour and half frozen, because we were too tough to dress warm. “OK,” I said. “So my mother’s a liar. Let’s go back.”
“No,” Smooth said. “You need to learn that you can’t trust anyone over 10.”
So we trudged on, short on breath and leg, following the near vertical gravel path of a long abandoned cog train that ran straight up the mountainside. My mother had told me the trail was used by Old Man Clonch to drag his stolen loot up the mountain to his lair, but I doubted it. I didn’t think anyone had climbed that trail in 40 years.
Near the top the path became steeper and the gravel gave way to slick slabs of granite. We proceeded on all fours, bent over double in the snow, wheezing in the thin air. “Let’s rest a minute,” Smooth finally gasped, and we sat. The only sound was our violent breathing.
If you’ve ever been in the mountains after a snow storm, you know how still it can be. Voices carry a mile in the crisp air. So as we sat on the trail, our breathing slowing down, we heard men’s voices from above us.
Smooth and I looked at each other then slowly turned and peered through the pine bows and saw two hooded guys on a wooden balcony of a massive log cabin, looking through telescopes.
“Just like Mom said,” I whispered. “Clonch’s wicked minions spying on the world.”
“Yeah,” Smooth whispered back. “Last guy off the mountain is a rotten egg.”
I don’t want to say we set a world’s record for the downhill sprint that day, but within minutes we were in my mother’s kitchen, thawing in front of the stove. My father took his eyes off his paper and said, “What you boys been up to?”
“We climbed Lookout Mountain,” I said. “We saw Old Man Clonch’s wicked minions.”
“Wicked minions, eh,” Dad said. “Only thing on Lookout Mountain is Buffalo Bill’s grave. There’s a museum there too. Folks drive up the backside of the mountain and look through high powered telescopes on the museum’s balcony. That’s why your mother keeps the shades pulled on that side of the house.”
Nowadays I don’t believe in Old Man Clonch and his wicked minions, except when the sun reflects off the top of the water tower at Rotary Park. That’s when Christmas retribution rears its ugly head and makes me recall all the ornery things I’ve ever done.
But that’s OK. I just utter a little plea for forgiveness to the Anti-Santa, and hope Old Man Clonch will overlook me this year.
(Ominous music segue to Christmas carols.)
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.