Nothing will bring on the Christmas spirit like a Christmas parade. Or maybe shoveling reindeer poop. I forget which.
Everyone in the country lives within three miles of a Super Walmart. Except me. Its not like I have to drive 200 miles to experience the joy of hunting and gathering at Super Walmart. But I am about 15 miles from civilization. When civilization is defined by proximity to the nearest Super Walmart.
My hometown is one of the few that still has a Christmas Parade. I don’t know how it draws the crowd because it seems like everyone in the town is in the parade. The size and enthusiasm has changed over the years. Right now its on the rise. Fueled by moms that want their children to have Christmas parades in their childhood memory arsenal.
Our participation in the past has been limited to buying decorations for the city streets and putting a sound system atop the downtown buildings. Which conflicts with the marching band. Somehow, it always works out.
This year we went all in. Not by choice so much as by coercion. By one of those moms. I defy you to say no to a mom that wants to give her children the Christmas memories given to her by her mom.
You have to know that no good deed goes unpunished. I knew this would be the same. I told our little mom that. But she assured me that she would run interference for us and take any flack scattered by the town curmudgeons.
OK. Ready. How much?
Not that simple.
The Chevy dealer did not have a convertible for Santa to ride in. That is, if they had a Santa.
Now I’m thinking “Sure. Use one of mine. Good luck finding a Santa.” Still not that simple. She heard I have a carriage and team of draft horses.
With a car, I’d have it washed and delivered. Not quite that easy for a carriage. That takes the decision out of my hands and into the hands of the people that work for me. The best I could do is to invite her to dinner and let her plead her case to my team of ragtag misfits.
There was some doubt at first. It all hinged on Nick. Moving a team and carriage is not simple. Hitching a team is not simple. Driving a team in the noise and activity of a parade is not simple. One spooked horse and I’m in court for a decade.
Nick kept on with the list of tasks necessary. Which sounded to me like a list of “why we shouldn’t do this”. Nick can be a hardass with me. The chicks have better luck with him. It seemed like he was leaning yes. All I could think was liability.
I never heard a yes from Nick. Tammy, Michelle and Noelanne teamed up and started making lists. For everyone. Most of the guys were in their own conversations until they started to hear their names in the same sentence with “cute elf costume”.
The protests from the guys were weak. They were all in. Yes, they know tights are involved in “cute elf costume”. It worries me that they were swayed so easily. I’m thinking tights might be turning them metrosexual.
Projects like this have a way of feeding on themselves. My people involved themselves. That is on them. But it would not be enough people that can handle moving, staging, grooming, harnessing and driving. The parade route does not end where it started, so that has to be dealt with also. We needed bodies but more importantly we needed bodies that could handle the animals.
Fortunately, Nick is from a large family that breeds horses. I have met them and they are wonderful people. But a family breeding farm needs family to operate it. “Operate” is a daily job. There are no off days. The animals need their routine and are happiest when that routine is not disrupted.
This was a huge favor we were asking. I am sure there were discussions among the family before the decision was made. I was not there to hear those discussions. What I heard was a casual yes.
Given time and a list of equipment needed, I could write the check. Time was the problem. I did find three round pens but that was clearly not enough. My solution was to panic. Nick never chooses that for a solution. He assured me everything was under control.
A neighbor once asked to borrow a can opener from me. I had an extra can opener so I gave it to her. Not a kidney. A can opener. She was grateful. Overly grateful. For years she would remind me and express her appreciation. That made me wonder if she ever got gifts. A simple can opener that I should have thrown away. Hoarded in my garage. Let me think. Landfill or give it to Nancy.
This was no can opener Nick’s family was giving us. They were hiring people to help on their ranch while away. They were driving three trucks pulling three trailers across the country. Not to save a life. A Christmas parade.
As far as I know, the idea to team eight jackasses to pull the caratella with Santa in it was Nick’s. Well not really jackasses. They are Mediterranean Miniature Donkeys. God’s sweetest little creations. Their only reason to exist is to be cute. They excel at being cute but they can drive a cart. Nick sometimes teams them but the caratella is a heavy carriage and has to be adjusted to accommodate a team of little jackasses. The disc brakes take the task of braking from the wheel horses so Nick was not concerned.
I once read that some breast harnesses can press against the animal’s windpipe. Collar harnesses use the horses shoulders to pull a carriage so we use them. The only thing cuter than a jackass is a jackass in his collar pulling a cart.
Except when you add a Santa hat. Then you leave the cute scale behind and move into adorable turf. I’m not really big on putting people clothes on dogs or animals. When you do, the expression on their face seems to be a mixture of resignation and humiliation. But I guess if you can wear a halter or a harness, a Santa hat rates low on the scale of annoying. Pull those bigo jackass ears through the hat and it stays put. Unless another jackass pulls it off. Thanks for making those hats, Bev.
Grooming this many animals for a parade is one thing. Keeping them clean for the parade is another. You can groom for hours on a jackass and for the most part, its all good with them. Its all good because they are looking forward to the dust bath they are going to take when you are finished. Which kinda undoes you hours of grooming.
When you look at a groomed horse you might think “That’s pretty.” A trained eye might shake their head and think “Totally inappropriate for that breed.” Or “Totally inappropriate for that event.” I’m in the first camp. Never knew the braid for an Arab’s mane was different from a Clyde. Never knew that horse shampoo comes in colors. Never knew the difference between hoof conditioner and hoof polish.
Braiding is a nightmare. Manes or tails. It takes forever. It takes experience too. And knowledge. You can’t braid mane that has conditioner on it. You must pull a mane before you braid it, but you can’t pull a mane the day you braid it. Some groomers use bands when braiding and other groomers sew the braids. Yes. Sew. They even have hair extensions for mane and tails.
They decided the jackasses would not be braided. Nick’s Mom decided the braid for the Clydes and Shires would be a combination of a Hunter braid and a Continuous braid. Something like a French braid with top knots that will hold sprigs of holly.
I like a Continental braid on an Arab. The problem with a Continental braid is that they don’t last. Nick’s Mom said she could do a Continental hybrid that would hold up. It looks great but takes a lot of time and work. Our groomers looked forward to learning it.
The “Decorate the Carriages” task had a ton of bullet points below it. The ladies were aiming past adorable to precious. It had to be scaled back to tasteful. Partially out of a concern for time. Mostly out of concern for safety. Then there was my concern for the carriages. Anyone that scratches or mars a carriage gets 40 lashes with a riding crop. A hot glue gun would get you 60.
I have learned that the best way to divert the ladies attention is to throw another project at them. And a project to make elf costumes to humiliate the guys was perfect. Walking the parade route and dealing with animals meant no elf shoes with bells and curly pointed toes. Elf boots are what we needed. Elf boots that don’t clash with elf tights. Elf tights are the ultimate humiliation for the guys so the tights were indispensable.
The diversion worked. But now the ladies were coming at me with arms stretched out like zombies going for the last brain on earth. Maybe another diversion would work.
Dobbs! Brilliant! I threw our little Dobbs to the zobmies.
Our little Dobbs is well worth having around. Not just to throw to the wolves. He carries more than his weight. But no one would dare tell him that. He takes the fall for all screwups. Which is why we call him Dammit Dobbs. Or Dobbs Dammit. Either works. He is solid as a rock but its an awfully small rock. I tell him that he is like one of our jackasses. Born to be cute. All the ladies love Dobbs.
Now Dobbs will make the perfect elf but he’s no Santa. We really don’t have a rotund jolly guy in our band of misfits but if I am going to get sued, I want it to be someone in the family. Someone with the stature had to be stuffed into a fat suit and ho ho ho through the parade. We targeted Dok Mike. He was not there to object. Michelle would be Mrs. Clause.
When there is a project afoot among our misfits, you better stick close or you wind up being Santa. Your protests must be put forth at the time of the election. Be there or pay the price.
Dok really is a dok. While the draft Dok movement was in progress, I was torn. Do I open my mouth and draw the ugly attention of the crowd? Do I point out that it might be unseemly to screw over our Dok while he is out saving lives? Sorry Dok. The risk of them drafting me is too great. You got drafted, dude.
Michelle is a hawt chick. Hawt never hurts in a chick. But looking hawt is not her only talent. She has been in every nook and cranny of planet earth. Five bucks says you can’t name a language she can’t speak. The job she was needed for is unimportant. Except to say she excels at it and always makes me look good. I am always proud when she interacts with people as part of her job. We are lucky to have her.
With Dok playing Santa, Michelle was the obvious choice for Mrs. Clause. I won’t say why but I will say coughBUYTHEDAMNRINGALREADYDOKcough. Here we are inserting a really long awkward pause.
We took five Arabs for riders that could ride beside the carriages to handle anything that might arise unexpected. Arabs strive for dignity. Santa hats are for jackasses. Beneath the dignity thing of Arabs. The drafts will go for a prissy braided mane because they are so huge and intimidating that no one would dare laugh at them. Jackasses are willing to do anything to achieve cute.
Everyone else gets an elf suit and huge bag of candy to pass out. Keep the horses calm. Keep people away from the horses. Then pass out candy. Anyone hitting a kid up mongst the head by throwing candy can face the lawsuit.
The starring roles seem to be filled. Santa will be the last entry in the parade. But I don’t have eight jackass diapers. I mean “reindeer” diapers. Which means someone will have to shovel any little bundles of joy they might drop. Sigh. Well at least I won’t have to wear one of those humiliating elf costumes. I contend the guy shoveling reindeer poop has all the humiliation heaped on him that one man should have to endure. No need to make him wear elf tights.
I was out voted.
If I am being forced to wear tights those damn kids better have the best damn Christmas memories ever.
Mayhem has a way of making everyone want to join in. And this had mayhem written all over it. Every time the phone rang it was more people making the trek to the Christmas parade. Everyone was helpful in their own way. Warehousing everyone meant Terry’s workload exploded. Beds and food. Don’t know where he found them. Every time I looked up Terry was there with food. He could always answer “Anyone know where Dobbs is?” Or “Anyone know where my tights are?”
Everything was not perfect. No big disasters though. I was measuring success as no litigation. And as far as I know, we achieved that. The animals did not get spooked and bolt with the mayor or Mr. and Mrs. Clause screaming as the carriages hurled headlong into a crowd of traumatized kids.
We did have one victim of cute. Bry was my designated poop spotter. He and I were the reindeer poop cleanup brigade. The last of the parade following Santa with a cop car behind us.
Nothing will convince me that the ladies did not over cute his chair and caused it to crap out. At the time, the reason did not matter. I had reindeer poop to scoop and was not pushing him in that heavy chair, lugging a poop can and shovel. I was thinking I could get James to push him. If I could find James.
The cops jumped out and offered to let Bry ride with them in their cruiser. That would make the perfect Christmas card picture. Bry dressed in his elf costume cuffed in the back of a police cruiser. Something tells me it will happen sometime in his life. Just not that day. He wanted to be in the excitement.
We got the chair half way in the trunk of the cruiser. The cops used their belts and jackets to strap Bry to the back of a cop. They put belts through the sleeves of the jackets. Their belts and belts donated from the crowd. I guess he was secure but if he did fall, there was enough tuffy jacket to take the impact.
Thinking back, the groom’s seat of the caratella would have worked. If we had thought of a backup plan in advance, that would have been the plan. I like the plan we went with. Of course, the cop lugging Bry would probably disagree.
The work does not stop when the parade ended. We are usually more organized when we have guests, especially with the food. We are all about the food. Terry suggested that we have our Josh grill steaks that evening.
I relinquished control. Dinner was delegated to my crew. Figure it out. I am going to be an Indian in this. Let me know if they need any poop scooped.
My crew huddled, passed out lists and everyone dispersed. Tammy said we are cooking on the beach. When I asked about that little cold thing, she explained that the bonfire would keep us warm. When I asked about that little permit thing, or lack of a little permit thing, she explained that she invited the cops, firemen, mayor and city council to her little pow wow. I guess in her mind, if you are going to break the law its best to invite the people that write and enforce those laws.
I stopped asking questions.
Nothing excites our crew more than planning and preparing for an event. Especially if it involves food. Not sure who got the Sprinter van stuck on the beach. It was loaded with a cold buffet, tables and lights. To be sure it got stuck, it was towing the grill. Since Dammit Dobbs was involved he takes the fall. Bryan was right up in the middle, shouting his solution along with all the other guys.
When the guys go rock climbing, its only declared a success when someone rolls a vehicle. Same thing with taking a van loaded with crap onto sand. Its only a success if you get stuck. The really successful forays into the sand involve a stuck “rescue” vehicle too. This was going to be a blast for them.
While the guys were having a blast with a stuck van I stood back and watched to be sure they did not stuff Bry under a wheel for traction. I also tried to fend off the bevy of women folks when they headed toward the van. Which was a mistake. The good news is that it did not take long for them to beat me down so they could continue on their mission to spoil the guys’ fun.
I think Dobbs and James found the ugliest 20 foot Christmas tree in the state. Maybe it was the only 20 foot Christmas tree in the state. I kept my mouth shut but I was thinking “How the hell are you going to get a tree that big to stand erect in sand?” I soon found out. Dig a hole and bury a few feet of it. Glad James thought about keeping it away from the fire.
The tree was crowned with an elf hat. The rest of the tree was adorned with elf hats, tights, belts and one jackass poop shovel. Maybe I am prejudiced about this, but you’d be surprised how pretty an elf tight themed Christmas tree can be.
Josh started slinging meat on the grill. Burgers, brats, hot dogs and steaks. Josh is our designated griller. And smoker. He can smoke a ton of meat when he has time. Jason can’t microwave popcorn. But no one around him has to fetch their own “seconds”. Or refill their own glass of tea.
Eight people can fly on the plane. Add one more and the FAA says we have to have a flight attendant. With eight, the flyboys up front can provide that function. I’m thinking that flying the plane is enough job for a flyboy. But the FAA has its rules.
That is how we drafted Michelle into our crew of misfits. I have known her for years and loved hearing her stories about her traveling adventures. Especially when she worked for the Saudi royal family. (They told her to stop tanning because people might think she was a Saudi woman doing a menial job.)
I hired Michelle to meet the FAA rules. Not to fix gallons of baked beans. Not to wash and wrap potatoes to bake. Not to work in a Christmas parade.
I hired Dobbs to fly a plane. Not to haul wood to build a bonfire. Not to keep boat electronics updated. Not to work in a Christmas parade (in tights).
I hired Nick to be sure our animals were cared for. Not to haul grills and chairs. Not to impose on his family. Not to work in a Christmas parade.
I hired Josh and Jason to take care of the house in the mountains. Not to cook. Not to fetch holly. Not to work in a Christmas parade.
No one in our crew has “work in Christmas parade” in their job description. When a mom asked us to help her give a treasured Christmas memory to her children, my entire crew came running. While trying to give that mom her wish, we created blisters on our hands and memories of our own to treasure.
Usually when you are in the middle of one of life’s profound moments, you don’t stop and savor the moment. This time I realized it. My memory is the scent and roar of big diesel powered trucks hauling heavy equipment and animals. Leather gloved hands assembling pens. Ladies barking orders to men that pretend to ignore them but do what was asked. Aching hands and legs willing to braid one more mane. Feathers dancing around clopping hooves as proud animals pulled carriages filled with people. The guys that didn’t seem to think twice when giving their belts to fashion a makeshift harness for Bryan.
Not many people can drive a team of horses pulling a carriage. Fewer still can do it in the din of a parade. Nick has trained those animals to be at home in a harness and not to be shy around people and noise. His family made it possible for us to groom 21 animals, move them, stage them, drive them to be staged yet again. I would trust no one else but Nick and his family to handle them in a crowd. My sincere, heartfelt gratitude to them for hauling their trucks, equipment and expertise across the country to help us.
Our Sunday morning pajama breakfast was a little sad. Nick’s family were headed back home after we ate. The flyboys were making flight plans to deliver people back to their homes. The border collies were torn between watching their beloved Nick and begging for a bite of the cold steak Dobbs held in his fist as he gnawed on it. Dok and Aaron were assigned the job of keeping Tammy out of the kitchen so we wouldn’t have powdered sugar sprinkled on a Denver omelet or steak sauce on the cinnamon rolls.
Would more time and planning have made it better? Maybe. Probably run smoother. Not sure it would have been better. More time would have given me a chance to maneuver out of shoveling “reindeer” poop. There has got to be a way I could have “dumped” that job on our Dobbs. But looking back, I had the best job of the event. Everyone says I am the best at shoveling poop. And I proved it in tights.