That was the first
Christmas that my cousin Yuriko was around, though she was fifteen
years old so of course she must've had fourteen Christmases before
that, and since she wasn't Japanese I don't know how she got that
name in the first place. Back in June or July, Hal and Vicky had
taken her in as a foster kid, the first they'd ever had, and they'd
told her if all went well she might stay through until Christmas
and with seventeen of us coming out to the farm she'd really see
what the Pattersons were all about. We had Christmas out there every
year because Hal and Vicky had so much room. Enough room to take
in a foster kid.
My sister Franny was in her last year
of biochemistry at Simon Fraser University and I was in my first
year of theatre or something, I still wasn't sure, at UBC, so we
rode the bus home from Vancouver together. We'd both had exams on
the 21st of December so everybody else was at Hal and Vicky's already.
"Mom called at two in the morning."
Franny was so small she could sit cross-legged in the bus seat.
"I guess she dropped that ornament with the elf on the sled."
"They got a tree already?"
"She was so funny, she was like,
'And I said, "Holy shit, Franny's going to kill me," and
poor Yuriko must be sitting there going, "What have I gotten
myself into?" so Vicky tells her, "Don't worry, Yuriko,
Auntie Doe just really likes Christmas," God, she was funny,
and Vicky got me up to bed but I had to come back down and call
before you found out from somebody else,' and I was like, 'Mom,
unless you want to quiz me on tetrahydrocannabinol I've got a shitload
or work to do.'"
"They had the box of wine going."
"But I would've been pissed off
if she'd broken my stained-glass Santa. And she said not to expect
anything from Hal and Vicky - they got us tickets for the sleigh
"Why couldn't she call and tell
"She panicked. The elf on the
The only thing that ever bothered
me at Christmas was when it felt like I was being left out of something.
We got in at nine at night and Hal
and Yuriko were at the bus station, but I hardly recognized them
because I'd never seen Hal without a moustache and I'd never seen
Yuriko in a parka, plus she had braces now though I knew enough
not to ask whether it was Hal and Vicky or the Ministry of Child
and Family Development that had paid for them. We all fit into the
cab of the pickup, Yuriko and Franny were both so tiny. To me nothing
said Christmas like the cold seat in Hal's truck.
"It doesn't stink like cigarettes,"
said Franny. "What's going on?"
"I quit since Thanksgiving,"
She gave him her best shocked expression
- to be honest, she was better at theatre than I was.
"Yuriko had a pretty convincing
argument after what happened to her grandpa, didn't you, Yuri?"
She was crammed against the passenger
door, using her thumb to draw cat-faces on the fogged-over window.
"What happened to your grandpa?"
She gave one of the cats a tail that
went the whole way up the window.
I could've guessed that. I'd just
wanted to make sure he hadn't fallen asleep with a cigarette.
"That's such a shame," said
"What school are you at?"
"Mom talked you into trying out
for volleyball, didn't she, Yuri? Why don't you tell them about
She smiled and the green light from
the clock lit up her braces.
"Nobody else can bump and I'm
the only one who'll bump!"
A full moon hung right in front of
us once we swung onto the highway. The fence-posts made long shadows
on the snowy fields.
"Did you bring the Hide-A-Bed
in from the barn?" asked Franny.
"Yes, I did." Hal took his
hand off the wheel to show us a Band-Aid around his finger. "You
people pick the stupidest things to get attached to."
"Every year Kate and I have to
sleep beside the tree."
"They told me that," said
When I was in elementary school I'd
thought it was a Haida-Bed, and that while the poor Salish and Nootka
were sleeping on the cold ground, the Haida had these huge beds
that could fold back into couches. The headlights picked up green
eyes out in the field, until whatever it was went bounding away.
Mom came out on the porch as we stomped
the snow off our boots, and after all the requisite hugs and whoops
she threw an arm around Yuriko.
"Did they tell you funny stories?"
Mom gave Franny and I her patented
"I promised funny stories."
The kitchen was packed full of everybody
all wanting to know what the roads had been like, and with the woodstove
cranked up it was just as hot as her apartment so Grandma was entirely
in her element, chopping up garlic sausage and feeding the odd bit
to the cat who wasn't allowed inside at any other time of year.
Our sister Kate the dental hygienist cracked us each a Guinness.
"Thank God," said Franny.
"The moment has come."
We all took a long drink. Yuriko hopped
onto the counter with a can of Pepsi and three of us all looked
at her sideways because we would never have presumed to sit on Hal
and Vicky's counter.
"I saw in the paper you were
voted Meanest Hygienist," I said to Kate.
"Must have been a typo because
I'm the Cleanest Hygienist."
"Not the Leanest Hygienist?"
We all looked at Yuriko.
"The Greenest Hygienist?"
Mom took Franny's arm.
"It's about your stained-glass
Auntie Colleen pounded away on the
piano after that, and on Joy To The World we took turns seeing who
sounded the most like Kermit the Frog.
Every year the sleigh ride extravaganza
was held at a farm across the valley. The sleighs just had hay bales
for seats, so we squeezed together as tight as possible and spread
the blankets across our knees, but the bales faced sideways so before
the horses started we had to sit there staring at a red Massey-Ferguson
"This is the coldest year yet,"
muttered Kate, which was what she always said. She had her collar
zipped to her nose.
"Why don't some of you sit with
us?" asked Hal.
The guy said, "Giddy-ap,"
the reins slapped, the bells started jingling and the wedges of
frozen snow moved past our feet. It felt colder once we were away
from the lights on the barn. Mom and Vicky cooed over how lovely
it all was. We crossed the first field, bright with the moonlight,
then slowed down to take a curve into the first clump of woods.
The trees all looked knotted together. The branches brushed right
past our faces.
"It's dark in here," said
"Better keep an eye out for Jerusalem
Slim," I said.
"Keep your eyes peeled,"
"Jerusalem who?" asked Yuriko.
None of us said anything. She'd had
that catch in her voice that people sometimes got when they weren't
sure whether we were joking around, so that made the moment too
perfect to just start babbling.
"They say he was a farm hand
here," muttered Franny.
"He did live out here,"
I said. "Before it was a farm."
"What is that?" asked Kate.
We were out in the open again. There
was a falling-over shed across the field, and the fence-posts all
looked very black.
"What's what?" asked Yuriko.
"Thought I saw something,"
"It's easier to see him against
the snow," I said.
"You're talking about some guy
who works here?"
"I don't know if he ever did,"
said Franny. "I wonder."
"No," I said. "I don't
"Usually it's just the shadow,"
"So what am I supposed to be
looking for?" said Yuriko.
"No," I said, "if you
see him you're better off to look away."
Mom leaned back from her hay bale.
"What are you telling her about?"
"Oh, Lord," she said. "This
would be a night for him."
We'd just made him up that minute
and Mom played along like nobody's business!
"Have you seen him?" Yuriko
"How lovely," said Vicky.
"Yuri, listen to this."
We were coming up to the first carollers,
three guys and a little girl singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,
which sounded a bit freaky after what we'd been talking about, like
the merry gentlemen had all been buried behind a hay shed or something.
I flexed my toes inside my boots, it was that cold. The singing
faded behind us and we came into another grove of trees. I looked
up beside the horses and the light from the lantern was casting
all of these shadows on the tangled branches and the clumps of snow.
It made me think of Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
I knew my sisters would think the same thing but I hoped Yuriko
would just think about Jerusalem Slim.
"Look up there," I said.
"Isn't that weird?"
The girls all leaned forward to look.
Kate and Franny didn't say anything.
"Yuri, look what's coming up,"
Vicky said. "The old abandoned homestead!"
If a person was just thinking regular
Christmas thoughts like 'I wonder why anyone in the world would
roast chestnuts on an open fire,' then the abandoned homestead would
only be a bunch of dilapidated old buildings, but if their sisters
or their Uncle Hal had been telling them about an escaped mental
patient who'd been tearing out the throats of cattle or that Christmas
was originally a festival celebrating child-eating corpses, then
the collapsed walls and black doorways were the last thing a kid
would want to see. I glanced at Yuriko. Her eyes seemed pretty big.
We'd never said what Jerusalem Slim looked like, but the shadows
of the branches on the snow could look like a lot of different things.
She was biting her bottom lip.
"Anything?" Franny asked.
"I think I-" said Kate.
And left it at that.
We came around the bend to the nativity,
all lit up with tiki torches. The three of us sang along at the
top of our lungs, "The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes!"
but since the hippie lady was in the middle of breastfeeding him
he was most likely awake already.
There were two more sets of carollers
after that, singing Winter Wonderland and, not surprisingly,
Sleigh Ride, and after that it was the long haul back to
the bonfire. We cut across a bare ridge so we could look over the
moonlit valley and see the lights from all the farms scattered miles
apart from each other. I was looking forward to the bonfire and
hot chocolate and everything.
"So," said Kate, "any
luck with Jerusalem Slim?"
"No." Yuriko wiped her nose
with the back of her mitt. "But I was thinking - did you guys
ever think how all alone he must feel, standing there watching you
all go by, and you're sitting here laughing at him?"
"Oh, Honey," Vicky said.
"I'm just saying."
We kept moving along, jingle, jingle,
"They do that every year,"
Mom said. "If they'd wanted to exclude you, sweetheart, they
wouldn't have said anything."
"We weren't trying to be mean,"
"It's just tradition," I
The bleachers were freezing cold as
usual so we clapped the hell out of our hands while we sang Rockin'
Around The Christmas Tree while the guy played guitar, but none
of us were as into it as we had been on other years. Yuriko clapped
her hands once or twice but she spent most of the time looking back
over her shoulder, and that got me thinking about old Jerusalem
Slim, his bare feet breaking through the crust of the snow, feeling
like he'll never be warm again, like he'll never get home. Which
was quite an insight, I thought.
Adam Lewis Scrhoeder