Ghost of Christmas Past 

Family memories are most haunting during the holidays

Last week I figured out how to record old videotapes onto DVDs.
Last week I figured out how to record old videotapes onto DVDs. The process goes something like this: Go to an electronics store, get ignored by blank-eyed, pimply-faced clerks for about a half-hour, haul a $300 gizmo over to the cash register by yourself, pay for it, take it home, wire it up, turn it on. Then curse the incomprehensible menus and the operator’s manual, which is written in a queer mix of English and Japanese with maybe a little Construction Spanish thrown in.

After a couple hours creating a mental Rosetta Stone that comprised some Wile E. Coyote Latin, Karate-Movie Japanese and the barely-remembered utterances of Mexican carpenters in Brentwood, I was able to move data from VHS to DVD.

Unlike many such projects, this one was worth the aggravation. That’s because one of those old home movies featured moving pictures of my daddy Jabo Jowers dancing at a Christmas party sometime around 1960. He would’ve been about 40.

Except for the few times Jabo visited my dreams after he dropped dead in 1971, I had not seen his ghost in motion. I’d just seen still photos—Jabo astride his Electra Glide, Jabo leaning on a shovel, Jabo rolling a cigarette, Jabo standing in front of an orange tree down in Florida wearing a hideous Italian shirt.

Now here it is Christmastime, when Jabo slips into my head and haunts me for weeks. I recall Jabo telling me he didn’t really enjoy Christmas when he was a boy. That was because his sorry-ass alcoholic daddy George Jowers gave Jabo just two things in his whole life—a pair of roller skates at age 9, so he could skate to work at the bakery, and a billy goat that he trained to butt George in the ass.

Years later, when Jabo was a full-grown man and the Jowers house was down to just three of us, Jabo spent most of his Novembers and Decembers scheming up ways to get me things that might teach me a little something, entertain me or both. Every Christmas morning, Jabo would spread an embarrassment of riches over the living room floor. When I was in elementary school, I had a microscope, a telescope, a chemistry set, a pellet rifle and a coffin-sized stereo. By the time I hit seventh grade, I had an electric guitar and amplifier that a professional guitar player would’ve envied.

In his own peculiar way, Jabo was getting even with George. “You don’t have to settle for a got-damn goat and a pair of roller skates,” Jabo told me one Christmas. “As long as you behave yourself, you can have anything that I can buy, make or steal.”

That was a great deal for me, seeing as how I never had much of a problem behaving myself, except for back-sassing and one-upping schoolteachers. And Jabo could make or steal just about anything.

Things got complicated, though, when my mother Susie woke up in the middle of one April night saying that she was dying from a heart attack—and she was. With Susie gone and Jabo relying on a fourth-grade education that didn’t include much reading or writing, there was nobody to compose Jabo’s business letters, mail his invoices, keep his books or cheat on his taxes.

Well, except for me. At age 12, I took over the clerical side of Jabo’s sheet-metal business, which was actually a front for several large untaxed rural distilleries, with a pretty good side business of stripping and reselling stolen cars and boats. Jabo, true to his word, continued to heap on me all the things he could provide—equipment for my band, a motorcycle, and one badly pimped Corvette.

The last time I saw Jabo with blood in his veins, he was pulling out of our driveway in his freshly washed Cadillac, heading for the AMVETS Club so he could do a little dancing. Soon after he arrived at the club, Jabo hit the floor doing the boogaloo. Then his heart stopped, and he hit the floor to die.

I didn’t go see Jabo in his casket, because he told me once that it would be damn embarrassing to be lying in a frilly casket while people stand there looking at you.

I figure it’s even more embarrassing to crumple in mid-boogaloo—at age 48, and still good-looking.

Since Jabo’s been gone, I’ve been a sad-Christmas kind of guy. When the Christmas commercials start on TV, I think about Jabo flipping through his “wish books,” looking for my presents. When the Christmas tree lots appear at the roadside, I think about Jabo buying our tree at Fat Man’s Forest, then cussing the tree until New Year’s day.

But mostly, I can’t shake knowing that Jabo—who in his later years was into Christmas mostly for the firecrackers, cakes and potent eggnog—never got a chance to be a kid at Christmas. Worse, he didn’t live long enough to enjoy being an old man at Christmas.

There just weren’t enough years between getting the billy goat and getting the heave-ho.

Now I’m stuck with Jabo as my own personal Christmas haint. It’s not his fault. From his casket in Sunset Memory Gardens, he can’t just get up and sneak into my thoughts and dreams. I go get him.

This Christmas, I found him dancing on a DVD. That’s a good find. I think it’ll make for a little better Christmas than usual.

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