Transcript

482:

Lights, Camera, Christmas!
Transcript

Originally aired 12.21.2012

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/482

Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, everybody. Ready? Ready? Lights, camera, Christmas.

Pirecua

Well, my parents say that I can't have a dog.

Ira Glass

This is Pirecua, age 11.

Pirecua

So I wanted another animal that is, like, fuzzy, and it walks around.

Linda Lutton

You know, I'm not really a pet sort of person. I think she knew she couldn't get a dog, basically.

Ira Glass

This is Linda, her mom. Linda is a reporter here at WBEZ, the station that our program comes from.

Linda Lutton

So a guinea pig was, I think, something she felt she could actually ask for. You know, that's the second place, I guess. It's still fuzzy and walks around.

Ira Glass

Linda's husband is Mexican. And the kids lived in Mexico when they were smaller. So they don't write to Santa to ask for what they want. The Mexican tradition at Christmas is to write to the three kings.

Linda Lutton

So she wrote this letter to the three kings. And-- do you want me to read it?

Ira Glass

Yeah, yeah. Could you read it?

Linda Lutton

All right. It says, [SPEAKING SPANISH]. She says, like, dear three kings, I hope you're doing very well. I hope you're well.

Ira Glass

I thought that was a nice touch.

Linda Lutton

That is a nice touch.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Linda Lutton

[SPEAKING SPANISH]. She says, this year, I was thinking of asking for a guinea pig. And then she writes-- she has, like, an arrow. It's like an afterthought. She wrote, a real one. [SPANISH]. Then she goes on and asks for some other things. But what she really wanted-- I mean, has this whole list of things. But honestly, I don't ever remember her talking about anything else except the guinea pig.

Ira Glass

So, comes the big morning. This was two years ago. Pirecua was just nine. The three kings did, in fact, bring her a guinea pig. And, of course, she was thrilled. She named it Luna.

Linda Lutton

The guinea pig was in her arms, and it was running around her bed. And she was just in love. Well, that lasted about an hour before I just noticed she was scratching her forearms a lot.

Pirecua

And she said that they were, like, hives. I was allergic to my guinea pig.

Linda Lutton

She was completely scared that I would give the guinea pig away immediately. And I think her one goal was to keep the guinea pig. So she definitely did not complain about the hives.

Ira Glass

They were big red blotches, the size of silver dollars. Pirecua, however, would not be deterred.

Linda Lutton

She still held it. She tried for a while. I was like, maybe if you cover yourself up. So what she started doing was she would put on this full face mask that she usually used on the coldest days in Chicago.

Ira Glass

It was black. All you could see were her eyes. Linda showed me a photo of the full get up. You can see it on our website.

Linda Lutton

She basically looks like a Zapatista rebel. She's got a long sleeve shirt. She's got her winter gloves on. And in the winter gloves, there's the little guinea pig peeking out from her hands.

Ira Glass

Meanwhile, paper towels stick out several inches from the gloves.

Linda Lutton

So that there's absolutely no gap between her long-sleeve shirt and the gloves.

Ira Glass

She looks like a young terrorist.

Linda Lutton

With a cute guinea pig.

Ira Glass

With a cute guinea pig. Exactly. It looks like she's taken the guinea pig hostage or something.

Pirecua is devoted to Luna, still. Lets it run around her room. Makes sure it's fed. In third grade, she had a photo of Luna that she pasted onto a little hand-drawn, cardboard frame with a little cardboard leg that she would prop up on her desk at the beginning of every school day facing her.

Linda Lutton

But it just feels a little weird, because she can't pick it up or hold it or even really pet it. So it's kind of like all the reasons you'd want a guinea pig, she can't have those.

Ira Glass

All a parent wants to do this time of year is make a nice Christmas for their kids. Linda does not even like pets, isn't crazy about having animals in the house. But the three kings brought a guinea pig, just like they brought her son something that she and her husband told him that they would never buy him themselves-- a video game system, a PlayStation 3.

Linda Lutton

The three kings is-- they do test. They have tested me. They test parents, I think.

Ira Glass

And not just parents. Linda asked Pirecua on tape, did the three kings know she was allergic when they brought her that gift? Pirecua told her she had never even considered the question.

Linda Lutton

But aren't they supposed to be [SPANISH], like wise men? Like, if they did know that you were going to be allergic to Luna, why do you think they still brought her for you?

Pirecua

Well, they would probably also know that I would love her even if I did have allergies.

Ira Glass

And the three wise men made the right call.

Today on our radio program, in these last few frantic preparatory days before the holiday, we have stories of parents and others trying to make the holiday incredible for the people that they love, Going to great and ridiculous lengths involving live animals, a deer, a sled, ancient reindeer bones, which lead only sometimes to the most magical Christmases.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. Stay with us.

Act One. Christmas in 3-D.

Ira Glass

Act One, Christmas in 3D. We all learn at some point that our parents make mistakes. And that can even-- and I know this will be a shock-- make them when they are trying their hardest at Christmas. Maya Gurantz tells the story. A quick warning for people listening with young children, this is a story about one family's Santa Claus traditions, which may not be the same as yours. Here's Maya.

Maya Gurantz

My friend, Colin Mutchler, is 36. And to this day, he talks about his Christmases as a kid. That's because his parents were determined to make the magic of Christmas come alive for their three kids, Colin, Adam, and Erica.

But they went further than any parents I know. They wanted it to be real-- really real. This wasn't an airbrushed, ho, ho, ho Christmas, but a darker, grittier one. Like that one year when Colin was seven and his dad sent him to the garage for some firewood.

Colin Mutchler

And I heard some bells. And it kind of freaked me out. And so I ran inside, and I was like, oh my god, you guys. I swear I heard some bells. And my dad was like, no way. Really? And so we went back slowly outside. And basically, we found this older man.

Maya Gurantz

Colin's younger brother Adam was there too.

Adam Mutchler

This man had fallen in the backyard and slipped on the ice. I was so young that it was like, who is this crazy man in our backyard? And I sort of, are you OK? Are you OK? And they brought him inside.

Colin Mutchler

He was wearing a very old, rundown, weathered jacket. He said he had windburn.

Adam Mutchler

And could you dim the lights? I've got snow blindness, you know, from the time in the North Pole. And there's a certain amount of glare that I can't deal with. So we dim the lights.

He talked in a very soft-spoken-- not a whisper but where he talked quietly enough that the whole room was silent, and you had to kind of lean in. And it was that sort of weird, intimate sort of-- you're just immersed in whatever he was saying. And he basically said, I'm Kris Kringle.

Maya Gurantz

Adam was four. And he says this is his earliest memory of Christmas. All the Mutchler kids have memories like this, probably because they talked about it all the time when they were little. Colin and Adam didn't think there was just one Santa Claus living at the North Pole.

The Mutchler family had their own mythology with its own logic. There wasn't just one Santa but a network of Santas all working together as Christmas helpers. Kris Kringle was just one of them, a working man's Santa. And just like a guy on a night shift from hell, he was exhausted.

Colin Mutchler

We kind of were almost helping him. The dynamic was such that it was like he was in a rough place, and we were trying to help him. And so I think we talked with him for a bit and then put him on his way.

Maya Gurantz

Visitors like Kris appeared every couple of years or so in the band of woods dividing their house in Harrington Park, New Jersey from a nearby golf course. Never the same guy, never in exactly the same place. They'd be disheveled, bearded and hoarse-voiced, abandoned by their skittish and surprisingly losable reindeer, and searching for the Mutchlers, whose home address they never quite figured out.

The Mutchlers also had a family elf, Jeko, who the kids never saw, but who apparently lived in the attic for a few weeks before Christmas. The kids would hear noises coming from upstairs-- hammering, walking. And when Christmas was over, they'd find wood scraps in the attic from the gifts he'd made for them, proof that Jeko had been there.

Both their father and grandfather grew up with Jeko. Their grandfather, especially, loved to tell scary stories about how mean Jeko could be. And so every Christmas, the family spent hours combing over the details of Jeko and their visitors, comparing them to previous Christmases, anticipating the next.

When you ask the Mutchler kids which Christmas visitor was the one who outdid the rest, there's no question. Christmas Eve 1984. Colin was eight. Adam was five. Erica was two. The family was out taking their usual walk. And on this night they went down to the golf course. It was foggy and dark. Here's Adam.

Adam Mutchler

And then in the distance, we see this silhouette of a shadow scampering from tree to tree-- and it's a golf course, so it's open, wide spaces-- and looking like they don't want us to know that they're there. And my dad says, lets go find out who that is. As so we start walking faster to try to catch up with this guy.

When we come upon him, he's in this very worn, dirty Santa Claus suit that's kind of this greenish brown tint. And he introduces himself as Klaus Hoffer. And he's one of many sort of the Santa Claus incarnations. And I don't know if he goes into a full explanation, but he definitely explains that-- I think we mentioned Kris Kringle. And it's like, oh yeah, I know Kris.

Maya Gurantz

Klaus had a worn sack and began pulling out presents.

Adam Mutchler

But the presents were very odd. There was vegetables, a head of broccoli, an onion. And then he also, I think, gave us some bones. And that sort of comes to the most important thing is he broke out one bone in particular. And he said, this is one of the bones from the original Rudolph. I use it to call the reindeer.

Maya Gurantz

Again, here's Colin and their sister, Erica.

Colin Mutchler

And literally when he broke out bones and started blowing on them, we were like, oh my god. This is crazy.

Erica Mutchler

It made no noise. We couldn't hear it. But he said it was a pitch that only the reindeer could hear.

Colin Mutchler

And when he talked about Rudolph, it wasn't like, (SINGING) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was like he kind of was honoring the history of Rudolph as some reindeer that they all honored. And the fact that he had some of these bones of Rudolph and was using them to call to the reindeer just-- it made sense to us. It was like, that makes sense.

Maya Gurantz

The details were perfectly calibrated, as only people who know you as well as your parents can get just right. Here's Adam.

Adam Mutchler

And that's when it got kind of scary. He offered all of the kids. And he said, I can only invite the kids. But do you guys want to come on the sleigh? Do you want to come to the North Pole with me? And we just sat there, frozen. Wow. I could say yes.

Colin Mutchler

The answer is no. The truth is when some old man that you just met in the dark golf course on Christmas Eve actually asks me and my brother and my sister if we want to go with him somewhere that we have no idea, while that might be the coolest thing of all time, it might also be the end of life as I know it.

Maya Gurantz

Again Erica, who, remember, was two at the time.

Erica Mutchler

I remember screaming and not wanting to go. I was just terrified.

Maya Gurantz

Actually, that invitation to the North Pole, that never happened-- at least not the way they remember it.

Grandfather

Klaus.

Child

Yeah, yeah, Klaus.

Grandfather

Klaus.

Child

Klaus.

Maya Gurantz

This is a recording from that Christmas Eve in 1984. Erica, Adam, and Colin had just come back from meeting Klaus. On the recording, the kids seem happy and hopped up on adrenalin. They talk about Klaus but in the entire recording never mention any invitation to the North Pole. What you hear instead is the grandfather suggesting, how would you like it if he had asked you to the North Pole? Then their father, Glenn, jumps in.

Glenn Mutchler

Look, you guys could have asked, and he would have taken you. I had a feeling he would be willing to take somebody for a short trip.

Grandfather

They were scared.

Child

I was scared, too.

Maya Gurantz

Behold, the power of suggestion. That's how it seemed like a lot of it worked-- the Mutchler parents making suggestions and adding details and then retelling it all year after year. Christmas was a big topic of conversation, and the Mutchler parents encouraged their kids with the most exciting versions of what happened on those nights, to the point where the stories gained an unstoppable momentum.

As the Mutchler kids got older, things, as they do, changed. Each of the kids dealt with it differently. Both Colin and Erica say they knew at a certain point to not talk about Jeko and the others to people outside their closest circles.

But Adam didn't get that-- at all. Adam loved to tell a good story. He couldn't not tell this one. And he believed wholeheartedly in his experiences-- even as a teenager, in public school, in New Jersey. And it had consequences.

When Adam was in fifth grade, he defended his stories about Klaus and Kris and the rest in front of his whole class. It got so confrontational, with Adam telling the whole group how wrong they were, that the teacher ended up calling Adam's parents, telling them it had almost started a fight, and asking them to please tell Adam to stop talking about it.

Adam remembers many arguments like this well into middle school. People would call him an idiot or weird. And he would insist that these events were true. He was there. It was real. You guys are crazy, not me.

The next year, sixth grade, Adam was at his grandparents' house at Christmastime when his great aunt Blanche made some offhanded comment about which uncle played what part what year back when they were kids. Adam walked himself through the logic of what she was saying. And he knew right then that his parents had lied to him.

Adam Mutchler

Not only did they lie to me. It was, you know, 13 years old. I had to deal with that as a social thing that I had done. I had defended myself and told these stories.

Maya Gurantz

In front of lots of people.

Adam Mutchler

Lots of people. And to know that my parents were sort of responsible for allowing me to perpetuate something that made me a liar and a laughingstock.

Maya Gurantz

You were embarrassed.

Adam Mutchler

I was very embarrassed.

Maya Gurantz

Adam felt betrayed and was angry about it for years. One year, he came home from college and accused his parents for being the reason he couldn't trust anyone enough to have a serious girlfriend. Not too different from the sorts of speeches lots of kids make to their parents at that age. Except it was about Santa. Even he admits it was pretty extreme.

Maya Gurantz

So this one thing made you feel like you couldn't trust your parents, even though they were trustworthy parents.

Adam Mutchler

Well, for me, it was the intricacy and the planning of, like, you spent 7 years or 10 years perpetrating a lie that was so deep and complex. Like whether it was hiring people, vintage suits, hunting people through the golf course and through the woods. What are you, insane? Like, this is diabolical. For me, there was a big breakdown in the way I trusted people in my life that actually, I think it carried on into my adult life. And even to this day, I don't 100% trust anyone anymore.

Maya Gurantz

Do you feel like it made you cynical?

Adam Mutchler

A little bit. Yeah, a little bit.

Maya Gurantz

Adam's 33 and can laugh about most of this now. He sees what was great about what his parents did at Christmas. But he won't be doing anything like it, he says, when he has his own kids. And because of the way he reacted as a teenager, these childhood Christmases are still a touchy subject in this family. When they talk about it, everybody's careful to keep things upbeat. I wondered if the parents had any regrets for how they handled it. So I went to meet the Mutchlers.

Laurie Mutchler

Oh, you know my two boys.

Maya Gurantz

I do, I do.

Glenn and Laurie Mutchler live on a beautiful, quiet street. It's the kind of place where deer wander through the yards. A giant wreath hangs off the top the Mutchlers' beige clapboard house. Christmas lights twinkle inside and outside. We sit in the living room, where the mantle has been turned into an altar crowded with an assortment of spiritual icons-- Buddhas, Vishnu, a ceramic bust of Jesus, and two different portraits of Jerry Garcia.

I was a hippie and did the whole nine yards, Glenn told me, on the West Coast in the '70s. Though he doesn't like the word hippie-- thinks it's come to connote laziness, and he's anything but. We started talking about the elaborate Christmases the Mutchlers used to have for their kids. And I asked Laurie.

Maya Gurantz

How did you get roped into all of this?

Laurie Mutchler

Well, I-- as we were talking about this--

Glenn Mutchler

That's the cynic.

Laurie Mutchler

I am going to talk now.

Glenn Mutchler

Listen to this.

Laurie Mutchler

No, no, no. I want to talk.

Glenn Mutchler

Roped in.

Laurie Mutchler

No, no, no.

Maya Gurantz

I don't know if you caught that, but he called me a cynic.

Maya Gurantz

You know, I'm not a cynic. We're just so excited about how you pulled this off.

Glenn Mutchler

There is no pulling off. Something happened. People had an experience. And then you have this thought called, somebody pulled something off.

Maya Gurantz

I wasn't prepared for this. Decades after these Christmases, Glenn was refusing to admit he had anything to do with creating them.

Glenn Mutchler

So the conjecture and all that stuff would really undermine the magic. In fact, all the details, as you called them, the mechanics, or as you put, how'd you pull it off? It happened. That's the magic, and that's the secret.

Maya Gurantz

We went back and forth about this for more than 10 minutes. Here's my producer, Robyn, having a go at it.

Robyn Semien

It would help to know if that's just, like, an impossible thing for us ask. Because we have some questions about how it works. And I just-- I'm wondering if we could--

Glenn Mutchler

You could make something up. You could hypothesize. But that's you. Because the magic's too powerful.

Maya Gurantz

And did they have any regrets about when their kids learned the truth? I asked Glenn and Laurie about the time that Adam fought with his fifth grade class about the Mutchler Christmas stories. It seemed like it would have been a perfect moment to come clean.

They said after the school called them, they did talk to Adam. But they didn't tell him he was wrong. They didn't tell him the truth. If anything, they encouraged him to believe the stories were real, saying, I was there. You were there. Their only parental advice was, be more private about it. Stop talking about it at school. Though Laurie did come to worry that they should have handled it differently.

Laurie Mutchler

I think for me, I did really start to question whether we should be making such a big deal about it. And I wanted to stop doing it. It definitely happened in my mind. I did. And as you can tell, Glenn's a very powerful force in our family. Yeah, he is. And even before this interview, it was sort of like, you set up the ground rules about how we were going to have the interview. They're going to ask us, and we're not going to tell, right?

Maya Gurantz

Both Glenn and Laurie say they tried to make it right for Adam. They had no idea how betrayed he felt until later. Laurie says for a while, she didn't know what to do.

Laurie Mutchler

We talked about it a lot. We talked about the magic and the wanting it to-- Adam can you see? Can you find a place where you see where it all came from? It all came from good. It didn't come from lying. It didn't come from tricking. We are not bad parents because we did that.

Maya Gurantz

Finally, Laurie tells me this story. It's an important one for her. And before she starts, she says she knows Glenn doesn't want her to tell it. But that's not going to stop her. One Christmas Eve, when Adam was in junior high school, Laurie went to his bedroom.

Laurie Mutchler

And I was giving him a good night kiss and hug and Merry Christmas. And he looked me straight in the eyes, and he said, you've got to tell me the truth. Your son is looking you right in the eyes saying, you've got to tell me the truth. Were those real? Did Santa really visit us?

And in the back of my mind, it was Glenn's voice going, you never tell. You never tell. The magic, the magic. And I spewed all this magic. And it's the magic. And it's the spirit. And I went on and on. And he would not let it down. He just said, stop it. Don't talk about that stuff. Glenn talks about that stuff. You'll tell me the truth. Tell me the truth.

And I don't even know what I exactly said. But I did let him know that it wasn't real. And we just cried, the two of us. And it was really sad. Because then over the years, when he did say later-- when he said, I can't believe that that was a parenting decision that you made, that you went to that extreme-- it just hurt him.

And it was so weird, because Colin and Erica had taken the same wonderful experience and held it as a wonderful experience. No matter what happened or what was real, they could hold it as just a magical, wonderful moment. And he somehow couldn't. And it made me really sad.

Maya Gurantz

Glenn understands that something went wrong with Adam.

Glenn Mutchler

My experience is like this with kids. You do the best you can. And sometimes you do the right thing. And maybe you do the wrong thing when you thought you did the right thing. There's a time when the kids are young and you experience the magic through them. And it's just so special to be around young kids. And to be in that-- maybe you cheat a little bit, and you sort of become-- you're living through them.

Maya Gurantz

Glenn had been eager from the moment we arrived at his house to take us on a tour of Christmas past. And after our interview, Glenn and Laurie head out with us for a walk. We go up the street, pass through some trees, and onto the golf course.

It was darker than I had imagined it would be, barely illuminated by the ambient orange of nearby streetlights. Mist clung to the rolling expanse of grass. Then Glenn does what he's clearly been itching to do all night-- gives us the play-by-play from his finest hour, the night Klaus Hoffer came to visit.

Glenn Mutchler

Get away. Stay away. Who-- who is it? I'm looking for the Mucklers. And then the kids said, no, the Mutchlers?

Maya Gurantz

Glenn hunches down and reenacts Klaus Hoffer's disappearance into the distance.

Glenn Mutchler

You know, like, kind of like this.

Maya Gurantz

He lopes along. He's happy. Magic is Glenn's strength and his blind spot.

Glenn Mutchler

We're all standing there going, oh my god. Did that really happen? It was like that. It was perfect. It was perfect.

Ira Glass

Maya Gurantz in Los Angeles. Coming up, typecast. Typecast-- do you hear me-- as a reindeer in a Christmas pageant. The tail-twitching injustice of it. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Deer in the Footlights.

Connie Rex

It's-- let me tell you about it. You'll have to edit this now, because I'm going to say it like I always say it.

Ira Glass

OK.

Connie Rex

You go through town. There's a church on the right. There's an old school on the left. You get down to the crossroads, and there's a half-assed store on one side and the post office on the other side.

Ira Glass

That's it, the whole town. Maybe 250 people, she says, maybe fewer. And the basic facts of her childhood are the kinds of things that lots of little girls only read about in story books. During the summer, Connie and her two sisters, they would get up. They'd have some food. And they would spend the whole day, she says, on their own horses, riding far and wide together.

And when they were little, they got a baby deer-- a baby deer of their very own-- who ended up a part of Christmas at their elementary school in a way that, I think, probably very rarely happens with deers and elementary schools and Christmases.

Ira Glass

So the story that I want you to tell us, I want to know how a deer ended up on the stage as part of your school's Christmas pageant when you were a kid. And I guess you should explain how you even ended up with a deer in the first place. Do you remember when you first saw the deer?

Connie Rex

Oh, yeah. Yeah. We were all on our horses. And there was a doe that had just had a baby. It was, I'd say, maybe two or three days old. Well, we chased the doe off and took the deer-- took the fawn.

Ira Glass

Did you run off the mom hoping to get the baby?

Connie Rex

Oh, yeah.

Ira Glass

You did.

Connie Rex

Oh, yeah. And brought it home. Let me tell you what. We never done it again, because my dad was really pissed, just livid. He lit into us like you can't believe.

Ira Glass

And what was his argument? What was the problem with bringing in this deer?

Connie Rex

Nature should be left to nature. Why did we want to run that deer off, that mother, when she was perfectly capable of raising this fawn and taking care of it? Why did we-- what give us the right to do with it, to take Mother Nature's course away from them?

Ira Glass

How big is a fawn when it's that little? It is the size of a big dog? I'm trying to picture.

Connie Rex

Yeah. It would be about the size of the big dog, maybe not a real big dog. And they're light. It couldn't have weighed any more than, I'm going to say 25, 35 pounds. And we put it on our horses, put it across the saddle and packed it back to the house. Oh, we was tickled. We really thought we'd done something good.

Ira Glass

And so you raised it. How do you feed it?

Connie Rex

You put a lamb nipple on the end of a pop bottle, and they suck it. And so we raised him that summer. And then, of course, he lost his spots.

Ira Glass

Did you give it a name?

Connie Rex

Well, we called him Bambi.

Ira Glass

Very original. OK.

Connie Rex

Yeah, very original.

Ira Glass

So was he a good pet?

Connie Rex

Oh, yeah, yeah. He was a lot of fun. We never had a collar or anything on him. Never did break him to lead. We just put our hands on his, what we call their withers, where their neck goes right into their shoulders. And he'd walk by you. So we could walk him. Damn near any place we wanted to go, he'd go.

So that year, the year we got him, that was the year that they done the play. And they took a balloon and blew it up about the size of a golf ball and put it on his nose. And he stood there with this red thing on his nose all during the play. And if I remember right, the story just more or less centered around Santa Claus being sad because he couldn't get around.

Ira Glass

Well, it sounds like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," where his nose is what guides them. The light from his nose is what guides them to where they need to go.

Connie Rex

I think so. I think that's what it was. I can remember that the hall was just crowded. Everybody knew that deer was going to be in there. And so everybody come to watch it.

Ira Glass

Oh, really? He was the star attraction of the show? He brought the crowd?

Connie Rex

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. They still talk about that play. I don't think they ever did top that play. How could you?

Ira Glass

Was he on stage for most of the show?

Connie Rex

Oh, he was on stage for the whole show. He probably stood there for a good two hours. So we spent the whole night standing there by the deer. He'd look out in the crowd and look everybody over. You could see his ears moving back and forth. But we'd pet him or scratch him on the neck.

Ira Glass

What did he do when they applauded? I would think that for an animal, that must have been so strange, the noise that would come from that.

Connie Rex

Nothing. He stood there. That's when he'd wiggle his tail and his ears would go back and forth.

Ira Glass

Now, your dad, who had been against bringing in a wild animal the whole time. You remember what his reaction was to the play?

Connie Rex

I can remember him saying that it was really a nice play, and he was glad that the deer had a part in it. But I remember when we started to brand, we just begged dad to let us castrate him, and he wouldn't do it. And as a kid, I just-- oh, I was upset.

Ira Glass

Wait, why did you want your dad to castrate him.

Connie Rex

So he'd stay home. It's just like a dog. You take a dog, and if you've got a male dog, and you don't want that dog to go, I call it, tramping all over the countryside, you castrate him. We knew that if dad had let us castrate him, we would have had him forever. But no. So he wouldn't let us castrate him.

Ira Glass

Over the next year, Bambi grew up, developed antlers. Connie and her sisters liked to touch the velvet on his antlers, she says. And Bambi started acting differently. Sometimes, he'd just wander away for days. And when hunting season rolled around, the girls begged their dad to lock up Bambi somewhere on their property. But their dad said, no, that wasn't right. And they didn't ask twice, she says.

Fortunately, because it was a small town, and especially after the Christmas play, everybody in the valley there knew about Bambi. The girls would take him into town sometimes in a car. And people would come up to them on the street and pet him. And they took special precautions during hunting season so everybody would recognize him.

Connie Rex

We had a big red scarf on him. And then we had a sheep bell, which is just a little smaller than a cow bell. And we'd painted this sheep bell red. And then, of course, when fall come, you know, late fall, why, he took off. And about 10 miles away, some guy, I guess, they said-- I never did ever talk to the guy, but they said he drove right up to him and shot him.

Ira Glass

Oh, the deer didn't even run away.

Connie Rex

Oh, no. No, he wouldn't run. Because he was desensitized. He wasn't afraid of people.

Ira Glass

When the deer was killed, what did your dad say?

Connie Rex

Just told us that that's just the way it was. And that's what we got for bringing him home. He told us then, he said, that's what happens when you mess with Mother Nature. So I guess if there's a moral to the story, you don't mess with something that's wild. You just leave it be.

Ira Glass

Oh, really? Do you think your dad was right?

Connie Rex

I think he was right. At the time, I didn't. But looking back on it now. I'm still pissed at that guy that shot him.

Ira Glass

Because you're sure that he knew him?

Connie Rex

Oh, sure he did. He'd had to have known. Well, in fact, I heard that he did, that he knew. I hope he enjoyed eating him. The son of a bitch. You'd better edit that out.

Ira Glass

No, I'd like to leave that in. Is that OK?

Connie Rex

That's fine.

Ira Glass

OK.

Connie Rex

No, that's fine.

Ira Glass

I just don't understand how he could shoot him knowing that he was your pet. Like he knew you guys, right?

Connie Rex

Yeah. And you know, thinking back, I would imagine he was probably, what, 19 years old. Smart ass teenager is what he was. I can remember we cried. Mother cried. Dad was pissed. He thought that was pretty low for somebody to do that to an animal, especially when he knew that it was ours.

Ira Glass

Did you blame yourselves?

Connie Rex

Yes. I did. Yes. The end result would have probably been the same. But he probably would have lived. He'd have probably got another year or two before he'd have got shot.

Ira Glass

You mean, if you had left him with his mom?

Connie Rex

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Ira Glass

It's funny. I thought that we were going to have a sweet little sentimental Christmas story here. But now I feel so sad.

Connie Rex

Yeah, it did end up sad. And if I was you, and you was doing the story, I think maybe I'd kind of take a little liberty with it and not burden kids with what happened to him.

Ira Glass

Really? How would you want it to end?

Connie Rex

Oh, like it was just a really nice play.

Ira Glass

And not tell anything that happens afterwards?

Connie Rex

Yeah.

Ira Glass

But then if you do that version of the story, then in the argument between you guys and your dad, you win, because everything works out happily ever after.

Connie Rex

Well, I think at Christmastime, maybe we should win.

Ira Glass

All right, well let's do take two. So after the play, what happened to the deer?

Connie Rex

Oh, we took him home. The play was always put on on Christmas Eve. So we went home. Because it would have been, like, 10 o'clock. And of course, Santa Claus was going to come. And we was all excited.

Ira Glass

And so in this version of the story, you guys live happily ever after, right?

Connie Rex

Yeah. Right. Yeah. And then I vividly remember the next morning after, we asked if we could bring him in. And Mother and Dad both said yes. So we put a lot of Christmas bows on him. And we let him stay in the house until he wandered into Mother's plants. And then he had to go out.

Maya Gurantz

Connie Rex. She's celebrating Christmas at home this year. She lives on the ranch where she grew up outside Woodruff, Utah.

[MUSIC - "BAMBI" BY PRINCE]

Act Three. Piddler On the Roof.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Piddler On the Roof. Right, our last story today of somebody trying to summon a great holiday into existence comes from Ron Carlson. A story about a man, his wife, Drew, his daughter, Elise, a sled, a tree, and horse manure. Here's Ron Carlson.

Note

The audio broadcast of this show included the short fiction story "The H Street Sledding Record" by Ron Carlson. Copyright 1984 by Ron Carlson. From his story collection A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories by Ron Carlson, published by W. W. Norton Co. Originally published in McCall's. The story is not included in this transcript since Ron Carlson retains print rights.

Ira Glass

Ron Carlson reading a short story-- it's fiction-- called "The H Street Sledding Record." It's from his short story collection, A Kind Of Flying, Selected Stories by Ron Carlson. It originally appeared in McCall's.

[MUSIC - "MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY" BY VERNON GARETT & SIR STAN & THE COUNTS]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program is produced today by Brian Reed and Jonathan Menjivar, with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from [? Tarek Fouda. ?] Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our administrative assistant. Music help from Damien Graef and Rob Geddes.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia, one of the most experienced programmers in public broadcasting. He knows the ingredients you need for any successful radio show. And of course, they are--

Adam Mutchler

Vegetables, a head of broccoli, an onion, and one of the bones from the original Rudolph.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC - "MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY" BY VERNON GARETT & SIR STAN & THE COUNTS]

Announcer

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