Christmas Stories: The Blossoming RodDecember 11, 2013
I realized, as I was looking around for Christmas stories to read this year, that when I think about Christmas stories I’m only thinking about one kind of Christmas story. For me to even read a Christmas story means it’s probably set in the modern day, or, you know, the time period in which it was written. And it’s got to be set in something resembling reality. Like, I’ve enjoyed stories about talking mice, for sure, but if your Christmas story consists of a talking mouse telling a story about how another talking mouse got killed by a cat as a direct result of not believing in Santa Claus, I’m hitting the back button. So it was fitting that I want directly from The Mouse and the Moonbeam to The Blossoming Rod, which is the most prosaic Christmas story I’ve ever read.
Joe Langshaw has his eye on a fishing rod. It’s ten dollars, and he never has that much extra cash lying around. Which is not to say that he’s poor — extra money, when he’s got it, mostly seems to go towards social obligations, like contributing to the school janitor’s Christmas turkey. Meanwhile, he worries that his son George is hiding his report cards, and he’s irritated that his kids — there are three — keep asking for monetary compensation for chores and stuff. Langshaw seems nice enough, but his fixation on this fishing rod and his resentment of anything that keeps him from it are hard to sympathize with.
Shortly before Christmas, someone unexpectedly pays a debt and Langshaw finds himself with a ten dollar bill in his pocket. He’s determined to buy the rod now, but then his daughter Mary loses a dollar that she’d saved and he has to make it up to her, and his wife receives an unexpected bill. Also George finally reveals his report card: he’s got perfect marks in deportment, and wants the five dollars his father promised if he could achieve that.
You can see where this is all going, of course: his family is saving up to buy him the fishing rod, and when they do, he likes it all the better for having been a gift from them. And then all of a sudden there’s a religious moral.
The Blossoming Rod is by Mary Stewart Cutting, author of one of my favorite chapters of The Whole Family. I don’t know that there are any obvious comparisons to be made, but I get the sense that she’s really good at scene-setting. Stuff she writes seems to be very firmly located, with lots of concrete detail. I need to read other stuff of hers in order to find out whether or not this is a broad generalization. Anyway, the details are the best thing about The Blossoming Rod — the solidly suburban setting, the janitor-and-report-card sketch of the school, the Christmas decorations that Langshaw chooses to buy at the store in town rather than the local one. I even kind of appreciated the whole intense fixation on the fishing rod thing, in the details if not in the fact of it.
This isn’t a favorite Christmas story, by any means, but it’s the kind of Christmas story I like, for sure, and honestly, I’ll take irritated suburban parents over mauve mice any day.