The Truth, Mainly - 12/16/1991

Santa, chocolate and pleasures of flesh
by Leon Satterfield

My understanding of Divine Intention is uncertain when I am ten years old, but one thing I'm pretty sure of: it's better not to be fat. Our skinny preacher says that the flesh is of Satan and I believe that one. It adds up. Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott and John Wayne are not fat. Sidney Greenstreet is fat. Sidney Greenstreet is of Satan.

I'm a little fleshy myself, not enough to be of Satan but enough to feel guilt. And enough to nearly get a foretaste of eternal punishment when the Sparks boys light a fire underneath me after I get stuck in the chimney. They're the neighbor kids my mother won't let in our house because, she says, they're wicked and they don't have a brain in their heads.

It is 1944 so it happens because of the war. The Sparks boys and I have built a bomb shelter in the alley. We've dug a hole maybe seven feet square and maybe four feet deep, covered it with a flat roof of scrap lumber, then covered the scrap lumber with the dirt from the hole. We squat inside in the dark and wait for the Japanese and Germans to attack Southwest Kansas.

When we get tired of the dark, we make lanterns of little jelly jars half filled with bacon fat. We stick in a piece of rag for a wick and it burns bright enough that we can read our Smilin' Jack comic books. Our favorite character is Fatstuff, the guy whose shirt buttons are always popping off into the mouth of a chicken who follows him around. That knocks us out.

We feel guilt because we aren't giving the bacon fat to the War Effort the way our folks think we are. We know the War Effort makes explosives from bacon fat, and we know explosives are important. But it's also important to have light so we can read Smilin' Jack and keep our morale up until the attack comes.

And I feel guilt because my folks told me to stop playing with matches last Christmas when I caught my sister's hair on fire. When we light our bacon fat lanterns, technically we're playing with matches.

It's the matches that give us the idea of building a fireplace. It's just before Christmas and it's cold down there. So we dig a fireplace hole into the wall from the inside, then go outside and dig a chimney hole down into the fireplace hole. We admire the way you can't tell the bomb shelter is there, except for the chimney hole and the entrance hole and the way the dirt is piled up on top of the scrap lumber. It will really be hard to see from the air, I say, so I won't be afraid when the attack comes.

One of the Sparks boys says I might not be afraid of that but he bets I'm afraid to be Santa Claus and go down the chimney into the fireplace. I forget for a minute that the Sparks boys are wicked and don't have a brain in their heads, so I put my legs into the chimney hole and try to get my fleshy bottom in too. That's when I get stuck.

"Santa Claus is stuck in the chimbley," one of the Sparks boys says. "Let's build a fire in the fireplace."

So that's what they do. I think of hellfire and I start kicking. Before I even get hot, I've caved in the dirt around the chimney.

"Hey," one of the Sparks boys says, "you ruined the fireplace."

"Hey," the other one says, "you put out the fire."

To pay me back, they set the underside of the scrap lumber ceiling on fire with the bacon fat lanterns. We watch it burn for a while, then we think we put it out by throwing handfuls of dirt at it. But the next day the ceiling is collapsed and smoking, like maybe during the night it got attacked by the Japanese and Germans.

My sister says it serves me right for setting her hair on fire and my mother says that's what I get for playing with the Sparks boys. The Sparks boys say it is my fault for being so fleshy in the bottom. My dad just shakes his head but he doesn't say anything about fleshy because he has the biggest belly in town.

That's why he's the town Santa Claus who passes out sacks of candy from the back of a '39 Ford pickup. He looks real with that big belly. More than our skinny preacher does when he puts on the Santa Claus suit to give us our sacks of church candy. His pillows won't stay put.

The church sacks don't have peanut clusters in them the way the town sacks do. Our preacher says it's because the War Effort needs the chocolate, but my dad says it's because the preacher's sermons would make the chocolate melt. The preacher says chocolate is of the flesh and the flesh is of Satan, but my dad says that's a skinny man's theology. I rub my fleshy bottom and feel guilt.

Then my dad sings the beginning of "We Three Kings of Orient Are," and tries to look like a big-bellied Wise Man. He offers me a peanut cluster and I do eat.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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