For as long as I can remember, my Christmases have had a few constant elements: stockings over the fireplace, going to Nelson's Christmas Tree Farm to pick a real tree (although this is probably the last year for that), at least one playing of "Christmas Island," my cousin yelling, "pre-SENTS!!" when the time is just right and the volume just too loud, and what amounts to two viewings of the greatest holiday movie classic of them all: "A Christmas Story."
I can't recall a Christmas that hasn't included Ralphie, the Old Man, Randy, showing how the piggies eat, Red Ryder, Santa Claus, Simoniz, Scut Farkus, and Ovaltine. I might have sat down and watched it all the way through once when I was 11 or 12, but every other time, it's in the background at a Christmas party, and I catch enough snippets to count as two viewings. As such, the music behind it, the dialogue and monologue in front of it, and the childhood comments that I look a little like Ralphie (when they didn't call me Harry Potter) are ingrained in my psyche. A small bit of music, and I can identify exactly what's happening on-screen when that music is playing.
A few years ago, though, I got another view of the story. Little did I know until then that Jean Shepherd, a native of Hammond, Indiana, had written lots of essays in his career about his Northern Indiana childhood, five of which inspired the movie that he narrated. My mom gifted me that collection of essays, and it was just as good as the movie. There was no music to point me where to go, but the images Shepherd wrote guided me through.
For a segment of IRIS' Christmas broadcast, I read selections from those essays: part of the Red Ryder story, and the 45-minute-long full essay "My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art." (Jean Shepherd loved facetious verbosity.) The latter is presented here in full, complete with the "well filled-out leg," "You were jealous 'cuz I WON!" and the eventual reconciliation. It begins, however, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, when Shepherd was older and up for the slightly-sleazy practice of Girl Tracking.
I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and be sure to drink your Ovaltine.