TOP 10 CHRISTMAS DIXON FAMILY CHRISTMAS REUNION MEMORIES
10. All I Want For Christmas (Is 50%)
Uncle Carl announces his impending divorce from Aunt Irene during the Dirty Santa gift exchange, stating that he "couldn't imagine a dirtier gift."
9. Deck the Halls With Boughs of Bail Bonds
Cousin Buckshot is served a warrant for aggravated assault stemming from an altercation with the "sunuvabitch at the co-op" who tried to "scam [his] ass on some hog feed."
8. Feline Navidad
Aunt Louise insists on including the eight feral cats she's "been feedin' the last two months" in the Dixon Family Christmas Photo. Ensuing chaos includes: three individual ER visits, two rabies vaccination rounds, and a blurry photo of the top half of Aunt Louise's head.
7. Grandma Got Ran Over (By A 1952 International Tractor)
Mamaw Taylor sustains injuries after mistaking Papaw Taylor's tractor for a "hunk of rust" when, in fact, said Papaw had successfully restored the engine to working order. Injuries include: broken ankle and Mamaw Taylor living with us for two months.
6. Slay Ride
Cousin TJ is chosen as that year's hayride driver. Ensuing chaos includes: one blown engine, one dead opossum, and thirteen crying elementary-aged children for the duration of the Dixon Family Christmas Reunion.
5. It's the Meth Wonderful Time of the Year
Cousin Stacey arrives two hours late to the Dixon Family Christmas Gift Exchange, bearing gifts wrapped in plastic wrap. Gifts include: one partial 2004 Chicago Cubs baseball card collection, two shower curtain rods, one broken Microsoft Zune (that "just needs a little TLC"), one unscratched Louisiana Lottery scratch card, one Bailey's Irish Cream Mini (later ungifted), and a VHS copy of Hard Target featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
4. Let It Blow, Let It Blow, Let It Blow
Uncle Chuck gives the gift of Tannerite to the Dixon Family Christmas Reunion by blowing up last year's artificial tree (along with the current year's tomato plant crop).
3. Oh Come All Ye Convicts
Papaw Dixon celebrates the long awaited reunion of all previously incarcerated family members by demanding a photo including homemade shirts featuring a cartoon Santa wearing an orange jumper (w/inmate number). Included in photo: one grandparent, three uncles, one aunt, and four cousins.
2. Whose Child Is This?
Conflict arises when Cousin Brandi consumes several egg nogs and suggests that Little Cousin Trevor may or may not be the biological heir of her current boyfriend, Ray. Ensuing chaos includes: multiple Google searches for "paternity testing places near me," "child support laws Louisiana," "23 and me membership promo code," and a disappointing midnight drive to Yo-Yo's Package Store in the hopes that they'll be open on Christmas Eve.
1. I'll Be Under House Arrest For Christmas
Due to a recent conviction for assault/battery, resisting arrest, and possession with intent to distribute, Uncle Pete joins the Dixon Family Christmas Reunion via FaceTime with the assistance of his new wife Charmaine (or Candy). Both are unskilled in the technological savvy required for said task. This results in multiple accusations of sabotage on behalf of each spouse, multiple expressions of dissatisfaction with the Biden administration, a curse upon the local internet service provider, and a compromise of conflict between the two which involves the first fifteen seconds of which is presumed to be romantic/sexual in nature. It is difficult to draw a conclusion based upon the position of their phone's camera which continues to broadcast their activities to the entire Dixon family before my father courageously ends the call.
How It Ends
To begin, understand that things are always looking up when you’re flat on your back.
So it was with Paul Sewell. Born Rufus Paul Sewell to Rufus Gene and Margaret Browning Sewell, Paul was an oddball from the beginning. His was a veiled birth, en caul. This occurs when the baby is born still inside the amniotic sac. New England grandmothers called it a mermaid birth. The old tribes of the Pacific Northwest referred to it as Two Births, one from the mother and then the subsequent exit from the gestational casing. Rufus Gene, Paul’s father, called it Paul’s Egg and was fascinated by the phenomenon. Margaret was shocked and, though she would never say it, a bit scared of what to her looked like an alien being that had just emerged from her birth canal. She was quick to overcome those feelings once her 7lb 7oz. boy was fully hatched.
‘He looks like my father,’ she lied. He didn’t look like Rufus Gene, Margaret, her father, or any of the other fathers in the family. Rufus Paul Sewell looked like his grandmother, Stella Rowe Browning. It was maternal instinct in Margaret to say her freshly birthed son looked anything or anyone else than her mother. If the boy looked like her, it meant he could very well be like her, and though the heavens fall, Margaret was determined to have none of that.
As often happens when parental expectation is met with reality’s exceptional irony, Paul was exactly like his grandmother - a woman he’d never met and knew little about. Of course the question is: How does one not know about their grandmother? Wouldn’t any child ask about their conspicuously absent grandparent? The answer of course is of course. Rufus Gene and Margaret circumvented the truth via one fantastical tale they regaled young Rufus Paul with wherein his grandmother, Sarah Rowe Browning, died under the most tragic albeit heroic circumstances.
‘She had a heart of gold. 14 karats!,’ Rufus Gene would say, usually with hands clasped behind his back with all manner of piety. As it was told to Rufus Paul, his great, some would say mythically pure of soul grandmother had fallen onto the Amtrak rails at the New Orleans station years ago. Adding a bittersweet note to the family fiction, Rufus Gene and Margaret would always add that Sarah had simply lost her balance while in the process of standing up from a moment of prayer for the passengers - an every-Wednesday routine she adhered to with monasterial devotion.
In an effort to weave the fantasy as tightly as possible, the Sewells had the presence of mind to pay a local theater actress a handsome sum of $100 to pose for a black and white photo, dressed historically appropriate and a finishing touch of the most righteous, upward gazing pose that would rival that of St. Francis. Rufus Gene, ever the detail-obsessed individual that was his father and his father’s father and so on, went so far as to antique the photo, browning its edges and giving it an aged look that would be indiscernible to anyone less than an expert in antique photography.
The truth was that Stella Rowe was hardly different than you or me. As a young woman she’d been the kind of beautiful that terrible poetry is usually reserved for. As an older woman, she’d become the kind of beautiful that’s almost impossible to describe without diminishing its perfection. What caused her daughter, and only child, our Margaret Sewell to recoil at any mention of her own mother was the nature of her mother’s unnatural beauty. As opposed to some skin care regimen ripped from the ads of a magazine, Stella Rowe was simply a product of what she was. A grim reaper.
For those skeptical or otherwise put off by that last sentence, I’d ask only that you grant me the smallest grace to explain. Since time immemorial, human beings have confronted death by assigning it the confines of what can be comprehended. The cloaked skeleton holding a scythe and looking as inhospitable as possible has long served as the de facto representation of our collective mutual friend: death. Perhaps the reason for this is because to imagine death as anything other than repulsive - frightening - is to attribute to it a kind of familiarity that hits much too close to home. It’s the same reason we rarely see depictions of the Devil himself as an everyday man, frumpy and with crooked glasses. Instead, it’s the flaming eyes, pitchfork, and all the other things that keep him at a safe distance.
It’s the assumption of your narrator that you’ll be pleased or at the very least surprised that Death is in fact not given to macabre fashion, nor do they accessorize with archaic farm tools or any tools for that matter. I say they not to convey mystique but rather to illustrate my next point. There are many Deaths. When I say many I mean hundreds of thousands. Much like a plumber, airline pilot, schoolteacher, or any other occupation, Death is a job to be performed by only the most competent and diligent kind of employee. Before we move on, it’s important to relay a few items regarding terminology.
We’ve already established that the tired notion of Grim Reaper is as inaccurate as it is insulting. Having been about the terminal business for hundreds of thousands of years, those who work in the employ of the Almighty for the purpose of transporting the living to the Other Side are known as Sparkles. I kid, although such a nom de guerre might go a long way in allaying the unreasonable terror in even thinking about Death. No, Death Dealers refer to each other as Porters. See? Nothing ominous. Of course that’s not their technical name as that particular term is impossible to type or write or even say in any kind of human language. Add to that the fact that it would take well over a hundred years to even manifest the word, and you’ll see that Porters will suffice.
Next up in the makeshift glossary here concerns the actual individuals themselves who eventually succumb to the inevitable. No, they are not victims or husks or whatever other nonsense you may have heard. The customers, if you will, are referred to as Keys. If it seems uninspired or unoriginal, bear in mind that doling out the terminal is a serious business and while you might be brewing up dozens of much more clever, literary designations for these roles, the fact remains that there are two beings involved here: Porters and Keys
It probably would’ve been much more beneficial to start off with a FAQ since, as you and everyone you know will discover, the journey from here to there is, without exception, filled with questions. Regardless of who or what time in history or what cultural origins, everyone asks at least the same dozen or so questions. To wit:
How do you get this job?
There are two types of Porters. There are the Made Porters and the Told Porters. Made Porters are the oldest variety. These are made as in the original angels of death. They are often ill-tempered and given to fits of impudence especially concerning their Told counterparts. Made Porters have no knowledge of human experience in that they’ve never been human. Theirs is a divine assignment. The youngest of them is thousands of years old, and the oldest predates the Earth itself. More on her later, though. So, Made Porters are born with the job. Think of it in terms of ancient royalty or a culture where marriages are arranged. Once brought into existence, the Made Porters know their task and accept it as you would an appendage. It is what it is.
Alright. What about Told Porters?
Many years ago when the world was one land mass, Pangea, the business of Death was fairly straightforward and the number of Porters necessary to meet the demand was sufficient. As the land and, subsequently, people began migrating and procreating in tandem at exponential rates, the situation became untenable. At this point, those in upper management, if you will, saw fit to solve what they saw as two problems. For them, the solution was to assign the Made Porters to various regions of the ever expanding population and, in the process, carefully select individuals from the people themselves to undertake (forgive the pun) the demanding day-to-day tasks. In short, Told Porters are born human to human parents. They exist with hopes, dreams, fears, and grief like any of us.
So how are Told Porters chosen?
A hotly debated topic in the Porter world, the rationale behind how Told Porters are chosen is not easily discernible. For all that is nebulous in the process, however, the one common factor among all of them is none are chosen past the age of 13. That is, Told Porters are recruited very early in life and, with very few exceptions, have no living parents to speak of. Again, there have been a handful of exceptions to this unwritten rule. More on them later.
What about Heaven and Hell?
Ah yes. Perhaps this should have been the first question in this makeshift FAQ section. As much as it pains me to disappoint and offer no definitive answer regarding what happens when you die, let’s say the Porter knows precisely what happens between your death and the next step, but after that is off limits. The Porter considers themselves as somewhat of a cabbie or an airline pilot. They don’t help you off the plane, carry your luggage, and accompany you to the destination. They fly the plane, and you get off. From there, well, that’s the business of you and your respective associates.
Why is death necessary?
Why is anything necessary? Because nature demands it. Because death, perhaps more than anything else, is the binding element of human existence over which we have no control save but for what we choose to do in the meantime.
What do the Porters do when they’re not…porting?
Everyday things like anyone else. They buy groceries. They vacation (though not often and the destinations are limited).
Where do they live or stay?
Now this is one tidbit that’s rather exclusive to the Porters in terms of their occupation. Due to the nature of their tasks, Porters are required to live together in their respective, assigned areas. These areas are called districts. Yes, I know. Not terribly unique but, again, originality is not the prime directive when you’re in the oldest business in the history of the world. Some of the Porters who are more inclined to embrace the more macabre nature of their roles will often refer to their areas as dens. It’s an unfortunate kind of nomenclature but it’s stuck regardless.
How many dens are there?
At last count there were 1,114,286 districts. One for every 7000 people (including themselves). And, on a related note, each district is assigned no more than 10 and no less than 5 Porters. If you’re keeping score, that’s 5-10 Porters per every 7000 living persons. It is a thankless job to be sure, and it is difficult to overstate the time and effort it demands.
What do the Rufuses and the grandmother, etc. have to do with all this?
Back to that, actually...
TITLE: The Porter
GENRE: Literary Fantasy
AGE RANGE: 15-95
WORD COUNT: 93k
AUTHOR: Jonathan Dick
WHY IT'S A GOOD FIT: Because no one is writing about death from Death's perspective, and it's high time the Grim Reaper got a chance to tell their story.
THE HOOK: The family that slays together, stays together.
SYNOPSIS: After the sudden death of both his parents, Paul Sewell is adopted by his long lost (and thought dead) grandmother, Stella. A regular grandparent in every other way, Stella is a Death Dealer, Grim Reaper, Child of Charon, etc. She takes it upon herself to raise her grandson in a way you'd expect anyone in that line of work to do.
TARGET AUDIENCE: Anyone familiar with death.
BIO: Winner of the Thomas H. Brown Nonfiction Award, Jonathan Dick has written for Rolling Stone, NPR, Salon, and several other publications in addition to his work as a communications strategist and content creator in the private sector. He lives in the foothills of the Appalachians in Alabama.
EDUCATION: BA in English | MA in English/Creative Writing | MS in Education
EXPERIENCE/PERSONALITY: I was adopted as an infant and raised in a Fundamentalist Christian cult. When I was 15, my biological mother told me that my biological father was a Jewish man from New York City who'd committed suicide. When I was 25, she said my biological father was actually an African-American man who lived in Atlanta. When I was 35, the DNA results told me that my biological father was a regular guy who lived in North Georgia and who also happened to be 14 at the time of my conception. My biological mother at that time was 23, married, and had a 3-month-old. My first memory was attending the funeral of my grandmother and having my picture taken while sitting on the edge of her casket. I was assigned my first pallbearing gig at 10 and have been asked to perform that duty over 20 times since then. As a direct result of these and many other experiences, my personality leans toward dark humor, and by "leans" I mean "nosedives into with reckless abandon."
WRITING STYLE: If Faulkner had a secret illegitimate child with a Harlequin novelist who then raised that child on a steady diet of trauma coupled with mandatory weekly library visits and a daily double helping of the King James Bible in a backwoods Alabama setting, I'd probably be that child's friend and would do my level best to mimic their writing style.
HOBBIES/LIKES: I restore antique clocks, and I like to wrestle with Zeus, my German Shepherd/Wildebeest mix.
HOMETOWN: Birmingham, Alabama (originally)