Dear Friends, Romanians, & Country Hicks,

Time yet again to regale our stalwart audience with Christmas greetings and tales from the land that time forgot. This past year has not been an especially good one for our humble burg. Poor old Harold Simms has had to be institutionalized after a rather bizarre series of events this summer. He and Mrs. Simms acquired new neighbors this spring who unfortunately brought with them several large and loud canines. The constant barking nearly drove Harold to oil up his World War I Enfield, but of course Mrs. Simms had taken the precaution of hiding it from him ages ago. Nevertheless, after espying one of the young curs “marking his territory” on a new set of tires he’d just put on his '53 Studebaker, Harold simply went over the deep end. In an effort to make amends, he invited the neighbors over for a backyard barbecue. Everything was going marvelously until it was discovered the hotdogs were literally ... well, hot dogs. After that it was much quieter around the neighborhood, absent both the noisome mutts and Harold. He is reported to be making progress, however, and Mrs. Simms hopes to have him home by next Christmas.

Reverend Peterson has been looking in on Mrs. Simms during Harold’s absence (some have said rather too often and at odd times of the day and night), and she seems a changed woman. Even Jake Williams has exhibited a rare degree of sympathy for the poor woman, offering to tend to the hen house — more likely for the opportunity to obtain free manure than for any genuine considerations for Mrs. Simms, however.

Chad Holman has moved back to town from Florida (rumor has it to avoid several patrimony suits). He has become active in local politics after it was discovered the city’s only mall was to be razed for a new Home Depot. True to his UAW roots, he argued that the mall should remain for the benefit of elderly strollers, and the monetary losses suffered by the greedy capitalist businesses faltering therein be hanged. He had threatened to go down with the building when the wrecking balls came, but in the event he “overslept,” having accepted the hospitality of a professional ballerina from Dave’s Doll House the night before.

The Cratons, too, have had a rather challenging, if eventful, year. On a sad note, John’s father passed away in June after a short illness. He lived a full 83 years and left a wonderful example for his sons to follow ... though John is still a long way from living up to it. Given his encounter with the stray cat in 2002, John no longer even attempts to perform these days, though he has been busy teaching violin (or some semblance of it) and has been composing rather frenetically. At last count he’d offended the muses with something in the neighborhood of 1,500 pages of music this year alone, the bulk of which was for the completion of his first opera. At present he is trying to amass enough dirt on various artistic directors at opera houses around the globe so that he can convince at least one of them to stage the cacophony.

Debbie continues her regular daily routine of healing the halt and maim and stamping out disease and pestilence. She is giving up the obstetrics side of her practice at the end of the year, however, after insurance rates went up yet again. How much longer she’ll continue plying her trade in Bedrock remains an open question as she and her family are growing rather weary of having to pay for the privilege of working here. And since she stopped accepting livestock as payment, things have grown rather desperate for the beleaguered doctor.

Ben is in his sophomore year at Purdue but is no longer majoring in nuclear physics. (No more need be said as we’re sure everyone heard about that on Fox News. The radiation levels are down considerably in his old dorm now.) Instead he is devoting his academic pursuits to computer science and delights in talking above the heads of everyone else in the family who thought they were computer savvy. Though offered a position recently with a major porn site, he is holding out for better opportunities.

Jonathan has decided that at 17 it is time he started acting like a teenager. The rest of the family are still grieving over that. The only social butterfly among the offspring, he delights in gathering with friends for various events, especially those that involve sharp blades, small animals, and bonfires. Otherwise he maintains his interest in physics, Latin, and bassoon (quite the combination, that).

Stephen is enjoying his last year in junior high and, like Chad Holman, has become politically astute. He ran for student body president and had an admirable following; but as every politician knows, substance and leadership must give way to any challenge by a supple young cheerleader. He wasn’t overly disappointed in the outcome, however, and seems quite content to hibernate in the small computer lab he has set up in his room.

And with that we wish all our readers a happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous New Year ... or as close to it as may be had.

John, Deborah, Ben, Jon & Stephen Craton (and all the rest of the menagerie)

And now a Christmas greeting from Ben...

Dear Friends and People I have not met, nor have any intention of meeting,

Greetings! Happy holidays! And various other nonsense.

You are probably wondering why you are also receiving some holiday cheer from myself as well as from my father. I’m sorry to report, but since his birthday (during which he could clearly see the “hill&#q148 passing beyond the horizon in his rearview mirror) he has become — how can I say it? — a delirious old coot. Not that I mean any ill feelings towards the man, but he no longer remembers my name unless I wear a name tag at home at all times. Given this, I must clarify what was said earlier in his section of this travesty known as the “Craton Christmas Letter.”

First, allow me to give an update on the poor old man. Perhaps his situation can best be summed up in the following list of events: Bedford, audiologist, three boys, bookstore, online bookstore, musician, cat bite, finger fiasco, old age. If you didn’t feel sorry for him after I mentioned Bedford, shame on you. He has most recently relegated himself to his office to compose and also write music. We think he is, at least. Listening at the office door, I’m positive I can hear him perfecting his guitar solo, but I cannot be completely sure. Please send him donations and other monetary gifts to the return address on your envelope with the extra line, “ATTN: John Craton’s Corvette for Eldest Son Fund.” We duly appreciate your concern.

As for my poor mother, what can I say? She has raised us. After dealing with the joy of parenthood for the past twenty years, she now feels her sanity slowly slipping away. She now takes much pleasure in taking tap-dancing lessons and collecting countless more armadillos. Perhaps I didn’t realize her fight with her mental defect until I caught her attempting to combine her two passions. One Friday whilst returning from college for a visit, I opened the door and, stepping over the welcoming “snuffle grunt” of her motion-sensing welcome armadillo, I could hear from the other room the melody of a dance number from a bygone era. I opened the kitchen door and was taken aback by the sight of my mother tap-dancing with a dead stuffed armadillo leading. I probably would not have though this strange if not for the fact that she was tapping to “Marvin Gaye and Metallica’s Greatest Polka Duets.” I believe I will make sure she no longer buys CDs off of eBay.

My next younger brother Jon is nothing like my father alluded to in his letter. He does not in fact go to his friends’ houses to sacrifice small animals to Asmodious the Demon Lord. This is quite preposterous; in truth, such an accusation is ludicrous. Allow me to clarify. He in fact sacrifices buffalo and moose to Asmodious the Demon Lord. He also takes frequent pleasure in running hither and yon with these friends of his doing other rebellious and paganistic acts such as playing Halo, watching anime, and participating in Dungeons and Dragons. One day I hope to save his soul, but for now, if I try anything, he forces me to drink some kind of whiches bwew.

Ah yes, this brings me to Stephen. Contrary to what my father would have you believe he does not have a computer lab up in his room. No. He does however possess some kind of glowing blue Pandora’s Box which constantly produces “break waves” that permeate throughout the house and cause computers and other computer-aided devices to explode or fail, usually in a spectacular fashion. He has decided to become a hermit, we believe. I say “believe” because we haven’t seen him in more than four months. Last we heard from him he was working on some kind of new website that he will never update or finish.

As for myself, I gave up the ROTC thing after I found out that I could not order female officers to wear bikinis while my aircraft carrier was anchored in the tropics. My dreams dashed, I decided networking and telecommunications was more up my alley (and more up my pay scale). So I now work with rack servers and protocols and run my own server farm in my apartment. Yes, my apartment. I now live on my own and know the joy of checking the mail and finding bills from here, there, and yon. I also found myself a woman. A girl I met a year and a half ago while visiting a church in Bedford. Shawndine is from Arizona and had the misfortune of finding herself here two years ago. Can’t say much about her other than she does a good pixi impression and is awfully good at the “being pretty” thing.

Well, that’s about all I care to write. As you can see, my version of events is far superior to that “other” version you received. Now, if you will excuse me I have to remind my dad to eat again and give my mom her tranquilizers. Ja ne.

Ben Craton, Esquire

P.S. Go Boilermakers!

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