Tarnished Saints’ Christmas
Get a glimpse of the Taylor Twelve when they were children, and find out how they came to be called Tarnished Saints. Told from the eldest son, Thomas’s point of view, each chapter highlights one of the brothers.
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Excerpt from Tarnished Saints’ Christmas:
Growing up being the oldest of twelve brothers and the son of a preacher wasn’t easy most the time. My pa, Webster Thomas Taylor, was a hell of a preacher in the little town of Sweet Water, Michigan, and my ma, Albina, was a saint to put up with him.
When I was nineteen something happened one Christmas that I’ll never forget. Actually, no one in my family will ever forget that Christmas, as it seemed as though it were an omen of things to come – things that were going to happen to us nearly twenty years later.
Put it this way. My pa expected me to watch after my brothers and set a good example, but being nineteen years old with a girlfriend, no job and no car, I had my mind on other things.
It was Christmastime – actually 12 days before Christmas, and each day it seemed one of us did something to make my pa more and more upset.
When I think back on it now, I’m surprised our antics didn’t cause him to die of a heart attack that Christmas, as we’d all given him good cause.
I suppose I started all the trouble when I brought home my first car. Little did I know it was only the beginning of a lot of trying times for us all, and I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live.
“Thomas Didymus Taylor, you’ve just bought yourself a car,” said Gus Kramer, the resident mechanic of the little town of Sweet Water, Michigan. “It just needs a little work, that’s all, but ya just keep hanging around my garage like you’ve been doin’ and I’ll teach ya everything ya need to know.”
The town was five miles from Thunder Lake where we lived in a log cabin on the edge of the water. The roads weren’t plowed half the time and very dangerous in the winter when they became icy.
“Here’s the money,” I said, anxiously handing him the fifty dollars Levi had scammed off the church collection plate while wearing his altar boy’s robe. I had every intention of paying it back to the church as soon as I found a job. But I knew I’d never be able to find nor get to a job in the middle of winter if I didn’t have a car to drive. Neither would I be able to bring Brianne to the Sweet Water Holiday Snowman Festival without it. I didn’t think she’d care to ride on the back of a horse or in a hay wagon as I pulled her with the family tractor, so a car was a necessity to me, no doubt about it.
“Fifty? I thought we said a hundred.” Gus looked down at the wadded-up bills I plopped in his hands.
My heart about stopped beating right there, thinking I’d heard him wrong when he’d told me the initial price of the car. I didn’t have another fifty bucks, nor was there any more money in Levi’s hiding place under the loose floorboard in the barn. I’d seen Levi scamming the collection basket every Sunday for the last month, and stashing money away thinking no one saw him. Hell, it’d be another month before he could steal fifty more dollars, and I just couldn’t wait for it. I needed a car now.
“Gus, you said fifty and this is all I have,” I told him, straightening a ten dollar bill against my jacket. I’d heard my pa tell my ma that Gus was a swindler one day when he thought we were all asleep, so I was banking on the fact that I’d heard him right and Gus was just trying to pull one over on me. I had to stand my ground.
Gus fixed cars out of his garage since he didn’t have a real shop. He was probably a good ten years older than me. He told me he’d just gotten married and had their first baby and right now he couldn’t afford a gas station with a garage like he’d always wanted. He’d just bought a tow truck too, so he said he wasn’t going to be making any drastic moves unless something just fell into his lap.
I knew what he meant since this money I was using just kind of fell into my lap as well. Gus told me maybe we could work together some day since he’d been teaching me how to fix cars and I’d picked up on it so quickly, and I liked that idea.
“Where’d you get the money anyway?” Gus squinted one eye to look at me over the top of his glasses. “Does your father know about this?”
Everyone in town was afraid of my pa, so I knew that was why he was asking.
“Sure, it was his idea,” I lied, hoping Gus wasn’t going to go back and tell my pa. If so, I’d have to confess this to Pa, and he wasn’t going to like it. None of us ever fessed-up unless we were caught. I shudder to think what would have happened if he knew half the things my brothers and I did through the years.
“Well, then I guess since you’re the preacher’s son and all, I’ll let you have the car for only fifty.”
“Thanks,” I said, grabbing the keys from him and jumping inside. It was a Chevy convertible, rusty and in horrible condition, but looked like a golden carriage in my eyes. I didn’t even care that the top was stuck down since we hadn’t had time to fix it, and it was the start of winter. I’d have to ride exposed to the elements and freeze my ass off for now, but any kind of car was better than none. I only wished it hadn’t been so cold for the past month. This had been one of the worse Decembers I could ever remember on Thunder Lake.
I couldn’t wait to drive by Brianne’s house and show off the fact I now owned a car. Brianne was the love of my life and we planned on marrying someday and having our own twelve apostles, as we both wanted lots of kids.
If I hadn’t been so excited to finally have my own car after having to wait for nineteen years, I probably would have noticed my brother Levi standing just outside the garage watching me. I backed out of the driveway and was putting it in gear when not only Levi but also my brother Judas stepped out in front of the car.
“Nice,” said Levi with a nod and a crooked smile. He held a grocery bag in his hands and there was something green and fuzzy as well as something that looked like mushrooms sticking out of the top of the bag. Levi loved to cook and was always making weird things for us to eat that he’d bought with the one dollar allowance we got once a month for doing chores. One dollar wasn’t enough to buy a beer in this town, but it was all my pa could afford since being a minister was not a good paying job. He’d told us if we wanted money, to go out and earn it like the rest of the world.
My younger brothers didn’t get any allowance at all, and had to wear all our old hand-me-downs. I felt bad for Nate and Thad who were the youngest, since by the time the clothes got to them they were threadbare with big holes.
“Where’d you get it?” asked Judas with wide eyes, always wanting what I had. He was the black sheep of the family and more or less a loner. Though he tagged around with us whenever he got tired of being by himself, Levi and I didn’t really want him to, because he always caused us trouble.
“I got the car from Gus Kramer,” I told them. “I bought it from him. It’s mine now.”
“Then give us a ride home so we don’t have to wait for Pa to get done at the church,” said Levi. “I’m making dinner tonight, and what I have planned takes a while to cook, and you know how grouchy pa gets if dinner isn’t on the table exactly at six.”
We all had to take our turn cooking as well as cleaning and even doing laundry at the Laundromat in town. Even the younger boys were no exception. Of course, if my pa would have bought my ma a washer and dryer for the house it would have helped, but he said we couldn’t afford it. Funny tho, how every Monday morning – after passing the basket around for a second collection on Sundays for the poor – pa seemed to have a pocketful of quarters to give ma to do the laundry.
Anyway, we lived simply because that’s the way pa wanted it. According to him, it’s what God wanted as well. I never could understand how being poor and hungry was godly. Ma never complained about it, being the kind-hearted soul that she was. I also think she liked us helping her out because she truly enjoyed spending time with us. After all, if it wasn’t for her joining the Sweet Water Ladies Auxiliary she’d have no friends at all. Pa spent all his time at the church and basically ignored her – that is until every time he decided he wanted another baby.
Levi and Judas both hopped into the car right over the side and I pulled away with the tires spinning as the sky opened up and it began to snow for the first time this winter. Just my luck it had been too cold to snow all month and now that I had a car with no top, it decided to make up for the dry spell.
“Put the top up, it’s cold back here,” complained Judas from the back seat. Judas was sixteen and Levi was seventeen. The three of us being the oldest should have had the same friends and hung around with each other but we didn’t. I tolerated Judas but Levi and Judas never seemed to get along.
“I have to fix it first, so just close your mouth and enjoy the ride,” I said, heading in the direction of Brianne O’Malley’s house at the other side of town.
“Where’d you get the money to buy it?” asked Levi suspiciously, and I knew where this was leading, so I didn’t even bother to lie.
“I got it from the stash you had hidden in the barn from pilfering the collection basket every time you served as altar boy for the last month,” I told him.
“Damn it, Tommy, I was saving that for something special,” spat Levi. Levi was the only one who I allowed to call me Tommy. It was a special thing between us. The rest of my brothers called me Thomas. My father wanted us all to call each other by the full name of the apostle we were named after, but of course that didn’t always hold up – like with Levi and Zeb, but I’ll get to that later.
“Yeah, Levi, you were probably saving it for some booze,” said Judas from the back seat.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Levi. “I was saving that money to buy my own restaurant some day.”
I hit the gas pedal to see just how fast this baby would go, causing both Judas and Levi to fall back into their seats which stopped the squabbling between them. That is, until Judas started attacking me as well.
“I saw you both drinking from Pa’s big gallon of wine he keeps under the kitchen sink and uses for mass,” said Judas.
“You say anything and you’re dead,” growled Levi.
“Quiet, both of you,” I said, seeing Brianne walking down the street with some of her girlfriends. I slowed down and nodded, barely able to see them now as the snow was falling harder, not to mention filling up my front seat as well as my lap.
The girls all thought it was funny that we were riding around with the top down while it was snowing, and started laughing hysterically which didn’t sit right with me. I was trying to impress them, not make myself the subject of Mabel Durnsby’s next explosion of idle gossip. Of course, that ol’ busybody, Mabel, was probably watching right now from some window anyway.
“Isn’t that DeLaney McDermott with her?” asked Judas, and I knew he was probably getting a hard-on right now no matter how cold he was or how much snow he had piled up on his lap. He’d been asking Levi and me about sex lately and trying to get us to give him a condom. Of course we didn’t tell him anything he wanted to know, nor did we give him a condom. After all, Levi and I were older and needed them, but we couldn’t see what girl in her right mind would ever want to have sex with Judas. He’d just have to fend for himself if he ever did get lucky some day.
Just thinking about sex and Brianne at the same time took my attention away from driving. Brianne’s red hair and freckles were driving me insane and when she giggled and threw me a kiss, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
“Watch out!” shouted Levi, but it was too late. I hit a patch of ice and the car started to skid, and when I looked up I realized we were right in front of the Twelve Apostles Church that my pa ran. Pa was bent over with his head inside the back of his car. I could see him struggling with the cradle he made and the and baby Jesus he’d painted, trying to get them out of the car. They were going to be used in the church’s life-sized nativity set for the play that was to take place during the holiday festival.
“Damn it!” I ground out as I pumped the breaks and tried to redirect the wheel, but the car was headed right for Pa’s station wagon and there was nothing I could do about it.
“What the hell!” shouted Levi, casing Pa to look up just then. He let go of the cradle and baby Jesus and they fell to the ground as he jumped out of the way just as our car slammed into the back end of the station wagon. I closed my eyes when I heard the sickening crunch of metal, knowing that my dream car was turning into a pile of junk right before my eyes.
Ma ran out of the barber shop next door when she heard the crash. She had my younger brothers Andrew and Nate with her who were eight and six years old. They weren’t in there getting haircuts since ma gave us those at home, but that’s where the Ladies Auxiliary met in the back room to plan the festival since Sweet Water didn’t have a real town hall.
“Boys are you all right?” Ma rushed over to help us but Pa had that look of anger in his eyes that told me we were in big trouble.
“What did you do!” shouted Pa, gritting his teeth and looking like he was going to explode. I thought he was talking just about the cars until I saw him hold up the smashed cradle and a ceramic baby Jesus that was now shattered into pieces.
My brothers John and Pete who were eleven and twelve ran up next with some of their friends, having stayed after school for detention again. Right behind them was Brianne, Delaney, and a bunch of girls.
I’d never been so embarrassed in my life. It was my first car, and probably my last if my pa was going to have anything to say about it, which we all knew he would. He’d not only give us all a lecture when we got home, but he’d most likely put our personal business into one of his Sunday sermons like he usually did. Just one more thing to embarrass us. No matter what, pa wasn’t going to take this lightly.
I tried to start the engine but it wouldn’t turn over, and by the look of the station wagon I knew we would be having to walk places or hitch a ride from someone for awhile, because there was no way in hell all of us were going to fit inside now when we went to mass on Sundays. Actually, we hadn’t all fit inside for quite awhile now. Usually our Aunt Cappy drove some of us in her car, but no one ever wanted to ride with her since her driving was pretty scary.
The snow filled up the seats of my new car, and I felt like burrowing my head under the pile just to hide away, as the girls on the curb started to laugh at me again. Between their laughing and my father’s shouting at me, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to show my face in Sweet Water again.