Remember naughty boy’s advice: As good as you can be

Published 1:48 am Saturday, December 8, 2018

I admit it. During The past few weeks, I have developed an addiction to the Hallmark Christmas shows. One thing leads to another. Those happy Christmas shows brought to mind favorite Christmas songs.

Then suddenly it hits me, like it does almost every Christmas season. From out of the blue one of my favorite Christmas poems came to mind. I visualize a little boy in overalls with his hands in his pockets. His hair is messy and uncombed. He stands at a department store window gazing at toys. There is a half grin on his freckled face. He is the naughty boy from Eugene Field’s poem, “Jest ‘Fore Christmas.” No doubt, he has his eye on something he wants in that window, so he’s thinking, “Jest ‘Fore Christmas I’m as good as I can be.”

I recall years ago, I thought of the poem while I was sorting through strings of Christmas lights and ornaments. I remembered those key lines, but I wanted the poem at hand. I drifted into my husband’s office. “Where’s that book with the “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” poem in it?” I inquired. I was almost sure it was in there somewhere. I just couldn’t put my hands on it. In fact, I thought it was a thick, hard back of several hundred pages. I kept scanning the shelves. No luck. My husband turned from his desk, got up, rummaged through a bookshelf or two and emerged with a slim little paperback volume.

He smiled as he held it up. “I found this little book in a yard sale. When I thumbed through it and saw all these wonderful poems by various poets, I got so nervous I couldn’t wait to pay for it before somebody else reached for it. I knew I had a treasure.” He was an expert at turning up books we considered treasures at library book sales and yard sales. I reached for the book but he already had it open. The title is “One Hundred and One Famous Poems,” he informed me. He flipped some pages and read a poem. He read another. And another. I was getting impatient. “Please give me that,” I pleaded. He read one more and handed it over.

I understood his fascination. Within the pages of the book were poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Keats, Carl Sandburg, Sidney Lanier and many more.

Two other Eugene Field poems: “Little Boy Blue” and “The Duel” turned up. The first was about some dusty toys awaiting a child called away by an angel’s song. The other was oh, so familiar. “The Duel” described how the gingham dog and calico cat got into a terrible spat and disappeared. I had read it to my children dozens of times.

It might be well for all of us to remember the naughty boy’s advice: “Jest ‘Fore Christmas (and every other day, too) to be as good as yer kin be.”

Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.