A Children’s Tale.
Melancholy Max’s Christmas.
Of all the characters throughout the Mallee, between the Murray River and Pinnaroo, the most well known and disrespected was “Melancholy Max”! Everyone called him by that name because he never had a good word for anything! I mean it!, You’d say to him:
“You beaudy ,Maxy, it’s frid’y, end of the week!” and he’d drop the corners of his mouth in his melancholy way and mumbie:
“Hrummmph, just that much closer to Monday, and then more work”
Or if you wished him “Happy birthday Maxy!”, he’d frown and reply:” One year closer to senile dementia….Hrummmph so what’s to celebrate!?” and things like that, why, he’d find a fault in any favour, he’d even suspect “Mother Therese” of dipping her fingers in the till if he took the time to find out just who “Mother Therese” was.
So it got to be that people would go out of their way to greet him with exaggerated zeal, like a shouted ;
“GOOD DAY MAXY IT’S SUCH A BEEEEUTIFUL DAY TOODAY!!!”…but he’d just grumble and mutter;..
“It’s sure to rain”.
One of his pet complaints was about Christmas.
“What’s the point,” he’d whine, “we treat each other like dirt through the year, then try to make it up on the one day ..it’s silly”. and everyone would roll their eyes.
“Well at least one day is better than nothing ,eh Maxy?” someone would invariable suggest.
“Yeah, well, ever since my parents passed away, no-one’s ever given me a present!” Max replied.
“I’m not surprised!” people would chorus and then burst into laughter, “You’re so miserable, you’d choke a kookaburra’s laugh!” and there’d be more laughter.
It was one thing Max was accidently good at, making people laugh at his misery. And his lonnng face would droop lonnnger and people would laugh even more and they’d weep with laughter and cry:
“That Maxy….What a breakup, What a misery!…” and they’d laugh some more.
“Anyway,”Max responded,” I’ll never believe in Christmas till I see snow on the mallee tree over the sheep trough in my front paddock!” and he thrust his chin forward and nodded his head as if to affirm the impossibility of such an event.
But the conversation had grown wearisome and someone said:
“Aw, push orf, Maxy, you’re making me sad.” so he’d trudge away shoulders drooped down the street.
But such characters as Max make their presence felt even when they are not around, like if there’s a pause in the conversation and no-one can think of anything to say, someone would sigh deeply, cross their arms and say..:” And then there’s Maxy!” and invariably another would giggle and join in with;…”That reminds me of the time Max was down in his dam up to his waist trying to pull his prize bull out of the mud ” and the faces around would light up with smiles in anticipation of the story (often told, always funny) about Max and his “Prize Bull”, whose name was “Cyril”, but which everyone else in the district named; “ALOTTA”. and when the tale was finished and the laughter died down another would say;
“As useless as a fifth wheel on a wagon”…or
“As mean as a fisherman’s gaff!”…or
“As tight as Dolly Parton’s stage-dress” or again;
“He’s such a penny-pincher, you can hear the coins in his pockets squeal in pain when he walks down the street!” and others like that.
But they could always rely on Maxy to give them a good laugh, even in the worst drought, there was at least a giggle to be got from the antics of Max!.. And you know.. this started to dawn on people….especially one Christmas when things looked bleakest, with drought across the land and Max grumbling and whining down the joy of Christmas…so that his ;
“I’ll believe in Christmas the day I see snow on the mallee tree over the sheep trough in my front paddock!” became his catch-cry over the years .
But this year, after the departing figure of Max was out of earshot, someone remarked, with cunning squinted eye and gesturing index finger, and reflecting pause, and held breath (for it was going to be a momentous statement for someone who never thought of it before ) .
“You know..”he said quietly” Max is right about one thing” and no-one asked “what”, they just waited, because, you see, they never thought of it before also….”We do only wish joy on each other on the one day of the year,….but Maxy…. Maxy gives us a present every day of the year”….
There was a moments silence, then the pondering became too hard.
“Oh yeah, what does Maxy give us?”
“Why, yer big dumbbies …: LAUGHTER! where would we be without Max’s adventures?…with out his grumbling?….who would cheer us up in the hard moments if we didn’t have Maxy and his bloody bull?….can you see, you clods?…why, forget Christmas, he’s our Christ every day!!!”….and many a chin was rubbed, and many a head-lice had to duck a searching finger for that moment…till, in silent but unanimous agreement, someone said;
“Well that being true, and I’d admit it sounds about right, then it only seems fair that we give him something in return. But what?”
“Well, we could stop laughing at his miss-adventures perhaps.”
“Nah! Max wouldn’t like that, He’s comfortable in that role.” and then there was silence as deep thought blundered blindly over the stony desert.
“I’ve got it!” someone cried, and all the rest leapt away from him in unison
“Well don’t bloody well give it to us!” they cried “Go and see a doctor.”
“No..no, seriously, c`mon here and listen…”
Max woke up, rubbed his eyes and grumbled
“What a rotten dream, it’s the last time I have a vegemite-pickle sandwich before bedtime.”
.. and he wearily dragged himself out of bed and went into the kitchen. He reached for the jug to fill it from the tap over the sink, and in doing so, gazed sleepily out of the kitchen window down over his front paddock ……???? What do you think he saw?
There, covering the branches of the mallee tree over the sheep trough and indeed, in the sheep trough itself so that even the sheep stared sheepishly, was a bright mantle of what appeared to be snow! and, on a huge banner draped under the tree were painted the words:
“MERRY CHRISTMAS—YOU OLD BASTARD!!!”
The water overflowed the jug, overflowed the sink and ran down Max’s pajama leg before he closed his gaping mouth, turned off the tap and stumbled outside in shock………………..
“Well Maxy,” one of the guilty wags in the bar asked “And did you have a good Christmas day?” with a side-on wink to his mates.
“Welll”- Max scratched the back of his head as if in thought “0l’ Chris Cringle did leave me a surprise on Christmas day; you wouldn’t believe it, snow, all over the mallee tree down by the trough in my front paddock!”
“HA!” they cried, “Now do you believe in Christmas?”
“Yeah well, there may be something in it, but do you know, that mean ‘0l bugger salted the snow so as it wouldn’t melt so fast!… Now the day that I can take a handful of snow from off the mallee tree over the sheep trough down my front paddock and swallow it without gagging I’ll believe in Christmas!!!!!”
“HOLY HELL for CHRISTMAS!!!” they all groaned. “Here, Maxxy…have a beer!”