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Judging from a handful of references in his letters, Christmas was a low-key event in the Howard household. Howard mentions in one letter he usually received a book for Christmas. This quote from letter to August Derleth, written on or about December 29, 1932 is a pretty typical example:
… I hope you had an enjoyable Christmas. It was pretty quiet in these parts, nothing out of the ordinary occurring. Personally, I did about as usual — ate too much rich food, drank a good deal of whiskey, and shot a few holes in the air, by way of celebration. But it was all mighty tame. I can remember Christmases when liquor flowed and gunpowder was burnt in appropriate quantities — but that’s neither here nor there.
Other the firing of a barrage of gunfire in honor of the Baby Jesus, that does sound like a pretty tame Christmas — the type most Americans celebrate then and now. Of course, during The Depression in rural Texas, it was likely a simple celebration — indeed nothing like the commercialization of the holiday we see today.
But there were a few exceptions. In a letter to August Derleth in February 1935, he mentions some post-Christmas shenanigans he indulged in, which may or may not be a true account of events — Howard was known to wildly exaggerate some of his day to day encounters with people:
I had a very mild Christmas. Not even a nip of whiskey. Though a few weeks later I did liquor up, for the first time in eleven months. Wandered into the county-seat of an adjoining county, got to boozing with some friends, and got a lot drunker than I ever intended. One of them — a 220 pound giant — went on a real tear — high, wide and handsome. He revived the old Western custom of shooting up the joint, and mixing whiskey with gun-smoke and flying lead is no combination for a peaceable man. Things are so very hazy in my memory I don’t know whether I objected to the noise, or if he took a shot at me for a joke, but I do remember coming to hand-grips with him, and one of my knees is still a bit lame from the knock it got as we hit the floor together. If I’d hit on my head it probably wouldn’t have hurt me as much.
Of course, there is that famous night of debauchery in 1925 Howard parcipated in with his friends, Herbert Klatt, Tevis Clyde Smith and Truitt Vinson. The party occurred a day or two after Christmas on a ranch belonging to Smith’s uncle. Howard relates the tale to H.P. Lovecraft in a letter, ca. June 1931:
I remember a wild night I passed on an isolated ranch in mid-winter, several years ago; one of the party was wild drunk on beer and another was stark crazy on raw Jamaica ginger, with the obsession that he was a werewolf. One of the bunch was a young German who didn’t drink, and wasn’t used to the violent drunks common to Americans; he backed up against a wall and I couldn’t help laughing at his expression when the Jamaica victim began to smash the furniture, gallop about on all-fours and howl like a mad-dog. About midnight a howling blizzard came up to add to the general lunacy. Gad, it makes me laugh to think about it now.
Of course, the young German was Klatt, the subject of Rob Roehm’s just-published book, Lone Scout of Letters. Klatt also makes an appearance in Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs as “Hubert Grotz.”
So, it appears Howard could either have a mild Christmas or a wild one, depending on his mood and company. No matter how you celebrate Christmas, please do so safely and relatively soberly — we want you around to read our posts next year. And here’s wishing you, from all of us here on the blog, a Very Merry Christmas!