December 20th, 2010
01:43 PM ET

Letters to the President: #700 'The Chicago cowboy Christmas'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The White House always seems like a busy but orderly place. I have been to places where that is not so much the case…

Dear Mr. President,

It just occurred to me as I started to write that this is letter number 700. How about that? Seems as if you started in office and I started writing only days ago. And I suppose it was. 700 days ago. Ha!

As you may recall, around Christmastime I often give politics a bit of a rest and tend to simply write a bit more about the season. After all, I’m pretty sure we’ll still have plenty of bickering and arm twisting to play with in January.

I suppose at times like this your memories drift back to Chicago and, oddly enough, mine do too. My father, as I have told you, was from Chicago and he told me the most wonderful tales of growing up there. His family was poor to be sure, but as a child that notion largely eluded me. I just thought his youth had been one great adventure.

One year at Christmas we went to visit one of his sisters and her three boys, our cousins. Not that we knew them. They were young and my dad’s military service had kept us far from the city for many years, so as far as my sister, brother, and I were concerned, we were going to spend quality time with strangers.

I can’t recall if we were going for dinner, or just to visit a while, or what. What I distinctly remember was the surprise of finding out that my relatives did not live in a house (as virtually every person I knew did in the suburban or rural places where we had lived; not grand houses by any stretch, instead, simple, plain, but houses nonetheless) but rather our kin lived in an apartment. Third or fourth floor as I recall. And the second surprise came moments later when I met my cousins.

They were small. First graders maybe. Probably even younger. Dressed in matching red and white cowboy outfits, complete with shiny boots, toy six guns, and felt hats. And they played their parts like pros, announcing the moment we entered, “We are cowboys, and cowboys fight.” For the next couple of hours, they waged a nonstop, chap slapping, pistol slinging, barroom brawling, free for all that ranged throughout the apartment. They leapt from sofas and chairs like desperados; flung each other across the room like bowling balls; screamed, hooted, hollered, punched, pinched, and bit like cats; pausing now and then only to snatch a nut from a basket, toss it to the hardwood and stomp it to pieces with a Roy Roger’s heel, picking the edible bits out and munching them quickly before resuming the ruckus. The neighbor who lived below apparently did not care for it, because he would respond to the nut cracking by pounding on the ceiling with a broom handle. The cowboys would respond themselves by explaining, “Harold is pounding,” and stomp even more vigorously.

We were older, bigger, and stronger than our diminutive cousins, and so we could fend off their attacks whenever they turned our way, but only to a degree. It was still a chore.

The evening was exhausting and exhilarating all at once. I am sure my aunt put plenty of work into making the place nice, setting up a tree and other decorations, and certainly she must have had some good food, maybe even gifts for us. But aside from some holly leaf shaped bowls which miraculously survived the melee, the dueling cowboys are all I can remember of that Christmas visit.

Seriously, it was wild. In some ways, it defined Chicago for me in a personal way beyond my dad’s stories. For many years afterward, in long drives at holiday times my parents would bring up the story, and we would laugh and laugh. I would look out the window at the frozen fields of Illinois sliding past, and my thoughts would fill with images of the Christmas of Flying Cowboys.

Good times. Hope your week is going well. I’m still finishing up some late year work, but I have time for a cold soda if you want to give a call.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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