Television station manager Deke McClusky was a devoutly Christian man, especially when he drank bourbon, which is where he got the idea for the Holiday Hearth Yule Log Special. Not that it was his original idea. He’d heard about the daylong broadcast of a crackling fire beamed out annually on New York’s WPIX—heard it, presumably, over yet more bourbons at the Midwestern Broadcaster’s Convention in Cincinnati. He’d told everyone at the staff meeting that the Holiday Hearth would supplant the station’s regular lineup from 10am to 4 pm on Christmas day.
For six straight hours, the station would broadcast the image of a roaring fireplace.
But when a producer opened the box of tapes sent special from WPIX late afternoon on Christmas Eve she discovered not the pre-recorded Holiday Hearth but a series of old public service announcements promoting automotive frugality during the recent gas crisis. Deke called an emergency staff meeting, which settled into awkward silence when he asked for a volunteer to spend Christmas alone, shooting a live broadcast of a fire.
Gerald raised his hand.
Deke clapped him on the shoulder and told him, “This is a great service to the station, and the entire viewing community of Rapid City, Iowa. Just think about all those poor people who live in apartment buildings and drafty little trailers. They don’t have a chimney for Santa Claus to climb down. They don’t have a hearth to gather around as a family. That’s what this day is really about. Kith. Kin. You know about kith? I’m talking about a simple hearth that people can gather around and feel the warmth—if not actual warmth—that we can provide them through the power of television. That’s a great gift for a cameraman like yourself to bestow.
“Also, you’ll get time and a half.”
Gerald could use the extra money to buy a new starter for his Datsun. Working through the day also solved the pressing problem of how he would spend Christmas 1983: at his mother’s house with her and his stepfather Bruce and Bruce’s five kids, among all the mysterious, meaningless traditions of another family. Or else at his aunt’s, where his father and a mismatched assortment of bachelor cousins and uncles would barely talk at all until they started shouting.
There was a third Christmas option. He could drive over to Christina’s parents’ house and walk right in and declare that he’d been wrong, about a lot of things. That the time apart had so sharply clarified what she meant to him. She would see that he could make things right, thanks to this hard-won knowledge. Or maybe instead of walking inside he would make his declaration through the window, kneeling in the snow and watching his words of apology billow out in front of him as something you could actually see and pass your fingers through. In both imagined scenarios he brought along a gift. It was something in a small box sealed with a ribbon and bow. Gerald never bothered to imagine exactly what might be in the box, but he knew it was expensive.