‘You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?’ said Scrooge.
‘If quite convenient, sir.’
‘It’s not convenient,’ said Scrooge, ‘and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?’
The clerk smiled faintly.
‘And yet,’ said Scrooge, ‘you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.’
The clerk observed that it was only once a year.
‘A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!’ said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. ‘But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.’
“‘A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!’ said Scrooge . . .” This week’s Stream-of-Consciousness prompt, excuse, immediately brought to mind the famous exchange between Ebenezer Scrooge and his poorly paid clerk, Bob Cratchit, from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — a novella first published in 1843 that did not earn a great deal of money for its author upon publication but that softened the hearts of its readers and encouraged charitable giving. Not only did the book apparently increase charitable giving in England during the first six months after its publication, but its influence upon giving was still being noted many years after the powerful tale of miserly Mr. Scrooge, whose life is transformed through the scenes of past, present, and future Christmases, made its literary debut.
Perhaps one reason that the word “excuse” put me in mind of A Christmas Carol is that Christmas is, after all, just three days away. Even more relevant, my brother Michael just re-posted his charming movie version of Dickens’ tale on his blog a couple of days ago. What is singular about Michael’s “film” (sorry, Michael, but the quotation marks seem necessary here) is that all the roles in his simplified version of the story are played by his nephews and nieces, the oldest of whom was 12 at the time. Michael shot the movie with his video camera in short snippets, which he later spliced together with some impressive special effects. I’m not actually sure how the movie comes across to an audience who isn’t related to the actors and actresses, but, within our family, the movie was an instant hit.
You can read Michael’s summary of the movie’s back story here, but let me add a few words of explanation, in case you are a lazy reader like me and don’t always click on the links. Keep in mind that the year was 2000. Although he is a musician and an academic by profession, my younger brother is a techie by inclination, and he had a hankering to try out his computer’s capacities for editing film. Throw in a long car ride from New England to talk over specifics of the adaptation with my youngest sister and a week with extended family in a small apartment in Georgia, and Uncle Michael’s A Christmas Carol was born.
And so we have my son, laboriously repeating after his prompter, “That’s a poor excuse [pause] for picking a man’s pocket [pause] every twenty-fifth of De-cem-BER.” Aside from the charm of hearing a not-always-cooperative (but always adorable) 5-year-old recite Dickens’ lines, Uncle Michael’s version of the Christmas classic has a much more poignant aspect. One of the tiny cast members is my niece, who was fighting neuroblastoma at the time of the filming. She had been diagnosed at the end of July; by December, her frail little body had been through various treatments, but her sweet spirit and charming personality shine through in her scenes as Mrs. Cratchit. If you can’t quite envision a two-and-a-half-year-old playing Mrs. Cratchitt, watch the film.
On March 11, 2001, we lost this dear little girl to cancer. Caroline’s story is not really mine to tell, but her presence is an integral part of the movie.
Caroline’s presence in this movie — which is literally a “family film,” made by a member of my family not for commercial reasons but purely for the family’s enjoyment (although I’d rather not think about how many hours my brother must have poured into it) — is by no means its only charm. While some of Dickens’ well-known lines make it into Uncle Michael’s version, such as the “poor excuse” reference that brought this post within the sphere of the Stream-of-Consciousness challenge, there are a few modern tweaks, such as a singing fish instead of Marley’s face on the door knocker or a talking alarm clock to tell Scrooge the hour instead of chiming church bells. Some scenes were omitted or greatly simplified, and there may be subtle references to the 1970 musical Scrooge, starring Albert Finney, which is a family favorite.
As I stated earlier, I can’t quite fathom how this movie comes across to non-family members. My brother asked permission to share it on his blog several years ago,and I would be interested to learn whether many folks have taken out 15 minutes of their lives to watch it. If you’re like me right now, driven to the point of making lists because there are so many things that must be accomplished in the next two days, you probably don’t have time to experience this unique version of the Victorian classic. But I re-watched the movie yesterday, because I never need an excuse — or even a ghostly guide — to visit this particular Christmas Past. Children change a lot in 14 years. And one precious child will not be seen again in this earthly life.
Notes: Had anyone needed an excuse for picking a pocket, I provided one when I dropped my wallet while touring the Biltmore Estate this Saturday. I am deeply grateful to the unknown visitor who turned in my wallet to Lost-and-Found.
Thank you, Leigh Michaels, for hosting SoCS this week. As soon as I saw the word “excuse,” I thought of the line from A Christmas Carol. I skimmed wikipedia’s entry before writing; I hope that isn’t cheating on the stream-of-consciousness aspect.