"Yah, yah, yah," she said in her accented English. She was in a hurry to get downstairs and had completely forgotten that she had to propagate the Santa legend.
Finally came the call. "Okay, you can come down now," my father's voice rang out. My mother almost fell over her own feet getting down the stairs. We trailed behind and stared with amazement as she ran to the front door, threw it open and ran out into the snow in her hosiery-clad feet.
"Where is it?" she cried, looking left to right, then across to the neighbor's drive and finally down the street to the big school parking lot.
"Where's what?" my dad shouted, standing in the doorway. "Get in here. What's the matter with you? What are you looking for?"
"The cabin cruiser!" she shrieked. "Where is it?"
"The what?" Dad exploded, followed by some four-letter words that had nothing to do with Christmas. "Get back in here!"
Mom finally staggered in, her legs coated with snow clumps, her lipstick smeared as she stood shaking with the cold. "Where is it?" she tried one more time in a tiny, pitiful voice.
"What are you talking about?" Dad demanded. "Your present is right there!" he popped, pointing at a medium-sized box on the floor.
"That?" she asked. "That?" The shock was evident. "How can you fit a cabin cruiser in a box like that?" Suddenly an idea occurred to her. It was probably like the game shows on television. Of course they couldn't haul a heavy trailer loaded with a boat through all this snow! They would keep it garaged somewhere in a showroom. Surely the box held life-jackets or maybe a ski rope and some cushions. There would be a little card in there and that's where it would say, "Merry Christmas - Your Very Own Cabin Cruiser!"
She flung herself to the floor, ripping the paper from the box. My brother protested and pushed at her. Obviously she didn't understand Christmas Eve etiquette. This present was the ONLY big present and it was for the whole family. She was ruining THE big event. She ignored him and then shoved a ripped package of leaking brandy chocolates from Tante Sophie in Germany at him. "Here, open this!" she snarled, using her genuine Zsa Zsa Gabor fake diamond bracelet to slit through the layers of tape that sealed the box.
I stood there, watching, hoping for my dad's sake that there was a cabin cruiser somehow folded into that little box. Otherwise, he would be helping Santa for the rest of the night, and then some.
Dad was oblivious. He stood nearby, his feet spread and his hands on his hips, proudly waiting for the great unveiling.
Finally, the box was opening and Mom reached in. Her hands flew backwards, as if burned, and a great look of puzzlement darkened the tears of joy upon her face. "What is it?" she said in a mewling little voice. "I don't know what this is!"
My father cleared up the mystery immediately. "It's a brand new chord organ!" he said proudly. "See, you can hit that button and it plays a chord. Now the kids can learn an instrument and you can sing all those songs from Germany!" He was unbelievably proud of his clever gift...standing there with a chestful of air and waiting to be hugged and praised.
My mother got to her feet in increments, her back to my dad. I saw her from a profile and stepped back to hide behind Aunt Gert. My mother turned slowly then, her hair hanging in unpinned hanks, her stockings torn with runs and her nails broken from tearing at the box. As she turned, the ferocious look of a crazed demon newly released from Hell filled her face and the lipstick smear looked like dripping blood. I feared for my father's life.
"That? That's what you waste the ONE BIG GIFT on? An organ? Where's my cabin cruiser? I told you I wanted a cabin cruiser! I went down to Johnson's Boat Center and even picked a few out and told them to write it down--that you would be coming in and they should show you which ones I wanted! I picked one out in emerald green! Where is my cabin cruiser?!!!" she demanded, shaking and foaming. Aunt Gert and Uncle Bert were gathering their shoes and heading for the door. My brother and I had retreated back upstairs and hidden beneath the bed.
There was a great silence from downstairs. My brother, never one to be patient, was demanding to get the rest of his gifts. I knew it was probably a good idea for us to check on my dad; he may be bleeding, or worse.
We crept downstairs and there was my dad, sitting in his chair with an empty bottle of peppermint schnapps clutched in one fist. His mouth was open and he was blessfully asleep. My mother was lying on the couch, one Zsa Zsa-festooned arm flung over her eyes. The was no sound coming from her.
My brother crawled over to the box where the organ sat, slowly pulling out the cord and plugging it into the wall. While I sat on my knees, unsure what to do next, he turned on the switch and slowly, oh so slowly picked out most of the notes of a very recognizable melody. I knew the time had come that we would all die.
"I'm Pop-eye, the sailor man..." he played.
Let's just say we never again had a big gift Christmas. From that point on all we got were things like socks and underwear; I even got a box of dusting rags one year. "You'd better learn it now, while you're young," my mother said.
I Believe in Santa
When I was a little girl, my family celebrated Christmas on its eve. My mother brought this tradition with her from her native Germany. We didn't have much family close by so we generally had guests who had no family of their own. As a child, this added to the excitement, and it always meant that this was more than just a regular four-person family dinner.
When you celebrate on the eve of Christmas, this means that Santa has no opportunity to sneak in by the moonlight to leave gifts. Thus my parents had to improvise. Since the only chimney we had led to the exhaust pipe of the gas furnace, they had to improvise a bit there as well.
After dinner, it was mandatory that we help to clear the table and wash the dishes. My mother assured us that Santa was doing some last minute judging and scrubbing greasy turkey pans was a smart move on our part.
Once the kitchen was set to rights, it was time for the great event. My brother and I were shoo'd upstairs and the door must be securely closed. This was when Santa got the signal from my dad and was permitted to bring in the big gift, one each, that wouldn't fit beneath the tree. My father and Santa came from the same part of Iowa...you could tell because their voices were almost identical. We were fairly sure Santa was American as he never sounded like my mother.
Once Santa had made his contribution, we were called down and there, next to the tree, would be one large gift. Perhaps it was a sled, perhaps a bicycle, or maybe a train set for my brother. It was, without doubt, the most wonderful moment of the entire year.
I was three years older and being the more sober child, it wasn't long before I put two and two together and decided that Santa and my dad were in cahoots. I was fairly sure that Dad was subbing for Santa, much the same as he did for Fred on some bowling nights. There were just too many coincidences. I couldn't imagine Santa and Rudolph sitting outside the window, waiting for Mom to scrub the mashed potatoes out of the bowl. He was a busy man and had places to go. However, I knew intuitively that I couldn't let on about this; for if I did, it could mean something very undesirable would happen. I wasn't worried about spoiling my brother's innocence; that didn't matter. What did matter, however, was that I was fairly sure if the ruse were exposed, there would no longer be a big present waiting next to the tree. This could not be allowed to happen. So, I played along.
My mother loved Lake Michigan in the summer. There was nothing she wanted more than to own a big cabin cruiser and buzz the shoreline among sparkling waves. She dropped hints from June through October. Starting in November, she just announced this wish bluntly over dinner. My father never said a word. She translated his silence to mean he was taking it under serious consideration.
So it came to Christmas eve that year. My little brother was still in the dark about Santa, so I had to make it look good. There were big gifts at stake. Judging by my mother's behavior, I wasn't entirely sure she didn't also still believe in Santa since she seemed to be in cahoots. All afternoon she watched out the front window, waiting for a truck to pull up with that cabin cruiser.
Darkness fell and the guests arrived. Aunt Gert (we called everyone Aunt or Uncle) listened excitedly as Mom chattered about bathing suits and boat parties they would have.
Sure enough, as dinner concluded, Mom rushed through the dishes, even to the point of announcing that we would just soak the pots and get them in the morning. I knew something was up. As we went into the living room, my dad announced to everyone at large that his gift this year was for the whole family. What was more, it wasn't quite here yet, but Santa should be coming any moment.
My mother could hardly contain herself. My brother seemed disillusioned; he reasoned anything that could make my mother this excited surely meant disappointment for him.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. My mother fairly leaped to her feet, headed for the front window; but Dad intercepted her. "No, no, you don't," he chided. "You go upstairs and wait for Santa with the kids."
I thought her face would explode with delight. She was mentally lathering with suntan lotion as she shepherded us up the stairs.
Now, of course I knew there was no Santa by this time and if there was, he certainly didn't have room for a cabin cruiser in the sleigh, no matter how many reindeer he brought. I didn't want to spoil my mother's joy, though, so I pretended to go along with it all.
"Have you been good this year, Mommy?" I asked sweetly.
"Yes, yes, good," she hurried, listening with one ear against the door.
"You shouldn't do that, Mommy," I said. "You need to sit here on the bed with us and wait until Santa says 'Ho, ho, ho," I said, taking her by the hand.
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