Monday, December 09, 2013
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Special feature from LDN's Home for the Holidays magazine

Home for the holidays, National Lampoon style

If you get the chance this year, laugh with your family

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[December 09, 2013]  Although there is a 10-year difference between us, my younger sister and I each met the love of our life and began sharing our lives with our new mates at the same time. We also left home at the same time, which led to a wide gap of space between all of us for the first few years of our marriages.

My sister and her husband left our little Jasper County community in Illinois and moved to Pennsylvania. They were in Pennsylvania when my nephew was born in the summer, so he was several months old when they came home for Christmas and we saw him for the first time.

My dad had passed away several years earlier, and mom had for the most part "downsized" Christmas at her house. But with the newest arrival coming for Christmas, she got a little carried away on the gift-giving.

Years earlier she had given up the large, freshly cut Christmas tree and opted for a much smaller put-together tree. She had assembled the tree to stand on top of an antique sewing machine sitting in front of her window. The tree was adequate, and she had it nicely decorated. The dumbfounding part of the story was the mountain of gifts that started on the floor in front of the sewing machine and grew until they were crowded all around the tree, pushing against its bottom branches.

On Christmas morning, with everyone gathered in the living room in front of the magnificent pile of gifts, the atmosphere was happy and relaxed. For the men in our lives, it may have been a little more stressful than for us girls. They were, after all, still new to the family and still learning about the weirdness that made their wives and mother-in-law "special."

Mom was the official supervisor of the event and sat in her best spot on the sofa telling everyone what to do – typical. My sister was the designated gift distributor and happily took on the task.

As brightly colored packages were passed around and opened, the guys were gifted with gadgets and gloves, canned nuts, and, as a tribute to my grandmother, a box of chocolate-covered cherries.

Sis and I received more practical gifts: pillowcases, kitchen towels and utensils, jigsaw puzzles for cold winter snow days, and a couple of whimsical items just for us.

My nephew was the one who really scored. Dozens of packages were laid before the little guy, only a few months old. As the papers came off, there were little toys and rattles, magic toys that made noise with flashing lights, tiny clothes just his size, and so much more. Of course, as a baby his greatest joy was in chewing on wrappers and playing with bows.

When the whirlwind of unwrapping was finished, we exclaimed over our gifts and expressed our appreciation to our mother, who had overdone it by a long shot. We began cleaning up the mess, and that is when it happened.

Mom has a remarkable memory, sometimes too remarkable when she starts recalling all the mischief my sister and I got into as children.

She sat in her spot on the sofa and surveyed the room with a puzzled look on her face. You could almost see the wheels turning inside her head. "Something is missing," she said. "There's another gift somewhere."

And so the search began for the elusive gift. After a few minutes of examining the area where the mountain of gifts had been, we located the package. It had fallen off the top of the sewing machine stand and was lodged between the back of the machine and the window.

My sister surmised that she could get on the floor, scoot under the make-do table, and perhaps reach the gift from underneath. However, that proved to be a little harder than expected. Because it was an old-style pedal sewing machine, she couldn't get under the table far enough to reach the gift.

In a moment of insane brilliance, my mom had an idea. She jumped from her supervisory spot and trotted across the room, announcing that the little tree could be picked up, and then the gift could be retrieved from above.

While it might have been a good plan, mother made a few tactical errors in its execution. To start with, in her rush to rescue the gift, she didn't give my sister time to get up from the floor. Next, while the tree was light as a feather when she put it together, it became much heavier with strings of lights, garland, tinsel and balls. In addition, the tree was now tied to the wall via a mass of electric cords, and finally, she forgot that this tree went together in pieces and would surely come apart in pieces.

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Nonetheless, she proceeded with her plan, hastily lifting the tree off the table. The weight of it tipped toward her, and the bottom failed to move very far because of the electric cords. The top half then toppled off, knocking my sister in the head.

The garland tied the two halves together, and ornament balls went flying across the room. My sister screamed, my hubs and brother-in-law laughed, and the baby started to cry, as in a moment my little sis became the best decorated item in the room.

The branches began to tumble from the bottom half that my mother was still hanging on to in shock. They tangled in sis's hair, and the garland cascaded around her shoulders, almost as though it had been intentionally put there.

The little angel that had topped the tree appeared to be hanging on for dear life as her electric cord kept her from the floor, but also swung her into the branches of the bottom half of the tree.

Lights were everywhere, including on little sis. As the shock of the event wore off, my mom started laughing, as did my sis and I, and we all couldn't stop. After all, it was too funny. There stood my mom holding on to half of a Christmas tree. There sat my sis on the floor, covered in holiday décor. We laughed so hard the tears ran from our eyes and our sides began to hurt.

When the melee quieted, we set about trying to make the little tree whole again. It was hopeless, not to be done. We did finally get the tree upright and back in one piece, standing on the sewing machine. But, it looked like something that would have embarrassed even Charlie Brown.

The baby had finally stopped crying, the hysterical laughter had calmed to quiet giggles, and we were all exhausted by the excitement. As we settled down and got comfortable, my mom sat in her special spot on the sofa with that puzzled look on her face.

Then she began to laugh. She laughed so hard that tears once again flowed. We all sat there watching her, thinking perhaps this was the Christmas that would do her in. Our mom was going completely wacko, off the deep end, and it was time for the little white jacket.

Finally she found her voice, and as she gasped for breath, she exclaimed, "The gift is still behind the sewing machine!"


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