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.
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
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
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
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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