24 December 2009

...and to all a good night

When my brother and I were small, our preparations for Christmas included buying new spatulas for our mother or tie tacks for our father. They also frequently involved elaborate plans to sneak out to the Christmas tree in the middle of the night and to possibly catch Santa in action.

When we got a little older--probably 5 and 6--our plans were sufficiently elaborate that they required we draw maps. Always necessary in a two-bedroom house with a sum total of 900 square feet. Who knows where we might have gotten lost.

The house, built in the early 1940s, was a little funky in design, so there was an oddball door that led from the hallway outside our bedroom and directly into the kitchen. When we were misbehaving, we could run an endless loop around the center of the tiny house, going kitchen, dining room, living room, hall and kitchen again. I've no doubt I ran my first mile going that route.

But this design oddity was significant in our map creation because it gave us two routes to attack the tree: directly from the hallway outside our bedroom, which also happened to be directly outside our parents' bedroom, or via the kitchen and dining room, which was perilous in being a longer way around. We finessed our plans by adding a route through the cooler ducts, though we couldn't reach the vent opening, and I also assured my brother that there were whirling fan blades and axes up there waiting for unwary children to blunder into them. These were depicted on our map with loving care and small drops of cautionary blood.

Our map also included our younger sister's crib which was parked in the corner of our bedroom. She was little more than a year old at that point, but stood as a significant obstacle in that she was incredibly interested in everything we did. And in making noise about it.

So it was that Christmas Eve arrived. We broke out my brother's little construction hat with the real headlamp in the front, and prepared for battle. It was early yet, but my brother is one of those guys who falls asleep instantly and can sleep through anything. We had to make our move while he was still awake.

Stealthily, we slid from our beds and crawled commando style across the cold linoleum floor. Our sister rolled over in her crib, making an interrogative sound.

"Ssshhh!" I hissed sternly, at which she sat up and started to laugh.

"Stop fooling around back there," my mother hollered from the living room. My brother and I ducked back into the shadows of our beds. We could hear all sorts of activity from the parents' room, though it never dawned on us that they were dragging presents from their closet to put under the tree.

We sat quietly for a few moments, and our sister, bored with our inaction, settled back down in her crib.

"Let's go," I whispered almost soundlessly to my brother.

"I'm tired," he murmured.

"Alright, then you take the hall. I'll go through the kitchen," I told him.

We carefully examined our map in the faint light cast by the headlamp on his hat. The parents were quiet in the living room, and we could hear faint noise from the TV. We crawled carefully out the bedroom door and I pointed down the hall to the doorway that led to the living room. Inch by inch, my brother traversed the linoleum squares as I turned left into the kitchen. I was nearly to the door leading from the kitchen to the dining room when I heard a tremendous metallic bang from behind me. My brother had somehow just careened into the wall heater.

"YOU KIDS GET BACK INTO BED RIGHT NOW!" my father bellowed, and I stood and ran back to the bedroom, almost colliding with my giggling brother, as we both dove headfirst into our beds, pulling the covers over our heads just as the large silhouette of a parent appeared in the doorway, breathing heavily with annoyance. My brother let out the tiniest and most delicate snore to demonstrate that we were sleeping the sleep of the innocent. I bit my hand hard to stifle the laughter that was rising in my throat. The parent remained in the doorway for a few moments longer to be certain that we were quiet, and then departed.

I lay quietly a few more minutes, trying to regulate my wildly beating heart.

"I guess we could wait until they go to bed," I finally whispered to my brother. I was answered only by his slow and regular breathing. He'd fallen asleep.

"Or we wait until next year," I murmured into the darkness.

Go read a good poem: "A Visit From Saint Nicholas," the authorship of which is generally attributed to Clement C. Moore.

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