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Baby Couldn't Crawl
by Lina Rehal
Christmas Eve was the one night when "Daddy" had something to do. Mommy did all the shopping, stood with screaming children in long lines for the annual Santa photo, wrapped gifts, decorated the tree, cooked Christmas dinner and handled all holiday correspondence. But, it was dear old Dad who got to show his stuff on Christmas Eve and put together all of Santa's wonderful surprises: Tricycles,bicycles, big wheels, dollhouses, rocking horses, and whatever else had to be assembled.
When my daughter Gina was five years old, she asked Santa for an Easy Bake Oven and the most popular doll that was on the market that particular season. I've long since forgotten the doll's name, but I'll never forget that Christmas Eve.
We had come home from my mother's house and the Christmas Eve celebration we enjoyed every year with my family. After leaving a glass of milk and a plate of cookies on the kitchen table, I got the kids into bed with the usual threat of "Santa won't come until he knows you're asleep." It always worked. When I thought they were "tucked up in their bedrooms fast asleep," I dragged the stash out of the front hall closet. Trucks, cars, riding toys and noisy things for Ralphie; a plastic tea set, doll clothes, books, an Easy Bake Oven and Baby Couldn'tcrawl for Gina. Some of the riding toys needed assembly, but all in all, it didn't seem like a difficult job for "Santa's helper." Then, I took the doll out of the box.
This “lifelike” baby doll was supposed to crawl and roll over, but she didn't. I asked my "helper" what he thought could be wrong with the doll. When changing the batteries didn’t help, he proceeded to take the thing apart. Before I knew it, tiny rubber arms and legs were strewn across the sofa along with some nuts, screws, funny looking metal wheels and the doll's head. "No wonder," he said. "A couple of the cogwheels are missing."
An hour later, the parts were still on the couch. The man who made a living building things and working with tools, couldn't fix one little doll. He finally managed to get it all back together, but it was unable to crawl or turn over.
"Look," I said. "She'll be so happy to see the doll that she won't even notice it doesn't do what it's supposed to."
"You can't give the kid a broken doll," he said.
"What else can we do? She has to have a doll on Christmas morning."
On that night before Christmas, we had an argument. I put the doll back in the box, threw it in the closet, went to bed and cried. It was going to be a terrible Christmas. I worried that the Easy Bake Oven would have worms in the cake mix or something and really top it off. Then, I heard a noise coming from the hall closet and realized I left the batteries in the doll.
"Damn!" I muttered.
"You're right," he said from beneath the covers. "Go get the doll and put it under the tree. She has to have a doll. You can bring it back to the store and exchange it later."
I was right, of course. When I took the doll back for another one, I found a long line at the return counter. Most of them were bringing back a Baby Couldn't Crawl. The store had received a whole shipment of broken dolls. None of them could crawl or turn. I decided to exchange it for a nice big baby doll that looked almost like the first one, but didn't do a thing.
Gina didn’t know the difference. She loved the doll that had no other attributes than being cute and cuddly, which is what a doll should be.
by Lina Rehal
In one of themost famous Christmas stories ever, “the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.” In our home, they were scotch taped to the mantle of a fireplace made out of cardboard.
We lived in a five room apartment on the third floor of a three family house. There was a door in the kitchen, one in the kids’ bedroom and another one in the parlor that opened into the front hall. The house had a flat roof. I had two small children who wondered how Santa was going to get in if we didn’t have a chimney. I wished we had a fireplace.
We bought a giant tree, tied it to my Country Squire station wagon and hauled it home. Their father carried it up the three flights of stairs to the back hallway where he sawed about a foot and a half off the top. He squeezed it through the kitchen door, dragged it through the dining room and into the parlor to its place of honor in front of the bay window. When he stood the tree up, he found that another five or six inches had to come off before it would just touch the ceiling without putting a hole in it. After all height adjustments were made, he proceeded to instruct me on the proper way to hold the tree straight while he screwed it into the red metal stand. When it could stand on its own, I left him with the task of stringing the lights while I swept up the trail of pine needles he left behind.
Our Christmas tree was majestic looking, with its big bright colorful lights, delicate ornaments, green and red construction paper garland, a silver star with a light in the middle on the top and tinsel that hung in simple strands on the higher branches and small clusters on the lower ones. We had a place for Santa to put the toys, but still no way for him to get in.
Then I found it. The solution to my problem and it only cost five dollars. A cardboard fireplace! It was lightweight, easy to assemble and fit in my car. I had it home and standing in the front room in no time. It was about four feet wide and three and a half feet tall. I didn’t care that the bricks were made of red paper and that the flame was an illusion made by plugging a multi-colored plastic wheel into the wall and letting it spin around in front of a small light bulb. A chimney is a chimney. This one was perfect and I didn’t have to cut any wood.
I placed my silver candlesticks on the mantle and scotch taped our stockings and Christmas cards to the edge. The kids loved it. Santa would have no trouble getting to them now.
Life was simpler then. Decorations didn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. A little red garland over doorways, a plastic hanging mistletoe, some holly and a little imagination went a long way. Many of our ornaments were handmade and we saved them from year to year.
At night, I sat in my parlor, a room that was only used when company came or during the holidays, and watched the wheel spin. The light bounced off the Kelly green fabric of the sofa and the formal gold drapes. Muted spots of red, blue, yellow and green danced past the tree and flickered across the high ceiling. It was beautiful. I think our stockings were hung with a lot of care too.
Bringing Home the Tree
by Lina Rehal
The real excitement of the holiday season, for our family, began every year when we headed to the Elks to pick out the best Christmas tree in the lot. After careful consideration, we all agreed on one that was so big, it hung out of the back of my Country Squire. I knew I would be sweeping pine needles out of my car well into the summer.
We had to let it stand for a while so the branches could all fall into place. The waiting was difficult. The children wanted to get straight to the decorating. They helped me lug the boxes of cherished decorations up from the cellar, arguing the whole time over who was going to place what on the tree.
"You broke two balls last year!"
"You can't reach high enough to put the star on the top."
"You make a mess with the tinsel."
Let the harmony begin.
First, we had to get the tree into the stand. Since it was too tall for the room, some minor adjustments had to be made. The children watched their father cut about a foot and a half off the top. Then he had to cut a piece off the bottom. Once that was done, I had to hold the tree straight while he crammed it into the stand and twisted the screws that held it in place.
"It's heavy. Hurry up. I can't hold it much longer."
"Keep it straight. You're not holding it straight."
"How can I tell if it's straight when I'm standing next to it?"
"Just don't move."
"Next year, I'm buying a fake tree."
The tree was finally standing and everyone was happy that part was over. Then came the lights. The three or fours sets of beautiful lights that were so carefully wound and placed back in the boxes last year had somehow turned into tangled masses of green wires wrapped around hundreds of multi-colored bulbs. How could this have happened and why was it my fault?
"What did you do to these lights?"
"You're the one who put them away last year. Get over here and help me unravel them."
Biting my tongue, I helped unwind the mess until we had four sets of untangled lights spread out across the carpet. The trick was to remember to plug them in BEFORE placing them on the tree to make sure all the bulbs worked. They never did.
I scurried around looking for the extra bulbs I had bought, just in case. Our person in charge of lighting replaced the burned out ones, cursing with every one that didn't work and every new bulb that was a dud. My kids grew up thinking that Christmas lights started with an "F".
When the lights seemed to all be in working order, he plugged each string into the next and began strategically wrapping them around the tree and attaching them to the branches. The kids had left the room by then. He plugged the star into a set of lights and placed it on top. Getting the lights on was his job and it had to be done just right. I was happy they lit up.
Once the light fiasco was over, their dad retreated to the den. His part was done. The kids came back into the room to decorate the tree. I took care of the higher spots that the children couldn't reach and filled the stand with water. They did the rest.
"I want to put the little angel on."
"No. I'm gonna put the little angel on."
"Mama said I could do it this year."
"Children, Santa can hear you."
Before long, the trinkets we had collected over the years were on the tree. Tiny green needles were everywhere. The dusty boxes, retrieved from the basement only a few hours ago, were strewn about the living room. The wonderful scent of pine filled the house. It looked and smelled like Christmas.
We stood looking at our beautiful Christmas tree: a work of art created by the whole family working together, enjoying the peace and harmony of the holiday season.
We sang about it. "How lovely are thy branches." And they were lovely. Once the hand-made ornaments, heirlooms and read and green paper garland were finally in place, the star was on the top and that last piece of tinsel was carefully hung on the only bare branch that was left, we could step back and admire our tree.
I watched the children. Their sweet little faces all smiles and happy that their tree was finally up. I watched their father. Also smiling and happy the damn thing was up so he could pour himself a Jack on the rocks and go watch television. I scolded the dog for drinking out of the stand and went to the the vacuum cleaner.
The joy of the season had officially begun.