24. December 2006 · Comments Off on Christmas Eve Surprise · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General, Memoir, Pajama Game

Some few Christmases ago, when Blondie was still stationed at Camp Pendleton, and my personal economics allowed me to fly out to California to spend the holiday at Mom and Dads’ house, my daughter and youngest brother conceived a grand scheme to give them a large color TV for Christmas.

Blondie and Sander also wanted to surprise them, and a huge box under the Christmas tree, no matter how cunningly wrapped, just would not deliver the same element of surprise… no, my daughter and my little brother had worked out a cunning plan to remove the old television, which had been inherited from Granny Dodo’s estate, install the new one, and gift-wrap the remote in a little box which would be in Mom’s Christmas stocking. They could pull this off because the television normally resided on a shelf of its own in a wall of books and cupboards, with a pair of louvered shutters closed over the screen. It was one of Mom’s enduring standards about television; that it be out of sight when not actually being watched, if not out of the living room entirely.

Such was the plan, but for the maximum surprise to be achieved, several challenges had to be worked out: the installation would have to be done after we were all done watching television on Christmas Eve, and Mom and Dad would have to be out of the house. The old TV would need to be unhooked from the antenna and VCR, and the new one put into its place, and all the evidence removed. Blondie and Sander estimated they would need at least twenty minutes. The optimal time to perform this substitution would be while everyone was at midnight candle-light service, at a church in Escondido, about half an hours’ drive away. As soon as they were out of the way, Blondie and Sander would set it all up and follow the rest of us in his car; hopefully not missing too much of the service. After all, this was one of the two official times per year when Dad actually set foot in church.

On some pretext, Blondie and Sander would lag behind, while all the rest of us; Mom and Dad and I, Pippy and her husband and the children, and JP and I would head down the hill to church service in several cars. And Blondie had sworn me to secrecy; my part in the plot was to make sure that Mom and Dad left the house on time. The new television was outside in the back of Sanders’ car, having been hidden at a neighbors’ house… oh, yeah, everyone was in on this, except for Mom and Dad, and possibly the pastor and church council.

At about twenty to eleven, Mom began reminding us all to change into something suitable for the midnight service. Dad turned off the television and closed the shutter doors, an event we all noted with covert interest, before Blondie and I went to the guest room to change. Blondie was going to wear her dress uniform… this always went over well with Mom’s friends at church, who were heavily into competition on the grandchild front. And her excuse for lagging behind would be an inability to locate one of her dress pumps, which she had carefully hidden under the bed.

So, everyone was ready but Blondie, with one shoe in her hand and making a pretense of frazzlement as she looked for the other, Dad was looking at his watch, Pip and her husband had rounded up the children, and were herding them towards their vehicle out in the driveway. In accordance with the agreed-upon plan, I put on a bit of a frazzled look myself (really, I am a better actress than most people give me credit for) and announced that Blondie can’t find her shoe, and that we should leave now. Sander chimed in on cue: he would stay and help her look, and catch up with us in his car.
“Don’t you have another pair of shoes you can wear?” Mom asks.
“No, I only brought the one set of dress pumps,” Blondie answered. No one even suggested that she borrow a pair; for a start, she wears a size nine and a half.
“It must be in the guest room,” Dad said determinedly, “Five minutes, we’ll take everything apart and look for it.” He and Mom looked like they were about to drop everything and look for the damned shoe. It meant a lot to them to have Blondie show up in uniform.
“Give us another minute, we didn’t look under the bed.” Blondie and I retreated to the bedroom and close the door.
“You’re got to get them out of there!” Blondie hissed at me.
“Give me a minute… OK, got it.” Of course… how devious. Devious, but effective.” I put on my coat, and picked up my purse. Down the hall, Mom was fussing around with her own coat and scarf.
“Did Blondie find her shoe?” she asked, and I whispered, conspiratorially
“It’s not lost, it’s just an excuse for the two of them to stay behind and set up a surprise present for Dad. Forget about the shoe; just get Dad out of here.”
I found Dad pacing up and down in the solarium
“Did you find it?” he asked, and I lowered my voice again,
“It’s just a ruse, so Blondie and Sander can stay behind and bring in Mom’s surprise Christmas present… just get her out of here, so they can get to work.”
Dad looked amused; he has always liked this sort of intrigue and with a minimum of fuss, they both headed for the car, with me trailing after and congratulating myself on my efficiency and guile.

And so it went according to plan… all except for Sander and Blondie getting to church after service had started, not knowing that they had locked the door into the sanctuary because of the late hour, and having to pound on the doors until the ushers let them in. The next morning, Mom unwrapped her first gift, and looked at the new TV remote with great bewilderment. Under all our expectant eyes Sander opened the doors to the TV cabinet with a great flourish… and Mom and Dad were both very, very surprised.

Merry Christmas… May all your surprises be the nice ones!!

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