“I wanted a Thomas!” preturbed the little girl shrilly.” Her brother stared at her before telling her that trains were not for girls. No indeed. To spite him she said it again and flung the little doll she’d just unwrapped to the floor where the cat sniffed it suspiciously. The boy snatched it up and the little girl screeched. “That’s mine!” she said.
“You wanted a Thomas.” said the boy quietly. “I want anything!”
“Hey now.” I said. I gently took the doll from the boy and handed it to the girl. She flung it across the room and restated her preference for Thomas the Train. My wife came to the rescue and pulled a large and heavy box to the center of the room.
“Come unwrap this!” she said, smiling widely. The children complied, ripping and tearing the bright wrappings so carefully place just a few short hours ago. As the wrapping came off, the image of a smiling Thomas peered out at the children.
“Hooray!” they both yelled, tearing away the wrapping more frantically. The full box revealed, they were stumped as to how to open its glued flaps to get at the treasure inside. “Open it! Open it!” My wife complied, and pulled from the box large pieces of what, when assembled, would be a train table where Thomas and his train friends might wander wooden tracks that led right back to the starting point. The children ignored the train table and grabbed at the miniature engine and cars, each cased in their own little plastic body bags. They ran off to the kitchen where they had learned in past times that things rolled better on linoleum than carpet. Out of sight we heard them. “Mine!” they screamed.
I was mucking with the tree. It’s lights were suffering a power failure and creating a belt of darkness around its girth. A contribution from the house cats who’d mounted a frenetic search through its artificial branches no doubt in search of a hidden rodent. The tree had toppled like a fallen spruce at the hands of a lumberjack. When it was righted again, the constellation of little white lights was suffering the deficit I was now trying to fill. A sudden squeal of delight from the kitchen marked the suspension of hostilities, causing the adults congregated in the living room to cock an ear. We waited for a crash or yelp of pain when they tried to get hold of whatever sweets they’d just discovered. Little else in the kitchen could bring such cries of joy. But there was just silence.
Their father took the initiative to go see what his spawn were about, and was shortly followed by the rest of us. Our curiosity was piqued. In the kitchen the children were stuffing themselves with cinnamon rolls upon which they had spooned heaps of the white frosting my wife had made to glaze the rolls with. “Eeek!” said their mother. The sentiment was echoed by my wife. Dad to the rescue, the father separated the children from the foodstuffs and handed them over to mother, who marched them to the bathroom. The rolls would never have been as well glazed as the children’s faces and hands were.
We adults returned to the living room where the television was showing A Christmas Story to the empty room. “You’ll poke your eye out!” the TV said to no one. We all returned to our previous circle and continued the exercise of opening the little wrapped trinkets we’d exchanged, using the remnants of our beleaguered budgets to purchase them. We smiled and cooed approval; as meager as this Christmas was, we were pleased to be thought of and happy with our little collections of booty. We’d all agreed this year not to be at all extravagant, instead spending money on gifts for a few of our friends who were in no position to have Christmas at all, what with the economy and lack of jobs throttling down their dreams.
We sipped cocoa and shared stories of previous holidays, each of us in turn nodding assent as others spoke of how Christmas just wasn’t the same as it was when we were the greedy little seedlings coveting dreams of Santa provided excess. The children, now returned and much less sticky, returned to their task of ripping the innards from gaily wrapped packages and squealing delight in a way that kept me checking the window glass for sonic breakage.
I was drinking my cocoa from a brand new cup emblazoned with the logo of The Colbert Report and my wife from a cup marked The Daily Show. Gifts to one another paying homage to the programs with which we both kept ourselves abreast of the political happenings of our nation. The actual news programs were much too depressing and we found informed solace in the humored deliveries of Comedy Central. The rest of the gathered family sipped from mismatched cups, some bearing the corporate logos of companies whose products we never bought. The conversation trotted along as we all shared the latest misadventures of family members not present to defend themselves against our oddly rewarding nit picking.
After a time we all pitched in to collect the shredded wrappings into a communal garbage bag and called an end to the annual meeting of the clan, and soon my wife and I were alone again with one another and the cats. I looked at the tree and felt gladdened that this year the felines had received no presents of their own. As we sat in the quiet, we spoke about how we both were pleased that Christmas was over, and began the process anew with suggestions of what we might get so and so next year.