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Christmas Mysteries (12/23/2007)
By John Edstrom

On the way out of the office this noon (Friday) my circulation manager, Mary, called me over to the reception desk and proffered a large cardboard box with a "Golf Galaxy" label on it. "This came for you," she said.

I told her that I probably wasn't supposed to see it, and that she should slip it to Fran on the sly. "Sorry," she said, "it was addressed to you." Oh well, one more mystery gone from Christmas. It seems that every year it gets harder to conjure up that special feeling, the Christmas Spirit. In fact, Patrick was telling me that just the other day something had put him in a Christmas mood for just a moment, but when I asked him what it was, he couldn't remember.

My daughter Morgan is home for Christmas with our new granddaughter. Now that's a special feeling, but not necessarily connected to the holiday. I asked her to recount a special Yuletide memory or two, and she remembered the year we got them a new cat, and hid it in an upstairs bathroom (we weren't sure if it understood about the catbox yet) and gave the two little girls clues as to where the big surprise was hidden. They threw the bathroom door open, and there was the most beautiful pearl gray cat, just a year old, we figured. Morgan said, "I wanted a kitten!" The girls named her LaBelle Tinker Bell.

This cat came to us from the Humane Society with a mysterious ailment, a broken rib cage, and lung infection. It had probably been caught in a door as a kitten. The infection resisted treatment, so Doc Speltz took pity on me, and taught me how to inject it with antibiotics through the loose skin between the shoulder blades. "You can't afford to pay me to give this cat the number of shots it will probably need," he said. He knew what a cat was worth. He showed me how to ease the needle through the skin, applying gentle pressure and wiggling it just a bit, till it popped through. That was easy I thought, but when I pushed the plunger, the cat yowled, broke free, and raced around the room trailing the syringe from her back. It was like a, demented miniature bullfight. "Gently," said Jerome.

Morgan was the one who registered a muted disappointment the Christmas that we announced the impending arrival of a little brother. She thought the surprise was going to be a swimming pool. And one of my favorite memories of Jake is the year I put him inside a new Christmas shirt from my mother-in-law, and buttoned us both into it. Mugs could never quite stifle her amazement at the amount of beer I drank, and always sent me XXXLarge shirts. The picture of Jake and I both wearing that one finally cured her of the practice.

But there is one Christmas mystery in our household that never wears out, nor is ever permanently solved. It is how the Christmas tree stand works. As everyone knows, the most horrible rite of Christmas of all is putting up the tree. Not decorating it, (although who really enjoys that?), but getting it into its base so that it stands up straight and doesn't fall over when you turn your back on it. Some years back, we bought a super stand that holds your tree as straight as a Tower of London guard, and locks it up so tight it can't fall over even if the dog jumps on it (this has happened). It has a rounded receptacle into which the bottom of the tree fits, and that slips into the base of the stand itself, where it can be manipulated to the nth degree, and then locked into place with a pedal.

The problem is that from year to year we can never remember how that pedal must be manipulated in order to secure the whole works, so there we are, someone lying on the floor, up to his neck in Christmas tree, sweating and swearing furiously, the other holding the tree up during all these machinations, just barely.

That's when the big fight starts.

Merry Christmas.




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