Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Money Game

Over the years, my mother, now 88 years old, has contributed much to the festive nature of our family Christmas dinners.  It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when these things became a part of our celebration; all we know is to expect them every Christmas Day like clockwork.  They are quirky and fun, reflecting her personality and her love for her children, grandchildren, and, now, great-grandchildren.

First is the rather unusual treat of her famous cranberry pie.  Nowhere else have I ever encountered the likes of this delectable, whipped-toppinged pastry she concocts with a bag of cranberries and a recipe handed down by her older sister, my Aunt Mary. 

Then there are the stockings she filled every year for all of us, a feat that has become increasingly challenging as we two kids added first spouses, then two children apiece, and now a new generation of seven little ones ages six and under.  Often, for us girls, the stockings will be stuffed with tea towels sporting Mom's signature style of embroidery.  Indeed, without the stockings, my brother might never get new socks.

No one can remember exactly when our after-dinner Christmas agenda came to include the money game.  For this, Mom will count into some kind of container a designated amount of change known only by her.  She will pass it quickly under our noses, hand us a scrap of paper and a pen, and have us guess the total amount.  The closest guess wins the pot.

Over the years, I can remember only one time that I was the winner of the money game.  This came after an untold number of years when my guess seemed to be barely off the mark, within just cents of some other, more accurate family guesser.  Needless to say, the money game brings out the competitive, dog-eat-dog nature of what is usually a rather docile and amicable group of people. 

This year, the money game went around in a small blue solo-type plastic cup.  When a suspicious mishandling of the cup between Mom and son Teebo took place, its contents ended up on the living room carpet.  Some claimed this gave others of us an advantage as we scrambled for an advantageous position from which to watch Mom scoop up the coins and replace them in the cup.  It didn't help me any, however, as my guess of $1.39 was way off.

This was five-year-old Sooby's first year to participate in the money game.  As the cup went around, Pa-pa asked her if she wanted to guess how much money was in the cup.  Not really understanding how money works, Sooby's guess was "four hundred."  Translating this into cents, Pa-pa wrote $4.01 on her slip of paper, adding the penny because Mom has never been known to stop at an even number of dollars.

To make a long story shorter, the amount of change in the cup totalled exactly four dollars.  Not only had Sooby won, but her original guess was, we could say, right on the money.  We were all incredulous, but no one more so than Sooby herself.  Uncle Teebo put the money in a screw-top jar for her, and she paraded around with it in a state of shock and disbelief.  It looked like an awful lot of money to her, and she couldn't believe her good fortune.

A day or two after Christmas, I was talking to daughter Cookie on the phone as Sooby was transferring her winnings to her piggy bank.  She was also giving some of the coins to Pooh and Bootsie for their piggy banks.  How great of her to share, I thought.

And how great of you, Mom, to start this silly, fun tradition of ours.  For only a few cents each year, you enable us to have the kind of fun that no amount of money can buy.  The best part is that no one goes home a loser, as the consolation prize for the rest of us is a piece of that awesome cranberry pie.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Googie's Little Slice of Heaven

The day after my son Teebo moved out of our house six years ago, I confronted the empty nest head-on by making his bedroom into a home office.  At the time, I simply did not foresee that the next six years would bring on this slew of grandkids who would need extra bedroom space for overnight visits.

Thus, at times like the Christmas holiday just past, Teebo's room reverts to its former life as a bedroom with the addition of a portable Graco Pack-'n'-Play that, at present, accommodates two-year-old Bootsie.  In the corner sits an armless wooden sewing rocker where Pa-pa usually piles an overflow of stuff waiting for his attention.

However, when Bootsie is here, the rocker becomes the spot where she and I read books or, more often, sing songs before bedtime.  This gives us a handy, quiet spot, away from the hubbub of her older siblings where she can enjoy Googie's undivided attention and an earlier bedtime as she winds down from the day and prepares to slip into sleep mode.

Next to the rocker sits our three-shelf bookcase, the top of which is the designated showcase for Pa-pa's more recent golf trophies.  So, you can maybe imagine Bootsie and me last night, rocking away and singing from our Christmas repertoire songs about the likes of Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa Claus.

As we do this, the night light glints off the row of golden golfers, all frozen in various stages of their classic club-swinging positions.  One has just completed his swing and assumes the familiar pigeon-toed stance with the club poised just overhead. 

Another draws his club back and prepares to swing, while yet another, in the same position, looks rather ridiculous because his club is missing.  I imagine it has fallen behind and underneath the bookcase, a victim of one of the dusting sessions I regularly execute with careless abandon.  At any rate, the golfers glint golden in the soft, low light--and Bootsie thinks they are angels.

As you might guess, this sparks a conversation that I have to struggle to carry my side of without coming right out and laughing.  In my mind, golfers and angels are pretty much diametrical opposites.  I have never watched as a golfer, robed in translucent iridescence, fluttered his way from hole to hole on the back nine.  And few golfers I know sport a halo or, after missing a putt, speak in a language that I would classify as cherubic.

But I am fascinated and delighted to know that Bootsie thinks these are angels--that as she drifts off to sleep here at Googie's house, in Uncle Teebo's old bedroom-turned-office, she imagines a row of angels watching over her and keeping her safe.

I hope she outgrows the Pack-'n'-Play before she realizes that there are not really angels in this room where, for the past two nights, I have rocked her to sleep before gently laying her just below the row of what are really nothing but cheap plastic golfers.  It is kind of sad, I think, that there are really no angels in the room at all.

No, wait--there is one precious angel here after all.  And hers is the steady, rhythmic breathing I listen to as I cast one last glance behind me and pull the door shut.

"See you in the morning, my angel," I whisper. "You sleep tight." 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Hateful Day

When Sooby spends the night at our house, she is usually the first one awake.  I will be lying in bed in that state of semi-sleep that comes with early morning, and I will hear her feet brushing along the carpet by my side of the bed--whereupon I will turn back the covers, scoot closer to Pa-pa, and make room for her to climb on up.  She will snuggle in and try her best to be quiet, and for about five minutes or so, she can usually manage to do that.

That's why, when her morning routine varied from this not so long ago, we all knew something was up.  On that particular morning, everyone had come downstairs except her.  I was sitting in my overstuffed living room chair, gazing occasionally toward the stairs and wondering why she seemed to be sleeping in.  She had never done this before.

And then, like a storm cloud, Sooby materializes at the top of the stairs.  Her beautiful little face is fixed in a frown, with eyebrows furrowed and lightning flashing from those blue eyes.  She takes the stairs slowly, one step at a time, looks daggers down on all of us, and spits the words out like sleet:  "This is a hateful day."

The problem soon became apparent:  This was the last day of the family's visit, and Sooby did not want to go home.  She never wants to leave, and I never want her to.  I think that is the hardest thing about the kids' living so far away.  It seems like we are always saying good-bye, and doing that never gets any easier.

In fact, I can't even bear to stand in the driveway and watch the van back out and turn down the road out of our subdivision.  So I stay in the house while Pa-pa assists with the carrying out and buckling in and final drinks of water. 

Alone, I face an empty house where remnants of their visit still loom large in every nook and corner.  The pack-'n'-plays are still up, and toys are scattered everywhere.  A scum of dried food covers the kitchen floor.  In the summer, wet swimsuits and towels litter the clothesline on the back deck.  The bathtub toys are still wet, and three little toothbrushes stand at attention around the bathroom sink.

For empathy and comfort in these situations I turn to words of the immortal Charlie Brown:  "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely."  He is, of course, right.  Another time, he said, "Goodbyes always make my throat hurt.  I need more hellos."

The irony, I suppose, is that the goodbyes are necessary in order for there to be hellos to anticipate and revel in later.  I love hellos.  These days, the kids are into ringing the doorbell when they arrive.  Pa-pa and I go to the door and act surprised and delighted to see them standing on the porch.  The surprise is fake, but the delight is not.  Hello is what I live for.

It is almost time for the annual Christmas visit with its whirlwind of food and presents and general mayhem.  It will be our first Christmas with Beenie and Zoomba, our grandsons born nine and six months ago.  I am looking forward to a couple days of early-morning snuggles and good morning hugs involving little elfin creatures in flannel, footed pajamas.  I am looking forward to hello. 

On the distant horizon, another of those inevitable hateful days may be brewing, but I refuse to think about that right now.  The hello side of a visit is a thing to be cherished.  Surely, even Charlie Brown, in his infinite wisdom, would understand that.               

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Santa Rhymlet

My brain is jelly.  This happens every year at the point when the shopping and the wrapping and the card-sending and those other seasonal trappings not only catch up with me on the Racetrack to Christmas but leave me behind in a cloud of dust just as I am reaching for that one last chocolate-covered cherry.

I offer this report on the condition of my brain as a feeble explanation of why I would compose the thing you are about to read.  Not quite a poem, it defies known genre.  As best I can tell, it is a little rhymlet, meant to be recited aloud with your grandkid and accompanied by the kind of rhythmic lap-clap-slapping sequences we all learned back in the days when the lady with the alligator purse ruled the playground.

I will give you the text first, then the actions and stage directions.  Doing this will make it look more complicated than it really is, but, unfortunately, that is the nature of such directions. 

But if I can explain it clearly enough to give you an idea of what I have in mind here, maybe it is something you and your grandkids can have fun with over the holidays.  If not, I will be locking my doors and watching out my window for the guys in the little white coats.  Here goes:

The Text:

Santa in-a sleigh-a go-a fly-fly-fly.
Reina-deera pull-a through the sky-sky-sky.
Land-a on-a roof-a up-a high-high-high.
     Santa say-a what?  He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Go, Santa! Go, Santa!  Go-a, go-a, go!

Santa wear-a furry red-a suit-suit-suit.
Santa wear-a pair-a black-a boot-boot-boot.
Santa bring-a kids-a lot-a loot-loot-loot.
     Santa say-a what?  He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Go, Santa!  Go, Santa!  Go-a, go-a, go!

Santa see-a cookies on-a plate-plate-plate.
Not-a crumba-a left-a 'cause he ate-ate-ate.
Santa see-a time-a get-a late-late-late.
     Santa say-a what?  He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Go, Santa!  Go, Santa!  Go-a, go-a, go!

Now, think of each line as having seven "beats," which you might count like this:  "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and  5, 6, 7."  Notice that counts 5, 6, and 7 always fall on three identical words at the end of each line.  Counts 1, 2, 3, and 4 (in the first three lines of each stanza anyway) fall on stressed syllables.  With that clear-as-mud explanation, you are ready to add the clapping movements detailed below.

The "Choreography":

First, sit facing your grandchild.  Introduce these basic movements:
     LAP:  Hit your lap with both open hands simultaneously.
     CLAP:  Self-explanatory.  Your grandkid has done this successfully since the patty-cake days.
     SLAP:  Both players bring their open hands up chest-high and reach forward to slap the other person's similarly open hands.

OK.  So accompanying Lines 1, 2, 3, and 5 of each stanza will be the following sequence:

On Line 4 of each stanza, there is no clapping, just shared dialogue.  You take the first half: "Santa says what?"  The kid answers: "He say-a "Ho, Ho, Ho!"

And that's it.  I can't believe you are still reading.

In my mind, Sooby and I are going to have a field day doing this when she comes for Christmas.  Even the littler kids might have fun with the silly words.  However, if this kind of thing lacks the dignity you and your grandkids aspire to this Christmas season, I hope you can find some other way to share the magic of words and music with your little ones.

As for me, I will let you know if this works, or if, instead, Googie is a candidate for "The Gong Show."  Stay tuned.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Yuletide Procession

"Can the kids spend the night with you on Nov. 30?" Cookie asked me several weeks ago.  She and hubby and Baby Zoomba were planning to stay overnight in Kansas City with friends.  Since Kansas City is the halfway point between our home and theirs, it was a logical question.

She needn't have asked.  Of course, Pa-pa and I are glad for Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie to stay with us any time they have the chance. 

I was even more excited when I looked at the calendar to see that our town's annual Christmas parade was set for 10 o'clock on the morning of Dec. 1.  Realizing the kids' visit would coincide with this, I did a quick calculation to figure out if Pa-pa and I could manage kids ages 5, 3, and 2 in a throng of Christmas revelers congregated along the half-mile-long main drag of our downtown.

When the weather forecast promised temperatures in the low 60's, I decided that Pa-pa and I might be able to do this and live to tell about it. So I needed to discuss the particulars with Cookie when the family was here over Thanksgiving weekend. 

Trouble was, it was impossible to conduct this discussion without finding ourselves in the presence of at least one child.  I didn't want any of them to know about the possibility of going to the parade until the details had been worked out and it was a certainty that we would go.

I took a deep breath and said to Cookie, "You still expect the kids to stay here Friday night, right?"


"You know--the following 24-hour period is the date designated for a certain annual event in our traditional commercial district," I began.  Cookie looked at me as though the tryptophan had taken away my ability to communicate.  I, too, thought that might be the case, but I forged on.

"I mean the procession of tissue-paper concoctions and instrumental musical ensembles with a Yuletide theme," I explained.  "The one that includes the classic vehicular specimens and the canine and equine fauna adorned in their festive holiday regalia."

Cookie was catching on.  "Oh," she said.  "And the opportunity for gleaning multiple confectionary projectiles from participants traversing northward."

"Exactly," I said, remembering that I would need to take along a bag for this express purpose.  "And then there is the obese, bearded, furrily-clad masculine Yuletide personality who always perches atop a gargantuan vehicle used for extinguishing conflagrations."

"Oh, the prospect of that would be simply adored by the three onlookers in question," she said.

"Then I think we will enlist every effort to make that a reality," I said, and the plan was hatched without the slightest suspicion from even our word-wise Sooby.

I am glad to return to a more normal vocabulary and report that Pa-pa and I did indeed take the kids to the Christmas parade and that the outing was a success in every way.  The day was gorgeous, the candy was abundant, and even son Teebo joined us with Baby Beenie.

I had not attended a hometown Christmas parade since the days when Cookie herself marched down the street with the local high school band.  This was the perfect way to experience it again, standing at the curb with four of my five grandkids, heralding the month of December and the Christmas season.

In fact, my enjoyment was extreme to the extent that I prognosticate a repetition of this particular transpiration approximately twelve lunar cycles from the present.  But I have a feeling we will no longer be able to hide our plans with the verbal puffery that Cookie and I had so much fun with this year.

I have a feeling that, when Thanksgiving rolls around next year, the kids will already be looking forward to the "Christmas candy parade," and I will dare to hope for another day as perfect as this one.