During Christmas at my house, everyone has a job:
- My husband is on Energy Patrol. In honor of the holidays, he adds a festive “Who-left-this-tree-plugged-in?” to his usual refrain of “Who-left-these-lights-on-close-that-door-were-you-born-in-a-barn?”
- The dog is on United Parcel Service Patrol. She greets UPS men with the same delight most people reserve for IRS audits and street mimes. It’s risky to attempt to follow whatever the dog uses in place of thought processes, but we think she’s decided UPS men make us move. I guess she figures that once we accumulate enough cardboard boxes, we’re outa here. If we thwart her desire for UPS steak tartare, the dog usually sulks into my daughter’s bedroom with its full-length mirror. There she gets another shock. Not only have we let in boxes – we got a replacement dog too! Faced with universal betrayal, a human might despair. But our dog, the pinnacle of eons of canine evolution, knows that all she has to do is mark her territory. On the bedroom carpet. Take that, and that, and WTH–that over there too–you encroaching UPS and ersatz dog wannabes.
- My daughters are on Santa Patrol. As the foremost authorities on Santa-related issues this side of the North Pole, their task is to explain Christmas to their younger brother. Him: “How will Santa get in if we don’t have a fireplace?” Sisters: “Mrs. Santa irons him flat and he slides under the door. Then she has a special bicycle pump and she puffs him back up when he gets back.”
I’m on Better-Homes-&-Garden Patrol. My goal used to be to create a magazine Christmas: children in matching red plaid robes and pajamas are hanging up their red plaid stockings. On the red plaid sofa sit Mom and Dad in their matching red plaid handknit sweaters, sipping their red plaid eggnog, a red plaid spaniel at their feet.
Reality? At bedtime on Christmas Eve in our house, we’re lucky to find all the kids, let alone red plaid. Anyway, what Mom and Dad need right then is something more than eggnog. (Hot buttered industrial-strength Valium toddies comes to mind.) Suddenly the doorbell rings for a holiday package delivery. The UPS Patrol goes ballistic, vowing to take no prisoners. The seven-year-old races for her bedroom, screaming, “Cover the mirror!” while the rest of the Santa Patrol tries to wrestle the package away from 65 pounds of enraged Border Collie. The Energy Patrol shouts, “Close that door!” while the BH&G Patrol recalculates our homeowners’ liability coverage.
I start thinking about George Bailey, the Jimmy Stewart character in It’s a Wonderful Life. “What would happen to Christmas around this place,” I ask the dog, “If I weren’t here?” She gives me that intense Border Collie stare that seems to say, “At least you wouldn’t be having conversations with a dog who, on the intelligence scale of life, ranks right up there with asphalt and Senate Confirmation Hearings.”
Just then, I hear a knock on our back door. There stands a familiar figure. “I’m your guardian angel,” he says.
“You look a lot like Dan Quayle.”
“Well, yes,” he admits. “Things were slow between election years, so I took this extra job over the holidays.”
“I thought the recession was over?”
“Technically. I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy—but that could change. If we do not succeed, then we run the risk of failure.”
“You’re Dan Quayle, all right,” I agree. “So how do I find out what Christmas would be like at our house if I wasn’t around?”
Suddenly I’m back inside my house. Every surface is covered with mauve and teal decorations hung with miles of natural evergreen roping. With difficulty, I recognize the bare dining room table (which has been buried under my Christmas projects since the Fourth of July) and the family sitting around it. “We’re so lucky that the fashion model Dad married after Mom disappeared is a gourmet cook,” say the children cheerfully eating their vegetables.
“Yes, and I’m glad that my new wife Tiffanie’s latest novel was a best-seller so we could spend the holidays skiing the Alps,” agrees their father. The dog looks up from a floor littered with shredded UPS uniforms and burps happily.
“You call that Christmas?” I yell at them as they dig into their okra en croute. “I’m sorry, Mr. Quayle, but I’ve got to go back. Someone has to show them what Christmas is really about: stress, long lines, mismatched ornaments, the 197th rendition of “We three kings of orient are, trying to smoke a rubber cigar, it was loaded, it exploded, blew us to yonder star”, homemade gifts, kids waking up at 0:dark-thirty to see if Santa’s been there yet, the five-year-old saying, “I LOVE Christmas, but next year what I really want…”
As Mr. Quayle speeds off in his [carbon neutral] limo, a hand waves to me and a voice floats back, “We’ll let the sunshine in and shine on us, because today we’re happy and tomorrow we’ll be even happier.”
It’s a wonderful life.