We always had to wait. After dinner. After the dishes were done. After dessert. And, after singing. You, Grandpa, with your plentitude of slicked back hair and your gray cardigan sweater, pumping away at the console organ. Your hands flowing back and forth across that glorious machine like a conjuring magician. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" with the castanets tab engaged. And, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with marimba and your signature falsetto warble, segueing into "Silent Night." Couldn't anyone else see that fat Scotch Pine with the fat frosted lights being swallowed up in a whirlpool of gifts? Open your eyes, people!
But still we waited.
You turned down the rheostat, setting the mood. The Fannie May box of assorted chocolates was passed around in slow motion. Each adult laboring over the description of the chocolates on the box lid, as if it were the last chocolate before lethal injection. As if they were dismantling a bomb. Do we cut the Raspberry Buttercream wire? Or the Almond Cluster wire? Never mind that we just finished three types of pie and Bea's cranberry pudding.
But, finally, Grandma, the Angel of Mercy, from atop the tree—the grandma of "Good Gravy!" and even better stuffing—swoops down with her blessing.
An explosion of wrapping paper. A scramble for 9-volt batteries. And, it's done.
You put a stray gift bow on Muffy's head. The dog gets the joke, and she'll play your straight man. And then, you hand out your final gifts. Envelopes. Inside, a savings bond for us grandchildren. Or a hundred dollar bill. We are in awe. We don't talk about what we've seen.
And after the envelopes are passed around, you doze off on the plaid couch.
Eventually, that's where you stayed. Now, almost ninety-three, Grandpa, your glaucoma keeps you anchored to that familiar couch. The tree has gotten smaller—ceramic on the end table—and you've gotten smaller, too.
It has gotten dark. And in your slumber, there is a knock. Here on Christmas Eve. At midnight. Not the trumpeting front doorbell, but a knock at the back door. The porch where good neighbors like Pee Wee Brehm and Doc Fleming were welcomed. You pull yourself to your feet and feel your way around the back of the couch, past the long silent organ.
"Who's there?" you ask.
"It's me, Dad," calls Uncle Kurt. "Open the door."
Confused, you turn the lock, and step out onto that porch. "Hi, Dad. Just got in from Mesa." Uncle Kurt helps you put on your rubber galoshes and houndstooth overcoat. That brown fur hat on your head. And leather gloves. He holds the door open for you, and you step out into the crystalline snow on the deck. Winter air refreshes your lungs. There in the moonlight, is Sam the Siamese cat, with her iridescent eyes, being chased by Muffy who barks, "You better run!" They bound through the snow and into the woods. And you begin to head towards those pines, too, and the glow of the light on the garage. Through the crunch of snow. You fell here a few years ago, but not tonight.
As you tramp through the woods, you see Uncle Mike on his yellow snowmobile, pulling that sleigh with Grandma in her mink coat, bundled under blankets, waving.
"You're a good woman, Benita," you call out, and wave back.
Up ahead on the road, by the garage, Kathy is taking a walk, like every good family should at Christmas. And, back on the deck, Uncle Mark is having a smoke and a good laugh.