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Friday, August 11, 2017

(3) I WAS IN NO MOOD FOR A CHAT ABOUT SANTA BEING A SPIRIT.

December 1952
     I took the children in town to see Santa Claus.   The two older ones were indulgent lookers on, but Vonnie and Timmy anticipated the interview with a mixture of awe and anxiety.  Timmy wondered if it was necessary to tell Santa all the naughty things he had done.   In the middle of breakfast, he climbed down from his stool, pressed his sticky lips to my ear and whispered:  "Do you think I should tell him I— ” Embarrassed about admitting he has a habit of throwing things, he swung his arm a couple of times like a baseball pitcher.
     "Why don't you tell him you're naughty once in a while but you try awfully hard to be good."
     Timmy ventured bravely:  "Should I tell him I pick my nose?"
     " ‑‑er, well, you don't have to tell him everything," I  said.  "It would take too long."
     "If Santa asks me whether I've been good I'm going to say yes," Vonnie said, taking no chances.
     Santa Claus was a business‑like gentleman who dealt with the long row of children as if they were dolls on a production line.   Timmy came prepared with a detailed confession, but Santa merely asked him if he went to bed when he was supposed to.
     "Well, sometimes," he said unhappily.
     "I do," Vonnie told Santa.
     Christmas Eve Ed set up the wire recorder, hiding the microphone behind the draperies.  We thought it would be nice to have a recording of the children's voices as they trimmed the tree.  We pictured a Louisa May Alcottish scene—the loving family gathered around the tree, gentle voices exclaiming over the ornaments.  Thanks to the marvels of science, we would be able to treasure this scene in years to come, when the children had left us to grow old together.
     The machine recorded our children at their brattiest, starting with a progressively rancorous exchange over who would trim the high branches and who would trim the low ones.  Kathie thought she should do the high branches because she was the tallest; Teddy thought he should because he liked climbing up the stepladder.  Vonnie and Timmy wrangled over who would place the star when they finished trimming the tree.
     "Children!  Children!" I interrupted.  "This is Christmas!"
     They paused long enough to inform me that this was not Christmas, then returned to the fray.  End of reel one.
     We got the next reel going in time to catch a disagreement about the tinsel.  Should it be draped on the branch, piece by piece, as Kathie insisted?  Or should it be thrown on in bunches (Timmy’s method).
     As a peacemaker I was wrung dry; I groaned and wished the Three Wise Men would show up with some advice.  They would probably tell me I should have four trees.  Or no children.
     As Ed was shouting for order, the wire recorder suddenly gave a hiss and a snap and began spewing coils of wire like a distraught tickertape.  It was a clear case of a nervous breakdown.
     After the children had fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums and more expensive items dancing in their heads, Ed and I made several trips to the third floor, tiptoeing past the darkened bedrooms with our loot.  We filled the children's stockings, then stood arm in arm contemplating the cluster of gifts under the tree.
     Ed was worried. "Are you sure there's enough? It would be terrible if they were disappointed."
     "Oh, I think so," I said. "Of course, we couldn't buy them everything they asked for."  Uneasily, we went to bed.
     "Now just a minute, let's have a little system here!" Ed said, but no one was listening.  The children had discarded their stocking toys and were pawing through their presents.  Christmas sounds filled the air, the mad crackling of ripping paper and the screams of delight and bang bang, ding ding, honk honk and  Minxi racing around barking approval.
     Ed shook his head. "We gave them too much.  It's sickening!   They're absolutely sated."
     "Yes." I stared dazedly at the array of toys and games. "Much too much."
     "Why don't you keep them occupied while I sneak a few things back to the third floor?" Ed said.
     "Good idea."
     It wasn't long before Vonnie missed the very things we had confiscated. Surrounded though she was by dozens of new toys, none of them appealed to her like the ones in the attic.
     "I'll bring them down some rainy day," I said.  "By then, you'll be bored with what you have."
     "I'm already bored with what I have," Vonnie said.
     When she was unable to wear me down, she put her chin in the air, crossed her arms, and said huffily:  "There isn't any Santa Claus, anyway!"
     By this time I was in no mood for a chat about Santa Claus being a spirit.
     "Good!" I said.  "Next year you won't expect so much, then."
     Yesterday Vonnie came into my room and said:  "I wish I hadn't told you and Daddy there wasn't any Santa Claus."
     Busy changing beds, I said, "Well, you can still pretend, can't you?"
     "But you'd know I was pretending."  She sighed wistfully.  "I'd like you and Daddy to have fun thinking I believe in Santa Claus."
     "Never mind, honey." I gave her a hug.  "Timmy still believes -- next year you can have lots of fun being one of Santa's helpers."
     She cheered up at that and ran off to play....
 February 12, 1953
     Kathryn and I were chatting in the laundry room recently when we heard horrible shrieks coming from the kitchen.  I froze, so Kathryn rushed in and found Timmy holding a paring knife in one hand, a cardboard carton in the other.  He was dripping blood all over the floor.  He was trying to cut a face in the carton when the knife slipped and gashed the tip of his finger.
     I recovered sufficiently to drive him to the doctor’s, but he and I were both in a state of shock.  Between shrieks he asked me if he was going to die and I said distractedly that I hoped not, whereupon he bellowed louder than ever.  “No, no, you’re not going to die, Timmy, you’re just going to see Dr. Hinchliffe.”
     The doctor said it was impossible to take stitches in such a tiny area, so he pushed the partly severed piece back in place and covered it with a band-aid and several layers of gauze.
     He changed the dressing every few days and soon told me Timmy’s finger was healed enough to require only a glove finger to protect it.  Having just run out of glove fingers, I fashioned one from four or five band-aids that Timmy could slip on and off at will.
     “Just take it easy for a few days,” the doctor cautioned Timmy.  “If you play too roughly you may knock the tip off again.”
     Timmy is nothing if not cautious.  He is unable to empty his waste-basket, but on the other hand, quite well enough to go coasting with his buddies.  It is out of the question for him to take a bath because the band-aids might get wet, but if they are soaked as a result of snowball making, Timmy bravely suffers in silence.
     Finally it was obvious that the finger was completely healed, with only a small bump to show for his mishap.  But convincing Timmy of this was another matter.
     “Timmy, you don’t need that dirty thing anymore.   Let’s throw it away.”
     He clutched the band-aids more tightly  and whimpered, “I do, too.”
     “Well, let me put a clean one on, anyway.”
     But no, he liked that one—greasy, grimy, ragged though it was.  He wore it like a Purple Heart and waved it in people’s faces if they didn’t notice it.
     “See my finger?  I almost cut it off and I have to be very careful of it.”
     Yesterday Timmy was invited to a birthday party, and I said firmly, “You are not going to any party with that moldy germ-trap on your finger.  I am going to throw it away, and I don’t want to hear any arguments.”
     I didn’t, surprisingly enough, until well after his bedtime, when Ed I were settled in the living room, drinking our highballs and reading our books.
     Mummeeeee!” came a plaintive voice. “I need a band-aid for my finger!”
     “You do not need a band-aid.  Now be quiet and let Mummy read her book.”
     “But the doctor said I should be careful of it,” Timmy cried pitifully. I was too tired to make any trips that were not necessary, so I tried to ignore the muffled sobs coming from the second floor.
     Half an hour later, all was quiet, and I began turning the pages of my book instead of reading the same paragraph over and over.
     Then:  “Mummeee” came a wheedling voice.  “Can’t I have just one little band-aid for my finger?”
     Ed joined our dialogue: “One more word out of you, young man, and I’ll give you something you really need!”
      “But Mummy,” Timmy persisted (he’s so afraid of his father), “you don’t know what rough games we play at school.”
     “You’re not in school now, you’re in bed.”
     “No I’m not, I’m at the head of the stairs.”
    “GO TO BED!” Ed ordered, stamping his feet threateningly.
     At 9:00 the patient was still wide awake and complaining, and neither of his parents had the energy to give him something to cry about.  Kathie came down from her room, where she had been engrossed in a book, to get her goodnight kiss.
     “Timmy’s crying in his bed. He wants a band-aid for his finger,” she said.
     “Is that right?” I sighed.  “Would you get him one, honey?  I guess it’s the only way we’ll ever have any peace.”
     “Sure,” said Kathie.  She went to the kitchen, found a band-aid and trudged upstairs with it.          
     Timmy continued to weep.
     “He says one isn’t enough,” Kathie called.  “Shall I get him another one?”
     By this time it was easier to give in than to argue, especially with Kathie doing the stair climbing.  I said all right, get him another one but tell him that’s all.
     Peace and quiet at last! But wait . . . is that a fresh outburst of sobs upstairs?  Really, this is too much!  I blaze up the stairs and wrathfully demand to know what is wrong with His Highness now.
     Kathie was having a fit of giggles and could scarcely tell me.  Finally she gasped:  “He held out the wrong finger!  He’s mad because the band-aids are on the wrong finger!”
June 20, 1954
     We have added to Malleys' menagerie a black kitten named Dizzy.  We can't decide whether Dizzy is the world's biggest show‑off or simply deranged.  All he needs is an audience of one or more, and he will start performing.  He stands on his hind legs and shadow boxes; he turns somersaults; he demonstrates his gymnastic ability on the rungs of the kitchen stool.  Once, I would swear to it, he hung by his knees.
     Sometimes he lies flat on the rug, and reaching one paw in front of him, drags himself across the floor—just for the heck of it.  Dizzy has no fear of man or beast.  Fascinated by our cocker spaniel's straggly coat and dangling ears, he crouches down near her and watches her as if she were an over-sized mouse, his tail switching, his eyes enormous.  Suddenly he takes a flying leap and captures one of Minxi's ears.  When she growls a protest, he retreats by bouncing sideways on all fours.  Most of the time Minxi endures his antics with stoic self restraint.  I think she is grateful for any kind of attention.
ECCENTRIC MEMBER OF THE FAMILY
     Kathryn can't sweep the floor without the assistance of Dizzy, who hitches a ride and hangs on no matter how lively his steed.  Recently I lifted a mattress to tuck in the sheet and was startled when a black paw shot up through the bedspring.
     However, Dizzy does provide the family with constant entertainment. We enjoy his eccentricities even though we feel like hiding him in the attic when company comes.

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