The happy onslaught is nearly upon us.
You know, Christmas.
It's been a couple of years since my two sons saw each other in person, though they're in more or less constant touch via phone, text message, facebook and email regarding earth-shaking issues like Bears-Packers football games and whether the Chicago Cubs are really as bad as they seem. Likewise, it's been two years since my youngest grandsons left sunny North Carolina to visit the place they call "the snowy house" at Christmastime. Ditto their two older Minnesota cousins, who really know what snow is.
But this year, they're all coming.
Coming to the big old house by the park.
They're coming home. For Christmas.
Needless to say, the lady in my life is mighty excited with the prospect of her grown-up children and all four grandchildren under one roof at one time. Ever since we got back from our Thanksgiving visit to son Colin and crew in the great, cold North, she's been fully engaged in an all-out flurry of preparations that are, I think, nearly as intensive as those undertaken by Ike and his generals as they prepared for the invasion of Normandy.
Good thing, too, because there's no time to lose. Say what you will about owning a big house. It's hard and expensive to heat in the winter, and just about as difficult and pricy to keep cool in summertime, once its high-ceilinged rooms really fill up with hot, humid air.
But it's a great place for Christmas.
Those same high ceilings, a fireplace and mantle, an open staircase and bannister, and a large, pillared porch all beckon, waiting for brightly colored finery to celebrate the coming of the season.
Thing is, there's a lot to do, starting with repeated visits to the cluttered, dungeon-like little basement space we call the holiday room. But slowly, this old house has been gradually transforming into a jolly holiday place, complete with four, count 'em, four full-sized Christmas trees, plus all manner of wreaths, garlands, candles, angels, Santa Claus figures and--most importantly--the collection of Nativities that mark the real reason for the season. This year, thanks to an unwelcome visit from the big C, she kept me out of the basement as much as possible, citing the chemo I'm currently undergoing, with its related energy issues, so I felt a little guilty about the amount of work I wasn't doing.
Likewise, the impending season meant it was time to get outside and hang, nail, staple, wire and otherwise attach a wondrous plethora of brightly lit Christmas decorations to the exterior of our home. Now, as in many of the things we do, one of us is management, while the other is labor. As the blue-collar member of our team, it has always been my job to climb the ladders and mount the porch railings with coat pockets bulging with stapler and hammer, to bring her mind's-eye holiday vision to life. But this year, her attitude towards my porch-rail acrobatics has been a little different. Again, she worries about my temporarily puny frame, with visions of me breaking into a zillion little pieces like Humpty Dumpty. Problem is, I didn't want her climbing up there, either, citing the times she's narrowly averted disaster while engaged in high-wire painting projects. We compromised with a scaled-back version of our usual front porch display, while taking turns gingerly scaling a carefully held ladder and hanging a few lights.
For the most part I was safe, secure and well-rested. But something was missing.
"I don't feel elfish enough yet," I said, thinking about all those trips I hadn't made up and down the basement stairs.
"I've got just the thing for you," she replied.
Because if there's one thing that gets a guy into the mood for Christmas, it's three little words:
Some assembly required.
Back in the day, those words absolutely ruled my world, especially on the night before Christmas, when dads in the know rush to assist an overworked Mr. Claus and his exhausted crew of pointy-eared pals. I built bikes from the wheels up, engineered a giant outdoor basketball standard, and constructed all kinds of other toys and games, both big and small, with the most memorable a Christmas Eve all-nighter I pulled putting together a massive, zillion-piece playset from Hell called "The A-Team Warehouse," named after a popular TV show my two boys absolutely loved. By the time I screwed in the last screw and bolted the final bolt, my knees ached from sitting cross-legged for hours. My vision swam from trying to read the tiny instructions. And the catch phrase of one of the show's lead characters, Mr. T., rang in my ears.
"I pity the fool."
I had forgotten that a largish box had been delivered to our front porch a couple of days earlier. No, it wasn't a bicycle, a basketball hoop or even an A-Team Warehouse. Instead, it was the dreaded four-wheeled kitchen cart she had requested for Christmas. First off, I noticed that the box, while big, was no way big enough to contain a fully functional kitchen cart.
I really didn't have to look. But I did, anyway.
Some assembly required.
I opened the box. Out tumbled a baggie filled with eighteen gazillion tiny screws, nuts and bolts. Further inspection revealed a massive stack of unmarked precut panels. Finally the directions.
Tiny. Almost entirely indecipherable.
"This will be good practice for Christmas Eve," she smiled.
"All right, already," I thought as I levered myself to the floor and grabbed my screwdriver. "I'm an elf."
Ho Ho Ho.