It was still dark in the house and out the window in grandma and grandpa’s backyard. I so wanted it to finally be morning, Christmas morning, that I could hardly sleep all night. I just kept having things that I had to think about or just wanted to think about over and over. I knew I was going to get to open my presents. I had looked at them carefully and had ideas about what they might be, at least which ones were likely to be toys, the thing I wanted most.
There also had been a lot of other things yesterday that were hard to stop thinking about. There had been a party at the house yesterday with lots of people that I didn’t know but some of them said they knew me, from when I’d been here before. All the grownups had that colored liquid stuff in those strange shaped glasses and they got all excited and laughing and even being silly which was not what grownups usually did. Except I guess at parties.
There were even two kids, one said he knew me. His name was John but some grownups called him “John Junior”, and he called me “Jonathan” until Aunt Pat told him to call me “Cooper”. He was older than I was but his sister that was my age was Susan or “Susie”. He told me we were “cousins”, and when he figured out that I didn’t know what that was, he told me that his dad was my mom’s brother. He told me lots of stuff about grandpa and grandma.
He said that grandpa had been in a war too, but it was a different war before the war that my dad and his dad had been in. And grandpa had been in a submarine under the water while his dad and been in a ship on top of the water and my dad had been a soldier on land. It made me wonder if I would be fighting in a war too when I grew up, but I didn’t ask. I wondered what it was like to get shot with a gun and be wounded or maybe even dead. I had never seen a person dead or knew a person who had died, but John said a lot of grownup men were shot or “blown up” in the war and died. I figured I’d rather be shot than blown up.
During the party grandma went down in the basement and started making music at the piano like Aunt Pat had. Only this time people started singing. They sang songs that I remembered from last Christmas about this “Jesus” guy and this “Christ” guy too, like they were maybe kids even. And of course there were songs about Santa Claus. Mom LOVED Santa Claus. She loved him so much she would even try to sing about him even though she said she couldn’t “carry a tune”. I guess when you were carrying “a tune” you were singing. I liked Santa Claus too because he seemed to like kids so much and some of my presents were from him, or at least mom said so.
I also liked it when dad and Aunt Pat sang that song that I liked a lot. It wasn’t about Jesus or Christ or Santa but just about winter and playing in the snow…
Sleigh bells ring
Are you listening
In the lane
Snow is glistening
A beautiful sight
We’re happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland
Then this part that I couldn’t figure out but sounded interesting…
In the meadow we can build a snowman
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say, are you married?
We’ll say, no man
But you can do the job
When you’re in town
And then the part when they weren’t afraid because they were doing it together…
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland
And then of course the part about playing in the snow…
When it snows
Ain’t it thrilling
Though your nose gets a chilling
We’ll frolic and play
The Eskimo way
Walking in a winter wonderland
Grandpa even started doing this dance thing by himself, something about his shoes being soft that I couldn’t figure out, but he moved his feet like he was starting to walk but didn’t, and all the other grownups liked it and clapped when he was done.
And I remembered when grandpa had asked dad and some of the other grownup men to sing the “Heart of my Heart” song. I had not heard it before but I remembered it this morning because dad sang it to me again at bedtime last night. It was interesting that when dad and the other grownup men sang it at the party they didn’t all sing it the same way, but their voices mixed together and sounded more exciting like you had to listen to it. It was also interesting that they pretended to be sad when they sang, even though I don’t think they really were. Grandma sang along too even though some of the men said she wasn’t supposed to. She laughed and said she was the best “tenor” there, whatever that meant.
“Heart Of My Heart”, I love that melody
“Heart Of My Heart” brings back a memory
When we were kids on the corner of the street
We were rough ‘n ready guys
But oh, how we could harmonize
The song was interesting because they sang about being “kids” but they were grownups. I was a kid, not them. But I always liked it when dad sang because you could tell if he was feeling happy or sad, when you couldn’t so much when he just talked. When he sang this song he was definitely sad.
“Heart Of My Heart” meant friends were dearer then
Too bad we had to part
I know a tear would glisten
If once more I could listen
To that gang that sang “Heart Of My Heart”
And everyone at the party liked my little brother David who was crawling around on his blanket on the floor by the Christmas tree. Mom or Aunt Pat or one of the other grownup women at the party sat by David and made sure he didn’t go off the blanket.
But when I finally stopped thinking about all of that, I started thinking again about getting to tear off the paper and see what presents I got, and most of all those toys I got from Santa. I looked out the window of my little room and it was starting to snow again. Big pieces of snow floating down from the dark gray sky above. Some stuck to the window and I could just barely see each one’s different shape, before they melted into clear drops, and I remembered mom saying that no two snowflakes were exactly the same, but I wasn’t sure that was really true. And when enough snowflakes melted next to each other, the drops would connect and get bigger until they got so big they would slide down the window like water.
I felt good, warm under the covers in my little room, which was between the backyard below me and the rest of the house. Cozy. Knowing that soon, not too long from now, I could open my presents. For me, knowing something good was going to happen really soon, was as good as when it was actually happening. I still had to wait, but it was a good kind of waiting, because I knew it would be fun, and I could have fun now thinking about that fun even before it happened. I looked at the clock on the little table by my bed. The little hand was pointing down at the right part of the ‘6’. The big hand was pointing up between the ‘10’ and the ‘11’. I watched the big hand to see, once again, if I could actually see it move, and once again, it moved somehow but I couldn’t see it. It was strange, like it changed places but didn’t actually move.
When that big hand finally pointed straight up between the ‘1’ and ‘2’ of the ‘12’, I looked down at the little hand and it was pointed straight down at the ‘6’. I remembered from staring at the clocks at home that there were other times when the big hand and the little hand made one long line like that, but pointed between different numbers on each side.
The door was open between my room and Aunt Pat’s. We had decided last night when I went to bed that we would keep it open. I liked having the door to my room open at night, though where my bed was at home I couldn’t see out the door when I was in bed, I could just hear things better and I didn’t feel alone.
I could see her in her bed under the covers. She started to move a little and rolled over so her head was looking towards me. I saw her eyes open just a little bit.
“You awake in there Coop?” she asked.
I lifted my head up from my pillow and nodded.
“Did you get any sleep?” she asked, chuckling.
I didn’t know how to answer that, since when I thought about it, it was hard to tell when I was awake or when I was asleep and what the difference was. I wondered if this was how grownups talked to each other first thing in the morning if they slept in the same room, because if I slept overnight in Molly’s room I might ask her the “are you awake?” but not the “did you get any sleep?”. I wasn’t sure what was so important about getting sleep, you just did or you didn’t.
Aunt Pat threw back her covers and sat up in her bed. “Well then… shall we get up and go downstairs?” she asked.
I sat up too. I figured I should do more than just nod. “Okay, let’s go downstairs”, I said.
“I don’t think we should open presents until your folks and mine are up though”, she said.
I nodded. I’d heard that “folks” word before used for parents. And I guess it made sense, not opening presents yet, though I so wanted to, particularly the ones from Santa, but again it was a fun kind of waiting!
She continued talking as she walked slowly down the stairs with me following. “I remember when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to tear the wrapping off my presents and see what I got.”
Grownups had said that “when I was a kid” thing to me before but I didn’t really believe they were ever a kid like me. Aunt Pat I could believe, because she wasn’t really a grownup, just a kid who had been around a lot longer than I had and gotten bigger.
She got down on the floor by the Christmas tree and plugged that wire thing into the wall “socket” that my parents kept telling me never to touch until I was older. The lights on the tree all lit up. The living room was dark so there was really nothing to look at except the lights on the tree and Aunt Pat’s face, colors from the lights on her cheeks and reflecting in her glasses. And of course all those presents under the tree, their shiny coverings twinkling.
Every time I heard or even thought about the word “presents” it made me shiver and feel happy. She looked at each one, read the words that said who it was to and who it was from, and then told me. I got excited at each one she read, even the ones not for me. But hearing the ones “to Cooper” made my arms tingle. There were lots of presents for other people too, a lot of them were “from Santa”, but some were from “Pat” or “George” or “Caroline” or “Jane” or “Eric”. And some were to those same names, but also some to “Daddy”, “Mother”, or “Sis”. There was one even “to Liz from Eric”, that name dad called mom that no one else did.
I remembered when I had counted my presents again yesterday there had been six, one more than the five I counted the first time. It was from “Uncle John and Aunt Ruth”, whoever they were, though I had remembered my mom using those names before. I thought it strange that someone else had a name that started with “Aunt”, like Aunt Pat’s name. My mom and dad knew other people whose names were just “Pat”, no “Aunt Pat”. But I was still excited that they got me a present, and more so because it was shaped like a box, so maybe another toy.
But this morning there was another present for me, a seventh one, “To Cooper from Aunt Pat”. I looked at her when she read it. Her glowing face and glasses looked back at me.
“Well I was a bit last minute in shopping!” she said, “I don’t have a bevy of elves working for me!” She laughed, but then stopped and looked at me. “Merry Christmas, Coop!”
I knew that when adults said “Merry Christmas” to another adult, that other adult pretty much always said “Merry Christmas” back, like they were supposed to even, though they would usually say it in a happy way. So when Aunt Pat said it to me, it was a little strange because it made her seem like more of an adult, because I couldn’t imagine another kid saying “Merry Christmas” to me. Still I liked it when she said it so I decided since none of the real adults were there I would say it back to her.
“Merry Christmas Aunt Pat!”
She got a really big smile on her face and her eyes behind the glasses twinkled colors.
“Ahhh, you’re such a sweetie!” she said, as she rubbed her fingers in my hair. I didn’t like it when real adults did that to me, even mom and dad, but it felt okay for Aunt Pat to do it, being more like a big kid.
She looked at all the presents under the tree again and then back at me, her eyebrows going up as she spoke.
“Looks like you’ve got the biggest haul there kiddo!”
I wasn’t sure what a “haul” was, but I figured it was good so I nodded my head.
We both sat by the tree for a while and just looked at it, not talking. It felt so good just looking at it that I didn’t need to think of anything else for a while, though soon I was thinking of my presents again and what they might be.
We went into the kitchen and she heated up some milk to make hot chocolate. There was light from the backyard coming in the kitchen window so you could see things. I liked that Aunt Pat didn’t turn on the light, because it would feel less “cozy” if the light was on. We sat across from each other at their kitchen table that looked like one of those things you might sit at at one of those places where you would go that would give you food to start eating. One of those “booth” things. We sat and “sipped” our hot chocolate because it was too hot to drink like regular drinks. Aunt Pat told me about “your cousins Johnny and Suzy” who I had seen at the party and would be coming over today after lunch.
Finally I heard the noise of someone coming down the stairs and then walking towards us through the dining room. It was dad. He was wearing one of those “robe” things, which was dark green with white lines going up and down and left and right. He stood in the doorway from the living room into the kitchen and looked down at us and smiled.
“Your mom is waking up your grandparents.”
Aunt Pat made a funny noise with her mouth without opening it then said, “I wish her good luck with that. Mother sleeps like a log!”
Dad nodded and did that little smile he did sometimes when he was doing a lot of thinking. “Well, when your sister is a woman on a mission, watch out!”
Aunt Pat nodded and laughed, but not real loud.
“How’d David sleep?” she asked.
“Pretty good”, he said, “Just a diaper change around two.”
He looked around the kitchen and out the window to the backyard and said, “I’m going to make a pot of coffee.”
Grownups always wanted to make coffee, if some other grownup hadn’t already made some. And even then they would ask about making more.
Aunt Pat nodded and said, “I’ll have some.” At least she hadn’t made a pot herself.
Dad started doing all the things adults did to make coffee, filling the big silver round thing with water, then putting in this other silver part inside it and pouring scoops of brown powder in. He plugged the black cord into the socket. Soon it was making noises like it was coughing, and after that the kitchen filled with that coffee smell that grownups loved. Pat saw that I’d finished my hot chocolate so she went to the stove and made some more for me.
“So tell me again about the work you’re doing for the Bulletin”, dad said to her.
“I do odd jobs”, she said, “Run errands. They’re even letting me do some proofreading.”
“Really good”, dad said, “You’ll be writing pieces in no time.”
Her eyes sparkled like she wanted that. “I’d love that!” she said.
“I could talk to Bill and put in a good word for you”, dad said, “If he even remembers me.”
“Wow Eric”, she said, “That would be nice. Thank you!”
They continued to talk about Aunt Pat’s work and the writing work dad used to do, plus that “dissertation” thing he was doing now but never finishing.
A red light went on at the bottom of the silver coffee thing. It wasn’t coughing any more.
“Percolator’s percolated”, she said.
“You want a fresh cup for your coffee?” he asked.
She wrinkled her nose. “Nah! I’m just going to put a bunch of milk and sugar in it, so basically hot chocolate without the chocolate.”
She handed him her cup and he put it under the part sticking out of the bottom of the coffee “percolator” thing. He pressed it and dark brown shiny liquid came out. He handed it back to her. She took a spoon and scooped sugar out of a little white bowl, poured it in her coffee then mixed it. Then she poured in milk from a little white pitcher.
“You ever drink it with milk?” she asked.
Dad wrinkled his nose and shook his head really fast as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Never!” His eyes opened up wide.
“Are there any donuts left?” he asked, opening the refrigerator door. “I wish Liz wouldn’t put them in the fridge, it changes their consistency!”
He pulled out the orange and white striped box and set it on the table between us. There were just three left.
“Hmmm”, dad said, frowning, and looking up at the ceiling like he was trying to figure something out.
I remembered again how mom told me about dividing things in half or quarters. If you divided three things in half that would make six things, though they would be smaller. That would be enough for everyone.
“We could cut them in half”, I said, wanting to show them that I could do some of the thinking and figuring stuff out.
They both looked at me in kind of a strange way, then looked at each other and smiled.
“Wow Coop”, Aunt Pat said, “That’s pretty smart. Where did you learn that?”
I never liked it when adults asked me questions. She wasn’t an adult, but dad was standing right there listening. I decided to answer anyway.
“Mom showed me”, I said.
Dad looked at Aunt Pat and said, “Your sister’s a whiz at math.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “Among other things!”
Dad took the box of donuts, found a knife, and cut them in the middle, giving a half part to me and to her. I took mine with my fingers and bit into it, the feeling of cold on my teeth added to the sting of the sugar on my tongue, the white powder staying on my fingers and falling down on the table. Aunt Pat had already pulled a napkin out of its little holder thing on the table to take her donut part from Dad with one hand. With her other hand she reached back to grab another napkin and put it on the table under my hand holding the donut.
As they continued to talk I heard someone else coming down the stairs from upstairs. I heard grandma’s big voice say, “Ho ho ho, merry Christmas!” She appeared at the door from the dining room wearing a red bathrobe and one of those long red pointed hats like Santa Claus wore and looked at all of us in the kitchen.
“So you think they’d let me play Santa for the kids at Fowlers?” She had a big smile on her round face that looked like mom’s. Now lowering her voice she said, “Merry Christmas one and all!”
“MOTHER!” said Aunt Pat, rolling her eyes, and then in a quieter but still fierce voice, “Oopercays erehay! Ixnay the etendpray antasay!”
I had no idea what those words were, and Grandma looked confused for a moment too, but then I could see her figure something out.
“Oh dear”, she said, then, “Boy that coffee sure smells good!”
“What you take in it, Carrie?” asked dad.
“Just the teeniest splash of milk to take the edge off but not cool it down too much!” she said. Then she wagged a finger up in the air, “Which reminds me that Jane said she needs you to warm a bottle of milk for David and bring it up to her.
“Comin’ up on both counts”, dad said. He poured a cup of coffee for her from the “percolator” thing, a funny name I thought. Then I watched how he poured just a small amount of milk from the tiny white pitcher into the cup and how the white swirled and disappeared but turned the dark brown shiny liquid a less shiny lighter brown. The milk was gone but the coffee was changed, the two things together had created something new. Dad then went to work getting one of David’s bottles of milk from the refrigerator, filling one of those silver pots with water and putting it on the stove and then putting the bottle in it.
Grandma moved toward me in my seat and looked in my eyes. “Scooch over young man and make room for your loose cannon of a granny!”
Aunt Pat chuckled at that, but I couldn’t figure out what was funny. I certainly knew what a “cannon” was, but had no idea what a loose one might be, but I moved myself over so there was room for her to sit next to me.
I could feel grandma’s energy as she grunted a little and plopped down next to me, her body now touching mine. I could see wrinkles on her face and her hands, the only parts of her body not inside her bathrobe. I could see how she was kind of like mom because she would always say something when she entered a room that made you look at her and know she was there. Could she really be mom’s mother? I still couldn’t imagine that could be possible!
“Is daddy coming down soon?” Aunt Pat asked grandma.
“He’ll be down”, grandma said, “He’s got to put his teeth in.”
What did that mean? Your teeth were always in your mouth. I looked at her and she must have figured out that I was confused.
She wagged her finger at me. “Brush your teeth young man. Take care of those pearly whites or you’ll lose ‘em!” She chuckled and rubbed my head.
Why did grownups do that to kids? They did not do it to each other. Kids never did it to each other. Not that I would mind if Molly wanted to rub mine.
Dad headed upstairs with the bottle of milk for mom and David and I could hear lots of noises of steps on the stairs and dad’s voice saying “Merry Christmas, George” and grandpa saying “Merry Christmas” back. Soon grandpa appeared in the doorway from the dining room.
I knew everybody was supposed to say “Merry Christmas” to each other, but something about grandma sitting next to me made me want to say it first, maybe surprise her.
“Merry Christmas, grandpa!” I said loudly.
He got a big smile on his face and his eyes twinkled. “Listen to our young man”, he said, then looking me carefully in the eyes, “Merry Christmas Cooper!” He then said it to Aunt Pat and grandma and they said it back to them like you were supposed to.
He looked around the kitchen. “Coffee smells good”, he said. Whenever there was coffee around grownups not only wanted to drink it, but they wanted to talk about it too. He filled a cup and sipped it. “Strong, like I like it.”
I guess he liked it “black” like dad. I wondered if that was because they had both been in wars and they didn’t have refrigerators to keep the milk cold. Yesterday grandpa and dad were telling stories to each other about that. That John Junior kid had told me his dad and my dad had been in that one called “World War Two”, and grandpa was in a different one called “World War One”. I thought it was interesting that they were counting the wars, and I wondered if there had been “World War Three” yet, and if not yet, whether I would somehow be in that one. Dad had been a “soldier” which meant he was in the war on the land part, but grandpa had been a “sailor” because he had been on the sea part. And the boat he was on went under the water, a “submarine”, like Tom Swift’s “jetmarine”, which was really interesting for me, trying to imagine what that would be like. Unlike Tom Swift, the stories grandpa had told to dad made it seem like he was always worried when they were under the water, where dad’s stories sounded like he wasn’t so much worried on the land except for when the Germans shot that “Eighty-eight” cannon at him.
Grandpa came to the table and Aunt Pat scooched over so he could sit next to her. He sipped his coffee and said “ah”.
“Mother, daddy”, Aunt Pat said, “There’s a donut and a half left if you want it in the fridge.”
“Thanks Pat I’ll pass”, he said, “Though if someone rustled up some breakfast I’d eat it!”
Grandma chuckled. “Ah well you were the big chef last night with your basted ham for all at the party. I cook day in day out and that’s just my job. Gets a body to thinkin’!”
“Hell Carrie, I cook sometimes!” Grandpa said, sounding a bit fierce.
A laugh kind of burst out of her and then she said, “Indeed. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, barbecues in the backyard, all putting on a show for company. All our friends probably think I don’t know my way around the kitchen!”
Aunt Pat looked at me, made a silly face and rolled her eyes. “Okay you two”, she said, “Stop. It’s Christmas. How about I show off my culinary skills and rustle up some scrambled eggs, bacon and toast?” Then looking at me again, “Coop, you want to be my assistant?”
I got shy again, given someone asked me a question and adults were looking at me. All I could manage to do was nod. Grandma swung her feet to the side and put one hand on the table and the other on the back part and I could hear her body creak as she lifted herself up with another grunt. Grandpa had a little easier time getting up to let Aunt Pat out.
So Aunt Pat and I made breakfast. My job was to make the toast. I took two pieces out of the bag and she showed me how to put them in the open top parts of the toaster, then push the “lever” down. I could barely reach high enough to do it. I liked the way it clicked at the bottom when you pushed it hard enough, and how it ticked like a clock until it made a boing noise and the bread popped up all toasted. I piled the pieces on a plate and put two more in until I had eight pieces, which Aunt Pat said was enough. She had two pans on the stove and put eggs in one and long pieces of bacon in the other, which made cooking noises.
I heard someone coming down the stairs, and then mom and dad were there at the doorway to the dining room. Dad was holding David against his shoulder and patting the back of his body.
“Try rubbing instead”, mom said.
I could tell he didn’t like her telling him what to do. “Yeah I know Liz!” he said fiercely. He started rubbing David’s back instead of patting on it and David burped. Dad scrunched up his mouth looking kind of mad.
“See. There you go!” she said, starting to smile.
“Yeah. I had it under control Liz!” he said, still fiercely.
“I know”, she said nodding and putting her hand on his other shoulder.
Then she turned to all of us and made her biggest smile and said, “Merry Christmas everyone!”
Grandma, grandpa, Aunt Pat and I all said, “Merry Christmas”, all almost at the same time. Finally dad nodded and smiled and also said, “Merry Christmas”.
Grandpa moved over, looked at mom, and patted the sitting place next to him. She sat, put an arm around his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek. “Love you daddy”, she said.
Grandma looked at dad and patted the space next to her. “Well I’ll take the handsome man anytime, actually two for the price of one.”
Dad sat next to her, but didn’t say anything, David now seated in his lap, looking up at grandma who was making faces at him and touching him with her finger. Aunt Pat put food on each plate and carefully gave it to me to take to the table. I walked slowly so I didn’t spill anything and set each one on the table. We all ate our food. Aunt Pat and I were standing up. She cut up my eggs so it was easier for me to use my fork. It all tasted good. Particularly the bacon, and the toast with butter and jelly on it.
When we were done we all moved into the living room. Grandma and grandpa sat on the big chairs. Mom opened up that blue blanket with the big yellow “M” letter in the middle of it. I knew that “M” was for “Michigan”. She took David from Dad’s arms and put him sitting up in the middle of the blanket. She put some of his toys around him. David looked at all of us, then kind of fell over but started crawling around.
“How about a fire!” grandpa said. “Jane, do you remember how to make knots?”
Mom blew air out of her mouth, shook her head and then smiled. “Daddy you always ask me that and I always remember.”
She took those big pieces of paper with the words and pictures on it, unfolded them and then rolled them up with her hands and then bent and tied them into those “knot” things. As she finished one, she tossed it with a flick of her wrist in front of the place where you made a fire, which they called a “fireplace”, which made sense to me. Finally when there were a lot of knots, she crawled over to the fireplace and piled them up on this thing with black bars. Then she took some “logs”, which were parts of trees I think, and piled those on top of the knots.
She then found a tiny little box, and I watched carefully as she pushed one side and the other side came open. Then she took out of it an even tinier stick with red on the end. I remembered those tiny sticks from our house, another thing they told me I shouldn’t use until I was older. You scraped them against the side of the box and they would make a hissing noise and a little fire would start so you could then make a bigger fire on the stove or in the oven.
Once the stick was on fire she held it under a paper knot and it became on fire too. Still on her hands and knees, with her head now down low to the floor, she blew on the knot with the fire. It crackled and the flame disappeared but parts of the knot where the flame had been got bright yellow and orange and crackled. And once she stopped blowing, the flame jumped up again even bigger than before. She then did the same thing with another knot on the other side of the fire. I watched the knots next to burning knots catch fire and soon the flames got taller and wrapped around the logs with lots more hissing and crackling. I looked around and everybody was looking at the fire, even David. It was hard not to look at it!
There was no fireplace in our house or Molly’s, so the whole thing about making a fire was really new and interesting for me. I did kind of remember someone making a fire the last time I was at grandma and grandpa’s house, and at a couple other houses after that.
“Well, we’re all here and we have a roaring fire, shall we open presents?” It was Aunt Pat, who hadn’t talked since we were in the kitchen.
Mom chuckled. “My little sister is still a kid at heart! Can’t wait to see what Santa brought for her!”
Aunt Pat made a funny face like she didn’t like that, and her voice was fiere and she sounded like a grownup. “Listen Sis, I am perfectly happy to wait until whenever, I’m just thinking about Coop, he’s probably excited to find out what Santa brought him!”
Mom made her own funny face and nodded and looked at Aunt Pat and smiled. Her face softened and she nodded. When people said things in a fiere way to mom she listened and mostly liked. Dad never liked it when people said fierce things to him.
I could feel my whole body start to shiver again with excitement. Was I going to get to open all seven of those presents? Then I was thinking, why do grownups always get to tell kids what we can do when they’re around. That’s why I liked playing and doing things when they weren’t watching, so I could decide. But then I was thinking if it were just me and Molly and some other kids with no grownups, we’d still have to decide when it was okay to open stuff, though we would be okay if someone just couldn’t wait.
I looked at mom, both excited but not sure. She looked back at me and her round eyes got bigger and she made a big smile, nodded and said, “See what Santa got you!” Again, she was deciding, but at least what she decided was what I wanted.
I looked at the tree and the presents underneath. I just knew I would get toys that would help me make all sorts of new stories I could play. I was already thinking about how when I took off the paper part and saw what it was my mind would fill with all those new ideas and it would be so exciting. I liked the way the presents sparkled under the tree and that thinking about opening them was maybe even more fun than actually opening them. Because if I opened something and it didn’t give me ideas for playing, then that would not be much fun, but before I actually opened them, I always imagined it would be something really good.
I got down on my hands and knees and moved toward the tree. I noticed David on his blanket behind me doing the same thing, but mom grabbed him and he said something loud like he was trying to talk words and reached his hand out towards the tree and then looked at mom. She put him on her lap and scooched over by the tree so he was closer to it and reached under the branches to grab a shiny green box with a white ribbon around it.
“This one’s for you David”, she said, and put it on her lap in front of him. His hands banged against it as he continued to watch me.
I looked over all the presents and tried to scan the tags to see what came after the “To” part. One by one I found my presents. I took each one in my hands in turn and felt the shiny smooth paper on my fingertips, how much it weighed and how it shifted or not when I moved the box a little bit. The heavier boxes were extra exciting but I wasn’t sure why. The one that was long with the circles on each end made a rattling noise when I picked it up. I then put each of them next to each other by the side of the tree, until I counted seven of them. I went back on my hands and knees looking under the tree.
“I think that’s all of yours Cooly!”
It was mom’s voice. She and dad still liked calling me different names than even my regular nickname, like “Clubius” and “Cooly”. I had forgotten that the grownups were there and that they were watching me. I usually didn’t like it when they watched me, but this was different because I was opening presents so I didn’t care. I turned back to look at all my presents, all by themselves now.
“Looks like quite a haul!”
It was grandma’s voice, like my mom’s but different. I still wasn’t sure what a “haul” was, but like when Aunt Pat said it, must be something good.
Now I had to decide which one to open first. Should I open the one that looked and felt the most interesting or the least interesting. I wanted to like them all so I figured I would open the least interesting one first, because even tearing off the paper was fun. That was the smallest and thinnest one, so it did not look like or feel like a box, so maybe not a toy. After the “From” on the tag was the “Mom” word and the “Dad” word that I had learned to read even though I didn’t know how to really read yet.
“That’s from your dad and I!”
It was mom’s voice. I remembered again they were watching me though mom was also opening the present for David. My fingers dug in the corners to get under the shiny paper that covered the thing, finally getting the paper to tear open and rip. I liked the ripping noise because it happened at the same time that I was seeing and figuring out what I had got. It was a book with a picture of circle things that were different colors in front of a black part full of tiny white dots. Remembering all the pictures in my Tom Swift books I figured it was outer space.
“That’s a book on the solar system that goes with one of your other presents.”
It was mom’s voice again but I did not look back at her. I just stared at the picture and then opened it to see all the words and pictures on the pages inside. Words on the left page and then a picture on the right, the first one showing all these different sized circles in a row, with words next to each. The next pages had a picture of this big yellow circle thing in front of the black outer space part. Because I knew the grownups were watching me I wasn’t sure how long I should look at the book before I opened my next present, but then I really wanted to see what else I got.
So next I took the other present that had a shape like the one I just opened, so probably not a toy. It also turned out to be a book with a picture of a clock on the front.
“That’s also from your dad and I! Again it goes with one of your other presents.”
I heard her words as I opened the book. Like the other book there were words on one page and pictures on the other, though these pictures weren’t like camera pictures in the Solar System book. Pictures showed the numbers on the clock and the big hand and little hand that mom had told me about, pictures like mom might draw. Other pictures showed circles with edges that looked like little triangles. Still others were of different clocks, and there was one of a big clock like the one grandma and grandpa had. When I finally closed the book and put it down on top of the Solar System book, the shiny outside part of one book squeaked against the other.
I could feel my body shivering with excitement. The books looked interesting but the next present could be a toy. Books could tell you stories or tell you how to make your own stories that were like the one in the book, but mom or dad would have to read it to me so I would know. Toys could be part of many stories I could think up myself.
I decided to open the long one with the round ends first that made a rattling noise. As I ripped off the paper and heard that exciting tearing sound, I saw a picture of maybe a rocket ship thing and a spinning thing and a pretend boy made with sticks that were green, blue, red, yellow and purple.
“Wow”, said mom, “Santa really knows what you like!”
I remembered that I had played with these at Danny’s houses. You stuck them together with those round things with the holes and made stuff, like guns and swords and rockets. I pulled off the top circle part like I remember Danny doing it, and I could smell that certain smell like when you opened up and put your nose in a new book. I looked in and saw all the colored sticks, short and long, along with those circle things that stuck things together. I wanted to try to make something but I did not want the grownups watching me while I did. Instead I went to open the next present.
I picked it up and it didn’t rattle like those “Tinker Toys” but it did kind of thud back and forth in what felt like a box.
“That one’s from your Uncle John and Aunt Ruth”, said grandpa.
Again the ripping sound and finding out what it was. There was a picture of a shiny car on the box, one of those with no top part over where you sat in the seats. My fingers tried but couldn’t open the box.
“Let me help you with that!”
It was dad sounding kind of worried as he jumped up from sitting on the floor next to mom and helping her with David. He quickly came over and sat down next to me. He took hold of the box and I let go. His fingertips pushed and pulled things until the end of the box opened up and he pulled out the shiny dark red car.
“Wow, look at that!” he said, holding the car and showing it to all the others, before handing it to me.
“That looks like a Buick Roadmaster convertible” grandpa said in a happy voice. “Maybe late forties. Never too early for a young man to appreciate a well made automobile.”
Grandma and Aunt Pat chuckled. Aunt Pat said, “Your grandpa and Uncle John are nuts for cars, especially Buicks!” Grandma made a funny snorting noise.
I looked at the car closely. It looked like a real car only smaller. I couldn’t figure out how it could be part of my stories, since the other cars I had were much smaller. Danny would probably like it when he came over because he liked cars a lot. I moved it around on the floor and then put it next to my books.
I picked up the next present, which rattled but just a little bit. I tore open the paper and there was a yellow box with red letters and pictures of shiny green trucks.
“That’s from your grandma and me”, grandpa said, “Your dad said you loved to play with your army men so we figured they needed some vehicles to get them around!”
Dad was still sitting next to me and looking carefully at the pictures on the box. His big finger touched the box. “There’s a halftrack like the ones in my platoon that I told you about”, he said, his voice was excited. I looked up at him. He seemed more like a kid than an adult right then. But then his shoulders kind of went lower and he looked like he was going back to being an adult.
My fingers could open this box and all the little shiny dark green trucks were there, including that “halftrack” one he had pointed to plus one of those “armored cars” and a “tank” that he had shown me pictures of in his red war books. I put the box, still open, down by my other opened presents.
I picked up the second to last box, which was bigger than all the others.
“You know”, mom said, “That one is also from Santa. He usually doesn’t bring his presents until Christmas Eve, but this year he somehow came early.”
Dad was nodding his head and pushing his mouth up towards his nose like when he did something wrong. “Yeah Coop. There are so many children in the world now he sometimes needs to get a head start delivering all those presents. So a few kids get theirs delivered early. We’ll see how he does next year.”
I wondered what was going on but I didn’t want to stop opening and looking at my toys. I tore the paper off the box. There was a picture of a rocket ship on it and a big red “3”. Dad helped me open the box and there was a rocket ship divided into the bottom, middle and top parts.
Dad said, “You can put the parts together, they call them ‘stages’, to make one big rocket ship to explore the solar system”, his fingers tapping on my Solar System book. I really wanted to take the thing out and play with it but dad was right there and all the rest of them were watching.
So I took my last present.
“And last of all from me”, Aunt Pat said, “Hope you like it.”
I tore off the paper and there was a box with a picture of a clock. It was strange looking because the front part with the numbers and the hands you could look through and see all these circle things with the triangle edges. I had never seen a clock like that.
Dad helped me take it out of the box.
“Oh wow”, he said looking at it carefully, “You can see all the gears inside. Does it really work?”
“It’s supposed to”, said Aunt Pat, “Are there instructions?”
I had heard that “instructions” word a lot when we got new things that did stuff. You read something on a piece of paper and it told you what to do. There was a paper thing in the box that the clock had been in. It looked like a tiny book with pages but no cover part. Dad gave the clock to me and took the “instructions” out and looked at it to read the words. I knew I had to figure out what all the different words were so I could read for myself, and not have to wait until my parents could read it for me. I could read some words, but not all of them yet.
“There should be a key on the back to wind it up”, dad said. I turned the thing over in my hands and there it was, a green thing sticking out of the back of it shaped kind of like a “T”.
“Let Coop try it himself”, mom said, she had put David back on his blanket and he was now playing with, or at least touching and looking at, his new toy present.
“Liz”, dad’s voice sounded a little bit fierce, “I was certainly intending to.”
He looked at me and I could see tiny versions of the colored tree lights in his glasses. “Turn the key clockwise, it says. That’s the same direction that the hands of the clock go.” He took the thumb and finger of his right hand and pretended to wind something.
I nodded because I had done “winding” before with a toy car I had. I turned the key and it made a clicking noise and it got harder and harder to turn until it stopped turning at all. When I let go the clock started ticking.
“Okay”, dad said, still reading the instructions, “Now move the big hand in a clockwise direction in circles until the small hand and the big hand show the current time.” Both the black big and little hands of the thing were pointing straight up. He looked at the tiny clock on his wrist that was called a “watch” and said, “It’s seven twenty-one.”
He showed how to move the big hand to the right. I tried it and as I moved it I saw the little hand move too, but much more slowly. By the time I had moved the big hand all the way around to the top again the little hand had gotten from the “12” to “1”. With each circle of the big hand the little hand moved to point at the next number, until it got to the “7”.
“Now move the big hand forward just a little bit more to the twenty-one spot”, he said, “Just a tiny bit past the four.”
My finger pushed the big hand down below the “4”.
“A bit too far”, he said, putting his finger on the bottom of the big hand for just a second to push it up a little bit.
And there the thing was, ticking in my lap. One of those bright colored “gears” kept moving, just a bit, stopping and then moving a bit more. Then every once in a while other gears would move just a bit and stop. I realized that the hands of a clock didn’t just move on their own, they moved because other things were moving that you couldn’t usually see in a regular clock. One thing leading to another in ways that I couldn’t figure out yet, but would someday probably make more sense.
Maybe everything else was like that too. Maybe even I was like that. Maybe there were things inside me doing things that led to other things that made my body move and even made me think. Maybe I wasn’t just one thing but a bunch of things working together to be me. Just like the hands of the clock changing where they were, but you couldn’t see them moving, I was changing but didn’t know it until I was different.
All those ideas going through my mind were exciting but scary. I put the clock on the floor and turned to figure out my new rocketship instead so I would be thinking about something I didn’t have to worry about so much. But those different ideas that came from looking at the clock didn’t go away. Everything felt completely different.