I can’t speak for everybody, but the Christmas season here at Hotel Outfoxed is always and eternally one of expectations.
I’ve got three kids who slog off to high school on a daily basis, are diligent, if somewhat scattered in their routine affairs and show occasional flashes of the responsible adults they will one day be. But for two weeks in December, they regress to being 6 years old.
“Wheeeee, hey Dad, did you know it’s only ______ days ‘til Christmas?” This could come from any of them. They giggle and squeal and make many secretive dashes to the upstairs with wrapping paper and smuggled bags of dubious origin. They flounce about in large rabbit slippers, asking me if I’m certain beyond a doubt that “You’ll be making breakfast right after we open our presents, right Pops?” And as the pile of stuff under the tree grows to a heap, the suspense begins to wear on them. “Oooh, lookit, Mom put another buncha stuff under the tree! Lookit lookit!”
They bring random tribes of teenaged girls with them, who bounce and hoot and ruffle my hair. “Wow Mr. Outfoxed, hey. Hey didja know it’s only _______ days until Christmas? Are you ready? Didja get all your shopping done?”
(The sight of a large and ponderous being, coccooned in his Lazy-Boy with a box of Cheez-Its and a long neck is enough to make them screech at the inactivity. Occasionally prodding me with a sharp object, they can be guaranteed a grumbling reply. I only get loud when they block the big screen.)
“Nope. Don’t go shopping until the day before. Get it all done at once. ‘Sbetter that way. Leave me alone.”
“Awww Beth (or Maggie or Ben, depending), your Dad is so cuuuute! He’s such a grumpy old bear, makes me want to just pat him on the head, like this!” And so it goes, the tempestuous crowd cheering my sloth right up until the day before. When, with laser precision and a bulging wallet, I sally forth in search of the more perfect shopping experience. The old truck breathes easy on the route, I’ve done it so many times on the 24th that it would not greatly surprise me if the truck could start itself and drive it without any aid. The music on the radio is the same as last years, the Bach and Von Williams, the choirs and carols from British voices that make the sublime sounds that happen only once a year.
I go to one clothing store, one music store and one jewelry store. The fact that I can spend as much or more money in two hours as my wife does in two months for Christmas gifts is a tactical nod to my superior planning and the good folks at the American Excess Card.
I think I may have become a little too predictable about the jewelry store, though. Every year for many years, I go there. Same hour, same purpose. “Hi there, I’m looking for three gifts – two for daughters and one for the wife. I’m going to spend this much money and I’ll be out of here in less than 20 minutes. Yes on the gift wrapping. Let’s go.” It’s a memorized speech that typically galvanizes the sparkly clerk into action, she’s working on a commission here, after all.
But I have a feeling they’re on to me. Yesterday I waltzed in and one of the girls detached herself immediately from a fair sized mob of my fellow brethren who had procrastinated until the last minute. Started yanking out trays of golden stuff before I got the first word out. “Why, Mr. Outfoxed, we’ve been expecting you. How are the girls? And your wife? Something in a nice setting of opals this year? Hmmm?”
I was wrapped and out in fifteen minutes flat. Which allowed me more lingering time at the music store. Good thing too, the selection of music can’t be rushed. Uh uh. Not like jewelry. Or clothes. Those are speed runs. Besides, women in clothing stores on the 24th of December remind me more of terrorists than anyone wearing a turban and carrying a sub-machine gun ever would. Particularly if their car is parked in the same row as mine.
And now, in the wee hours of a Christmas morning, having consumed the traditional Christmas Eve pizza and watched the traditional showing of Grumpy Old Men, my mission is nearly complete. The expectations have run their course. A 25 pound turkey is sitting ready for action on my kitchen counter. My children are safe, if not snug in their beds. There are lights casting shadows of fir trees here at my feet, small lights that are strung once a year by hands that care. It is still and warm and all things have slowed to the drowsy pace of night, a night long in remembering, long in promise.
I can hear it, without difficulty. Without even having the music turned on. That small voice of one twelve year old boy in Cambridge, England, at the rear of the church. Getting ready to lead the whole choir down the aisle to the choir loft. A processional that begins with his voice, and his trembling cry against all that rages wrongly in the world.
Once in Royal David’s city,
In a lowly cattle shed
There a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed
Mary was that mother mild
Jesus Christ, her little child.
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