12/3/10

03 Who-Hah Holiday

As soon as I heard the doorbell I skimmed across the shiny wood floor in my stocking feet right into the pine-cone filled basket by the window. Forgetting the rule about waiting for Mom to greet the people first, I jumped up, open the door and shouted, “Merry Christmas!” Two people all bundled up in puffy down winter coats and bright red scarves, holding silvery wrapped boxes, repeated my greeting. My mother was just behind me and looked like she was ready to give me the whatever-is-the-matter-with-you speech, but instead she just raised one eyebrow.

“Please come in you two and make yourselves at home,” she sang sweetly while helping them with their coats. “Honey, you take their coats and put them on the bed in the back room,” she said with the company-is-here smile.

I struggled with the heavy coats, dropping one before I got to the back room. No one ever sleeps on the bed. It’s just used for decoration now, because it sags so much in the middle. In a way, I was responsible for its condition. How could I have known that jumping in one spot for long periods of time would break down the springs? From the bedroom I heard Dad’s laughter and something about the football game and how he took a bundle off the guy at the liquor store.

Mom came in and said, “Dear husband, where are your manners?” (She talks funny like that when she’s nervous.) Dad might be discussing that remark with her later. He’s very particular about what you say and how you say it. “Walter and Wanda, what can we get you to drink?”

“You can get me to drink most anything,” Walt howled, slapping Wanda on the back so hard her head nearly bumped the coffee table.

I slipped into the room and sat near the Christmas tree. The reflections of the blinking lights made the rest of the ornaments look like red and green flashing traffic signals.

“What do you want Santa to bring you this year, sweetie?”

I looked up to the full moon face of Mrs. Wanda. She was talking to me. I quickly put my head down, stared at the carpet and replied, “I’m hoping for a playschool kitchen with a table and chairs, a saucer sled, a two person tent and a….

“Honey, would you please bring in the bowl of peanuts from the kitchen?” said my mother pronouncing each word so slowly, as if I didn’t understand English. It’s an old signal. It means “children should be seen and not heard”. I know the rule perfectly well, but it was Mrs. Wanda who asked the question. Sometimes, there’s just no pleasing grownups. If I shrugged my shoulders and had said nothing, I would have gotten the “don’t be rude now, Mrs. Wanda asked you a question, dear.” But, I answered, so I was seen and heard. It’s always very confusing to me.

I stood up and said, “Excuse me, please.”

I heard my mom use that same phrase last week to her card-playing lady friends. They all replied in their sing-song kind of way, “Of course, dearie.” Believe it or not, as I left the room everyone said, “Of course sweetie – what a charming child”. I have to look up that “charming” word. Sounded like candy so it must be good.

I want to point out that I call the guests by their first names, Mr. Walter and Mrs. Wanda, because they said their last name was too hard for people to pronounce. This was okay with my parents because it still showed proper respect. If I wanted proper respect, I would have chosen to be called Captain or Your Majesty.

I placed the peanuts on the table in front of Mr. Walter. He looked at me and I noticed his eyes looked wet like he’d been crying, but the rest of his face was very pink and smiling.

“We have a little present for you,” he said handing me one of the silvery wrapped boxes with a red bow stuck right in the center. I opened it carefully, while reviewing all the rules about receiving presents:

1. Always thank the giver.

2. If you don’t like it, smile anyway, and thank the giver.

The minute it was opened, I knew I had a problem. It was one of my favorite books. I had it on the top of my bedroom library shelf. I could use rule one, but not rule two. If I said I had the book already they would be disappointed, but lying is never acceptable. I should use the “always tell the truth” rule. It was the most important one on life’s rule list.

“Well, sweetie, what do you say?” urged my mom not giving me enough time to sort through my answers.

“I love this book. I used to have one just like it, but it got lost. Thank you very much.” Well, that would have to do - half true and half polite.

I stretched out under the tree pretending to read my new/old book, played with the tinsel on the branches and listened to the mixture of the grownup chatter, clinking ice cubes and sounds of chips and carrots crunching. Once again I heard the doorbell, jumped up and was half way to the door before I realized I was breaking the rule again. I try not to do the same wrong thing twice in one day, so I waited for my mom to open the door and greet the people. It was Elliot and Owen’s grandparents from next door. Elliot calls his grandfather –“Boppa” and his grandmother – “Grandma P”. Owen is too young to talk. I call them Mr. and Mrs. Myers because their last name is easy to say.

Mom greeted them first, and I echoed Merry Christmas and took their coats to the back bedroom. This time I didn’t drop any. I ran back to see everyone hugging everyone and saying the “greeting stuff”.

Dad offered drinks to the new guests and said to Mrs. Wanda and Mr. Walter, “Can I get you another?”

“Absotootly,” laughed Mr. Walter. Mrs. Wanda whispered something in his ear and he shooed her away as if she were a fly.

“I’m fine for now,” smiled Mrs. Wanda as she turned to Mrs. Myers and asked, “How are the grandkids doing?”

Mrs. Myers’ cooed and flapped her hands as if they were little birds and talked about how wonderful and smart her grandsons were. Mr. Myers sat quietly listening to the conversation. Maybe he was told to be seen and not heard, too. I thought about asking him to sit down by the tree with me, but the second time I thought about it I decided it was better to wait until later. That’s another rule I learned this year – think twice before speaking. I only saw a gift wrapped up to look like a bottle when they came in, and they gave it to my Dad. They didn’t bring anything for me which was a little disappointing. Maybe Dad will share his gift later.

Mom brought out some more snacks. Little meatballs swimming in red sauce, mushrooms with greenish, whitish grass in the middle and toast sticks with fat olives and hairy brown things wrapped around something I didn’t recognize. I just ate the peanuts. Dad brought out two bottles with fancy labels on the side and set them on the table in front of the guests next to the snacks. One had water in it; the other had tea or something. Dad gave me a bottle of Coke with a straw. I drink Coke only on special occasions because it won’t rot my teeth if I have it just once in a while.

Everyone seemed to like the snacks, which made my mom shine like the Christmas tree star. She laughed and Dad laughed and the guests laughed. They were having a really good time. I was happy for them. But, I was a little bored. My mom must have read my mind and came to my rescue.

“Honey, why don’t you say goodnight to everyone now and watch the DVD we rented? It’s all set up on the back bedroom TV”. I said my good nights, scooted down the hall, and plopped in the middle of the saggy bed next to all the coats and watched the movie.

I must have fallen asleep before the Grinch stole Christmas. I never heard people come into the room to get their coats. I do remember hearing my parents’ whispering.

While Dad was putting on my pajamas he said to my Mom, “Good God, I can’t believe this evening. I would never have expected Walter to put on such a show. It was obvious that he was enjoying himself, but trying to recreate Santa and his flying reindeer by launching himself off the top of the stair case was flat dumb.”

“Did you see the look of shock on Wanda’s face when he landed on Bob and Paulla. It was blood chilling. Thank goodness the Myers weren’t hurt,” said my mom.

“Thank you for not screaming when he jumped off and knocked the Christmas tree into the window,” added Dad. “Every porch light in the neighborhood lit up, when Wanda started yelling at the old guy while dragging him out the door. He kept shouting On Donner, on Blitzen, so loudly that I thought someone was going to call the police. I don’t think we’re going to invite those who-hahs next year.”

Who-Hahs, Who-Hahs. I can say Who-Hahs. Mr. and Mrs. Who-Hah. Why did they say their last name was too hard to pronounce? I’ll surprise them the next time they come over.

What I liked best: I loved the hilarity of it, understated by your narrator. I could absolutely picture myself watching this scene. Good job of characterization.

Publication ready: Very, very close! But not in this anthology. While there needn't be any LDS theme-ology in the story, it can't be contrary to LDS expectations. The drinking and use of deity name rules you out. Sorry.

Other than that, I'd have you correct your comma errors and I'd make you pick a gender for your narrator and identify it. Some editors wouldn't mind but I do.

8 comments:

Michael Knudsen said...

I just have to say bravo to the author of this one. This story captures the essence of childhood and a part of it not examined often enough - the challenge of a child with both boundless energy and a sweet desire to please trying to navigate the minefield of grown-up "rules". Excellent characterization all around.

Jennifer Ricks said...

I agree that this story has some great things going on with characterization. I also loved the vivid imagery details and some really nice metaphors.

I didn't feel like the story had much of a climax. It feels a little more like a snapshot than a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but it is charming.

I think the story would also be strengthened if changed to third person. I was a little confused about the age of the child. He or she (I'm not sure which it is) doesn't talk like a youngster young enough to want a playschool kitchen set and not know the meaning of "charming," but I loved those details about childhood. Telling the story from a narrator's perspective would allow us in and out of the child's mind and would be more accurate.

pterzian said...

Great story, love the child's character and vivid descriptions.

Anonymous said...

Charming story.

vgrulke said...

AMAZING! I love every last word! It warms my heart to see you in "print" just as it did when I saw you on "stage". Who-Hah!!!

Anonymous said...

I think the best part of the story happened while the child narrator was asleep. It would have been hilarious to see all the drunken antics. Is this actually an LDS story? What's LDS about it?

writerbob39 said...

The ending was priceless!

Amie B said...

hahahaha! wonderful ending!