Christmas Eve:

Sneakers down the stairs.

By: Tom Kramer
   "You go."
   "No, you go first."
   "It was your idea."
   "It was your idea to look! I coulda slept some more, but nooooo … "
   "What if we run into Santa? Will he take away everything?"
   "There’s no …" I paused, glancing at my younger brother John, dressed in his Linus pajamas, innocently looking up at me with that familiar fear-of-reprisal face.
   "No what?" he asked, his whisper becoming more hoarse from worry.
   "No. Santa’s not an Indian giver."
   "You sure?"
   "Positive. It would be bad for his reputation."
   "Good." He pursed his lips, his brains working overtime on the Santa situation.
   "How’s he fit everything in his sled?"
   "He’s like that magician who keeps pulling rabbits out of his hat. They come from the same school."
   "Where’s the school located?"
   "Doesn’t matter, ’cause you’re not gonna get in there."
   "What if something gets stuck in his sled?"
   "Then one of the elves crawls in there to get it out. Now be quiet."
   We snuck through the foyer and into the living room where the seven-foot tree and Santa’s presents awaited us. I shined the light at the base of the tree in anticipation of the presents, but the only gifts there were the ones Mom had put out the day before.
   "I guess we weren’t as good as we thought," John pouted as his shoulders slumped.
   "No … we’re better. Look!"
   I flashed the light off into the corner, and glittering off the beams were our Schwinn Sting-Ray, banana seat bikes: green for me, blue for him. In our exuberance to get to the bikes, we practically trampled the gift-wrapped packages surrounding the bikes, where I ran my hand along the speckled green seat and worked the hand brakes while John rubbed the frame and felt the tires on his before clapping his hands in glee.
   Problem was, I failed to notice that the kickstand wasn’t fully attached. Apparently it was something Dad (or, rather, Santa) had failed to firmly bolt on.
   No sooner did I set it upright than a chain of disastrous events was put into motion: My bike toppled over with the pedal spearing a box, while the handle ripped through another package and right into the head of sister Betsy’s "Baby Cakes" doll. The rear tire squished a box of chocolates, and John, in an attempt to prevent the bike from falling, reached across his own bike and the two of them hit the ground in a painful, slow motion fall, a la a Sam Peckinpah movie.
   I failed to get a hold of John, who sliced his shin in the process, but I did get a hold of a Christmas tree branch. Big mistake, especially when a seven-foot tree is in a five-foot holder. And it certainly wasn’t going to hold my falling 5′ 4" frame … or a bicycle frame, either. I fell onto the tree that tipped over against the window which was scratched by some ornaments that fell off the tree and were crushed on the floor when the tree toppled over.
   John let out a groan, and I quickly clamped my hand over his mouth, which he accidentally bit, causing blood to flow from his teeth marks. I jumped back in pain … right onto the Christmas tree that completed its fall to the floor, crushing nine ornaments in the process along with four plastic angels. We limped back up the steps: John hobbling from his cut shin, and me, holding my throbbing hand up, with every wisp of air burning through it like alcohol on a carpet burn.
   "Great idea," he said once we were back inside our bedroom.
   "It was your idea, you bozo! I wanted to sleep."
   "You didn’t have to agree."
   "Shut up."
   "No, you shut up."
   "Make me."
   I was about to "make him" when I heard Mom and Dad’s footsteps in the hall. Leaping across the room into my bed, I pulled the covers over my head in one fell swoop just as they barged into the room, only to find John and I pretending we were fast asleep.
   "What’s going on in here?" Dad demanded.
   I peered out from beneath the sheets and saw wearing his red pajama bottoms and an equally red face, while Mom stood alongside in her robe, trading glances from me to John and then back to me. Their glances always ended up on me, which I thought highly unfair since I was guilty only 80 percent of the time.
   "Huh? Did somebody say something?" I asked through partially closed eyes, followed by an overdrawn yawn.
   "You two were yelling," Mom said.
   "I was having a nightmare. Coulda been me," I offered, as I glanced over at John who was faking a tired stretch and morning moan.
   "I had one, too," John said, looking at me for approval, as if that was going to get us off the hook. Maybe if he didn’t look at me it might have!
   "John? You OK?" Dad asked as he walked over to his bed.
   "Fine, why?"
   "There’s blood on your bed. What the … ?" He pulled back John’s sheets and spotted the blood around his shin. "What did you do?"
   "Wow," I said, edging up on my elbows, "musta been some nightmare."
   Another chain of events was put into place when Betsy cried from downstairs. We all went down to her side by the bike that toppled the tree which broke the glass, that pierced the doll and broke the ornaments, which pierced the angels that rolled the gumballs, which splintered the reindeer that shredded the wings of the angels …causing Mom and Dad to turn to me.
   "What happened here?"
   I let out a long whistle. "Wowww … Santa musta been in a hurry."
   "I think it was more like some elves snooping around. You weren’t down here earlier?"
   John looked at me for an answer, which gave Mom and Dad the answer they were looking for.
   "Go up to your room, both of you."
   "I didn’t even answer!"
   "You didn’t have to. I know that look."
   "It was a look of sorrow. A look of feeling sorry for Betsy’s doll and …"
   "Get up to your room!"
   One look at the veins sticking out on Dad’s forehead and we knew we’d better not try arguing the case.
   "I don’t think he bought it," John said as we trudged back up the stairs.
   "Would you have?"
   We were sitting on the edge of our respective beds when Dad entered the room and went over to John’s bed.
   "C’mon over here," Dad ordered me, as he sat down on John’s bed. I brought over my blanket, giving true meaning to the words, "security blanket," and the three of us sat, with Dad’s feet planted firmly on the floor while my feet and John’s swayed back and forth two feet above. "What’s Christmas mean to you?" he asked. Uh oh … this was going to be a long day, and it hadn’t even started.
   "Umm, toys and stuff," John answered.
   "Another round of Aunt Nancy’s jello mold," I said.
   Dad made a sour face at that one, but not because of a wrong answer: None of us liked the mold. It truly was a dish we were fearful of. "Besides toys and jello mold, what else?"
   "Giving." That was me.
   "Okay, yes … ‘giving’. To who, to what?"
   "We give thanks … and we give to people who need more than we do." That was John, the brown-noser.
   "Exactly. It’s not all ‘me-me-me’ or ‘take-take-take.’ You both are very lucky to have the things you do; a roof over your head, good food three times a day …"
   "… except for Aunt Nancy’s jello mold …" (me again).
   "… except for Aunt Nancy’s jello mold, yes … you go to a good school, you have toys and the like that others don’t have. You’re fortunate. And I don’t think you realize that, sometimes. Actually, I don’t think you realize that a lot of the time. Am I right?"
   "Yes," John and I answered in unison.
   "Christmas shouldn’t be just material items to you. It’s a time to give thanks, to sit down with relatives whom you only see once, maybe twice a year. Get to know them. Find the good in them, because I’ll tell you, there will come a time when you’re older and they won’t be around … and you’ll wish you spent more time with them. So I want you two to rethink your ways and start giving more. Charity should not be just outside the house but inside it too. Agreed?"
   "Agreed," we chimed together.
   "OK then." He slapped his thigh in finality and left the room. John and I looked at each other in surprise, relieved that we didn’t get lectured anymore than that about doing good deeds.
   Our charity work began an hour later that Christmas morning: lots of cleaning, vacuuming and scrubbing. That wasn’t as bad as having to sing Christmas carols in front of giggling relatives in the afternoon, when they all knew how much we hated to sing. Especially me, who made Alvin the Chipmunk sound like Pavarotti in comparison. John chose "Jingle Bells," and hit maybe four notes correctly, while I chose an updated version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas," with a little twist:
   On the twelfth day of Christmas, these things I didn’t foresee:
   Twelve chocolates crushed,
   Eleven gumballs rolling,
   Ten ornaments busted,
   Nine light bulbs broken,
   Eight candy canes cracked,
   Seven reindeer mangled,
   Six wingless angels,
   Five damaged gears!,
   Four broken spokes,
   Three teeth marks,
   Two bloody sheets,
   And a split shin from a Schwinn bike.
An award-winning playwright and freelance photojournalist, Tom Kramer is also a tennis pro at the Princeton Racquet Club. A native New Yorker without the accent, he now lives in Princeton where on Christmas Eve, he’ll once again sleep by the fireplace in the hope of seeing Santa.