Each year I leave Santa my Christmas wish list, along with jar of fresh plum jam and the last of our home-grown apples. Just to sweeten the pot.
A copy of that list also goes to my wife, who's been known to pick up a few things for the old guy. It's hard to park a sleigh at a crowded mall these days.
This year's list must have been a doozy. Meg read it and started to cry. Then she came over and patted my shoulder.
"Is there something you'd like to tell me?" she sniffed.
The first item I'd asked for was pantyhose.
"Now that you mention it," I said. "I need more than one pair of nylons. Better make it six."
Meg burst into tears.
"It's not what you think," I said. "The pantyhose aren't for me. They're for my tomatoes."
Tears turned to icy silence.
"You're seeing other women?"
I tried to climb out of the hole. Tomato plants require staking, I said. They must also be tied to the stakes. Nylons make wonderful tomato ties. They stretch and stretch to accommodate the growing plants, and they don't cut into the stems like string does.
I would have bought the stockings myself, but was too embarrassed. They ought to sell pantyhose in garden centers. Also baby food jars, the next item on my Christmas list.
The jars, with their tight-fitting lids, are the perfect size for storing leftover garden seeds, some of which remain viable for up to four years. We had hundreds of baby food jars when our daughter was young. But Beth is now 12, with a craving for pizza, not Pablum. And attrition is claiming my glass containers. I break several more each year.
I need more jars, Santa. With or without the strained carrots.
I also need a big pile of Popsicle sticks. They make great name tags for the flower and vegetable seedlings we raise each spring. Into each pot I insert a Popsicle stick, on which I've scrawled the plant's name, be it broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower.
Without name tags, those particular seedlings would look like triplets.
What other "garden" accessories do I need for Christmas? A beach umbrella, aluminum pie plates and a six-pack of beer.
On hot summer days, the umbrella shades my cucumber patch from the midday sun. Cucumber plants wilt terribly in broiling heat, and the old umbrella that shaded them for years finally broke last summer.
The good news is: There were no plants beneath the umbrella when it collapsed. No, the darn thing fell on me as I snoozed on the beach.
The pie plates have a dual purpose: to serve up the fruits of my labor, once they've scared the birds away. A string of shiny pie tins, shimmering in the sun, keeps hordes of hungry crows and starlings from eating all my goodies.
The pie plates are an inexpensive alternative to those inflatable owls and snakes that might scare children, but not crows. A colleague swears he saw a crow peck a plastic owl to death.
The beer, I'll use to battle garden slugs. A few plates of booze placed around the spring garden will drown the slimy critters. The cheap stuff is fine, Santa. Slugs aren't particular about brand names; it's the yeast they really like.
One last request: a bigger box of Band-Aids to keep in the garden shed. I ran out of them by June this year.
It was a very bloody spring: All my tools turned on me.
Speaking of tools, I remember the first garden gift I ever received for Christmas: a yard rake tied up in a big red bow. I feigned excitement, though a rake wasn't really what I wanted. At age 15, I'd hoped for a baseball bat, not a wooden pole with metal teeth.
Thirty years later, I still have that rake. The handle is cracked, and two teeth are missing right in the middle of the rake. But I wouldn't trade the old girl for a bat autographed by Barry Bonds.
In fact, I've been thinking recently of having the rake repaired.
All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.