Without problems, it's just not Christmas


YESTERDAY I was about to declare a total victory in my battle with the Christmas tree when I saw the dark green extension cord was missing. This cord, which was supposed to connect the tree lights to the wall outlet, was also supposed to blend in with the greenery, making it appear as if the tree were illuminated by magic, not dad.

It was the seamless electricity look I was after, and I was angry that it had eluded me. Instead of a pleasing Christmas-green, the only cord I could locate was a shade of ugly air-conditioner gray. This angst over the extension cord was part of my larger problem with the whole before Christmas gestalt.

I believe that Christmas can't come without a struggle. I think that the day of comfort and joy has to be preceded by Saturdays of domestic strife. I contend that before your family can gather around a glowing tree and exchange gifts, you first have to fight with them over where the tree should be placed, over whether it leans a little to one side, and over whether that "other tree," the one that you didn't cut down, was a better choice.

This year, until the extension cord trouble, my whole getting-the-house ready-for- Christmas routine had gone too smoothly. Our family felled a fir without even coming close to axing one another. This time -- "Hallelujah" -- the tree fit in the baler, which meant the cinctured tree could be easily carried atop the station wagon without taking flight. This time the trunk fit -- "Joy to the World" -- in the tree holder. This time, instead of having what I call an "artistic disagreement" and what the kids call "a shouting match" with my wife over which tree branches needed to be cut, I fled the living room. I announced that I was "moving the car" and went for a drive around the neighborhood. By the time I got back to the house, branches had disappeared and everyone was civil.

I had also spent some time helping the 11-year-old set up his electric train layout. That, too, had gone without a hitch. The train engines still worked. The transformers didn't blow a circuit breaker. All the pieces of train track that had disappeared into a cupboard last winter were present and accounted for when they emerged from their long winter's nap.

All this domestic harmony was bothering me. Feeling the need for some conflict, I went shopping. Going to a mall a few days before Christmas was a sure way, I thought, to experience ample amounts of hostility and incompetence. I was wrong. At the mall I got hit with a shopping bag full of bliss. The VCR that I had seen in a newspaper advertisement was actually in the store when I showed up there. Moreover, it was on sale at the advertised price. When I got the VCR home, it worked perfectly. What a bummer.

Yesterday, however, things around the house started to get worse, and my holiday mood improved. A blast of cold weather hit the state, and during the night our furnace kicked on and began moving hot water through old, clanking pipes. I woke up early yesterday morning and meandered through the house.

Down in the basement I saw water dripping from a heating pipe. It was a small drip, but persistent. In the bathroom I noticed that a faucet that I had "fixed" was leaking again. Down in the kitchen I made an entry on the Christmas wish list that our family keeps on a bulletin board. What dad wants most for Christmas, I wrote, is a visit from a professional plumber.

Yesterday was also when I noticed that the green extension cord, the one I was "sure" I had purchased last year, was not hooked up to the tree lights.

But the major mood-altering moment occurred when I walked to the front of our rowhouse to pick up the morning newspapers. The papers were there but I sensed something was missing. Sure enough, the wreath that had been tied to the front door was gone. Someone had stolen it and would no doubt soon "recycle" it, selling it on a street corner. I felt mad and combative. I vowed to get more greenery and redecorate the door. Then I felt sanguine. Then I laughed. The bile had flowed, and now Christmas could come. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Pub Date: 12/21/96

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