How the Christmas Cookie Crumbles
Larry Eugene Meredith
Daddy called our family into the living room, where he stood with hands on hips and one foot upon the green hassock. He motioned us into a tight little group and then cleared his throat to make his pre-Christmas address.
“All right, everybody, gather ‘round. That’s it. I have a little something to say before we start trimming the house. I hope to avoid the mess we had last year. I hope to very much. Now, just in case anyone here has forgotten last year, let me refresh your memory.”
I flopped down on the nearby sofa and gasped. “Forget last year, daddy? We’ll never forget last year.”
“Don’t slouch, Jill Ann, you’ll ruin your posture,” said mom.
I sat up straighter and crossed my legs.
“Don’t cross your legs, honey. It’s unlady like,” said mom.
I ignored her. I don’t plan on being a lady.
Daddy cleared his throat. “Well, I’d like to run over last year as a short review of events. This may help prevent a reoccurrence.
“First of all, this year, we must be careful about the cookies. Last year both grammy and mother made two dozen each, and then to be on the safe side, they each made another five dozen.”
“That was before mom was asked to bake twenty-five dozen by the church committee.”
Daddy looked at me, “I’m telling this, young lady, if you don’t mind.”
When daddy is telling something he hates anybody getting ahead of him. Once at a church get-together daddy started telling a joke and Reverend Waverley broke in at the middle and told the punch line. Daddy had to leave the room on the excuse of a coughing spell. His face turned purple and all. Interruption is probably the only thing in the world that upsets him. Otherwise, he’s a normal daddy. Understanding this, I kept quiet while he finished speaking.
“As I was saying, mother was asked to contribute to the church bake sale, but unfortunately it snowed all day of the sale. It was cancelled and we were stuck with another twenty-five dozen cookies.”
“No, Pop, not just twenty-five dozen.” This interruption came from my kid brother, Bud. Bud is a real pest. “Remember mom had misunderstood the chairlady and baked fifty dozen. But she was only supposed to bake twenty-five. Mrs. Macgregor was to bake the other twenty-five.”
“And then Mrs. Macgregor gave her cookies to me when I babysat for her that weekend.” I said. “I had to accept them out of politeness. It was one of those times I wished I was a boy. Boys never have to be polite.”
“Needless to say,” said daddy, “we couldn’t eat 105 dozen Christmas cookies.”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Oh, it was just terrible. We gave some away as Christmas gifts.”
Father grunted. “Which, as I recall, became very expensive.”
I laughed, but daddy’s glare silenced me at once.
“We should never have left that bagful for the milkman.”
“I still say he’s overcharging us still,” said mom. “Complained he had to get a new uniform. Well, no body said he had to eat them all.”
I couldn’t hold back. I had to laugh. “Worst then that,” I choked and gasped, with tears in my eyes, “he carried our cookies with him and nibbled as he went and every time he nibbled he got thirsty, so he started drinking the milk.”
“Well,” harrumphed daddy, “he shouldn’t have done it the way he did. Imagine sipping off a quarter of every bottle you deliver. Deserved getting fired.”
“He developed very strong teeth,” said grandmother. “It’s good a man should have strong teeth.”
“But it’s a pity his cat died.”
“Probably fed it some of Mrs. Macgregor’s,” said Bud.
I felt the cookies were taking a bad rap and we weren’t going to have any this year if somebody didn’t defend them. I defended them.
“I liked them,” I said.
“Thought we’d never be rid of them,” said daddy. “They lasted forever.”
“I liked them,” I said again.
Mom looked at me. “At your birthday party we used them as coasters. That was March.”
Daddy was shaking his head. “In June, I punched holes in those big sugar cookies and took ‘em to the company outing as quoits. Darn near got fired myself when Sam Johnson mistook one for a bagel and broke his bridge.”
“The trash man wouldn’t take them ‘cause the can was too heavy.” Said bud. “I got rid of them, though. I dumped the can for the neighborhood dogs.”
“Those dogs were smart,” said I. “They buried them out back.”
“Yes,” said daddy, “and I got stuck with making a big donation to the SPCA to take away the dogs. And all this is why I called this meeting. We aren’t going to have this Christmas spoiled by such mix-ups. This year I prepared a schedule of tasks and we’re going to be organized about it.
“Granny will bake the cookies. Sparingly, please.
”Bud can wrap the gifts.
“Mother will trim the tree.
“I’ll hang the outside lights and Jill Ann can stamp the cards.”
Daddy clapped his hands and sent us to our tasks.
Bud went to the pile of gifts to be given to various aunts, uncles and cousins. He sat down on the floor before them with his legs crossed beneath him. His Boy Scout troop had been practicing package wrapping for a month and Daddy intended to take advantage of this training. Bud had often talked about this wrapping project, but he neglected to mention that he was the worst wrapper in the troop. In fact, he loathed the task, considering it ‘girl work’. He sat with a package on his lap, turning it around and around, and muttering, trying to remember how to begin.
Daddy was muttering, too, but with him it was just a habit. Anytime he worked on a job around the house he would mumble. He brought the boxes of multi-colored lights out of the attic and was ready to go out and tack them along the borders of our house.
“Lez see,” he mumbled as he went out the front door, “where did I put the ladder last summer? Under the porch or in the garage?”
Mother and grandmother had disappeared and I was left alone in the room, except for Bud, still twisting the package in his hands and muttering. I sighed and crossed the living room to the secretary desk in the corner. On top were an armload of enveloped Christmas Cards and two rolls of stamps. I picked up the white-marble water tray and took it into the bathroom to fill, and then I carried it back to the desk. In the bottom drawer was a small sponge and I took it out and placed it in the water. I was ready to begin.
Before I had stamped two envelopes, I jumped out of the chair at hearing a loud commotion. It had sounded like an explosion and there was a banging repeating over and over. I decided to investigate, turned and fell over the bottom drawer I had forgot to close, falling to the floor. In trying to get up, I grabbed the ink blotter, which tipped into the air and sent the envelopes, stamps and water tray raining down upon me. I crawled across the floor, a hundred stamps stuck to my face and head. One roll hung like a long dangling ring from my left ear and unrolled as I went. I kept going, gasping for breath, trying to scrap a stamp off my tongue with my teeth.
The front door flew open and in stumbled daddy, a light string tangled about his ankles, which he was trying to shake loose. “What happened?” he yelled.
I was too engrossed with the stamp on my tongue to answer.
“Where’s Bud?” he shouted.
I looked at the place Bud had been wrapping. He was nowhere to be seen. There was a great pile of scattered gifts, crumpled colored paper, pretty ribbons and bows. The coffee table was on its side. This must have been the source of the explosion I heard. It was quite the mess. Then the mess moved. Daddy and I stared as the pile began to shake. As it did a gift flew off here, a clump of paper there, and soon we saw Bud. His head was wrapped in green and red foil and a yellow bow sat atop his head. A ribbon extended down from the bow, looped his neck and continued down his body to his hands, which were tied together by it, as were his feet.
“How did that happen?” Daddy asked Bud, who couldn’t seem to answer. He muttered something, but the foil muffled his voice. I don’t think it was an answer, though. I think he said something it was best daddy couldn’t hear.
“How did this happen?” daddy asked again.
“You know how clumsy Bud is,” I said.
Bud was bouncing up and down violently, making sounds and waving his tangled hands as best he could. Apparently he was hinting to be set free. Daddy grabbed the ribbon and attempted to break it. Nothing happened except the ribbon tightened about Bud’s neck and he bounced up and down more violently than before.
Daddy tried twisting the ribbon, to pull it loose, to turn it and to bite it, until he was red in the face. Now both daddy and Bud sat on the floor gasping for breath.
I lost interest in their struggle returning to my own problem with the stamps, but I did make a suggestion. “Daddy, why don’t you cut it?”
“Right. Good idea, Jill Ann Do you have scissors in the desk?”
“I have half a scissor,” I told him.
Daddy stared at me. “Half? How can you have half a scissors?”
I shrugged. I’m not very mechanical and don’t understand the working of tools very well. “I don’t know,” I said. “They fell apart last week. I’ve been using one half for a nail file and the other for a letter opener.”
Bud had chewed through the foil by this time and could be heard. “Hurry, dad, hurry,” he screamed. “Hurry before somebody mails me.”
Daddy rolled his eyes. “Okay, Bud, keep calm. I’ll get a knife and have you free in a wink.
Mom met daddy as he was going into the kitchen. Grandmother, who wore an oversized apron upon which she was wiping her hands, followed her.
“Where are you going?” asked mom.
“To get a knife.”
“Your son wrapped himself,” he said and went his way.
“Well as long as he’s behaving,” said grandmother. She never sees anything but the good side. “A boy should behave, especially near Christmas.”
Grandmother never looked at the big bundle that was my brother. She passed by us and took her coat and shawl from the closet.
“I have a gift to get yet,” she said going out, “I’ll bake the cookies when I return.”
Daddy returned with a sharp carving knife.
“Be careful with that,” warned mom, “it’s the only good carving knife we have.”
“I’ll be careful. Say, if Grammy went downtown, who’ll bake the cookies?”
“She said she’d do it when she got back, but I think I’ll do it now and save her the trouble. Is twelve dozen enough?”
“Plenty,” said daddy.
“You there, dad,” called Bud. He had stopped bouncing.
“Yes, I’ll have you free in a jiffy.”
Daddy tried to slice the ribbon, which proved to be rather resilient.
“Uuugh!” he strained at his task. “This is one tough ribbon,” he moaned through clenched teeth.
The knife sawed through the band, but the pressure daddy exerted threw him backward when it broke and he landed in the Christmas Tree. This cushioned his fall, but unfortunately the knife cut into one of the light connectors where it stuck.
Daddy went “Yawoooooow,” very loud.
There was a crash, a cracking, several snaps and a long zzzzzzzz. There was so much noise I couldn’t concentrate on removing the stamps I was wearing. Meanwhile daddy was saying the same thing over and over.
“Pullll the plugggg!”
Bud was yelling again, too. “Hey, help! I’m pinned under the tree!”
Daddy paid him no attention. “Pulllll the pluggggg,” he said.
I got hold of myself, and still picking off stamps, crawled about the room looking for the plug. At this moment mother came rushing back into the room demanding to know what happened.
“Pullll the plugggg!” daddy yelled.
“How did this happen?” asked mother again.
Daddy was getting monotonous, “Pullll the plugggg!”
Mom looked about. “Where’s Bud?” she asked.
“I’m under the tree.”
“Doesn’t that pick?” asked mom.
The front door flew open and grandmother bolted into the house. Her arms were full of gifts and she was smiling broadly. She kicked the door closed and dropped her bundles on a nearby chair. “Yoo hoo, I’m home.”
Daddy greeted her with “Pullll the plugggg!” He was hopping up and down.
Grandmother, as usual, was undaunted by daddy’s antics. She walked over to the wall socket and yanked out the cord. Daddy stopped jumping and fell to the floor panting heavily.
“I thought I was a goner,” he said between gasps.
Grandmother paid him no mind. “Where’s Bud?” she asked.
“I’m under the tree, grandma.”
“Doesn’t that pick?” she asked.
Grammy and I lifted the tree imprisoning Bud, not waiting for daddy to get on his feet. He was content sitting and puffing. After a moment, though, he sniffed the air.
“What’s that smell?”
“Maybe it’s the cookies I bought at the bakery,” said grandmother. “Is twelve dozen okay?”
“Wait,” said mother, taking a deep breath. “It may be the twelve dozen I’m baking. I better take a look.
Daddy was in the middle of commenting how twenty-four dozen cookies would last us until Valentine’s Day when the doorbell interrupted him. Since I had finally managed to remove the last stamp after accidently swallowing the one stuck on my tongue, I answered it and opened the door.
Daddy was first to ask whom it was when I returned.
“Mrs. McGregor,” I said.
He eyed me suspiciously. “What did she want?”
“She didn’t want anything. She brought us something.”
“What did she bring?” I knew that he knew.
“She said she knew how busy mom was and all so, well, she gave us fifty dozen cookies.”
Daddy didn’t say a word. He got up, walked to the front door, flung it wide and called the neighborhood dogs. The house already reeked of cookie odors and soon it was full of yapping, hungry dogs, seventeen to be exact. Over their barking came the hollow banging of the back door knocker. The door opened and the deep booming voice of Uncle Fred pierced the air.
“Merry Christmas, one and all! I bring you glad tidings and good cheer, and many fresh baked cookies!”
Before Uncle Fred could finish his greeting, seventeen dogs pounced upon him and dragged the poor unfortunate soul into the back yard, leaving behind a trail of cookie crumbs.
Later daddy was standing before the sofa with one foot upon the green hassock. He called everyone to gather about in a tight group. “Listen, family, right here and now, so that next Christmas we can avoid such a mess, we are going to outline a plan.”
I didn’t pay much attention, being tired and having a lot of cards to finish. I discovered a final stamp hanging from my earlobe, which I removed (the stamp, not the earlobe) and after that I tried to listen to daddy’s speech, but instead, I fell asleep.