My old man was a hoot. Everybody in the neighborhood said, “Tom Pickering does have one heck of an imagination.” The thing was that his inventions seldom worked. His imagination seemed to be larger than his abilities.
There was the bicycle he believed would fly. He believed it so much that he rode it off the roof of our two story house. All the neighborhood saw it and there were those who shouted, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane.” When my Dad and the bike crashed through our neighbor’s first floor window, they were sure it wasn’t Superman. Dad landed on Mr. Adams as he was trying to get some shut eye after a long night’s work. Needless to say Mr. Adams was not pleased and neither was the bicycle.
But Dad was no quitter. He had just the right thing he thought would get him into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. An underwater car. It was a Saturday afternoon when he drove the Chevy off the pier. Little did Dad know that the water was deep. Very deep. So deep in fact it could have made the Challenger Deep look like a sinkhole. Down, down, down the car went as its engine stalled, then stopped. It had putted its last putt.
It was then that Dad realized he had forgotten one essential piece of equipment if you want to travel underwater. He forgot oxygen tanks. Fortunately there were three scuba divers who followed Dad into the water. It took several minutes for them to make the jailbreak out of the car. It’s a good thing that Dad was a deep breather.
Then there was the time Dad went about saving Christmas. At least for my kid brother, Jimmy. It was the year I told him there was definitely no Santa Claus. The whole thing was made up.
At first, Jimmy didn’t take my word for it. Then several of the the kids in his school confirmed my testimony. They too told him there was no Santa. Jimmy did the math. He added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. He was nowhere near having an answer how Santa and his reindeer made it to every house in every country in the world on Christmas Eve.
When Dad saw Jimmy with qualms of disappointment on his face, he knew he had to come up with a solution to the Santa Claus issue. He remembered way back when he was young. A similar thing had happened to him. Only it wasn’t a kid. It was Old Mr. Creepers next door. He wanted to make Halloween the biggest holiday of the year. There was only one way that was possible. He had to take down Santa Claus.
That year Santa missed Dad’s house. All because he doubted Santa. Now Dad was determined that was not to happen to his kid. His solution: he would appear on our roof as Santa, then slide down the chimney with a bag of goodies.
Now Dad had the heft of a Santa and he carried it with grace. Six weeks before Christmas Eve, he began the preparations for what he called “the Santa’s Caper.” He went down to the local Santa store and bought his fake beard and his fake hair and his suit, which was not fake. And he did not cut corners. Only the best for his little Jimmy.
When Mom got a clue to what Dad was up to, she asked, “You fool, how are you going to get down that chimney?”
“Oh, it will be a tight squeeze. But I have the perfect solution. Grease.”
Mom shook her head, knowing there was no changing his mind. “Just be careful and please don’t break the chimney.” But she gave him that worried look. With Dad, what would go wrong would go wrong. So much so that she had taken to calling him Murphy behind his back
Christmas Eve came. Jimmy and I were sent to bed early with a “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”
Though we absolutely knew there was no Santa, still we were taking no chances. By ten p.m. we were in our beds, pretending we were zzz-ing off to Never Never Land. Despite our best efforts, we nodded off. Then we heard a noise on the roof.
It wasn’t a clatter we heard. It was more like a bomp. One thing was sure. Santa was making his rendezvous. It was a definite that he was on our roof. Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! went Santa’s boots.
We jumped out of bed and hurried to the window. No sleigh on the lawn. Rudolph must be on the roof. Along with Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. We just knew it.
But it was not Santa. It was Dad. And he had spotted his target. The chimney.
All dressed up in his Santa suit, he lugged his bag over to the chimney. He sat down on the chimney’s side. With the bag lifted over his head, he gave himself a push. As he shoved off, he heard a giant ripping sound. His red pants had caught on a nail. The nail tore not only his pants but his bright red Santa underpants with white Rudolphs on the bottom as well.
That night gravity did its mighty work. Down the chimney went Dad and his bag. Until he didn’t. Like a balloon blowing up, Dad filled up the chimney, then stopped half way down.
Mom took out her flashlight and pointed it up the chimney. What she saw made her throw herself onto the floor, laughing uncontrollably.
In all the history of Santas, this must have been the first time Santa found himself unable to reach the cookies and milk. The grease had not worked.
Jimmy and I rushed into the living room. “Where’s Santa,” we screamed in unison.
“Boys, go back to bed,” Mom said. “Otherwise Santa won’t come out of that chimney. And there’ll be no presents. Right, Santa?”
From the chimney came a muffled voice that was half Santa and half Dad.”Ho, ho, ho. Listen to your mother. Moms are always right.”
“Okay, Mom,” we said, disappointment in our voices.
We left the room and closed the door, but we were not about to go back to bed. We’d be kicked out of the All American Kid Society if we did. We took turns peeping through the door.
Somehow Dad squeezed himself almost to the floor of the chimney. His black boots were about three feet in the air. If you’ve never heard a man cry, you would have heard a man cry that night. “What was I thinking.”
“You weren’t, as usual,” Mom gave him one of her what-fers.
“Well, can you give me a hand?”
Mom grabbed onto Dad’s boots and gave them a tug. “Ouch,” the chimney said. The boots dropped onto Mom’s foot and her ouch joined the chimney’s.
“Do you still have those rockets you bought for the Fourth of July?” Mom asked.
“What are you going to do with them?”
“I’m going to stick them up your rear end and send you into the Great Beyond. Otherwise it will be the waste of a perfectly decent chimney. Why do you ask?”
“No.” The chimney was emphatic. “Absolutely not.”
“Do you have a better suggestion?”
For years afterward, my family called this horns of a dilemma The Horns of a Dilemma.
Behind the slightly open door, my brother turned to me. “Where’s Dad? He could get Santa free. He’s smart like that.”
I just didn’t have the heart to tell Jimmy where Dad was.
Then a thud. And not just any thud. It was The Thud.
Mom’s eyes and Jimmy’s eyes and my eyes shot to the ceiling and the footsteps. Could it be?
Of course, it was.
From above, we heard a deep bass voice. “Fool, get out of my way.”
Dad dropped to the chimney floor and crawled out, his suit all in tatters. Behind him were a pair of boots. They stepped over Dad and into the center of the living room. There was a glow about The Man. He wore a suit of the brightest red I’d ever seen. I swear the white beard shined.
Mom rushed over and grabbed the glass of milk and the plate of Oreos. She timidly handed them to The Man.
He looked at Mom and smiled and took the refreshments. He gulped them down, then headed for the work of the night. The Christmas tree.
Frozen in our places, the four of us watched. He set his bag on the floor, reached up and adjusted the star and several of the ornaments. Then he opened his bag. He looked over at Jimmy and nodded. “This one is for you.” He placed the large gift under the tree. “For believing.” Next came my gift, then Mom’s.
Finally he looked over at Dad. Tears were in The Man’s eyes. “Thanks for the help.” Out of the bag came a very small package. He placed it under the tree, giving it a bit of extra care as he did.
In a flash, he was back at the chimney and up on the roof. But he wasn’t done. Back down the chimney he came. Standing before us in all his glory, he said in that deep deep voice of his, “I forgot.” Then he sent us a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
From our toes to the tippy tip top of our heads, our bodies filled with joy and love and peace and hope.
“And one final thing. Merry Christmas and a very good night.”
On the roof, we heard, “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” Then he disappeared into the night, heading onward to fulfill the mission he has been on for centuries.
And now, from Uncle Bardie, Merry Christmas to one and all. May you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday this year. And one final thing. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone.”