A HOLEY CHRISTMAS
Where did all the pasta shavings go? Where are the doughnut holes? It seemed as if Dad was always going down to the basement those December evenings.
Pam and I knew something was up. There was a ‘Christmas is coming’ feel about the whole thing. When I started to follow Dad to the stairs, he said, “Sorry, Son. It’s too dangerous. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Dangerous? What could he be doing that’s too dangerous? I mean, really. My Dad? He didn’t even own a gun or anything like that. I mean to tell you, my friend Tony’s dad reloaded bullets. Sure, it was dangerous so we weren’t allowed to touch anything on his workbench. But he was always happy to give us a show-and-tell about his hobby. But, my Dad? No way. He’s not doing anything like that. Why can’t I watch?
“What are you doing really, Dad? I bet you’re building a dollhouse for my baby sister’s present, aren’t you.”
Dad put a finger to his lips. “Shh,” he said, “No. That’s not it. I’m drilling out elbow macaroni so it has holes through it. Sometimes one gets loose when I don’t get the bend just right, and it goes off like a shot. Too dangerous for little boys…” He looked over my head as Pam joined us in the back room. He added, “and girls.” Dad closed the door behind him as he went down the stairs.
“Did you find out what he’s up to this time?” Pam asked.
“Nah. He claimed he’s drilling the holes in macaroni noodles.”
“Well. We did have Kraft Dinner twice this week. Maybe…” Pam said it with that smirking voice she often used.
I gave her a glaring look that conveyed, “Keep it up and I’ll punch you, even if you are bigger than me. And a girl.”
We listened at the basement door. We didn’t hear the electric drill, but we did hear an “ouch” and a “drat” and “oh, my.” That was as close to swearing as we had ever heard from our Dad.
“I think he’s building a doll house for Edith, like he made for you.”
“Edith’s pretty little for that. It was only last year when I got mine. You remember what he told us then?
“I was forgetting about that. We couldn’t go in the basement then, either.”
“That time he said he was gizmodeling sprockets and grinding doohickeys until they fit together. And that’s why Uncle Ted had to come and help.
“I remember now. Uncle Ted knows how to build stuff real well.”
“I saw the drawings Dad made for the real fancy dollhouse. Uncle Ted made him change it so they could finish it before Christmas.”
“Yeah, well. He’s keeping it simple this time, just drilling out the noodles.”
“It’s gotta be something for Edie. I think you’re right about that. Or else he’d wait until after our bedtimes, too. Wouldn’t he?”
A few days later there was a warning about a big wind and storm coming. We were sent home from school at afternoon recess time that day. So Pam and I were unexpectedly home early and Edith was still napping. Grandma met us on our way through the kitchen. She was rolling out dough on the big wooden board. Grandma was always baking something and in December there was more sugar in the recipes she chose.
“Where’s Mom?” I headed for the odd little room in our big old house, the place where the sewing machine sat eternally ready and often in use. Its place was smack dab in the middle of the room. That’s where Mom worked on her projects. The door was closed. “Don’t go in there, Earl. Your mother is busy and can’t be disturbed.”
“What’s she doing?”
“She’s helping me. I’m about to make doughnuts and she’s getting the holes just right.”
“You never made doughnuts before.”
“Oh, little do you know. There were many things done before you were born, young man. Yes, it has been a long time. I quit making them because I could never get the holes right and your Mother is so precise. She’ll get them just right… if we don’t interrupt.”
“Doughnut holes. Macar…” Pam was shushed by my hand on her mouth.
Before she could finish, I said, “A ring on my notebook got all bent. I’m gonna go down and get some pliers so I can fix it, okay?”
Grandma got stern. “No you are not. You know better. Besides there are pliers in the drawer.”
“The kitchen drawer, of course.”
There were sixteen drawers in our kitchen, not counting the one built into the table. But I did know the junk drawer held a few odd tools. I found pliers and went up to my room to fix what wasn’t truly broken.
After another week that lasted at least a year, it was Christmas Eve. Edith had fallen asleep on the way home from candlelight church. Mom put her to bed, which woke her up. Dad started to read her a story and she fell asleep before he got halfway, he told me. How did she do that? I could never sleep so easily on Christmas Eve. And I would be the first one up on Christmas morning if I had to stay awake all night to do it.
“Before you go up to bed, Earl, I can use your help with something,” Dad said. Pam started to turn around on her way up the stairs. “That’s okay, Pam,” he said, “Earl and I will get this.”
She stomped on up the stairs. I started toward the back of the house and the basement stairway. “It’s something for Pam, isn’t it.”
“Hold up, Son. It’s not back there.” Dad pulled a large cardboard carton out of the closet under the front stairs. The box was tall, deep, and only a few inches wide. Then he brought out another just like it. “You can help me put these together for Edith.”
“For Edie? How come you made Pam go?”
Dad just shrugged and cut the cartons open. The boxes were filled with more cardboard, printed to look like bricks, sort of. We put together the large cardboard blocks. We assembled and put the reinforcing honeycombs inside them. Dad showed me how they were strong enough for him to stand on and we stacked them into a curved wall around the Christmas tree.
It must have been from doing all that work at bedtime. I put my head on the pillow and fell right to sleep.
I was the first one up, though. I tiptoed down the stairs, carefully avoiding the squeaky end of the ninth tread. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? Beside the block wall, there it was. A brand new maroon boy’s Schwinn bicycle. Wow!
Soon the family gathered. There were other presents to hand out and unwrap. Edith moved her blocks around. I was so busy admiring my bike that I don’t even remember what special gift Pam got. Proof that while greed is not good, I had it.
Pam and Edith tried on the dresses sewn from doughnut holes. They went together but were not exactly matching. Pam complained, “Why didn’t you make matching dresses, Mom?”
“Oh, Pam,” Mom actually laughed about it. “Last year you refused to wear your matching outfit at the same time as your sister, that’s why.”
“That was last year.”
Edith complained, too. “It’s scratchy, Mommy.”
With doughnut holes explained, I still wondered about the macaroni drilling in the basement. Could it be that it was only a hiding place for the bike? But what about all those times Dad went down there, the words like ‘drat’ and ‘oh my’, the band-aids on hands and fingers?
I soon learned that the new bicycle wasn’t so new, but Santa’s helper had made it look and feel brand new with a careful application of pasta sawdust in the dangerous basement.