We had recently moved into an old, rambling Arizona adobe house with soaring ceilings and broad expanses of creaky oak floors. To the nine-year-old me, it was a mansion sitting on a quarter-acre of three buildings with plenty of room for exploration and fanciful excursions. On this very early and still-dark Christmas morn, the interior was an obstacle course for a special mission.
I wanted chocolate, and I just knew a delectable portion awaited me in the stocking hanging from the fireplace mantle. It was just past three o’clock, and I had stayed awake waiting upon my parents’ snoring in the next room. To reach the living room, I had to creep down the hall past my older brothers’ domain, through the kitchen and into the dining room. This was directly adjacent to Mom and Dad’s bedroom, so I paused to make sure the snoring continued. Satisfied, my first step happened onto the creakiest floorboard in the house. It sounded like a bad note from a French horn, much louder than expected. Frozen, I heard a snorting lapse in the snoring. Mom grumbled something. Her hearing was so sharp after giving birth to four boys she could hear a mouse fart two houses away. Luckily, Dad started snoring again and Mom went quiet. I was free to continue.
Testing each step, I found the carpet in the living room and made for the fireplace. It was so dark I could barely see the outlines of furniture. “Ouch!” I whispered as a toe found Mom’s steel ashtray. “Oomph!” as my tummy ran into Dad’s music stand. Finally, I made contact with the hearth. One, two, three stockings I felt. Excitedly, I grasped mine. It was full of unseen wonders. Curious to know what all lay inside, I stuck to the mission, feeling around until a likely suspect came to my grasp. It had to be chocolate, I just knew it. Although my eyes had somewhat adjusted to the pitch blackness, I still couldn’t read the label. No matter; it was time to taste my prize.
Eagerly biting into the first piece that emerged, my mouth was assaulted with a bitter, waxy texture which bore no resemblance to the expected creamy goodness. It was, instead, one crayon out of a box of 64. I spit the remains into the smoldering embers of our Christmas Eve fire and shoved the offensive cylinder back into box and the stocking from which it came. Disgusted, I gave up the mission. It wasn’t worth getting busted, and I feared the punishment which would surely follow parental discovery of my crime.
Still spitting Crayola remnants, I retraced my steps back to bed and pulled the covers over my head in resignation. Having a teenaged oldest brother, I was doomed to be kept away from the gift jackpot until at least 9:00 a.m. Somehow, I managed to fall asleep after a while.
I bounced into Mom and Dad’s bed promptly at seven. While largely annoyed being awakened so early on a holiday, they chuckled at my eagerness. My little brother Dan joined us and they kept us in bed with them a while, teasing and shushing me while hoping we’d fall asleep again. Some early sunlight crept into the room and Mom looked at me, seemingly puzzled.
“Is your mouth bleeding, Patrick?” she asked.
I wiped a hand across my lips and a leftover piece of crayon joined the red smear on my fingertips. Ruh roh.
“Um, no, I don’t think so Mommy,” I said.
Mom frowned, but even then I knew my best chance was to change the subject.
“Come on,” I shouted, “everybody GET UP! It’s Christmas!”
We had breakfast, an agonizingly long prelude to my ultimate goal of finally being able to see what awaited me under that aluminum tree. Eggs, bacon and pancakes helped erase the previous night’s bitter taste from my buds. Mom kept glancing at me while we ate, trying to figure out why my mouth was a smeared shade of red, but she didn’t say anything.
Finally, the anticipated moment arrived. I burst away from the table and into the living room to admire all the gifts under the tree. Mom followed behind and started pulling stockings from the mantle. My brothers and I jostled each other to see which packages were for whom. It was a joyful, chaotic scene played in many a living room worldwide that 1969 Christmas. I was the last to receive my stocking, and I looked innocently into Mom’s eyes as she handed it to me. Her gaze was marked with a smirk, as if she knew.
“Go ahead Patrick,” she said, “look in your stocking.”
Nervously, I started pulling out treasures. A yo-yo, pencils (what the hell?), candy canes, various candies and one tantalizing chocolate bar. I had been pulling these out around the box of crayons, which I finally had to retrieve to get to the bottom. I quickly laid it aside and dug deeper into the toes to retrieve a bag of marbles. Mom stood above, arms now crossed at the waist. My face must have reddened, because she reached down and picked up the crayon box. I pretended not to notice as she pulled out a somewhat-mangled red waxy cylinder and showed it to Dad. He looked at me and laughed.
“I didn’t know crayons were edible, Patrick,” he said.
“Hmm,” Mom added, “I thought I heard a little critter snooping around last night. How did this one taste? It says it’s ‘Raspberry Red.’ ” She laughed too, and my brothers joined in as they discovered the results of my late-night carousing.
There was no punishment for this crime, only a mild tickling and incessant teasing that morning. My brothers offered me tastes of their presents, but not their chocolate. Nothing more was said, as we were all too busy enjoying our new toys and trying on clothes.
As she tucked me into bed that night, Mom gave me that look. The one that says “Okay, let’s talk.” I glanced at my presents stacked on my dresser: a Spirograph, some books and other toys awaited my attention the next day. It had been a very lucrative holiday for me, despite my attempted stocking heist.
I took the initiative and apologized for my sneaky crime.
Mom chuckled as she gently pinched my cheek. “See? This is what one gets when one tries to outsmart Santa. Hopefully, you learned a lesson. Always look before you bite, because sometimes your food bites back.”
Ever since then, I’ve been patient at Christmas. It pays to actually see what Santa brought, rather than risk getting on his bad side.
Merry Christmas, my friends.