The approach of Christmas always turns back the pages of memory to the holiday that brought both laughter and tears. It still does, though it happened almost forty years ago.
I arose that Christmas Eve to face a day crowded with things to be done in preparation for the coming day. My parents were to drive the clumsy, big lumber truck in from their home some thirty miles away to share in the festivities. What they didn't know was that Etta, a sister in St. Louis, had written that she was coming also, with her three children, but requesting us to withhold the information from our parents. It would be fun to surprise them.
A younger sister, Velma, was staying with us during the holiday season while she was employed at a local variety store. Both Velma and my husband, Erna, must work that day, but there was to be no school, so the children were being allowed to sleep as late as they wished. Velma, Erna and I were taking advantage of the latter fact to enjoy a leisurely breakfast without the usual confusion of several children needing attention. We chuckled over the surprise in store for Mom and Dad when they saw Etta and her children; we discussed other pertinent matters that absorbed our attention so we failed to hear the noise of the heavy vehicle pulling into the driveway.
Then a fumbling noise was heard at the door. Wonderingly, because of the early hour, I started to rise from the table, but before I was on my feet the door opened and there came my mother, holding aloft a huge cake. She advanced into the room, followed closely by Dad, who had both hands around an enormous box of Christmas goodies. After pausing only long enough to push the door shut with his foot, Dad followed after Mom, echoing her gleeful greeting, "Merry Christmas, everybody!" Both faces were bathed in broad smiles of happy anticipation.
I was ashamed of the idea that was chasing about in my mind. Could they have made such a horrifying mistake? Not MY mom and dad! I was stunned at the idea. Erna, Velma and I simply sat there exchanging questioning glances, each of us waiting for one of the others to tell the happy couple of their error.
Having deposited their burdens in the kitchen, they returned to the dining room where I was fumblingly trying to pour cups of coffee to warm them up after their long ride. Mom looked around expectantly and, seeing no signs of excited children, inquired, "Aren't the kiddies up yet?" She sounded disappointed, then surprised when I replied, "No, there isn't any school today." I couldn't bring myself yet to blurt out the awful truth.
At last it was time for Erna to leave, so he told them, rather timidly, to be sure, "This isn't Christmas Day. It isn't until tomorrow." Both Mom and Dad thought he was only teasing, and Dad, being quite a tease himself, decided he'd have a part in the fun. He began explaining that he'd tried to tell Mom she was mistaken in the date, but she wouldn't listen to him. Knowing our dad, we knew he'd never have made that cold drive had he really thought Mom was wrong. It was only when Erna put on his coat and cap and picked up his lunchbox that they really accepted the truth. Looks of horror, embarrassment, and disappointment replaced their happy smiles.
In his chagrin Dad announced they wouldn't be returning the next day, bringing remonstrances from all of us (by that time several of the children had been awakened by the sound of strange voices and were standing around sleepy eyed and wondering what the commotion was all about). When Erna finally told him to forget it, we wouldn't tell on him, and that Christmas only comes once a year, you know, Dad replied, "The heck it don't! It's come twice THIS year."
The rest of the story is anticlimactic I suppose, but the tale would be incomplete without it. Erna left from work to meet the afternoon train while Velma and I spent the time comparing notes. Seems we each had been in a near-hysterical state throughout the day, bursting into sudden spurts of laughter, followed by floods of tears as we pictured the faces of our parents and knew how embarrassing the incident must have been for them. We agreed we'd spare their feelings and not reveal the occurrence to our other guests, but Dad, being a good sport, couldn't resist the opportunity to let the others in on the secret.
Yes, they did return, bright and early, but in a somewhat subdued attitude from that of the previous morning. And it was, truly, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!