A Catnip Christmas

Tales of Vashon

“Mom, the boys are eating all the popcorn,” as Mike and I grabbed another handful and ran from the room.  “If you boys can’t behave, you’re going outside, do you hear?” Mom yelled from the kitchen.   We were supposed to be helping Molly string popcorn for the Christmas tree, which we had gotten from our Grandfather’s property down at Dilworth.

Dad was really fussy about his Christmas trees and they had to be just right. As we walked around the 40 acres, Mike called out, “Here’s one Dad, and it’s just the right height.”  “Not full enough,” was Dad’s reply.  Which meant the tree had to have many branches spaced just right?  Mom had a silver star for the top which must have come from her Mothers; it was so old with five blue lights for the five points of the star.  Anyhow, we strapped the tree to the top of the Super 88 and drove home where Dad built a three legged stand out of 2×4’s and squared off the bottom of the tree to fit the stand.

While Molly was stringing popcorn and cranberries for the tree, Mom was in the kitchen preparing the molds for the plaster of Paris we were going to dunk our hands into.  When water was introduced to the dry powder and mixed to get all the air bubbles out, it heated up and made Mike complain when he put his hand in the white goo.  “It’s burning me, my hand hurts, can’t I take it out?”   “Not for another five minutes,” Mom replied.  When it was all done and Mom had us wash our hands, we each took the pen and wrote our names across the bottom of the plaster hands.  She then poked a hole in the top of each cast and strung yarn through it so it could be hung on the tree, which was starting to look beautiful as Dad showed us how to hold the aluminum rain across our extended fingers and carefully hang it on each branch using the other hand, one or two strands at a time, as if that were possible to make all the rain uniform on every branch.

Mom had two cats named after two Siamese kings, Miko and Chakri and Mike and I liked them not because of their supercilious attitudes.  Every Christmas, Mom gave Miko and Chakri catnip mice, which they promptly tore apart for the drug in the catnip that made them, go wild.  Mom’s intent was to give her cats the same excitement we had as the many colored packages were placed under the tree.

Molly screamed from the doorway to our living room: “Mom, Miko is chasing Chakri up the Christmas tree.”  Hence, the tree fell with a mighty crash, scattering the lights and rain and breaking the glass bulbs that were hanging on the branches.  So much for Siamese cats!
Christmas was a lot different those many years ago. John relates one Christmas where he pulled his sister aside and whispered…”guess what I found!” He then checked for parental eyes, and finding Mom was safely in the kitchen making sticky popcorn balls.. He led his sister to an oddly shaped door under the stairs. The door was triangular on the top part and somehow a brick chimney was visible in the unlighted narrow space.. But SOMEONE.. had built a little shelf in the narrow recesses of the unused space.

“See!  Said John! Pointing up to the shelf where some red and green Christmas packages were barely visible..!”  “I wonder what’s in them?“, Johns sister asked. “

“Well they can’t be from Santa” John responded.. “Must be Mom and Dad. “   John and his sister were, even at that tender young age.. Wise to the ways of Santa, knowing that Santa did not wrap up packages. We knew that because we had surreptitiously seen mom wrapping things up when the bedroom door was open a crack and she asked for someone to bring her the scissors or take out the wastebasket to the burn barrel.

John and his sister were wise beyond their years as they knew that Santa stuffed their stockings and pretty much left the presents under the tree to Mom and Dad and grandparents.  They knew this because presents were opened on Christmas Eve and Santa came later after the wrapped up presents were opened.

In those days one cut a tree and dragged it back to be trimmed and have a base made for it out of scrap wood. John’s family had a stash of real lead foil probably dating from the 1920’s that was used over and over again.  The lights no doubt consumed sinful amounts of energy and were never left on all day as the heat alone would dry the tree out. Christmas ornaments and lights were carefully put away for next year. The same could be said for present wrappings.  The best wrappings were carefully folded and used in succeeding years. This rule of ‘saving wrappings’ did not apply to presents intended for children, for obvious reasons.

One year John and his sister stayed up to wait for Santa. A careful watch was maintained well past normal bedtime as they sat together in an oversized armchair.

All of a sudden a tremendous clatter awoke them and in the dim light the Christmas tree swayed and the lights blinked!  “It’s Santa”.. John and his sister exclaimed!

Just then the Siamese cat leaped from the middle of the tree to the drum table … with a paper ornamental bird in her mouth.

Later John figured that the cat was in ‘cahoots’ with Santa and was just a decoy so he could sneak in unobserved. Proof was that the stockings were filled in the morning, so Santa obviously had been there. John and his sister vowed to have a better plan next year.