Thursday, December 4, 2014

About "Christopher's Great Ideas"

 Today is December 4, 2014--a long time since I posted to this blog. I suppose only my friends ever visit it these days, and then only if it occurs to me to tell them I have added a post. So why do I do it? I've asked myself that over and over, and I have yet to come up with a better explanation than that some of my stories act like neglected children who crave attention.

This past year I seldom opened my file drawer of unpublished stories. For lots of reasons, some just excuses, actually, some quite valid. But what child wanting your attention cares a whit for reasons. All he knows is he wants your attention, and he wants it now. So when I do open the drawer, I hear their voices. . .

Do you remember Wanda Gag's story about the old man who found a hill covered with "hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats"?  I don't remember other details of the story as well as I remember that intoxicating refrain. But I do know that the old man wanted only only one cat, and that the cats all began clamoring to be picked.  "Choose me!" "Choose me!" Can you imagine? All those voices, all of them demanding attention. All but one. One little cat with nothing special to offer. And in the end, of course. . .

It would be nice if all the little cats and stories with nothing special to offer would each find a home. But that doesn't always, or even often, happen.  I wish the following little story could find a home. But it won't. It's a story set in a time that has passed. Families like Christopher's are few and far between, and the world that they inhabit has changed in many ways.  The story is "too religious" for a mainstream publishing house, but not orthodox enough for a denominational publisher. It's dated, but not old enough to be considered historical.

"Christopher's Great Ideas" is a misfit story. But if there is an island of Misfit Toys, maybe nearby there's an island of Misfit Stories. And someone on an Advent reading voyage may discover it and enjoy celebrating Advent the way my family used to. I miss those days.

Christopher's Great Ideas
and the Advent Game

          One purple candle flickers on the Advent Wreath. Waiting-For-Christmas-Time has come. Only three more Sundays! Christopher looks at the basket next to the wreath. One of the folded papers in the basket has his name on it. In a few minutes, someone will pick his name. Who will it be?

          Dad finishes reading and closes the Bible. Mom hums the first note of "Joy to the World." Now everyone sings. Mom and Dad. His three older sisters: Rachel, Deb, and Sarah. His twin sister, Abby. Christopher sings loudest of all.

          "Who gets to pass the basket?" Dad asks.
          "My turn!" Abby scrambles up from the floor.
          Rachel draws the first paper. She looks at it quickly, smiles, and tucks it into her pocket. Whose name did she pick? Only Rachel knows. From now until next Sunday, Rachel will try to show God’s love to the person whose name she just drew. She’ll try to help them and do nice things for them. Secretly. The way the Christ Child would do.

          Abby holds out the basket to Chris. "If you get me, you'd better remember," she whispers.
          Chris makes a face at her. Last year he kept forgetting. Sunday after Sunday when guessing time came no one said, "I think Chris was my Christ Child this week." But this year will be different. He'll be a good Christ Child, even if he draws Abby's name.

          Chris reaches into the basket. "I hope I get Mom," he wishes. Mom is easy to help.
          He pulls out a paper. He reads the name.  Deb. Oh no! Not Deb, his oldest sister. Deb does everything perfectly. How can he be a Christ Child for her? But he has to think of something, or next Sunday at guessing time she may say, "I don't think anyone had my name."

          Now the basket is empty. Everyone has a name. "Sarah, your turn to blow out the candle," Dad says.
          "Let Chris. He likes to blow." she answers.
          Maybe Sarah is his Christ Child? "Can I have Oscar to sleep with?" he asks, reaching for the kitten in her arms.
          "No way." She hugs Oscar close.
          Not Sarah, he decides as he blows the candle out.

          That night just before he goes to sleep, Chris has Great Idea Number One.

          Morning comes. Chris is awake before anyone else. Hugging his Great Idea to him, he listens for Deb's alarm clock,. As soon as he hears Deb go into the shower he hurries to her room. Oh no! The bed is already made. She hasn't even left clothes on the floor. There's nothing for a Christ Child to do.

          Chris goes back to bed and pulls the covers up over his head. He waits and waits. But another Great Idea doesn't come. He might as well get up.

          Neesha pads behind him into the kitchen. He pours himself a bowl of corn flakes. Just as he dips his spoon into the milk, Neesha puts a gentle paw on his leg. Feeding her is Rachel's job, but Neesha's mournful eyes beg, "Don't make me wait!" so Chris pours dog food into her bowl.
          "I wish I were your Christ Child, Neesha," he says. "You'd be easier than Deb."

          Soon Dad comes in and tapes the new Chore Chart on the refrigerator. “What do I do this week?” Christopher asks.
“Sweep the kitchen after dinner.”
“That’s okay, I don’t mind sweeping.”
Dad leaves to get ready for work. Deb hurries into the kitchen, opens the bread drawer and grabs a bagel. “Gotta hurry, I’ll be late,” she says. “Bye, Chris!” As the door clicks shut, Chris gets Great Idea Number Two. He looks at the weekly Chore Chart. Under Deb’s name it says “Recycling.”
 No one is around. Perfect! It takes only a minute or two to lug the bag of newspapers and the bin of cans out to the curb. There! Won't Deb be surprised?  He feels a happy glow.  

          But at dinner, Abby asks, "Did you take out the recycling, Deb? I thought we traded jobs."
          "We did," Debbie said. "It wasn't me."
          "Well, thank you, Christ Child, whoever you are," Abby says.
 Abby, not Deb? Great Idea Number Two didn't work either.
          "One brownie left over," Dad says at the end of dinner. "We'll Wang-Ho for it. Who's in?"
          Everyone but Debbie and Mom raises a hand.
          "No more for me," Mom says.
          "Too much chocolate makes my face spotty," Debbie says.
          "Okay," says Dad. "Wang!" The hands make fists.
          "Ho!" the fists open. Sarah is holding out four fingers, Rachel three.  Abby and Chris have put out all five.  Christopher adds quickly. "17!" Dad begins counting around the circle. When he comes to 17, Chris is the lucky one. He notices Sarah's disappointed face. Sarah loves chocolate more than anyone. He breaks the brownie in two and gives half to her. Too bad he couldn't give it to Deb.

          Every day Chris follows Debbie around. But she never seems to need help.
          And every day Abby asks him, "Are you remembering your Christ Child, Chris?"
          "Why do you keep asking me? Ask someone else." Chris answers crossly.
          "No one else forgets," Abby says.  She starts to say something more, but Mom gives them her Warning Look so they just make faces at each other.
          And who is his Christ Child, Chris wonders. Maybe it’s Dad. Before dinner Dad played six games of hang-man with him.  Still, it might be Mom. She brought his favorite cereal home from the grocery. But last night Debbie helped him with his homework. What if it turns out he and Deb have each other? Then it will be worse if he can’t think of something to do for her.

          On Thursday when Mom calls him to take his laundry upstairs he has Great Idea Number Three! "I'll take Debbie's too," he tells Mom, picking up a second stack of clean clothes.
          "She already took her laundry. That's Rachel's," Mom answers.
          Christopher sighs. Might as well take it anyway, he thinks, and he stomps upstairs.

          By Friday Christopher is getting worried. He makes a peanut butter cracker snack for Debbie. He has it waiting when she comes home from choir practice. “Thanks, Chris, but we had Christmas cookies after choir, and I’m stuffed,” she says.
“I’ll play chess, if you want,” Christopher offers. He isn’t very good at chess, but he knows it’s Debbie’s favorite game.
“No time. I’m going out again. Why don’t you ask Sarah?”
She stops rummaging through the coats and jackets on the hooks in the hall and puts her hands on her hips, frowning.
“What are you looking for?” Christopher asks.
“My blue sweater. Have you seen it?”
Christopher looks under the sofa pillows, at the bottom of the steps where mom puts things that need to go upstairs, and beneath the loveseat. He’s about to check in the kitchen when Debbie calls, “I found it! Tell Mom I’m leaving, will you?” She is out the door and gone and he hasn't done a Christ Child deed for her yet. But he won't give up!
          "Tomorrow is Saturday," he thinks when he climbs into bed. "Deb will be home all day. I can do lots of things for her tomorrow."

          But Saturday morning Debbie is still asleep when he leaves for his  soccer game. When he gets home, he runs into the kitchen. "Where's Deb?" he asks Sarah.
          "She's at the mall," Sarah says without looking up from her book.
          “Darn!” How can he be Deb's Christ Child if she's never home?
          “Don’t swear,” Sarah says, turning a page.

          Chris wanders out into the yard. Dad is putting up Christmas lights. "When's Debbie coming back?' Chris asks.
          "You know Deb. She'll probably be at the mall all day.  Do me a favor, son. Hold this string of lights while I climb the ladder." Chris holds and Dad climbs. Then they go to another tree. And another. Before Chris knows it, the afternoon is over.

          "Where's Deb?" Chris asks Mom at dinner.
          "She's spending the night at Caroline’s. She won’t be home till tomorrow afternoon."
          "But what about church?"
          "She's going to Caroline's church. She'll be home in time for Advent."
          Chris feels a lump growing in his throat. He has no more Great Ideas. Debbie will never guess him! No one will. Just like last year.

          Now it is Sunday evening, Advent time.  "I don't think I'd better do Advent with you," Chris tells Mom.  "I may be getting sick."
          She feels his forehead.  "You do feel a little warm," she says.  "Why don't you put on your pajamas and hop into bed?"

          Chris is lying in bed, and his eyes sting as he hears Mom begin "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." Now Sarah will be lighting the first candle, and Abby will light the second. Now Dad will…
          But the voices are getting nearer. Footsteps on the stairs. Through his open door he sees dancing light and shadows, and then his whole family crowds into his room--Debbie and Rachel, Sarah and Abby, Mom and Dad.

          "We decided we can't do Advent without you," says Dad. "We'll just do it up here." He opens the Bible and begins to read.
          But Chris hardly hears the words. Soon everyone will know that he has failed as Christ Child. By the door, Debbie stands with candlelight smiling on her face.  He looks away.

          Dad closes the Bible.  "Okay," he says. "Christ Child time. Mom goes first."
          Mom reaches over and squeezes Chris's hand. "I guess Chris," she says. "He carried up laundry for me without being asked."
          Rachel shakes her head. "Chris had my name, Mom. He fed Neesha for me."
          "But he gave me half his brownie. I bet he had me!" Sarah says.
          "You’re all wrong. He was the one who carried out the recycling--I figured that out!" says Abby. "You had me, didn't you, Chris?"
          Dad is laughing. "Not so fast! He helped me with the Christmas lights all afternoon yesterday." He turns to Chris. "Well, Son," he says, "It looks like just about everyone chooses you." Everyone but Debbie, Chris thinks.

          "I pick Chris too," says Debbie.
          "What did I do for you? I tried, but I couldn't think of anything," Chris says.
          "You showed me you love me," Debbie tells him.  "All week long you were right beside me. Just like the Christ Child would have been.”
          Now Chris doesn't feel sick anymore. He sits up in bed smiling and laughing while the rest of the guessing goes on.
          Chris has the last turn to guess. He looks around the circle. Mom, Dad, Debbie, Rachel--they've all done nice things for him this week. How can he choose? And then he looks at Abby. She has her head down, and she is picking at a fingernail. No one has guessed Abby. He remembers last year. It was horrible when no one chose him, when no one could think of anything he had done for them.
            And then Chris has his last Great Idea of the week. "I think Abby had me," he says. "Because she kept reminding me not to forget this year."
          Abby beams with surprise, and he is glad he has chosen her.

          Now guessing time is over and everyone gets to tell whose name they had.
          "Did you forget all those games of Hangman?” Dad asks Chris.  “I was the one who had you," Dad tells Chris.
          Now it's Chris's turn to tell. "I had you," he says to Deb. Deb's smile spreads across her whole face. "I knew it!" she exclaims. She gives him a big hug. "You were a great Christ Child, Chris," she says.
          By the time the basket of names comes again, and Chris draws Mom's name for next week, he feels completely well. Well enough to go down to the kitchen for cookies and peppermint stick ice-cream.

          And when Rachel wins the Wang Ho and gives the last cookie to him, he smiles to himself. Maybe Rachel is his new Christ Child. Or maybe not.
          And when Rachel wins the Wang Ho and gives the last cookie to him, he smiles to himself. Maybe Rachel is his new Christ Child. Or maybe not.