‘Twas the day before Christmas, (well for the sake of accuracy it was really the day before Christmas Eve) and all through my wallet
Not a sawbuck was stirring; nothing would fall out of it;
The food for Christmas Eve dinner, still needed to be bought
And we all decided to hit up Grandma, to purchase the lot.
I’m no Clement Clarke Moore.
Our family tradition has always centered around Christmas Eve. This is the time we all get together for our gift exchange and dinner. Up until mom was no longer able to remember which day of the week it was without the aid of the morning paper, Christmas Eve dinner and a glass of eggnog always happened at her house. Now we go to my sister Sandy’s.
This year the economy changed the magnitude of the event but the individual traditions held fast. The first event, the making of Christmas Eve dinner, was to begin at three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve day. We were originally all going to chip in and divvy up the costs of the meal. This required at lot of pre-meal preparation with phone calls and meetings deciding on a menu and then picking the grocery stores with the best holiday prices. Piggly Wiggly had the best price on beef tenderloin but Woodmans still beat the competition with their low, low prices on Brussels sprouts and the ingredients for a chocolate soufflé. We managed to get the pre-purchase food list down to under $100 for fifteen adults and three children. Try and match that one New York.
Just prior to purchase, my youngest sister Boni, the executor of my mother’s finances, in an act of extreme holiday generosity decided the money for dinner should come out of my mom’s account. This was a windfall for the Shaver/Melahn clan. The problem became the transfer of the money. We were down to the eleventh hour. Boni had the money, an ice storm was coming and I had self-appointed myself the purchasing agent for the ingredients. At approximately 1:00pm on December 23rd, after several hours of plotting and scheming, we came up with a plan. My middle sister, Ebby (by now just about every sibling had been given a role in this drama) would pick up my mom from my brother’s studio, get the money in twenty dollar unmarked bills from my sister Boni and deposit it in a bank envelop at my mom’s where I would go and pick it up before I went on the food buying spree. It was a little complicated but doable. The only problem in our otherwise brilliant plan was my mom. If we left the money with her there was no telling what she might do with it. That’s when we struck on a deliciously devious idea. Shortly after arriving at my mom’s house, Ebby would distract her, run downstairs and put the envelope with the money in a refrigerator safely hidden in a dark corner behind the downstairs bar. If anyone has seen the money burning stove scene between Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” you might have a hint as to where this story is headed. The week before we had all gone over to mom’s house to make peanut butter balls and sugar cookies. I had to put five trays of balls and two trays of cookies in that same unattended refrigerator and let them cool for the next seventy-two hours. If my mom’s love of chocolate and peanut butter couldn’t sniff out those balls we figured it was the safest place to stash the bundle of cash. All our plans seemed to be working like clock work until I arrived at my mom’s house under the pretense of picking up a soufflé dish for the Christmas Eve dinner. It was early evening on the twenty-third by this time. The ice storm was in its infancy. I had time to make the run to Woodmans and get back to Sandy’s house with the goods before the roads became a real danger.
“Hi mom, I just need to borrow a dish for tomorrow’s dinner. Remember tomorrow’s Christmas Eve.”
“Oh no, it’s not! Where’s my tree? I always have a tree”, and the debate went on.
At my first opportunity:
I ran down the stairs and opened the frig.
When what to my wondering eyes didn’t appear?
Visions of disappointment ran through my head.
My thoughts went to: Ebby, how could you forget to stash the money? Had I screwed up and misunderstood the hiding place? I went back through that whole refrigerator: vegetable crisper, butter compartment, on top of the frig, underneath, the freezer compartment - no envelope. I called Ebby and then I remembered Boni and she were going out for drinks after work. What were my chances she would hear her cell phone over the din of Christmas revelers at the Horseshoe Bar and Grill? The answer was, of course, not a chance in hell. Now under normal circumstances I would just go to Woodmans, purchase the food and get the money back later, but these were no longer normal times. No job, no cash, no credit, no shopping. I’d have to wait until later that evening, drive over to Ebby's house and get the cash then. I kept calling all through the evening but to no avail. Time was becoming a real factor. I’d have to wait until a new day dawned,
Now we had moved into the day of Christmas Eve. I was down to eight hours and counting. With an unsteady hand, after having taken Rick to work at the ungodly hour of 5:45am on the ice covered streets, I dialed Ebby one more time. She’s a late sleeper and I couldn’t rouse her. In a panic I called Boni. Success! Someone answered my call.
“Bon, I can’t reach Ebby and I can’t find the money. She must have forgotten to put it there. Did she say anything when you saw her yesterday?”
“I know she said she put the money in the frig.”
Now the sleuthing had to begin in earnest. If Ebby had left the money and no bandits had entered the house, the only person of interest would have to be – MOM! Maybe her nose for the smell of money was stronger than her sense for the scent of sweets. I raced and swerved my way back over the ice to the scene of the crime to confront my number one suspect.
“Okay mom, what’d you do with the two hundred dollars stashed away in the refrigerator?”
Without a blink of her eye she retorted, “What money? I didn’t see any money!” As if stashing cash in a refrigerator was where one would normal put their money.
“Mom, Ebby left me two hundred dollars in a bank envelop in the downstairs refrigerator for tonight’s Christmas Eve dinner.”
“Well it’s not Christmas Eve, I don’t have a tree. “
I started rifling through the house looking for any clues that might lead me to the money. The mattress was too heavy for her to lift so I ruled out that hiding place. The undies drawer only held the unmentionables like her granny pants and a bunch of brassieres. I was starting to panic thinking maybe the paper boy had gotten a really big bonus when I spotted a bank envelop on the kitchen counter. To the horror of my mom I grabbed the envelop with one of those gritted teeth expressions of I told you so racing across my face only to find the envelop empty. No cash, and that’s when Florence’s eyes went from incomprehension to a stare of total recognition. Her eyes went from my enraged redden face to the oversized five pound ceramic Italian platter we had brought back for her one Christmas past. There, peeking out from under the corner and only visible from her vantage point was the corner of another bank envelop. Inside was the two hundred dollars and the knowledge Christmas Eve dinner would happen against some mighty stiff odds.
Mom smiled, “Well that’s weird, I don’t know how that got there.”