Thought I’d just Google a prompt today. (Yes, it’s still today. I haven’t gone to bed yet from December 18th. Katster’s rule.) I landed on WriteShop’s 50 Christmas Memories Journal Prompts and found a good one: Have you ever had a Christmas mishap?
I didn’t, but my father did. Every year my father would make a Christmas tree stand from scratch. He didn’t trust the ones you could buy, and with good reason as we had an old, WWII-era electric train set with metal cars, metal tracks, and a control that worked some years and didn’t work others. “God forbid the tree falls over while one of you is playing with the trains. You’ll be fricassee.”
Instead, he would saw a few small planks of wood, stand the tree in a coffee can so we could water it (Chock Full o’ Nuts!), put the coffee can and tree on a board, recruit either my mother or one of his four progeny to hold the tree upright, and then nail the planks to both tree and board. Then he’d stand back, look at the tree, see it was listing to one side, say “oh,” hammer some more, stand back, look at the tree, see it was listing to the other side, say “cripes,” hammer some more, stand back look at the tree, see it was leaning forward, say “damn it,” and then finally pound the ever-loving daylights out of it.
“There! That tree isn’t going anywhere!”
“Never mind,” my mother would say. “Just make sure you didn’t nail it to the floor.”
It really was a Christmas miracle that he never did, come to think of it.
But anyway, Christmas 1987 was a bit of a doozy. I had gotten all four of my wisdom teeth out the week before and looked like Mike Tyson had popped me a good one. It hurt like blazes too, because the Percodan made me hallucinate and I wouldn’t take it, and I spent nearly two weeks walking around holding an ice pack to my face.
So there I was, sitting on the living room couch Christmas Eve morning reading a magazine and numbing my jaw while my father got to work on the tree stand in his art studio. Every time he’d saw a plank, he’d drop it on the floor.
saw saw saw saw klunk
saw saw saw saw klop
saw saw saw saw klunk
I stopped reading. My father saying “uh oh” was never a good thing. It usually meant he had just hurt himself somehow. Sure enough, a moment later he stepped out into the living room holding his left hand wrapped in cloth in front of him.
“Go get your mother.” Blood was starting to seep through the cloth.
But she had heard, and was already in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.
“DON’T LOOK,” my father barked. This was because my mother was known to pass out at the sight of blood. She was so squeamish that she went temporarily blind when my eldest sister got shot just under the eye with a BB gun. (SEE? It happens!) My mother saw spots so thick she had to feel the hands on the kitchen clock to tell what time it was before she called the doctor.
“MOM, turn around!”
“Is it his hands again?”
Again. For an artist, my father was murder on his hands. He was always injuring them—slamming them in car doors, getting them caught in drawers, closing windows on them, and whacking them with hammers.
“Yup,” he said. “I sawed my hand.”
“You WHAT?” This, from both my mother and me.
“I think I need a stitch. And a tetanus shot.”
“Oh, God,” my mother said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll drive,” he said.
“How are you going to drive like—oh God,” my mother said. She had looked. She had seen blood.
“And how are you going to drive when you’re getting ready to pass out?” he said. “If I can drive a Jeep with a bent axle in a war, I can drive to the hospital. Cripes!”
And so my father drove to the hospital one-handed.
Turns out he somehow managed to puncture his hand clear on through with the tip of a compass saw, one of those small skinny ones with a pointy tip. It went into his palm and came out the other side, through the fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and forefinger.
The best part is that we still put up the tree that night, my father having declared that he’d have been damned if we didn’t. Then he and I got to hang out and take it easy when everyone came over the next day. Oh, they mocked us, all right, and they commiserated with my mother on running an infirmary. But when everyone else started doing dishes and we retired to the living room, he high-fived me.
With his good hand.