Christmas with Mama Ponder
by Don "Val" Valentine
 

I don't know about anywhere else, but here in our holler, Christmas
preparation can be broken down into five phases [two of which are
absolutely miserable and life threatening to otherwise healthy robust
males]: Shopping, Decorating, Gift Wrapping,  Baking, and Cooking.

When the last day of November rolls around, Mama Ponder, Dorey,
Johnny, Carla, and Tye [Baby Sister] almost get down in a sprinter's
starting position they are so eager to start preparing for Christmas
which usually means shopping - Phase One.  I, on the other hand, have a
cold chill run up my spine and come down with my annual case of ol'
timey gripe.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas, I just hate the
preliminaries-all of them.  Every Christmas I try to promote our two
households drawing names and getting just one nice gift for that
person and then the members of each household can buy each other as
many gifts as they like, can afford, or can endure.  I keep naively
hoping this might bring some sanity back into our lives when it turns
down right cold in these mountains.

Actually, Mama Ponder and Dorey, especially Dorey, love my idea.  The
problem is they will never admit it to anyone but me because Johnny,
Carla and Baby Sister love to Christmas shop, give the presents, open
their presents and watch others open their presents.  I believe Carla
and Baby Sister get as much enjoyment out of watching us open our
presents as they do opening their own presents.  Talk about a guilt
trip.  How can I be so cruel as to want to whittle their 'watching'
part down a mite.  Had absolutely no luck on that idea yet, but I've
been at it for several years now so you have to give me credit for
keeping on keeping on or stupidity.  Personally, I would vote for the
latter.

I am not a shopper and Mama Ponder isn't much better at it, at least
not in the same sense that the rest of our herd are.  I'd be willing
to bet that the city slickers finished their Christmas shopping during
the first week of November.  Johnny, Carla & Baby Sister live on the
outskirts of the thriving metropolis of Newport, population 12,000, so
I call them city slickers

In fact I hate shopping as practiced by Dorey.  My sweet Dorey will
spend all day, maybe two days, visiting malls in Morristown, Pigeon
Forge, and Knoxville shopping for what she considers a good buy.  The
driving time to Morristown is about 45 minutes, to Pigeon Forge it is
about 1.25 - 1.5 hours, and it is about 1.5 hours to Knoxville,
depending on which mall you visit.  Pigeon Forge and Morristown are
only about 30-35 miles away, but you can't get there from here.

Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that you would be
better off paying $5-$10 more for a Thingamajig at a store in the
Morristown Mall than you would driving another 45-65 minutes farther
to get essentially the same Thingamajig $5-$10 cheaper and that
doesn't even consider the additional time required.  That's assuming
of course that the most distant store hasn't already sold out of that
item or has the color Dorey wants.  That also doesn't include chow.
Dorey can drag me along on her safaris, but by grab she has to allow
time for me to stuff something down my neck.

I have offered to buy everything - do all the shopping - but they must
tell me exactly what they want me to buy before I leave the house.
That should show you right there how desparate I have become.  Therein
seems to lie the whole dad-blame problem.  They never seem to know
what they are seeking before they go seeketh it and that really
presents a problem for me.  I mean why go shopping, if you don't even
know what you want to buy?  Seems to me they got the cart before the
horse, but I can't seem to get that concept to soak into their brain
housing group.  The idea is totally alien to them.

I do my 'shopping' at home.  I mean we have department store catalogs
of every shape and size that covers just about anything you could
possibly want.  Just in case ol' man Sears over looks something we
might take a liking to we also have catalogs from Penney's and other
folks I can't even recall.  No think about it just a second with me
here, we have an indoor toilet and plenty of toilet paper....that's
one item I definitely buy myself just to make sure we have plenty on
hand.  If we don't use those catalogs for shopping why bother getting
them.  I mean we don't even have an outhouse.  I shop on the computer
and I actually use the information in the dad-blame Consumer Report
magazines and guides that I subscribe to.  So when I leave this house
to buy something serious, I usually know exactly what I am going to
buy and where I am going to get it and approximately how much it will
cost.  When I do that, Mama and Dorey look at me like a hog staring at
a watch!

For example now, Dorey decided we needed a new Microwave and Clothes
Washer not long ago so I looked up the latest ratings on such things
in the Consumer Report documents we have accumulated over the years.
I have found their product evaluations to be very accurate by the way.
We agreed which brand and models we wanted.  I couldn't believe it.  I
says to myself I says Self, I think I have finally made progress here.
We agreed that the items that Consumer Reports rated as the Best Buys
would be the ones we should get.  At least I thought we had agreed.
After checking around, we discovered that Sears in Morristown sold
both items and had several of them in stock.  Joy to the world.  Off
we went.  When we walked in, I went straight to the 'Best Buy' washer
and said, here is the brand and model we want.  This was easy because
I brought the Consumer Report with me.  No, no, no now wait just a
minute and lets look around at these others while we're here says
Dorey the Shopper.  Why says I?  Obviously I didn't know one thing
about how to buy an appliance.

So my Dorey commenced to  wander around all over that department
closely inspecting every washer, dryer, stove, refrigerator and any
other large appliance that happened to be attractive and nearby.  I
expected to see her kick the darn things like she was checking tire
pressure.  I mean she felt them and smelled them and peeked into their
every orfice.  Meanwhile, it was my turn to lean back against the
'Best Buy' washer and watch her like a hog staring at watch.  Let me
tell you right now, whoever said that men are from Mars and women are
from Venus hit the nail on the dadgum head.  Well finally she wandered
back over to me and I says, now can we tell the man we want this 'Best
Buy' washer?  No, no not yet, let's go see the microwaves first say
she.  At the time I didn't catch the plural usage in her statement,
but when we went through the same routine there to include TVs, VCRs,
and various other gadgets that I had no idea what they were, I got the
message clear as a bell.  After spending a couple of hours of her
sniffing, feeling, and peeking at appliances and while I slowly
disintegrated, I finally got her to re-agree to get the ones we came
after in the first place.  By the way, those 'Best Buy' thingamajigs
still work just fine.

I gave up on trying to shop with my dearly beloved like two sane folks
would.  Instead, I  developed a brand new system when I am required to
escort my sweet Dorey on her tire-kicking trips.  So far, much to the
disgust of my dearly beloved, my new system has worked like a charm.
Over the years I had noticed that most department stores have the
decency to place fairly comfortable chairs and benches in each
department where most women spend a lot of time.  I decided that
locating that chair and holding it down tight against the floor with
my butt while I read a shoot 'em up novel or worked a crossword puzzle
would be my main function on any future shopping trips.  My additional
duties are to act as an unpaid security guard.  Dorey puts her 40lb
purse on my lap [and she actually can't understand why she has back
problems], pats me on the head like a nice doggie, tells me to guard
that purse with my life and takes off through that store just ah
sniffing, ah feeling, and ah peeking.  When [and if] she finds
something she actually wants to buy, she returns for her purse.  At
such times, I greet my sweet thing in good spirits instead of glaring
at her and doing my best imitation of Gabby Hayes which is the norm
for me if I have to traipse along behind her every step she makes.
The goods she purchases are stacked on or around me and I also assume
responsibility for guarding those with my life.  Stacking all those
boxes, skirts, jackets, shoes, and panty hose on me relieves her of a
great deal of stress, not to mention the peace and tranquility of not
having the world's tallest Gabby Hayes following her everywhere she
meanders.  It also eliminates all stress on me.  I mean if a case of
panty hose balanced on your head don't stress you out, you're
unshakeable.  This works out just fine, but I decided to take two
books from now on - just in case.

We also commence to decorate our home on or about the 1st day of
December - Phase Two.  For many years, we ['we' meaning Mama Ponder]
just had to have a real tree and that same 'we' absolutely had to use
fresh-cut evergreen branches to make our own wreaths and garland.
Ever Christmas this house smelled like a pulp wood paper mill.  I don't
know if you've noticed or not, but real Christmas trees are messy
critters.

Then we [this 'we' meaning Mama Ponder] decided to switch to a living
tree which just added more work because I had to plant the blame tree
the first week of January.  Have you ever tried to plant an 8' tall
Christmas tree in frozen clay?  You really need a jackhammer.  Live
trees make an even bigger mess.

Also, we ['we' meaning Mama Ponder again] absolutely had to have the
real garland wrapped around the two front porch posts, on the mantle,
along the back porch railing, draped down between the front porch
posts and in every flower pot and window box that was on or near the
house.  We also used it to make real wreaths that hung beside the
front door, back door, carport door. and the exterior wall of the
carport.  And just to make things interesting all of this garland must
have a string of Christmas lights interwoven through out it.  Joy to
the world.

Actually, Dorey made all the wreaths and I have to admit she makes a
very nice wreath.  All of that takes a lot of evergreen cuttings.
Every year, Mama Ponder and I would go up the hill into the woods
behind our house and whack off a ton or two of evergreen branches.
She took me along to tote the big plastic garbage bags and to feed any
hungry bears we might encounter.  I kept asking her why we never
brought any scraps to feed the bear, but I never did get an answer.

It usually took four or five garbage bags stuffed to the brim to do
the job.  It didn't take many Christmas seasons to convert our woods
into what could have passed for a hurricane disaster area.  I sort of
pull the bill of my orange Go Vols cap way down over my eyes when I
see a forestry truck coming down the road.  I never know when this
evil life we're leading is going to catch up to me.  After the first
couple of years, ever time them raggedy looking trees saw Mama Ponder
coming up that hill with her clippers they would just naturally
commence to tremble.  I swear I could almost hear them poor things
crying.

Well after working on it for several years, Dorey and I finally
convinced Mama Ponder we should buy an artificial tree, artificial
wreaths, and artificial garland.  When she finally agreed, you could
have knocked me over with a feather.  I think she don't climb that
hill so good anymore, but we still climb it every year anyway.  You
see, Mama insisted on still using the live evergreen cuttings in all
the flower pots and window boxes which translates into only two
garbage bags full so I'm gaining on it.  But we still scare hell out
of those poor trees.

We don't get nearly as carried away with outdoor Christmas lights as
some of the folks around here.  I know some of them have to apply for
assistance from social security just to pay December's electric bill.

Actually, just between you and me, I think each of these Christmas
preparations has cost me about ten years off my life, so don't be
surprised if I drop dead before I finish this.  I mean I'm already way
overdue at the Pearly Gates.  By my ciphering I should be at least 300
years old by now.  But land o' Goshen, if I see just one mall on the
other side of the Pearly Gates, I just might ask if it would be
possible for me to just pitch a pup tent outside the gate.  I don't
know what I could do with all of those gold streets and no pickemup
truck to peel out in anyway.  May have to offer to help ol' St. Peter
polish the gates to make a deal, but it would be worth it.

Well, we just finished gift wrapping Dorey's presents for this year
and I have to admit that Mama Ponder and I are finally getting our act
together.  It only took us 18 years.  Dorey is the ideal gift wrapper.
She wraps our presents and the presents we get for the City Slickers.
She could work at any department store in the country wrapping gifts.
She knows all the tricks with the ribbons and bows too.  I mean her
gifts look good enough to eat - paper, ribbons and all.  Mama Ponder
is so hyper she almost has a stroke when I even mention anything about
gift wrapping.  I mean we're talking about a Jerk and Smack It
Specialist here of the highest order trying to take her time and make
the corners and bows look just so.  No way Jose.  Until this year that
is.  This year I made her go slow and take a ten minute break after
wrapping two gifts.  We did just fine.  It only took us 4 hours to
wrap 9 gifts and Mama Ponder had to lay down and take a nap.

Well the cooking part is just like it was for Thanksgiving so just go
back and read that part again, but the baking and the special
Christmas treats are something else.  Those two women make candy of
all kinds, cookies of all kinds, and maybe a cake to repay someone for
something special they did for us or one of them during that year.
They make different kinds of fudge, some with nuts and some without,
white chocolate and dark.  They put peanut butter between two Ritz
crackers and then coat it with dark chocolate.  They cover different
kinds of roasted nuts with chocolate.  They make peanut brittle that
is addictive.  They make pinwheel cookies using dates.  These cookies
are what Dorey hates to make the most.  They make several kinds of
sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and some
I don't know what they're called.  They make about 50 gallons of party
mix, most of which is for other people.  They make several cheese
balls that are so good they must be life-threatening, most of which is
for other people.

Those two fuss at each other from the time they turn the oven on until
they finally finish all the baking.  Every year both of them swear
they aren't going to make any more candy and cookies next year.  They
have sworn that every year for at least 18 years that I know about.  I
can't get either one of them to bet me on it though.

On Christmas morning, Johnny, Carla and Baby Sister open their
presents and then go to Carla's parents and open the presents they
have for them and then they come here to do the same.

But the first thing we always do is send Baby Sister on a treasure
hunt.  Every year I have either drawn her a map to follow to the
treasure or I have drawn her up a list of series of hints telling her
where to look for it.  The treasure is a hundred dollars in cash that
we have saved for her in her piggy bank during the past year.  Mama
Ponder and I build up the treasure by betting between us on Tennessee
sports.  Of course Mama Ponder always gets Tennessee and she decides
how much we're going to bet on each game.  But instead of paying our
losses to each other we pay Baby Sister.  Well, that's how we used to
do it..until last year when the Vol's football team and the Lady Vols
lost so many games.  That did it for Mama Ponder.  Did I tell you that
she just can not tolerate losing?  Now I just drop in the hundred
dollars just before Christmas.  Come to think of it, that's about
right now.

After the treasure hunt, we eat dinner.  After dinner, we gather
around that beautiful artificial tree and take turns opening our
presents.  I think Baby Sister is about to outgrow the treasure hunt
and will probably want to just pocket the cash.  Well, I guess I
better remember to go to the bank tomorrow and get Baby Sister her
Christmas money.  Christmas is almost on us, but I have plenty of
reading material to last me for any post-Christmas gift exchange
trips.