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Home-shopping Santa.


Our wedding day was the last time my dear wife walked down the aisle without a shopping cart. So what? Because when she sees anything she wants--or thinks she may want someday--she buys it. This doesn't leave a man many choices when it comes to selecting a Christmas gift.

Not that I didn't give it some consideration. A mink coat, I realized, would make her look fat. As for a 47-carat diamond ring to commemorate our 47 years of wedded bliss (the other 3 weren't so hot), I would probably be required to hold her hand to keep her finger from dragging on the sidewalk. And how would that look? Thus I became a patsy for this packet of illustrated merchandise slips that had arrived in the mail.

Ordinarily I don't even try to riffle through these home-shopping come-ons, much less order one. For one reason, if the item doesn't suit you, what do you do with it? The last time I returned something to a store whose name appeared on the packet, the people in the service department looked at me as if I had leprosy. When finally I was lucky enough to collar a young fellow so new to the job he hadn't learned company policy and would listen to me, he suggested I might ship the unwanted merchandise whence it came.

Wonderful. All I had to do was find the address. And the item's being sizable meant finding the box it came in. When I found that my dear wife, by a stroke of luck, hadn't already ripped the box asunder to line the basement shelves, I then began a search for the plastic-foam inserts that would keep the thing from fragmenting on its return journey. And-- you guessed it--my imaginative grandsons had by now converted them into laser-beam swords to see which one would be first to poke the other's eye out.

So why didn't I dump the sewing-cabinet ad into the trash basket with the rest of the packet litter? For one thing, shopping at home would spare me my annual mauling at the shopping mall. For a second thing, in the back of my mind (which happened to be vacant at the time) I had the idea that a cabinet might inspire dear wife to collect into it the sewing junk she has lying around and draped over and stuffed under and thus reduce the risk of my tripping over the stuff and breaking a leg.

After mailing the order, I sat around for a full five weeks, serene and smug in the thought that my Christmas shopping had been done--except for the wrapping, which would be troublesome enough.

Turning now to Luke 12:19-20, we read:

And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be requied of thee; then whose shall these things be, which thou hast provided?

These verses came to mind only after the UPS truck came up the drive and I innocently signed for a box measuring four feet by four feet by four inches thick.

"What on earth could that be?' exclaimed dear wife, reaching for her shears.

"I haven't the foggiest,' I replied, relieving her of the shears and picking up a linoleum knife, "unless someone has sent us a four-foot Frisbee.'

Haggling a hole in the carton, I peeked in and--yep, from what I could make out, there was the sewing cabinet. In a thousand pieces. Not counting a packaged assortment of screws, bolts, nuts, washers, and stuff like that, stapled to a side panel.

"It's for me--and it's none of your business,' I said, trying to keep my lower lip from quivering as I began wrestling the box out to the shed.

The cat killed by curiosity runs a poor second to the wife and a mysterious package. I had been in the shed no more than ten minutes when you-know-who opened the door with her nose to see what she could see. With only a few unidentifiable pieces out of the box, I managed to fling myself over them before she had a chance of identification. It's to my credit that I lay there with a punctured lung and a fractured pelvis until she finally gave up and returned to the house.

In spite of my condition, I gathered up everything and drove over to the Thompsons'. Yes, I could work on the thing in their garage. And their kids would be glad to help. That the oldest boy had already turned out a pool cue in his seventh-grade manual-training class did little to relieve my apprehension.

So, with the five kids--not counting the baby, who specialized in throwing hex nuts at the cat-- competing with me over what parts went where, we finally had five pieces of the superstructure and a couple of drawers pretty well together. That number was reduced to three superstructure pieces and one drawer by the time I had the thing stowed in the trunk of my car. With Christmas by now only three days off, I had decided to finish the job at home, working nights, right there in the car trunk.

However, have you ever tried to read sewing-cabinet assembly instructions by the car's trunk light? And when you did make them out, tried to find the correct piece of material and the right gizmo to secure it by, in a jumble that resembled a tornado-ravaged True Value Hardware? Leaves something to be desired, right? Especially when the trunk lid won't stay up without a prop and, whenever your elbow knocks the prop out, there's nothing to keep the lid from closing but the back of your head.

'Twas the night

before Christmas

And all through the trunk

Not a creature was stirring,

'Cause I'd given up.

O.K., so it doesn't rhyme. At least it's in keeping with the gift I leaned against my dear wife's chair on Christmas morning. Not even the big red bow I had stuck on top of the thing could deflect attention from the pieces left over and the box of hardware I sat down beside it.

"What on earth?' she exulted, successfully managing to restrain herself from throwing her arms around me.

"It's going to be your sewing cabinet,' I explained, fluffing up the bow. "Instead of assembling it all myself, I figured it would be fun to work on it together this winter. Rather than jigsaw puzzles,' I said.

"You shouldn't have,' she replied, with an inflection that suggested she might not be kidding. "And what in the world is this?' she asked, gingerly touching the main support.

"I have a feeling,' I said, "that they sent the wrong assembly manual. I don't know what that is.'

"I can tell you what it is,' she replied. "It's a hockey stick.'

And by golly, she was right. One of the Thompson kids came over later in the day and asked if I had taken his hockey stick. After he had unbolted the stick, my wife looked at the rubble and asked, "Where do we go from here?'

"You've got me,' I unwisely replied.

"That's the trouble,' she retorted, picking up one of the drawers and being rewarded by the bottom falling out and hitting one of her best toes.

"We certainly can't waste those nice veneered panels,' I remarked. "With the screen I have left over from the canary cage, we can make a dandy rabbit hutch.'

She looked at me as if we didn't have any rabbits. Which we didn't. But we do now. I bought my dear wife a boy and girl Belgian as a belated Christmas gift. They occupy the box the sewing cabinet came in, which in turn occupies a corner of the kitchen. Ingrown hares, you might say. (I certainly wouldn't say it, but you might.) As for the rabbit hutch I built, it went with the first litter. Dear wife told the Thompson kids they couldn't have the rabbits unless they also took the hutch.

The next sewing cabinet I buy will be from a store, assembled, all together, complete, in one piece. After all, I can't make rabbit hutches for the whole neighborhood.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1987
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