Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Here at Casa Ringworm, Christmas was very merry. There is nothing like the promise of tenure to make the season bright. Besides having that big dream come true, we have our lovely tree, and our two mantels are decorated with lights, fir boughs, and ornaments. The back of our front door is covered in greeting cards from friends and family, and I used all my wreath-decorating powers to deck one with pinecones and glass balls. And there are lots of cookies. Our swell new Denon bookshelf stereo plays my iPod's Christmas playlist of hundreds of tunes from morning to bedtime. There was even a kissing ball taped in the kitchen doorway, but it fell down one afternoon while we were out and I worry that it beaned a cat. We (and any remaining spores) are making the most of the season.

Because we couldn't drive to Pennsylvania to celebrate with my family (you can't hire cat sitters or board at the vet when your cats have ringworm), we exchanged presents by mail. My sister sent a large brown box marked "Do NOT open until Christmas." When I opened it, I was delighted to find an old joke of ours, which I thought she had lost or tossed out a couple of years ago. We call it The Present. It is a two-piece wrapped gift box covered with the detritus of every Christmas since her grown daughters were babies.

Here is Possum with The Present. It looks like a messy pile of Christmas-themed trash — because it is.

Our tradition began when I began attaching scraps of exceptionally ugly wrapping paper to decorate one of my presents to her. She saved it and gave it back to me on a present the next year, with the addition of some McDonald's fast-food bags that her kids had colored. I added ugly little package decorations the following year and sent it her way. She reciprocated by adding a string of electric lights with a battery pack. One year, I added red Mardi Gras beads from a Gay Pride parade.  You can see Possy trying to bite them here:

The Christmas after our mother died, I found a plastic-protected card with my mother's holiday tollhouse cookie recipe in her handwriting. In other years we added tangles of messy ribbons, creepy elves, and a Bing Crosby Christmas cassette. Lately it's been dominated by a large, weirdo Santa doll.

At some point the whole mess fell apart and my sister painstakingly reattached everything to a sturdy, wrapped, two-piece gift box.

The Present hadn't appeared for a couple of years; my sister made vague excuses. I thought she had either lost it or decided it was too much trouble to keep up the habit of adding more crap to it. So I was very surprised to open that giant box on Friday morning and find It buried in there, under piles of protective wrappings.

It was the most wonderful surprise, perhaps better than the Uggs my husband gave me, which look like fleece-lined motorcycle boots instead of ugly Uggs. (When it snows again, I'll be extremely grateful for the boots.)

I think we will definitely have to move out of this small apartment because we have Nowhere to store The Present for a whole year. (I suppose I could ship it back to her, but she is the type to turn around and ship it right back to me....)

My husband took photos of me in my robe, holding the box in front of the tree, with several appalled facial expressions. We emailed them to my sister, along with photos of Possum's encounter.

In other news, the four cats received 20 presents between them (half came from a handsome stocking sold at PetSmart; my sister always provides high-quality catnip toys, too). By now, almost all of them are stuck under furniture because I have taken a three-day leave from vacuuming as we await the first set of ringworm culture results (tomorrow — it was supposed to be yesterday, but the lab was closed for the holidays). While some of those toys were pretty nifty — especially the Kitty Hoots toys we got for Wendy, with long neon-colored feather tails — the cats most enjoy playing with scraps of wrapping paper and tree ornaments they remove for themselves.

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