It was very late Christmas Eve. Or, more accurately, early Christmas morning. My wife and I were in our back yard, having a nightcap. There was a seasonal chill in the air and the sky was clear, stars twinkling at us as if they knew what we must be thinking looking up at the sky on this particular night, of all nights.
We could hear a party at a neighbor’s house still going on, happy sounds emanating from beyond the block walls between our homes.
Sounds relaxing, yes?
Well. Sort of. There I was, in the dark, with a flashlight in hand, and a wrench, and a screwdriver, and a paper instruction manual on how, exactly, to assemble an 18-foot trampoline in my back yard.
I think the instructions were in Greek. Can’t really be sure.
There were moments of frustration one might expect when trying to assemble an object, in the dark, that includes about 100 high-tension springs that I am pretty sure are capable of severing a finger.
Truth be told, at a couple of moments I uttered some words you’re not supposed to utter on Christmas.
But we got it done. And by the time we got to sleep that night, we knew Christmas morning was coming VERY quickly.
Minimal sleep, but worth it.
This was back when our kids were a lot younger — it’s fuzzy, but I’m estimating somewhere around 2008 — and we had the Christmas morning rituals that so many families with kids have:
Sometime waaaayyyy earlier than Mom and Dad want to get up, one of the kids — usually the youngest — bounds into the parents’ bedroom and bounces onto the bed, urgent to get everyone up so we can all go to the living room and see what Santa left in the stockings.
Then, presents. And time spent playing with the new toys, many of them often having required, ahem, “some adult assembly.”
That seems like five minutes ago to me. Whenever I talk to a younger parent, I tell them, “Don’t blink.”
Like that Kenny Chesney song says. “Don’t blink, just like that you’re 6 years old, and you take a nap, and you wake up and you’re 25…”
It all goes by so fast.
Fast forward to 2022, and each of our kids just traveled more than 1,000 miles to come home this past week for Christmas. As they’ve progressed through college, their breaks from school have gotten fewer, and shorter.
And, this might be the last year for a little while when we will have them both home, at the same time, for the holidays. They graduate from their respective universities this coming spring and, a year from now, who knows what their “adulting” duties will demand of them.
I won’t be up late tonight performing “some adult assembly” on any Christmas gifts, and if we had any gifts that required such assembly, at this point I’d probably make the kids do it themselves. But those late nights on Christmas Eve and the early Christmas morning wakeup calls from the kids are among my fondest memories.
That trampoline is long gone from our back yard. But I’ll never forget the morning when, after fighting with that thing and the tools and the instructions the night before, the reward was the smiles on those kids’ faces as they jumped and flipped on the brand new trampoline on a crisp Christmas morning.
I was reminded of all this the other night, when I arrived home from work. I’d honestly been feeling a little melancholy. When I pulled up to the house, I found that we had been visited by a porch pirate.
But this was a very special, “good porch pirate.”
Sitting on the doormat in front of our front door was a small gift bag. In it was a miniature set of jingle bells, and a Christmas card. I assumed someone had left it for one of our kids, so I didn’t open it right away.
We have one of those Ring doorbells, so I checked to see who had visited our front porch. It was an unfamiliar face, and neither the kids nor Erin recognized her, either.
She was a young, pretty girl. She left that little gift bag on the porch, rang the doorbell, and sprinted away to a waiting car, which pulled away from our house as soon as she hopped in the passenger seat.
I’m not going to publish a screenshot from my Ring camera, because as you are about to see, anonymity is kind of the point of this girl’s very special game of Ding Dong Ditch.
We opened the card. On the front were the Peanuts characters from one of my favorite holiday movies, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” And on the inside, the girl had written:
“Congrats! Your house is the best decorated house in the neighborhood! Merry Christmas!”
Well. Our house is certainly not one of those you would see visited on the city’s Holiday Light Tour, and we are not winning any contests for “over the top” decorations. We have pretty simple red and white lights, an illuminated snowman, and my wife found some really nifty light-up Christmas flamingos that add a quirky-cute touch to the front lawn.
But I’ll take it, thank you very much.
Best Decorated House in the Neighborhood.
Snack on that, Clark Griswold.
The whole thing put a perma-smile on my face. I envisioned this girl, riding around neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights, with her mom or dad at the wheel, and leaving these nice notes on the front porches of houses whose decorations they like.
Spreading cheer and light to others, in an anonymous, warm gesture mixed with just a little bit of mischief. What Christmas memories they must be making, this girl and her getaway driver.
Merry Christmas, whoever you are. And don’t blink.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.