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December 25, 2005: Christmas and the murky deep

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We got up and drove up to Napa this morning, because my older sister is hosting Christmas this year, and we managed to get there by 7 am because my little sister and her family were down from Seattle, and this meant there would be three small children under the age of 8 in that house - three small children who were not going to be very patient about waiting for lazy aunts and uncles and grandparents to drag their tired, coughing, sniffling bodies to the house at a later hour. Because there were presents! And when there are presents, children can only wait so long.

There were stockings to open, and a huge mound of presents (because there are eleven of us when we are all together in my family), and homemade cinnamon rolls, and piles of cookies. There were books and toys and little hand-held electronic 20 Questions games, to which we lost Richard and my youngest brother-in-law a few times throughout the day. And two both my nephews' delight, there were battery operated, remote controlled cars, which took their dad and both their uncles to figure out how to open and load with the batteries before they would work.

Once breakfast was over and the presents were all opened and things were calming down, the two boys (the oldest is seven; the youngest is four) took their cars outside. They live in a little cul-de-sac, and there are a few other families with similarly aged little kids, so it's not uncommon to see small people out there, playing in the street where no one has to worry about cars.

However, it wasn't long before we saw the older one running for the door, a look of extreme worry on his face. We all met him halfway, and amid tears he told us that the younger nephew's car had gone down the storm drain!

There were tears from both of them, and while their mom and dad went out to assess the situation and try to comfort the little one, my mom and I crouched with the older one on the front porch, trying to reassure him. We were going shopping tomorrow, we told him. If we couldn't get the car, why, we'd just make sure to buy another one. And boy did we step into a minefield there, because apparently those cars were from Santa, and my nephew was completely distraught. Mommy couldn't get a new one, because Santa brought them, and that meant they might not get a new one until next Christmas. And my older sister came by and muttered under her breath that this wasn't far off because it just so happened these were the last two on the shelf when she'd found them anyway.

But one should never underestimate the power of a small crowd of adults when confronted with inconsolable children who have just inadvertently run their favorite Christmas toy into a storm drain. There is a manhole cover right over the drain, and since there was no way anyone could reach inside the drain itself, one of the guys got the bright idea to try opening the manhole directly to take a look inside. Before my mom and I knew what was happening, there were my dad, the boys' dad, and Richard, circling the manhole with crowbar in hand, doing their best to pry it open. At one point we all determined that we needed a second crowbar, so my sister went off to find a neighbor, and then they came over to see what all the fuss was about - the neighbor and his wife. And once I told my little sister and her husband, and he heard that all the other guys were getting to play with heavy cement objects and crowbars, he headed right outside to help too.

I did not expect that they would be able to get the thing open, and even if they did get it open I figured the drain would be too deep, or the car would have washed away. But somehow, through sheer force of will, they got the manhole cover off, and even more miraculous, there it was, in sight, and nearly within reach.

My mom and dad started yelling for someone, anyone, to get a camera, because the first idea for how to get it was to lower the older nephew headfirst down into the drain to fetch it. But even though he was okay with the idea in theory, the minute his head started going below the edge of the manhole, he started to panic, and they pulled him back up immediately. There was discussion of various options. Someone ran off to see if they could find a pool scoop or a rake. At this point my little sister and I were trying so hard to not laugh that we were in danger of hurting something. And then the boys' dad, in a flash of bravery, leaned into the drain as far as he could, and rescued the car, rendering him nothing less than a hero in the eyes of two little boys.

The rest of the day passed in much calmer blur. After the week I've had, I was exhausted, so I ended up doing a lot of napping upstairs in their guest room. At one point I borrowed a needle and some thread and added the finishing touches to the platypus I made for my brother-in-law (because he said that was his favorite animal and how many times does one really get an opportunity to knit a platypus, anyway?) and tried out the 20 Questions game, and then took another nap. We ate ham and potatoes and pumpkin bread for dinner and followed that with more cookies and candy and pie. And then, since it was getting late and my mom and my sisters and I at least have a very early day tomorrow, we all loaded up our cars with our presents and headed home. On the way home my right ear finally depressurized, which means that the antibiotics are starting to kick in, and even though it is not a remote control car and I did not have to mobilize a neighborhood to rescue it for me, this is quite possibly, for me, the very best present of all.

Happy Holidailies

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