Christmas by R Calligan

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Christmas is a story that unintentionally became a toy box of emotions and elements. It is a mixture of truth and fiction, humor and tenderness, frustration, humility, embarrassment, and vulnerability. It is a story of a man who begins working in a retirement home, and is put in charge on his first day which just happens to be Christmas day. He quickly gets way more than he bargained for.

Submitted: April 01, 2012

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Submitted: April 01, 2012

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Christmas

As this story opens, it will be my FIRST Christmas employed in a retirement home.  And before the ink could even dry from my signature on the hiring forms, the other managers fled like sleazy mice from a straw broom in virtually every direction.  They all knew that I was the “new meat” and would have to take my first turn at being in charge of the entire facility on Christmas day.

 

December 25th as I walked in the front door, a total stranger to all, the place was filled with cranky upset people.  Some were angry because routines were changed this year, some because they wanted more eggnog and they’d heard we were out, some wanted their meds or to go to bed, and of course sadly some were cranky for good reason, because no one came to see them.  Not to be sad….It's Christmas! 

 

The room was slightly musty but clean.  The wallpaper a 1940’s vintage was old and faded.  The place was adorned with dime store Santa Claus posters, and faded and torn gift boxes with tattered ribbons.  The entire front of the facility was wall to wall glass like a five and ten cent store window.  There the prize jewel of the facility was placed, a very old Christ in the manger set that looked like it had come over on the Mayflower. 

 

I was quick to find out that they didn’t have any nice serving dishes or anything that could be remotely passed off as fancy.  Being “in charge” I decided that I needed to come up with something special so I could make a grand entrance and win everyone over.  To facilitate that, I had been holed up in the kitchen preparing a very nice spread of cheeses, crackers, brownies, eggnog, and hot cider.  I stacked the cheap plastic dishes upside down on top of bowls, then covered them with tin foil and any other tomfoolery I could scrounge to create the effect of fanciness.  And frankly after trying so hard I wasn’t sure whether it really did look nice or whether I just wished it did so bad that I no longer knew the difference. 

 

Armed with my biggest holiday smile and filled with fresh snowy Christmas spirit, I pranced proudly down the hallway toward the dining room with my rustic gourmet spread there before me. 

 

Clunk, clunk, clunk one of the wheels was worn out, and squared off on one side.  With each and every “clunk” another cherry tomato or an olive jumped to its demise splattering on the linoleum floor.  Anticipating nods of approval and bright smiles from my grand entrance, I instead barely got 5 feet into my journey when I encountered a woman in a wheelchair.  She was out in the dining room hollering “help!”  This was not the kind of “help” where you know someone is in trouble, but the kind of “help!” where they are dying to let you know how totally annoyed they are with something.  I casually walked over to her carrying a food tray in one hand and a glass of milk that had been requested by another resident in the other.  The instant I vacated the food cart it was immediately surrounded by ravenous people tearing, grabbing, and having their way with it like angry hyenas, leaving it to look like a dried carcass that the vultures had picked over. 

 

As I approached the woman she angrily yelled in my face.  "This wheelchair won’t turn right, she snapped!"  She had an electric wheelchair with a joystick to drive it.  She’d backed up into a cozy parking spot between the Christmas tree and the window.  Right next to her sat 4 motionless people on a dilapidated sofa staring into outer space, an outer space which just happened to be in the other direction from her.  They were totally oblivious to her plight despite being only inches away, and her repeated damsel in distress calls.  This had the effect of pouring gasoline on her already burning frustration.  Several wires had found their way to wrapping around and around her wheelchair wheels.  The more she tried to pull free, the tighter and more tangled the wires got, until they'd become like Chinese finger cuffs to her desire to break free.  She was power shifting the joy stick and slamming her vehicle forward and back.  The entire tree with its tinsel and garnish wildly waved with each and every jerk.  All the while the four would be onlookers were quite content to continue their blissful gaze elsewhere.  I kept trying to untangle the wires while she jammed the stick into gear popping back and forth despite my repeated requests for her to stop.  This went on until the milk on my tray began sloshing down my arm and across my shirt, never mind the fact that most people would’ve had the common sense to put the milk down.  My hopes for a quiet discrete rescue were dashed, for by now the Christmas tree began tipping under the strain and the tree lights began to flicker like a police car light, calling the attention of everyone. 

The milk had now found its way down my arm, and across the front of my shirt and tie, and she was now agitated to the point of frenzy.

 

As I hollered over her tantrum I finally said, “I will deliver this milk but I’ll be right back to help you!”  As one would expect, by the time the milk got to it’s would be recipient, it was about half full which created yet another unhappy conversation.  “With the amount of money we pay for this place young man, you’d think you could afford a whole glass of milk!”, the woman snapped.  Clearly "I" could see the milk she’d requested covering my arm and front of my now half un-tucked shirt, why couldn’t she?  So there I stood bargaining with her as she began articulating a list of repentant “to do’s” for me.  As I began those obligations a commotion in the dining room erupted yet again.  Upon my hurried exit from the room, I heard a disturbing noise coming from the vicinity of the… CHRISTMAS TREE!!

 

I began running toward the dining room where I’d left the Christmas crisis only seconds before, when someone grabbed my arm and said, “young man you had better help that lady, she's NOT happy!”  It would’ve been profoundly unlikely for me not to know that already, being 10 feet away. 

 

“She’s an older woman”, they said.  “She has white hair and a blanket covering her legs and she’s is in a wheelchair,” they added while motioning their finger to shoo me off to the crisis. 

 

I may not be much of a quick study, but after scanning the hallway crowd do you have any idea how many suspects fit that description?  There were herds of cotton tops with blanket covered legs in wheelchairs all in a panic rolling away from the commotion with frantic stares.  I couldn’t help but note the similarities between this commotion and the panic scene from “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” the scene where hundreds of people fled in terror through the city followed by the dreaded vegetable.  This scene was identical, only my scene was being played out in slow motion, and the lip sync was perfect. 

Despite all of this, MY tomato wasn't very hard to pick out.  She was the only one in the dining room who was franticly power shifting a wheelchair that was now dragging an entire Christmas tree behind her.  This of course included the blanket which was placed underneath the tree which held several Christmas presents, all of which stuck around for the ride.  As if that wasn’t enough, she was also being followed by several wires of live Christmas tree lights still glowing and adding to the festivities.  She’d even managed to arouse a battery powered barking dog for good measure which made her even angrier as she repeatedly yelled, “shut up!!” while it continued to bark at her like an annoying pet.

 

By the time I got to her she was hoarse from screaming and her eyes had gone wild with anger.  The other residents had scattered afar and the visitors looked on in horror.  The room smelled of hot rubber as I raised my voice and yelled, “Nancy where do you have to go that is so darn important you can’t wait 5 seconds?”  Everything paused as the words echoed and stopped the entire place in its tracks.  We locked eyes, and for a brief moment I could almost hear Spanish trumpets in my mind as a bated silence came over the crowd like the pensive pause just before a bullfight.  All eyes turned toward me and the moment stopped cold as I stared into her livid eyes.  Of course by now there were more and more visitors entering the dining room.  They were easy to spot as they had a trail of children in tow, all dressed in their festive Christmas sweaters and shiny shoes.  They were then followed by awkward looking fathers in ill-fitting JC Penny sport jackets, tennis shoes, and crooked clip ties.  The moms neatly dressed in green and red with their hair done up nice, and grandmas with their Christmas corsage and bright holiday smile all froze, as they saw the spectacle that had unfolded there before them.  Yet amidst all of this, there I stood in a horror silence, disheveled hair, shirt un-tucked, covered with milk, and lots of grease on my hands and arms from the wheelchair wheel.

 

Oh yea…it wasn’t particularly difficult to see it from their perspective, nor should I have been surprised that they all stood there staring at me in shock.  This would’ve been highly appropriate had it been Halloween, as I guess I DID kind of resemble the Sling-blade character.  I could almost hear their thoughts as I clenched my teeth into a belated, “Welcome to Valley View Retirement Center” smile. 

No matter the fact that I was putting my best face forward, my best face was tantamount to the faces on post office wall.  I may as well have been holding the little placard with my arrest number on it.  I felt highly implicated in some sort of a, “why is that man hurting her” scenario.  There I stood panting when someone broke the silence hollering from across the room.  Obviously someone highly skilled, perhaps even a P.H.D. in the art of social observation.  They yelled, “young man can't you see she's stuck to the tree?” 

 

Moments later I got the wires untangled thus freeing her from the clutches of the poor tormented Christmas tree and freeing us both from this reign of terror.  And to end it all, there she sat sound asleep.  I wanted to take her to her room but the battery in her chair was totally dead and the motor smelled like an electrical fire at a Firestone tire factory.  I began pushing her chair toward her room.  Good God this wheelchair was like pushing a Sherman tank I thought.  I could hear the tires grinding and whirring.  By now I was determined to finish this chapter of my life, get cleaned up and salvage what little of my pride remained.  Several moments later, I am not sure how, but I got her all the way to the wing 3 nurses station.  As I stood there panting, the nurses sat OBVIOUSLY hiding some sort of private joke I was not made privy to.  One anonymous voice finally broke the awkward silence, “she’s not on this wing!”  This was then followed of course by the perennial nasal chortle and then topped off by the expected adolescent girl giggle which spread through the other aids like wildfire. 

 

Energized by the additional frustration, I turned and headed to the next wing.  I was so frazzled that I hadn’t noticed the tear in my pants pocket displaying today’s selection of underwear.  Nor had I noticed the blood on my knuckles from jerking the wires from a moving wheelchair wheel.  I’d done my best up until now to hide the obvious limp from being run over several times by a wheelchair wheel, but now saw no reason to continue avoiding the humiliation from that either.

 

Wing 2 never looked so good, but by the time I finally got there my face was beet red as I had now resorted to pushing this chair with every last ounce of energy I had.  You could’ve easily fried an egg over easy on my cheeks as I asked which room was hers in a shaky unsteady voice. 

That of course only slightly aroused the attention of a sweet black woman who peered around her newspaper and casually said in her southern drawl, “honey she’s not on this wing, she’s on Wing 1”.  Seeing as how there are only three wings to the building, only one option remained, which incidentally was roughly 10 feet from where I started this entire fiasco.  Of course it required very little imagination to comprehend the total humiliation I once again felt as I now paraded my sad ass back yet again in front of the Christmas crowd in the dining room. 

 

As the now squealing sound of the wheels announced my entrance and overpowered even the loudest conversation taking place.  The guests sat motionless and silent as I passed yet again through the broken glass, scattered olives, squashed cheese, and tipped over Christmas tree with its presents strewn near and far.  Everyone stared and you could almost hear what they were thinking... “why does this very odd looking man keep rolling this woman back and forth…. is he a patient?"  Is she even alive...?  Should we call the police?

 

Of course I had no idea that by now my hair looked like my head had been used for demonstration purposes in a bowling ball washer tutorial.  My shirt still un-tucked, and of course the milk stain which had now worked its way further south to resemble the soiled trousers of someone needing bladder medication.  By now my face was so red from pushing this wheelchair that I must've lit up the room when I walked by because literally no one missed my entrance, not even the children this time.  Even the battery powered dog stopped barking as I made my way through. 

 

As I approached center stage suddenly an aide stopped me abruptly, you could’ve heard a pin drop.  In this really smart aleck, smug, eyes rolling back in her head way, she began to speak in baby talk.  “Why don’t you take off the brake,” she quipped.  Then as if enough damage had not been done to my already battered ego, she slightly bent down as if to crouch to my level ever so slightly placing her unneeded left hand on her knee.  This was OBVIOUSLY orchestrated to indicate you only needed one hand to perform the daring task she was about to demonstrate. 

She had the most condescending facial expression one could possibly make.  You know the look… like when mom's bend down to show their toddler some really basic task like "babies first time at picking up the ball".  There with the daintiest two fingers she reached down and lifted the tiny little “extremely hot” brake lever with 2 fingers, leaving the other 2 fingers raised and out of the way as if to somehow indicate even THEY were not needed for such a rudimentary task.  All was flawlessly performed to reveal the simplicity of unlocking wheelchair brakes, a task I shall never again forget. 

 

Hours later as I looked out the front window, flakes of snow had begun to fall and all had drifted back to normal.  The short day’s sun had gone down and again the front door crowd took their position as they had done every day for years.  There they sat lined up in their wheelchairs by the front door watching the parked cars outside and waiting for someone.  I would suppose all of the “someone’s” they knew had already passed to a better place.  The holiday music had even stopped and there I stood in the dim light of the dining room lights sweeping the holiday treats and broken Christmas tree lights.  It was 8 o’clock and the ladies dressed in their Sunday best, now yawning and stiffly rising to go to bed.  And the tired old men resembled children as they gave in to the sandman and limped to their rooms. 

 

The worn out furniture now sat motionless in disarray in the soft holiday light.  The faded pictures of old copper kettles and wooden spoons on the wallpaper came from a slower more practical time.  This was a time when everyone knew one another, when expectation matched what people could really do in a day.  A time when people could talk and could ponder what was actually being said.  A time when you could be forgiven and still be ones best friend, flaws and all, for people were “only human.” 

 

It was there in that silence, a peaceful emotion filled my heart.  It was the routine that brought them peace, there where they sat, day in and day out by the door.  And for a brief moment I imagined “myself” sitting there waiting for someone…anyone. 

I saw an old man smiling as a visitor approached, then suddenly pulling back and hiding a saddened expression when he realized they were simply addressing someone else next to him.  Like puppies waiting by the back door, we never stop looking for love and approval I thought.  And somehow in this entrance to second childhood where longing and life are one in the same, I somehow knew I had come to this place for a reason.  Maybe that reason was to find love, or peace, or maybe to find some purpose to life…or maybe just to find a simpler time and a best friend.  It was there that first winter’s day came to an end…and then.  Finality fell as I shut off the Christmas lights and the plastic Santa said, “Merry Christmas…and to all good night!”


© Copyright 2018 R Calligan. All rights reserved.

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