Karen Schwaller

Well, holiday time is upon us and while some are finished with their shopping already, the rest of us are just getting a good start on our lists and deciding just how kind we want to be.

Kindness seems to come more naturally at Christmas time. Our sons, for example, choose to bed their cows on Christmas morning every year. It’s their gift to them to make sure the herd has clean, warm bedding every Christmas morning.

I had never entertained the notion (until they started doing this) to put farm animals on the Christmas list. But for all the gifts farm animals give to us all year long, they certainly deserve top placing on Christmas morning.

Christmas on the farm can contain its own brand of excitement. My brother got a shiny new bike one year. But our dad — who enjoyed a well-thought-out strategy now and then — decided not to just place it by the Christmas tree. He hid it out in an empty grain bin and orchestrated the most lengthy, non-military search-and-discover operation known to man. The whole family came along and moved together as a common street gang on this mission that seemed so exciting. We must have visited six or seven places all around the farm on a cold Christmas morning. Each destination contained clues leading to the next place to look, before my brother finally found the bike.

He should have found the bike in the chicken house, because he was getting to be in a ‘fowl’ mood by the time the end of the search brought him to the one thing that every kid wants for Christmas. With my brother’s patience running thin near the end, Dad was lucky he hid such a glorious treasure in the grain bin.

One Christmas, Dad bought Mom a new washing machine, and the whole family was in on it — mostly because we had to help keep Mom out of the house while Dad had the machine installed in the basement. Her old one had seen plenty of farm-filthy laundry, and while the machine was not dead, it was gasping for air.

I’m pretty sure Mom was tired of waiting for Dad to make the time to fix it, and I’m sure Dad was tired of fixing it. For Dad, the thought of not having to devote more time to that must have felt as freeing as the open road and enough speed to make the dog slobber.

Christmas day arrived, and we were all excited for Mom to find her new machine.

As the morning unfolded, there were all kinds of treasures to be realized: a toy or two for younger kids and 1970’s-era electronics for older kids … things we would never have dared ask for, and yet, were under the tree with our names on them. It was pure magic.

Finally, the time came for Dad to give Mom her gift. He said something to try to coax her to the basement, but no dice.

He tried again, and Mom declined his offer to accompany him to the basement. Again, Dad fabricated a story about something down there, to which Mom kindly invited him to go down there and take care of it himself.

When the rest of us came up with ways to suggest to Mom that she go downstairs, she said firmly, “I’m not going to the basement today. All there is down there for me is work.”

And there we had it. She was not going to the basement, and that was that.

As we all casually waited for an opportunity to capitalize on, Mom happened to be drawn downstairs by a shortage of milk. She did get to see her new washing machine on Christmas Day, and she was very surprised and happy to have received such a gift — one that she almost missed, and a gift that still meant work for her.

Dad probably needed a brandy after all the work it took just to get her to step into one of her many household work areas on Christmas Day. Christmas can play out all kinds of ways, but it never hurts to have a backup plan for moms who want a day off, too.

Mom’s Christmas gift would also ensure we all had clean, warm bedding on Christmas morning, too.

Karen Schwaller brings “Table Talk” to The Land from her home near Milford, Iowa. She can be reached at kschwaller@evertek.net.

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