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Greta, now 35, was 4-and-a-half, I’m guessing, but she may have been only 3-and-a-half. She was always precocious. The point is, she was just a tyke. But that didn’t stop my little girl from calling me out right there in Boscov’s department store.

We were living in Forty Fort at the time and I took her along to wrap up a little Christmas shopping. We had just checked off the last few items on the list Mommy had given us, gifts for aunts, uncles, cousins and the like, and were about to head for home when I got an idea. A pretty dumb idea.

“Greta,” I said, steering her toward the cosmetics counter, “before we leave, let’s go over here and see if we can pick up a few things for Mommy’s stocking.”

“But Daddy,” she asked, “doesn’t Santa fill Mommy’s stocking?”

“Well … yes,” I answered, hoping she didn’t hear the hesitation in my voice. “Yes, Greta, yes Santa fills Mommy’s stocking. Of course Santa fills Mommy’s stocking. Just like he fills your stocking, and Mikey’s, and Daddy’s.”

And everything would have been fine if I had just left it right there. But no. I didn’t know I had met my match.

“Let’s still pick up a few little gifts for Mommy though, just in case Santa forgets something,” I said.

“Why would Santa forget something?” Greta asked. “Has Mommy been a bad girl?”

“Oh, no. Noooo. Never, Greta. Mommy is always a good girl. It’s just … “

Greta stood there looking up at me. She didn’t say “Just what?” but she didn’t have to.

She stood there looking up at me for what seemed a very long time.

“Wow,” I finally said, breaking the silence, “look at the time.” I even glanced at my wrist as though there were a watch there. “We’d better get you home to bed. Santa likes it when little girls get to bed on time.”

We sang Christmas carols in the car and neither she nor I brought up Mommy’s stocking again. Once home, I decided we had earned a mug of hot chocolate.

That wasn’t the only curve my little girl threw at me that year.

A couple of months earlier we had decided to refinance our home. This was the early ’80s and interest rates were high when we bought. When they fell, our accountant said we could lop five years off our mortgage, lower our monthly payments and stick a few bucks in our pocket. He didn’t have to tell us twice.

The refinance process required an appraisal and when the fellow the bank sent dropped by I wanted to make sure he saw our massive walk-up attic. I felt it added a lot to the value of the home.

Greta, as usual, was right at my side, and when I opened the door to the attic, she said, “Why are you going up in the attic, Daddy, is the roof leaking again?”

The appraiser either didn’t hear or just pretended he didn’t hear. Anyway, he let it slide.

Now back to Christmas.

The near-disaster at Boscov’s behind us, I was attempting to build Greta’s excitement for Santa’s arrival, just a few days away, by going over her list. When I finished mentioning all the things she had asked for and would surely receive, she added, “And a middle-size doll.”

“A what?” I asked.

“A middle-size doll,” she said matter-of-factly.

What on earth was a middle-size doll?

I asked her mother. She didn’t know. I asked her grandparents. I asked the folks at work. There was no internet then. No Google. But I doubt that would have helped anyway. Whatever the heck a middle-size doll was, only Greta seemed to know.

And it sure looked like she was going to be mighty disappointed Christmas morning.

We ran out of tape while wrapping presents on Christmas Eve and I volunteered to run over to McCrory’s at the Wyoming Shopping Center. “C’mon, Greta,’ I said, “let’s go for a ride.”

And that proved to be a brilliant suggestion on my part.

As I pushed her down an aisle in the shopping cart, Greta squealed, “Middle-size doll, middle-size doll.”

And there in the center of the aisle, was a metal bin filled with gingham-like dolls, some pink and some blue, which were really more like stuffed pillows than actual dolls. The price was something like $2.99. I took her home and rushed right back.

Greta never asked for a Cabbage Patch Kid, so we managed to dodge that bullet. But I doubt it could have pleased her any more than that year’s middle-size doll that almost never made it to a spot under the tree.

For the record, it turned out Santa did stuff Mommy’s stocking. And did not forget a single thing.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs during the week at pittstonprogress.com.