Our neighbors, the Alstons were both just a smidge off-plumb. Mother never referred to the kids any way but as “the Awfuls”, so I inferred that was the surname of these totally undisciplined urchins. I was unceasinly envious of their unbridled freedom. They ate, slept, and rambled at their pleasure, while I chafed at the unreasonable restraints of my miserable life.
Like the rest of us, they couldn’t wait for Christmas. Every year, they starting finding their presents about a week before Christmas. Daily, one of them turned up something new. One day, Randy had a brand new basketball. The next, Jamey had a new baseball and glove. On Christmas Eve morning Davey buzzed by on a beautiful new Spitfire Bike with a horn. Boy, did that make me mad! I had asked my Mother for that very bike. She said Santa didn’t have enough money to bring me a bike. That didn’t make a bit of sense! Why would money matter to Santa? She stammered around a while and finally said parents had to help Santa with expensive things. Huh, it didn’t look like Santa needed too much help at the Awfuls.
Finally, their mom made up her mind they wouldn’t find anything before Christmas. For the first time they could remember, they learned about rules. Mrs. Awful kept an eye on them every second they were in the house, only letting them play in the living room or their bedroom. Well, they could go in Crazy Granny’s room, but she screeched every time she saw them, so no luck sneaking around in there: no chances to dig under their mom’s bed or prowl through cupboards and closets, no long afternoons in the attic. She kept them outdoors until dark unless it was cold or raining. It was nice seeing them suffer the way the rest of us did. I heard she even made them do a few chores.
That year, the week before Christmas, the Awfuls played with a collection of rag tag leftover toys just like the rest of us. No one had had caps for cowboy pistols for months. My old red wagon had a broken handle and couldn’t be pulled, only pushed. I couldn’t sucker Billy into pushing me very long, so we had to take turns. We had jumped on Phyllis’s pogo stick so much the stopper on the end was gone and it buried up in the dirt instead of bouncing. Billy’s cars had most of the wheels off, so they weren’t good for much. Even the Tinker Toys were worn out. Daddy had backed over our big tricycle, so it was a goner. Things were looking pretty bleak. We all needed Christmas!!
The Awfuls were still empty-handed Christmas Eve when a miracle happened. Becky was climbing the Christmas Tree after the cat for the hundredth time when the tree-stand broke, dumping Becky, cat, and tree all out in the floor. Becky would have been fine if she had fallen on her head, but she fell face first and knocked out a tooth bloodying her nose. You never heard such caterwauling in your life. By the time Mom and Pop Awful got in there, it was exciting. The tree was spread across the room, the terrified cat was zipping around the room, and Becky was a squalling bloody mess. Crazy Granny chimed in from her room, so it was quite a party.
Mom and Pop Awful grabbed Becky and left instructions for the kids to mind their grandparents while they took Becky to be repaired by the doctor. This shouldn’t be too hard since Granny was wacko and Grandpa was deaf and went straight to sleep. This was just the chance they had been waiting for. They searched the closet and dressers in Mom and Pop’s room first. Nothing there, so they checked the attic. It was spooky, but empty. They checked all the kitchen and bathroom cupboards……nothing. Finally, they thought to check Crazy Granny’s room. Of course she shrieked, but Grandpa kept snoring. Bonanza!!!! Granny’s closet was full! They pulled out bats and balls, puzzles, a tricycle for Becky, scooters, erector sets and more. It was everything they’d asked for. They ripped into the toys but eventually realized Mom and Pop would be home soon.
They were about to pack everything back up when Davey hatched a wonderful idea. “Let’s give Mom and Pop a big Christmas surprise and hide all this stuff.” With barely time to hustle the packages to their room and slide them under their beds, Mom and Pop Awful and snaggle toothed Becky got back from the doctor. Mom gave them all their supper and rushed them off to bed so Santa could come. No boys had ever gone to bed more enthusiastically.
They tried to stay awake for the fun, but finally drifted off. Awakening to Granny’s screech, they realized the search was on. Sneaking to their bedroom door, they heard Mom Awful’s panicked whisper. “They’re gone!!! All the presents are gone!!!! Someone must have stolen them. What are we going to do?
Pop Awful was sure Mom had just made a mistake. “They can’t be gone. You just forgot where you hid them. You were worried about the kids finding them again. Let’s just think and keep looking.” They looked everywhere….all the closets……under the beds……the attics. Nothing! The Awfuls peeked from behind their door, stifling their laughter as they watched Mom and Pop tear the place up, looking for the missing presents. Just then, they heard a fateful, “quack, quack, quack” as Becky’s little wind up duck marched out of their room, straight up to Mom and Pop. They ripped the door open, found presents spilling out from under the bed, bicycles all over the room, and their Awful Christmas started.