by Rocky Macy
My friends and I try to get together one evening over the holidays to laugh and eat and exchange gifts. This year it was my turn to be the host of the holly-bedraggled affair, so I strung up a few lights and baked a ham.
Raquel Rainwater was in charge of the drawing for gifts. She came knocking at my door a couple of Saturday's back - while on her mail route - with an envelope containing the names of Sprung Hinge's finest. Raquel told me to close my eyes and draw a name. Being a bit on the cantankerous side, I tried to keep one eye open hoping that I would get somebody easy to shop for, but she held the envelope so high that it didn't do me any good to try and cheat. I wound up with Truman Treetopper's name. What in the heck could I get for a man who has nothing and wants even less?
With Sprung Hinge being Sprung Hinge, it took me all of twenty minutes or so to find out that Esther Pearl had drawn my name - and I knew exactly what I wanted her to get me. Esther, a businesswoman of uncommon good sense, runs a junk shop called Esther's Pearls and Swine where she acquired an Airwave cabinet radio, vintage 1946, in pristine condition. Not only did it have a complete AM band, the high-toned piece of nostalgia also had a shortwave band - and they both worked. And, to frost that cake, it also had a turntable that would play my collection of old 78 rpm records.
Esther knew I wanted that radio, but she was refusing to sell - at any price. And since she wouldn't sell, I figured I would just have to convince her to give it to me at the party. So I set about on a campaign to convince her that the radio would make for Ol' Rusty's best Christmas ever.
I knew it would be tough to get Esther to part with her treasure, but I was determined to give it my best effort. For two weeks I brought her hot mugs of coco from the cafe, little trinkets that I kept in a box in the barn for just such emergencies, and dollops of humor from my priceless personal stories collection. I was the best and most attentive friend that anyone could ever hope to have.
A day or two before the party Ester pulled me aside and told me not to get too excited, but that she had heard that Santy Clause was bringing me something extra special for Christmas. And I walked home with a smile on my face. Rusty was getting his radio!
But life in Sprung Hinge is more complicated than that.
I had been to see Doctor Proctor about my gout not long after Thanksgiving, and he had attached his own string of Christmas lights to me and came up with a diagnosis that I needed to be eating less pie and drinking less root beer. His receptionist was on the phone to her Aunt Esther before I could even get my shirt back on.
So last night we had the big party, and I was beside myself with anticipation over the gift that I just knew Esther would be bringing me. She walked in the front door, however, not with a dolly transporting a big, wrapped cabinet radio, but with the littlest gift that I had ever seen. It's a wonder I didn't cry in my root beer, but then I got to figuring that she was just being clever and that my radio would show up before the evening was over.
We had pies, and my ham, and a turkey with stuffing that Ermine brought, piles of potatoes, two green bean casseroles, and did I mention pies? It all got washed down with punch, eggnog, and a case or two of vintage root beer. And then more pie - have mercy!
And after the dishes were washed, it was time to open the gifts.
One of the highlights of the evening was when Truman, who had overindulged in the punch, eggnog, and root beer, opened the fifth of bubble bath that I had given him and commenced to chug it. The ladies barred him from using the indoor facilities, and he spent most of the rest of the evening in my outdoor privy - a convenience that I have held onto for just such occasions!
There were some very nice gifts being unwrapped - clothing, jewelry, dog clippers, a car-waxing kit, a nail gun - but as my turn to open drew nearer, I still had not spotted any package big enough to hold my heart's desire. Then my name was called and Esther stepped forward and handed me the little box.
"Why, Esther," I stammered, "It's not . . ."
"It's not a radio, is it?" She laughed at my obvious distress. "The radio comes next year, Rusty - if you wear this every day until then. That's a promise!"
"Oh, Lord," I thought. "She must have gone and bought me an engagement ring. Now what the heck am I gonna do?"
I slowly tore off the pretty wrapping paper and revealed a box that said "Little Buddy." When I opened the box I found a plastic wristband that looked like a very modernistic wristwatch.
"What in tarnation is this? Some fancy watch?"
"Oh, it's a watch, all right," she told me. "And more. Press this button and it tells you the time. Press it again and it shows how many steps you've walked that day. One more press and you can see your heart rate. And it gives you lots of other health advice."
"Sounds more like a 'busy buddy' than a 'little buddy." I replied, clearly disappointed.
"One year, Mr. Pails." She snapped. "And then you get your radio!"
So now it's the morning after the holiday party, and I had just settled down in my recliner for a big piece of leftover pie and a mug of hot coffee - when the danged phone rang. "Good morning," says I with as much cheer as my nature would allow. "How can I help you this fine day?"
"Rusty, " Esther boomed into my good ear, "Do you realize it's almost noon and you've only taken seventeen steps since you got out of bed? And do you really think you need to be eating pie for breakfast? I've half a mind to call Doctor Proctor."
"Esther," I boomed back, "Just how in Sam Hill do you know what I'm up to? Did you plant a camera in my house last night?"
"No need for that. Little Buddy just sent me a text message!"
I'll have that radio next year. Esther promised, and she always keeps her word. But until then, it's going to be a mighty long year!