I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while, but since the last time I wrote, Darryl has had his ear surgery and we’ve settled down in a nice apartment in Hapdorn, the capital city of Thorgelfayne. We thought we could settle down into a nice routine for a change, but we were wrong. Darryl decided it was Christmas time!
Of course, the neighbors thought we were crazy when we carried that monstrous plant up into the apartment, but they figured that aliens from outer space had strange ways, and made allowances for us.
There is no place in Hapdorn to buy a Christmas tree, as you might imagine, and chopping one down in the forest is unthinkable. We solved the problem by borrowing a very large house plant from Lanni and Harna, and that pot must have weighed a ton! While Harshan, Harna, and I struggled to get the tree up the stairs, Darryl hovered around us chirping happily about Santa Claus.
“What’s he talking about?” Harna asked. Darryl still can’t speak Thorgelfaynese very well, but his special school will change that quickly.
“He’s just eager about the holiday,” I explained when I had enough breath between grunts and groans.
Darryl had to have his Christmas tree, and we could hardly disappoint him. He had grown up with Christmas all around him, but he’d never had a mother and father before, and no Christmas celebration of his own.
Boy was he eager! We made our own Christmas decorations from stiff colored paper, glue and adhesive tape. I dried some red peas and other vegetables in the oven so we could string garlands, and we did end up with a very pretty (if somewhat strange-looking) Christmas tree, festooned with all sorts of innovative home-made decorations. We couldn’t figure a way to put lights on it. Harshan spent every evening of last week looking for strings of colored little lights, but to no avail. I had toyed with the idea of getting small dripless candles and making holders out of metal foil, but the tree was too dense. It would have been a fire hazard. Harshan finally rigged up a low-wattage colored spot light, and it met with Darryl’s enthusiastic approval.
Harshan thought the whole thing was a monstrosity, but he did confess to seeing a gaudy sort of beauty in it.
All was joy and glee around here! We sang Christmas carols until our sides burst. I was pretty tired of them, but Darryl wasn’t, and they were all new to Harshan. I escaped some of the singing by taking refuge in the kitchen, where I baked all sorts of goodies for the Big Event.
We finally decided somewhat arbitrarily that Christmas would fall on the fourteenth of Thirteenthmonth. (That’s a Sixthday, the first day of the weekend.) Since Homelander days are longer than Earth days, and the calendars don’t match, it was too difficult to calculate the actual day. Not that it mattered. Whatever day we picked would work fine, as long as we authoritatively assured Darryl that it was the right one.
Anyway, the day was convenient because Harshan and I had to validate Darryl’s import license and adoption papers that afternoon. By having Christmas on that day, we could leave him home to play with his toys.
We really had a happy time: I was baking, Darryl and Harshan were working on the tree, and we sang all the Christmas songs we could remember. We were half-way through Deck the Halls one night when Darryl suddenly fell silent.
“Mommy,” Darryl said with a very worried look on his face, “Will Santa Claus find me here on Homeland, or does he only go to kids on Earth?”
Now that was a very intelligent question, I thought. I couldn’t come up with a good answer at first, and Harshan didn’t even understand the question!
“Santa will find you wherever you are!” I reassured Darryl with a hug. “You don’t think your Mommy and Daddy would take you somewhere that even Santa Claus can’t find?”
Darryl giggled, and the conversation took another turn, but I did have to explain it all to Harshan after Darryl was in bed. How the feast day of Saint Nicholas got celebrated on December 25 instead of on December 6, how it supplanted another celebration, got involved with gift-giving, and how the name ‘Saint Nicholas’ got contorted to ‘Santa Claus.’ I thought I was boring him, but it was all new to him, and he enjoyed it.
“We’ll make sure our son has the Christmas he’s always been deprived of,” Harshan vowed.
The three of us toured toy stores until we were sick of them. Well, Harshan and I were tired of them, but Darryl could have gone on forever! It was “I want this” and “This is neat” and “Mommy, Daddy, can I please have that” the whole time. We made vague statements and took mental notes.
Harshan is in training for his new job, and Darryl is in a special school during the day. (He’ll be enrolled in the public schools as soon as his Thorgelfaynese is good enough, and he catches up in his subjects.) That leaves me to do most of the Christmas shopping, since my job at the university doesn’t start until a week before the next semester.
First, I bought the largest pair of men’s socks I could find at Hagel Tarn. Then I threw one away, and bought lots of little toys and goodies to fill the remaining one. That took care of his Christmas stocking. Since we don’t have a fireplace, I’ll just pin it to the sofa. Then I had to make our meager budget stretch to cover as many items on the wish list as possible. This was particularly hard to do, since there usually aren’t any sales on toys this time of year. Wrapping paper was easy to come by; even though Homelanders don’t have Christmas, they still give gifts! I just emphasized wintery patterns in red, green, and white.
Every night after Darryl was sound asleep, Harshan and I sat on the living room floor and wrapped presents until our backs ached. We were very careful to be quiet, for we were ever mindful of the fact that Darryl’s new ability to hear meant he could be awakened by high-pitched noises!
Finally the stocking was stuffed, the presents were wrapped, the tree was ready, the treats were baked; and everything was carefully hidden. We could relax for a couple days.
Then, before we even had a chance to catch our breath, it was Christmas Eve, Fifthday the thirteenth of Thirteenthmonth 17829. Harshan and I sat up until thirty-two o’clock, then we spread the table with baked goods, pinned the stocking to the sofa, and arranged the presents under Lanni’s gargantuan house plant, which served as our Christmas Tree. Completely exhausted from our labors, and quite proud of ourselves, we slipped into bed and fell asleep immediately.
“He was here! He was here!” came Darryl’s excited cries at the crack of dawn. “Santa Claus found me!”
Harshan and I woke with a start, slipped on our bathrobes and ran into the living room. To say that Darryl was thrilled was an understatement by several orders of magnitude! Despite his age, this was his first Christmas, and the first holiday he had ever had with his own Mommy and Daddy.
“I think all that work was worthwhile,” Harshan whispered in my ear. (That still gives me a shiver!) “I’ve never seen such a happy child!” I could only agree.
In an amazing display of self-control, Darryl forced himself to examine the contents of his stocking before opening any of the presents. Then he really tore into them! Paper and ribbons flew everywhere! Everything was just what he wanted, everything was fabulous; and he made a point of being grateful to us for everything!
“Now that you’ve opened all your gifts,” I suggested, “Why don’t you have some special Christmas pastry for breakfast?”
Darryl agreed, and sat with us at the table as I passed out the goodies. Harshan glanced at his watch with a yawn. Then his eyes got real big. “That didn’t take long!” he said in admiration. Darryl just grinned back at him.
After breakfast, Darryl decided to take some of his toys outside to show to the other kids. This is normal on Christmas morning, so I didn’t even give it a second thought. (Despite his linguistic handicap, he does have a few budding friendships.) I just made sure he put on his coat, impressed upon him the importance of returning on time, and out he went, singing “tra la la la la” as he slammed the door shut.
An hour or so passed, and Harshan and I took advantage of the quiet and the privacy and enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Then, of course, we had to get ready to go meet with the immigration authorities.
There was the sound of the front door slowly creaking open, then being pressed shut. Darryl was back early! Harshan and I smiled knowingly to each other. There was a long pause as he hung up his wraps in the hallway, then he slithered his way into the living room and crawled into an armchair.
“Did you have a nice time, space cadet?” Harshan asked.
“No,” came the tiny reply. Darryl scrunched up in the chair, as if to hide in it. He was holding one of his toys.
I got up from the sofa for another cup of harng. “What’s the matter, honey?” I asked, as I walked into the kitchen. Darryl’s foul mood had not penetrated yet, because the joys of the morning were still with me. In retrospect, I should have taken him a little more seriously.
“Nobody had Christmas but me!” Darryl protested loudly, “I’m the only kid with presents in the whole neighborhood!”
“Well you have to expect that,” Harshan replied, casually turning a page in the newspaper, “Christmas is a human holiday, and this is a Homelander planet.” Harshan put the paper down and looked Darryl straight in the eye. “We told you there would be differences.”
“Yes, but you don’t understand!” Darryl wailed. “First, I was the only one, now I am the only one again!”
Harshan didn’t understand, so I explained: on Earth, Darryl was the only one without Christmas. On Homeland, he’s the only one who’s got one. Harshan nodded.
“What did your friends say, sweetheart?” I asked soothingly.
“Most of them were still in bed,” Darryl mumbled, burrowing even deeper into the chair. “And no body else even cared about this dumb toy!” With that, he threw it across the room. “It isn’t fair!” he protested.
“What do you mean, it isn’t fair? You got everything you wanted, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Darryl conceded sullenly.
After a few moments of quiet discussion, Harshan was able to distract Darryl with the toys. Two hours later, when we left, he was playing happily under the tree.
We quietly debated the problem on the bus, and decided that the problem was solved. After that, we immersed ourselves in bureaucratic procedures and interviews and forgot all about it. The license and the adoption were quickly recognized, stamped, dated, validated and filed. It all went so fast, I was giddy! But the walk from the bus stop to the apartment cleared my head; the air was brisk and cool.
We climbed the echoing stairs to our apartment, and Harshan opened the door. “Calling all space cadets!” he called, but there was no reply. “I don’t think he’s here!” he said.
“Oh, he’s just out playing with his friends,” I said breezily, taking off my scarf. Harshan doesn’t know a thing about kids at Christmas, I thought. “I’ll just call around.” I went directly to the kitchen from the entry way, sat down at the telephone, and began.
I was just hanging up from my third call, when Harshan burst into the kitchen. “Come look at the living room!” he said, “All his toys are gone!” I could detect more than a little agitation in his voice, so I jumped up to see for myself.
It was true, the tree was bare of toys, and they weren’t in Darryl’s room! I finished calling around until I determined that he wasn’t visiting any of his friends. That didn’t take long; he only has five.
“Have we been robbed?” I asked in a small voice, “Did someone kidnap Darryl?” My voice began to quaver.
“This is Thorgelfayne,” Harshan reminded me, and kissed me gently on the left cheek. “Things like that are extremely rare!”
Harshan had his arms around me before the sobs began.