“I want my presents before Christmas!”
Six-year-old Scott stood with legs apart and hands on hips with a determined look on his face. His gaze swept from his Mom to the presents under the Christmas tree and back again.
Maddy Stone glanced at him momentarily then returned to putting finishing touches on the food in preparation for night’s meal. She smiled appreciatively at her handiwork as she processed Scott’s demands.
Maddy had a burning desire for upward mobility in the social order and movers and shakers from her husband Reg’s head office were being entertained tonight. She and Reg had come from lower middle-class families and had this mutual desire to put the pains of under privileged behind. They’d worked hard at building a circle of friends in high places. It had not been easy, and at times they had to lie about their background and keep their parents at a respectable distance to camouflage beginning years. But Maddy had learned the language and practices of the privileged to perfection. She was a driving force behind Reg’s spectacular rise in the corporate world in a short time.
Sometimes Reg wistfully expressed a wish to recapture the friendly social atmosphere of his childhood years at home where neighbours dropped in to visit unannounced and were available to help whenever a need arose. He was often depressed as he considered cut throat competitiveness of the corporate world and contrasted that with the way the genuinely friendly atmosphere of his bringing up years had worked.
Whenever he’d give expression to this Maddy would laugh scornfully and ask if he was willing to give up his expensive recreational practices and assets in favour of the old life. Would he be able to continue his visits to that favourite Italian upper-class restaurant in the city and go back to hamburgers at MacDonald’s they could afford when they were completing their University degrees. No, she was not prepared for that and he couldn’t give it all up now despite the fact their present lifestyle didn’t satisfy his inner happiness.
Out of the corner of her eye Maddy saw Scott head for the Christmas tree and turned to watch him.
“Scotty I’ve told you so many times, don’t touch the presents. I want them to stay right where they are so our visitors tonight can see how many we have under the tree. I’ve arranged them nicely, so leave them alone!”
Scott was an intelligent child and was able to read sentences slowly, so he studied each parcel carefully sounding out letters as he read. Ah, one of the parcels read Scott. He squatted and looked at the package intently trying to guess what was inside. His list of demands for Christmas gifts was impressive. When his father Reg read the list, he burst out laughing much to the chagrin of his son. Scott remembered his response.
“We’re not millionaires yet Scott, you’ll have to give us a few more years before we can buy you these things. I’m surprised you didn’t ask for an airplane!” His Mom had chuckled from her favourite easy chair as Reg picked up golf clubs and headed for his BMW.
Eventually Mom turned to place more cookies in the oven and Scott grabbed the box and struggled with it toward the door. But Mothers have a sixth sense, specially when it comes to children and she ran to retrieve the package as Scott slammed the door behind him and ran grunting down the driveway.
Maddy screamed at Scott to come back. She’d not venture out with stained apron and flour on her hands. It would be unseemly in front of the neighbours.
Al and Joy next door would possibly understand. Al was a tradesman. He and Joy had worked their way up slowly buying old houses and renovating them and they owned several houses now. Well, owned was not quite the right word. The banks owned the homes technically with rentals paying off mortgages in each case. Their present home was another renovation preparing for eventual sale, but it was their first renovation in an upper-class neighbourhood. Al and Joy were normal people, they didn’t hide their roots and had visited around to be neighbourly but the icy reception they received discouraged them and they chose to entertain friends made in other places. This was a source of irritation to Maddy in particular. What would their high-class acquaintances think of them living among people not of their class? What Maddy didn’t know was that people she was trying so hard to impress knew all about their social roots and it was a matter of whispered mirth at Maddy’s pretentious coverups.
Maddy watched as Scott sat at the front gate and began to systematically unwrap the present.
Cool, his Dad had bought that electric monster truck with remote he’d been pestering him for. He glanced back at him Mom standing on the porch with hands on her hips. He had to show someone his new treasure. His Mom was mad, so he couldn’t show her, then he spied the next-door neighbour’s kid playing in his front yard with toy car set. He headed next door while his Mom watched in horror! Not those unwelcome neighbours!
Andy was Al and Joy’s son and he looked up with pleasure as Scott strode grunting into their driveway with his monster truck. They sat together and tried the controls. Nothing worked! Al had been watching from his front porch and strode down the pathway.
“You need a hand young fella?”
Scott watched as Al unpacked batteries and fitted them into the remote and the monster truck.
“There’s usually some charge in the batteries but you better have your Dad charge them when you go home. Let’s see if it has enough charge to test.” Al expertly used the remote to send the truck racing around the yard and handed the remote to Scott.
“There sonny, it works.”
“My name’s not sonny, it’s Scott. Can you play with my truck with me?”
Al looked at Scott strangely. “You want me to play with you sonny?”
“My Dad’s too busy to play with me much.” Scott looked at Al hopefully.
“OK, just a few minutes though. I’m working on one of the house rooms but can take a few minutes”
Meanwhile Maddy had been quickly washing herself and changing clothes to retrieve Scott. He’d gone too far this time. She’d read all the books on child psychology during University years and learned it was wrong to administer punishment to a child. It inhibits their creativity the University Pandits had intoned in lectures. So, the few smacks Maddy had received as a child had been wrong? Discipline had been administered in that era if a child practiced anti-social behaviour and from her honest observations there’d been more discipline in society of that era generally than there was today.
Creativity verses boundaries. It was now a philosophy of time out to think of one’s actions. Jail time was a paid holiday, time out to think things over while watching TV. The Pandits assured the world was better for it. But Maddy had enough of Scott’s creativity. She would administer time out in a way Scott most feared. She would take him to spend a week by himself with his Grandpa and Grandma. They were not abusive disciplinarians, but they would take no nonsense from Scott or anyone else. Whenever Scott returned from one of those visits his behaviour was considerably improved.
Suddenly Maddy had a strong attraction for that era herself. She was tired of all the pretence of an artificial lifestyle and she knew Reg was struggling with that too. She’d shut him down whenever he’d make wistful comments about the happy days of childhood. She felt wretched as she headed slowly toward the neighbour’s house to collect her son. Why couldn’t she be friendly with these people, after all she was one of them still inside.
She rounded the corner and walked up the pathway smiling.
“Hi, I’m Maddy. I apologize for not making myself available sooner but have had a lot on my plate to deal with teaching and keeping up with routines. I hope Scott is not being too much trouble?”
Al stood looking at Maddy incredulously. This was the woman who’d treated them coldly when they’d called to make friends after moving in. But he recovered quickly and extended a hand in greeting.
“Hi, would you like to come in and meet Joy? The house is a bit of a mess as you’ll probably have guessed from the construction noises coming from here every day. I hope we don’t disturb you too much?”
Maddy shook her head and followed Al up the path to meet a surprised Joy at the door.
She was surprised when she entered the part of the house used for entertainment. It was professionally and tastefully done, in fact the quality of their work far exceeded the house Ron and Maddy owned. She gazed around appreciatively at furnishing and wall decorations while Al and Joy beamed with pleasure at her reaction.
“Please have a seat while I get you some cookies and a cool drink from the kitchen.” Joy looked at Al enquiringly.
“The kitchen and patio are a mess with construction we’re finishing otherwise I’d take you to see what we are making all that noise about.” Al was apologetic.
“I’ve been cooking all morning so will give your offer of cookies a pass as I’ve been munching as I worked.”
Joy laughed in response.
Maddie continued, “But I really would like to see what you’re doing with the remaining rooms. Your workmanship is amazing.”
Al looked at Joy who nodded toward the kitchen.
“Come on then.”
Al lead the way while the women followed.
“The kitchen plan is all Joy’s work. I do much of the trade work and Joy helps. She’s quite the trades woman herself.” Al smiled at his wife with affection.
Maddy caught the look between the two and it triggered memories of the relationship she and Reg had at the beginning of their marriage. Their marriage was a big pretence now along with their lifestyle. She wanted everything back again the way it all started between them.
While it was true the kitchen needed to be finished the spaciousness and layout were every woman’s dream.
Maddy exhaled in surprise and admiration. “This is amazing.”
Joy beamed with pride, “Wait until you see what we are doing in the recreation area out back!”
A half hour later Maddy collected Scott and waved to her new-found friends.
“Are you going to send me to Grandpa’s place again because I took the present?” Scott looked at his Mom apprehensively.
“Scotty, I think we all need to go and spend some time with Grandpa and Grandma. Perhaps we could all learn to behave better. What do you think?
“I like going to Grandpa’s house, but I like it best when you come too. Why doesn’t Dad play with me like Al plays with what’s his name?”
Maddy laughed out loud and took her son’s hand while he moved in to hold onto her leg.
“What’s his name has a name Scotty, his name is Andy, I think you and Andy should play together more, don’t you?”
“But you said I shouldn’t play with him Mom?”
“Well that was when I didn’t know what nice people we have living next door to us Scotty.”
That afternoon Reg arrived home in time to help Maddy prepare for the evening entertainment. He’d been thinking about his life and was concluding he and Maddy had drifted apart and had lost the magic that brought them together in the first place.
He was surprised when Maddy rushed out to meet him as he opened the door of his car. She hugged and kissed him to his amazement. This was not the Maddy he knew now, it was the old Maddy. He could feel the tension ease and crossed from his mind the speech he’d determined to make after their visitors of the evening had gone.
Words flew out of Maddy in a torrent. She wanted the comfortable relationship in her home she’d experienced as she grew up. She wanted to make home first and put their respective professions as second most important, not first. She wanted to discard pretence in the social realm and be who they really were. She wanted to be friends with the people next door. She wanted to spend Christmas with their parents in turn!
Ron shook his head in amazement. That’s what he wanted too! Tears rolled down his cheek as he contemplated having the love of his life back again instead of the shell both had become.
“This is the best Christmas present I’ve had since I was a child.” He held his wife tightly rocking slightly in this moment of happiness.
Both felt a simultaneous grip on their legs.
“I want to be in the hug too!” A small voice from between their legs pleaded urgently.
Reg picked him up and both of them squeezed him into their hug.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2017 All rights reserved”
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