Why Me?

Chapter Fifty-Two

When the tree was up, we left our presents with Mom and went home. We spent a quiet day, just talking about what we had done and needed to do about the house. I had called the utility companies last Monday from the office, and the gas, electric and water/sewer bills were transferred to Mike's name, effective that day, December 21st. The telephone company and the cable company would not be able to install service until this coming Monday, but, since we would be at home, there was no problem with that.

Mike went into the bedroom for something, and I heard him call me. I went in and found him staring at the ceiling. When I looked up, I saw a trap door in the ceiling that we had not noticed before. Mike had a funny look on his face.

"After those dishes you found, I wonder what other treasures we might find, if we dig in the attic."

"Mike, what makes you think that's an attic? This is a small house, and I doubt that it would have much of an attic."

"Probably not, but there is always a little space under the roof, and people store things there. Aren't you just a little curious?"

"Well, yeah, I guess so. But how do we get up there?"

"Dad's got an eight-foot stepladder. I'll go over and borrow it. Be right back!"

He grabbed his jacket, slipped it on, and was gone before I could say anything else. Of course, I didn't know what I might have said. I was just as curious as he was to find out what else we might have stored in our little house, abandoned by Mrs. Gombasz' daughter. The more I thought about her, the less I was liking her. She just seemed so cold and unfeeling toward her mother.

Mike was back in about five minutes with the ladder. We had to shove the bed aside to set it up. Then he climbed up and unhooked the catches that held the trap door in place.

"Davie, do we have a flashlight?"

"I did have, but I probably left it in the kitchen drawer at the other house."

"That's OK! I'll get one." He slid down the ladder, grabbed his jacket off the bed and took off out the front door. He was back in a few minutes with not one, but two flashlights. One of them was a big, battery-operated lantern. He climbed up the ladder and peered into the darkness of the open space above the bedroom ceiling.

"Wow! I think we hit a gold mine!" He leaned as far as he could into the space and returned with a box marked 'Xmas.' He handed the box down to me and stood at the top of the ladder watching, as I opened it. It might have come from his parents house, because it was over half full of little straw and wood tree ornaments. There was a small box inside the larger one, and when I opened it, it was full of candle holders to clip on the branches of the tree. Mike whistled.

"Boy, you don't see those any more! Grandfather had some for his tree, but they never used them, because Grandmother was afraid they'd set the house on fire."

"She sounds like a very wise woman to me!"

"No, people never burned the candles, except for a few minutes on Christmas Eve, when the family gathered around and sang carols. Then they snuffed out the candles and went to church. And that reminds me, is there a candle snuffer in that box with the holders?"

I looked in the box and found a small metal rod with a ring on one end and a metal bell hanging down from the other end. I pulled it out of the box.

"Is this what you were talking about?"

"That's it! That stuff is valuable antiques now. Let's see what else we've got up here."

I could hear him grunting, as he stretched to reach something in the attic. He pulled out another box and handed it down to me.

"Why don't you just put this on the bed? There's another box and what looks like a garment bag. I'll get them out, and then we can go through them together."

I set the box on the bed and waited, as he grunted and pulled. The third box seemed to be heavier. He came partway down the ladder before he handed it to me. I was really surprised at the weight of it, and I wondered how a little lady like Mrs. Gombasz had managed to get it up into the attic.

Mike went back up the ladder and pulled out a garment bag. It had only one hanger showing in it, but it was thick and quite heavy. He brought it down and handed it to me. Then he went back up the ladder, reached the lantern down to me, and closed the trap door, fastening the hooks. He came down the ladder for the final time, folded it and took it out to set it by the front door. He came back to the bedroom.

"Now, let's see what we have here!" He lifted the garment bag by the hanger hook sticking out of it. I started to unzip it, but I stopped, when I saw what was inside.

"Mike, it's a wedding dress!" And it was, an old-fashioned, high-necked dress of white satin, with a starched collar of lace sticking up from the rounded neck.

"I wonder if that was Mrs. Gombasz' wedding dress." His voice was almost reverent, as he looked at the part of the dress showing. He stroked the satin. "Oh, this is so beautiful." I zipped the bag closed.

"I think we need to take this over and show it to Mom. She'll know what it is, and what to do with it. It's certainly nothing that we need!"

He chuckled. "I doubt it would fit you, anyway! Mrs. Gombasz was a lot smaller than you are!"

"Thanks, Mike! I love you, too!"

I'm glad you do, because I love you." He leaned over and kissed me gently, as he laid the bag back on the bed. Then he pulled the large box to the edge of the bed.

"I wonder what she had in here. It feels heavy enough to be gold bars. Wouldn't that be a hoot?' He pulled the top of the box open and stopped.

"Davie, you've got to look at these!" He reached carefully into the box and pulled out a glass, wrapped in what looked like a piece of a clean sheet. He untucked and unrolled the covering, to find that he was holding a delicate crystal wine glass, etched with vines and flowers around the swell of the glass. He offered it to me, and I took it carefully from his fingers. The glass was almost eggshell thin, and it rang like a bell, when I flicked it carefully with my fingernail. We took the box out to the kitchen, set it on the floor—very gently! Then we began unwrapping the glasses and setting them on the counter. It took a while, but, when we were finished, we had sixteen each of wine glasses, sherry glasses and water goblets. They sparkled in the winter sunshine pouring through the window above the counter. As we unwapped them, we checked each one carefully. They were in perfect condition, not one scratch, not one tiny chip.

"Oh, Mike, these are too beautiful to use! I'd feel awful, if anything happened to any of them!"

He gave me a long, tender look. "Davie, that's what Mrs. Gombasz did. She put them away carefully, so that nothing could happen to them, and she never got to use them and enjoy them. I don't want us to be like that. Sure, we'll probably chip or break some, but at least we can enjoy them in the meantime!" He looked at them standing in rows on the counter, then turned to me. "Merry Christmas, Davie, from Mrs. Gombasz!"

I was having strange feelings, feelings I had forgotten for years, but now they came flooding back. "Mike, could we go look for a Christmas tree, a small one?"

"Sure thing, Babe! I've been hoping you'd say that!" We grabbed our jackets and took off, in search of 'our' Christmas tree. The clerks in the store weren't very friendly. They just wanted to get home to their families. We hurried down the aisle until we came to the display of Christmas trees. Most of them were really ugly; they looked like green bottle brushes wired together and fastened on a pole. But up on a shelf stood a little tree, the branches molded plastic that looked like real fir boughs. I grabbed Mike's sleeve.

"Mike, what do you think of that one up there?"

"I like it, but if it's what you want, I love it!" He reached up and turned the price tag over. The price, $49.95, had been crossed out with red marker, and underneath were the words, also in red, 'Last one. As is. $10.00.' He took it down from the shelf and looked it over carefully.

"It looks fine to me. I wonder what they mean by 'As is.' Maybe there's something wrong that we can't see."

A clerk was passing, and Mike stopped her. "Excuse me, ma'am. Is there something wrong with this little tree?"

The clerk looked up and noticed the space where the tree had been sitting. She smiled.

"Not a thing, except that it was a display model, and someone threw the box away."

"Thank you, ma'am! You just sold a Christmas tree!" He pulled out his wallet. "Do you have kids, ma'am?"

She looked puzzled. "Yes, I have two little boys. Why do you ask?"

Mike grinned. "I want to buy this tree, but I don't have the right change." He pulled out a fifty-dollar bill. "This is for the tree, and maybe Santa can find some little things—and some candy, too—for your boys' stockings, OK?"

She stood there with a stunned look, holding the fifty. Mike grinned. "Merry Christmas!" He took the tree, and we walked out of the store, leaving the clerk still staring after us.

When we got home, Mike looked around the living room. "This little tree is just too small to set on the floor. We need a stand, so we can set it in the window." He paused for a minute, thinking, then grabbed me. "Let's go!"

We hurried next door and were mobbed by kids when we walked in. Finally disentangling ourselves, we found Milo and Trisha in the kitchen. Mike fixed Milo with a rather piercing look.

"Hey, little brother, I'm not sure that I remember correctly, but didn't Grandfather have stands with pitchers and bowls in all the bedrooms upstairs?"

"Yeah. We've put the pitchers and bowls away, so the kids won't break them. Why, do you want a set?"

"No, we just need the stand—for our Christmas tree." Trisha gave us a big smile.

"Grandfather's will said that we were to share anything that someone in the family needed. Milo, go up to Peter's room and get the stand there. I've been afraid he'd break it, or kill himself, climbing on it to play Superman."

Milo went upstairs and returned with the stand. He set it down in front of us. "Will this work for what you need?"

I was really getting excited now. "Yes, that's just perfect!"

"Good! It's yours! Merry Christmas."

Trisha gave us each a hug. "I'm glad that you're going to decorate for Christmas. That house has seemed so sad for the last few years. Poor Mrs. Gombasz just couldn't do things for herself, and there didn't seem to be anyone who cared."

I wasn't feeling too charitable at the moment. "Certainly not her daughter!"

Mike grinned. "But she's going to have a Christmas tree this year, even if she doesn't know it."

Trisha smiled. "I'm so glad. Do you guys want to stay for coffee?"

Mike chuckled. "Trisha, you know me! Ordinarily, the answer would be a resounding 'Yes!' But we need to get the tree up and decorated, and Mark and Annie are coming to our house for dinner. Then there's Midnight Mass."

Milo spoke up. "We've been talking about this. It would probably be best for Annie and Mark to keep the kids over here. They have their toys, and they won't be destroying Grandma's house."

"But isn't Annie supposed to be getting things ready for the party after Mass?"

Trisha grinned. "She can run over to the house to do what she needs to do in advance. Mark can stay with the kids. It may make him think twice about having a big family!"

Milo chuckled. "I can just see him now, a screaming baby in each arm, and Jody and Peter in a knock-down-drag-out fight downstairs in the playroom. Oh, yes, and Terry will be hiding under the bed, because she's scared of all the noise!"

Trisha smacked him hard on the arm. "Oh, Milo, they're not that bad, and you know it!"

She gave him a dirty look and headed for the kitchen. "I've got to get something for these kids to eat for supper. We'll see you guys later."

We thanked Milo again for the stand and went home. When we got there, Mike set it in front of the window in the living room. He picked up the little tree and set it on the stand. "Perfect!"

We went back to the bedroom to get the box of ornaments. When we walked in, Mike looked at the unopened box on the bed. "I wonder what's in there." He pulled it to the edge of the bed and opened it. It was filled with crocheted doilies and some made of lace. (I think they call it 'tatting.') It looked like the lace on the wedding dress.

We were looking through the pile of doilies, when Mike spotted one that looked a bit larger than the others. He picked it out of the box and looked at it. "Could you give me a hand for a minute?" I followed him into the living room. He held up the doily, looking from it to the stand.

"If you could hold the tree,..." I picked up the tree, and he laid the doily on the stand. It was a perfect size. The corners of the stand were exposed, and the doily fell in small, graceful scallops on all four sides. "There! Now, set the tree back carefully, and be sure it's centered." I set the tree carefully in place, and we stepped back to look at it. I was getting more excited about Christmas by the minute. I turned to Mike.

"Let's get the decorations and get it set up, before we have supper."

We brought in the box of decorations, and began hanging them on the tree. Each one had a small loop at the top, so they were easy to slip over the tips of the branches. It looked as if there would be just the right number of ornaments to make the tree look good. As Mike was reaching into the bottom of the box for one of the last wooden ornaments, he stopped.

"Hey, look at this!" He held a small star in his hand. It was silver plated and had a clip like the candle holders on the bottom. He pinched the clip and attached the star to the top of the tree. Then he picked up one of the candle holders.

"We're not going to be able to use these this year. The candles are an odd size. We'll have to find a specialty shop and see if they have the size we need for next year."

"That's all right, Mike. I think it's beautiful, just the way it is."

He looked at me closely. "Davie, I haven't seen your eyes shine like that in a long time. Are you really happy?"

"Oh, yes, Mike! I don't think I've ever been this happy in my life!" I grabbed him in a hug, and we were locked together in a toe-curling kiss, when the front door opened.

Annie said, "Oh, for God's sake, don't you two ever quit?" I could hear Mark chuckling behind her. Mike swung around to face her.

"We're just getting the Christmas spirit! Do you mind?"

"I wouldn't mind, if you weren't getting the Christmas spirit about three hundred forty-five days a year!" Mark was laughing out loud now.

"Hey, Annie, give the guys a break! It's Christmas, and they've got a new house. Looks to me as if they have something to celebrate."

"Well, so do we, but I don't see you acting like that!"

"We can fix that in a hurry!" He grabbed her, bent her over backward, and planted a kiss on her that would have been the envy of every Hollywood lover in history. When he finally released her and helped her stand back up, his eyes were twinkling.

"Is that what you had in mind?"

I don't think I'd ever seen Annie that flustered or at a loss for words. Mike and I just stood there grinning, as her face got redder and redder.

Mike finally took pity on her. "So, guys, are you planning to have dinner with us? The rest of the family is fasting before communion."

Mark looked at him in surprise. "You're not taking communion at Midnight Mass?"

Mike looked a little embarrassed. "Well, I was planning on it, but we've been so busy this week that I forgot to go to confession, so I'm not eligible."

Mark and Annie both hugged him. Annie spoke for both of them. "I'm really sorry that you can't take communion. I know how important it is for you. But, since you can't, we might as well all eat together here, so we don't embarrass anyone who's planning to take communion."

My big sister can really be thoughtful at times. "That's a great idea, Annie. You and I can fix dinner. Lord knows, we've got enough to eat in the fridge."

"I'm sure! Your fridge probably looks like ours. And Christmas dinner is coming up!"

"Yes, but that's not until the day after tomorrow—Little Christmas, I think Mom called it."

Mike nodded. "That's right. But you think you've seen a lot of food at one of our family dinners? Christmas dinner and Easter dinner at the Dorczek house could feed half the town—and I'm not exaggerating...much." He started for the kitchen, but turned back to us. "There's just one more thing I think we need to do to make this Christmas complete.

Did you see our little tree?"

Annie said, "Yes, I was looking at it, when we came in." Mark said, "I've never seen a tree decorated that way before. I really like it."

Mike grinned. When you see our family tree at the house, you'll see a lot of the same kinds of ornaments. But this is a small tree, and we didn't want to overdo it with all kinds of decorations." He got a very serious look on his face.

"I'd like to thank the person who made this tree possible, even though she won't be able to enjoy it with us. Could we all join hands?" We did, and stood facing the tree in a row. Mike spoke softly, "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Gombasz." I was nearly in tears again. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Gombasz, and thank you."

Mark and Annie looked at each other for a moment. Then they spoke together, "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Gombasz." We all hugged each other.

Then Annie and I went out to the kitchen to get something for our dinner. Mark and Mike stayed in the living room and chatted, while we sorted through the fridge, picking out different dishes that we all liked. Annie got bowls from the cupboard and began heating up our dinner in the microwave, one of the few things we had brought from our house. Mark already had a very nice one he had bought, when he moved into his apartment.

Annie took a minute to stick her head in the living room. "Mark, didn't we bring something for the guys?"

"Oh, yeah, I forgot it. I'll be right back. He headed out the back door. I gave Annie a dirty look.

"I thought we weren't going to get Christmas presents for each other!"

"Well, this isn't a Christmas present. We were just talking about things, and the idea came up. We both thought it would be a good idea."

Mark returned with a paper bag. "Just thought you guys might enjoy this, maybe not for Christmas, but sometime. And it will keep." He handed the bag to Mike, who reached in and pulled out a bottle of German wine, der schwarze Kater. Mike looked puzzled.

"The Black Cat? This looks like a white wine."

"It is, and a very nice one. We had some at friends' house, and we liked it, so we thought we'd share it with you guys."

"I still don't understand the name."

"Neither do I. I just decided they call it that, because there's a picture of a black cat on the label."

"OK, I'll buy that." Mike brought the bottle out to the kitchen to show it to Annie and me. She, of course, had already seen it.

"It needs to be chilled, but it's been riding around in the cold car today, so it's probably cold enough."

I looked at Mike. "This gives us a chance to use our latest gift from Mrs. Gombasz!"

He grinned. He went to the cupboard and took out four of the crystal wine glasses. He quickly rinsed them under hot water and dried them gently with a linen towel from the drawer. Annie's eyes were wide.

"Where did you say you got those?"

"We found them in the attic this afternoon. There are sixteen each of wine glasses, sherry glasses and water goblets."

Annie looked as if she might melt at any moment. "I've never seen crystal as beautiful as that!" Mike and I just exchanged quick looks.

While Annie was busy, heating up dinner, I got out the gold-edged china and the 'good' silverware and set the table. I rinsed and dried four water goblets, filled them, and set one at each place. Then I set out the wine glasses. Our little kitchen table looked really elegant. I had even found linen napkins in one of the kitchen drawers.

"Oh!" I turned, to find Annie standing, staring at the table, with her mouth hanging open. When she saw me looking at her, she grabbed me in a hug.

"Oh, Davie, I'm so happy for you! You're finally getting all the good things in life that you deserve!" She hugged me hard and kissed me on the cheek.

I pulled back, just far enough so that I could look her in the eye. "Annie, I got the best thing in my life the day Mike walked into it."

She sniffled. "I know, Davie, and I was so happy for you, but I have to admit, I was jealous. Paul wasn't at all what he seemed to be, and I was miserable. It seemed unfair that you should be so happy. But, now, Mark..." She was about to burst out crying, so she turned away and went back to put the last of our dinner into the microwave. A little more in control of her emotions, she turned back around.

"These serving bowls just don't belong on the table with those beautiful dishes! Let's just set the bowls on the counter and have people serve themselves before they sit down."

"Sounds like a good idea. The table's not all that big, anyway." I went to the fridge and got the bottle of wine. I set it on the counter and began rummaging through the drawers.

"I can't believe it! This lady had everything imaginable, but she doesn't have a damn corkscrew!"

Mark walked up behind me and reached into one of the drawers. "Here you go, Dave." He was holding a little gadget that looked like a big handle with two thin, curved metal strips attached to it. "Haven't you ever used one of these?"

"I've never even seen one! What is it?"

"It's a cork puller. Just watch!" He reached in one of the drawers I had left open in my frantic search for the corkscrew and took out a napkin. He wrapped it around the bottle and, taking the bottle in one hand and the handle in the other, he slipped the longer of the two metal strips into the neck of the bottle next to the cork. He began a rocking motion of the handle, and the two strips "walked" down the sides of the cork, until the handle was resting on the top of the bottle neck. Then he began twisting the handle, as if he were unscrewing the cork. The cork, in its metal cradle, slipped up and out of the bottle, still clamped tightly between the strips.

Mike grinned. "Well, ain't that slick as..." Annie interrupted him quickly.

"Mark, why don't you pour the wine, and then we'll all serve ourselves. I, for one, would like to have my dinner before it gets cold."

Mark lifted each glass, turning it and admiring the etched pattern, as he poured a little more than half a glassful of wine and set the glass back in its place on the table. When he was finished, he looked around.

"Guess you don't have a wine bucket, huh?" He was grinning, as he set the bottle back in the fridge. We all gathered around and filled our plates with the leftovers du jour and sat down to eat. Somehow, Mom's cooking tasted even better, and the company was perfect. The wine was a surprise to both Mike and me, and we really liked it.

We were just finishing dinner, when Milo arrived. He wanted to tell us that they would have the kids in bed and asleep, before they had to leave for Mass, so Mark could just be there to watch out for them, and Annie could go over to Mom's and Tom's house to get things ready for the party. Mark seemed relieved—and he didn't even know about what happened on Thanksgiving!

Annie and I cleaned up the kitchen, carefully washing the plates and the wine glasses, drying them and putting them away. The 'good' silver went back in its chest and was stowed in the drawer. When we were finished, we joined Mark and Mike in the living room and the four of us had a pleasant conversation, remembering happy Christmases in the past, while skipping over the events which had robbed Christmas of its joy for us. About 10:30, Annie stood up. "We'd better get over and find out what we're supposed to be doing, and these guys need to get ready to go." We all hugged, and they left.

Editor's Notes:

Once again, I find that I have something leaking out of my eyes. There were definitely some very sweet moments in this chapter, and we haven't even had Christmas yet.

I can clearly remember having real live Christmas trees every year, when I was growing up. I was the one who put up all the lights on the trees outside the house. We would usually put those up on a semi warm day some time after Thanksgiving. We didn't turn them on though, till about a week before Christmas. We always put up the Christmas tree either during the day before Christmas Eve, or Christmas Eve itself. My mom loved to change the furniture around periodically, so depending on how she had things arranged, any particular year, the tree either went in front of the picture window, on the west wall, or in front of the south window. We always used the big bulbs, the ones that were about an inch long and came in lots of different colours. Those things got pretty hot, so you had to be careful where you placed the lights, so you wouldn't scorch the tree. I love the smell of a real live tree. I don't, however, like cleaning up all the needles that fall off the tree. I haven't thought about some of that stuff for a very long time. It was nice to be reminded of how things used to be.

No, I am not going to go into my rant about how early everyone starts Christmas now days. That will just have to wait for another time.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher