We had finished all preparations for Christmas Day: a decorated house, a trimmed tree, a night of carol singing, and a plate of cookies. All that was left was a good night’s sleep with dreams of what would be left under the tree.
There were three bedrooms in the house on Skyline Circle: one for Mom and Dad, one for the three boys, and one for the three girls. Mom and Dad’s room was closest to the living room; then came the boys’ room; and finally, the girls’ room was in the back.
It was not easy for six Christmas-happy kids to do, but when Mom yelled that it was time for bed, we obeyed.
Dad had given us strict orders to not come out of our rooms until morning. There was to be no peeking at what Santa Claus left under the tree. Dad’s plan was for all of us to share our excitement together on Christmas Day.
Lynne closed our bedroom door. The boys closed theirs. We tried our best to go to sleep.
But it was not to be.
A knock on the wall signaled the meeting. The boys slipped into our bedroom. Lynne, the mastermind and eldest child, came up with the plan: She would wake us up after Mom and Dad had fallen asleep, we would meet in the hallway, and then sneak into the living room to see our presents.
Yeah! Let’s do it!
But we have to be so-o-o quiet. Dad’s gonna be really mad if he finds out.
“BE QUIET IN THERE!”
And so we were. The sounds of Mom and Dad finishing up their evening lasted forever as we struggled to stay awake. Finally, there was quiet, enough so that I fell asleep.
But Lynne kept the vigil, and soon she shook me awake. And then I heard the Knock.
It was time.
Usually we were quick to obey the Voice of Dad as we knew the consequences were not pleasant. But not that night. We were on a mission. And even that Voice’s command was not going to deter us.
We opened the doors slowly. The hallway to the living room had no light, but that wasn’t a problem. We could walk through that house with our eyes closed. Nothing would stop us from seeing the roomful of presents waiting for us just a few steps away.
Quiet, quiet. Dad might hear us. Watch out. Shhhh. Move! Don’t talk.
The six of us tiptoed up the hall, past Mom and Dad’s bedroom door, moved closer and closer to the living room entrance, soon to behold the treasures for which we yearned, and…
We had walked into a pile of stacked chairs.
We stumbled, screamed, turned around, and ran back to our bedrooms. In shock. Under the covers. Praying Dad wouldn’t bring the switch.
But my parents did not come. And once again it was all quiet in the house.
The next morning, Dad carried on as if nothing happened. We learned later that the chair stacking was his idea.
How did they know? What did we say on Christmas Eve that made them suspicious enough to set a trap for us before they went to bed? And how did they set up the chairs without us hearing them? I laugh every time I imagine their conversation and movements that night, working as a team to make a “Gotcha!” for their kids.
All my siblings agree that Dad’s Big Surprise is our number one childhood Christmas memory. But there is one memory that is more special to me personally, and I’ll be sharing it next as My Number One Childhood Christmas Memory.