Toys in the attic











The best thing about Christmas, the really important thing, of course, is fudge.

Chocolate under peanut butter, thank you very much, and there better be a lot of it.

The worst part of Christmas could be any number of things: the expenses, stress-planning parties, those songs that get stuck in your head for weeks at a time.

For me, I think it might be climbing up into the attic to get the decorations down.

Christine and I wanted a house with character, so we bought an old Victorian some 20 years ago. It’s perfect for Christmas and has lovely molding and all that, but getting into the attic is a project.

There is this little Hobbit-hole door in the bedroom. This leads to a tiny flight of stairs that was clearly designed for someone about two feet tall. With a great deal of effort, I can squirm up through this into the somewhat spacious attic, which smells of dust and spiders and ghostly despair. It’s the kind of attic where you have just one or two bare lightbulbs.

Sometimes at night when we are pulling into the driveway, I see the light is on in our attic. I look up in horror, always sure I will see a ghostly little girl looking back down at me. My wife told me the windows in our bedroom were put in for a girl with consumption. I have no idea why she would tell someone as high strung as myself such a thing, but I’ve been convinced she’s haunting the place ever since.

We have to go all the way up there to get at the Christmas decorations. Usually, by this point in the year, our daughter has been in and out of the attic several times, pawing through boxes to find treasures to take back to her room and dropping off other items in their place. The result is that you have to wade knee-deep through bags of denuded Barbies and dusty plush animals to get to the boxes of ornaments, and the big misshapen box for the fake tree.

The tree won’t go back into the box the way it must have come out because heaven forbid the fake tree people to give you an extra millimeter of room to work with. That would throw their profit margins way off.

This all gets lugged down through the rabbit hole back into our world, through the bedroom, down another flight of stairs and into the living room. Here we can argue about who was supposed to put the various little screws that go to the thing back in the box, and where they might be now, and what in the world are we going to do– oh wait, there they are. All’s well. Let’s not forget to put them back right for next time.

Every year, for some reason, we have to buy more lights, and when I say she buys them every year, she says I’m wrong, she hardly ever buys any lights.

So it’s out to the big box store with the cars parked all the way down the access road, and every slow-moving, slow-thinking, grouchy soul in town pushing a cart twice the size of Santa’s, clogging up the aisles.

And it’s been like this every year since time out of mind. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room while my old man hissed and sputtered as he worked his way down the long line of the lights, looking for the blown bulb before dragging me out to Sears. I also remember his face lighting up in an uncharacteristically boyish grin when he found bubble lights one time. They weren’t exactly like the old ones from when he was growing up, but almost!

In addition to the tree, there are 14 boxes up there in the attic that have to come down. These contain eight million gold and green and white balls that will shatter into pieces when dropped. The bottom of

the box is just littered with little metal hooks that your vacuum cleaner will be complaining about all winter.

The extra fun is that we have two cats, and they are not allowed to go up in the attic because they will get into the ribbon and swallow it. We prefer that they do that once we’ve brought the ribbon downstairs and attached it to the presents. If you get a cat going on the ribbon just right, it’s fairly festive though, because you’ll see it sticking out at both ends.

Since the cats aren’t allowed up there, it’s the only thing they’ve ever wanted; that and getting into the magical bathroom to play with the toilet water.

I’m unwilling to add them to the list of things I care about as I try to crawl through the tunnel from the attic balancing a shipping container of ornaments on my shoulders. Fortunately, my daughter, Samantha, has figured out how to solve the problem by hollering at me the whole time: “Dad! Look out for the cats!”

Then I get it all downstairs and Christine glances at me sidelong from her perch on a chair by the tree and says, “Oh, I didn’t want the train. You can take that back up.”

Can I? Yay!

“God bless us, everyone,” I’m muttering to myself, but it’s drowned out by Samantha hollering.

“I said watch the cats!”

And I look down at the little critters, and they’re looking back up at me as if to say, “Good God, man, what are you doing?”

I don’t know, kitties. I just don’t know.

Merry Holidays Maine Seniors!

-Daniel Dunkle