I guess I was five or six. Mona, a distant cousin was living with us for a while, and being a bit older than me (8 or 9 I think), she was who I depended on when life tossed an unexpected conundrum. A week before Christmas was no exception.
In the hallway next to our bedroom that we shared, was the pull down stairway to the attic. A couple of times, Mona and I came home from school and discovered the attic stairs down, Mom standing at the foot of them and Daddy at the top saying, “Is that it? I think I heard the bus.” Then Daddy would hop quickly down, and together they would snap the attic stair up closed then turn to innocently face us.
Mona was the one to always ask, “Whatcha’ doing up there?”
I figured we must have had more mice in that attic than the Pied Piper of Hameln, because Daddy would always reply, “Just checking to see that we don’t have mice,” and Mom would half-hardheartedly nod her head in agreement.
It was a week before Christmas.
What happened that night was either a Christmas miracle or a Christmas disaster depending on which room you were sleeping in. Mona and I suddenly awoke to a crash and a virtual downpour of Barbies and accessories, skates, puzzles, suitcases, t-sets, clothes, shoes, and dozens and dozens of other things like candy and yo-yo’s, falling through the ceiling. We sat there blinking like two hungry lions.
“What do you think it is?” I whispered to Mona.
“I think Santa Clause just came,” Mona said not taking her eyes of the skates, “And the skates are mine.”
“But Christmas isn’t till a week,” I added, “Will he come again?”
Mona gave me a look as she began hatching the scheme right then and there. “Go down the hall and tell Mom and Dad that you fell out of the bed in case they heard any thing.”
I walked in their room and found them both in a dead sleep, so I went back to our room and Mona quietly closed the door behind me. “They down?” she asked, as if I’d gone in and shot them both with a dart gun.
I nodded while I watched Mona shove “her stuff” under her bed and slide my stuff over to mine. “Stick this under your bed. We’ll put the bigger stuff in the back of the closet.” So in the middle of the night that’s what we did, and between moments of hiding the haul that, moments ago, was somehow sitting in the attic, we took a moment to play with the loot.
Once we were finished, we crawled back in bed and for the first time that night we realized we had a bigger problem we hadn’t thought about. A gigantic hole in the ceiling was right above the foot of our beds. Sheetrock hung from the ceiling in jagged pieces and upon closer investigation, Mona reported she could see a blue bicycle! Now how were we going to hid that hole?
It was Mona who came to their senses first. “I think we made a mistake. We need to put everything back in the pile and pretend we didn’t see it.” I asked if maybe we could just keep one thing, but Mona refused.
So, we pulled everything out from under the bed and closet, piled it in a pile and took the trashcan filled with little pieces of Sheetrock and insulation and dumped it on the pile. I may not remember a lot about Mona, but I do remember how she kept her cool that night through it all.
As I lay there in bed after, what she and I referred to as “The Big Christmas Crash”, I couldn’t believe that the wisest, craftiest person in the world was sleeping next to me. And while she wouldn’t let me play with even ONE toy that night, I found a new respect for her.
The next day we “let” my Dad discover what happened in our room while we were at school. All the stuff went back up in the attic and he and Mr. Marlow were repairing the ceiling when we got home from school that day. And yes, we put on our game faces and asked what on earth had happened.
Daddy blamed it on the mice.
I don’t suppose I ever told my parents about the fiasco that took place that night … about how Mona took charge of the situation like a boss and how our feigned surprise Christmas morning was a result of many hours of Mona and I rehearsing our reaction in the basement.
Or … how it all somehow led to my deep fear of mice. Wonder how Mona’s doing?