Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Commercial Record Courier-Leader & Flashes

Life as Performance Art

   One afternoon about this time of year, as my sister walked past his woodworking shop,  Mr. Ness stuck  his head out the door and called for us to come inside.  In his thick Norwegian accent, he told us that a letter for us from Santa had mistakenly been delivered to his shop.  He solemnly handed it to us, pointing out the return address:  North Pole.
    There was a carefully written and folded letter explaining that we had been invited to join a very exclusive club. Along with the letter came a certificate for us to sign.  It was our very own membership card in the Clean Dining Room Table Club, that very exclusive and elite organization for children.  We were to promise that from that very afternoon until the end of the month, we would do our part to help our mother by not accessorizing the dining room table with our inventory.
    No more schoolbooks and lunch boxes dropped off on the table. No more coats, gloves, and hats, either.  We pledged not to leave toys and books on it, even if we were going to use them again in just a few minutes.  Official Members of the Clean Dining Room Table Club who signed the pledge and followed through would get a little something extra from Santa on Christmas morning, according to the letter.  Well, a chance to get some bonus loot was too good to pass up!
    Mr. Ness pulled his square carpenters’ pencil from the top of his right ear, handed it to my sister,  and pointed where to print her name.  I did the same thing.  “Congratulations, you are now  genuine, bona vide, official members of the club!”  He told us.  “Hope you follow through.”
     The truth, as we found out a decade or three later, was Mother was the chief conspirator behind this ultra-exclusive club of two members. She had had her fill of the dining room table looking like a repository in King Tut’s tomb.  She had typed the letter and put them in an envelope, then taken it down to his shop.  He must have telephoned her the moment we were out of his shop because she knew about it the moment we burst in the door, full of exciting news.  “I am so happy for both of you.  Santa wants you in his club!”
     What with the carrot of more toys on Christmas morning, we were ruthless about the one and only rule. For the remainder of December, we put our coats in the closet, our books were carried to our bedroom, and toys went back into the closet.  We even monitored our father.  One evening he came in the house and set the mail on the table.  We gasped in horror. “But I’m not a member,” he reminded us.  Never mind that excuse:  What if Santa saw his stuff where it didn’t belong and thought we had done it?  Rather sheepishly, he picked up the mail and set it on the kitchen counter next to where Mother was working.
    As things unfolded, apparently, Mother was not the only harried parent who used this idea.  Years later, Garrison Keillor told about how the mothers of the St Prudence Circle of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Roman Catholic Church of Lake Woebegone,  Minnesota had done the same thing. They had varying degrees of success on the home front, which was part of that week’s News of Lake Woebegone segment of the Prairie Home Companion radio show.
      It is an idea I am wholeheartedly endorsing for the readers of the Allegan County News – our very own Keep the Dining Room Table Clean Club. Let’s make our very own publisher Mike Wilcox as the honorary chairman, with Scott Sullivan of the Commercial Record the First Vice President.  All an adult has to do is take a couple of minutes to figure out how to personalize it and introduce the Clean Dining Room Table Club concept to their younger  Tax Exemptions. You parents, grands, and assorted members of The Olds can thank me for it later. Keep in mind, the younger the better because older children will search for this on the internet, just to verify it.
     It is more than a bit of fun.  This time of the year most of us Olds is harried enough without having to excavate a place for the family to sit down and eat.  Or wrap presents.  Or address Christmas cards. Or just about anything else.  It is especially true when we have to clean things off a chair and then realize there is no place for our meal on the table because we just moved a stack of ultra-valuable inventory from the seat to a different horizontal surface.
      This club teaches another subtle, but important lesson:  As children we were somehow lulled into believing that Christmas just sort of happens.  The garland and lights and exterior decorations just happened.  The tree just happened to land at the back door.  Said tree just magically migrated to the parlor where it magically had a stem that would fit into the holder and then straighten itself.  The ornaments magically floated in from wherever they were stored. Presents arrived and were wrapped.  And the calendar, to get us all off to fraternal organization parties, choral evenings, parties,  and everything else,  happened all on its own.
     Ask any of us who fit in the category of The Olds, and you know that is a howler of a myth. A lot of time, thought, and elbow grease goes into Christmas.  That tree is a challenge.  We are down on the floor, crawling under the branches while someone up above tells us to tighten that screw and loosen the other – than it will be straight.  And all the while dried needles are dropping into our hair and down the back of our shirt. We do it because we want it to be a special time for children and grands, and for visitors to our home.  Let’s face it, we are not that altruistic.  We do it in part because when a segment or all of the work is done, we want to experience that satisfaction of thinking, “I did it.”  We need that boost to the moral, even if we have to pat our own back.
     That is why, especially at this time of the year when the holiday season is so extended, inviting others to pitch in and do their part,  is important.  It is also important to give up a bit of our own power and control to let them be part of the work.  Far more than we realize it, some of the greatest relationships in life are deepened when two or more people are working together on a common project.
    In a way, it is a part of creating memories for the future.  Children might not remember all of the toys or other gifts they received, nor the gifts they gave,  but they will remember this quirky little Clean Dining Room Table Club experience.  As Martha Stewart often says, “That’s a good thing.”

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