Outside the Foul Lines - Book V

by Rick Beck

Chapter 19

Christmas Exaltation

Andy specifically requested we do Thanksgiving at my parents and we'd be home our first Christmas as independent adults in our own house. I found nothing at all objectionable about this request. I wondered why he didn't want to bargain to have Christmas with his family, since we had Thanksgiving with mine, but the subject never came up and being home with him at Christmas was the gift I wanted most, until he gave me the gift he picked out for me.

One morning the first week in December, I was upstairs cleaning the floors and I heard Andy go out. Once I was done, I blocked off the stairs so Tommy couldn't walk on my wax, but he was nowhere to be seen, and of course he went with Andy, getting a morning dose of fresh air and having his pee break.

When they weren't back by noon, I went about warming up some soup I'd made, starting in on making tuna salad for sandwiches. It was Andy's favorite to go with soup. He spent a lot of time at the front door and I was going to go out to see what was wrong, but the noise stopped and we both went about our business.

I put my tuna concoction in the fridge to let the flavors run through it as it cooled. I got out the wheat bread and slices of swiss chess I'd use to complete the sandwich I had in mind. When I strolled out into the living room, the biggest damn Christmas tree I'd ever seen was standing in the corner, on the opposite side of the fireplace from the door to the kitchen.

My mouth dropped as my eyes had difficulty taking it all in at once. For a tree in the house it was a colossus. Andy sat slumped down in my easy chair, staring at it with a pleased look on his face.

"What do you think?" he asked. "I had to look for a long time to find the right one."

"It's big," I said, not sure that size tree fit in our living room.

"Yeah!" he said with a satisfied sound in his voice. "It's big."

It was a case of the exact same comment meaning two different things. 'It's big' to me meant maybe it's too big for the space, but to Andy, 'it's big' was just right.

"How are we going to decorate a tree that size?" I said, realizing we didn't have a light or a ball in the house.

"Popcorn," he said.

I didn't know if he was serious, although I'd seen trees where people strung popcorn to run all around it. They were usually poor people and couldn't afford balls and lights.

"We'll need to corner the market on popcorn to decorate it," I said, trying to picture it.

"Do, we are in our own house. We are going to have the biggest damn Christmas anyone ever has, starting with our tree. We've got three weeks to buy decorations and get the things we will use for the next fifty years or so," he said, having it all figured out. "We don't have to get it all this year. We'll string popcorn to cover any bare spots."

I went over and kissed him and sat on the arm of the chair to look at our tree. It was at least eight feet tall and probably taller. It's girth was incalculable. It was way big around and took up a good portion of the end of the room.

"We'll start looking for decoration when we go into Indianapolis later this week. I bet some of the stores in town will have some local stuff. We'll buy ten strings of light, ten boxes of icicles, and take our time buying balls. I want different balls, not all the same colors and same design. We can buy a few each year until we fill it up."

"Until then, popcorn."

"Popcorn," he said. "What we don't string we can eat, and in bad years we can eat the popcorn and think about having a big tree.

"Is that what you had on your tree when you were a kid?" I asked, trying to get some perspective.

"We had an aluminum tree my mother kept in the barn. It was already decorated and she'd take the tarp off of it Christmas Eve and bring it in the house and it went back in the barn New Years Day. I hated that tree."

"Not much spontaneity there," I said, wishing I hadn't stirred that memory.

"Nope, and I'll never ever have an artificial tree. I don't like cutting one every year, but growing one in the house might be prohibitive. Maybe grow one on the front porch in a tub or in front of the front porch so when it snows that becomes part of our Christmas."

"We'll plant a couple trees each year to make up for taking one," I said.

"That too," he said. "That way we can have a small one in the house when we get tired of having a full size tree and still have one outside. This year I wanted the biggest damn tree I could find."

"Will we still be living here for one to grow this big?" I asked.

"Sure. I love this place. I plan to be living here when I'm fifty and long out of ball. The first time I saw it I knew this was home, Do."

"The first time I saw it was where you wanted to be, it became home to me. Where ever you are, my love, that's home for me."

I leaned down to kiss him and he leaned up to kiss me. Home was where the heart was and our hearts were here. The more I looked at the tree the more it seemed to fit perfectly where Andy put it. The smell of pine infiltrated the house and Christmas was in the air from that day forward.

Collecting decorations became part of every trip we made. Once the stacks of icicles sat on the table next to the tree and the lights were strung, we sat in front of the fireplace with nothing but the tree lights on in the room. The multiple colors were awesome.

Christmas balls began to go up and in another week, presents began to appear. We'd already had the discussion about being practical and not buying anything expensive if something less expensive served the dame purpose. Neither of us being big spenders made this easy, but we weren't going to buy anything cheap. The whole idea was to get the best value for our money.

We spent some time buying some nice clothes and a few things for Harold, who checked the packages each time he came over, putting the ones with name tags saying "Harold" all in one spot. Luz had told us what was appropriate for him and that we could buy one special gift, but we were not to spoil him, as they were going to be left with the result once we went back to playing ball. She didn't want to compete with us, because their budget allowed for necessities and little else.

On Christmas Eve came our Christmas blowout. Luz and Penny and all their kids and me and Andy would have dinner before exchanging presents. Luz and Penny were bringing some dishes they prepared and we'd furnish the ham and some side dishes, a feast to fit every taste. Cooking for that many people scared me, but I figured I couldn't' poison anyone, Andy was living proof, but I planned to keep it simple.

It snowed the week of Christmas. The temperatures were cold enough that it didn't melt before Christmas day. I didn't remember ever having a white Christmas and neither did Andy. It made the holidays even more special if that was possible.

By Christmas Eve Andy circled the front porch in lights and put a lighted Santa in his sleigh on the roof. He kept saying he wanted it to be just right for the kids but I wondered if he wasn't the kid that would enjoy it most. This was Christmas just like he always wanted it to be. Each day he had a new idea of what we needed to complete the scene.

We settled on Nat King Cole's Christmas album as background, as his voice is as soothing as it gets. The Chicago Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir were backup selections in case the kids got restless with Nat's silken tones.

We ate and made merry, once the kids settled down after checking all of the decorations. They each stood in front of our trees, mouth open, dazzled by the size and the lights, except for Harold, who was accustomed to it by this time.

A half dozen kids in front of that tree completed the Christmas picture. Only Harold had presents staked up, as the rest of them only knew us as the guys who came to eat their food once a month.

Luz and Penny radiated beauty and brought the spirit of the season to our table. The laughter and good cheer of the kids made the meal special if loud. How they kept order without raising their voices was a mystery. I'd never been around young kids, except when I was one, and then of course I had perfect manners and never acted like a kid.

With the fire burning brightly and all the lights off except for those on the tree, we worked our way out of the dinning room and into the living room. We'd turned the couch to face the tree and arranged the chairs to make the tree the center of attention. The kids were all excited, not knowing what to expect, but being caught in the Christmas spirit.

Luz and Penny wanted to sing before we handed out presents. They'd brought some of their kid's presents over earlier in the day to keep them occupied.

While having a half dozen kids in the house wasn't something I wanted to experience more than once a year, on this occasion it added something to our holiday. Hearing the laughter and the joy of kids who might not have always had Christmas presents and dinners made it more pleasing.

Our contributions were generic, as requested, and Luz and Penny got a big kick out of the milking stool and bucket we'd gotten them on a lark. Harold was happy with his new tennis shoes, socks, and an inexpensive acoustic guitar. He'd been taking lessons and was using the teacher's guitar. It got one of the few smiles he gave out.

By the time we got the house back Luz and Penny had done the dishes. We'd served gingerbread cookies and apple cider with a stick of cinnamon for the kids, and Nat, the Symphony, and the Choir were all worn to a frazzle, as were me and Andy.

The stress of trying to get everything to turn out okay was exhausting. I collapsed in my chair in front of the tree, once the door was closed and they were all gone. Andy sat in his chair and held my hand as the fire burned low and the Christmas tree blazed with bright colors.

"Tonight or tomorrow?" Andy asked.

"Which do you like?" I said.

"I like what we decide is what we want to do," he said.

"Would tomorrow be okay? We've already had a full night," I said.

"Yes, except there is one gift I want you to open tonight."

"That's okay," I said, as he moved up under the tree and brought out a big square box.

"Here," he said. "I love you."

He kissed me before I began to open, and open, and open. When I reached the third box, with more wrapping and papers stuffed down to secure it, I was wondering if it might be a milk stool, although we'd passed that size two boxes back.

He stood next to me as the wrappings and boxes piled up next to the chair. There was one last box in the bottom that was way too small for anything else to be inside, except thin air and little more.

I ripped off the paper and popped open the richly colored burgundy box.

Two brilliant golden bands glittered from the impact of the Christmas tree lights on them. I began to cry, looking up at Andy, who now had a big shit eating grin on his face.

"You didn't tell me," I said. "They're beautiful."

"Here, I'll show you where it goes," he said, removing my band of gold and slipping it on my ring finger. "With this ring I thee wed," he said from one knee beside me.

We kissed and kissed some more and then he held his hand out for me to slip the second band on his finger. My hand shook and I could hardly get the ring out of its slot and nearly dropped it after I did. I felt like a school girl and besides being giddy, I had never felt love run more deeply through my heart.

"With this ring, I thee wed," I said, as I slipped it in place as we kissed all over again.

"It's all that is really important, you know. We are partners in our hearts and in our lives. No matter what anyone else calls it, we know what we feel," he said in words he believed.

"Sometimes you amaze me, Andrew," I said. "I never once thought of having rings. It's perfect, Andy. You are perfect."

"You talk too much," he said, kissing me again.

"I can't quit ball this year. It would be wrong for me to let Coach Bell down."

"I never thought you could," he said, looking at me strangely.

"I'll tell him this is my last season. I don't need to play ball if I can be with you all the time."

"Do, you don't have to quit ball. I'm going to be gone all summer every season. We can't travel together. That means you'd be here alone half the time, and I don't like that idea."

"I hadn't thought of it that way," I said.

"It's December. We'll probably both be going to Florida for spring training and we can spend a lot of time together there, but once the season starts it will be about our schedules. Think about it before you decide you are quitting. I remember how happy you were once you were playing again," he said. "Don't do something you'll regret later."

"I suppose I was. I've played and minor league ball is fine, but I'll never go up. Shortstops are a dime a dozen and a lot of them hit a lot better than me. No, Louisville is my last stop. We'll work it out once I decide I'm quitting."

"You hit over .300 most of last season. Not a handful of shortstops are hitting at that pace," Andy reminded me.

"I did have a pretty good year. It's Louisville, Andy. I'm not a good hitter and I'll never be one."

"It's not even New Years yet. Let's stop talking ball. I just gave you a damn nice ring, my love, now that ought to get me a little extra consideration in the bedroom tonight, don't you think?"

" My love, you get extra points in the bedroom every night," I said.

" Yeah, I do, don't I? Let's go up there and see if we can't go extra innings. I've got a bone and a half for you. That's if you haven't turned vegetarian on me."

He continued holding my hand as he stood up, looking down at me with the most loving expression on his face.

"I love you so much," I said, as he pulled me to my feet and into his arms.

We kissed.

Andy held me for a long time.

The Christmas tree was in full blaze. It was the most magnificent Christmas tree ever.

Strands of Silent Night filled the room and another kiss took my breath away.

" Merry Christmas, my love," I said.

" Merry Christmas, Do."

The End

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