Hands (er, Pants) Down, the Best Christmas Ever

Who knew holiday woodworking could be so unexpectedly fun — even downright hilarious?

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The Grinder That Made Christmas Very Merry (photo by Jim Moore)

The Christmas that is just now in our rear-view mirror (or simply “rear view” as it will probably become in family legend) turned out to be one of our best, with gifts a-plenty, great food, the joy of two grandchildren, and the warm and laughter-filled company of young and old alike. We are particularly blessed to have in-law relationships that are not stereotypical slug fests of tempers, tantrums, or awkward silences and teary attitudes.

We are one nuclear family even though we are spread out across the country and around the globe — from Erie, PA, to Alexandria, VA, to Raleigh, NC, to Bungendore, NSW Australia. For my part, I was a very happy camper, thoroughly enjoying my status as the elder of the clan — not a stodgy, grump of a grandpa, but an exuberant advocate for a full-on Joyeux Noël celebration as most of us (absent the Aussies, with whom we stayed in touch via video phone calls) gathered at our youngest daughter’s house just outside Raleigh.

I have to admit that one reason I was my right jolly old self was the weight loss I’ve been working on for the past three months. This Christmas, I was more than 40 lbs. lighter than I’d been the year before, and with that decrease in mass came an increase in participation in family activities leading up to Christmas Eve, including a spirited attempt to learn pickleball! It is a fun sport even septuagenarians like me can enjoy, and the leaner me was having a ball (a pickleball, to be precise) smashing away with my pickleball paddle. My son-in-law is a pickleball whiz, and he was a patient teacher as I flailed and swooped in the general direction of the bright yellow pickleballs he sent my way.

I was also enjoying the discovery that as my weight declined, my belt needed to be notched almost to the very last hole — proof of the nearly five-inch reduction in girth! Even with that belt-tightening, my jeans were now prone to slipping down my hips, causing me to hitch them up from time-to-time lest I accidentally expose myself in public. I’d had a few almost-total pants-droops before my wife and I drove down to Raleigh, so I was acutely aware of the potential for a humiliating disaster.

There is an important backstory to this particular Christmas, a dastardly delicious secret-gift-giving plan that involved a new woodworking lathe too large to fit under the tree, and an extremely heavy bench grinder purchased the day after Christmas. It was the grinder, coupled with my weight loss, that became key factors in shifting the happiness of the holiday to a hilarious moment in family lore.

Given the welcome warm and clear weather in North Carolina, we set up the lathe and the bench grinder just outside the garage. My daughter — to whom the lather/grinder combination had been gifted — was working until the last minute of available December daylight to unlock the secrets of successfully sharpening her new woodworking tools, having worn down several of the tools while learning to turn wood with the lathe. I was standing by as she worked, excited for her entry into what I’m sure will become a very enjoyable hobby, and important component to the other crafts in which she excels.

As the evening’s darkness loomed, I suggested we call it a day and put the lathe, tools, and grinder back in the work shed next to the driveway — about 20’ from where the machines had been set up. My son-in-law (the pickleball champ), had warned me off lifting either the lathe (77 lbs.), or the grinder (34.2 lbs. plus accessories and mount, for a total of nearly 40 lbs.) alone, cautioning me against over-exerting myself.

While I appreciated his concern, I was confident that my new, lighter, buffer, self — now under the tutelage of a personal trainer who was getting me in shape as the pounds melted away — could handle at least the grinder with no strain. On that count, I was absolutely right…but what I did not include in the new equation of me was the effect lifting a 40 lb. grinder would have on my hip muscles, which tightened as I began walking the grinder over to the shed. And as my hips tightened, my jeans loosened.

I made it about halfway to the shed when my jeans began their indecent decent — as my daughter watched helplessly — incredulously — behind me. You know, sometimes we have come-to-God moments when we realize how totally wonky a situation has become, and how we are going to be completely humiliated no matter what we do? I had arrived at one of those moments and situations. Time slowed down as the jeans slipped down. I prayed they would somehow hold off their perilous (for me) gravity-assisted journey at least until I got inside the shed. Talk about unanswered prayers!

By the time I reached the shed door, and took one step up to cross the threshold, my pants were halfway down my thighs. Knowing that there was no way I could make that final step up into the shed with my pants around my knees, I let go of the grinder with my left hand, and reached for my pants before they fell beyond my grasp. Man, I have to tell you that nothing in my new exercise regimen prepared me to cling to a bulky 40 lb. mass of iron, motor, grinding wheels, and accessories with one hand while attempting to arrest the fall of a pair of elusive jeans with the other hand AND while struggling to complete my journey into the shed to place the teeter-tottering grinder on the shed’s bench. That I managed to do so is a Christmas miracle.

As I stood in the shadows of the shed rebelting my jeans — illuminated only by the light coming through the doorway — a sound lifted out of the evening’s gloom and filled the surrounding neighborhood. It was the sound of my daughter’s understandably uncontrollable laughter. Having seen a sight no father wishes any child of any age to see, she turned and made her way into the house, stumbling in mirth, doubled over in hilarity.

“Well,” I thought, as the heated blush of embarrassment spread across my face, “at least I’ve made this the most merry of Christmases.”

Journalist, former Capitol Hill staff (House and Senate), former Cabinet speechwriter, editor, photojournalist and bird photographer. Top Writer Quora 2016–2017

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