These days it’s impossible to overlook the fact that a holiday is coming.
Why? Because three months before any holiday, ads on television begin shouting at us to run out and buy something.
But back when I was a kid, things were different. To begin with, there was no television. And radios didn’t blare out ads all day. If they had, we’d have turned the blamed things off.
So when Mom woke me up early one chilly Easter morning in New York City at age 8 and told me to go out in the kitchen and raise the window shade, I had no idea that it was a holiday. I just wondered what the heck was going on.
To begin with, it was 6 o’clock in the morning. And on top of that, the house was ice cold.
The only heat we had in that house during cold weather came from a coal-fired cook stove in the kitchen, and it wasn’t lighted yet. It was so cold in my bedroom you could have hung meat in it.
Naturally, I objected to getting up. I pulled the covers up around my eyeballs and pointed out that I had two older brothers who could raise that shade a lot better than I could.
But Mom insisted, very sweetly, but also very firmly. So I hopped out of a warm bed and sped into an ice-cold kitchen, intent on getting that shade raised in a flash.
But of course, life being what it is, it didn’t happen that way. To raise an old-fashioned window shade, you first have to pull it down slightly. That turns the roller backward and releases the spring catch on one end, letting the shade go up. But someone had pulled the shade all the way down, leaving no slack.
Try as I might, standing there shivering to death in my skivvies and hauling on the shade as hard as I dared, I could not get the danged thing to work.
And after five minutes of shivering and tugging, the inevitable happened.
You guessed it. Down came the whole blessed shade!
As mad as a rattlesnake with its tail caught in a mousetrap, I stomped back to bed and burrowed under the covers, shivering from head to toe. But I no sooner got under the covers than I heard Mom’s voice asking me very sweetly if I was “happy.”
“No!” I told her from under the covers. “I’m frozen!”
She started to ask me something else, but she didn’t. Instead, I heard her footsteps heading off toward the kitchen.
After that, I listened to all kinds of odd sounds coming from the kitchen.
Mom was out there, and so were Billy and Frankie, who were, respectively, 12 years and 8 years older than I was.
I had no idea what those three were up to and I didn’t care. They could do anything they wanted to as long as they didn’t ask me to get out from under my nice warm covers.
No such luck!
After 15 minutes or so, everything quieted down and I began to think that maybe a kid could get some sleep in that house, even though everybody except me had suddenly gone nuts.
I heard Mom’s voice through the covers. “OK, Tommy. You can go pull down the window shade now.”
“Come on, Tommy. Go on out there in the kitchen and do it.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, you do. I’m going back to bed now, but you go on out there and raise that shade, you hear?”
I braced myself for the cold, whipped off the covers, and looked around.
Mom was gone, but I knew she’d be back if I didn’t do as I was told, so my feet hit ice-cold linoleum on a dead run and I was out in the kitchen in three seconds flat.
At least this time the dumb window shade worked right. I ran up to it, grabbed it by its bottom slat, pulled it down just a bit, let go, turned, and ran off, headed for bed.
As I knew it would, the shade shot up to the top and flapped around noisily as I sped back into the bedroom and dived under the covers so fast they were still nice and warm.
“OK, Ma,” I thought, “I raised your dumb shade! Now leave me alone, all right?”
Ho! Ho! Ho!
Like magic, Mom appeared by the side of my bed and talked to me through the covers. “Well? Are you happy now?”
I figured there was no getting rid of her until I said I was happy, so I said it as sweetly as I could. “Yeah, Ma.”
“What else do you have to say?”
“What else do I have to say?”
“Aren’t you going to say thank you?”
There was a moment’s pause. Then she yanked the covers off me, grabbed me by the hand, hauled me out of bed, and dragged me into the kitchen. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t dare. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was beginning to worry that someone in that house was headed for the looney bin, and it wasn’t me.
Once in the kitchen, she let go of my hand. “See?” she said.
I looked up at her. “Gee, Ma. See what?”
“Open your eyes, Tommy!”
They were already open, but I made an effort to open them wider.
“OK?” I asked.
“Don’t you see it?”
“See what?” I asked again.
She put a gentle finger under my chin and twisted my head toward the window. There, perched on the windowsill was an Easter basket.
The idea, you see, was to put the Easter basket there and have the kid raise the shade in the morning, find it, and dance around the house all thrilled as he gorged on jelly beans.
But just having an idea doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. Lots of ideas don’t work—especially where kids are concerned.
For example, I’m willing to bet that each of us was an idea in someone’s head about nine months before we were born.
And look what came of that!
How many times did that turn out to be a good idea?