Despite the weatherman's
predictions, your little friend Kukla finds Christmas to be the warmest
season of the year.
REALLY, it was Buelah Witch who started it. On her new Cavalier Red broom - the Paris influence, you know - she sailed into the studio, circled so fast she almost shook the klieg lights loose from their moorings.
Her hullabaloo was so terrific that just as we were, we all came running from our dressing rooms. Madame Ooglepuss' hair was slightly askew, Colonel Cracky's eyeglasses flopped loose on their ribbon, and I didn't even stop to pull a sweater on over my T-shirt. Ollie, deciding the building must be on fire, clutched his portable typewriter firmly with his tooth. Whatever happened, he was determined to save that.
Buelah dived, buzzed the whole group, and shrieked, "Whoopee, I'm so excited!"
Fran brought her under control, "Buelah, stop right this minute. What on earth has happened?"
Buelah landed, "Oh, it's such an honor," she exclaimed. "I don't know what I ever did to deserve it . . ." She started primping like mad. "My goodness, I hope I didn't look like this when I met with the committee.
My patience was getting short. "What committee?" I asked.
Buelah smirked. "That nice State Street Council committee. The one on Christmas decorations. They've asked me to assist."
This was Buelah's moment and she made the most of it. "Well, dears,
it seems last year they had a little trouble hanging the evergreen garlands
across the street. Stretching wires and dodging cars was quite a
nuisance. I just offered to enlist the girls from Witch Normal. We'll
just fly back and forth across the street, two girls to a garland, using
our regular freight brooms. Easy. Easy as pie."
GOING over to the piano where he'd set his typewriter, Ollie stared out into space. Then he began writing fast, his tooth flashing over the keys. Finishing, he asked for a stamp and an envelope, addressed it and hurried to the mail chute.
It was just two weeks later when who should arrive in the studio but our boss's brother, Dick Tillstrom, his wife, Miriam, and their family. They'd come all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A visit from them is always an occasion, for there's a close bond of affection between all members of the Tillstrom family, and we Kuklapolitans are just wild about the kids. We all clustered around remarking that Susan, now thirteen, is turning into quite a young lady, and that Richie, nine, is wiry, quick, and into everything. The big thrill, however, came when Miriam set fifteen-month-old Bevan down on the floor and Bevan stood up all by herself.
Dick shook hands all around, but he kept his coat on. Turning to Burr, he said, "Well. I got it. It's out on the car."
Frankly puzzled, Burr looked at him blankly. "You've got what?"
It was Dick's turn to stare. "Why, the Christmas tree. You asked for it."
Ollie interrupted. Thrusting his head between the two brothers, he winked.
Dick caught on first. "Oh, so it was you, Ollie. I might have known that wasn't Burr's typing. Bad as his is, he at least doesn't shift back and forth between the red and black ribbon."
Burr was horrified. "Ollie, you didn't! Well, obviously you did. Let's have it."
Mr. Dragon obliged. "I've heard your father tell how, when he was a little boy and Michigan was big timber country, he used to go out into the woods around Benton Harbor, cut his own Christmas tree and bring it borne through the snow. My folks did the same thing in Dragon Retreat, Vermont. So I thought it would be nice if this year . . well, it's here.''
From the look on the faces of the two brothers I knew Ollie was forgiven. I also had the feeling that everyone was thinking things which were difficult to put into words. Things about the love members of a family hold for each other, love which increases with separation, and how Christmas gives people a chance to show it in such wonderful sentimental ways as Dick driving all that distance to bring us our tree.
Burr said, "You went to an awful lot of trouble."
Dick said, "It was fun. We hunted up one of Dad's old friends and went out to his timber land together. I'm just sorry we had to bring it down so early. However, since Christmas comes on a Tuesday and you have a show to do, we knew you couldn't come to our place. On the other hand, we didn't dare wait any longer and take a chance on the weather."
Miriam added. "It was the prettiest one we could find. It stood all alone in a clearing. I'm just sorry we can't stay to see it trimmed."
It was our Fran who came up with a happy solution. "Burr," she said, "What
if it is early? Why don't we all get together and trim the tree tonight?
If it goes up now, we'll have the spirit of Christmas just that much longer."
BURR got that look in his eye which means he's thought of something. "Great," he approved, "Let's ask our mothers to get a little party together - just hamburgers and popcorn. You phone your Nan, and I'll phone our Alice."
What those two wonderful mothers can do when they get their heads together is really terrific. An hour later Alice Tillstrom called back to announce, "Nan and I are at the coach house. The turkey is in the oven. It's not as big as the one Fred Waring sent from his farm last year, but there's plenty. Invite everyone."
When we got home later, enticing smells greeted us, and down the stairs Mother Tillstrom called, "Hurry up, there's much to do. I've got a job for each of you." Nan added, "Pitch in, kids, this party is what you make it."
Having a part in the work made it all fun. Our producer, Beulah Zachary, and our secretaries, Kathy Morgan and Mary Dornheim, put on aprons and helped in the kitchen so Alice Tillstrom would have a few extra moments with her grandchildren. Burr and Dick carried in the tree. Gommy, our director, and Joe Lockwood, our costume designer, took charge of setting it up. Then Fran and her husband, Archie, arrived. Archie had thought to bring a bundle of kindling to start the fire in the big hearth, and Fran remembered where Burr had stored the Christmas decorations last year and helped him dig them out. Burr's father, Dr. Tillstrom, come up the walk; afterward, Jack Fascinato entered with his lovely wife, Loras, and their two little girls, Toni and Tina.
What a dinner we had! Turkey and mashed potatoes and savory gravy; two kinds of vegetables and salad and cranberry sauce. How the mothers and the girls prepared it in such a hurry, I'll never know. At the end, there was an extra surprise. Miriam said, "Burr, Susan brought something for you. Something special." Susan, blushing, whisked a napkin off a tray and there was the most scrumptious cake I've ever seen - four layers high and covered all around with deep chocolate.
Burr planted a big kiss on her forehead. "Susan, you're getting to be just as good a cook as your mother."
We all exclaimed over it, but Ollie was positively goggle eyed. I was afraid an attack of his old trouble would leave all of us without a taste.
"Held it on her lap all the way," her father told Burr drily. "You'd have thought it was the crown jewels."
"Crown jewels," said Beulah, suddenly alert. "That reminds me, where are the Christmas tree lights?"
We all swarmed around, one saying, "Give me some tinsel," and another, "Give me the bells." I thought for a minute we'd have more people than ornaments, but it turned out there was something for each of us to put on the tree. Archie, in a flash of inspiration, had even remembered to bring a box of candy canes for the littlest girls to hang on the lowest branches. Colonel Cracky completed the theme by rummaging deep into a box and finding a spray of mistletoe.
At last all was finished, and as Beulah flew up to fix the Christmas star in place on the topmost branch, Burr suggested, "Let's turn off all the lamps."
We rushed for places on sofas and on the floor. One by one the lamps were snapped off, until only the glow of the Yule log remained. burning steady and strong.
Then Burr took the hand of Fran's mother and led her to the tree. "Will you turn on our Christmas lights, Nan? And make our Christmas wish?"
Nan's voice came gentle and quiet. "It's a Christmas prayer. From the First Christmas. A prayer for peace on earth, goodwill toward men."
She touched the switch. Our lights blazed on, dazzling bright against the dark pine. At the top shone our white star of peace and hope.
Ollie broke the silence with a loud clearing of his throat. "Doc," he said,
addressing Burr's father, "since you and I started this, so to speak, how
about telling us the story of how you used to go out to the forest to chop
down your own tree."
I will," said Dr. Tillstrom, "and here's what I'll do. I'll start with the story if the children will all speak their Christmas pieces."
You never heard such a program. Richie had a poem, tiny Toni danced to the "March of the Toys," and her father Jack remained at the piano to accompany Mercedes and Susan in a saxophone and clarinet duet. Some one called for carols. Jack bowed toward Burr's mother. "That's where another pianist takes precedence." A little flustered, Alice protested, "Oh my, no. Tonight I'll just listen."
Dr. Tillstrom settled it by rising and bowing in his most courtly manner and offering his arm. He conducted her to the piano. It seemed right, somehow, that Jack should play for the program, but that Alice should lead in the carols when we were together, just a big family.
We sang them all, from "Joy to the World" through "Silent Night," and as
the little girls, nodding sleepy eyed on the sofas, reminded us even such
an evening as this must end, Fran said what we all had in our hearts, "We're
not having two Christmases this year, we're having Christmas, for it's
more than just a holiday or presents. Christmas is our love for God and
for one another."