Ah, it was the holiday season again! My Red Ryder Air Rifle had been collecting dust for several months, and I had set my sights on bigger and better things. This December my lofty ambitions were grander than any gift you could wrap and put under a tree. It took an entire year of careful planning (or manipulation, depending on whom you asked). My little brother and I had co-conspired to hit up The Old Man for the whopper of all backyard luxuries: our very own swimming pool.
I could see it now: The jealous eyes peering over our wooden backyard fence trying to get a glimpse of the source of the contagious sound of cannonballs and belly flops as The Old Man manned the BBQ grill in his Hawaiian shirt while mom chased my brother, Randy around the pool attempting in vain to slather him in the strongest SPF sunblock money could buy. I would spend my weekends handpicking which friends would have the honor to attend my soon-to-be-legendary 4th of July pool party as I worked on my swan dive. There would be a line of kids all the way down Cleveland Street just dying to get past the velvet rope into the summertime haven that would be my backyard.
This past summer my brother and I took swimming lessons at the local YMCA and both passed with flying colors. He could doggie paddle with the best of them and my backstroke form was unparalleled in the state of Indiana. There would be no warnings of losing an eye or other dangers, and my mother could rest assured in knowing she had raised two proverbial fish out of water.
My father always wanted an athlete son, and while there was still some hope my brother might grow up to be the next Mickey Mantle, my terrible vision pretty much had guaranteed that I wouldn’t be pitching, batting or participating in any ball-oriented sport that involved any hand eye-coordination. Competitive swimming was my only hope, and my father didn’t even seem to mind that I almost always finished last.
Of course, there was the issue of price. I had given up hopes of a moderately-sized asteroid crashing in my backyard leaving a ready-made, kidney-shaped crater in the lawn. I needed a plan B - if Randy and I asked for an inground pool my father would laugh us right off of Santa’s lap. After all he had just purchased a new furnace this past summer, something that I hoped would help temper his mood come December. No, I had to keep my lofty aspirations within budget.
The big day had arrived. Randy and I rehearsed the lines in our room. We had our routine down. Our delivery was snappy, our retorts sharp, focused, and the heartwarming smiles on our faces were undeniable. I had faced warning after warning that I would, “Shoot my eye out” and came out victorious, air rifle in-hand, now nothing could stop me. This was not just a gift for me, not just a gift for Randy. This was a gift for the whole family, the whole neighborhood! Me asking for an affordable Metal Frame Intex Pool was just about the most self-less act of goodwill towards men that my 12-year old mind could conjure!
Unknowingly, my mother would gift wrap the ice breaker for us over her famous meatloaf. “Ralphie, Randy—did you see the new Sears and Roebuck catalog arrived with the mail today. I left it out on the coffee table for you two to go through to pick out your Christmas list for Santa Claus after supper.”
“Pass the peas, dear,” the Old Man said from behind his newspaper, acting as if he hadn’t heard my mother at all. This was it! This was our chance! I looked at him, he looked at me, my mother looked at us, my father looked at his meatloaf, and just as I was about to begin my eloquent soliloquy that I had been rehearsing and rewriting all year long Randy blurted out, “WE WANT A POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL,” as mashed potatoes sprayed across the dinner table.
“No!” I thought to myself, “Randy blew it. We’re gonna scare off the old man. We blitzed the conversation and Randy’s audible was going cost us the game, the summer, my whole adolescent life!”
The Old Man looked at us with one eye, half-interested, “A swimming pool, eh? Now, how would Santa fit a swimming pool into his sack and put it under our tree?” I was prepared for this, “Well, well—he-he wouldn’t have to,” I stuttered as I scrambled to retrieve the carefully folded picture of the glorious Intex Ultra Frame Above Ground Pool. “There’s free shipping!”
“We can’t afford it.” My mother said bluntly. ”Randy,eat your meatloaf!” I could tell she had no idea of the onslaught of carefully thought-out reason I had prepared to counter her every objection with.
I inhaled deeply, collected myself, idly poked at my dinner and collected my thoughts. But it didn’t help. Without taking a breath I blurted out: “Ultra-Frame-Pools-are-made-with-the STRONGEST components including powder-coatedgalvanizedrustresistant frames and supertoughpatented three-ply pool liners that stands up to pool chemicals, UV rays and punctures!” I might have a future as an auctioneer.
My father slowly lowered his paper down and raised one eyebrow, “Powder-coated, galvanized, what now? Ralphie, you heard your mother. We can’t afford a pool and besides it will destroy the yard!” Settling down, I expected this too. “Well actually, the Intex pools are easily put up and down so they can be moved in the fall and it would fit in the shed. I printed out the manual on how to do all of this. It looks so easy Randy and I could do it. You wouldn’t have to do a thing!”
I pulled out the Intex Pool Manual from under my sweater and slowly slid it across the table stopping just before his plate of meatloaf as if I were making a counter offer for a raise. My preparedness seemed to impress the Old Man as he glanced at the manual, then at his fork full of meatloaf suspended in midair as if he was debating to finish his bite or to abort the mission to pick up the manual. He chose the meatloaf and slid the manual back to me without saying a word. “And it’s less than 500 dollars. Randy and I both agreed you could combine our presents this year and it would be a gift the whole family could enjoy! The whole neighborhood!”
“NOT the Bumpuses,” my father blurted out taking the manual back from me. He seemed to be softening his stance. It was time to strike with my heavy hitters.
“Plus, I could practice swimming laps all summer and get try out for the swim team. This would really give me a leg up on the competition!"
“Hah!” Randy yelled, sending a tiny piece of meatloaf onto my glasses. He knew how much I hated competitive swimming and certainly wasn’t helping our cause.
“But then there’s the cost of the equipment,” The Old Man said.
“It comes with everything you need!”
“And the chemicals,” he countered.
“It’s a small pool so it won’t need that much chlorine and I’ll use my paper route money to help pay for the chlorine tablets”.
“And who’s going to clean it?”
“Randy and I worked out a schedule,” I pulled out yet another piece of paper from under my sweater and proudly rolled it out onto the table. Randy and I solemnly swore to abide to this schedule.
“Is that my Norman Rockwell Calendar” my Mom half-shrieked. “Just the summer months, Ma!”
I looked over to Randy. This was where he came in. “Show ‘em your letter to Santa, Randy”. Randy pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and began to recite it out loud, with meatloaf still in his mouth:
“Dear Shanta, THish chrishmash me and Ralphie want an Intex pool You wouldn’t have to carry it on your sleigh because PoolProductsh.com offersh free shipping and also…”
“Randy! That’s enough! Don’t talk with food in your mouth. How many times have I told you?” We’ll send this to Santa, and we can read it later. Let’s get you washed up and in the tub. You boys have school in the morning. Ralphie—have you finished your homework?
“No-no, not yet…” I looked down feeling somewhat defeated and looked down at the Intex manual and all the literature I had printed out to carefully state my case. It was a train-wreck of a sales pitch and I saw my summer visions go up in smoke.
“Whelp! I’m stuffed!” My father yelled as he patted his belly. He swiftly picked up his plate, and with the slight of hand of a skilled magician, he picked up the manual and hid it underneath his plate and as he was carrying it to the sink he rolled it up into his newspaper and gave me a little wink. “Randy do what your mother said, go upstairs and get that ketchup off of your forehead. Ralphie, now about that algebra homework...”
“I’m on it!” I hopped up from the table rejuvenated by my father’s subtle affirmation that I had won my case. Suddenly Christmas was my second favorite holiday season... I was already looking forward to Memorial Day weekend.