These recollections were written by Sandy (Coons) Simonson sometime in the early '90's in response to a request for family remembrances.  I don't remember exactly when, but it arrived on a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk (long since rendered unreadable), and fortunately a hard copy, which is why they have survived to be shared.  The Long Beach years were kind of hard on everybody--Dad was in Vietnam, Mom more than had her hands full raising a bunch of rambunctious kids, and we were once again moved to a new school and starting all over again with friends and activities.  There were some nice things too though.  Being close to Grandma and Grandpa Armstrong, Aunt Kate, and Aunt Mary (I particularly loved Grandpa's garage, a treasure trove of tools and trouble...), the neighbor next door with a built in swimming pool, and Dad's letters.  Sandy did an excellent job of capturing the (mischievous) spirit of the times.

All was quiet on that Christmas Eve in Long Beach.  Mom [Editor's note: Grandma Hazel for many of you.] had finally gotten everyone to bed.  Or so she thought.  In reality, Steve and Sandy were whispering and plotting in Sandy's bedroom.  They had it all planned out.  After Santa's visit, they would sneak into the living room and check out the loot.  It would be exciting.  It would be thrilling.  There would be just enough danger to make it fun.  And, since the fat man would have been there and gone already, there would be no real danger.  it would be too late for him to take back the presents.  It was the perfect plan!

At last they decided that the coast was clear.  It was really late -- later than they had ever been up before.  Gosh, it must have been 10 or 11.  The lateness spiced the whole enterprise with an air of exhilarating danger.

Quietly, they turned the handle on the door and eased it open.  Softly, stealthily, they inched their way down the hall.  Santa had turned off the lights on the Christmas tree, so it was very dark.  They suppressed a giggle.  This was serious business.

At the end of the hallway, they found their way blocked by the couch.  Silly Mom!  Dad was in Vietnam that year.  Sandy and Steve knew that Mom had her hands full trying to keep all the kids in line, especially on Christmas Eve.  But this was too much.  Mom simply must have flipped her wig to think something as simple as a couch across the hallway could keep two such enterprising children out of the living room.

Unfortunately, Mom hadn't counted on that.  But Steve and Sandy didn't know.  They eagerly started scrambling over the back of the couch.  Ha! Victory was in their grasp!  They could feel the call of the presents and the tree.

But wait!  What was this?  They landed on something softer, yet lumpier than couch cushions should be.  Something big.  Something animate.  Something VERY annoyed at being woken out of a sound sleep.  Oh, no! MOM!

She came upright with the wrath of God on her side, or so it seemed to Sandy and Steve.  "Get back in bed NOW!", she thundered.  "NOW!, this instant! Do you hear me?"

They forgot their stealth of the previous moments as they set speed records down the hallway.  They jumped into their respective beds and cowered under the covers.

"And STAY there!"

They did.  They even waited to be called in the morning.  Talk about your Christmas miracles!

***********************

One tends to think of Christmas traditions as some lovely, ethereal sort of thing, binding the perfect children and parents into a beautiful whole.  So much for the press.  Our Christmas traditions are somewhat different.  Less ethereal and more conniving.  Sort of like us.  Mind you, I'm not complaining.  As an active booster of some of the more conniving traditions, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Not that Mom and Dad haven't tried.  And actually, we don't do so bad.  We read the Christmas story.  We sing Christmas carols, Dad on the organ and Sharon on the piano.  I love all of that.  But what sets us apart are our other traditions.  Now that we are grown and scattered, with families of our own, some of these customs are passed on in edited form.  Nice try guys.  Here, for your children's edification, are the steps to follow to preserve our "great" heritage.  You can sleep NEXT week!

OK, kids, listen up.  First there is the annual campaign to open your presents on Christmas Eve.  This usually starts about a week ahead of Christmas and intensifies on Christmas Eve.  The more ingenious ideas that can be brought forward to support the cause, the better.  (HINT: Don't whine.  This is a proud tradition, not to be sullied by whining.  Begging is OK, but only on Christmas Eve!)

Of course, the traditional defense is used by your parents.  They will tell you that Santa will not be coming this year, and that the presents under the tree are all that will be brought.  Do not be dismayed.  They are lying.  (Don't forget to include that little tidbit in your annual report to Santa.  No wonder your parents only get socks and underwear!)  Press on in your quest.  call me if you need help.  I'm available until I have kids old enough to do this to me! [Editor's note to Sandy's kids: you have allies in your aunts and uncles, who, trust me, are more than willing to return the favor!]

I will warn you however, that these arguments are doomed to failure.  Don't be disappointed.  Opening all of the presents on Christmas Eve is not your real objective.  You wish to be allowed to open at least one.  (Historical note:  We actually thought we'd succeeded in negotiating TWO presents on Christmas Eve sometime in the mid-70's, but that was merely Grandpa toying with us.  Beware of a too-easy victory!)  They will probably put off agreeing until the last possible moment.  This is only to be expected from parents.  It is part of their job description.

You may with so use more forceful negotiating tools.  One of these was developed by Sharon and my self one year, and sung by all of us kids that were home that year.  [Editor's note: Dale believes this was all of us, since he remembers doing this...] This song, "Oh, Father Dear", is sung to the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree".  Try to keep a straight face during the second verse.
 


Oh Father Dear

Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
We'd like to op'n a present.
Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
It would be so-o pleasant.
We'd like to open one tonight,
If you'd just say, It'd be all right.
Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
We'd like to op'n a present.

Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
We've been so good all year.
Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
We've been so good all year.
We've laughed and played, and never fought,
We've always done just what we ought.
Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
We've been so good all year.

Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
We'd like to op'n a present.
Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
It would be so-o pleasant.
We'd like to open one tonight,
If you'd just say, It'd be all right.
Oh, Father dear, Oh, Father dear
We'd like to op'n a present.



This ought to do it.  It has a perfect track record so far.  (So don't blow it!)  Once you have negotiated the actual opening of a present, press your advantage.  Your parents will try all sorts of delaying tactics, like dinner and pajamas.  Endure these if you must, but try to cut them off if you can.  In here somewhere will be the Christmas story and caroling, and the rest of your family's traditions.  Enjoy them, but when these activities are done, don't let your parent's "forget" the present-opening, or protest that it is now too late, two common delaying tactics.

Enjoy opening your present.  Try and use the momentum to convince your parents that all presents should now be opened, "to leave more room for Santa to do his work--you know how he hates to be cramped."  This has not worked so far, but is required form. [Editor's note: Another tactic, "In other countries, all the presents are opened on Christmas Eve", has also failed miserably.  Perhaps you will be the one to go down in history as having found the magic argument to unlock this 'holy grail'!]

By now, your youngest siblings will be ready for bed.  This gives your parents the opening they have been waiting for.  They will pronounce it bedtime, and give some ridiculous hour at which you may rise in the morning.  Don't be shocked into submission.  Immediately counter-offer with a time about 2 hours earlier than you think you can get them to agree to.  You may be pleasantly surprised, but don't count on it.  Use preceding years as a precedent if you can.  You will probably have to settle for somewhat later than you had hoped.  Take it with good grace.  After all, Santa is not too far off, and he always has an extra supply of socks, gloves, and of course, underwear.  Better not take too many chances, if you know what I mean.  As a guideline, the record for the kids is 6:00 a.m.  The record for the parents is 7:15.  Don't ask me how they managed it.  We really slipped up that year.

Go to bed now, and don't get up until you're sure Santa has been.  If you're quiet, you might be able to peek at the tree, but don't be too disappointed if you're caught.

In the morning, make sure you are not earlier than the negotiated time.  Yes, I know that they tried it when they were kids, but let me assure you that "grumpy" is a mild adjective for their mood if you go bounding into their room before you're supposed to.  So check the time and be sure that right is on your side.  Then assemble all of your brothers and sisters, and go pound on your parents' door.  They will claim that it is much too early, but between you all, you should be able to get them up.  Fanning the covers and tickling are permissible tactics, as are bouncing on the bed and prying eyelids open.

When you finally get them up, make your triumphal entry into the living room and proceed with the present-opening ritual.  Give me a call and tell me how it went.  But not too early, OK?