By Cal Evans
Christmas time in the Evans household meant only 1 thing, road trip to ORLANDO! My mother’s parents live there and almost every year that I can remember, we made the trek, from wherever we were based to our Christmas Mecca, Nan and Pop’s house. My 11th Christmas was no different. We had graduated from our lovable but terminally ill Datsun to a 1970-something Oldsmo-Buick Station wagon and we now towed a travel trailer with us anytime we left the house for more than 30 minutes.
Whoever said that it was not the destination but the journey that mattered never made the run from Miami to Orlando. It’s flat, it’s empty and in the middle of the night, it’s very boring for an 11 year old whose sole companion is a sister who now no longer drools but is fond of launching projectiles over the seat at me and then screaming like a banshee if I dare retaliate. Shanda had graduated to master of deceit. It seemed at times that no matter what I was doing, no matter how innocent I was a single scream from her and I was again in purgatory. But at least she’s not drooling anymore.
Five hours later, I stumbled through the door of Nan & Pops house and into the kitchen. Weary from the drive and looking for munchies. Usually about the time I made it to the table and started to inspect the goodies, Dad would press me into service as a pack-mule. For the next half hour, I unloaded presents, suitcases (Does this one go in the house? front bedroom or back?) and other assorted boxes and crates.
Dad, showing again that he is wise beyond his years, brought his own portable room; 36 feet of living space dedicated to himself and Mom. It was a palace compared to what the rest of us had. He had his own TV but most importantly, he and Mom had their own bathroom! This was a luxury that even Nan & Pop did not enjoy for the season.
Christmas was in full bloom at Cassa de Crabtree and we were rolling downhill to the big moment. That one moment in time each year that every child looks forward to: the presents. At sometime in my early childhood, all the Crabtree in-laws got together in a clandestine meeting complete with secrete handshakes and passwords, to decide that presents would be opened on Christmas Eve instead of the traditional Christmas day. There was some discussion of a cover story, but as Dad explained it to Shanda and I he was tired of little yard-apes waking him at 5 on Christmas morning. This way, he could sleep till noon if he felt like it. This was the same man who decided early on that I didn’t need to believe in Santa Clause. A decision I never minded but that irritated the parents of my peers in elementary school. And so it was that on Christmas Eve, we all gathered in the living room of my grandparents to exchange gifts, love, mirth disguised as Christmas cheer…but mainly gifts.
Five minutes later, and the living room was a war zone. Shards of wrapping paper were still fluttering in the air from the frenzied scene. Toys that were never meant to fly were being hurled about gleefully by children ignoring the parent’s pleas to stop before they break something. Screams of “MINE!” echoed though the silence of the night. And the Adult men were already migrating into the den to see what was on TV. On this particular Christmas though, one adult was still seated.
My grandfather, “Pop” to 3 generations of children, is a wise man. He’s also a handy man. His garage has more tools in it than a Home Depot before a Labor Day sale. If it were not for the fact that he is a sincerely devout Christian, I am convinced that he would lay out a prayer mat 5 times a day and pray towards Sears. The man loves tools, things for keeping tools in, books about tools, things made from tools, things made to look like tools and any other knickknack that can even be remotely tool-related. Over the years, he’s received, as Christmas gifts, some of the most bizarre tool-related gifts, among them, almost anything that Craftsman ever put their name on. He is a wise old tool wizard.
But this Christmas, Pop was just sitting there, holding a box. He slowly turned it over in his hand, treating it as if it were made of fine crystal and not wanting to break it. Slowly, he turned it over and continued to read it. One by one, the adults ignored him and went on their way but I just sat quietly and watched as puzzlement crept over his face. Finally, from the den, one of the son-in-laws hollered, “Watcha got there, Pop?” not bothering to turn from the TV and only feigning interest.
“Not quite sure.” pop replied, “Says on the box ‘Potato Clock’.”
Ashley spun his head around dropping whatever toy he had and rushed over to Pop.
“I gave you that Pop!” he squealed. “It’s a Potato Clock! You put it in a potato and put it in water and it’s a clock and it tells you the time.” He babbled almost at the point of incoherence. “I saw it and knew you would just love it.” he said, his face beaming as if a clock powered by a potato was the most normal thing on earth.
Pop stifled a giggle – a skill that my uncles had not yet mastered – and looked down at Ashley. “And I do son. It’s perfect. Let’s go put it together.”
The uncles, now realizing that the drama unfolding in the den was infinitely more amusing that anything on the 3 channels of TV they could get, started guffawing. They rolled. For some reason that to this day I can’t explain, they found the concept of a clock powered by a potato to be the funniest thing they had seen. Bad jokes floated through the air, raining down with the weight of my mother’s biscuits. Each one trying harder and harder to be funny, and each succeeding less and less. But this didn’t stop them from laughing at each other as men that age will do.
Pop and Ashley retired to the kitchen where the noise was only a dull roar. When they emerged, Pop held a glass of water with half of a potato balanced on top by 4 tooth-picks. Out of the top of the potato grew 2 yellow curled wires attached to an LCD display with the correct time on it! Ashley walked beside him, radiantly beaming. Let them joke all the wanted (and they went late into the night before the last joke-biscuit was floated) Pop said he loved it and that was all that mattered.
I look back on these Christmas journeys to Orlando. The memories are fading to a warm glow now. I remember them all fondly, no matter how they seemed at the time. Wherever I am at Christmastime, in my heart, I’m still in Orlando. And I’m sure somewhere in Pop’s garage, buried deep among the shelves of router bits, saw blades and every imaginable socket wrench size ever forged, somewhere back among the shelves, there is a small box labeled Potato Clock containing a small piece of love from an 8 year old boy