By Audrey W.
“Well, that should do it,” Roy DeSoto said as he set a large cardboard box down on the livingroom floor of his home. He glanced around at the two other large boxes he and his friend John Gage had carried in and set down. “I guess we’re ready.”
John placed a smaller box still in his hands on top of one of the others, then stood with his hands on his hips. “Ya know, you might actually have room in the garage for the car now,” he kidded.
It was the day after Thanksgiving and Roy had talked his paramedic partner into coming over to help pick out, put up and decorate his family's Christmas tree. Also to assist with the lights to trim the roof.
‘Nothing like decorating a Christmas tree with kids to get a person in the holiday spirit’ he’d claimed, hoping to sway the reluctant dark-haired bachelor. A few similar comments throughout their last shift had finally gotten Gage to agree to the tasks. The fact free home baked sugar cookies were involved helped too.
Roy looked at the full six foot tall tree that was in front of the livingroom picture window. Before they did anything else, he was going to have to get the lights put on it. Then they would call in his son Christopher and daughter Jennifer from out in the back yard where they were playing, to help decorate it.
The light sets for the tree turned out to be on top of everything else in one of the boxes. Roy and his wife Joanne had bought them on clearance the year before. They were a new kind of light for Christmas decorating. Much smaller than the old style bulbs the size a household night light would use. The new design didn’t heat up like the others either, thus made the tree less of a potential fire hazard.
Roy opened one end of a package and slid the cardboard tray with notches to hold each of the bulbs connected to the wires in place out. Johnny did the same with another set. One by one, the men popped the lights free from their holders and soon had both out on the floor.
“We’d better check to make sure they’re all working,” Roy said as he looked them over.
“I thought they were brand new.”
“They are. But you’d be amazed how often that doesn’t matter. Seems like it’s some sorta rule that at least one bulb on a set won’t be working and it takes the rest out with it.”
“And lemme guess. . .you get to try each bulb with a replacement till ya find the culprit.”
“The joys of decorating, huh?”
Johnny snickered. “Right.”
Roy stretched out one line and plugged it into the nearby wall socket. He smiled in relief when all the different colors of bulbs lit, then soon began blinking off and on, as they were supposed to once they heated up.
“One down, one to go, huh?”
“Keep your fingers crossed.”
Johnny held up his right hand to show he was. Though all in fun, it sure couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
Both men were all smiles when the second set lit as well.
“All right, good deal,” Gage said.
“Daddy, Daddy, is it time?” Five-year-old Christopher asked as he came barreling into the room.
“The twee!” Three-year-old Jennifer exclaimed as she ran in behind her brother and toward the tree.
Suddenly a crunch was heard and the string of lights that was still plugged in went out. When Jennifer’s left foot lifted, the men could see the smashed green bulb, the fragments scattered in the tight looped carpet.
“I guess that’s another reason they include spares in the box,” Gage commented with a slight grin.
Roy nodded while reaching for one of the extra bulbs.
“At least we know which one needs replacing,” he said with a shrug.
Joanne came into the room and smiled apologetically. “They just couldn’t wait any longer.”
Roy looked at the kids, who were jumping and dancing back and forth in a half circle around the tree, singing a song one of them had apparently made up.
“It’s time, oh it’s time. . .it’s time to do the tree/twee. It’s time, it’s time. . ,”
“I’m surprised we gottum to stay out there at all.” He then addressed the children. “Okay, stand back so I can get the lights on.”
Joanne came over and sat on the couch nearby. She managed to get the kids to sit with her and wait impatiently as their dad and Johnny went to work. When the lights were on and lit, Jennifer and Chris clapped and jumped up and down in excitement, having climbed off the couch.
“Now can we decowate the twee, Daddy?” Jennifer wondered.
They opened the boxes, and right away Chris and Jennifer grabbed a couple of favorite ornaments, Chris’s a glass painted Santa and Jennifer’s a red-nosed reindeer that matched. In the meantime, Johnny peered in each of the cardboard containers.
“Man, Roy, you’ve got enough ornaments here ta decorate a half dozen trees!”
The older man glanced at his wife, wondering if she was going to defend their large collection. When she didn’t, he took it as meaning she likely agreed.
“We probably could stand to thin them out a little,” Roy admitted.
That got Joanne’s attention. She took her gaze off the kids, who were still in the process of finding the exact perfect spot on the tree for their ornaments.
“We do have an awful lot,” she stated softly.
Roy held up a small package of six glass balls with glittery trim around them. They were assorted colors of green, red and gold. They’d been around as long as he could remember.
“How about these?”
Johnny smiled wide at the thought his observation had already made an impact.
Joanne bit her lower lip a second, then shook her head.
“No, we can’t get rid of those. They’re from our first Christmas together after we got married.”
He set that one aside and held up another package, this one with four styrofoam balls in it, each with a band around it. The designs were scenes from the ‘A Christmas Carol’ story.
Again Joanne shook her head.
“The first year, too?” Johnny asked.
“Second,” Joanne offered. “I was pregnant with Christopher and I bought those so our baby would ask about them someday and we could tell him the story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim. . .you know, so hopefully he’d learn the lesson from the story. Or she. Of course, we didn’t know I was having a boy at the time.”
Roy glanced at his son, who had moved the Santa ornament five times already.
“I guess we’d better hang on to those, he hasn’t even paid attention to them any Christmas yet. Let’s just hang what we can on the tree, maybe we’ll come across some we can give away.”
The men continued on with their plan while Chris and Jennifer tried to figure out the ideal place for their second choices. After putting on a Bing Crosby Christmas album for the foursome to decorate to, Joanne went into the kitchen to bake the sugar cookies Roy had promised his recruit.
Johnny stepped back from the tree and looked at the results of their efforts. He had to grin at the overly decorated lower branches where Chris and Jennifer had put all their ornaments. It wasn’t a perfect job by any means, but he figured to Roy and Joanne it likely was how they were used to it and preferred it.
His thoughts were confirmed when Roy told his kids they did the best job ever this year.
“Anyone ready for cookies and milk?” Joanne asked as she came into the room carrying a tray.
“Me, me!” Jennifer called out as she ran and jumped up and down in front of her mom. Chris was right behind her, animatedly licking his lips for ‘mmm-mmm delicious’.
“Man, am I ever,” Johnny admitted.
As they all sat around and munched on their snack, Roy pointed to a stack of smaller boxes of ornaments.
“Those are some we thought might be okay to give to Goodwill.”
“Okay, let me see.”
By the time Joanne was done, they were all back in one of the large boxes. Each one had a meaning, be it the third, fourth, fifth or sixth year together; the first one Jennifer picked out; the ones her mother had given them; the ones Chris had named as he decorated other years. It became obvious none of the ornaments were going anywhere but to wait their turn to go on the tree maybe the next year or one after that.
Johnny glanced at Roy.
“You know you could always go with my first suggestion.”
“What was that?”
“Go find five more trees.”
Roy rolled his eyes and smiled slightly as he shook his head. However, he figured some Christmas in the near future, he might at least have to go with two; one inside and one out on the patio. He wondered how many cookies it would take to get Johnny to agree to help then.
Roy DeSoto led the way to the ladder that was up against the front of his one-story house. With their snack of milk and sugar cookies over, it was time to tend to the exterior part of decorating.
It was a warm sunny afternoon, so the two men were clad in jeans and t-shirts. If everything went without a hitch, they’d be done before sunset, when the air cooled off.
As the two men arrived at the bottom rung, Roy looked at the couple of long strings of lights draped over his left forearm and the other couple draped over Johnny’s. They had them bunched up so they didn’t hang down too far.
It seemed like they were missing something, but what?
Well, I’ll think of it sooner or later. . .
“You ready?” He asked Gage.
“Yep. I’ll follow you up.”
Roy nodded and carefully but quickly made his way up to the angled roof. Johnny waited till he was off the ladder before climbing up himself.
The two men set down the strings of lights and stretched them out.
“We can start with this one,” Roy said as he grabbed the end of one.
When he got to the edge of the roof, he stood staring downward.
“I was trying to remember what we might’ve forgotten, I think I just figured it out.”
Johnny glanced around. They had the lights, what else could they possibly need? Before he could ask, he had his answer.
“The clips to hold the lights on the roof.”
“I guess that’s an important thing to forget, huh?” The younger man said with a crooked grin. “I’ll go down’n gettum. Where are they?”
“They should be in that box just outside of the garage.”
“Good deal. I’ll be right back.”
He just had stepped onto the ladder when the men heard a ruckus from the other side of the house next door. Johnny glanced over in that direction, then looked at Roy with a shrug. He’d gone down a few rungs when a large white cat came charging through the DeSotos’ yard and directly under the ladder. Johnny’s eyes widened as a large dog came barreling right behind it. He didn’t even have time to react before he found himself in a freefall toward the ground, along with the ladder.
He landed with an ‘ummf’ on the grassy ground, the wooden ladder glanced off his right shoulder and body before hitting the ground nearby as well.
He then opened his eyes to slits and moaned.
Roy had looked up from the lights just in time to see the ladder and his partner's head disappear from view.
He rushed to the roof edge and looked down.
“Johnny! Are you all right?”
“Ask me. . .in about. . .ten minutes!” The reply was separated by pained breaths.
He watched as Gage rolled onto his back. That usually wasn’t a good idea under the circumstances and normally Johnny would know that. He likely didn’t have all his wits about him at the moment.
“Just don’t move anymore! Stay put!”
Roy knew he needed to get down to Gage, the sooner the better. Without the ladder, there was only one other way. He’d have to do what any best friend would.
He got set at the edge of the roof and after a quick careful calculation, jumped.
Joanne came outside just in time to see her husband run toward the fallen guest.
“Oh my gosh! What happened?”
Johnny lay on the ground, taking stock of his own condition. His right shoulder hurt from the blow by the ladder, his left shoulder and arm were in excruciating pain from landing on them. Pain radiated through his left leg as well.
He lifted his head slightly and winced as he watched Roy drop to the ground about a couple of yards away from his feet, luckily with a safe landing.
An old saying his mother and father often tossed out at him as a kid suddenly came to mind . .
If a friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?
He figured Roy must’ve been one of those kids who would.
Both Roy and Joanne were over to Johnny’s side in no time. Roy knelt down beside him while his wife waited to see if her husband would need her help.
“Anything broken? Where do you hurt?”
“My left shoulder, arm. . .an’ . . . leg. . .hurt.”
“How about your back?” Roy wondered.
“S’okay. . .so far.”
He looked up at his wife.
“Jo, call for a squad and ambulance.”
She gave a nod and hurried toward the front door.
“A. . .squad? Ambulance?”
“That’s right,” Roy assured his injured friend. “You just admitted you’re hurt. Considering what it takes for you to do that, I know you need to go to Rampart.”
Johnny wasn’t going to argue. As much as he hated the idea, he knew it too. He thought back to what put him where he was now.
Or maybe he was giving the dog a bad rap. Maybe he should be more mad at the cat. All-in-all it didn’t really matter which was to blame the most. Fact was, he was laid out on the ground and hurting pretty bad due to both of the animals.
A couple of minutes after she called for help, Joanne came back outside, this time with a blanket in hand. She took it over to her husband
“Do you need anything else?” Joanne wondered after setting the blanket down on the grass.
He shook his head as he finished running a practiced hand over Johnny’s entire left side.
“You may have fractured the upper humerus. Possibly left tibia, too.”
“You said your right shoulder hurt too?”
Johnny nodded with a grimace. “Ladder. . .hit it.”
Roy carefully palpated it. “Doesn’t seem to be anything broken there. Probably’ll have some serious bruising,” he commented, knowing the force of the falling ladder likely resulted in quite a blow.
He and Joanne looked toward the faint sound of sirens that were growing louder as they neared. It had to be the squad for Johnny.
“Hey, Roy. . .”
He shifted his attention to the younger man. “Yeah?”
“Maybe. . .we should. . .do the roof. . .later.”
“I’d say that’s a good idea.”
He wasn’t sure if Johnny realized it yet, but it would probably be the next Christmas before they hung the strings of lights as a team again.
Then again, judging by the pain filled expression on Gage’s face, he probably did know he was going to be on light duty for awhile.
Joanne stayed home with Christopher and Jennifer while Roy drove to Rampart. He couldn’t keep up with the ambulance transporting Johnny, but there was no need for him to. Gage was in good hands and there was nothing Roy could tell anyone at Rampart that Johnny couldn’t tell them himself.
He thought about the lights he’d left on the roof. They were just going to have to stay up there unused till the next day or so. Christmas was still a month away, so there’d be plenty of time to finish decorating.
A week later, Johnny was still sore, but released from the hospital and sent home to recover. Just as he and Roy had suspected, he’d had a proximal humerus fracture as well as the tibia in his left leg. No surgery was required, but his arm would be in a sling and lower leg in a cast for weeks.
Due to the nature of his arm injury, he’d be in a wheel chair for the first few weeks to make getting around easier. Luckily he had accumulated enough sick leave to cover the time off he’d need.
Roy had offered for Johnny to stay with his family, suggesting Chris and Jennifer could share a room for awhile. But Johnny declined. He hadn’t forgotten Roy’s late night annoying snack habits he’d found out about when Roy stayed at his place one night while the DeSoto home was being fumigated. According to the senior paramedic, Joanne had the same routine.
Just knowing the couple was up several times a night to grab something from the refrigerator or cupboard would have been enough to keep him awake. Of course, there was a chance they’d skip the late-night snacks on his behalf, but that wouldn’t be any better. Johnny was sure he’d lay awake then too because it would be like something was missing.
Nope, either way it just wasn’t going to work out. Thus he’d opted to stay with a friend who worked at the LA County Fire Department Headquarters. That would work out well since he’d also be pulling duty there eventually during his recovery.
“Well, the invitation’s always open,” Roy said when he went to visit Johnny at the friend’s apartment. “But sooner or later, you gotta come see the lights.”
The younger man gave a lopsided grin. “I will.”
He kept his reason to not accept the offer to himself. He didn’t want to hurt Roy’s feelings or offend him. They were too good of friends and work partners. He sure didn’t want to jeopardize what they had going.
By his third visit to the DeSotos’ since the accident, Johnny’s left leg was in a walking cast, his arm still in the sling. It was Christmas Day and Roy had brought him to their home to share in the festivities. Johnny hadn't been able to do much Christmas shopping, but that didn't matter to Roy or Joanne. They didn't need a gift from him, and they'd already explained it to their son and daughter as best they could; that being together was far more important than getting something. Whether either understood was yet to be seen. So far, it didn't look promising.
“The kids couldn’t wait to open their presents,” Roy explained as he walked and Johnny hobbled up to the porch. “But we made sure they saved a couple each so you wouldn’t miss out on the excitement entirely.”
“I’m surprised you even managed that,” he said with a smile. He could remember plenty of anxious Christmas mornings when he was a youngster. He didn’t get as much as children did now in the 1970s, but what he did get was opened so fast, the next thing he knew he’d be sitting around a pile of torn wrapping paper and ribbon, wondering, ‘is that it?’
Roy waited as his friend carefully made his way up the one step and onto the concrete porch. He then opened the door and motioned for Johnny to go in.
“Merry Christmas,” Joanne said as she greeted Gage with a kiss on the cheek just inside the doorway. “Did Santa bring you everything you wanted?”
“Well, he didn’t leave me any lumps of coal if that counts for anything” he kidded.
Chris and Jennifer looked up from where they were playing near the Christmas tree, him with a set of Hot Wheels cars, her with a baby doll. They dropped the toys and ran for the newly arrived guest as he hobbled toward the main part of the room.
“Uncle Johnny, Uncle Johnny!” Chris cried out. “You can walk again! You can walk!”
The two little ones hugged his legs, Jennifer with her eyes closed tight, her jaw clenched from the effort of showing him how happy she was to see him.
“Careful,” Joanne cautioned. “He’s still trying to get better.”
“Aww, I’m fine. It’s okay.”
The two let go and smiled wide.
"Merry Christmas, Uncle Johnny!"
"Mawwy Chwistmas, Unca Johnny," Jennifer echoed her brother.
"Merry Christmas to you, too!"
“Boy, are we glad you're here!” Chris exclaimed, the happy expression not leaving his face.
Jennifer nodded, then seemed to be waiting for another cue from Chris.
Roy was all smiles at their big welcome and discarded toys. It was like he was watching a twist ending of ‘A Christmas Carol’, with the ‘Uncle’ being more like the Tiny Tim of the story. The kids weren’t quite Scrooge, but evidently they’d learned that their ‘treasures’ weren’t as important as the people close to them afterall. Roy even began to think he might be able to talk Joanne into donating the story ornaments to Goodwill. Maybe that would lead to even more donations.
Suddenly Christopher, then Jennifer, abandoned Johnny and ran back to the tree.
“Now we can open the rest of our presents,” Chris told his sister.
“Yeah,” she agreed.
Johnny looked at Roy with a lopsided smirk.
The latter sighed.
So much for a lesson learned. . .
Next year he was going to have to seriously consider getting a second tree since it was obvious none of their ‘Christmas treasures’ would be going anywhere soon.
This story was inspired by our own overabundance of ornaments (that we can't let go of). Also by a kid I saw at my daughter's Christmas program who had a cast on her leg and arm, both on the same side. I did look up the injuries I used for Johnny and what the treatments were. But I implemented a little fiction along the way. :o)
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