Few phrases have stricken so much sorrow in the hearts of children on Christmas morning as those three evil words : “Some assembly required.” For me, the agony of waiting for Pop to assemble that beloved Christmas gift felt like extended dental work without anesthesia.
My introduction to the phrase cam in the form of a Big Wheel complete with locking handbrake to perform perfectly executed skids. The ensuing 45-minute wait for said assembly felt like an eternity in my tender years. But my most excruciating assembly delay occurred on my ninth Christmas.
It had shaped up as the best Christmas Day ever when I gleefully ripped off the gift wrap to reveal my very own Electronic Battleship game. I had played the standard version at Boys and Girls Club, but TV the Saturday morning cartoon advertising had fixed the electronic game at the pinnacle of my desires for months. Two 9-volt batteries and a little imagination would result in the most intense naval battle I could experience on my own kitchen table!
My joy only mildly dimmed to see the infamous phrase stamped across the box. How difficult could a couple of batteries and a few plastic parts be? My Pop had assembled bicycles, wagons, race tracks, and trains. Although his efforts were dotted with complaints that Santa’s elves should complete the assembly prior to delivery, he had a pretty good track record. I couldn’t argue his point but never dared speak such blasphemy lest Santa overhear and document my displeasure on the following year’s naughty list.
Unlike previous years, I resolved to wait with the utmost patience, trusting Pop’s skills to put this item together quickly and maximize the hours of gaming pleasure I could experience in a single day.
My own grand resolve faltered after the half hour I estimated the task should have taken passed by with no results. I walked to the kitchen door and peered in. Mom and Pop sat on opposite sides of the table with what appeared to be a fully assembled Electronic Battleship game between them. Blips and tweets from the device led me to believe it must have been supplied with batteries as well.
“Woohoo! It’s ready to play! Who’s my first challenger?” I shouted.
“Not quite yet, son. We’re reading the instructions and learning how it’s played so we can show you. You have to program all of the ship positions in and it takes some time to learn.”
A justifiable delay. In my innocence, I accepted this, returned to the living room, and curled up on the couch. To my chagrin, I next found myself stirring groggily after what the clock told me had been several hours of sleep. Sounds of routine beeps and trills emanated from the kitchen, interspersed with laughter. All sleepiness vaporized as I exploded up from the couch with renewed excitement to play my long-awaited Electronic Battleship.
I halted at the kitchen door. The view was unchanged except that the table was now littered with dirty plates and glasses from a meal apparently consumed at their stations, so engrossed were they in their commitment to preparing my new toy. Not many children have parents with such commitment, I assure you.
“Is it close?” I again inquired.
“Almost, buddy. We’re still working out some of the kinks.”
Disheartened, I sighed and wandered off to my room to organize my toy box for the new items to be stored there that evening.
As still more time passed, my concerns over the delay grew. They didn’t even look up as I got a drink of water from the kitchen, diligently punching numbers into the keypads. I had to admit: They were handling this adversity well, sacrificing of a whole holiday for game assembly and instruction reading. But they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying every moment of their efforts to make my Christmas Day extra special.
A trip to the bathroom with a passing glance and still, the same scene.
Dusk approached, and Mom and Pop had not left the room. I walked silently to the door to try and guess an ETA based on their conversation. Again, the bleeps and blips, then raucous laughter as explosive sounds revealed a torpedo had hit its mark.
Pop squealed with delight as Mom shouted, “You sank my battleship!”
I stepped into the opening and loosened a barrage of my own. “Hey! Are you guys assembling it or actually playing it?”
“Well, we had to run a test game or two to make sure everything worked, buddy.”
“Yeah, but it’s almost dark! And I haven’t even played yet!”
The error of their ways dawned upon guilt-ridden faces, and they quickly sat me down and began instructing me how to enter the locations of my ships, program a missile launch and savor the explosive sound of a successful strike on an enemy ship.
We played for almost a good hour before Mom and Pop sorrowfully reminded me of bedtime and shuffled me off to bed with an extra affectionate tuck-in and kiss goodnight. Comforted that they truly had my best interests at heart, I drifted off to sleep contentedly, barely making out the sounds of hushed voices, bleeps and blips coming from down the hallway.
© Michael L. Collins
This column originally appeared in The Mountain Press under the name “Christmas memories, assembly required.”
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