The Art of Raymond (I)
The gag-present in Elmer’s Goat was probably thought over for a year and came to being in about an hour. The gag-present in The Art of Raymond was a glance in a store window, a spur-of- the-moment purchase and then it steeped for six months, finally boiling over at Christmas. The recipient of the first enjoyed the joke. The recipient of the second, well…
No one would fault Mom for suspecting that Raymond was playing one of his tricks on her when he came in the house on a Thursday afternoon, carrying a large something-or- other wrapped in shiny paper, with a big ribbon encircling it from top to bottom.
‘Mom, guess what? I was going to Seven Corners Hardware to buy some tools and when I walked past a shop I saw this in the window, and I knew you’d love it,’ he said, as he set the package on the kitchen table.
One of his tricks, she knew it; but she didn’t care. He was back home after two years in the Army. As the three older kids moved out one by one the house grew larger, emptier, and quieter each time one of them left. And when the baby of the family left, it really sucked the excitement of raising a family out of her life. Some parents can’t wait for the nest to empty, but not Mom.
Now at least he was back. She knew he would bring back some of the old excitement in the house. The youngest of four, but always the leader in laughing and tricks and stirring things up. Grandpa use to say that you could just see the wheels turning in his eyes when he cooking up his next mischievous thing to do. The little ‘angel’. Maybe bringing home that present was a sign he was breaking out of the quiet mood he had been in since he came back.
When she had mentioned to Dad how Raymond seemed different, older, Dad pointed out that the Army brags that they make men out of boys. Plus with the three older ones gone, there was no one around to tease or to encourage him. Or maybe he is just resting up. He’s had two years of dreaming up some new tricks.
Raymond had been a guard at a secret radar post in the woods up in Alaska. Thirty miles from the nearest town, he told her. Pretty boring. Both the post and the town. He said to break the monotony in camp he would volunteer to dress up in a protective padded suit and let the dog trainer sic the guard dogs on him. In town the main attraction was the small bar that served bad beer and Tombstone pizza. The beer and pizza were more dangerous than the attack dogs. Whenever she tried to find out more about his time in the Army he would just tell her it was secret. Loose lips sink ships, what ever that meant. He was a soldier, not a sailor.
She made a move to unwrap the gift but stopped. ‘I suppose you want me to wait until you have a bigger crowd to laugh at your trick,’she said.
‘Mom, it’s your Christmas present. You have to wait until Christmas to unwrap it. I’m going to put it in the living room right by where the tree always goes. Be handy come Christmas.’
‘It’s six months ‘til Christmas. Go hide it in the barn.’
‘It is going in the living room,’he said. ‘You’re a big girl now and I know you won’t peek at it. Besides, I had the man wrap it with all kinds of newspapers and cardboard so you can’t feel what is inside.’ Then he took it in the living room.
The first few months Mom tried to guess what it was. She came up with some possible guesses and a few improbable ones. It became a game between the two of them. One time she guessed it was a statue and she caught a quick smile on Raymond. She continued with other guesses, but every now and then she would go back to statue, and finally she declared that it was a statue.
From then on she tried to guess what kind of stature. She narrowed it down to a statue of the Madonna. She went further and declared it was Our Lady of Fatima or maybe Our Lady of Lourdes. Satisfied that she had nailed it, she backed off thinking about it, except when she had to move it to dust mop.
But it took over her thoughts again as Christmas grew closer. Christmas Eve was the time for the kids and their families to spend in their own homes. For Mom and Dad, it meant putting up the tree, preparing for the big dinner the next day, and Midnight Mass. Early afternoon saw the children and grandchildren arrive bringing food for the big meal and presents to be opened after the meal.
Except this year Mom insisted that she get to open Raymond’s gift because she wanted to use it for a center piece on the table. Everybody agreed because they were all anxious to see what had been sitting in the living room for all those months.
Raymond had the last say though, and he had no objection just as long as Mom stuck by her promised to keep it on the table throughout dinner. He also had a big grin on his face. I, for one, suspected a trap; but Raymond moved fast and set the package in front of Mom, who had scissors in hand to make short work of the ribbon, shiny paper, newspapers, cardboard Scotch-taped together.
And as she peeled each layer off, she kept repeating that she was right, it was a statue, it was a statue. She kept vacillating between Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima.
And as the last covering fell away, the statue was revealed. Only it wasn’t Fatima or Lourdes or even a Madonna. It was a replica of…
For now, as they use to sign off back in the day:
Stay tuned, same place tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of the story.