69. The Project

69. The Project

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

The Project

There is nothing more essential to getting a project off the ground than the underestimate.

~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

Many years ago, when our oldest two children were small, we tried to think of ways to save money at Christmas. We started early in the summer and decided that we would make all the Christmas gifts for the children.

It was easy for me to decide. I said, “I will make PJs and robes for the children. And I have time to make a dress for Tina and a shirt for Rob.”

I loved to sew. So my project was simple — just get the material and patterns, and when the children were napping I would sew.

On the other hand, my husband’s project was not so simple. That summer when we visited his family in Pennsylvania, he found that his grandmother had a pattern for a wooden beanbag-toss clown. It was cute.

“This is it!” my husband exclaimed. “I will make this for the children for Christmas and they will love it. Only we will enlarge the pattern so it will stand about four feet tall. That will seem huge to the kids.”

We would make it in one room of our basement and the children would not be allowed to go into that room until Christmas. Simple — well, maybe!

We got a big piece of plywood and some paint and I helped enlarge and draw the clown. It had a big smiley hole for the mouth where you would toss the beanbags — very simple. We painted it bright orange with lots of other colorful colors on the face. I made buttons for eyes out of yellow yarn pompoms and hair out of red yarn.

My husband made a stand for it and I thought it looked very cute. But… my husband worked with electronics at that time and was not quite satisfied.

“I think that I can make the clown beep whenever a bean bag goes through the hole in his mouth. And I can make his eyes light up and flash at the same time.”

He had been working on this idea for some time and now was ready to put his theory to the test. He began his project in earnest — welding in a box to hold all the wires and getting the electrical components he needed. Before we knew it, we had spent over eighty dollars on this one gift! So much for saving money. But my husband was having the time of his life fixing this clown so it would make noise and light up.

“We need some way to wrap the clown,” my husband said one day. “But it would take a huge amount of paper.” After some thought he continued, “What if we make a cardboard playhouse for the kids?”

“A playhouse?” I questioned.

“Yes,” he responded, “we will get some big pieces of cardboard and a few 2x2s to make it sturdier and build the house over the clown so the children will be surprised when they open the door. There will be our big clown inside.”

I thought it might be a fun idea so he went to the furniture store and asked for some big boxes, which they were glad to get rid of. Once again we worked on this project after the children were in bed at night. This one did not cost much because we used the leftover paint from the clown and the cardboard was free. It turned out to be a cute little house with windows and doors that could be opened and a roof that could be removed.

Christmas Eve finally came. We were anxious to get the kids into bed so we could get the clown out of the basement and set it up. We put the house up and over the top of the clown and put the roof on. We were excited to see what the kids’ reactions would be in the morning.

Christmas morning arrived and the children opened their PJs and robes and dress and shirt that I had made that were under the Christmas tree. They also had gifts from grandparents, so they were happy with what they got. But then the big moment arrived!

“Let’s go downstairs.” We all went together, and there, in the middle of the floor, sat the house. The children could not believe their eyes! They had a playhouse! They hurried over to go inside but much to their surprise the house was already occupied. They stepped back, not sure what to think.

My husband could wait no longer. “Let’s get him out!” he exclaimed.

And immediately he dismantled the house. The children stood in shock as my husband removed the roof and had me help him lift the house up and over the clown. My husband quickly plugged in the clown and said, “Watch what happens when I throw this beanbag into his mouth.”

The first beanbag he threw went straight into the clown’s mouth and the clown began to beep and his eyes began to flash. Both children began to cry!

They were so confused! Here sat the playhouse they thought they were getting and then it was taken apart. And here was a clown bigger than they were, with eyes flashing and making a lot of noise. For one second I wanted to laugh. All our Christmas plans hinged on this clown and now it scared the children half to death.

When we finally calmed them down and put their playhouse back together, everything was okay. It took a little time for them to warm up to the clown, but once they did, he provided many hours of fun for the whole family.

More than forty years later we still have that clown at our house. His eyes no longer flash and he no longer makes noise when you throw a beanbag into his mouth, but we do occasionally get him out and have a beanbag contest or take him to some children’s activity. And we fondly recall the Christmas we “saved money” by making our gifts.

~Shirley M. Oakes

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