52: On the Roof with Santa

52: On the Roof with Santa

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

On the Roof with Santa

Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles.

~Author Unknown

My eighty-four-year-old mother has always loved Christmas. It’s her favorite time of the year. My parents’ home at Christmastime looks like a Norman Rockwell painting — very Christmassy. People rave about it.

I never realized how much time and work my father put into it until I had to start doing it myself four years ago. That was when Alzheimer’s began taking its toll on his body and mind, and I moved back in with my parents to help out.

A few years after I moved in, my father’s physical and mental health deteriorated so much that he needed to be placed in an assisted living facility. That was in August. I decided Mom’s first Christmas alone needed to be especially nice.

I hate doing all of it — it could turn a normal guy into a real Grinch. But what I hate doing most of all was stringing those outside lights along the gutters of the roof. Since childhood, I’ve been terrified of heights. I hate heights — and I hate that darn plastic Santa Claus, too. That little yuletide creep has become my nemesis. It’s still laughing at me. See, the last three Christmases, when trying to position Santa between two rose bushes in front of the house, I have stepped back and gotten stuck by a branch from one of those rose bushes — and it hurt, too.

Well, I vowed that that wouldn’t happen to me this year. I decided to place that smiling, hand-waving, Chucky-inspired Christmas bugger somewhere else.

Sure, it took me an entire week, but on the cold winter day of November 22nd, I had all of that “Christmas cheer” up on both the inside and the outside of the house. I had it all done — except for figuring out where to place that darn plastic Christmas devil, the Santa Claus.

It was two o’clock and Mom had just left to visit Dad. I was cold and tired — I had been working on decorations since eight o’clock that morning — and I still couldn’t figure out where to place the Santa Claus. Then, I looked up at the roof, at the chimney, and it all made sense to me. Yes, that’s where he belongs — against the chimney.

Armed with three extension cords, white masking tape, and Santa, I climbed the ladder and got on the roof. I didn’t feel scared at all. I foolishly thought I had finally conquered my fear of heights.

After securing that smiling, waving, fat, red-and-white, plastic piece of stupidity to the chimney with masking tape, I connected the three extension cords together and went to the edge of the roof to toss the third extension cord over the gutter. And that’s when my vertigo kicked in.

Suddenly, everything looked narrow; my knees began to buckle. I felt light-headed and like I might faint. At least I had the presence of mind to fall backward instead of forward.

I lay prostrate on the cold, tiled roof for ten or fifteen minutes before I felt the blood return to my brain and I could sit up. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t go near that ladder. I didn’t have my cell phone.

It was getting colder, and the clouds were darkening more — it looked like it might rain or snow. I zipped up my winter coat.

One hour turned into two hours, and still I sat on the roof.

A car passed by and I shot up and waved my hands at him anxiously. He merely waved back at me, as if he were wishing me Merry Christmas.

I sat back down, despondent. More time passed.

Then, when I had almost resolved that I would be spending the rest of my life on the roof, I looked across the street and saw the front door open. It was the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Johnston. Mrs. Johnston, a white-haired, slight woman in a white blouse and black dress slacks, stepped out onto their cement porch, holding a fluffy, white bathroom rug. She shook the rug hard.

I shot back up and shouted, waving my arms and hands above my head: “Mrs. Johnston! Mrs. Johnston!”

“Hello, Alan,” she shouted back to me in that high-pitched, cracking voice of hers. “Well, you’ve come up in the world.”

“Mrs. Johnston,” I shouted, “can you come here for a second?”

“Wait a minute,” she said. Then, after turning around and opening the glass storm door, she tossed that bathroom rug into the living room.

When she came abreast of the ladder, I gingerly crawled to the edge of the roof so that I could glance down at her.

“Mrs. Johnston,” I said to her, “if I give you the phone number of my brother, would you call him for me?”

“Why do you want me to call your brother, Alan?” she asked, perplexed.

“Because I can’t get down from the roof,” I replied, feeling terribly embarrassed. “I placed this Santa Claus on the chimney there and now I can’t get down.”

“Why can’t you get down?” she cried, even more perplexed than before. “Are you sick or something?”

“No,” I replied. “I think I’m just scared.”

“Scared?” she replied. “Oh, what nonsense.... Here, I’ll come up.”

“What?” I cried. “Mrs. Johnston, don’t do that. Just call my brother — or the fire department. Mrs. Johnston, don’t do...” But before I could protest, she was already scrambling up the ladder.

When her chest was even with the top of the ladder, she said: “Now, Alan, get down on all fours.”

“What?” I said, having no idea what she was talking about.

“Get down on all fours — get down on your hands and knees,” she said. “Go on, do it,” she commanded.

I didn’t want to, but I did as she instructed.

“That’s it,” she said. “Now, turn around and have your legs facing me. Go on now, do it.”

I did as she said.

“That’s right,” she said. “Now, start crawling backwards towards me.”

I did.

“That’s it,” she said. “Keep coming. You’re such a good boy.”

When I came to the edge of the top of the ladder, she said: “Now, I’m going to take your leg and place it on the top rung of the ladder. When I do this, you shift your weight on that leg and then give me your other leg and I’ll place it on the rung below that one. Okay?”

“Okay,” I replied and did as she said.

“There!” she cried joyously. “We’re doing it,” she continued, and as we descended the ladder, I could feel her liver-spotted, thin fingers on my hips.

When we were finally on the ground, Mrs. Johnston hit me playfully on the shoulder and said: “See, we didn’t need to call your brother. We got down. Say,” she added, “how are you going to get that Santa Claus down from the roof?”

“Oh,” I replied with a nervous laugh. “I’m not going to worry about that until after Christmas.”

It’s now April ninth and Santa is still on the roof. I can almost here him taunting me, saying, “I’m still up here. Summer’s coming. Why don’t you throw me a pair of sunglasses?” I don’t know. If it’s still up there by summer, maybe I’ll see if Mrs. Johnston will help me, again.

~Alan Zacher

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