Here is a collection of wild and zany, hilariously funny stories about the life and adventures of a couple who have lived for over twenty years at a real address on Santa Claus Lane and - what else? - own a Christmas tree farm in-where else?-Texas! Darrell is a lazy, inefficient and ten-thumbed farmer who would rather write or do most anything except farm, even though he's the one who got them into it. Betty is his hard-working, efficient and competent wife. Darrell loves her dearly, and it's a wonder she has stayed with him, considering all the misadventures, escapades and hair-brained schemes he gets himself and his long-suffering wife into.
These stories range from ravenous Bed & Breakfast guests who eat them out of house and home, the attack of the killer kittens, couch testing, wreath-making for dummies and many, many more, related in a style all Darrell's own. If you can get through this book without laughing until your ribs are sore, you are a rare exception and haven't got a funny bone in your body.
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Twilight Time Books
September 30, 2004
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Excerpt from Life on Santa Claus Lane by Darrell Bain
It took a lot of real hard thought before I decided to make a book out of these stories I have been writing for our family and for our friends, both live and on the Internet. The narratives describe a lot of odd, funny and occasionally downright hilarious things which have happened to Betty and I since we started a Christmas tree farm. One of the funniest was when the Postal Service notified us that the private road we and some of our kids live on was now officially named Santa Claus Lane. Our daughter-in-law Linda failed to see the humor of it and switched to a Post Office Box number.
"I'll be derned if I'm going to be laughed at every time someone asks for our address," she declared, as if every one of the 1,812 inhabitants of our little village didn't already know where she lived.
Linda isn't the person I'm concerned about though. My wife Betty has never seen some of these stories and I'm sort of careless about going off and leaving the computer screen lit with whatever I happen to be working on at the time. She's bound to catch one here and there as I put them together that sort of...well, read for yourself. I really don't think she would object to most of these little tales but you never really know, do you?
"No you don't," My wife said from behind my back.
Ulp. "What are you doing here?" I asked. Betty was standing behind my chair, reading over my shoulder. I don't know how she got there so suddenly but women can be sneakier than cats when you don't want them to be.
"I live here, remember?"
"Of course I remember," I said. "In fact, I can remember the first night when we moved into this place. We christened the sofa because the bed wasn't put together yet."
That was the wrong thing to say. "You're not going to write about our sex life are you?"
I grinned to myself, remembering a funny episode. "There's nothing wrong with our sex life," I said.
"There will be if you start writing about it," Betty responded. "Besides, it wasn't a sofa; it was a lounge chair out in the garage. Our furniture hadn't even gotten here yet. And the mosquitoes were terrible."
"I don't remember any mosquitoes."
"That's because you were drunk and they wouldn't bite you."
That's a canard. I hadn't had more than a dozen or two beers the entire day and all of them were well deserved. After all, we were taking a momentous step then, moving from a townhouse in the city to a farmhouse in the country.
"Can I write about us moving out here?" I asked.
"You can write about anything so long as it's truthful and it's not about sex," my wonderful wife informed me. So right then I made a vow: I will not write about our sex life. And I will at all times be truthful. I wrote both vows down right then and looked over my shoulder at my spouse. She raised a cynical eyebrow, tousled my thinning hair and walked over and sat down at the sewing machine, crossing her shapely legs. I shifted my gaze before I got carried away and started writing about our sex life.
The sewing machine, computer, my desk and a million or so books all live in peace and harmony in the garage we converted into an office. In fact, I'll bet Betty doesn't remember, but her sewing machine is sitting in the exact same spot where the sofa--or lounge chair, maybe--sat, lo these many years ago on a certain memorable night. But I promised not to write about that.
We have lived, Betty and I, on this East Texas farm for over twenty years now, along with a succession of various sized dogs and an interminable and ever-changing number of cats, kittens and chickens. We had cows at first but I found out pretty quick that I wasn't a real cowboy. We sold the cows and began growing Christmas trees. There isn't much money in them but at least they don't break through fences and eat the neighbor's garden or get out in the road. Besides, for most of those twenty plus years Betty worked full time away from the farm, and resented having to herd unruly cows back through the gate in her business suit and high heels every few days as she arrived home from Houston, while I hollered instructions from the safety of the pickup truck. I'm scared of cows.
Part One: The Early Years
The crooked-shooting, pistol-packing, unhandy man and
his hoe-armed, chicken-raising, snake-battling wife
Betty and I were in our forties when we married. We were working at a hospital when we met, or rather when I first spotted her nursing a patient that I was getting ready to draw blood from. Right then I knew I had to meet her, and it being the season, I set a mistletoe trap at the entrance to my laboratory. She fell right into the trap. Or perhaps she knew it was there all the time and I was the one who got trapped. Whatever, we wound up kissing for the first time under the mistletoe and were married a year after our first date. We have lived happily ever after. Even moving to the country three years later didn't spoil things. That's really when the fun began. And perhaps that mistletoe meeting was a harbinger of our future on a Christmas tree farm.
We have a friend in the same business as us by the name of Skip, growing Christmas trees for customers to come out and cut. He decided on getting into the business about the same time we did. He went about setting up his farm in a methodical, well-planned, well-researched way; with goals set, farm layout written up, money to be invested itemized, equipment to be bought listed, projected profits by year calculated and so on. He got the idea of farming by passing a Christmas tree farm while out for a drive with his wife, wondering how to occupy his time now that he was retired at a relatively young age.
"Heck, I can do that," he said. As you might guess, he is very successful.
We, on the other hand, read an article in the Houston Chronicle about Christmas tree farming in Texas, an industry just getting off the ground back then. Our planning consisted of, "Let's go order some seedlings and grow Christmas trees and get rich!"
Without a lick of planning, only a hazy idea of what we were doing and with more energy than sense, we planted a few thousand seedlings to go with our cows and began our new life. Christmas tree seedlings take a while to grow, so in the meantime, we began adjusting to our new life in the country, and to our new home. And that's when we began to get an inkling that strange and funny things happen on Santa Claus Lane. When the aliens land, I figure they will come down right smack in the middle of our driveway.
There's a Varmint in the House!
In the city, about the only animal one runs across is an occasional dog or cat. Ah, but the countryside is different. Very different, as we learned. Especially on Santa Claus Lane. There are varmints everywhere here--in the most unlikely places.
We had no problems with our house for the first 365 days we lived in it. Not a one. Now for anyone who doesn't suspect where this story is going, 365 days equals one year, which is how long the warranty on our house lasted.
On the 366th day, Betty began complaining to me. "Honey, we have a leak in the kitchen."
Fortunately, although not very much mechanically inclined or talented, I knew what to do about a leak. "Call the plumber," I said.
"You're the man, you call the plumber," Betty answered.
(Betty grew up in the old school as you can tell from that remark).
I called. The plumber promised to come out the next day.
Next day. No plumber.
I called. The plumber promised to come out the next day.
Next day. No plumber.
I called.........repeat several more times.
"I want that leak fixed!" Betty told me in no uncertain terms one night in the bedroom. Orders from bedrooms are serious business. It doesn't take a man long to get a message put in that particular way.
Lacking a plumber, I decided to tackle the job myself. After all, somewhere in my library of a couple of thousand books there must be something about fixing a simple leak under a kitchen sink. But first I decided to locate it.
I crawled under the kitchen sink, no mean feat in a space cramped with drain pipes, coils of copper tubing, wooden bracings and odds and ends and bottle and jars and cans of things Betty keeps in that space, most of which I didn't recognize except for a jar of vinegar that I promptly tipped over and broke, thereby delaying the job for several more days until the fumes abated. (Men, take note: keep a convenient jar of vinegar anywhere you don't want to have to work, especially during football season).
The vinegar only postponed the job that once since Betty didn't replace it, a smart move on her part. Eventually I had to crawl under the sink again--and by this time I could sympathize with Betty's concern. My knees and hands got wet. I did discover where the leak was coming from, though: behind the wall.
"The leak is coming from behind the wall," I announced as I backed out.
"What are you going to do?"
"Tear the wall out," I said, gathering up a hammer, saw, crowbar and other implements inherited from my father, which I had never used, mainly because I always placed them in the category of things which might cause work, and secondly because I didn't have a clue as how to operate them.
"Maybe you should call the plumber again," Betty said, knowing my limitations.
"Plumbers don't exist. They're only a figment."
"They're listed in the phone book."
"The phone book lies. All the plumbers in Texas have migrated to California where they have unions."
"What do unions have to do with it?"
"How should I know? I'm not a plumber."
"Then why are you going to fix that leak?" My wife asked.
Maybe some men would have answered that, but not me. I crawled back under the sink and proceeded to wipe out the wall as if fixing the leak had been all my idea in the first place. Actually, tearing up the wall was sort of interesting and kind of fun. There was a layer of linoleum, then some sort of plywoody stuff, then a bunch of pink panther insulation stuff, then a mice nest, some stray nails the carpenter had left in the wall, a few two by fours going this way and that, and everything under the sink was intertwined with copper pipes and PVC pipes and electrical lines and finally a heavy, immovable support beam which appeared large and solid enough to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And naturally, the leak was coming from somewhere behind that beam. I backed out, or rather tried to. I couldn't move. I had torn out so much of the wall and piled the debris behind me, blocking my exit.
"Help!" I shouted.
Several more shouts brought Betty, sloshing through a small river of water Then she started shouting. "What have you done to my cabinet! What did you do to the wall! Why are you tearing our house down?" This while shoveling away debris so I could back out of the cabinet.
"I'm fixing that leak, just like you asked me to, remember?" I said, as soon as I could stand up.
"No I don't. What I remember is asking you to call a plumber!"
"I did call a plumber," I said virtuously. "In fact I called several of them."
"Well, where are they?"
"They have gone to wherever plumbers go when they say they are going to come out the next day; that is, if in fact plumbers really exist. I'm beginning to have reason to doubt it lately."
"Well, all right. Did you fix the leak?'
"No," I admitted. "I can't get to it from this side. I'll have to go through the brick wall from outside."
Betty looked at my simple tools. She grinned. "Ha! You can't go through a brick wall with that little hammer and saw and crowbar. You better try calling the plumbers again."
I had given up on the plumbers but since I had to go to the building supply store anyway to buy sixteen tons of materials to replace the wall inside the cabinet I had torn out, I picked up a handy dandy brand new sledge hammer while I was at it.
As soon as Betty felt the house shaking from me pounding a hole through the bricks from outside, she screamed and ran for the phone. Amazingly, a few hours later a real, live plumber showed up. I have since concluded that they will only and always show up when a woman calls, assuming women know nothing of plumbing like me and other men do, and figuring they can rip unsuspecting women off easily.
Not me. I proved that easily. The plumber worked a toothpick around in his mouth, shook his head at the pile of bricks displaced by the new hole in the house, running through the bricks into the cabinet where the leak was. We went inside and he shook his head again when he saw the pile of stuff I had ripped out looking for that stupid little leak. He pulled a little gadget out of his pocket, knelt and reached in under the cabinet and two seconds later stood back up.
"It's fixed," he said.
"What was wrong?" I had to ask.
"Carpenter got careless with a nail when the house was being built. It was in the pipe, then worked loose. Here's my bill."
I paid the man $457.63 for his two seconds of work, glad he hadn't come when Betty was by herself or he would surely have overcharged her.
Well, the leak was fixed. I headed for my easy chair and a well-deserved rest. Fixing leaks is hard work.
Betty come over and stood in front of me. "What about that hole in our house?"
"I'll fix it after the football game," I told her. However, this was the height of the season and it seemed as if there was a football game on every day for the next two weeks.
The hole stayed open, but heck, I didn't see where it was hurting much of anything, especially since we could keep the cabinet door closed. However...
One day while I was busy watching football while laying on the couch with my eyes closed (this is something only men can do), I heard Betty shout.
"Honey, come quick!"
"How about at half-time?" I asked.
"How about now!" Betty said, in a voice I knew well. Something was dreadfully wrong. I got up and came to look.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Just look!" She said. Betty pulled open the cabinet door. She had moved some of the stuff back into it, in particular the garbage compost bucket. I bent over to look--and saw what she was talking about. Right there beside the bucket, some critter had gone potty.
"Uh oh." I said.
"Uh oh, my hind foot. You get that varmint out of there."
I looked closer. "I think it must be a rat that got in while the house building was going on."
"Well, if that's so, what has it been living on all this time?"
"Mice! You get that thing out of here right now! And take its mice with it!"
"It's not that easy," I told her. I had had some experience along these lines, having had to exterminate mice in another house. But from the droppings I saw, this was obviously a rat, not a mouse. A big rat, too."
"I'll buy a rat trap pretty soon," I said.
"How about right this instant?"
"I would, but it's Sunday. Besides, what's more important, a little old rat or a football game?"
I guess I don't have to tell you what the response to that statement was, but I promised faithfully that I would go to town the next day and get a rat trap, and I did.
However, the next day also happened to be when we had invited a few couples over for dinner. Nevertheless, I baited the rat trap with a big piece of cheese and set it right by the compost bucket. And by the way, if any of you city folks are wondering what a compost bucket is, just imagine a home without a garbage disposal in the sink and without regular garbage pickup service--and a little woman who loves to feed her chickens all the kitchen scraps the dogs and cats don't like.
The dinner went well and afterward, we were sitting around talking when there came a loud Snap! from the kitchen. Everyone stopped talking for a moment. Neither Betty nor I said anything, not wanting to admit that we had a rat and possibly mice in our new home. However, after the Snap! came a series of Crash! Bang! Boing! Klunk! noises impossible to ignore. I knew that the rat had tripped the trap!
"What's that?" Someone asked.
"Uh, maybe branches falling on the roof?" I suggested. Who wants to admit they have rats in their kitchen?
"I didn't notice any trees by your house," that someone said with a grin, obviously seeing my discomfiture and not wanting to let me off the hook.
"Maybe the cat and dog are feuding," Betty said, a poor excuse since the cat was sitting in her lap at the moment and the dog was outside barking at the moon.
"It sounds like something is loose in the kitchen," one of the ladies said.
"Impossible," I said. "It's just a plain old kitchen."
"Let's go see," one of the other men said.
I hate curious people, especially dinner guests, but the idea took hold. Everyone got up and trooped into the kitchen, then we all stood around, with Betty and I holding our breath, hoping that by this time the rat was laying down dead in the trap. Our hopes were in vain. Another series of crashing, thumping noises came from beneath the sink.
"Something is loose in there!" One of the ladies said, backing up a bit.
"Sounds pretty big, too," the curious man said.
"It's just a rat in a trap," I said, finally deciding to confess and end the suspense.
"It's my husband's fault. I told him he needed to fix that hole in the wall." Betty has always been very supportive of me in front of other people.
"But it's football season!" I said.
The men nodded sympathetically. The women stared at me as if football and beer were my only occupation. Betty didn't say anything, maybe because at times it sort of approached the truth.
"Well, anyway, it sounds as if you caught it," one of the other men said.
Some more crashes and banging sounds came from the cabinet beneath the sink, not quite as loud as before. In fact, the noises sounded almost purposeful. Now I was curious. I stepped forward and gingerly pulled open the cabinet door.
I guess I'm a slow thinker. Everyone else not only cleared the kitchen but the house as well, while I stood there stupefied, watching a small black animal with a white stripe down its back struggling with its neck caught in my rat trap.
Now a rat trap is designed to break a rat's neck when it snaps on it, but perhaps little skunks have stronger vertebrae or something. Anyway, while I stood watching and trying to decide whether to run for my pistol, try to stick my foot in and stomp the skunk or just close the door and hope for the best, the little skunk went about determinedly figuring out how to get the trap off its neck--and finally it did. It placed both forepaws on the edge of the trap then very slowly, exerting all its strength, gradually raised its neck and began to slide it out from under the steel band of the trap.
That decided me. I hurriedly closed the cabinet door and simply hoped I had been hallucinating. I wasn't about to stand there and wait for the skunk to work itself loose then turn its attention on me!
About that time Betty crept cautiously back into the kitchen. "Is it dead?"
"No," I admitted. "In fact, I think it's loose from the trap."
"You mean I have a skunk loose in my kitchen cabinets? No more football for you, mister. Get that skunk out of my house!"
"You let him in, you get him out."
"I know, I'll call a plumber," I said.
If I remember right, Betty decided at that point to go visit her mother for a couple of days, leaving me with the skunk in the house and asking me to call her when it was gone. I went and turned on a football game so I could think the situation over. I thought and thought and finally something occurred to me: the skunk hadn't smelled like a skunk, not even a little bit. Obviously, it wasn't grown up enough to operate that infamous skunk defensive/offensive system which repels all enemies, foreign and domestic, and the Dallas Cowboys' coaches should take some lessons.
Now that I had young Mr. Skunk figured out, I got up and went and opened the kitchen cabinet again with a big hammer in my hand, no longer afraid of the consequences should I whap the skunk into submission with it. I peered inside. The skunk was gone and the trap was empty. I looked closer. The old piece of plywood I had stood up against the house to sort of cover the missing bricks and interior wall had been knocked over. The skunk obviously had decided that getting caught in a rat trap was no longer worth living in happy proximity to a compost bucket and a leaky pipe, even though judging from the potty piles it had subsisted on both for several days.
I blocked off the hole in the house temporarily then bought some cement mix and plugged it back up. For some reason it didn't match the rest of the exterior of the house, perhaps because I don't know much about brick laying. I bent a convenient Azalea bush over far enough to hide my work and went back to watching football. When Betty called I told her the skunk problem was cured and she could back home.
"How did you get rid of it?" was the first thing she asked.
"Easy," I said. "I just laid a trail of compost out to the chicken yard and it followed."
"You mean now I have a skunk in my chicken yard?"
"Just kidding," I said.
I don't think Betty believed me. From that day on, I not only had to carry the compost to the chicken yard, I became the designated egg-gatherer for evermore. Which shows that it is dangerous to kid around with your wife, no matter how much she loves you.
I know Betty loves me.
I'm still watching football, aren't I?