Picture it: Burien, Wash., Christmas circa 1960; one huge, plate-glass dining-room window screaming for decoration; three pre-teens in need of doing something to keep their home...
Picture it: Burien, Wash., Christmas circa 1960; one huge, plate-glass dining-room window screaming for decoration; three pre-teens in need of doing something to keep their home from being the only one in the neighborhood without some semblance of the season’s festivities. And the usual holiday pressure from the good sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, our teachers at St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School, who reminded us each year that this was a time the Lord had made even though He hadn’t been born yet. Read: The decorations had to be Catholic.
Enter Mom. She brings home a do-it-yourself, stained-glass-window kit. It would be ours to do with what we would.
Mind you, a kit in those days spelled instant disaster in our household. None of us ever read directions. We don’t to this day. In Italian, this is called testa dura, or hard head.
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We had no time for the step-by-step. We had to get cracking.
First problem: The stained-glass window wasn’t really glass. It was a large sheet of oil paper onto which the outline of the Holy Family (that’s Jesus, Mary and Joseph) had been stamped. We were to color between the lines and then oil it with baby oil. That magical ingredient (the oil in oil paper) would make it stained-glass-like.
We managed to accomplish this without too much damage to Mom’s special dining tablecloth.
Next, we needed to attach the “stained glass” to the window.
Our next problem surfaced: The “stained glass” was about a foot short, on each of its four sides, of covering the dining-room window. We discovered this when we affixed said piece to the window then ran outside to see what it looked like.
What we noticed right off the bat was that any viewer would focus on the side views of diners on one side, our strange parakeet and his cage on the other, diners’ knees and our dog Mittens’ head in the bottom vacancy, and hair (if anyone stood up from the table) along the top.
Remedy? Spray-on snow. Mom to the rescue again. She returned from the grocery store with a can of the mixture that looked a lot like popcorn ceiling when sprayed on, smelled like something the Nuclear Regulatory Agency would hesitate to bury at Hanford and that stuck to everything. Including Mom’s new curtains.
But we persevered and covered up the naked edges.
We ran outside again. That is when we discovered we had the wrong side of our masterpiece facing the street. You couldn’t see anything. It was dark. It was impermeable. The Holy Family had gone missing just as the directions said they would if you weren’t paying attention.
We raced inside. We turned it around. That’s when we discovered that when you ripped off tape, the snow came with it. We had holes everywhere.
We persevered, reattached our family, added the last of the spray, which meant huge blobs of snow in the offending places, and ran outside again.
It was crooked. We repeated the step above. We still didn’t like it.
Lights! We needed lights. Good ol’ Mom went to the basement and hauled out what had to be, in those years, the first set of miniature lights ever made. That was before the era of “when one light burns out, the rest stay lit.” That also was before solid-state circuitry.
And it also was before we realized that Scotch Tape doesn’t really hold rubber cord to plaster walls. Well, it does for a couple of minutes, if you’re lucky.
We ran outside. We smiled until the lights attached to the top of the window fell off. We fixed that, then watched the tape on Joseph’s side of the family detach itself and reattach itself to the oddly cherubic face of a barnyard cow as his portion of the stained-glass window came undone. That’s when we also discovered that tape doesn’t stick long to oily surfaces.
As I recall, it was about that time that my dad got in on the act, shouting at us in Italian phrases that I suspect had much more to do with our mental capacities and us constantly leaving the front door open rather than some kindly, Old World phraseology directed at the Holy Family.
Joseph drooped a few more times that season. The lights worked when they wanted to. The parakeet and the dog never did get over being robbed of their ability to watch the world go by.
But we had our window. Our status in the neighborhood had been secured. And I got an “A” on an essay I wrote about it. The nuns were happy.
Terry Tazioli: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2224