Playing Santa with Grandpa and Barbie


Only my father-in-law and I were at my in-laws’ house late on Christmas Eve 1984. All the Methodists in the family except Grandpa had gone to their midnight service, which began at 10:30pm. Early to bed, those Methodists.

The three grandchildren – my nephew, niece, and son – were nestled in their beds. Finally. I don’t know what visions had danced in their heads, but it had taken all five adults in the household and lots of tears and shouting to get them to sleep.

Now it was just Grandpa and me. And a stack of boxes. We had been left in charge of assembling all the toys that needed assembly. You know the ones – they’re labeled “some assembly required.” “Some” is a synonym for “mucho.”

Grandpa and I dug into the boxes. Most of the toys went together pretty easily.

Until we got to the Barbie Dream House for Libby, my four-year-old niece. Three stories tall, complete with furniture and a doll-sized elevator. Constructed of pink cardboard and pink plastic. Lots of tiny, pink plastic parts.

Neither my father-in-law nor I really believed in instruction sheets. He was a fix-it man, very handy and capable, but he worked mostly on instinct. I don’t like the methodical step-by-plodding-step nature of instructions. Too slow for me. Plus, I get distracted correcting the grammar of technical writers, who all seem to be from non-English-speaking nations.

Grandpa and I spread out all the pink cardboard and plastic. By tacit agreement, we each worked on one story of the house. We’d put our sections together later.

It took some pushing and prodding, some taking apart and re-assembly, but slowly the floors of the mansion came together.

Then something snapped. I looked up in shock. One of eight identical pieces that held the walls together had broken.

“Don’t worry. We’ll make do without it,” Grandpa said. “I’ll come up with something.”

When we put the last two walls in place, we realized the broken piece was essential to the soundness of Barbie’s manor. Grandpa went to the basement for super-glue. We patched and pasted, and hid the broken corner in the back.

By the time the Methodists returned home, the completed Barbie Dream House stood under the Christmas tree. I don’t think Libby ever noticed the damaged part.

But Grandpa refused to take the house apart when it was time to send it home with Libby. “I’m not putting that together again,” he vowed.

Yet five years later, Grandpa and I built another house together – a Barbie Magic Sounds House for my daughter. That time, we followed the instructions.

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