Back inside the cabin, Danielle popped in another pizza. Two pizza in one afternoon! Why not? The family was starving after their beach excursion and fort frenzy.
The oldest boy asked his mom if he could try and get the fire going in the wood stove. He said it while holding the directions provided by the owner. Danielle balked. He said please and she agreed.
Five minutes later a blaze crackled in the wood stove and the boy fed the fire just like the directions read. A few minutes later a different kind of heat suffused the cabin, a richer warmth. Danielle turned off the baseboard heater and patted her son on the back. She dubbed him the “Fire Master” and he loved the title.
The girl set up another card table and found a new puzzle. Mt Hood was history. She had chosen one that depicted an ancient log truck that held a single gigantic log, an old growth god from eons ago when timber-related industries were Oregon’s number one employer, not high tech.
As the girl dumped out the puzzle, the youngest boy emerged from the bedroom carrying a dart board and a fistful of feathered darts. He said he found it in a closet. He didn’t know what it was, maybe a game, but it looked cool. Would mom explain it to him, maybe want to play, whatever it was?
Danielle laughed. She’d played darts in a bar. Once or twice, drunken darts, but it was the plastic version, with the automatic plastic scoreboard. This dart board was cork and the darts were metal. Players had to tally their scores. That meant math on the fly. How many points did it take to win a dart game? How many darts does each player throw per round? How much is a goddamn bulls-eye?
The hell with it? Let’s make up our own dart game!
She told her son to scrounge up some paper and a pen to keep score while she found a spot to hang the board. It took her only a matter of seconds to see where it was supposed to hang and she noticed the mark on the floor where to stand and throw.
Pizza was cooking. The fire glowed in the wood stove. Danielle took turns playing darts with her children while the other two worked on the puzzle, Each one made up a goofy new dart game that lasted a couple minutes. The darts rarely landed on the board, but who cared?
As they played darts, Danielle considered broaching sensitive subjects with her children, such as school and screen time, but decided that could wait until after the holidays. This day was a start.
But she knew she had to follow up. Could she do that back in Tigard? That’s always the true test of Christmas. Can you take the best of it back to the everyday real world?
Danielle winged a dart and almost hit a bulls-eye. Her oldest son clapped and exclaimed“Nice shot mom!”
Then the kids at the table gasped, “MOM! The window!”
Danielle turned around. She saw about a dozen elk, all with antlers, crowded outside the window, exhaling white puffs of breath, fogging up the glass.
“Mom,” the girl whispered, “It’s reindeers.”
Danielle smiled and suppressed a laugh. She didn’t have the cold heart to correct her daughter and also inform her that reindeer wasn’t a plural noun. Oh sweet bad grammar!
More elk appeared at the window. It was the whole damn herd! Danielle and her son took a quiet seat around the table. The family worked the puzzle in silence and took sneaky peeks at the elk. This went on for half an hour.
And then the elk disappeared into the dusk. Danielle stood up from the table and walked over to the shelf displaying the board games. She perused them quickly and pulled one out. She’d played it with her dad and brothers decades ago and always lost. She wondered if she remembered how to play.
“Okay, puzzle time is over,” she said. Danielle slammed down Risk on the table and the kids ripped off the top of the box.
“So who wants to rule the world?” she said.
The kids all raised their hands. The Christmas Day Risk marathon was on and Danielle was going to kick some ass.