"Is everything set?" A silver-haired balding gentleman slipped into the passenger seat of the van with a handful of helium-filled balloons.
"Sure is," his companion, a smart-looking blonde, gushed from the driver's seat. "Let's get going. It's only half an hour away."
"Okay, folks. Find your positions," she ordered. "Have you all had your potty break? No delaying the process with halts in production."
My mother had that drill sergeant look about her, so I knew it was time for business. I took my traditional spot at the end of the assembly line and waited for instructions.
Timmy was flitting back and forth, so I took his hand and reminded him of his spot. He shuffled into place between Dad and me. Beside him was Rebecca, with Mom's spot at the end.
"This shouldn't take very long, guys." Mom put her favorite Christmas CD in the boom box. "With all of us working together, these hundred cards should be addressed, stuffed, stamped, and sealed in an hour. A quick job."
Dad and Rebecca groaned. I stifled my moan to avoid Mom's evil eye, which almost sent Dad into convulsions.
"Let's review our roles." We all fixed our eyes, albeit reluctantly, on the woman of the house so she didn't feel the need to repeat what we'd heard repeatedly before.
"I'm in charge of the envelopes." She waved them above her head. "I will place the return address and the preprinted mailing address on each one in the proper place, and pass it on to Rebecca."
Rebecca nodded. "And I sign, fold, and stuff our Christmas letter in the envelope, then pass it to Dad. Right?"
"Exactly." Mom smiled at my younger sister. "Just be sure you fold it in fourths, so it will fit nicely in the envelope. And then your father will slide the Christmas card into the envelope."
Dad's eyes twinkled as he saluted. "Yes, ma'am. Open end first."
Mom giggled despite herself and nodded.
"And then I get to put the stamp on. Right, Mom?" Timmy actually sounded enthused about it, unlike the rest of us. Besides Mom, anyway.
I rubbed Timmy's back. "Yup. Then you pass the card to me and I pull aside the ones that need an extra note and seal the others."
"That's right, Angela." She looked over her troops. "Are we ready to get started?"
Nods traveled across the production line. Mom stepped into place.
"Okay then. Here we go."
It was actually pretty smooth going to start. I had to remind Timmy exactly where the stamp went, but he got into a pattern pretty quickly after that. We didn't really chatter much while we worked--we'd tried that last year, but the lady in charge hadn't thought much of it.
But then, when we were about halfway through, the unspeakable happened.
The doorbell rang.
Now, first of all, you need to know that nobody ever comes to our house without calling first. It couldn't possibly be a door-to-door salesman, as we live in the middle of the country and our front door is almost half a mile from the road. Friends and family always, always let us know they're coming.
Timmy screwed up his face. "What was that sound?" (I told you the doorbell doesn't ring much.)
Everyone stopped working and stared back and forth from person to person, mouth agape. Dad turned his body and began to leave his post, but Mom put her hand out.
"Don't answer it. We're almost done." She had that stare about her again.
Are you serious, Mom?" Rebecca's tween attitude was quite blatant.
My mother nodded. "Let's finish up."
We all sighed and got back to work, despite the doorbell ringing three more times. Mom, of course, gave us that same look after each ring.
According to Mom's stopwatch, we completed the task in one hour, twelve minutes and thirty-seven seconds, including our little interruption. Mom was thrilled. We were relieved.
"Now, aren't you glad we didn't allow that doorbell to distract us?" Mom poured a round of hot chocolate. "Who knows how long we would have been delayed? I'm sure, if it was important, they'll come back."
"Maybe we should go back," the blonde mumbled, biting her lip.
The gentleman sighed. "You know that's against the rules. If they don't come to the door, we draw another name."
"I know. It's just such a shame for that family, Mr. McMahon."
"It's part of the job, dear--just part of the job."
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