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Deer rains on Christmas parade

January 05, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

When I was a reporter, I always tried to save some vacation for the week after Christmas because practically nothing happens then. Many in government use that week to take that use-or-lose annual leave, which leaves departments staffed with people who don't know the answers to the questions you ask. Or if they do know, they don't want to be quoted when the boss isn't around.

So that's why you're hearing about my Christmas, which is something I ordinarily wouldn't write about because it takes me so long to get in the spirit of the holiday.

That's because Christmas comes at the wrong time of the year, at its tail end, when I have to review what I've done for the press association's annual writing contest. That's also when I get to see the Maginnis relatives at a combination family reunion/holiday party and catch up on what everybody's been doing.

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Unfortunately, I can't just listen, but actually have to say what I've done, too, leading me to ask myself: Did I actually write anything that changed someone's life for the better this year?

I went through a period a couple of years ago when I wrote a lot of columns about people in sad circumstances - children with cancer or other serious diseases who needed money for various things, like carfare to Baltimore for treatments.

Usually readers responded, particularly if the child was young and cute, though it always made me angry to realize that in the world's richest country, the quality of health care sometimes depends on how many cookies people buy at your bake sale.

This year the saddest story I heard - and could do absolutely nothing about - came from the Hagerstown mother of a chronically ill child whose car had been repossessed, with the child's school books and some personal papers inside. I said I'd try to help.

I called the auto dealer, who referred me to a credit company in Michigan, which referred me to an impound lot in Upper Marlboro, Md., which referred me to a local guy in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia who had a cell phone, but no last name or address that I could track down. I finally found the owner of another "recovery service" who was working with and that guy convinced him to call me.

It would take me an hour to drive to Hagerstown with those books, he said.

Ship them to me C.O.D., I said. Okay, he said. I'm still waiting. Does trying count for something? Or is it like we used to say when we were kids, that "close" only counts with hand grenades or horse shoes?

Even when I did manage to do the right thing this Christmas season, something went wrong. As a board member of the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that combats child abuse, I was asked to buy Christmas presents for one client's 6-year-old child.

Off I went to Kmart, where I got some toys and a few outfits, remembering to buy them a little bit large so he'd have room to grow. A day later, my credit card wasn't in my wallet. Had I left it at the store and was someone using it to buy a big-screen TV?

I thought about going home and scouring the house for it, but decided it would be prudent to call and cancel. When I got home, it was sitting on a shelf, which meant my shopping options were somewhat restricted.

Then there were the slipcovers. When our two boys were young and rambunctious, we bought a sofa set from Pine Factory, with frames that were nearly indestructible. The cushions were replaceable, which seemed like a good idea, except that Pine Factory is now out of business.

However, a company in Chesterfield, Va., called Homespun Home Fashions has sprung up to fill the need. We ordered a new set, which they said they'd try to deliver in time for our family gathering Christmas Eve.

By Dec. 21, it was clear the cushions weren't coming in time, so the old ones had to be washed. But when they came out of the dryer, it was apparent the only thing that had held some of them together was dirt. Absent that, they began to disintegrate. Not to be deterred, I got some postal packing tape, fastened the ragged ends together and put them on the frames, damaged-side-down.

So far, so good. With two days to go, we were in full Martha Stewart mode, cleaning and polishing in an attempt to transform months of "chore neglect" into something that wouldn't gag our guests.

Then I went out the night of Dec. 22 on an errand. Not more than 200 yards from the house, a deer jumped in front of the pickup truck. I turned around and looked for it, but it was gone. The next morning I found it, lying dead in muddy water in my wife's cousin's field.

It didn't seem right to leave it there, so I began calling agencies to find out who would pick it up. Nobody, I was told, unless it's out in the road. Fighting off the temptation to drag it back into the street, I convinced the landfill to let me bring it there. The carcass was stiff, but the blood still poured out its nose into the bed of the truck and mud in the landfill pit was about a foot deep. What fun.

But it's been a few laughs to tell people that "I got a deer over Christmas" and then reveal that it wasn't with a firearm, but with my truck. I've been inconvenienced, but not really that much and am fortunate to have a job where I can occasionally fulfill my professional obligations by telling readers about the stupid stuff that happens to me. Thanks for reading. I promise to do better next week. Have a Happy New Year.

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