Tommy’s Christmas Gift

Christmas has all kinds of side effects.  Little Tommy’s Christmas was no exception.

To appreciate what happened, we need to understand that most boys are attracted to things mechanical.  Maybe it’s in our genes.  Tommy was no exception.  But Tommy had a disadvantage – there were no male influences in his house, at first.

Tommy’s Mom was a single parent.  He was born two weeks after his father died of leukemia. He became the youngest of seven children . . . and the only boy.

A change came to Tommy’s life just after he turned six years old.  His oldest sister, Susan, announced to the family she’d invited someone to dinner on the weekend.  She’d started a job a few months earlier in the city, 30 miles from the small town where they lived.  Her guest was a co-worker.

As it turned out Susan’s guest, Matt was handy with tools and enjoyed fixing things.  Susan’s mother, Ellen, was delighted.  Many things in her 100+-year-old house needed repair.  Ellen had been a widow for more than six years.  She was remarkably clever in many ways, but home repairs were not her forte.  Matt showed up the next weekend with a tool kit and went to work.  Tommy followed Matt everywhere . . . up and down the stairs, throughout the house, into the basement, and around outside.  Weekend after weekend, Tommy could have been Matt’s shadow.

Matt and Susan had been dating for about six months when Christmas arrived. They arrived at her Mother’s house on Christmas Eve with surprises for everyone . . . and a very special one for Tommy.  Christmas morning everyone watched as Tommy opened a pint-sized tool kit.  It had everything: hammer, screwdriver, ruler, level, and tape measure . . . it even had a small but authentic hand saw.


Tommy was overjoyed.  His mother was impressed.  Tommy saw Matt as a role model.  Ellen was pleased her son had a steady male influence.   Her brother-in-law, Jack, worked full time in the city and was farming, as well.  That left him with little one-on-one time with Tommy.  Ellen’s only fear was that Matt would ‘disappear’, as in Matt and Susan would break up.  She knew that could devastate Tommy.

By then, however, Susan and Matt had been romantically involved for more than six months.  Ellen described her fears to Matt.  She needn’t have been concerned.  Susan had already decided she was going to marry Matt.  It’s just that . . . well . . . she hadn’t told her mother yet . . . or Matt.

Tommy’s tools and his toolbox went everywhere with him.  He would place it carefully beside the tub during his baths.  He even took it to bed.  Ellen insisted that when Tommy went to school the toolkit had to stay behind.  It was the first thing he looked for when he got home.  And when Matt came to visit on the weekends, Tommy would quickly grab his toolkit, and accompany Matt while he fixed doorknobs, dripping water taps, slow drains, sticky kitchen cupboard doors, stubborn hinges, drafty windows, sagging verandahs, loose floorboards, holes in the walls, creaky stairs, broken clotheslines, and a seemingly endless list of other odd jobs.

Not long after New Year’s, Matt and Susan arrived as usual at her mother’s home for a weekend visit.  The excitement that normally accompanied their arrival was missing.  The children were nowhere to be seen.  Matt and Susan found out later they were cowering out of sight in the living room. Ellen was standing in the kitchen, her hands in the sink, when they walked through the back door. She had her back to them.

When she heard the door close, Ellen lifted her apron and wiped her hands as she turned and looked at them.  Her face was rigid with a stern look.

“Is anything wrong?” Susan asked, glancing back and forth between her Mother and Matt.  She was surprised her Mother hadn’t walked over and given her a hug, as she usually did.  She’d started giving Matt hugs, too.  Not this time.

“Is anything wrong?” Ellen replied firmly, her tiny body whirling around. “I should think so!” she added as she dried her hands on a towel.

Ellen walked over to the kitchen table.   Her late husband had built it for the family while being treated for leukemia.  The table was partly obscured by a large vinyl tablecloth.  It hung down on all sides.

Ellen reached down and lifted the corner of the tablecloth nearest her.  That was the where she sat.  Susan, before getting her job and moving to the city, sat at the other end, being the eldest.  The two kept peace during meals among the six other children.

“What do you think of that?” Ellen demanded, glancing down at the table leg beside her.  The table’s endplate and legs at both ends had been fashioned from single sheets of heavy plywood.  They were attached to the tabletop, itself cut from a full sheet of sturdy plywood.

The leg on the other side of the table rested firmly on the floor, as intended.  The leg closest to her was propped up on a three-inch pile of books.  Matt could see the table still was crooked.

“Your tools,” Ellen said, pointing accusingly with her other hand.  “Your tools did that!”

Turns out Ellen had complained earlier that week at supper about the table being uneven.  Tommy took it upon himself to fix the problem.  Instead of shimming up the short leg, he decided, when no one was looking, to shorten the ‘long’ leg.


Ellen was beyond annoyed with the damage to the table that Tommy’s father had lovingly built for his family just months before he died.  She held Matt and Susan fully responsible.  After all, they’d bought the handsaw that Tommy had used.  And she challenged Matt to fix “this disaster”.

The next morning, Tommy and Matt visited a local lumberyard and found a sturdy piece of scrap plywood.  At home, with Tommy holding the piece firmly on a box in the back yard, Matt trimmed the piece to match the shape of the errant leg.  He used Tommy’s little saw.  Tommy was pleased.

They went back inside and clamped the piece of wood to the leg.  Then, Matt used drill from his own toolbox to make pilot holes, and inserted screws, securing the repair piece in place.  Problem solved.

For years thereafter, Ellen and her daughters got a great deal of mileage from recounting that story to everyone who’d listen, The Saga of Tommy’s Toolkit.


Note: All images are in the public domain

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