Required Reference: The wonderful, and now at our house traditional "A Christmas Story" movie.


Christmas eve, 2004. Sharon's folks Ed and Gretchen Caraway are here, as is son Pete and his two boys Josh 13 and Sieren 11. The phone rings, Sharon answers, and after a second or two, she yells, "Bob, it's for you."

I take the phone and hear a pleasant female voice say, "This is Western Union calling to read you a telegram. The telegram may or may not already have been delivered to your house. A company is pleased to notify you that you have won a prize, which will be delivered in the next ten days." I say, "Is it a MAJOR AWARD?" and she says, "I don't know." She clearly has never heard of the movie before, or has no sense of humor. She continues, "It's from Apex corporation, and you will be told of its value when it arrives." I say, "Is it a BOWLING ALLEY?" Then she laughs and says, "I don't know. I don't think so." So I thank her, put my hand over the phone, and yell to everybody in the house, "I've won a major award!" "What is it?" they ask. "I don't know. They're going to be sending it to me. But it has to be a scam. I'm going to look it up on the internet."

So I Google "Apex Western Union Prize," and get a link to the website at http://www.joewein.de/sw/419money.htm. And indeed I see that a company from Nigeria or somewhere in Africa has been doing this (including using Western Union as the go-between prize notifying agent, and it's called a "419 Scan," though I don't look close enough to know what the 419 is). I announce that once again, they didn't get to ME.

When Sharon was growing up in California, they opened their gifts on Christmas Eve, a clear violation of Missouri law. By tradition, we now allow everybody to open exactly one gift on Christmas eve, but both grandsons and I say we want to save all of ours for tomorrow.

"Where's Pete?" I ask, noticing that he's not here. "He went out for a minute," Sharon says. I figure he wanted to get a last-minute gift for one of his boys or something. After a bit he comes back in the front door, together with Maureen Ross, the 24-year old daughter of my first wife and her husband Bob Ross. "Rini!" I say and we trade a Christmas eve hug.

Then Pete says, "When we were coming back in, there was a huge box on the front porch." The UPS truck has been delivering gifts all day, so I'm curious to see what this is, as all gifts are now accounted for. Pete opens the front door, after somebody grabs Boomer, our cat, so he doesn't run out, and I see a big wooden crate, about 2 x 2 x 3 feet or a lilttle bigger. There are HUGE black stamps on the crate that says FRAGILE. I'm getting a case of the deja vu.


"FRA-GEE-LAY," several of us yell, and we all laugh. "Well open it," Sharon says. "I have to get a crowbar," I say, not quite comprehending what's happening. "It's a MAJOR AWARD," somebody yells. "It's a bowling alley," yells Pete.


There is no paperwork, and it doesn't say who it's for anywhere, but it has fallen to me, as hammer-man, to uncrate the thing. I go to the garage and bring back a hammer and crowbar and start to work.


As I'm prying, I say, "There better not be straw in here," and everybody laughs, remembering the stuff in the crate in "A Christmas Story." I pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming. Grandson Joshua video tapes the opening.

As the top comes off, hay comes spilling out onto the carpet, and I can't believe it. "Well, feel around and see what it is," Sharon says, and it's beginning to dawn on me that this might be for me, as everyone else has one of those expectant looks, like they just put a worm in your ice cream cone while you had your head turned.

I try to feel down without getting more straw on the carpet, but finally give up and the straw flies. I finally get hold of something, and I pull out the object pictured below! This is the part where you have to have seen the movie to understand.


Sieren comes over and plays Ralphie as he feels up the leg.


Sharon holds up the lamp, which she found in an antique store this past summer when we were visiting Ed and Gretchen in Nevada. Sharon and her sister Jeane tried to buy it then ("I've GOT to get that for Bob" Sharon says she told Jeane), but the owner wouldn't sell it. After several attempts, Jeane was finally able to trade him some of her antiques for it, and Sharon brought it home in a later visit we made to Nevada, tucked away in a box that she told me was for Peter. We dropped it off at Pete's office on our way back to San Jose. Pete came up with the idea of the crate, built the crate, and Maureen helped with the stencil.


We get a bulb, plug it in and light it up, and isn't it the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?


I collect everybody involved in my being punk'd and get this great shot. Left to right are Ed and Gretchen, Sieren, Pete, Maureen, Sharon and Joshua. Got Hay?


Somebody says, "You have to put it in the front window," and isn't it a picture for the ages?


I give the executioners an A+ on this one. Leg o' Lamp, anyone?