"What is it you're doing, Punch?" White Oxley asked.
White stood in the front yard looking up at his friend perched atop a ladder leaning wobblingly against the roof line of the house. In one hand Punch held a wad of green wires with little protruding light bulbs while he tried with the other to extract one end of the string. He glanced down at White. "Well, what does it look like I'm doing?" He spoke with irritation, returning his attention to the snaggle of wire and lights.
"My first thought was some kind of alien life-form had landed on your roof, and you'd got up there and nabbed it. But then I seen it was some kind of electrical thing, so I figured you'd come up with a peculiar sort of suicide attempt. I'm just here to talk you down, son."
"No, it ain't none of that" Punch said, not the least bit amused. "I'm hanging these dang Christmas lights for Jo Lynn."
"Well, I ain't no expert on hanging Christmas lights, like you," White said. "But wouldn't it be simpler to untangle that string of lights on the ground instead of up on that ladder…and safer?"
Punch lay the wad of lights on the gutter and looked up at the sky. He sighed loudly. "Yes, it would," he answered. "I just didn't think it'd be this complicated when I started. I'uz in a hurry to get back to my ballgame."
White could see the scene now. Punch had done something stupid, had somehow screwed up and got Jo Lynn mad at him again, and was trying to make up for it by agreeing to do any blame thing she asked him. This happened on a pretty regular basis with Punch. And over the years, White'd come to the conclusion Jo Lynn counted on it to get things done around the house.
"Well, why don't you come on down from there before you fall and break your fool neck, and I'll help you get all that straightened out."
Once Punch descended, they moved to the porch steps. White sat, took the ball of lights from his friend and started working on it. Punch watched, mildly impressed with his friend's patience and tenacity with the task.
"I don't understand why Jo Lynn wants them lights up, anyway," Punch said.
"It's festive," White said, pulling on a loop of wire. "Your women like festive. Makes 'em feel like things look better'n they actually are. That's why they watch all them TV shows about weddin' dresses."
Punch took about a half minute to consider all that. "I got to get her a Christmas present. I ain't done that yet. You got your wife anything yet?" he asked.
"Yep," White answered.
"What you get her?"
"Something nice; something she won't expect."
"I ask Jo Lynn what she wanted and she said," Punch switched to a mocking falsetto voice. "Oh nothing really. I got everything I need."
"Uh huh. You know that's a test."
"Yessir, when they tell you they don't really want anything for Christmas, it's their way of seein' what you'll come up with. And then they'll determine that what you do end up gettin' them is an indication of your love for them, one way or t'other."
"Do what? Well, holy cow, it's just a dang Christmas present."
"I know. I know. But women look at things different than you and me. We see Christmas presents as merely something that'll come in handy, like a new compound bow or a set of socket wrenches or a flat screen TV for the garage. They, on the other hand, take them as a measure for the depth of your relationship."
"No way," Punch said, shaking his head and grinning back at White thinking this was another one of his friend's jokes. White loved to pull his leg.
"I'm dead serious, boy. You got to think long and hard before you decide what to give 'em. Like I said, needs to be something nice, and something she won't expect."
Punch nodded, scrunching his brow as he submerged deep in thought. After a bit, he snapped his fingers, his face brightened. "I got just the thing. I'm going to get her a bus ticket to go visit her momma for a couple weeks. She won't expect that."
White unloosed the last tangle in the string of lights and stood. "Let's get these hung up, son. I 'spect I'll have to come back in May to help you take 'em back down."