The Christmas Eve of 75 years ago in many ways resembled the Christmas Eve of today. There was a tree in the corner, stockings hanging from the mantle, and milk and cookies on the counter. After the children were put to bed, parents would pull the bicycles, doll houses, and mini-kitchens from their hiding places and get them ready for their appearance under the tree. And then, as now, they confronted those dreaded words: “Assembly required.”
In his article that appeared in the December 20, 1947, issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Robert M. Yoder bemoans the state of the instructions:
They are written in the special language of directions, a mechanical gobbledegook achieved by writing the directions first in Ruthenian and then allowing the translation to curdle. A stop sign from the same mumbling pen would take 200 words.
As he progresses, piece by piece, in the assembly of the last-minute gift, the outcome becomes more and more grim. With the end in sight, the instructions suggest that
‘It may be necessary, for best results’ — meaning, to make the thing work at all — ‘to enlarge aperture in Arm Y. This can be done quickly and easily by using a 16.3 metal file without tang, a 13-oz. dinging hammer, and some Australian-canoe-builders’ flux.
Finally, the task is complete: “If it holds together until Christmas afternoon, you will be agreeably surprised, and a glance at the clock tells you that won’t be long.”
To all of the parents confronting this Christmas Eve nightmare, take comfort in the fact that you weren’t the first parents to face the baffling instruction demons, and you won’t be the last.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now