CHRISTMAS PAST—Twelve Short Stories

Dec 24, 2002

The Bottom Line Something to read on Christmas Day—when the relatives start getting on your nerves, and you retreat to your computer.

As the final participant in the "Twelve Days of Christmas Write-Off," I was initially at a loss as to what I could tantalize your reading minds with. Then I remembered how I used to love listening to my grandmother’s stories—stories of her life as a child, which she always shared with my cousins and me after tucking us into bed when we stayed overnight at her house. In hopes of somehow capturing the feeling of Grandma’s stories, I decided to tell you some of my own. Here goes nothing . . .

On the 12th day of Christmas, here is my offering to you. No, it’s not Twelve Drummers Drumming—although you may be tempted to beat yourself over the head with a turkey drumstick after taking the time to read them all. The following stories are TRUE events, highlighting 12 memorable Christmases in my life. Aren’t you glad there aren’t 25 days of Christmas?

1) The Socks That Ate My Self-Esteem
My first grade class had been busily preparing for our school play. You know, the Big Event where parents and grandparents come to see their little darlings put on a show of Tony Award-winning quality. Because I was shy, I got lucky. The teacher didn’t give me a speaking role. I was one of the marching toy soldiers. All the kids who had stage fright were soldiers, and, needless to say, there were many of us.

Dress rehearsal day arrived. I put on my white blouse and navy blue pleated skirt, grabbed my tall, goofy-looking, toy soldier hat our room mother had stitched together, then went off to school. But, alas! I’d forgotten I was supposed to wear navy blue knee socks! I’d worn my red ones instead. Mom came to my rescue, bringing me a navy pair. I changed in the Girl’s Room, stuffing my red socks into the paper bag containing my lunch. Dress rehearsal went without a hitch, and afterwards we enjoyed our lunches in the cafeteria. I’d forgotten to take the socks out of my bag, and as the bell rang to return to the classroom, I promptly threw my bag into the trash—along with the red socks.

What I didn’t realize was that John, our beloved janitor, made a habit of going through the trash, searching for things a young child may have inadvertently thrown away. The next day, as our class walked to the cafeteria in "single file," we passed the banquet-size Lost & Found table along our route. I could hear the kids at the front of the line giggling. As I neared the table, I heard not only giggles, but whispering. "Whose socks are those?" "How could someone lose SOCKS???" "Tee hee hee!" There, among lost books, sweaters, and jackets, lay a neatly folded pair of bright, red socks. My face turned the color of a beet as I passed that table, but I never let on that they were mine.

This ego-deflating scene continued daily for the next several weeks, until, finally, those socks just disappeared.

2) The Year Santa Claus Died
For many years, downtown Richmond, Virginia had a marvelous, major department store called Miller & Rhoads. Every Christmas season, children were dressed to the hilt and accompanied by parents to Miller & Rhoads' SANTALAND, home of the Legendary Santa.

A room on the 6th floor of this building was annually transformed into a magic wonderland. The room was dimly lit, but thousands of tiny, white lights gave the appearance of night stars overhead. Woodland scenes with lifelike, animated animals were strategically placed throughout the room. Fully decorated trees adorned a path leading to the beautiful stage. Onstage were a huge fireplace, a Christmas tree, and a golden chair with a red velvet back and seat. And in that chair sat SANTA!

Beginning with my very first Christmas, I had the pleasure of putting on my Sunday best, going downtown, and sitting on Santa’s knee. The first five or six years of my life, I recall Santa’s smiling eyes and gorgeous, snowy white, REAL beard. He was the most beautiful Santa in the world, and, to us kids, the only Santa. He was soft-spoken and delightful, a fairytale come true.

In the late 1950s, this man, who had portrayed Santa for decades, was tragically killed in a car accident. In following years, the role of Santa was played by a number of kindly, believable men. I don’t think we children were aware of the change, but our parents were. Story has it that parents throughout our state mourned the loss of that first, wonderful man. Looking through old pictures, one now sees that none of his successors ever came close to the beauty of the original—the real Santa Claus.

Mother didn’t tell me this story until years later. I’m glad she waited.

3) Where Did The Preacher Go?
Apparently our minister outdid himself during a Christmas sermon one year. I was about 9 years old at the time, my brother 6. We were sitting in the pews, bored out of our minds (as children often are during lengthy sermons), when the congregation began to notice the preacher’s face turning whiter by the minute. He struggled through, made it to the end of his sermon, then proceeded to faint—right there at the pulpit in front of hundreds of churchgoers. I remember several men from the choir rushing to his aid. We later learned he’d been coming down with the flu as he tried to carry out his Sunday service.

The next week, my brother’s Sunday school teacher asked each of her pupils to draw a picture of something that made them think of God, Jesus, or anything church-related. So what did my brother hand in? A 6-year-old’s scribbling of a pulpit, with one arm sticking out of the top, and a leg sticking out from beside it. Our preacher must have made one lasting impression in the mind of a young child!

4) The Vrrroom! Bike
Bruce was a redneck in the making. His family lived across the street from us most of my childhood years. When Bruce was around 5 years old, he learned to ride a two-wheel bike. Every morning at the crack of dawn, he’d ride that thing in circles around his house, over and over, making the loudest, most obnoxious sounds imaginable as he pretended he was on a motorcycle. "Ruddin! Ruddin!! R-R-R-R-Ruddin!!!" All morning long. It was painful enough to my young ears, but nearly drove the neighborhood parents crazy.

This almost-daily ritual went on for nearly 2 years. Then some toy company came up with the bright idea of making what was known as a "Vrrroom! Bike." And guess what Santa brought Bruce that year?

As if his own mouth didn’t create enough noise to wake the dead, he now had this newfangled bike with a built-in, battery-operated motor. The sound was deafening! I heard my father say more than once that he’d like to sneak over there and "shoot the damn thing." Of course, we knew he meant the bike, not Bruce.

5) Grandma’s Jar of Peanuts
I was still a kid of less than 12 when my grandmother got her Gift To Remember. One of my uncles presented her with a gaily-wrapped present on Christmas Day, which she opened in front of the entire family. Beneath the ribbons and paper was a tall, metal can of peanuts.

Grandma shook the can. It rattled! She could hardly wait to open the can, being that peanuts were her favorite snack. She pulled the cap off the jar, and—ZZZZOING!—a huge, long, fabric-covered spring in the shape of a snake jumped out at her and flew across the room!

"EEE-EEEE!" she shrieked, as she dropped the metal can. The expression on her face was priceless.

Grandma later told us the "snake" didn’t scare her one bit. Of course, we never argued with Grandma—but funny how her hair started graying much faster after that day.

6) Our Charlie Brown Tree
Two days before my 16th Christmas, I stood in the picture window of our second rental home, staring out at the bleakness of that cold, winter day, feeling it was the worst day of my life. Had we lived there long? No. We were moving in that day.

Two months earlier, we hastily moved into a temporary rental home, after my parents sold the nicest house we’d ever lived in. Poor planning by the realtor led to our having to vacate before my parents could find a new place to buy. The temporary rental home was available only until it was sold. As luck would have it, the house went rather quickly. My family had to find another rental property almost immediately. The move out date was December 23.

I kept my thoughts to myself, but I was grief-stricken that we didn’t have a Christmas tree set up! As my father and his friends carried furniture from the truck into the house, my 2 younger brothers came up with a grand idea.

They went out to the back yard, broke off a branch from a pine tree, and put it in a metal bucket filled with rocks and water. The three of us began making decorations of construction paper and glitter we managed to dig out of one of the many boxes. We worked for hours, making sure to include a bright yellow paper star for the top.

On Christmas morning, the sun shone through our living room window, lighting up our little makeshift "tree." There beneath the tree, among the towers of unpacked boxes, were brightly wrapped packages for the entire family. Santa had come! And the Charlie Brown Tree became our most memorable Christmas tree of all. Any tree, when decorated with love, is beautiful.

7) The Christmas The Neighbors Cried
I’d just turned 19, and our family was living in a lovely, new house dad bought a few months earlier. The neighborhood was aglow that holiday season with festive wreaths, colorful Christmas lights, and decorated, outdoor evergreen trees.

A few nights before Christmas Eve, at around 9:30 PM, the dreaded sound of sirens filled the air. Peering out of windows, we saw fire engines scream past our home. Seven doors down, they came to a stop. The largest house on the block was lit up in fire, and smoke billowed from every window. Neighbors came out on porches and watched in horror as the firemen worked for over an hour to extinguish the blaze.

Four children were home alone in the house that night. The oldest, a girl of 13, was left in charge while their parents visited friends for a couple of hours. When the fire broke out, this brave girl tried desperately to rescue her younger siblings—but the children lost each other in the dense, black smoke. The youngest child was an infant, who was dropped to the floor when the older girl’s clothes caught on fire. When the first fire truck arrived, the teen was found rolling in the snow in her front yard, trying to smother the flames on her body. She suffered burns on her arms, face, and neck. All three younger children died of smoke inhalation. And the entire neighborhood cried.

8) Sweatin' Out The Holidays
Christmas season in Virginia is usually cold, but this year it was HOT—or at least I was! I was in my mid-20s then. While in the midst of holiday baking on December 23, I began feeling weak and feverish. But I kept baking, as a houseful of relatives was due at our home that evening.

All day long I continued feeling worse. My husband asked if I wanted to call the gathering off, but since I’d prepared all that food, I answered, "No." Family arrived and enjoyed the evening, while I spent the entire time in bed. I remember Dad coming in to talk to me, but I could barely open my eyes. My condition grew worse, and my temperature rose to 106 degrees. In the middle of the night, my husband called our family doctor.

I was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve morning. Diagnosis: pneumonia. For the next 10 days, I remained hospitalized. I slept almost constantly the first five days, breathing under an oxygen tent, and being fed by an IV of glucose. My fever stayed high until the 6th day, when penicillin finally worked its wonders and began ridding my body of that horrible illness. Doctors later told me I was the sickest person under 35 years old they’d seen in two years. It was no fun returning home on January 2 to a brown Christmas tree and still-unopened presents. Bah, Humbug! to that holiday season!

9) The Greatest Gift of All
Every year for the first 27 Christmases of my life, there were piles of beautifully-wrapped presents under our tree. The sizes, shapes, and contents of the packages changed from year to year, but I could always expect a heap of them when I came down to the tree on Christmas morning.

On my 28th Christmas, there was something special beneath our tree. Six months earlier, I had given birth for the first time. My husband placed our infant son under the tree while he and I opened gifts. Our little boy smiled and cooed as he looked up into the branches, eyes wide open, and tiny hands reaching towards the glittering balls and twinkling lights.

We witnessed the miracle of life watching our son come into this world, and, on this particular Christmas, we knew we had a gift no amount of money could buy.

10) The "Dick-Dick" Dance
Family gatherings are a tradition in our family, usually held at my brother’s home. Both my sister-in-law and I had fathers named Richard, who went by the common nickname, Dick. At the family function when my son was 3, the twenty-some of us were sitting around the living room, enjoying the crackling fire, good food, and conversation. My son was the only child present and seemed to be content in his own little world while the adults carried on.

At some point, there came a lull in conversation. I have no idea what brought the next event on, but I think someone must have addressed one of the fathers, ending their sentence in "Dick." Seemingly from out of nowhere, my son now stood in the center of the room, surrounded by his grown-up relatives. He proceeded to "pull" himself as he danced around, singing a made up tune. "Dick-dick, dick-dick!" he sang, prancing in circles in front of everyone. Not wanting to make an issue of his behavior, I watched in horrified silence, then glanced around the room full of incredulous faces. My father was the only one wearing a smirk. I think Dad was reveling in one of those "Now It’s YOUR Turn" moments. Yes, at one time or another, most of us probably did embarrass our parents.

11) Out Of The Mouths of Babes
My son was now 7 years old, my daughter just 2. The Christmas rush was in full swing, and I wanted to make some holiday decorations. There was a Ben Franklin Crafts store nearby, so I bundled up the children and headed out. The Ben Franklin in our area was home to wealthy, older women and refined, "country club moms." When I arrived, the store was packed with these women. Christmas lights twinkled throughout the small store, and the room was filled with peaceful, orchestral Christmas music.

Among that store full of crafts, there was a single aisle of toys—the perfect place for kids to look around while mothers were busy elsewhere. I trusted my responsible son with his little sister and allowed them to check out the toys as I searched other aisles for ideas.

After perhaps 20 minutes, my ears got the shock of their life. Suddenly, above the music and the low hum of voices, I heard a child’s voice scream out a big, loud, "[expletive] YOU!!!" I recognized the voice immediately. My face flushed blood red. I knew my son had antagonized my daughter, and her outburst had been directed at him. So did I run to the toys aisle and scold her? Heck, no! I ignored it completely, stayed in my aisle, and hoped to God that the other women were unsure of what they heard. I need not mention she later received a Mommy Lecture in words a 2-year-old could understand.

12) Christmas Without Granddad
My children were still very young when my father lost his battle with heart disease. He passed away in October, and our family felt the tremendous loss of his presence at the Christmas gathering that year. Two months later, my husband’s father died while undergoing emergency surgery. Another Christmas arrived, another face was sorely missed. And it bothered me to realize my children would grow up never knowing the love one shares with a grandfather.

Through the years, our family has had many good Christmases and a few not-so-good Christmases. One by one, beloved faces leave us, but they are never forgotten. Older faces disappear, little faces grow up, new faces join us. The family circle is an ever-changing one. It’s never easy to lose those who are dear to us, but the holiday season tends to bring back memories that fill our hearts with joy—the joy of family at Christmas.

Here’s hoping this Christmas finds you with loved ones. They make those holiday memories that last a lifetime!

Merry Christmas to all—and to all, a good night.

SPECIAL thanks to my dear friend, Jack—aka jackai—for inviting me to participate in his Twelve Days of Christmas Write-Off. It was my pleasure to join the other eleven talented writers who turned out a review or story in light of this holiday season!

READERS: Be sure to go to Jack’s profile page for quick links to the rest of the contributions:

Following is a list of all writers who participated:

1st Day: Lambchops
2nd Day: Granniemose
3rd Day: Lorace
4th Day: jankp
5th Day: chriswillyv
6th Day: cletta1201
7th Day: artbyjude
8th Day: dedemw
9th Day: prfstars
10th Day: jackai (the host!)
11th Day: Lynus
12th Day: katybrighteyes (yours truly)

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About the Author ID:
Member: Katy
Location: Virginia
Reviews written: 13
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About Me: Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. ~MarkTwain