No, not angst today. Compared to other people’s lives that I read about here, my life is ridiculously happy – the closest thing to post-Christmas angst in this household is that we can’t figure out what the hell the Furbies are saying.
The angst I had in mind was from many Christmases ago, when I was about ten years old, I guess. I was reminded of it today by strange coincidence – by a deck of cards I had purchased for my son and put in his stocking, to be found on Christmas Day.
I have many wonderful memories of Christmas – growing up in the Midwest, Christmas was ALWAYS white, my parents made a decent living and were lavish (well, not LAVISH – I’ve since met people who are truly lavish with gifts, my parents were generous) with gifts, and we were a happy family.
In our house there were six of us, and each person was responsible for getting one stocking stuffer for every other member of the family. In this way, my parents ensured that the children were involved in present buying, and at the same time they ensured that all the stockings were appropriately (and even-handedly) stuffed. A superior system that maybe we should be using in our home…
As a child, I remember being excited by the adventure of going shopping for those five presents. My mother would take us to a few stores, and we would look to spend our allowance on things the other person would like. We were also given a budget – I remember that in the later years it was four or five dollars per gift. My mother often received cheap perfume, and my father often got even cheaper screwdrivers – the kind where the tip bends when you try to turn a tough screw.
The stockings we used for Christmas were ones my mother had knit by hand. Taking them out and hanging them each year was one of the highlights of the holiday – each one had our names knitted into the top, and a picture of a Christmas tree with Santa next to it. The knitted tree was decorated with bits of white fluff and sequins that looked like ornaments, and Santa had a white fluff beard and the proper red coat and black boots. They were big stockings, and being knit, they would stretch to hold a lot of stuff (or LOOT as my teenager has taken to calling it, ala Calvin and Hobbes).
The stockings hung from the iron railing of the stairway that came down from our bedrooms, so emptying the stockings was always the first thing we did on Christmas morning. We would sit on the stairs and take out each present from our parents and siblings, excited to see what they had spent their time and money finding for us. This particular Christmas Day was like so many before and after – the bright white of the snow shining in through the windows, running down the stairs, emptying the stockings and piling the small presents next to them, then on to the tree and an orgy of peeling gifts followed by a day of playing with all the new things spread out across the living room floor. A standard Christmas Day, as unremarkable as a Christmas could be.
It was the day after Christmas that sticks in memory. I was trolling through the gifts, looking for something I hadn’t played with much, in that phase where I was already bored with playing with the simpler toys, but not ready to commit the time to assembling the aircraft carrier model or reading the books I had received. I checked under the tree to see if anyone had missed a gift, forgotten to unwrap some box – nope. I looked behind the furniture to see if any of us had dropped something back there and forgotten – no luck. I wandered around the living room looking at four childrens’ worth of toys scattered about. I passed the iron railing and absent-mindedly ran my hand down my stocking in what I thought was a hopeless hope that there might be some forgotten thing there.
There was a rush of excitement as I felt a weight in the stocking. I ran my hand down to the toe, and sure enough, there at the very bottom, there was a rectangular object – some TREASURE that had been overlooked. I quickly jammed my arm down the stocking and grabbed it. It was wrapped, unusual for stocking presents as they were often too small or too oddly shaped to warrant wrapping. But this was a rectangular box, wrapped, and with writing on it.
The writing was my father’s. I haven’t said much about my father yet in this diary, and I search for a way to describe him that would impart some fraction of what I know and feel about him after thirty-plus years. He was a good father, a great father, really – he never raised a hand to us, never raised his voice in anger, and yet he could bend us to his will with a few simple words spoken in a serious tone. He was (and is) a man of few words – and as a result, words spoken by him were always taken very seriously by us (as opposed to my children, who hear the sound of my voice – at many different volumes – a lot, and so I think are less affected by it). Like most fathers of his generation, he never told us he loved us, never showed it in an outright fashion. But we knew that love to be fact, by virtue of the comfortable coccoon of family and home that surrounded us.
(continued next entry…)