Not Always Bah Humbug

By Patricia LaPointe

Charlie

“Grandma, it’s time to light the tree.”

“Hang on there, Charlie. We’re missing two things.”

“Oh, we forgot the angel!  But I don’t think there’s anything else.”

“Hmm, I think there’s something we need that’s pretty important to you.”

Scanning the box of decorations, he finds his special ornament.

“My ornament! I almost forgot!”

His smile lights up his freckled face as he stares at the tiny cherub sitting on a rainbow. He begins to giggle as he reads the inscription: “Charlie Miller: April 16, 2003.”

“Grandma, my ornament is ten years old and has red hair just like me!”

“Well now we really are finished. It’s time to light the tree. And just in time, our hot chocolate is ready.”

“I can hardly wait to see all the gifts under the tree. Did you have a lot of gifts when you were a kid? Did you make a list of things you wanted from Santa?”

“I don’t remember being asked what I wanted for Christmas or being taken to see Santa Claus. So, what would usually happen was that I played with my brother’s gifts of trains, cars, and trucks and he played with my dolls. I didn’t mind him playing with my dolls except for the year he pushed a nickel into one doll’s mouth. It’s still in her belly today. If you shake her, you can hear the nickel bouncing up and down.

“Why did you play with his toys?”

“I think it was because I could move them around and make up stories about them. The dolls were kind of just there.”

“Yeah, I’d rather play with toys than a doll, too.”

“When I was older I opened boxes full of girdles. Do you know what they are?”

“They’re the things they use to build big buildings. Why would you get those? How did they fit into the boxes?”

“Oh, Charlie, not girders, girdles G-I-R-D-LE-S. They were like having on tight underpants. We wore them to make our tummies look better. Your Great Grandma thought my tummy jiggled too much and the girdles would keep it from jiggling.”

“Grandma, that sounds pretty boring.”

“It was. But one year I got a Hi-Fi. You know what that is don’t you?”

“I think I’ve heard the word, but I don’t remember what it means.”

“You know those big black round things that look like they’re plastic and have a hole in the middle. You’ve seen a stack of them in my family room. They’re called records. There are songs on them, kind of like your tablet. There’s a post in the middle of the Hi-Fi. If you wanted to hear music you’d put the post through the hole in the record. Then you’d put a needle down on the record and music would start playing.”

“A needle?”

“Not like a sewing needle or the doctor’s needle. Maybe I’m not explaining it right. I’ll try to find a picture of a Hi-Fi and to show you.”

“Sound like a lot of work just to hear songs. But did you like it better than the girders, I mean girdles?”

“Yes, I did except that there wasn’t enough money to buy many records.”

“Did you feel sad? I feel sad when I get a toy that needs batteries and we don’t have them.”

“I was kind of sad, but when I got older I used the money I got from working after school to buy records.”

“Did you open your gifts on Christmas day like we do or on Christmas Eve?”

“Well, every family has traditions. You know the way they do the same things every year. We’ve kept my family’s tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Day.”

“Were there any other tradsitions?

“Traditions. Yes, there were others, like it was always your Great Grandpa’s job to hand out the gifts and we all had to take turns opening our presents. But there was one thing that became a tradition that wasn’t too much fun. Every year we spent Christmas Eve with my Aunt Jo and Aunt Yola and her family. We would get to Aunt Yola’s house by about three o’clock. But by six o’clock there was a problem. Your Great Grandma, Aunt Jo, and Aunt Yola each had different ways to make the holiday food. Each one wanted to do it her own way. They would argue, sometimes loudly, over whose way was best. The one argument we could always count on was how much garlic and breadcrumbs should be mixed into the meatballs. I don’t know if you remember this or not, but Great Grandma’s meatballs were always the best. There was one year when wanting those meatballs got me into a lot of trouble.”

“Grandma, how can meatballs cause trouble?”

“Well one year, when the meatballs were done, I asked if I could have one. Because we were Catholics, we weren’t supposed to eat meat until we got home from church after midnight. So, as soon as I asked, I was chased out of the kitchen and told to go sit down.

“I decided to sit in my Uncle Henry’s lounge chair. It was one of those where you could pull a lever and put your feet up. I thought it was the best seat in the house because it was so close to the Christmas tree that you could just reach out and touch the branches. But I think it must have been too close to the tree because as I pulled the lever and my feet went up, the foot part bumped into the branches and the tree fell on me. In those days trees would be decorated with big red, blue, white and green bulbs and lots of glitter and tinsel. These lights got very hot, and before anyone saw what had happened, they burned a hole in my new tights. Uncle Henry lifted the tree off me, but I was still taking glitter and tinsel out of my hair during midnight mass.”

“Did you get burned?”

“No, but it made that Christmas a little less fun. My brothers and sister still tease me at Christmas saying, ‘Now don’t get too close to the tree.”

Charlie, staring at the tree, seemed mesmerized by the glow.

“Grandma, where did you get all of those ornaments?”

“Well, almost all of them are either things that your mom or your aunts made or things that they got as gifts.”

“I like it that they are all so different. My friend Jack’s tree isn’t real like yours and it has only blue ornaments on it.”

“Sometimes that looks really pretty. Blue is a very nice color. And real trees can be a problem, especially if you’re not careful when you decorate it. Do you know what flocking is? It’s shiny powdery stuff you can spray on the branches. It’s pretty but very messy. One year your Great Grandma put a bit too much of it on the tree. Every time someone walked past the tree, some of the flocking fell on the floor. It ended up sticking to our feet and we had flocking footprints all over the house.”

“That must have been very funny.”

“Everyone but your Great Grandpa thought so. Every day even after we’d thrown the tree out he would repeat the same words as he walked through the house, words you’re too young to hear. It was the last year your Great Grandma flocked the tree.

“And like I said, having one-color ornaments can be pretty, but sometimes it depends on the color. One year Great Grandma decided our fake white tree should have black ornaments. We lived on a busy main street and Great Grandma always thought that we should have something pretty for the passersby to look at. We don’t know why she wanted black ornaments. We thought maybe she was sad that year. Anyway, my brothers and sister and I became known as the kids with the black balls on their tree.”

“So, Christmas wasn’t always fun. Does that make you sad Grandma?”

“No sweetie. All those days are gone and now I have the best Christmases anyone could ask for. For one thing, you come to trim the tree and drink hot chocolate with me.”

“Have my cousins ever come to trim the tree?”

“No, this is my special time with my favorite red head. And you know what else makes these the best Christmases? Each year I ask you, your sister, and your cousins to give me a list of four or five presents you would like. I try to get at least four of the five items on everyone’s list.”

“That’s why there’s always so many gifts under the tree!”

“Well there are nine grandchildren. That times four….”

“I know. It’s thirty-six presents.”

“Right. But don’t forget I get two presents for each of my four daughters and one present each for their husbands. So, what does that make?”

“Um, two times four is eight, plus four is twelve. Plus, the thirty- six equals forty- eight presents!”

“That’s right.”

“So, buying the presents is what makes our Christmases the best?”

“I love buying the presents, but what makes these the best Christmases is when I hear ‘Grandma, you got me just what I wanted.”

“You always do. I love you, Grandma.”

“I love you too, Charlie. I enjoyed sharing these stories with you. Now let’s go refill our hot chocolate and enjoy our beautiful tree.”

©  2021 Patricia LaPointe

Pat LaPointe, editor of Changes in Life, a monthly online women’s newsletter, is contributing editor of the anthology, The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she conducts writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming late 2021.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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