Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Going down Memory Lane

The first Christmas that I can remember, my father wasn’t there for it.

In fact, he wasn’t there for any of them. For the past 35 years, he has been conveniently absent from the holiday cheer. It wasn’t that my father had passed away. It’s because he preferred to go to work rather than spend the holiday with his family.

We kids would wake up on Christmas morning eager to commit mass destruction on our boxes underneath the tinseled tree. My siblings and I never entertained the idea of a mythical fat man carrying free merchandise in a flying sled. So we expected for all the colorful tags to read: From Mom and Dad, scrawled in just my mother’s handwriting. After all the packaging was torn away, we would laugh and roll around on the ground in the happiest moments of our lives.

"Where’s Dad?" It was a question we stopped asking after the eighth Christmas. My mother was grateful for that. She had become tired of telling us that he had decided to take an extra shift at the steel mill.

When our father finally made his appearance, he would sneer at the Christmas tree, count his three little income tax dependents running about, and head off to bed. The gifts for him would sit undisturbed for the next two weeks, until he finally realized that the plastic tree would remain standing in the livingroom all the way into July if he never opened them. With a miserable look on his face at the money spent on such a worthless holiday, he’d tear the bright wrapping away to discover two cases of beer - the only type of gifts that he wouldn’t throw out. A can in one hand and the remote in the other, he’d lounge in the chair closest to the television so he didn’t have to stare at anything gaudy, and fall back to sleep.

So if the holidays were so bleak, what about all the other days?

That was my mother’s territory. With too much free time on her hands, this stay-at-home mom would immerse herself in gossip. Nothing was beyond her range of ego-bashing complaints: not family, friends, or unsuspecting wildlife. Finding the worst aspects of a situation, she would make them seem cataclysmic. If she couldn’t find anything bad, she would lie. If she couldn’t think up a suitable lie, she would rehash a decade’s old incident. All this would fill my father’s ears, as he would laugh at the victim’s stupidity.

Could it have been my mother’s year-round negativity that fueled my father’s dislike for the jolly holidays? Or was it my father’s disdain for the holidays that spurred my mother into complaining about other people’s faults because this was the only thing that interested him?

I don’t think I’ll ever know.

Now, as my parents reach their 60th birthdays, a few things have changed. My father has retired, so he has no excuse for missing any holidays. Yet he still amuses himself with hiding the plastic Christmas tree in the farthest depths of the attic and then nailing shut the entry. In turn, my mother amuses herself by going up to the attic with a hammer to pull out the nails. Then, like a skipping CD, she complains about his actions.

So goes the holiday spirit. Whenever I hear the jingle of bells or the gentle howling of a caroler, I think about Christmas past.

The Grinch and Mr. Scrooge. Maybe they're not so imaginary after all.

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