Christmas Today, Christmas Yesterday

by Scott Thompson - December 21, 2012, 8:09 pm PST
Total comments: 7

Thinking about my first Christmas as a father.

Tegan is asleep in her room above me, dreaming of what I assume babies must dream of: colors, familiar faces, places they can’t possibly connect. The baby monitor on my computer desk emits the static sounds of a beach, where fake waves crash along the shore and seagulls sound off in a perfect 1-2-3-caw rhythm that never falters. The sounds are supposed to help put her to sleep, but I find they are equally useful in helping me focus.

I’m writing about Christmas. What it has meant to me, as a child, and what it means to me now, as a father. When I struggle with synonyms for “amazing” “surprising” and “total bullshit” for too long, my monitor goes black, and in its reflection I can see our Christmas tree glowing behind me, surrounded by a number of gifts wrapped pristinely by Tegan’s mother, and a few wrapped by me, as if handled by a person whose hands have been asleep for hours. Without counting, I’d say there are roughly twenty gifts of varying size encircling the tree, and no less than fifteen of them are for Tegan.

Of course, she won’t remember any of what she unwraps, nor will she have any concept of our gesture. Mostly, she will peel off the bows stuck to each brightly colored package and collect them within arm’s reach (for optimal “getting into mouth” time), much like she might collect and ascribe value to seashells or fireflies a few years from now. Still, it doesn’t have the slightest effect on my absolute excitement for Christmas morning, when we will sit with her on the floor, encouraging her to rip the paper away and find what is underneath.

Thinking about this first Christmas with Tegan has me remembering a particular year when I was a boy.

***

It is 1996, and my grandma is watching me at her house on Bauer Street. The two-story house is old and full of history, including that of the childhood of my mom and her three brothers and one sister. The walls are painted white, and the floor is made of wood, dark brown and always dirty. In the backroom, behind a gate, is grandma’s Rottweiler, who is never allowed out when the grandkids are around. A precautionary measure, I think, as I don’t recall any cousin ever being sewn up with stitches after prodding the dog.

I’m eleven years old, and I’m fairly certain I’ve just convinced my grandma to take me to McDonalds for lunch. Before we can go, though, she must go down to the basement and get some money for the trip. I follow behind her, down into the dank and cool basement. The only other time I remember seeing the basement is during a particularly stormy night a few years ago. My mom came to help her three brothers send buckets of flooded water up the stairs and out the back door, while I sat at the top of the stairs watching wayward hats and Ziploc bags full of useless junk float and bob around as if it was completely normal.

In the corner of the basement is grandma’s safe. Standing six feet tall, it towers over me and is decorated with magnets that pin pictures of the grandkids to each side. There is one of me in a green jersey holding a soccer ball. The dial spins back and forth with ease as my grandma performs the opening incantation, and in a few seconds, the door of the rust-brown safe swings open. Her purse hangs from a coat hook soldered to the side, and while she begins to rummage through it, my eyes catch something lying along the floor of the safe. The front of the box is gray with a red stripe across the rightmost side; the top is purple and hosts Bowser, Mario, a Stormtrooper, and a figure I don’t recognize. “Nintendo 64” is proudly written across the front, and, just underneath it, “The Fun Machine.”

Almost immediately, I lift my hand, point at the treasure befitting a safe of this magnitude, and ask “who is that for?”

My grandma pulls her hand out of her purse, clutching wayward bills, and immediately shuts the safe. “That is for your cousin Jenny, and you better not ruin the surprise!” Despite my insistence, she will say no more on the topic.

I spend the next few days in agony, repeating the same imaginary conversation with my grandma over and over. “But grandma, Jenny doesn’t even like video games. She won’t even want it!” I plead to no one. Eventually, my anger subsides, and the final weeks of school before Christmas vacation drift by effortlessly and without consequence.

Christmas day finally arrives and, despite constant reminders, I am crestfallen to discover that there is no Nintendo 64 among the gifts furnished by my mother that morning. Still, there isn’t much time to sulk, as my brother and I are hurriedly dressed in now too-small sweaters given by relatives last year and carted off to grandma’s house for dinner and more gifts. Jenny sits across the table from me, talking excitedly about the gifts she has received so far, and I loathe her as much as any child is capable of loathing. A thimble’s worth really, but still I loathed away.

We move to the living room, and my grandma and grandpa begin to distribute presents to the kids with concerted sluggishness. Each trip back from the kitchen produces a few more small presents—too small to be a Nintendo 64—that are placed around every cousin, including Jenny, while my brother and I watch, gift-less. Finally, my grandma comes out one last time with a large, rectangular box wrapped in bright red paper, and places it in front of me and my brother.

“Sorry for tricking you,” she offers with a wink.

I can’t believe it; grandma, herself a bastion of hope and truth, a woman who never met me without a cookie or candy bar in tow, had tricked me. My brother and I feverishly stripped the box of its paper before hugging. There, but of course, was the Nintendo 64. “The Fun Machine” was ours. When we return home, my mom presents us with two more gifts: a copy of Super Mario 64 and an extra controller.

***

It wasn’t until years later that I put together why my grandma had purchased us such an elaborate gift while my other cousins received clothes and checks for $25. She had bought it for us because my mom, a single mother working two jobs to support us, couldn’t. It was as simple as that. I haven’t worked up the courage to ask whose idea that was, but I have a feeling my grandma orchestrated it; my mother is certainly too proud to ask for someone’s help, especially in buying her kids Christmas gifts.

I think about that Christmas each year. About the absolute joy of receiving exactly what I wanted, as well as the love my grandma exhibited in helping my mom provide that for me. Tegan won’t remember this year’s Christmas the way I will, but I hope one day I can give her a memory like this; a brilliant memory of a day she can always look to and think “my dad loves me.”

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Talkback

purevalDecember 22, 2012

Enjoy Christmas while it is carefree now, it can get very stressful later. I have spent the past month trying desperately to keep our bank account above 0 while unsuccessfully hunting down some rather hot toys (blasted Shellraiser).


I can appreciate what your grandmother did for you, my mother has been going out of her way to pick things up for our kids, because she knows how tight things are for us. One hand I am grateful because I know they will have a good Christmas, but on the other I feel bad because I am not the one getting everything for them.


One word of advice, don't build it up too much in your mind. My son fell asleep at the tree his first Christmas and did not even care about what was going on. Granted he was less than 2 months. My daughter is 7 months now, but I am still not sure what her reaction will be. Enjoy what makes her happy.

KITT 10KDecember 22, 2012

Cute kid.

PajamasDecember 22, 2012

Nice read. I just got married recently and am looking forward to becoming a father so I too can create these memories for me and my family as well.

Stark_NebulaDecember 22, 2012

HNNNNNNNNNNNNGG. Why can't I hold all these feels? D:

Pixelated PixiesDecember 22, 2012

Nice story.

Some people will probably find this a little sad, but the first Christmas I can remember was also the Christmas that I found out Santa wasn't real, lol. I would have been 5 years old, overly curious, and fond of climbing. Let's just say it didn't take long for me to find out that what was in those bags at the top of my parents cupboard was in fact my gifts. The good news is that I found out in the best possible way, because among those gifts was a giant box with 'Super Mario Bros. 3' plastered on it. Getting a NES with Super Mario Bros. 3 packed in? I'd take that over childhood innocence any day.

Stoeff.atDecember 22, 2012

wow, i am the only one who got WAY to emotional reading trough this?  :'(

LudicrousDa3veDecember 22, 2012

This was a wonderful story! I have four kids, the oldest being nine; there's been a lot of chaos, but its been interesting trying to give her at least one more Christmas with Santa. Their mom and I actually got them a Wii U as an early present, to leverage that there's no way we could get the presents that wind up under the tree after getting a Wii U; it must be Santa!
It's all kind of bittersweet.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all that jazz to all of you here!

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