My Christmas Story
My Christmas Story
I sat cross-legged on the cold cracked linoleum floor clutching my new Chatty Cathy doll. The employees of the “Two Guys” department store had just handed it to me. I whispered a shy “Thank you.”
My father had told us at supper, that Santa would not be coming this year and I had accepted that. Even at the age of six I knew we were poor. Dirt poor. I learned not to expect much.
But miracles do happen and there I sat hugging a brand new doll. True, when I pulled her string at the back of her neck, she only squeaked and babbled. But I loved her anyway. She had blond bobbed hair and a maroon band hat that is held in place by a bobby pin with a circle of pearls. Her matching coat is made of a tweed material and buttons up with gold buttons. Underneath her knee length coat is a yellow cotton dress. My favorite color. She wears white cotton panties and little patent leather shoes.
I was shivering in my thin nightgown not only from wonderment and joy but also from the cold. The only heat in the house was from a coal cooking stove in the middle of the living room. It was made of white enamel and had red pin striping on the edges. The black cast metal circles on the top can be pulled aside with a metal handle that fits neatly into a groove on the side. My mother poured a few more chunks of coal into the hole with the rusty little shovel that sits atop of the gleaming black lumps of coal in the bucket next to the stove. But the bucket was almost empty so we had to be careful what we used. The coal company didn’t seem to catch on to the Christmas spirit.
My little brother, Larry’s upturned face shines in the glow of the Christmas tree lights. The Electric Company appeared this christmas eve with all the other Santa’s Elves and turned on the electricity so Daddy’s christmas tree lights twinkled, adding to the celebration. Larry pushed a new red metal fire truck along the floor making siren noises. He didn’t care if the ladder is bent in half. The department store had brought us all the broken toys from the return department.
On the pitted chrome table laid a cardboard box overflowing with foods I had never seen before much less tasted. Some kind of fruit, oblong and gold-colored stuck out of the box; it’s top shock of green leaves standing stiff and jagged. A criss-cross pattern covered its surface. A large clear jar full of unpopped popcorn displays the colors of the rainbow. Would the popcorn still be colored when it popped? The box was full of cans of food and boxes of mashed potatoes and cereal with promises of fun and gifts inside.
A blond pony-tailed lady in a pink fuzzy dress and white fur coat from the phone company brought a fat turkey and plopped it down on the table with a smile. She didn’t turn the phone on though, but that’s okay because it had been broken for a long time and I liked playing with it.
The table looked ready to topple over with the heavy load. It wasn’t used to so much food. We usually ate government surplus food; which was mostly huge burlap bags of sticky white rice and red tough hot dogs. We also ate wild animals my Daddy poached for us to eat. I liked wild rabbit the best. Our chairs were pushed against the metal table. My chair was red vinyl with silver piping around the edges. I loved that chair. I drug it home from the junkyard myself. The chrome was all rusty and pitted but there was only one tear in the backrest.
I was very careful not to sit to close to the “hole”. I didn’t want anything to happen to my new Chatty Cathy so I watched the hole out of the corner of my eye. On Saturday nights my father and his nine brothers would come over and bring instruments to play polkas late into the night. One night when my mother was at the hospital having my little brother Jeffery, a beautiful lady came to the door and she wore very high sharp heels. I sat under the table and watched her heel sink into the soft , rotting linoleum, making a hole that allowed snakes to slither up into our kitchen from the crawl space under the house. I always watched that hole, because I was sure that things could be sucked into to it just as easily as things came out of it.
Our unusual house had once belonged to my grandfather who had owned a coal delivery company, that really was a cover for a bootleg operation. Our house used to be the office and a set of ornate bookcases ran against the back wall. On the bookshelf were several sets of encyclopedias and beautifully illustrated children’s books that inspired me to become not only an illustrator but also a writer when I grew up. Not one of the sets is complete because my mother would order the books but never be able to pay for them.
The center of the bookshelf is kept bare because the panel could be pushed aside to reveal a deep cave behind the house from when it hid the contra-band whiskey. We loved to play in the damp, dark cave. it still retained a faint scent of bath tub gin. We would pretend to be pirates, or dragons or boot-legers like our grandfather. The house is built into the side of a steep hill. In the summer drips of water run down the wall and mold grew in the corners.
That christmas eve, people from the communitity just kept knocking on our door. I don’t even know how they knew about our almost ruined christmas. I didn’t drink any of the hot chocolate the uniformed policemen brought for us in two big thermoses. I didn’t want to have to run down the snow-covered path at night to the outhouse to pee. We had no water in our house unless my daddy got in the car and brought it home in big buckets. We used to have water but the big cement cistern in front of the kitchen got full of mosquitoes and we drank it and we all got typhoid fever. Daddy got the sickest and couldn’t work at the shoe factory for a long time.
After all the people left my father looked up from his glass of vodka and ordered us to bed. Our beds have no sheets and the little metal buttons of the mattress dug into my hip when I turned in bed. I pulled the thin, tattered brown wool blanket over my shoulder and smiled at my new doll. She always smiled back. I was afraid to let anything stick out over the edge of the bed because of the rats that comes out at night to search for any crumbs we may have left behind. Just a week ago my father killed one with the coal shovel right next to my bed. He slammed it on the head to knock it out and then he used the edge to slice it in half. I screamed and then peeked though my fingers and watched the tail still twitching even though it was separated from its brain.
I,m sure those kind people all forgot the Christmas that they brought happiness to a rag tag family with too many dirty children, but I won,t forget and I raise my pen to give tribute to every kind heart that reaches out to other lives not only on Christmas but everyday.