5. The Best Christmas

December 25, 1991

This Christmas will always stand out in my memory as the best Christmas.  It was the last one we truly spent as a family and without any tension.  We all took turns with the camcorder, and over the years I watched the tape over and over until it was nearly worn out.  There were many happy memories.  The decorations were resplendent and the gifts were superb.  All was merry and calm.  Dad joined us in our laughing and carrying on.  Sure, Dad threw his occasional tantrum throughout the year, but as he increased his work load we saw him less and less.  By the time Christmas rolled around, all was forgotten.

In subsequent years Dad distanced himself further and further from our holiday celebrations.  He’d go out and organize his truck or retreat to his basement office and bury himself in paperwork.  I’d seek him out and invite him to join us but he always declined, heaving a sigh and muttering something about not wanting to bother anyone or that he didn’t feel welcome.  He was starting to feel like a stranger to his own family and envied the close relationship we all had with Mom, except he didn’t know how to replicate it.

Grandma and Grandpa arrived in the afternoon, right on schedule.  They joined us for dinner every Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for some reason it was always my mother who invited them.  Dad never did.  I was always unsure of what to do or say around them.  Grandma clucked and worried and nagged over everything imaginable.  She was very upset that I wasn’t eating, and Mom told her in vain at least ten times that I had already eaten or that I would eat something later.  Two hours after we finished dinner Grandma was still fretting that the cake she made was too dry and she should have put one more egg in it.  Grandpa on the other hand plowed right through it and passed out on the couch twenty minutes later (we later learned it was rum cake).   Dad took advantage of the opportunity and hung a pretzel out of Grandpa’s gaping mouth, and then took a Polaroid as we did our best not to laugh and wake him up.

Grandpa wasn’t much different when he was awake, though.  For the most part he was silent and expressionless, although he’d come to life occasionally to laugh or to tell a joke.  But he was not one for conversation, and whatever he did say was often gruff or impatient.  Thankfully he was still out cold when my oldest brother Johnny started imitating our parish priest, intoning “The Body of Christ” with a hundred different inflections.  We all thought it was hilarious – Dad even let loose a grudging chuckle or two – but Grandma was very upset that we were “making fun of the Church” and Mom had to calm her down again.

Finally they headed home, and I delved back into my Christmas stash.  I received several more Lego sets to pad out my collection, along with some new movies on VHS.  Oh, and more books.  Always more books.  One of those books, however, was blank.  It was my first ever journal.  I turned it over in my hands, fanned through the pages, opened it right to the middle and pressed it into my nose to inhale that delectable new book smell.  I set it aside and didn’t start writing in it until three months later, but once I began consigning my thoughts to paper I was hooked.  I’ve been keeping a journal ever since, with only a few gaps over the past 23 years.  Looking back, that was probaby one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.  Without it, who knows when I would have started recording the events of my life, or if I ever would have been inspired to do so.

Unfortunately, my obsessive record-keeping would one day prove problematic…

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