The end of the world has come and gone, and thank God the Doctor saved us again. I need only make it through Christmas without going on a rampage, and alienating my entire family, and things can get back to normal; or as normal as my life ever gets. Thanks to online shopping, I've avoided what I hate most about the Holiday Season, and have only had to deal with the incessant nagging and complaining of my "loved ones" about plans, dinners, and what to do on Christmas morning.
My son, who is now nine, is spending his last Christmas as a Santa believer. Well, I would think so anyway. It's been hard to know when he'd stop believing. I was told by my kindergarten teacher, along with an entire class of kindergarten and first graders, that Santa, was indeed our parents. Apparently, Santa is somehow anti-Jesus, and she took it upon herself to inform us of this. Needless to say, that didn't sit well with mom and dad, and is how I ended up in Spanish Fort Elementary.
I'm sad, in a way to know that Jonathan will stop believing in Santa. It's one of those childish things to be left behind, and never recovered. A piece of mystery and magic that will simply disappear in a puff of maturity, leaving behind that first droplet of cynicism, which one day will define him as an adult. To see that change in his life is no joy for me. It's not that it tells of my age, or that my son will one day be a man, and no longer my little boy. No. It's that I see magic and mystery slowly becoming a fading part of our culture. That sense of wonder that inspires great art and literature, slowly drifts away from our daily lives. We are left with far too much stark reality and harsh truth. Perhaps it's just that I am getting old, but I wish more and more each year for Santa to be real.
Friday, December 14, 2012
I had a wonderful meeting with my new marketing and PR agent last week. I'm excited to announce that beginning this Spring, The Godling Chronicles will be sent out to schools all around the U.S. and the U.K.. I will be also be visiting as many of them as possible. If you would like your school, or your child's school included email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll pass on the information.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
An Anderson Christmas Miracle
By: Brian D. Anderson
Christmas, 1953, in Mobile, Alabama, was by all accounts, a great time to be a kid. At least that's the case when you watch the history channel. It was a post WWII paradise, where anything was possible, and the whole country bustled with industry and optimism. The Great Depression was just a story told by drunken old men at backyard BBQ's and cocktail parties. The Great War had been won and we were reaping the benefits of our victory. Every Christmas heralded more good times to come, and boy, oh boy, did the presents flow. Life was indeed good. That is, unless your name was Jerry, and you were an eleven year old middle child, living in the Anderson house. If such was your fate, as it was mine, you found life to be a bit more trying. In fact, it could be down right unpleasant.
My father had never been what you may call a gentle, kind or even moderately happy man. As lineman for the L&N railroad, he was often away for days at a stretch, and spent the little time he was home in a general state of low boiling anger. Angry at what, I never knew, but I did know enough to stay out of his way, and not draw attention to myself. I remember the times he would come home early in the morning from the New Orleans run, stinking of soot and steel. If it was a weekend and I was in bed, he would turn on the lights, staring daggers at me as I pretended to sleep. If I didn't stir, the next thing I knew a lamp blared in my eyes, and I was shaken violently. Right then, I knew there would be no play for me that day; only work, work, and more work. And let me tell you, when my father put you to work you didn't stop until you were ready to die from exhaustion.
My mother was about as different from my father as a person could be. I once heard that the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. Well, that was my mother. Aloof and disinterested, she had a cold, unapproachable way about her. Not cruel and angry like dad, but uncaring and self-absorbed. As a young woman she was considered very beautiful; in stark contrast to my father's ruff, grizzled appearance, and the family story goes, she only married him because he worked as a butcher during the Great Depression and could get his hands on beef, which only people of means could afford at the time. How true this is, I don't know, but I wouldn't doubt it.
I know you may thinking that by the way I describe them, they were terrible people. Well, you're not wrong. At least that's the way it was from my perspective. But, if you were my older or younger brother, life was far more pleasant and bearable. Though as a man, I don't think about it much, back then, it was cause for me to truly despise my brothers. Bobby, the youngest-younger than me by six years-caused me a no end of irritation. Little brother's, as a rule, will always be a nuisance, but most aren't doted upon like Bobby. Okay, I admit that's not true, but that's the way I saw it. Every Christmas he would get everything he had asked for, and me...well I got the same thing every year. A truck and a ball. By eleven years old I have nine trucks and nine balls in total. I can only assume the two that were missing was due to the fact that as toddler and infant, they chose to skip me altogether.
Billy, my older brother by five years, was expected to get better treatment. After all, he was the eldest , and in those days it was common for the eldest son to get more than his siblings. By then, he was a teenager and no longer cared about toys. Nice clothes and girls were his thing. Billy took after my mother in most ways, particularly in vanity, and was the only person I had ever seen her show true affection for.
Knowing what Christmas would bring, didn't make me an excited boy on Christmas Eve. No, that was Bobby. Mom would drag us off to church, then send us to bed early. Invariably, the second my light went off, Bobby crept through my door and climbed in bed with me.
“What do you think Santa's gonna bring,” he'd ask.
I may have been irritated by Bobby, but he sure did think the world of me. A fact I always remembered and brought us close as adults.
“How should I know?” I'd say. “Nothing, if you don't get back to bed.” I'd push him off the bed and roll over, squeezing my eyes shut.
Though I pretended not to care, secretly I hoped each year that this time Christmas would be different. Maybe, just maybe, I'd get at least one thing I wanted, and that year I wanted a pocket knife. With this thought racing through my young mind I would drift off to sleep.
Bobby was always the first to wake, followed soon by me. Not that I was an early riser, but it's hard to sleep with a five year old boy jumping up and down on your bed, screaming “Santa came!” at the top of his lungs.
Half filled with hope and the other half trepidation, I slid out of bed, Bobby dragging me by my arm, toward the living room. I could see my breath billowing out as I tried my best to resist him. Mom and Dad wouldn't turn on the heat until they got up, and December is a damn cold month, even in Alabama. If I lit a fire or turned on the gas radiators, Dad would yell...or worse, so there was nothing to do but suffer through it. I nearly fell back as he let go of my my hand a bolted to the Christmas tree. Indeed, Santa had come, but this was no Macy's display. No model trains wound their way through the gifts, with flat cars carrying baseball gloves and toy soldiers. No our Christmas' were far more spartan.
In the corner of the room hung our stocking, and the familiar round bulge of the lone stocking stuffer protruded from the wall. An orange. Yes, for some reason, my parents thought an orange was the perfect thing for a child to receive at Christmas. Or perhaps it was just easy. The plastic covered gold cloth couch and chairs had been pushed aside, along with the cheap end tables. Normally we weren't allowed to play in the living room, so Mom took great care that her “things” were safe from our destructive little hands.
The tree was decorated with gold ornaments and a single string of lights- there was no tinsel, streamers, or anything else one might expect-and a unlit, silver painted, wooden star crowned the understated achievement. Aside from the tree, there were no other decorations in the house. I think that's why, later in life, I tended to go a bit overboard. My wife would compare me with Clark Griswald, in my obsession. But hey...I enjoy it, even if it's a character flaw left over from childhood.
Bobby made a beeline to his first, and favorite present, seeing it folded neatly atop a large gift wrapped box. He squealed with delight. It was a cowboy outfit; complete with hat, chaps, two cap-guns and a holster. Right there and then he stripped of his clothes, and donned the suit.
“Do I look like a cowboy?” he asked, as he struggled to put on the holster. “Do I?”
Without answering, I scooped up his pajamas and took them to the laundry basket in the bathroom. It was right next to Mom and Dad's room, so I tip-toed in and out. But, I must not have been as quiet as I thought, because Mom cracked the door and peeked out, her finger pressed to the side of her nose. I froze. Dad was still sleeping and she wanted to keep it that way. He never woke up in a good mood. In fact, you'd have thought he was a drunk, his moods were so foul, which of course, he wasn't. Looking back, though, I think I would have felt better about it if he had been. At least it would have been an excuse.
When I got back the the living room Bobby was still struggling with the holster, so I reluctantly helped him put it on. I scanned the floor for my gifts....and there they were. Unwrapped and tossed carelessly to the back of the tree, lay my truck and ball...both red, and both cheap.
I sighed with disappointment, plopped myself on the floor, and watched with envy as Bobby ran around the room pretending to battle the Indian hordes. And so you know, this was not politically incorrect in those days. I suppose I should have told him to keep quiet. I knew if he was too loud, Dad would wake up, and God knows we didn't want that. But then again, it was Bobby making the racket...not me. It was Bobby who would get in trouble. This made me laugh a wicked little laugh inside my head. I know it was petty and childish, but I was a child, and still very petty.
Just then I heard it. The stomping and grumbling of an angry father. I jumped to my feet and grabbed up Bobby, pulling him with me behind the tree. Don't ask me why, but in spite of my jealousy, I didn't want him to get a whoopin'. Not really. At least not the kind Dad would dole out.
The stomps grew louder until the whole living room shook...or maybe it was me. Suddenly, there he was. Standing there in his pajamas and robe. Bald, mean, and angry. The deep lines carved into his face by years of backbreaking work and the scorching southern sun, made him look all the more frightening. I just knew we were doomed. But for once, I was wrong.
“Keep it down,” he growled. “Your brother's still sleeping.”
“Yes sir,” we said in unison.
Dad scanned the room then spun around and marched into the dining room cursing under his breath. A moment later he was back carrying a small arm chair. He placed it beside the tree, glaring at the other chairs Mom had covered and dragged to the corner .
“Can't sit in my own damn chairs, in my own damn house,” he grumbled.
I could hear Mom rustling about the panrty, already starting Christmas dinner. I knew it would be the last we'd see of her for a while, unless we needed something from the kitchen. Now by all accounts, Mom was an awful cook; a fact I didn't realize until I left home many years later, and tasted real food. In fact, tales her culinary disasters became the stuff of legend, passed down through the generations.
Bobby resumed his pretend epic battle, albeit, quietly, and I grabbed my truck from behind the tree and did my best to look happy. I know most families open their gifts together, but we were not most families. Whatever gifts were left to be opened, would wait until Billy got up, and Mom and Dad would open theirs after dinner.
Dad sat there, staring grumpily, tapping his foot, not saying a word. Finally, he got up and strode off to Billy's room. A minute later Billy stumbled in, rubbing his eyes and sat down on the floor next to me.
“At least Dad's not yelling,” he whispered. He was right about that.
Billy and I were never close, not even after we grew up, but as older brothers go, he wasn't the worst. He was slight in build like Mom, and by the time I was eleven I was nearly as tall, broader in the shoulder, and twice as tough. But, this wasn't the reason he left me alone. Like I said, he took after Mom. He simply didn't care enough to pick on me, even when he still could.
Billy had already received his present the day before. Dad had bought him an old clunker of a truck and being that it couldn't be hidden, there was no point in waiting until Christmas morning. He had a few other presents, but he already knew what they were, and showed no interest in opening them. He would wait until Mom was nearly finished with dinner, then, in true favorite son form, quickly rip them open and tell her how much he loved them. The fact is, he was counting the seconds until dinner was over, and he could cruise in his new truck. I guess I can't blame him for that.
“Get dressed and go outside,” yelled Dad, from the kitchen. “Jerry, watch your brother.”
Dad didn't like us under foot, and thankfully my neighborhood was little more than woods, dotted with a house here and there. It wasn't much, but for a rambunctious kid, it was paradise. I quickly changed and grabbed Bobby's coat and helped him put it on. Dad had lit the radiators and fireplace by that time, and we hit the door and bitter cold air outside, just as the house was warming up.
I hadn't bothered with my ball and truck, and our oranges still waited for us in our stockings. Thankfully, I was young enough to still enjoy playing Cowboy's and Indian’s, so the next several hours were spent dodging in and out of brush, running from tree to tree, and making shooting sounds. Of course Bobby had his new cap-guns, and I had to use a stick, but it really didn't matter. We had fun.
Billy and Dad were busy working on his truck. Dad was notorious for “fixing” things until he was the only person who could use them. There was little doubt in my mind, that Dad was showing Billy the complex series of actions need to start, stop, and keep the engine running. But hey...when you're a teenager ,a vehicle means freedom, even if that freedom meant you have to pump the clutch three times, while turning the key half way, pulling the wheel slightly to the right, with the radio set to 660 AM, the left vent closed, and the windows rolled down. And if you think that's a joke, you've never tried starting one of Dad's cars.
By the time dinner was ready, the sun was going down and we had been playing for hours. We hadn't had breakfast or lunch (not that we couldn't have. Mom and Dad may not have been the greatest of parents, but they didn't starve us), and we were more than ready to for dinner. Billy and Dad had already gone inside and washed up. Billy as predicted had opened his gifts and I could hear the him in the kitchen, thanking Mom in the most genuine tone he could muster. She, naturally ate it up.
Mom had already set dinner by the time we had washed and changed . Dad was at the head of the table, talking cars with Bobby. The turkey, sweet potato pie, ham, stuffing, deviled eggs, and potato salad, were crammed tightly in the center. The good plates were out, along with the good glasses and silverware. It was the only time Mom ever took them out of the china cabinet, and we were always nervous to use them. Dad didn't even bother to look up at us, and Mom was still in the kitchen, so we took our places on either side, me next to Billy, and Bobby on the other, near where Mom would be.
Now, every Christmas story, has a Christmas miracle, and this one is no exception; though it may not seem like a miracle to you.
For some reason, Mom was taking a long time to come to the table, and Bobby got very impatient (as kids his age often do). Without anyone noticing, he crept out of his chair and crawled around to my side of the table. I was listening to Billy and Dad's “car talk”, so when Bobby reached up and poked his finger into my ribcage, I let out a surprised yell and jumped out of my seat. Bobby laughed, proud that that he got me. I, on the other hand, was not amused, a fact that he must have sensed, because he scrambled to his feet and tore off around the table. I was in hot pursuit, intent on wringing his little neck...or at least whacking the crap out of him.
If Dad would have stopped either of us right then, what was to follow would have never happened. Of course, there would have been no Christmas miracle, and no point to this story.
The leg of our dining room table had come loose a few weeks earlier, and Mom had been after Dad to fix it. But instead of fixing it properly, he had rigged it back on with glue and tape. Don't ask me why. Had he fixed it right, Bobby wouldn't have clipped it as he ran, knocking it loose. Had he fixed it right, the table wouldn't have fallen. And had he fixed it right, Christmas dinner wouldn't have slid off the table, good dishes and all , and ended up in a heap in the corner.
For a second there was nothing but dead silence. Bobby was frozen, fear struck, and I was no better off. This was by far, the worst thing we could have done, and the beating I knew was coming would be well beyond what I cared to imagine. The silence was only broken by the primal scream of my mother as she rushed in to see her dinner and prize china, piled up waist high.
I didn't even bother to look at Dad, I just took off running. Though it only took a few second for me to reach my room, it felt like an hour. I could almost feel Dad at my heels, reaching out to grab me. That I reached my room unharmed, and managed to lock my door before he got there, IS NOT the Christmas miracle, though at that moment it felt like one. I pushed my self deep into the corner of my room, thinking that at any second, the door would burst open, and the beating would begin. But it didn't happen. After a few minutes I heard Mom crying and yelling at Dad for not fixing the table.
“My God,” I thought. “She's blaming him.”
A few more minutes passed and there was a light rap at my door.
“Come on out.” It was Billy.
Slowly, with cautious optimism, I crept to the door and opened it. “What happened?” I asked.
“Dad's fixing the table,” said Billy. “And Mom wants us to help clean up the mess.”
“Where's Bobby?” I asked. At that moment I was actually worried about him...and a bit guilty that I ran off and left him there.
Billy shrugged. “Playing with his cap-guns I guess. Mom told him to go to the living room and play by the tree.”
I followed Billy back to where disaster had first struck. There was Dad, table upside down, with a hammer and nails, and Mom was doing her best to salvage what was left of Christmas dinner...and her china, of course. Dad glared at me as I entered, but Mom cleared her throat, and he went back to work. I think it was the only time she actually protected me, and the first time I had ever seen my father back down.
We helped Mom, and soon the table was fixed, and what little food there was left had been place back on the table. Mom brought out the old dishes. Me and Billy had to throw away the broken pieces of the good China. She couldn't bear to look at them.
Once everything was ready we all sat back down, and for a full minute no one spoke a word. Then Mom nodded at Dad and we bowed our heads and said Grace. After that...more silence. All that was left was the turkey, the ham, and half a bowl of potato salad Mom had in reserve in the kitchen. The rest was either mashed on the floor or had broken glass in it.
Then...Suddenly, it happened. The Christmas miracle. It was so subtle and quiet, that at first I didn't know what it was, like a rumble of a distant storm that was just close enough to hear the echo of the thunder. Then it got louder and louder, until I realized what it was. It was Dad. He was laughing. I can't remember my father ever laughing before and he would be an old man before I heard it again. Soon Bobby joined in, followed by Billy. Of course, I couldn't help myself, and caught the fever right along with them. Finally, Mom could hold it in any longer, and there we were, dysfunctional family of the year, in an all out belly laugh that lasted for a good five minutes.
That Christmas dinner, we sat, talked, ate, and enjoyed one another's company as if it were something that we did everyday. And though the joy did not last past this one glorious meal, I felt somehow normal for a change. We even had a great time opening the rest of the gifts and helped Mom clean up after it was all over. Dad gave me his old pocket knife to keep, and it was Bobby that was jealous for a change. Billy hung around just long enough to see Mom and Dad open their presents, then went cruising. That night I went to sleep happy, and didn't even mind when Bobby crawled in bed with me.
In the years to come my father would grow from a mean, hateful man, into a kind and gentle grandfather. Sometimes I would stare at him in disbelief at how much he had changed. And though he never said so, I like to think that he regretted the way he was and the way he treated me.
My mother, bless her soul, would remain the cold, vain woman she always had been for the rest of her days. But still, she was my mother, and though I was never sure how much she loved me, I always loved her. She did protect me that one time, and because of that (among other things), the Anderson's had a genuine Christmas miracle.