Christmas

My parents went a bit overboard with Christmas which is not a trait I have taken up in the least, for me I would much rather share 1 or 2 gifts per person that have meaning and be done with it ….. however, even with that philosophy I too have been guilty of going overboard at the last minute out of that systemic drive society has to over indulge and succumbed to the guilt. As I get older this guilt means less and less to me and I find myself easily falling back into simplicity. Christmas for me now is not a favored holiday, in fact I find it rather difficult to endure, I am not sure if it is the longing for those days past where I was surrounded by family or if it is my still dealing with the sadness of having lost all but a couple blood relatives to share it with. Whatever the reason, its always met with a sense of dread and obligation to pretend that it is a happy season.

The world is not the same as it was in my youth and the focus moved from celebration, reunion and family to acquisition, isolation in the rampant mind numbing tech, and divergence. To say I mourn this and fear for the future at levels that leave me feeling internally like the man in Munch’s Skrik painting would be fairly accurate.

My memories are alive with incredible moments of celebrating with the Swedes and Sicilians on my mothers side … amazing parties we spent all of Christmas eve moving back and forth from. It was the WAY it should be with laughter, pretend Santas handing out gifts, incredible food and adults who may have had a drink too many roaring in laughter. What amazing times to have grown up in, what sweet family love was witnessed, and even with my not being full Swede or Sicilian I was accepted into the mix during a time when the hatred between the two groups in my hometown was not only felt but was a physical separation in the town. Hard to explain it all in this short introduction, but trust me it was there and it was serious between the two …. yet there I was being treated as everyone else. I surely did not understand it then, but I do now and it leaves me regretting deeply having now lost touch with that part of my family over the years.

These people had a history, a bond and had such community that to this day I am still envious, and not in a malicious manner but in a manner that has left me searching for such connection most of my life. Though I find that the older I get the more I come to accept having that is not nor will it ever be a part of my life …. and while I am saddened by that, I am also accepting of that fact.

I can still drive in the once thriving town I grew up in and see beautiful homes built by hand by these folks, the yacht club where they raced both on water and on ice, the little Italian corner stores, and recite some of the best stories relating to the part of grandmas that was involved in the mafia (albeit they were just low level guys, no great crime stories here).

These evening always ended with taking my sweet Sicilian grandmother to midnight mass, but not before the obligatory visit to my fathers parents house (grandma never went there, dad didn’t want her having to deal with it all) …. this was at best very regimented and quite antithetical to the previous joy in the day. All interactions with them left me wondering where my fathers heart had come from, how he had patience, and how he was able to be as he was. It did not leave me wondering where is temper, his ability to never back down, and his general dislike of humanity in general (but NEVER people in specific) ….. It was difficult to go there.

No Santa, no laughter, in fact once grandpa had enough in him it often became a place of verbal and emotional abuse from an eternally angry, bitter old man that saw all in his life including people to be possessions to do with as he pleased for his benefit. My dad walked out and was on his own when he was 16 or 17, and never looked back. It was his deep sense of honor and his need to protect his mother from his fathers wrath that kept him in contact and visiting almost daily. It was as if he had silently said to his father “I am not going to stop looking after my mother, do not cross the line … and he had the physical presence to back that up. He was a powerlifter, a big man and had the very clear aura of ‘not to be fucked with’, which is odd because he could make friends with anyone at anytime in any place. In retrospect, I see that ability of his was based almost solely on his willingness to accept people in specific for WHO they were, not WHAT they were … he took the time to talk and to find out the WHO. I suppose in many ways it could have been a rebellion against his own fathers deep seated racism and brutally judgmental attitude towards all but himself.

So that all said, Christmas in our house was as I said earlier, a bit over the top with gifts and I was a that kid who thought he was smarter, craftier and clearly capable of doing and things and not getting caught … I really should have known better as both my parents were quite adept at catching me in the futile acts. Sadly it takes some of us longer than other to figure these things out …. a bit of arrogance and a bit of ACTUALLY getting away with the odd endeavor makes for a bad mix as well as a harsh fall to reality.

As I was an only child and my parents had not only a busy work life but a social one as well, I spent a fair amount of time alone in the house and that led me to finding new and inventive ways to push the envelope. That particular Christmas, it was trying to figure out what was wrapped up under the tree for me ….. I do believe at the time I was quite anxious to get the Karate Chop GI Joe … I mean the neighbor girl had all the cool Barbies and I REALLY needed that one for my summer raids on the Barbie playhouse! At that age, those summer events were the best I had at attracting the attention (even if I had no clue why at the time) of the proverbial “girl next door”l

You can clearly then understand my need to know if that particular time had made the list that year. After fruitless searched throughout the house in the weeks leading up to the tree being put out, I had exhausted all potential hiding places for gifts (I never did get to find out the spot mom and dad hid everything, even when I asked as an adult it was never disclosed!). That left me having to wait until they actually were under the tree, but that also meant hey would be wrapped and trying to figure out what lays inside now is a huge challenge … obvious techniques like shaking, angling at the right light to perchance see thru the paper, tactile inspection were all useless so that meant it was time to become creative. I realized that if I practiced enough with the tape and the wrapping paper that I could, perhaps, gently peel the tape back, open the end and then realign the images between the paper and the now disrupted tape while also laying another piece over the top to hide any and all intrusions.

It totally was a good plan, and I did just that after much practice of peeling the tape off of the paper then perfectly placing the tape that still had the snowflake or santa image on it back over where it came from so that no-one could ever see that anything had ever been touched. I got good at it, really good …. in fact I figured I was damn near perfect at it after a solid 10 minutes of practice! This confidence would prove to be a bit premature, but nonetheless it was onward and upward and to the tree I went …. and yes I did find the GI Joe I was looking for .. and no I did not stop there … it was going to be an go haul that year for sure!

What I had neglected to take into account was that the old man was smart, and he had placed the packages in a particular order that I neither took the time to consider nor did I take the time to put it all back EXACTLY as it was initially place. Had I been wise enough to have thought that fully through, what would happen next may never have happened. Like I said, the old man was noonese fool and worse yet he knew who he was dealing with when it came to myself ….. kind of like he had already ‘been there and done that’, which obviously he had!

To this day however I will swear that I was all but perfect in my attempts, had it not been for the telltale misaligned packages it may have never been noticed that I had been up to no good. Sadly, it was caught fast and as he always did there was a lesson in his mind for me out of it all.

At the end of dinner one night dad said, ‘Come with me to the living room for a moment’ … I really had no idea that what was about the happen was units way (blind confidence is a really bad thing!)

Once there, he said those dreaded words … ‘Boy, I need you to help me understand something’

It was at that very moment I realized shit had done gone bad! Now was the time to start thinking hard and fast, but of course say thing until he has said all he has to say because you never want to either speak out of turn in these circumstances nor do you want to just blurt out a confession that could be totally disconnected to the matter at hand.

Dad reached down into the pile and pulled out a couple of presents …. and then started to explain to me that clearly the ends had been tampered with and that he was no fool, so it was best I come clean now or it was going togged much much worse on me. That right there, with him as my father was reason enough to get really serious really fast and all that fast thinking I had been tossed out the window … it was game on in the inventive story part.

So of course, the most obvious and sensible thing was to blame my beloved black Labrador retriever on the incident …. obviously she had gotten into the packages while I was at school and in order to maintain the dogs dignity I was honor bound to (without looking at all obviously) real seal the packages and do so privately. Damn it sounded so good in my head at the time, that I actually said that out loud … not ‘I am really sorry dad, but yes I peaked’ and simply dealt with the consequences …. nope I blamed it on the dog.

His reaction, to my clearly reasonable story, for a few precious seconds reinforced my opinion of my clear brilliance at handling this situation as he said ‘Well then boy, I can see you were just looking out for your dog … good job.’ … then he spun on his heels and screamed ‘ANN! HAVE YOU SEEN THAT FUCKING DOG?!?!?!?!” ….. In a mere matters of seconds I realized once again, shit had done gone bad.

As I stood paralyzed in the living room I heard my father yelling at the dog, so I ran to the kitchen in time to see him dragon the dog out into the coat room with my mother standing guard in front of the door …. stunned I suddenly heard dad totally lose it and could hear him beating the dog mercilessly, his screaming clearly drowning our her cries …. the dull thuds, they screwed obscenities and threats while mom would not let me into the room. Panic set in, she was my dog and I was causing this beating, like I said dad could be a bit scary. What happened next when I forced my way past my mother and ripped the door open with tears streaming down my face in a solid mixture of guilt for causing this beating to my dog and fury that dad would do that to my dog has stayed with me for my whole life.

I tore the door open and screamed “STOP!!!!!!! IT WAS ME IT WASN’T THE DOG NOW STOP!!!! I DID IT ALL”

Then the silence set in.

Not a word …. not even the sound of breath as I was able to view the room.

The dog was face down in her dogwood bowl happily eating away, and dad was standing at the coat rack with a stick … half way through his now final beating of the wool coats with the stick,

He calms set the stick down, petted the dog, and then looked at me …. and said “I would never beat a dog for getting into packages on the floor, even if that was what had happened …. she a dog, dogs do dog what dogs do. Let me however make this very clear, if you EVER think I am so stupid as to believe a bullshit story as the one you just told me it will be you in this room and it won’t be the coats getting the stick to them it will be you. Now go apologize to your mother for not respecting the effort she put into buying and wrapping those and go to your room …. I have no interest unseeing you until tomorrow’

He was silent after and silent for a coupe of days after, it was never the game of not speaking to you as punishment … it truly was he had nothing to say to me and it took him time to get over being so disappointed.

Had I simply fessed up it would have been over in a heart beat, a lecture or at  worse a spanking …. but it never would have fallen into the ranks of his disappointment in me as a person.

It was powerful lesson, we all make mistake …. dogs do what dogs do, but what makes them different from people is that dogs don’t lie and sometimes young men do what young men do and all too often those are bad things that need dealing with.

Deal with it, because the consequences if you don’t face it head on and lie instead are almost always more harsh and painful than what you are prepared for ….. blind confidence, well she is a lying sadistic bitch that gains nothing but her joy in your pain.

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