My favorite Christmas memory as a child was from when I was about 3 years old, it was the first year we were spending away from Ohio. We were living in Indiana about a block away from the Illinois border, in a small apartment with really huge floor to ceiling windows. I don’t know why I remember the windows so vividly. Prior to that we had lived in Dayton, near my father’s Uncle Ramon. Uncle Ramon and Aunt Doris were like my grandparents, since we never lived near my actual paternal grandparents, who lived in Mexico.Uncle Ramon and Aunt Doris were like the glue that held our family together, in a lot of ways.They bridged the gap between my Mother and Father. It was frightening and yet exciting. I remember feeling like something big was happening.
That Christmas I remember being special because it was our first year, as just ‘our’ family, the four of us. Well, my parents, Carlos (my little brother) and I, until my father’s brothers showed up. We always had a house full of relatives. We were never really alone. It’s hard to know how you genuinely feel about the people in your life when you only ever see them in the midst of a perpetual party. There was never any down time.Never any quiet moments with children and parents, just being.Those moments that I have come to realize (as a parent myself now) are imperative to the parent child relationship.
This particular memory, I remember playing outside in the snow in our big crazy snowsuits, having snow ball fights with our Dad and uncles ,who seldom wore gloves.No idea why that sticks in my mind as being significant but I must have thought it very bizarre. They were from Mexico and I really don’t think they even thought about gloves as being an option. Every single photo I come across, they are throwing snowballs, without gloves. Then we’d all come inside and Carlos and I would sit in our little chairs (his upholstered in 70’s fashion avocado green and yellow flowers) and mine was a Big red teddy bear rocking chair that I was absolutely obsessed with. Our Mom would bring us hot chocolate and Carlos and I would watch whatever crazy 70’s cartoon was on at the time or if we were really lucky, an episode of the Monkees in syndication.What can I say? I had a wee crush on Davey Jones, even at the ripe old age of 3. It was unimportant what was on television, it was about sitting in those chairs and being beside my little brother. The illumination from the gaudy 1 string of colored lights outlining the huge gold curtains would dance against the plastic on the big velvet chairs. We’d sit there listening to the silver chirping bird ornament emanating from deep inside the Christmas tree covered with endless strings of flashing colored lights and tinsel that looked, in retrospect, that our Mom just let us throw by the handfuls on the tree. Sometimes we’d climb up under the tree to see if we could find that damn chirping bird and put it out of its misery, but we never did. Mostly, there we sat, my brother and I, hypnotized as we sat staring into space with our hot coco mustaches. I know it sounds so simple, innocuous even, but it was the best Christmas ever.
I do remember that Christmas I got a baby doll that was taller than I was, I could barely move the box to open her. She was beautiful and had long brown hair and big almond eyes, just like me. I loved that doll so much I even let her sit in my favorite chair that I never shared it with anyone. That Christmas was also the same year that Carlos got a giant red fire truck. He tore the wooden floors up with that truck running it back and forth and back and forth for hours. We were both over the moon.But something was missing.Maybe it was Uncle Ramon and Aunt Doris, or maybe just the place they held in the relationship between our parents or between our parents and Carlos and I. Maybe I was just too little to understand but could “feel” something was off.On paper and in pictures, it was amazing.
I look at those pictures and Carlos and I look completely happy. In reality, we were oblivious, as we should have been at 3 and 1 years old. We were happy and blissful and colored lights and bright shiny toys from Santa in a brand new apartment were all that was needed to make this the best Christmas ever, to us. When I look closer at the photos, my Mom looks tired and my Dad looks like he had someplace else to be. He definitely looks like he had someplace else that he wanted to be. Soon after this Christmas is when we all became painfully aware that my father was an alcoholic and my Mom was miserable dealing with the abuse that comes with being married to an alcoholic. For a moment, in a picture of a Christmas in a different place and a different time, we all looked happy.
The years that followed, from age 3 until I was 26, the pictures have smiles but the eyes tell another story. They were pasted on smiles and there was no happy memories to be made because every single holiday meant, a father who drank and had an erratic temper that could go off the handle and ruin everything on a whim. Those pictures from our first Christmas in Indiana reminds me of the potential things had to be different; to be good. Those photos show me the potential for Christmas to be snowball fights and coco mustaches, naïve happiness and joy at simply being together. Instead, the reality for us was that a completely carefree, happy Christmas with my parents was a once in a lifetime event. That alone makes it my favorite memory. It has also been the paradigm from which I have chosen to use as the antithesis of how I want to spend my Christmases with my own children. It’s about the love and the togetherness, not doing the right thing on paper and photos.