Christmases Past

Following is a chapter from my—as yet unpublished—memoir, THE GIRL WITH THE BLACK AND BLUE DOLL. At this time of year, I think we all are drawn back to memories of Christmases Past.

Chapter Thirty-Three
One Christmas Morning

In contrast to the festivities at Mémère’s cottage, Christmas was pretty much nonexistent downstairs at Babci and Dziadzia’s. No Christmas tree, no decorations, no presents. It was never discussed. It was just an accepted fact that Daddy’s parents didn’t celebrate Christmas.

If it wasn’t for Mummy, there’d have been no Christmas upstairs either. Mummy saved all her tip money from the beauty shop to make Christmas special for us, the way her mother had done for her. Mummy may have had her shortcomings, but Christmas wasn’t one of them.

The year I was eight, Mummy was particularly excited because she had bought Daddy the latest trendy gift for Christmas—a Kodak Brownie 8mm movie camera like her sisters had purchased for their husbands. The movie cameras had been advertised on TV for weeks as the it gift of the season. It was one of the few times I ever saw Mummy super excited. She bubbled over with happiness as she showed off the camera to us kids just before wrapping it up.

“Now Daddy will be able to take home movies of you, and when you grow up, you can show the movies to your kids!” she said with a smile as wide as wide could be.

It was going to be fun, she assured us. We watched as she attached a bow and a gift tag. “To John, From Doris.”

On Christmas morning, Daddy stayed in bed as usual while Mummy watched us open our presents and gathered up the wrapping-paper scraps. Daddy never participated in Christmas, but it never stopped Mummy from buying him a present. As soon as all of our gifts were open, we followed Mummy back to their bedroom where Daddy’s slumped form lay under the bedcovers facing the wall.

“Wait till Daddy sees what I got him!” Mummy whispered.

Mummy hurried to his side with the present held before her like the gift of the Magi. We stayed beyond the threshold in our pajamas and slippers, straining to look past the curtain and standing on tiptoes to see over the shoulder of her fuzzy chenille robe.

With a bit of coaxing, Daddy slowly emerged from the covers, mumbling something under his breath. He lifted up on one elbow. His hair was tousled, and he covered his bare chest with a corner of the blanket.

He tentatively pulled at the Scotch tape on one end of the present. We saw him rise up a little straighter and use both hands to finish the unwrapping, freeing the camera from its box. He remained expressionless. We watched as he cocked his arm back like a quarterback about to throw a football down the field.

The split-second interaction between Mummy and Daddy that followed became a Kodak moment scorched on my brain forever. As Mummy stood with her mouth just barely open, Daddy hurled the camera across the room with a force that caused us all to jump back. The black body of the camera hit the wall with a crack.

“A piece of junk!” he spat, and he rolled away from us.

We kids scurried like rats before the camera even hit the floor.

Mummy picked up the camera from where it landed at the foot of the bed. She retreated quietly without a single word to dispute Daddy’s declaration. No tears, no pleading, no attempts at explanation, no nothing. Dicky and Sharon looked at me with eyes wide. We were dumbstruck.

We quietly followed Mummy through the kitchen and into the parlor where we returned to sit on the carpet with our presents. Mummy sat on the couch.

The worst of it was that we were forced to watch our cousins’ home movies for the next few months of Sundays at Mémère’s. Daddy didn’t care. He sipped his highball indifferently while Mummy and Mémère ignored him.

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