The reality of what we really are is often times found in the small snips, way down at the bottom of things. ~Jean Shepherd
‘Tis the season for Christmas and Christmas memories! Reading stories of friends and family reminiscing about Christmases past on Facebook, brings me back to my very own Christmas tragedy. In all honesty, most of my childhood memories during the holiday season are very positive. Actually, all of them, except one. However, this story has stuck with me since I was in my single digits and funny enough, doesn’t take place around the holiday season, but in the dead of summer. Yes! Let me explain how it has everything to do with Christmas.
When I was little, I had this purple bottle. Yes, a baby bottle. Who got it for me? No clue. When did I get it? No clue. Do I really remember my bottle? I do! That bottle and my “banky” (blanket) were the only two things I cherished most as a kid. (One day I’ll explain the horror story regarding my blanket) Sure I had other toys, but for some reason, my memories are always focused on those two items. Next in line would be my beloved Morticia (cat) and Jill (dog), both very sad stories. Today, I’ll only explain the bottle, which isn’t a horror story, put a heartbreaking one.
This all started when I was about three or four years old. Sure, I was probably too old for a bottle, but it’s not like I sucked on it day and night. In fact, I usually drank out of my sippy cup. I just really loved carrying around my bottle. Where was the harm in that? It wasn’t any different than a plastic doll. Apparently, according to my mom and gram, I should not have been toting around such a baby item. That’s where the story really begins.
For many years, my pap would dress up as Santa and stop by the house to visit us. I know there were other people who dressed up as Santa, but this time I know it was pap. How? I’ll get to that.
One evening before Christmas, Santa stopped by to pay us a visit, checking in on Nicole, Ryan and myself, as well as my cousins, to see if we’ve been good. It was awesome, having a real-life Santa in our living-room! He always sat in the rocking chair, a detail to be used later for solving this riddle.
Well, anyway, we took turns sitting in Santa’s lap, telling him how good we were and what we wanted for Christmas. You know the standard procedure. While it was my turn, after rattling off what I wanted, Santa gave me a small gift. Yeah! But there was a catch. With Santa? Well, not exactly but with my grandma and mom.
Before I left Santa’s lap, gram stopped me and posed a question, “What are you going to give Santa since he gave you a gift?” I didn’t know what to say. In the back of my mind, no one else was giving Santa a gift, nor were they asked, so why was I? Guess what item was so graciously suggested by my mom and grandma to give Santa? Yes, MY bottle! Coincidentally, I was cradling my bottle, as I always did. I don’t want to say my bottle was forcefully taken from me, but guilt was certainly used by the adult figures to aide them in me forking over the precious item. Does anyone else smell a set up?
Being a good little girl, at least at Christmas time in the presence of Santa, (no pressure) I reluctantly gave Santa my beloved purple bottle. He took it and gave me a big smile and a hug to match, thanked me for his “present”, before he tossed it in his sack. What? It should never have been tossed anywhere! That was a priceless gift, at least in my eyes. Truth be told, I was excited to get something new, but yet I felt bad I made the trade with my bottle like I betrayed an old friend.
Fast forward. Months passed by and summer arrived, never really thinking about my bottle, in fact I almost forgot about it, ALMOST. Back then, every summer we took turns going to gram and pap’s house to spend a week. During one of those weeks, while gram was napping, I decided to play in the basement. It was an unfinished cellar, divided by the stairs going up to the kitchen and a stone wall. Usually we never went on that side of the basement, only because there wasn’t anything interesting over there. It housed gram’s ringer washing machine (the kind that you had to crank the cloths through the rollers to squeeze out the excess water before hanging) and a ton of cloths lines were strung back and forth, to be used in the winter or rainy days. Along the perimeter of the walls were shelves of canned goods. I believe there was also a deep freezer in the corner, but not much of anything else. Well, for no particular reason, I ventured to that side of the cellar to play with my barbies, cars or a toy of sorts. I’m not sure how long I was in there before something on the shelf, among the jars, caught my eye. Yes! My beloved purple bottle! I jumped up like lighting, and without thinking I gravitated toward the object of my past. (keep in mind I was only about four or five years old at this point) Funny enough it wasn’t out of my reach, at least nothing a chair couldn’t solve. That beautiful purple plastic bottle was in plain sight, like it was absentmindedly placed there.
Upon removing the bottle from the shelf and getting back on the concrete floor, I began inspecting the authenticity of what I was seeing, to ensure it wasn’t an imposter. It was not! How did I know? There were scratches on it from years of abuse. It was in deed my bottle!
At first, I was ready to get gram and wake her, letting her know Santa returned my bottle. But then it hit me, what was MY bottle doing in gram’s basement after I gave it to Santa? Yes, even as a young tyke I was thinking this through and I wanted to solve the mystery and get to the truth.
What did I do next? Believe it or not, I was going to question my gram, but waking her in the middle of a nap was pure suicide. So I went upstairs and raided my pap’s closet. Why? I have no idea, but it seemed like a good place to start, since gram was in her bed in her room and pap was working in the sawmill.
At the very top shelf, again not that far out of my reach with the assistance of a stepping stool, I found a big box. Believe it or not, I didn’t open it. That is until I was moving things around haphazardly and the lid popped open. Instantly, my eyes were drawn to the bright red velvet suit the box was concealing. A Santa suit!
Then my world came crashing down. (Not me, I was always a climber) My pap was impersonating Santa Claus! Truly, it never occurred to me that Santa wasn’t real, not until my mom dropped that bomb on me years later. No Santa?! At Least There’s an Easter Bunny! I couldn’t believe my pap would do something that cruel to me, ever! Trying to get my mind around this discovery, flashes of pap sitting in our rocking chair, his favorite seat, shot through my mind. I almost started replaying that very tragic Christmas day, and I remembered, it was my gram’s idea to offer up my sacrificial bottle. Mom was standing by and second the gesture. It was all planned out!
After uncovering the facts, I quickly placed the suite back up in the closet, put the bottle back on the shelf downstairs and went out in the backyard to deal with my own personal dilemma. I needed a moment of silence, for I was really upset over this conspiracy against me. I couldn’t believe it! Funny enough, I never did blame my pap, for he was the greatest! I knew he would never ever, do anything to upset me or any of the grand kids. Pap always treated us with love and respect and was an innately good person. It was my grandma I didn’t trust, eventually the Morticia story adds to my ill feelings toward her, among other situations. (Again a story to be told another day) My mind was racing toward my mom, again there is a “banky” story behind her too. With each of these I don’t remember which came first, but over the years they compiled and resonated in my mind, each bringing a sickening feeling to me, and perhaps a little bit of bitterness.
Did I confront my gram, pap or mom? No. Was my dad involved? At the time, he didn’t seem to be a participant and I excused him from the suspect list. I simply went outside and spent the rest of the day in the backyard, taking refuge in the barn and exploring the woods behind grams house. Feral cats ran rampant on the ridge. As a pastime, I would sit patiently and catch the cats to tame them. Seriously? Yes, I did it all the time. (I have no patience except for cats for some reason) They were used to me, plus I was quick and fearless, with the help of a very thick towel.
That night I went to bed early, which wasn’t unusual for me. By the next morning I don’t remember how I felt. But I do know that I remembered the entire day. It left a scare on me that ran deep, one I still reflect back on to this day.
Even though that is one isolated story, one the adults were ignorant to for I buried it deep down inside, it still stuck with me. However, I am blessed, for that is my only Christmas horror story from my childhood. I could have had it worse, and I know others did.
I hope Kyle only has great Christmas memories, for we’ve gone out of our way to ensure that’s the case. And if he doesn’t, perhaps he too will write about his tragedies as a therapy session.