Published Dec 27, 2006

I woke up this morning with a start, completely convinced that it was Christmas morning and that I had overslept, missing the gifts. They say that you know when you’re an adult because you want to sleep in, instead of waking up at 5 am with excitement in your heart. My adulthood must be reluctant at best, because two days ago I woke up before 7 am after a fitful sleep, filled with anticipation for what would lie under the tree.

Or, I guess, the poinsettia, since my grandmother’s apartment is more potted plant-than towering conifer-sized.

There were a few Christmas trees along the way, it’s true, principally in the early days. My grandparents had this ranch in the country — a place in which we could fit a tree — a few hours out of Houston, to which they retired. Although my grandmother couldn’t keep the place after my grandfather died, scenes from some of my first six Christmases still click through my memory like View-Master slides.

Being a child I, of course, woke at a terribly early hour. I’d be up at five, but not allowed to disturb my parents until seven or eight. In the first year that I can remember, I slept in this little atrium, on a padded seat built into the wall — a nice, small, cozy bed for a kid who must’ve been three or four. There was some old, soft blanket for me to cuddle under, smelling the way that blankets owned by old people smell. There was also a sock-style stuffed plush thing that my father had cuddled as a child, and which I could cuddle now. With the lights out and my parents and grandparents in their rooms, the country air was quiet and dark and very very still. In the morning, I lifted the seat up to reveal a storage bin filled with my father’s old games, and I played some game that involved jumping pegs and, I think, Connect Four against myself. I couldn’t even look at the tree, it was too tempting, so I sat in the nook and played all morning.

Another year, I slept on a bed in the same room as the tree. I’ve always been scared of the dark and, at night, with the deep stillness of the country, the shadow of the tree was vaguely frightening at night.1 I may have been young, but I could feel the contradiction there. In the morning I woke up early and spent a while contemplating the boxes under the tree, but I didn’t feel it would be right to look and see which were mine. For a while, I drew in my Big Chief Original drawing tablet; I didn’t know what the word “original” meant, but the cover was orange, so I thought that word must have something to do with that color.2 Later that morning, I opened a miniature air-hockey table which I happily played with my father but of which I, oddly, have no other memories.

I must’ve been six when they let me sleep out on the porch before Christmas. My father always told me how, when he was growing up, he loved to sleep on his old screened-in porch, which was once swept away in a tornado.3 The replacement porch, in which I slept, was glassed-in, but even with that I had to huddle under my blankets in the winter air.4 After my parents and grandparents went to bed and I stopped seeing the Christmas tree in the window, I could see the trees outside, covered in their Spanish Moss, in the moonlight. In the morning, waiting for my parents, I played with my father’s tin soldiers. I liked to put the British redcoats in this little wooden boat he’d made — it had inward-sloping, gray-painted sides, each with three round holes for cannons, outlined in yellow. Somehow, I believe that was the year I got a cap gun for Christmas and accidentally left it in my carry-on bag5, resulting in a little confiscation-related drama at the airport.

Later, I learned to sleep in before Christmas, but not before I left some of my best Legos in a drawer in a hotel room in McAllen, Texas. Maybe that trip, which began my love affair with “Feliz Navidad,” as sung by the great Jose Feliciano, will make a blog entry some day. You know, Jose Feliciano, ya got no complaints.

1 I think it’s the ghosts in my childhood home in Baltimore who make me fear the dark everywhere.

2 I believe I thought the word was “orangal”, meaning orange in some way that I hadn’t yet learned.

3 And deposite on the other side of the pond. Since I’m here, I bet we can all guess he wasn’t inside.

4 I think it was warmer than it was in Baltimore, but I was in my jammies, so there was a lot of huddling to do.

5 Which was a brown vinyl shoulder bag from Globus Tours that I believe my maternal grandmother had gotten on a trip to the Holy Land. And this is the sort of useless information that keeps me from remembering the difference between Income Statement Cash and Balance Sheet Cash.

1 Comment

I think Jose Feliciano is singing the national anthem at the gubernatorial inaugural this year…