A Christmas I Remember

I remember a dusty film of Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder on the floor next to Grandma’s side of my grandparents’ bed.

I remember sliding through that sweet smelly dustiness in my white, ribbed cotton socks, crouching and balancing like a surfer with my arms extended to my sides and my hands stretched out.

I remember my brother, Jonathan, skidding in behind me playing air guitar (had to be something Beach Boys), both of us in Grandma’s way as she was getting ready for her job, hoisting her girdle over one hip, then the other.

I remember that Grandma worked in the town’s dress shop (Irene’s) where the coats for sale were hung on dark-painted wooden hangers with clear plastic covers over the shoulders.

I remember the Woolworth’s dime store next to Irene’s that showcased yellow birds with green-tipped wings in cages behind its front plate glass window, a curiosity to me because I had never seen any yellow birds flying outside, never known anyone in Tarreyton county to have a bird in a cage.

I remember that Woolworths had a “Sundries” department (whatever “Sundries were) and a lunch counter, where the lady made us Coke Floats even though Coke Floats weren’t listed on the menu painted on a rectangular mirror.

I remember Woolworth’s eye-level (for me) counter tops where the merchandise was displayed.

I remember Grandpa sending Gerald, a black (in those times, called “colored” or that unspeakable other word that Momma said would make her tan my skinny butt if she ever heard me say it) man who worked at Grandpa’s Amoco station; Gerald driving over to my grandparents’ house to fetch Grandma and carry her to work, as they said it then, carrying Jonathan and me, too, to Irene’s.

I remember Grandma telling me and Jonathan to go next door to Woolworth’s to look around and have a Coke Float as we waited for Mom to pick us up after Mom got off from her job, carrying us back home to Grandma’s house, where we lived.

I remember it was cold outside and the swinging Woolworth’s front door swept in the cold with each opening – flap, flap, flap – pushing frozen December blasts at us where we sat at the only booth near the lunch bar slurping (making that noise on purpose to be imps) our Coke Floats.

I remember a little Santa ornament, with a bright pink white face, looking at me from a counter top way up the aisle.

I remember Mom came into Woolworth’s with a cold whoosh of the door, wearing bright red lip stick, wearing shiny black, high-heel shoes with a v-shaped hole cut into their toes, wearing bright red nail polish on her big toes that showed through her patent leather shoes’s v-hole.

I remember Mom paying for our Floats and giving Jonathan and me a nickel apiece because we had been good, telling us that we could buy something we wanted.

I remember I ran over to the Santa that had been looking at me from its place on the Christmas ornament counter.

I remember it had a loop of yellow string coming out of Santa’s hat for tree hanging and a black-gloved right hand contorted impossibly right up against Santa’s right ear to simulate a hearty hand wave.

I remember that Santa had flat, frozen-in-place straight legs, black booted fee up to the knees of his red suit, and a face that made me want to sing out a good ole “Ho Ho Ho.”

I remember that Santa-on-a-loop-string cost 4 cents which left me with a penny for the gum ball machine.

I remember that Jonathan bought a box of those silvery strands of “icicles” which I told him he shouldn’t buy because they would just get thrown out with the tree in January after “Old Christmas” (look it  up – some people celebrated “Old Christmas” then) when Grandpa would drag the needless, still icicled, dead tree to the gorge.

I remember the next night, Christmas Eve, I hung my Santa on Grandma’s Christmas tree, just under a bubbly light that was supposed to look like a candle.

I remember my cousin, Ernestine, had drawn my name for the gift exchange.

I remember she gave me a yellow bird in a cage from Woolworth’s because she had noticed that I so often looked at those birds.

I remember my first Christmas with Trevor in our new home, the dream home, our dream home (we declared together) bought three months after we had flown to San Diego to get married because California was where we could.

I remember calling Poppo, my step-father who was my real father by love and respect (amazing and rare among step-fathers and step-sons, huh?), to ask if he wanted to come for Christmas at our just-bought house.

I remember Trev deciding he would call his mother to invite her to come for Christmas.

I remember that she called back after thinking it over and said that she would.

I remember the Christmas tree lot at Ascension Church where they had the perfect tree and we wanted it, but it cost $70 and I just about shit my pants right there in front of the Boy Scouts who were selling the trees.

I remember that in the cold, my fingers couldn’t curl up so that I could help get the tree on the top of the car.

I remember we got that cloudscraper of a tree in the house and in the stand.

I remember Trev opening his box of ornaments from his Christmases and I opened my box of ornaments from my Christmases past.

I remember that Woolworth Santa was on the top in my ornament box, wrapped in scrunched up paper towels, sealed in a gallon-sized zip loc bag encased in bubble wrap marked “Fragile – Santa.”

I remember we thought it would be our secret new tradition for Trev to put the ornaments in my box on the tree and that I put the ornaments in his box on the tree.

I remember finding containers of unused, old “icicles” in his box, but some cool things, too, like the barracuda on a surfboard that his ex-boyfriend in Laguna Beach gave him on one of their Christmases.

I remember that I now needed two hands to pull the refrigerator door open.

I remember that Poppo opened my gift to him on Christmas morning and hugged me, holding my head and kissing my forehead like I was his kid, saying that “Long Walk to Freedom” (by Nelson Mandela) was exactly what he wanted.  

I remember he said he admired Nelson Mandela as a lawyer because Poppo and Mandela were small town lawyers who practiced law in a big city with hot shot, bull shit lawyers.

I remember looking at my face in the bathroom mirror, washing it with cold water, hoping to keep the worry off of my face.

I remember passing by Santa hanging there on the tree.

I remember all the gold that glowed deep inside all of us there that Christmas, gold that Santa and I felt and gave and received, having lived it at Christmas over the years.

I remember thinking about the MRI scheduled for me on December 27.

I remember knowing that something was very wrong inside of me somewhere and that I would deal with it soon.

I remember thinking that I didn’t need to be deal with it right then.

I remember thinking that athletes practice over and over so that when they compete, their muscles have memory and can do “it” (whatever their sport) without the athlete thinking about it.

I remember looking at Santa for happiness muscle memory.

I remember seeing Trev through the big windows in our house’s living room, walking out on our front porch to keep his mom company in the cold while she smoked a cigarette.

I remember just then seeing Jonathan and Keisha surf sliding up the snow dusted sidewalk to our warm home, wood stove blazing cozily inside, they bringing Red Velvet cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake as dessert.

And then, I remember a bright red Cardinal floating in to land on a fir tree at the side of the porch, barely moving the ice encased, shiny, black branch where it perched in full redness with its feet splayed in the shape of a v, the window framing the scene, a living holiday greeting card.

I remember Mom dying in November, just weeks before.

I remember that I couldn’t lift the roast beef out of the oven, but Keisha got it for me (nobody saw).

I remember Santa-on-a-loop-string looking at me from across the big room.

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