Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Christmas Eve Misery
I'm not sure if I was nine or ten. I do know Christmas was always a big thing at our house. Spices, spruce and bayberry bombarded my senses for weeks prior to the big event. All this pre-holiday preparation led to my most miserable Christmas Eve.
As the days leading up to the 'big one' shortened, my agony grew more intense. The aroma of my mother's baking crept into the seams of the wallpaper. Filled tins were stashed in secret places with the intention of warding off all attacks by my two brothers, my Dad and myself.
My brothers, being six and eight years older delighted in teasing me about what I might or might not receive on Christmas. My father annually repeated the same story about one of his sisters who had received real coal in her stocking. He never actually said it might be my fate, but the message was clear.
Hushed voices behind closed doors after shopping trips intensified the drama. Hiding places eluded me on those times I felt brave enough for clandestine snooping. There was an element of danger of being caught, but one I was willing to risk. After all, there's just so much suspense a child can take without bursting.
On that fateful Christmas Eve things began as usual. Somehow, while the family was at church, the presents miraculously appeared under, on or near the tree. We could only look at the packages. No touching, shaking, lifting or nudging was allowed. Clearly my parents did not understand the torture they were inflicting.
As usual, this night I was shooed to bed at the appointed time with a warning not to arise before I could see daylight. Only after alerting all family members could I race to the treasure trove beneath the bedazzeled spruce.
Going to bed was one thing, sleeping entirely another. I lay tense and wakeful, hearing all household noises until they at last ceased. Only the mantle clock in the living room could be heard above my fathers' snoring.
Now I was safe. I could satisfy my hunger for 'just one peek'. I rationalized that one peek would cure my curiosity and allow sleep to come.
Surveying the piles under, around and near the tree, my eyes attention was caught by a particulary small package hanging on the tree. It was properly addressed to me. I clearly intended to satisfy my curiosity with this brightly adorned titbit.
My fingers lifted the lid to reveal the most perfect ruby ring I'd ever seen. Yes, it fit...with just a little push. Just then a terrible sound met my ears. My brother's car pulled into the drive. My immediate thought was of the coal that surely I'd earned with this transgression. Survival instinct kicked in and I dove under the sofa just as the front door opened.
I was certain that the thumping of my heart would give me away. I tried to take quiet shallow breaths. My brother actually came over and sat on the sofa and did what I didn't know. I was too busy trying to get the ring off and return it to its' box.
The ring would not budge! The more I pulled, the more firmly it stayed on my hand. Such agony was overwhelming. Tears actually started to form.
Still my brother sat there. I remained right under him, his unknown prisoner. The mantle clock reminded him of the lateness of the hour. Finally the lights went out and I could escape from my prison for the safety of bed.
Some soap from the kitchen sink released my ill-gotten treasure and I was able to restore it to its perch.
Christmas morning came with its usual brightness that year to all except one very much wiser little girl who always viewed her new jewelery with bittersweet memories.