The Angel Of Christmas Past
Dec. 23rd, 1973
I lay in my bed anxiously awaiting the coming of Christmas Eve. Our family always celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve and the days leading up to it are always full of anticipation for me. I've just turned 12 years old and can't help thinking about the pile of presents sitting under the tree downstairs in the spacious living room of our house in St. Paul, Minnesota. My stomach is actually churning and shuddering likely in part from the twelve year-old Christmas diet of cookies, ribbon candy and egg nog.
I get up and start downstairs in my fleece pajamas where my sister Pat is sitting alone. It is past ten o'clock and my other siblings were all in bed, as was my mother, exhausted from the preparations for tomorrows celebration and cheer. When I get downstairs, Pat says "What are you doing up?"
"I can't sleep because I want tomorrow to be here. It's making my stomach hurt." I say.
"Well, come here and help me straighten up the presents under the tree."
I walk over and the two of us start mixing, straightening, and putting order to the mound of gifts under our big Norway Pine. She asks me what I got mom and then proceeds to tell me some of the major gifts that Mom got for the rest of the siblings. It is an unusually comforting time with my sister whose usual role is as the fill-in Matriarch when Mom's at work. Her demeanor when she's in charge is stern and purposeful. This is a pleasant change. It seems that Christmas softens everyone.
We finish the present organizing and I march up the stairs back to bed. The time with my sister calms my anxious stomach and I fall back to sleep, but not before filing the moment with my eldest sister into the deep recesses of my memory.
Dec. 24th, 1973
There are two rules on Christmas Eve at the Landwehr house. Number one is "no presents until the dishes are done." Number two is "Kids do dishes." Every year we gripe a little and then start quibbling about who's going to wash or dry. This year is no different. I help dry the last of the silverware and the large pots from the Christmas Turkey dinner.
While we slave over oily dishwater, the adults are out relaxing with cocktails and cigarettes in the dining and living rooms. It hardly seems fair that we should be burdened with what seems like 67 plates and related silverware and glasses, but the price is fair given the booty that lay beneath the tree; booty that would only become ours when the pearl diving was finished.
We finish up and crowd around the tree for the annual passing out of gifts. My mom's boyfriend Jack reads the gifts this year, one at a time. The task seems painfully slow, hurried only by the assistant "elves" - kids under ten years old. Like other years, this year I asked for several things, but really only one that mattered. I wanted more than anything an electric football game. The game where you spend 5 minutes lining up your players for 30 seconds of "action". It is not unlike the real game that way, except time is stretched out considerably more in the small version.
As the present passing comes to an end, I have a stack of 5 presents in front of me, one of which is obviously socks. While I sense there are some "toys" in the stack, there is nothing the size or shape of my football game which is about the size of the hood of a small car.
I try not to look dejected as I start opening the stack. The excitement around me is electric, but I'll have none of it. It could be a good Christmas, but it really won't be a great Christmas, that's for sure.
Oh, look, black socks.
I tear through the rest of the gifts, most of which would have made any other child ecstatic and while they're good, and I like them all, they all fall short.
I begin to feel bad for feeling bad. What a selfish boy. There's kids in China...
Then, when all the presents are opened, my brother Tom pulls a large wrapped box from the dining room.
A box as big as the hood of a small car.
What was your favorite Christmas present ever?