This is the second in my Ghosts of Christmases Past series. Go back a few entries to learn more if you're just joining us.
Cold, bright sunlight comes in through my window and wakes me up. I slept late today. I think we all did. Dad tells me that me and Mom sleep too much and we're sleeping our lives away, but I don't feel like getting out of bed today even if it is Christmas.
I don't know if Santa was able to bring me anything this year. We watch the news every night and those boring news shows on Sundays and I hear a lot about how a bunch of people are out of work this year and I heard one man say that even Santa had to tighten his belt.
My dad has been out of work for a while and I know we're not doing real good. He's in a union and it's been on strike for a while. The strike is supposed to end soon and I hope it does because everything is weird when Dad doesn't work. I get free lunches at school which is neat, but there's some other stuff going on that's not neat.
I got to open one gift last night like I always do on Christmas Eve and I picked the one from my uncle John because his are always the best. This year the box didn't have a fun toy or game or radio in it. It had a pair of bright red overalls and a white shirt and some socks. When I started to ask where the toy was Mom asked to talk to me in the kitchen and told me that she wanted everyone to get me clothes this year because I am outgrowing everything. It made me a little sad, but I do really like the overalls so I tried not to make a big deal about it.
I get up and go to the kitchen first because I can't stand to look under the tree yet. I think I'm the only one awake because things are so quiet and it was such a bad night last night but John is in there. He made some coffee and is drinking some from Dad's U.A.W. mug. He looks tired and I notice how much older he is than my mom and dad.
"What did Santa bring you?"
"I haven't looked yet."
"You haven't looked yet? Why not?"
I shrug. "There might not be anything in there."
John smiles. "I bet there is. I think I heard Santa bringing something big in. Go see what it is."
I go into the living room and see my bicycle. It's not one of the ones with a long seat and tall handlebars with streamers and a basket like my friends have, but it's a nice bike that doesn't have training wheels. It's blue and shiny and all my own. It looks like Santa tried to fit it in a stocking because one of the stockings Mom let me hang on a nail in the living room is on a handlebar. I laugh and run to see if it fits me.
Everyone is awake now. My sister walks in rubbing her eyes. She has a new boyfriend and she went to his family's Christmas Eve party last night and came home after most of the bad stuff happened. She says she loves my new bike. Mom is next and she stands and admires my new bike for a few minutes before she goes in and starts the biscuits and gravy she knows we all love for breakfast.
While everyone is looking at the bike and looking under the tree for their own presents, I sneak over to the other stocking I hung up. I am very curious about something. Some of the kids at school have been telling everyone that Santa isn't real and that it's really your parents that put the presents under the tree. I don't believe them, but I had an idea.
Last night I put an extra candy cane I got from school and one of the oranges we always keep around at Christmas into a stocking. Mom told me once that when she was a little girl in the mining camp, Santa always left her an orange and a piece of candy in her stocking and it was a special treat because they didn't get things like that every day. Ever since then I've wanted Santa to leave me an orange and a candy cane in my stocking even though I can get those things at home. Just in case Santa isn't real, and just in case I didn't find anything under the tree this year, I wanted to pretend Santa is real and that he brought me the same things he brought my mom.
I reach in the stocking and I almost hope they're gone. If they're gone, Santa took them and that means he is real. He put the other stocking on my bike but I really hope he left me something else or took my fruit and candy and left me a note instead.
They're still there. Mom comes in and sees me pull them out.
"Did Santa bring you something in your stocking?"
There's a funny look on her face. She really looks surprised. I feel my heart jump a little.
"No," I say. "I left these for him. He didn't take them so I guess he wasn't hungry."
"Huh. He probably was in a hurry putting your bike together and forgot to look."
Maybe. I don't know what to believe because I don't really think my mom and dad could have bought that bike and I also don't think they could have put it together last night.
Last night started out good. Mom opened a bottle of the red champagne she likes and the adults had some and told old stories and laughed and I watched some Christmas shows on TV. But then Dad moved on to some wine that John bought and then he had some beer. Mom said something about him being "three sheets to the wind." I don't really understand what that means but it makes me think of sheets of the filler paper I have to use at school and how if they were in the wind they'd just blow around all over the place, and that seems about right.
Dad wanted to go out and buy more beer but Mom didn't want him out driving so they had a fight. John tried to get Dad to stay at home, too, but he left anyway. He was gone a really long time and I wasn't sure if he was coming back. And I felt bad because a part of me didn't want him to come back because sometimes things are better when he's gone.
He's up next and we're all quiet when he comes in. But he smiles, and he inspects my bike and says it looks like a good one, and he goes in to have coffee. He and Mom don't talk but I know things will get better because they always do, at least when Dad isn't drinking.
There are other presents under the tree. More clothes for me and the Fashion Plates toy from my sister, which makes me squeal because next to a new bike it was the thing I wanted the most for Christmas.
Soon me, Mom, and my sissy will be going down home for a few days like we always do on Christmas night. Dad never comes with us when we go to visit my Mamaw and I start to feel guilty again because I want to be away from him and from home for a little while. He's a lot of fun this morning and he helps me tighten everything on my new bike. But his mornings are way different than his nights.
For right now things are okay. We eat breakfast and I am allowed to ride my bike for a few minutes in the family room while Dad takes pictures on John's Polaroid. I put on my new red overalls and while turtleneck and when I want to wear the blue socks instead of the red ones I'm allowed even though I know it doesn't match. I pack my Fashion Plates and as always Mousie and get ready to make the long drive to my Mamaw's.
I know I'll sleep in the car on the way down and I know I'll hear my mom and sister talking about things quietly when they think I'm asleep. Things they think I'm too young to understand. Things like Mom leaving Dad and finding a new place to live. They think it would make me sad, but it's really what I want more than anything in the world, more than a new bike or Fashion Plates.
I'm still kind of a little kid, but I know a lot. I know that my sister has a good new job and a new boyfriend we all like and soon she will leave and have a home of her own. I know that my mom doesn't make very much money and with Dad not working we're going to have a really hard time this winter. And I know if Dad keeps drinking too much something really bad is going to happen though I don't know what.
We pull out of the driveway and John stands in the doorway and waves and looks as sad on the outside as I feel on the inside. The clouds look like mashed potatoes in the sky and the sun feels warm on my face even though it's so cold outside. I start to feel better as the car heads south where I know my Mamaw's waiting for us with a turkey and dumplings. I tell myself it will all get better.
It always does.