We all have wonderful Christmas memories of past holidays with family and friends. These are the thoughts and sentiments of the best of our times and the happiest of our days.
But not today. Beautiful Christmas memories are So Last Year. Instead, let’s take a detour through the worst of Christmases Past, as experienced by me and some friends.
First we go to Missouri, circa 1974, and we peep in on Christmas morning in a suburban living room featuring the tree, the ornaments, the family members (most of ‘em, anyway) and a young Buddy Eller.
Yes that Buddy Eller, now long gone but far from forgotten, an early champion of Ukiah’s homeless and anyone else on the outer fringes of society.
But in 1974 Buddy was simply a young man with a new wife about to celebrate Christmas with his Missouri in-laws. Everything described so far is true, but may I clarify? Yes, Buddy was recently married and it’s also true that only “most of” the family members were gathered around on this Christmas morning in anticipation of celebrating the holiday together.
But it was also true that Buddy and his wife had gone to a Christmas Eve party the night before, during which his wife caught the eye, and then the arm, of another man.
They left the party together, which meant Buddy was left alone, and he was still alone the following morning when he came downstairs to join his new in-laws in the living room. Warm and wonderful memories were not about to begin.
Buddy couldn’t tell me what gifts he and his wandering wife had given to her parents, but he did recall sadly peeling paper off gaily wrapped packages of cookware he and she had been given. Who suffered greater embarrassment that Christmas morning, Buddy or “most of” his family? There is no right answer.
He pulled a few more ribbons and bows from boxes of skillets and sauce pans, and then everyone paused to listen as a car pulled up outside. A door slammed, the car zoomed off, and seconds later Mrs. Buddy Eller came in the front door, carrying her shoes. She went upstairs.
Buddy got nothing for Christmas that year, not even the cookware, which he said he would liked to have been able to exchange at the Sears store for a Diehard battery to put in his car, which wouldn’t start when he packed up that afternoon to go back home.
No gifts, but Christmas memories to last a lifetime.
The Shortest Happy Day Gift
When I was about 10 a kid down the street got a new bicycle for Christmas, but the next day his mother backed over it in the driveway. The bike was destroyed, and I don’t think he’d ridden it more than a few hundred feet.
Also, his family was poor so he didn’t get another one.
A Visit from St. Bert
Long before the kids were awake, long before the sun was up, and long before we would have ever consented to a Christmas morning visit from our legendary, appalling, lovable, terrifying and wonderful coworker, Bert Schlosser, there he was, a-bang bang banging with his big fat fist upon our front door. Christmas morning, 6:15 a.m.
I opened the door and in thrust his big yellow plastic bourbon cup followed by his outstretched arm, and then the jolly old elf himself. Bert was in full stagger, full sweat, and full of the holiday magic and good cheer for which he was famous. He (re-)filled his yellow quart mug from the Jim Beam bottle he kept on our laundry shelf, collapsed into the old leather recliner in the living room and fell into a snoring mess until awakened by our children an hour later, which annoyed him.
Bert said the sweater Santa brought me looked cheap and gay, that Teri’s new earrings were so ugly she’d be at Scott Gaustad’s office filing for divorce no later than Monday, and that the kids would have gotten better gifts if they’d been in foster care. He said our cat showed signs of neglect and abuse, was surprised we hadn’t dropped our dog off at the animal shelter yet, and wanted to borrow my car. He’d lost his truck last night somewhere between The Broiler and Club Calpella.
By this point we had been sufficiently delighted by his visit, and I called a neighbor across the street.
“Kevin!” I whispered. “You gotta take Bert! He’s been here three hours and I’m afraid he’s gonna stay for New Year’s. Drive him to Diamond Jim Liquors, buy him a gift. Anything. Get him out.”
“Ahh, he’s with you? Great,” Kevin chuckled. “He came to our house about 5 this morning; I tossed him after he finished my bourbon and called Danna’s mother a cow. Have fun! Ho ho ho!”
That afternoon someone pulled up in front of our house and honked the horn a few times. He was driving Bert’s red Ford pickup. I held the front door open; Bert heaved himself up and aimed for it.
Crossing the porch at an angle, he missed a step but caught the next and regained his iffy balance while not spilling a drop from his plastic mug. He didn’t turn around as he waddled away, but he lifted a hand in an approximate wave.
“Merry Christmas,” he said. “And I’m serious. Your cat’s a goner. Probably leukemia or something.”
(Merry Christmas to you and all the people you love, and even the ones you don’t. Tom Hine and his fictional pal Tommy Wayne Kramer hope your holidays are cheerful and memorable in all the best ways. PS: Kittiboy lived another13 years.)