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Christmas Past

Every year as Christmas creeps closer and closer I call up fond memories of the season. One especially amusing recollection from my much younger days predictably jumps to the forefront of my mind and every year, I like to share it in some manner or another.  This year, it is here:

 

STOCKING CHRISTMAS

Joanne E. Betzler

The year I was five, I awoke Christmas Eve morning unable to ignore the excitement niggling at my insides. It was useless to even try. Images of Santa covered in soot sliding down our non-existent chimney, Daddy’s old socks bulging with toys, candy canes, and oranges hanging in front of our fake fireplace, and gifts mounded beneath our twinkling tree overwhelmed my preschool brain. I also knew that today I had to be good.

Since stockings were a vital part of the season’s rituals I made it my job to sort them. I pulled the tangled mass of worn woolen socks from the bottom of the battered cardboard ornament box and laid them side-by-side on the sofa.

Mainly assorted shades of blue, the lone green one caught my eye. The hue was too pale to be a true Christmas colour but with a darker green pattern of crisscrossing lines, it was close enough. I pulled the sock up over my arm and pushed my fist against the frayed patch of darning. Assured of the toe’s strength, I performed the same test on the heel. Finding it firm, I knew this stocking would be mine tonight. The bossy voices and strong arms of my two older sisters were a perpetual risk so I stuffed the prickly material under my shirt and ran upstairs to secure my treasure under my pillow until bedtime.

 

Every Christmas Eve night, our house was a family magnet. With each arrival of aunts and uncles, a new offering of gifts was laid under the tree and two more chairs brought into our already overflowing front room. And with each new arrival, the excitement in my gut grew until I was sure I would burst.

Freshly bathed with my hair set in hard plastic curlers so I could look my best in church the next morning, and with no real sense of time, my stomach did somersaults as I stood in the doorway inhaling the hazy cloud of cigarette smoke and observing the jolliness of the room.       How long would it go on?

The insides of my eyelids were a built in View Master. Every blink offered a different festive image. Santa, elves, reindeer. They were all there, spinning through my brain. I couldn’t stand it. My heart raced as I wiped my sweaty palms down the legs of my worn flannel pajamas. The only way to make it be Christmas morning was to go to bed and sleep through the long hours of waiting.

After brushing my teeth and one last trip to the bathroom, I ventured in to bid our guests goodnight. Rough whiskered faces and sticky red lipstick kisses breathed spicy rum into my nostrils as I made my way around the room. With Momma busy in the kitchen and Daddy’s storytelling voice booming from the babies room as he put my younger sister to bed, I knew I was on my own and mounted the wooden staircase.

All of us together

As per our prescribed nightly ritual, I knelt on the floor and leaned my elbows on my mattress to assume the prayer position and asked God to bless all the members of my family. Even my baby brother and our cat Beatty. A quick sign of the cross as my sign-off, I jumped up to take a peek out the window in case Santa happened to be flying by, then pulled the blanket back from my pillow. Careful not to disturb the perfect smoothness of my covers, I inched my way between the tightly tucked sheets to stare up at the long shadows on the ceiling created by the light from the hall.

Voices and laughter from below wafted through the vent beside my bed but I couldn’t make out the words. Instead, my mind wandered to the possibilities of tomorrow. What would Santa bring? What would he put in my stocking…?

My lungs gasped for air and my body jolted upright.

Oh no – no – no – no – my stocking – I – forgot – to – hang – my – stocking!

Tearing the corners of my blankets from beneath the mattress, I shoved my hand under my pillow and found the rough fabric of Daddy’s old green sock. Waiting.

I couldn’t move. The cardinal rule of bedtime in our house was carved deep in my psyche. Once you go to bed, you STAY in bed for the night. Period.

A wail rang out from my very being to resonate from the bedroom walls.

AHHHH …

I’m not allowed to get up!

Tears streamed down my crumpled, burning face as I snatched the stocking and hugged it to my heart. My stomach jumped to my chest. My lungs inflated to their fullest and spewed out my misery. Over and over and over…

Santa would fill only four stockings tonight. Not five. Would he know one was missing? Would he put my goodies on the floor under the spot where mine should be? How could I possibly watch my sisters empty their stockings and me with none?

There would be no Christmas for me – with – no – stocking!

WAHHH …

 

“What are you howling about?” Momma’s voice thundered up the stairs.

“I forgot to hang my stocking.” My throat hurt and the inside of my chest burned. I held my breath, afraid to move.

“No one sent you to bed.” She sounded a little mad. “What are you thinking?”

“I wanted Christmas to come faster.” I swiped the tears from my face with my sleeve and swallowed a hiccup.

“Come downstairs. It’s too early for bed.” That time she laughed but I didn’t see anything funny at all.

A wave of relief filled my core as I squeezed the prickly green stocking tight in my fists. Sliding out from under the blankets, I took a long shuddered breath, stood tall and made my way back downstairs not even trying to hide the grin on my face.