One year–1978, or '79–when I was 9, or 10, I did some Christmas snooping. I couldn't help myself. After our first Christmas in Arizona (1977), when my brother and I both got big boxes of awesome, what kid could? I wanted to know what I was getting. I'm fairly certain that I enlisted my brother's aid (he would've been 5, or 6, at the time). I don't remember what day Christmas fell on that year, but it was magical in the way that Saturdays were always magical when I was a kid: it was day off from school, and there were cartoons. Except this one went to 11! It was Christmas! It was magical like that. And mom and dad weren't up yet (it was very early). We could watch what we wanted, eat what we wanted, do what we wanted–which included some secret Santa sleuthing.
So we looked high, and low: in closets, in the back bedroom, in the laundry room. Practically everywhere, except the garage, and mom and dad's room. Where were those gifts? If you're wondering, yes, my parents did the whole milk-and-cookies-thing on Christmas Eve, but I knew the score: the make-believe was more for my brother's benefit than mine. As cruel as I was to him, I don't think I ever spilled the Santa beans on him. Not sure what he thought while we were looking for gifts (interesting that now, all these years later, I have faith and he does not), but I eventually had the genius idea to check inside mom's banana yellow roadboat–otherwise known as a 1975 Chrysler Cordoba. Oh, by the way, that Montalban guy lied: there wasn't no "rich, Corinthian leather" in our car. But we had us some awesome vinyl that was wonderful for sitting on in shorts during the mild Arizona summers.
But back to my genius idea: I got mom's keys, and we went out to the garage. I wanna say that we searched the interior of the car first–checking the floorboards, and under the seats. Of course we came up empty-handed. Aha! Let's check the trunk! So we popped it open, and our eyes spied the treasure. Joy! Rapture! We were Christmas pirates, and this was the secret booty, a hidden cache of grog. Drunk with the knowledge, and satisfied like the curious cat, we–in our exultancy–did the only kid-logical thing we could: we decided to help our sleeping mom and dad out. The sails were unfurled–this was full steam ahead.
Inside that banana yellow boot of booty were treasures for us, yes, but also for mom as well. There was a terra cotta pot–round, and somewhere in size between a pot and a planter–that was for her from dad, or maybe from herself in a "Merry Christmas to me" kind of way. But I was strapping young lad of 9, or 10, and more than up to the task. So I maneuvered, lifted, cajoled–but didn't cuss, because though I wasn't raised with faith, Christmas was somehow sacred to me–and I got that thing up onto the front edge of the trunk. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I'd seen Kung-Fu in syndication, saw what Kwai-Chang Caine did at the beginning of every episode with that upside down bell. In that moment, I was strong like Caine, and tougher than Stretch Armstrong. For a moment–then my strength failed, and I got a Christmas lesson in Newtonian physics. What for my mom was a beautiful terra cotta pot was now a "terra notta." Just like that, the magic of that Christmas shattered on that cold concrete garage floor. Feeling so special just moments before, I didn't feel like much of anything anymore.
It's here that my memory fails me–faded like an old photo, or perhaps washed out like film stock suddenly exposed to light. I honestly don't remember if I told my parents–owning up to the fiasco–or if my brother did. (He being about 6 at the time, I suspect I was tattled on). All I can say at this point is that there are no further vivid memories of that holiday. I imagine there was some initial anger on the part of my parents, and then a drab funereal solemnity. As children, I don't think we ever had a Christmas as magical again. (It wasn't until much later that I realized that our family was as washed out as that Christmas was. We just didn't know it yet). What I did learn that day was that sometimes some mystery is best. Breaking that terra cotta pot taught me to appreciate surprises.
How about you? What are some of your fondest, or worst, Christmas memories? Do you like surprises?