Christmas is this week and, as usual, I am in a moody funk. Growing up, most of my Christmas days were spent being shuffled from one parent to another and then on to my Irish grandmother’s house for what came to be known to me as the twelfth circle of hell. My mother was the middle of three girls, the oldest had died when I was a baby and the youngest was grandma’s absolute favorite. As was her daughter, my cousin. My mother and I were barely tolerated. We were only invited to her home simply because Irish Catholic guilt won over my grandmother each year and she didn’t want to be seen by the neighbors and those who knew her as “neglectful” of her family.
The yearly torture would start on Christmas Eve when we would trek to my stepfather’s large Italian family for La Vigil. As the baby in his family, my stepfather was warmly welcomed and much loved. Not so much my mother and I. We were the ultimate interlopers, despised by his mother who never spoke in English when we were around so we wouldn’t know what she was saying about us. After taking 7 years of Italian in middle school and high, she stopped doing that when I translated then repeated everything she’d just said about my mother’s outfit to the dinner table.
Score one for the fat Irish kid.
We’d sit through the seven courses of various fish prepared by my stepfather’s sister and mother and then we’d open gifts. My mother and I were routinely forgotten even though we’d brought presents for all of them – the dozens of children included. As a child I’d watch kid after kid open a cool toy or get a great outfit to wear while I just sat there ignored, jealous, sad, presentless.
They were not the nicest people on the planet. Not even close.
On Christmas day I’d wake up and after a morning shipped off to my father and stepmother,( who by the way was a lovely person – my father so did not deserve her) I was brought back to my mother and stepfather and then – because neither one of them drove a car, we’d run to the bus stop so we wouldn’t miss it ( buses only ran every hour on the holiday), get to the ferry and wait to take that ( ferries also only ran every hour and somehow they were never timed with buses.) Off the ferry and then two long subway rides and a half mile walk to grandma’s fourth-floor walkup apartment. And when I say walk up, I mean it. No elevator.
By now it would be about three-thirty and the drinking would be in full swing, having started at the noon hour. Something would always cause an argument between my mother and hers, which many times ensued in the three of us leaving before dinner was served, or in the police being summoned by a neighbor who’d heard the shouting. Sometimes, we’d actually make it to dinner and presents before a blow-up would start.
I’m telling you this because I’m trying to explain why the holiday season has never been fun for me and why, when I write about families now, I always depict them as being loving, accepting, and actually liking one another.
It was the opposite way I grew up, you see. Every year I asked Santa for siblings to share with, parents who loved me, grandparents who spoiled me and a socio-economic situation that did not include the cops knowing our phone number by sight when it was dialed into the police station. When these things didn’t materialize under the tree – or in my life – I imagined them. The families in my imagination were warm, funny, sweet and sober. Tables didn’t get flipped in anger, food didn’t get tossed at a crying child and the police dealt with real criminals.
These families lingered in my mind until I started committing them to paper and into my novels, where they bring me joy.
My grandmothers – Irish and Step-Italian – are long dead, and I have no contact with their families any longer. It was a mutual divorce on both our counts. I have my own wonderful family to spend the holiday with now, and am finally able to spend Christmas the way I’ve always wanted: with a happy, warm, loving and accepting group of people.
I hope your holidays are spent this way as well.
Peace. Love. Joy, and A Very Merry Christmas from me to you.
And here’s a little sumthin’ sumthin’ coming on the next major holiday : VALENTINE’S DAY: The CandyHearts Series. Click and see all the covers starting on January 4, 2016. And here’s a little hint – mine is releasing on 2/8/16. Enjoy.