Wednesday, July 08, 2009

One Last Christmas

I was born into a technically large family. My mother had eight live births. Plus two miscarriages. There was the potential that I could have been born into a family with ten children. And, no, my parents were not Mormons, Catholics, crazy Southern Baptists, or Observant Jews bent on packing the Earth with religious babies. They were, in fact, atheists. Why so many kids? Goddamned if I've ever been able to figure it out.

By the time I was born, the older kids were already fading away and moving out into the world. The oldest pack of them were in college, or the military, or married off, or just wandering the wilderness for all I know. I grew up in the second pack. So, in reality, while I was still in a relatively big family, it wasn't as if there were eight screaming, yelling kids rattling about in the confines of the house all day. Nothing like that, at all.

Because my parents had so many kids, we were poor. Not grinding poverty-poor, but pretty poor.

Since my parents had come up during the Depression and my father, especially, grew up bereft of medical care, the kids did not receive regular checkups. You had to get sick to see a doctor. And I mean pretty freaking sick. I recall one time my Strep throat had turned into raging Scarlet fever before I was hauled to the hospital. Damned near killt me. And you could forget about dental care. I never saw my first dentist until I was eighteen and old enough to go on my own. By that time all of my molars had cavities.

We were, basically, almost classic white trash.

The only things that kept us out of the classic white trash category was that my mom and dad were at least well-read, we were not religious, and we did not give in to race hatred--my parents would not put up with that.

My dad was also self-employed. He was always running one type of business or another. Plumbing business. Grocery business. That kind of thing. But by the time I was in grade school he was operating used book stores and doing well at it. (He fucked it up, but that's another story.) So, I, too was a well-read kid growing up. I had every kind of book imaginable at my fingertips. Comic books, science books, classics, potboilers, genre fiction, Playboy name it, I was reading it. We were different from the people around us that's for sure.

One thing I always enjoyed were the one-time-a-year hoedowns when the entire family would gather. That was Christmas. We'd go whole-hawg on the Christmas scene. Tree, presents, food--it was a rockin' good time (Jove bless the old Pagans who originated the Holiday). But mostly I liked it because of the human crowd of genetic siblinghood gathered all together under one roof. You see, I loved all of my family for the simple reason that we were connected by blood. I didn't need a reason to love them--I figured they were family and just needed to be loved.

Those sweet Georgia Christmas bashes would generally last for a week or so, because people would gather together from wherever it was some of them had drifted. Texas, Florida, other parts of Georgia, etc. The older brothers and sisters would bring their spouses and kids. The wimmenfolk would cook up the vittles. The men would lie about and eat and fart. Me...I just dug the noise and crowd of it all. Absolutely absorbed it.

Then, a day or so after all of the presents had been slashed open and I'd finished enjoying the wealth of stuff and company (my parents were generous to me at Christmas, I have to say), the relatives would slowly pack up and melt off into the sunset. I'd get truly bummed out and depressed and not quite understand why I was so down. The truth was, the minute they were gone I was missing them all.

This went on most of the years of my childhood. Up until I was thirteen years old. The last Christmas that all of my parents' children gathered was--shit--what year was it? 1971? Must have been 1970 or '71. We lived in Macon and were residing in a vast, two-story house that my parents rented. There was tons of room in that place and a huge yard. I recall everyone gathering in the grass out front to take pictures that year. It was a white trash mash up. And that was it. Never again did I see all of my family together like that.

The thing was...all that love I felt--all of that familial affection and love--it was a fucking lie.

My dad was a tough old bastard. He was kind of a severe presence when I was growing up, but nothing like the monster he'd been in his youth. My older brothers had endured a much more vicious version of my dad. I might get my hair pulled (that was his classic way of meting out punishment--brief, but painful), and that was it. My older brothers, though, had gone through some really brutal beatings by the younger man my father had been. They hated him. Why they came to these family reunions I cannot say. But there was something weird about that last huge gathering. I seemed to feel somehow that it was the last one. I don't know how I felt it, but I did.

After that, over the years, I slowly realized that there was no real love at all in my family. As time passed I realized that the blood-born love I had for them was pretty hollow. It was not returned and eventually I realized that I should just stop it. So I did.

These days I look upon my siblings with a sense of horror. Some of them are snobs. This is a very strange development to me, because I've never been able to figure out how or why someone who basically just came from poor white trash could possibly look down on other people--especially other siblings. It was easy to stop loving that kind of person. (Really! It was no trouble at all.) I look back and see these folk as monsters. They hated my parents, sometimes for good reason I suppose; but it's really harsh to hate your parents. When I saw how much they hated our mutual parents, it became singularly simple for me to hate them, too.

And so that's the way it is, these days. I look back on that last big Christmas and it's rather weird. I don't look back on the fantasy of camaraderie that I enjoyed. That was all just a fake smokescreen. I remember and recall how lonesome I became when the time arrived for all of those visitors to leave. I realize now how foolish it was for me to have felt depression over the absence of such a lot of miscreants. What a total waste of emotion and needless pain.

And so, I have to admit that I hate the lot of them. Hate in, hate out. Simple as that. Where did it originate? Hell if I know. You start blaming the father and he gets to blame someone and that person gets to blame someone and so on. It's pretty pathetic, especially when the target is dead. Just move on.

And so I have. I took a final, lingering look at that one, last Christmas.

What a bunch of assholes.

Come back when I stop laughing.

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