I probably should wait a day or two before hitting the publish button on a new post. This morning, less than 24 hours after I uploaded my previous “Unthinkable” post, I remembered that this is the holiday season and maybe a story about homicidal parents isn’t the best thing to share right now.
Reading about traumas can be beneficial, I believe, for people who have gone through similar things. Although they aren’t easy to read or write, it helps us to know we aren’t alone, that other people have been in our shoes and still managed to survive and thrive in spite of it.
However, like most situations in life, there is a right time and a wrong time for things. Is the middle of December a good time to write about the most extreme form of child abuse? Probably not.
I posted my “Unthinkable” story yesterday because something I read had brought it to mind. My heart isn’t in sync with the season right now. Some of the loved ones I spent last Christmas with are no longer here, and…. I need to get my head out of last December.
A couple of hours ago I logged onto my blog with the intention of withdrawing my last post and saving it to automatically repost in January. Or maybe February. Those months tend to be drab and depressing, anyway, in this part of the world. Or maybe, I thought, I should wait until August, which is the month when I originally wrote my story about the poor baby swallow whose parents ejected it from the nest.
But when I went to delete my last post, I saw that three people have shared it on Twitter. Good grief. I don’t want to mess up their link, so… what to do, what to do…?
That’s when I came up with the idea of writing a new post about a happy Christmas memory from my childhood. Because my childhood wasn’t all bad. Far from it. My childhood could basically be summed up like this: June Cleaver in Leave It To Beaver meets Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest meets Father Knows Best meets The Exorcist.
Here is an excerpt from my memoir-in-progess, Going Crazy, entitled A Happy Christmas. This story recalls an event which took place in California when I was two and a half years old. (Yes, I really can remember back that far. A published Harvard study determined that the average age at which youngsters develop the capacity to retain long-term memories is eighteen months. Also, I probably have the ability to hang onto memories longer than most people, thanks to my higher than average IQ. My earliest clear childhood memory is of a 6.9 earthquake that happened when I was nineteen months old. Scary!)
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A Happy Christmas
My maternal grandparents came to visit about a year after the earthquake. Christmas was only a few days away and my mother had put a small tinsel-covered tree in the corner of our living room. I remember watching in fascination as she decorated the tiny tree, being careful to hang each ornament in the perfect spot. Everything had to be scrubbed squeaky-clean and made perfectly neat and tidy when my mother’s parents came to visit. Even the walls were scrubbed down, to remove sticky fingerprints.
Although I don’t remember the specifics of any earlier visits with my Grammy and Granddad, they were instantly familiar to me. I was their first grandchild – the first on both sides of the family, in fact – and my grandfather doted on me. Grammy, on the other hand, seemed stand-offish and cold. Not quite as cold as a winter morning, but definitely chilly, like a glass of iced tea. As the years went by I got the impression that when my maternal grandmother looked at me, all she saw was my mother, even though I’ve never looked anything like her.
Granddad, on the other hand, seemed to love me just for me, exactly the way I was. I never got the feeling that I needed to be a certain way or do anything special to prove myself worthy in his eyes. When he looked at me, his face was warm and alive with love.
One day during their holiday visit my grandfather took me in his car across the bay bridge to San Francisco, just the two of us. He had some errands to run, he explained to my mom, and he wanted to spend some time alone with his granddaughter.
I don’t remember much of that day, but I do remember the toy store. An entire store filled with nothing but toys! I hadn’t known such a wonderful place existed.
Best of all, my grandfather didn’t tell me not to look at any of the toys, the way my parents always did when we were shopping, because “only spoiled brats ask for things” and “staring at something you want is the same as asking.” On the contrary, my grandfather told me to go up and down the aisles and look at all of the toys and tell him which one I liked best.
Even after all these years, this wonderful memory still warms my heart.
I’m sure my eyes must have been bugging out of my head at the sight of all those toys. How could I pick just one favorite? The store was filled with tables and shelves, all of which were piled high with toys of every description. Toys from floor to ceiling, toys from the front of the store going all the way to the back.
Then I saw her, on a shelf high above my head. A beautiful doll with shining blue eyes, rosy red cheeks, and long hair that curled like dark sausages down her back. Her face was soft plastic, her body was hard plastic. But it didn’t matter to me what she was made of, she was the most gorgeous doll I had ever seen.
“I like her best, Granddad!” I said, pointing to the Saucy Walker in the red and white gingham dress and black patent leather shoes.
“Are you sure, Honey? You haven’t looked at everything in the store, yet.”
“Oh yes, I am sure!” I did not need to look at anything else, I had fallen in love at first sight with the toddler-sized doll. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
“Okay, then, if you’re sure. Stay right here a minute. Don’t move from this spot! I’ll be right back.”
I watched my grandfather walk toward the middle of the store, where the cash register was. He bent his head and whispered something to the pretty young woman who stood behind the counter. She looked toward me, then pointed questioningly at the doll on the shelf above my head. My grandfather nodded, reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.
Moments later, Granddad took me by the hand. “Okay, Lynda, we’re finished here. Come on, I need to get you back home to your mother before she starts to worry.”
I was heartbroken when I realized he wasn’t buying the doll for me, after all. We left the store empty-handed, the beautiful doll still sitting alone, high on the shelf.
But I knew better than to express my disappointment by crying or asking for the doll. “Only spoiled brats ask!” Although it took all of my effort not to cry, I dug my tiny fingernails into the palms of my hands, which helped take my mind off my threatening tears. It was still fun, being with my grandfather and getting to look at all those toys. Maybe the doll cost too much money, maybe that’s why we had left the store without her. That’s what my parents always said. Toys cost too much money and money doesn’t grow on trees.
Later that night I heard my grandparents arguing. “She is too little to appreciate something so expensive!” Grammy said.
“She wants it and she shall have it,” my grandfather answered, in a “case closed” kind of voice. My grandmother turned her head away, but not before I saw the angry flash in her eyes and the grim set of her lips.
A long box wrapped in green and red patterned paper and tied with a big green bow appeared next to the tinsel-covered tree on Christmas morning. By then, Grammy and Granddad had gone back to their home in Missouri, because my grandfather had to be back in time for his next scheduled day at work in the federal prison in Springfield.
Christmas morning, 1955. I am tearing the pretty wrapping paper off the long box my mother says is a gift for me from Santa. I tear enough of the paper away to see the Saucy Walker doll I loved so much. I knew then that Santa Claus was really my granddad. But how had he managed to buy the doll without me seeing him? Did he go back to the store later, maybe after I was asleep, driving all the way from Oakland across the bay to San Francisco?
I loved my Horseman Saucy Walker doll more than any other toy I ever had.
….Years later, my grandfather was promoted to the Associate Warden position at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He and Grammy lived in the massive Warden’s Mansion on the prison grounds, because the Warden had his own home nearby. But even with servants, trustees, and underlings jumping at his beck and call, my maternal grandfather was never anything but loving and gentle with me. I am lucky to have known him, blessed and honored to be his granddaughter.
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ABOUT COMMENTS: I have disabled comments to focus on writing my memoir. In the meantime, you may contact me on Twitter via @LadyQuixote.
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