Friday, December 31, 2010

Been spending lots of time on a Big writing project, so haven't done much here.
Sigh...may be a good New Year's resolution to re-visit some of these Fun
Flash fiction things. Anyway, couldn't let the Holiday go by without this,

Welcome to my annual Christmas Story...

The BreakIn

What woke me up Christmas Eve (or rather, I should say, Christmas day) at 3:15 in the damn morning wasn’t the sensitive alarm system I’d bought myself for Christmas, -- it wasn’t there to do its job yet. The installation was supposed to have been done the week before Christmas, not the week after. But because I was such a nice guy about their busy holiday schedule, the company kept putting me off day by day by day. Until finally, I said okay to January fourth hoping that the company holiday hangovers would be dissipated by then.

No, what woke me up was some fat guy stomping around on my long back porch cussing a blue streak. Though I’d immediately thought it was the robbers, from Thanksgiving, come back to clear me out of whatever they’d missed or I’d replaced. When I heard the clatter, I’d jumped out of bed in my flannel pj’s, groping for the can of pepper spray I kept on the nightstand now. If those robbers were back, they weren’t getting anything this time but a face full of pepper, guaranteed (it said on the package), to force a grown man to his knees in blind pain. I could hardly wait to press the button and see the guy who’d come for my new Samsung flat screen TV laid out in horrific agony. Ah, sweet revenge.

I’d crept down the hall to the living room and edged as close as I dared to the window – spray in hand. But what I saw was only this fat guy all dressed in black, stomping intently from one end of my porch to the other, not even looking at the house. Every time he got near the back door at the east end of the porch, the motion sensor light I’d installed after the break-in flipped on and then back off as he headed back to the other end. I could have sworn I’d set that thing for four minute intervals. Every step he took made the steel mesh security door rattle and clank like Scrooge’s chains.

Though I’m sure I was clearly visible through the glass, the big guy didn’t even pause at the window where I stood ready to spritz him when he broke it. I wondered: Would he use his fat fist or was he going for one of the gardening tools I kept in a bucket at the far end of the porch? Damn, I should’ve moved those weeks ago.

But like a train on a track he didn’t pause at the wall end of the porch or even glance down at the bucket, he spun on his heel and headed back towards me. So intent was he on his diatribe I thought he’d go right off the open end of the porch this time, but six inches from the end, he spun around again as the light flicked on and off, and kept right on going back towards the far end. I noticed that he was waving his arms in the air and smacking his chest here and there in punctuation, I could see little dark puffs of powder popping off his chest with every smack. Mesmerizing.

On his fifth pass by me, I was thinking less and less about the possible dangers of a mad man tromping my back porch and breaking in, and more about what the hell he was so fired up over. So the next time he headed into the darkness, I reached up surreptitiously, flicked the lock off, and slid the window open a crack so I could hear his words. And boy, did I get an earful, though of course, I didn’t hear every detail. After all he was still marching back and forth and talking to himself and not to the window where I was eavesdropping on his complaints.

I did hear a lot about the “damned EPA” and what “lame-assed anal retentive jerks” they were. Something about how he’d filled out all the permits apps, followed all the regulations and gotten the testing done on the sleigh. But it was “unconscionably ridiculous” to test the reindeer by putting that thing up their asses to measure the “piss-ant greenhouse gases they emitted. I’ll reduce their damn methane emissions, by God!” (This was a smack-worthy moment.)

He spent quite a bit of time addressing his complaints about NOAA and their “two-faced smarmy bullshit fake ads on national TV” about how they were tracking his progress and clearing the skies to assist his deliveries. “What a load of crap! All they do is trot out the same old bullshit about the snow and rain and if I’m on schedule or not. They don’t have one teeny iota of a clue about what my schedule is really like! I’d like to jam that schedule up their butts and see how they like it!” I lost some of that when he wheeled down to the dark end, screaming, “I hate the bureaucrats! I hate every one of those loser, money grubbing SOB’s!”

But the agency he really had it in for was the FAA. “They call it Civil Aviation, I say, there’s not one damn civil thing about it! And oh by the way boys, ‘trajectory is a noun, not a God damn verb!” There were some mumbles I almost missed about the “inappropriate and totally illegal momentary confinement” of his transport at the local AFB. “Who the hell has an x-ray machine that big? Yeah, and I dare em to do some pat-downs on Rudolph. He doesn’t just use those hooves to run on, morons!” And some remarks about his “aching back” and “didn’t they realize how heavy the fucking bag really was?”

From there he slowed down to just whining for awhile about how much “I hate the black hoodie, it keeps getting in my eyes, and the sweat pants may say XXXL on the tag, but it’s not my XXXL. Not to mention that elastic on the bottom of the pants doesn’t jam into the boots at all. But if I have to listen to my wife bitch one more time about how filthy the Official Outfit is; I’m gonna seriously consider losing the red and white for good.”

I was glued to the window by then; the pepper spray had fallen out of my hands back around the NOAA soliloquy. He was almost in tears when he got onto the currant building codes, and how “all the chimneys have spark arresters now. Even this old dump has a wire mesh I can’t fit through and its nailed on so tight I can’t get the stupid thing off. Who do they think I am -- Jesus Christ!” A long pause here and then: “Boy, it sure feels good to vent! Haven’t had a chance to do that in a long while!”

I could hear the thunk of his bag as he dropped it over by the porch swing. “You’re gonna have to be satisfied with this, it’s as close as I can get to the hearth.” I saw him pull out a package and set it on the cushions, and then I could have sworn he looked right at me and winked. “Should be about time for the boys to get here.” He looked out at the sky and nodded. But just before he stepped off the porch into the back yard he said one more thing, really loud. “FYI: I am a grown man, and I am fucking sick and tired of COOKIES!!”

Good thing I have an empty ½ acre of land out back, otherwise, where would they have landed? I only wish I’d had my camera close by, it happened so quick, I didn’t dare take my eyes off them. And then they were gone. But when I opened the security door to take a peek I saw and heard the bells he’d hung from the mesh. Sleigh bells ring, are ya listenin?

Next year, I’m gonna take the grill off the chimney top around the twenty-third of December, and ice the vodka and glass right up until the last minute. Maybe some brie, or caviar, but I guarantee you this (and I hope he’s listening), NO Cookies!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Strange are the ways of the Universe...


There was a pile of bills on the floor that Josh walked past every day. The old days of tidy stacks and organized files had first given way to two blue plastic bins, one for pay now, one for later. Then he just started dropping all the mail on the floor.

The first year he’d been out of work he’d called every one of his creditors religiously: apologizing, explaining, vowing minimum payments at the very least. Every so often he’d actually cried on the phone, not out of any sense of drama, but because he was so damn humiliated.

“This isn’t me, this isn’t how my life is!” he sobbed. “I’m an upstanding citizen, a bill paying machine – my credit’s been perfect for years!”

And also for that first year the voices on the other end of the phone had sympathized with him. Mrs. So and So at Mastercard had gushed, “Don’t worry; we’ll work with you to get through this difficult time.”

Rex down at Silver’s Gym had assured him that his work-outs wouldn’t be curtailed. “You need to keep yourself in shape; exercise is a great antidote for stress.”

Ms. Jones at Allied insurance had set up a payment plan for all his insurance premiums. “One small payment every month will keep those policies in place. We wouldn’t want to have them lapse now, would we. You need the peace of mind that being covered brings.”

Now, well into his third year of joblessness, those sympathetic voices had been replaced by the irate and frankly hostile ones of the collection agency employees. Any pretence of polite conversations had disappeared along with his salary, savings, job security, self-confidence, or giving a shit.

His depression seemed to multiply in direct correlation to the sky-rocketing percentage rates on his over-due credit cards. Too many days he had to foist himself out of bed to face the interminable day. Insomnia and lack of appetite dogged him until the afternoon he sat down outside on his miniscule patch of green grass contemplating the least painful method of ending his life when the rabbit hopped over his bare foot. Whoa.

Josh straightened his bowed back and stared at the glossy black rabbit. It was distinctly not a native species.

“Oh boy, I’ve lost it,” he said. “Hallucinating in my own back yard. Could be too many missed meals.” He sighed and added, “If this thing is a sign from God, with that color, it can’t be good.”

The rabbit lifted its face from the dandelion it’d been eating and wriggled his pink nose at Josh but said nothing.

“No comment, huh?” Josh said as the rabbit hopped to his left to reach the next yellow weed. He nibbled five or six of the spiny leaves before munching the flower down in several neat bites. Then he licked his right front paw and cleaned his face, catlike.

Josh watched the rabbit eat three more dandelions while making a slow half circle around him. He had to shift his weight and scootch his butt to keep the rabbit in view, but it didn’t seem bothered by his movements or proximity.

“How strange you are, fella.” Josh told the rabbit. “Just showing up here out of the blue. I keep expecting you to disappear in a plink of Disney sparkles like Tinkerbell. But if you’re not going to disappear, you need a name. How’s Ralph sound to you?”

The rabbit looked up at Josh when he said ‘Ralph’ and Josh could have sworn he nodded. Ralph made several more hops nibbling away at the weeds and completed a circle around the man.
“You know, I might have a carrot in my refrigerator. You may like it better than the weeds.” Josh levered himself up off the grass as Ralph lay down to wait. “Be right back.” Josh told him and headed for the back door.

While Josh was inside, the rabbit pulled a tiny silver cell phone out of a pocket in his chest fur and flipped it open. “This one might take less time than we thought,” he said. “We may be able to move the schedule up.” He listened for a moment and then said, “It’s going well. He’s gone to get me a carrot; he was smiling when he left.” Another listen and then “I have to say I’m not crazy about the name this one picked. -- Ralph. -- Okay, no laughing. – Yeah, well, I’ll listen to him call me that and even eat the carrot no matter how old it is as long as it does the job.”

“By the way Boss, we might want to re-think the fur color for the next one. Black isn’t getting it, but the pink nose works. He’s definitely not thinking about suicide anymore.”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Some days you dig


He was outside when the phone rang, thereby not having to feel the clinch of his gut at the bbrringg, bbrringg, bbrringg sound of it. He didn’t have to suppress the irritation at who it might be since the bounds of his old life had melted. When he was a witness to the lit telephone screen, Caller ID was useful. And when he was not, the insistent callers always left a message.

He knew all the numbers by heart now: the bank, the collection agencies, the mortgage company. Their unwavering diatribes threatening or wheedling or oily.

Jeff was less interested in their repetitive words than he was in where they got them. They were so boringly similar maybe there was a series of pamphlets being passed around from one company to the next. If so, who wrote the scripts? Was there a company that specialized these days in writing badgering dialogues for them all? One size fits all with inter changeable verbs and convenient blanks awaiting gender, name, amount owed, and dire consequences available. He’d be happy to apply for that job.

Two years ago Jeff had been the head of advertizing at a prestigious company. His snappy patter was the best in the building until the company (apparently not quite as prestigious as claimed) rolled over like a gut-shot dog and died.

Too bad, Jeff thought, for all his lowly co-workers. He felt secure in his reputation and the impressive Capital Letters (including punctuation) following his name and believed that the stench of the dead dog would not affect him.

But as the weeks turned into months and his peers at other (still alive) prestigious companies stopped taking his calls much less returning them he distainfully applied for unemployment benefits. He considered it a momentary lapse of his fortunes.

When six months had gone by and he had been turned down for every imaginable job he had applied for, he rationalized those meager checks as his due. After all, he had paid outrageous amounts into the social security fund all his working life.

Two years later, he’d exhausted not only his benefits but his arrogant attitude and was reduced to flinching at the phone and trying to find something to do to keep himself sane.

He’d begun the trench in the back yard to dig up a leaking water line, but though the repairs had long since been accomplished, he kept on digging. He found great satisfaction in the depth and length of each day’s excavations, and realized the added bonus of a weary body’s capability to sleep.

He’d also discovered the subtle art of contemplation, simply by resting his overlapped hands on the top of the shovel handle to support his chin. No wonder guys on road crews did it all the time. It was a vantage point that allowed him to appreciate the half acre of dirt he owned free and clear, the fact he couldn’t be fired, and the realization that he could keep on digging trenches to his hearts content until the shovel broke, or he dropped dead, or the fucking recession ended.
Some days suck...

How it Ended

I’d like to say it ended like an Edgar Allan Poe story. The entire requisite build up of fear to terror, the knife point dimpling thin white skin with its first pressure, then the pop as it pushes in. The bright gush of blood escaping almost joyfully through the vent, eagerly exploring new surfaces, the pocked dry wood of the desk, the curved lip of its edge, the blue wool of the rug drinking in the red. White wool would have been much more satisfying.

The appropriate wind howling beyond the windows, trees tossing in dismay while the clock that is always on the wall steps center stage and raises its voice and volume in the only monologue it will ever have. Less of a tick or tock than a repetitive clunk.

Poe might have preferred a thunk to resonate with the sound of a lifeless hand falling onto wood, or the measured tread of the footsteps exiting the room.

But alas, Poe is long departed. The wind’s voice muffles the clock’s, and the only liquids escaping are my tears that there is no end.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This is a true story. I just can't remember if there were two or three. Oh my!


Dad and I were diving Lake Mead at the Cliffs the day I found a duffle bag with three heads in it.

We were down on the bottom at seventy-five feet, visibility not so hot, although we’d both been careful to keep our swim fins aimed away from the mucky bottom. It only took one kick of a fin to stir up a cloud of mud that brought visibility to ziltch for twenty feet around us. I’d stopped to check out a sparkle in the mud (turned out to be a beer can), and when I looked up dad had disappeared again. He was the worst dive buddy in the world. Once you got down on the bottom, he’d be off like a shot, his head swiveling back and forth, raking the bottom with his eagle eyes, intent on being the first one to find anything and find more of it than anybody else.

We always hoped for treasure, like a gold chain, or a wallet full of money, but mostly we only found trash. Stuff that people dropped overboard off their boats.

When I saw him gone, I laughed into my regulator, blowing a stream of wasted bubbles towards the surface. No way was I going to try and chase after him: been there, done that. He was probably thirty or forty yards away by then and never would look back. It was extremely bad dive etiquette on his part, but that was dad.

So I shrugged and began my own slow cruise along the irregular, bumpy bottom keeping my eyes peeled for any unnatural shape or lump or color, I’d been trained by the master. Six inches of a rope lying in the muck might lead to a long buried anchor. It didn’t matter that dad had found hundreds of anchors over the years – they were still coveted finds. Sunglasses were also a hot ticket item. Our record in one day was twenty-six pairs: four of them Vuarnets! I had to haggle like hell with dad to keep those Vuarnets, even though he couldn’t even wear them. Dad’s belief was that because we were on his boat, using his gas, and his air tanks, on his lake, anything we found together was rightfully his.

The bottom along the stretch we were diving that day was full of sudden drop offs and unexpected cliff walls. I had to keep looking up to make sure I wasn’t about to bonk my head into a wall. I also kept checking my depth gauge after swimming over a ridge and down into the abyss of a ravine to make sure I didn’t go too deep. A diver doesn’t have much bottom time at one hundred feet, just a few minutes.

I wasn’t finding much of anything, one decent lure tangled so badly in a drowned creosote bush it took me ten minutes to get it out. I followed a ridge line for a while before checking my compass and realizing I was headed straight out into the middle of the damn lake. So I turned around lined up my compass and followed the ridge line back towards shore. I was still at sixty feet when I ran into a cliff face and got spooked when my tank clanged into the overhang above me.

I had an interesting moment of a short news video playing in my mind where the overhang had collapsed onto my body and I was trapped sixty feet deep with no one knowing where I was. This is one good reason to never dive alone.

By the time I swam clear of the overhang and stopped hyperventilating, I’d kicked up so much muck I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I decided to head back to the boat. Mom had dropped dad and I off at the west end of the cliff wall and would be sitting in a little cove on the boat at the east end waiting for us to finish our dive; she would have lunch ready and cold beers.

All I had to do was to keep that cliff wall on my left side and I would be sitting on the Sea Ray eating a ham sandwich and drinking a Corona in a few minutes. I kept my fingers on the wall until I passed the brown smog I’d kicked up. Once I got in clear water I calmed down a tad and started prospecting for stuff again.

Off to my right I caught a glimpse of white, definitely not a rock. I swam towards it entertaining the possibilities: blanket? Towel? Garbage bag? When I got close enough to see the straps I knew it was a perfectly good, probably expensive, nylon duffle bag. I could tell by the plumped out cylindrical shape that it was full of something. What could be in it? Maybe it was full of money. Hallelujah! That would make my day. Family history said it was possible. (My folks had once found a bag of money in the lake. I have a picture of mom laying out wet bills in a grid on the shop floor. I can’t tell if they’re 20’s or 100’s even with a magnifying glass, but there were rows and rows of them. They never did tell me how much it was, it was their paranoid secret.)

I picked up the white bag by its green webbing handles and hefted it off the bottom. It was heavier than paper money would have been. Damn! So then I started thinking: jewelry, coins, something wonderfully valuable. The zipper was closed all the way and I wanted to open it then and there at seventy-five feet in the muck. But I recalled dad’s first rule of underwater salvage that he had drilled into my head. Never open anything underwater – wallet, bag, car door, anything! If there’s money inside, it will likely disintegrate and you’ll be shit-out-a-luck.

So I eyeballed the cliff wall again to orient myself, direction wise, and started swimming for the boat. The more I swam the more excited and curious I got. What was in the bag? In my excitement, I was sucking down air out of my tank like crazy and my fingers itched to yank that zipper open. But no, remember what dad said, I told myself. Well it wouldn’t hurt to just shake it a little – or hey – maybe just feel the bag. That might give me a clue.

So I stopped swimming in the murky water and held the bag in both hands, squeezing it with my eyes shut, hoping for a vision of wealth. It felt like one…two…three big round things. Hmmmm. Three big round things, now what could that be? Some kind of sports equipment? Balls, maybe. I squeezed again: too small for basketballs, soccer balls would be closer. Just get to the boat where you can open it, Chris, I told myself. So I started swimming again.

Suddenly, I had this truly terrifying thought. Those round things were just about the size of my head. I felt my head with one hand and the round things in the bag with the other and freaked out! I screamed into my regulator, “Dad!” But of course, he was no where in sight. Swim for the boat, swim for the boat! Then I was kicking like an Olympic champion swimmer for the finish line.

It can’t be true. I’m imagining things. I can’t be carrying three people’s heads in this bag. I can’t! I couldn’t get the gruesome possibilities out of my head.

If I just stopped for a minute and opened the zipper a little way and peaked inside the bag, I might be able to stop freaking out. What if it is heads? I’m sure it isn’t! What if it is?

Finally I couldn’t stand the suspense or my terror for another second and I stopped swimming and carefully set my flippers down on the closest rock. I held the bag as far away from my body as I could, and tugged the zipper pull, one inch…two inches… five, twelve – and then I watched in horror as long dense strands of brown hair slowly drifted out of the opening.

I’m pretty sure I screamed. I know for sure that I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could. The hair was bad enough; I did not want any gory pictures burned into the retinas of my eyes or my brain. I opened the zipper the rest of the way and dumped whatever it was out of the bag, swimming frantically away from it and furiously waving the bag behind me with one arm to get every last speck and hair out. You see, I really wanted that bag.

On the other hand, I was so creeped out by what I had seen, that I was desperate to be out of the water, in the sun, in the boat with my mom and dad, safe from the creepy- crawly feeling that pulsed all over my body, and safe from what lay behind me in the lake.

I angled up towards the surface as quickly as I could safely do so, until I broke out into the sunshine. And then I thrashed along the edge of the cliff face like a crazed woman until I rounded the last point and saw our boat. I should have gotten a medal for that last speed sprint with all my dive gear dragging on me. Mom and dad were sitting in the cockpit of the boat, calmly eating lunch in the sun when I clawed my way onto the teak swim platform with relief.

“Find anything?” dad asked while I stripped off gear: mask, fins, weight belt, BC, tank, regulator, gauges.

“I found this duffle bag,” I shouted, flopping the stinking thing on the teak. “And it had three heads in it!”

Dad dropped his sandwich and gave me his immediate attention. “Heads? What heads? Where’s the heads?”

“Back there! Out there!” I waved out at the water I’d just been delivered from. “I dumped em out.”

“You what? Let’s go back and get em!”

“Fuck you!” I told my father. “I am not going back to look for heads. You want to go look for heads, rock out, go look for heads – I’m not going!” I yelled at the sky, “I need a beer!” Mom got me the beer and a sandwich, but I couldn’t eat. By the time I’d told them the whole story I was exhausted and mom had talked dad out of going back. “You’re not bringing any heads onto this boat,” she said. Then we stowed our dive gear and dad drove the Sea Ray back to Vegas Wash Marina where we put her on the trailer and went home.

I never dove that spot again with dad. I had nightmares about the hair for a while, and I washed that duffle bag over and over trying to get the smell out. After all, as dad would say, it was “a perfectly good” duffle bag. But I finally threw it away.

I’ve been forever thankful that I shut my eyes after seeing the hair. Because even though I still have that image of wafting hair stuck in my mind, if I really concentrate (in the light of day), I can almost convince myself that those heads were actually soccer balls.
What is family? Why do we go back?


Joseph sat in his immaculate black 2009 Lexus in front of his Aunt Mabel’s house in Garden Grove on the first day of the New Year and wondered if it was safe to leave it parked on the street.

The driveway was clogged with his relative’s cars: clunkers and pick up trucks, Chevy’s and Fords and one bright red Dodge Hemi, which was his Uncle Bill’s pride and joy. At least no one had parked on the grass.

Even with his car windows up he could hear the tumultuous sounds of too many people who’d already had too much to drink and who obviously loved really loud country music. Just once he’d like to hear some good jazz at one of these things. He wondered yet again why he kept coming.

His eyes flicked to the rear view mirror and he patted his hair. Tony, his barber, had left it too long on the sides again. The gray was starting to be too obvious, maybe a brown rinse next time. His face was still okay except for those lines around his mouth that deepened when he frowned, which he was doing right now. He tried forcing a smile but it wouldn’t come, so he settled for rubbing his right palm across his mouth twice to erase the lines.

Reaching up to automatically adjust his tie, he remembered that he’d dressed down for these people. The blue shirt was a shade lighter than the cashmere sweater, but it brought out the color in his eyes. The chinos were raw silk and the loafers Italian, not that anybody in this crowd would notice. Oh well, might as well get it over with.

Joseph put his hand on the door handle just as his cousin Russ popped up at the rear of the car and slapped both his hands down on the trunk with a thwack! Joseph’s body jerked at the noise and his frown turned into a growl. But then Russ was at the driver’s door wrenching it open and yelling in his face, beery breath and all.

“Joe, you old bastard, how are you? Are you gonna sit in that car all day or are you comin’ in?”

Joseph squashed his growl, composed himself with a deep breath through his nose, and turned his head to face his cousin. Russ grabbed his left arm and started to drag him out of the Lexus, Joseph let him take the arm but planted first his left foot and then his right on the asphalt to maintain his equilibrium. He shook Russ’s hand off, slammed the door and clicked the lock button in his hand at it.

“Wow! Nice ride, Joe!” Russ said, running his hands along the Lexus’ sleek sides. “Bet that baby cost you an arm and a leg. I’d hate to have to make the payments on it.” And though Joseph wanted to tell his cousin not only exactly how much he had paid for the Lexus but that there were no payments because he’d paid cash – he didn’t.

“Yeah, well Russ, I got a good deal on it.” He said as he started the long walk to Aunt Mabel’s front door.

Russ flung his arm over Joseph’s shoulders and gave him half a bear hug. “Course you did! Just don’t tell Uncle Bill that, you know how he is.”

“Yes I do.” Joseph said. He stopped to look at the red Hemi, the best vehicle in the yard, and then turned a little to his right so he could see his car again. “Don’t worry Russ, I won’t say a word.” He said and smiled.

Then Russ retrieved his arm from Joseph’s shoulders and took off for the house hollering, “Hey look who’s here! Joe’s here! And guess what, he’s got a Lexus!”

Joseph tried to lose the smile but didn’t quite succeed as his other cousins poured out of the house and swept him into a crowd of his relatives as though he belonged there.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

And so this is Christmas, as the song says. I am pleased to still be upright and in it.


It’s Christmas day in Las Vegas, Nevada, and although it’s been pretty cold for us (32 degrees last night), there is no snow. There hardly ever is.

My turkey is in the oven and I have opened my presents. There are no cars in my driveway, nor will there be. I’m doing Christmas this year for me.

For the first time in my life, I threw away the giblets and the neck. I’ve never liked them – and the only person, who did (my dad), is long gone: dead now these six years. Old habits die hard.

I’m cooking my turkey in a stove I’m not accustomed to and my mother (who’s been gone two years) isn’t around for me to ask about its idiosyncrasies. It’s taken me four years to get used to living in my parents old house, although I now own it. It’s taken me much longer to let go of my disappointment every year that Christmas isn’t what it used to be.

But I’m in my sixties now and maybe it’s time to figure out why I’m disappointed every year. The Christmases I long for are from long, long ago; fifty years or so. I was much shorter then and less observant of emotional undercurrents in those days.

Threading my way through the forest of legs that were my aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, I was easily distracted by the noises and smells of the family holiday. All the adult’s conversations pulsed far above my ears, a tide of words flowing around up there from one to another. There were Christmas carols on the radio in the living room, and a baseball game on in the den.

Outside was the cacophony of the cousin’s continuous pecking order argument, centered on the inherent prerogatives of age. Being one of the youngest, I knew that no matter what game was in progress, I would never get to be the rule maker or the star; be it teacher, superhero, or queen. And since I was continuously informed that I was lucky to be allowed to play at all, I settled for one of the lesser parts. But I fought against being the bad guy; that was the worst role and always got foisted on the youngest. I knew my rights; there were three younger than me.

Back inside the house there were no uncomfortable politics at my height, though there were still rules of conduct. I was allowed in the male dominated den if I kept still and quiet, an unimaginable demand on my natural tendencies. There was something in that room that drew me and it wasn’t the ball game or the chess matches. I kept drifting in and getting thrown out all day, trying to figure it out. My grandfather smoked cigars and pipes, was it that smell?

Food etiquette was easier to swallow; if a platter of food was on a table and the saran wrap had been peeled off, it was fair game: no limits and no time frame. There was never just one platter of food or one table. But each table held its array of specialties. Care for a pickle? I grazed through the gherkins with delight: from tiny to gargantuan. Sweet or dill, homemade or store bought. I decorated my fingertips with black olives, and sucked the pimento out of the big green Spanish queens.

The meat table was loaded early in the afternoon, ham and turkey, garlic stuffed pork roast all carved in the kitchen by one of the men. I never understood why a husband or uncle had to be drafted for the duty. If the women were capable of producing the bounty with all its mysterious rituals (and they were) why couldn’t they do something as simple as cut it into slices? But since I was too young for cooking duty, I never asked. Besides the kitchen held no allure for me, it was simply where the food came from.

The desert table was my favorite of course. Though every woman made something, a pie or a cake; my Great aunt Francis was the queen of deserts. Her cookies and candies were works of art. I remember White Divinity packed with nuts, exotic cookies elegantly decorated, Gingerbread men with perfect white frosting buttons marching from throat to belly. My mother seldom even made oatmeal cookies. No contest.

Three paragraphs of food here I see, and though I remember it well, that isn’t what I long for. It was something less tangible than edibles. A certain aura of belonging, and also possibly the carefree habitation of my youthful age are closer to the mark. And the sheer numbers of the tribe made it easy to blend in or test the boundaries of. There was a swirling bustling flow of family through those rooms: cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents who loved me as one of their own and bestowed their pats and words and hugs without restraint.

I’m thinking it also had to do with the ratio of adults to children. Not being limited to merely two, as I was at home, I had the luxury of other adult attention and input. Not what I’d imagined was the crux when I started writing this, but I’ve learned to trust the words that spill out of the ends of my fingers when my brain is not watching.

So what do I yearn for: my carefree, irresponsible youth, or the extended family that is long dispersed? I carve my little turkey (it’s not that difficult), stir my gravy, and set out my plate. I dish up the bounty and dig in. It’s delicious.

I pat my little belly and say my blessings now. And I find that I am thankful for the lovely memories and still able to be happy for my bountiful table of today; set for one.

Merry Christmas.