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Monday December 8, 2008 3:30 pm

Holiday Gift Guide Flashback: True Christmas Spirit

Posted by Dennis Velasco Categories: Editorial, Features, Family, Kids

Charlie Brown Christmas TreeGrowing up the way I did - barely getting by, fully understanding what hard times meant, and dealing with some messed up family stuff - we never really made Christmas a big deal.  At least, it never really was to me.  For example, one year we couldn’t afford a Christmas tree (but when we did, we kept that thing for like a decade), my mom made us get some fallen twigs outside our apartment and she delicately wrapped them up in tin foil.  We put it in a green vase and I think my sister actually tried decorating it by coloring the tin foil red and green.  Ah, youth.  Well, I couldn’t totally blame her for her attempts to make something bad into something good, afterall, she had a perm and actually thought it looked cool.  But, heck, it was the mid-80s, so the poor choice made by my nine-year-old sibling could be forgiven in retrospect.

In all honesty, the last Christmas I remembered before this particular one I’m about to tell you about when I was eleven, was when I was five.  I got a whole bunch of Micronauts and this huge plastic Spider-Man doll that had a grappling hook, which was supposedly a web that he could “climb.”  Mind you, I don’t blame my parents for any of this lack of remembering several years in between as they always did their best, God bless their hearts, and I’m glad my sister was always in the Christmas spirit, but I knew what was up.  Okay sure, I was a Holden Caufield without knowing I was at the time, but whatever.  I dealt with it.  You couldn’t fool me, I tell ya.

But, this particular Christmas, I got fooled.

You see, heading into the holiday, the months before had been rough.  First, puberty was hitting me from all sides and I am fairly certain I was a pathetic figure to the girl I had a crush on in my sixth grade class.  If only Emy could see how I’ve improved with age and that I’m only half a pathetic character now.  And no longer have that problem of wishing and hoping against hope I wouldn’t be called to the blackboard because, well, I was going through puberty.  Second, I was running with a gang.  Yes, at eleven years old growing up in the Jackson Heights/Corona section of Queens, NY (shout out to Joe’s Candy Store), you have to do these things to survive.  Of course, it didn’t help that, third, my pops wasn’t around.  Please, don’t reach for the tissue box because he came back into our lives and it’s been all good (for the most part) since.

In any case, this was the first Christmas without my pops and being a boy, it was particularly hard.  Especially during this “festive” time of year, despite me not expecting much anyway.  I loved my dad because I knew that he always tried his best, a trait that I, fortunately, inherited. But, knowing that about him, it was hard feeling that he, well to be honest, gave up.  So, anyway, this particular cheery and full of sunshine Christmas, I felt that anything short of having my dad pop back up out of nowhere would be the same as all the other Christmases - not “ho, ho, ho,” but “ho hum.”  But, the greedy side of me - please don’t be so aghast that an eleven-year-old could actually be greedy - thought my mom would overcompensate and get my sister and I gifts galore.  How quickly I would forget about our Christmas twig in those moments when I thought of the grandeur and pure joy of being gifted with G.I. Joes and comic book subscriptions.  Yeah, not so much.

My mom told my sister and I ahead of time that we weren’t going to get any presents.  Awesome.  Christmas Day came, I woke up, I went to get my Corn Pops in the kitchen, made sure my shirt was over my crotch area (remember, puberty), went into the living room and saw my mom there by our Christmas twig.  She looked at me and she shocked the heck out of me.  She said in a very joyous type of voice, “There it is… the greatest Christmas gift I could ever hope for.”  I did one of those things when you’re a geeky guy in a bar and a hot chick points your way - I looked behind me to see who or what she was talking about.  But, in this case, to see if Elvis Presley was chomping down on a jelly donut behind me since I knew my mom absolutely loved the King.  Then when I looked back at my mom, like some sort of ninja, she was already in front of me, seemingly teleporting ten feet in an instant, and was hugging me.

“Merry Christmas.  I love you.”

Understand, my mom was one of those hard women that didn’t show much emotion ever.  Ever.  So, I know those five words had to be tough for her to say.  But, she said them with ease.  She meant them.  And, even though my pops was gone, I had to remember that my mom was still working hard raising my sister and a rambunctious, indifferent on the outside, going through hormonal changes 11-year-old boy.  I didn’t appreciate my mom before then, but I have since.  She opened my eyes to not only appreciate her, but to appreciate those that are around you.  This lesson helped me in my life moving forward since then as I’ve lost friends to death and foolishness (some guys never stop going through puberty and adolescence).  It’s okay to reminisce and remember those that are not around, but it’s more important to breathe, embrace, and love your life and those that are there in it. 

Even if your life is only a twig compared to others’ trees.

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