Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Humbug Routine

Hey, hey, time for sweet Christmas memories.  I've had tons and tons of them.  I remember the joy of running down the stairs and seeing bikes in the living room! I remember the smell of a new doll, nothing better.  When I was sixteen, I received my first gift of jewelry from a suitor, a pair of opal earrings from Queen Maker,  followed by an opal ring three days later for my birthday.  Okay, getting jewelry is way better.

So I am now going to tell a tale from the Belen family files, describing one of those rare but cathartic Christmases. The one dramatically silly.

My father sometimes played games that would backfire on him.   Everyone knew that every Christmas Papi would start the humbug routine. He’d start with saying that Christmas was too commercialized. Even hinting that, maybe, there would be no tree this year.  We of course would protest and beg for our tree and he seemed pleased with the rise he would get out of us as kids, pretending to relent or keep us in suspense for a few days.

His main complaint was that everyone was knocking themselves out buying presents they couldn’t afford and he hated watching it.  The true spirit of Christmas was lost.  He’d be joking at first and then get angry, and soon he convinced himself and us that no Christmas was coming. But of course, it always would.

The way my dad showed affection was by picking on you.  He baited you, bantered back and forth, sometimes poked or pinched you when you walked by. We all knew he loved us and that was his way.  Although my little sister did once ask Mami why Papi didn’t like her since he would pinch her every time she walked by.  But Mami would always explain and remind us, that Papi was a product of his own upbringing.  That he did love us but didn’t know how to express it. That Papi was trapped and didn’t know how to change.  He couldn’t make himself pass out the hugs and kisses so he would show his attention and affection the only way he knew how, by bugging us.

As we grew older, Papi continued to repeat the annual Christmas rhetoric.   As preteens we would tease him and counter, “Yes we are going to have Christmas." Although it always started out as playful banter, he would work himself into a corner of stubbornness where there was no retreat and then get angry.  We learned to modify our responses to his Christmas diatribe.  But this became a never ending pattern for him for many years.  At Christmas parties, he wouldn’t open his gifts, his stubbornness, childlike and unyielding. But he always took them home with him.  He’d try to say hurtful things though by this time we just let the comments go by.  We knew it was his way of venting and that in reality he didn’t mean a word of it.

One year in my 20’s I went to my mother’s home to find that the Christmas tree was in a horizontal position. Apparently someone had thrown the tree to the floor, the tree lights still twinkling.  The carnage of broken bulbs and ornaments were everywhere.  Papi was sitting in his chair, as always watching television.  Where was everyone?  Papi pointed his finger upwards and told me to check the upstairs flat.  Upstairs my mom, my brother, and three sisters were huddled together. Sister in the Middle is crying her eyes out.  What happened?  Well apparently Papi was doing his usual Christmas rhetoric, when Sister in the Middle said as a joke, “Oh Papi, quit being such as scrooge.” It was the trigger Papi needed and he jumped up and hit her on the back of the head, a patented dope slap.   Now mind you, we are all in our 20’s, adults, not children anymore.  Our relationship with our parents had evolved to that of mutual understanding and respect. So to be attacked like this, just for making a joke, unprovoked and by your own out of control father, was too much for any of them to bear.

I asked is this when Papi threw the tree down?  To my surprise, Mami had done it.  She stood up to him at last.  Always the peacemaker and the soother of every potentially volatile situation, Mami finally exploded herself and threw down the tree he so hated.  I was shocked. Mami did it?  Way to go Mom. My father’s game finally backfired.  My anger grew, because I am just like my father. Here we are gathered to celebrate being together and he has to pull his usual crap.  This time, regrettably he took it too far and successfully ruined everyone’s Christmas. 

I went downstairs and was about to give him… what? My anger, to scold him, to tell him off, to tell him what a bad person he was?

No, that would give him exactly what he expected or perhaps in his own self-destructive way what he wanted. Poor guy, I thought, he’s a little messed up.  And really when you think about it, the whole situation was ridiculous.  His stubbornness, the passion play, my mom tossing the tree down with a stomp, (wished I had witnessed that myself).  finding my family huddled together in despair all to be forgotten tomorrow as “one of those things.” I just had to smile. As I walked down the stairs to confront him, I stifled a laugh. The last few Christmases have been a tad boring.

Instead I said, “You know what Papi?  No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you can’t make us stop loving you.  You can be as stubborn, mean or as hurtful as you want, but it still won’t matter a bit.  We will always love you, no matter what you do to us.  So you can keep on trying to drive us away, but I’m telling you right now, it isn’t going to work. We will still be here and loving you. So there!” And I left.

Ah those cathartic moments. Christmases were damn good after that one.

1 comment:

Middle Aged Woman said...

YOU...are a truly wise woman.

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