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Christmas, 1978, a day I will never forget. Times were hard then, economy was bad, people out of work. But this year was gonna be different. My parents owned a tavern on the edge of town. A run down hole in the wall establishment that they had turned around, changed it into a money making place. So this year they had the means and could afford to be generous for christmas. They bought new decorations and the biggest tree I had ever seen. It was so tall they had to cut several feet off of the top of it so it would fit. I had never seen them quite this happy. Life was good. I was nine years old and tomorrow is christmas...
We sat around drinking hot chocolate as the snow piled up outside, we sang every christmas carol we knew. We laughed and laughed. I sat on my mother's lap, she told me stories of christmasses past and why we were so lucky today. It was warm and comfortable, soon I fell asleep in her arms. My father lifted me up in his large, muscular arms and carried me to bed. I pretended not to wake up as he pulled my shoes off and slipped me under the covers. I could hear my sister, Cindy, talking to mom and dad. She was the middle child, I was the youngest. My oldest sister, Debbie, had married a couple of years before and was at her own house now. Cindy's voice was shrill as it echoed through the hallway. She was angry, my mother was going out to visit Debbie and she wanted to go along. But mom refused. There was going to be drinking there and she thought Cindy was too young for that. So they argued. I drifted back to sleep.
I dreamt the same dream I had been having for three days now. It was me and my mother. We were riding on some type of small motorcycle, (I had never seen a scooter before that, but when I did later in life, I recognized it as the vehicle in my dreams), red and black. My mother took off her helmet and gave it to me. It was white and too big for my small head bouncing from side to side. We rode along the country roads for what felt like hours. The blood red sun began to set over the barren fields of white snow. The cold winter wind bit my
cheeks as it leaked in underneath the over-sized helmet and I held my mother tightly around the waist. Suddenly she pulled to the side of the road and stopped. She told me to get off which I did. Gently she removed the helmet and sat it on the backseat where I had just been. She looked me deeply in the eyes, brushed my cheek with her fingers and said "This is as far as I can take you." "What do you mean? You can't just leave me here!" I cried. "I'm sorry honey, but you can't come with me." My mother had a look in her eyes that told me this was not a debate, I had no choice but to stay there. Bitter, angry tears ran down my red cheeks, but I said nothing. I watched as she drove off into the dusk. There was a loud noise in the distance, the sound of breaking glass and twisting metal. I heard a scream then I awoke.
It was morning, the snow had stopped falling and the sun glowed bright in the frozen sky. My sister threw open the door bursting into my room hollering "Merry Christmas sleepy head!" as she ripped the blankets off and began shaking me. "Come on! Let's go open presents!"
I leapt out of bed so fast that I almost fell but caught myself at the last possible moment. We ran down the hall and into the living room. Presents were everywhere, in massive piles around the tree. We started to rummage throught them, trying to guess what was inside. Then I stopped and looked at her, "Think we should wake up Mom and Dad?"I asked. She looked at me for a moment debating on what to do then answered, "Yeah, I guess so. I don't wanna get in trouble." She took my hand and we raced to their bedroom. We stood there, like statues, unsure about what to do. They weren't there. The room was empty. Where did they go? They had left us alone many times before, but never on Christmas. We walked slowly, confused back into the living room. We sat in the our parents chairs and stared at the tree in silence. Neither one of us knew what to do, so we stared at the presents. Two hours passed, we still hadn't moved. There were so many questions running through our minds, but we didn't have the guts to ask them. A car pulled up out front, but still we sat motionless.
The door opened slowly. Timidly, we looked up expecting to see Mom and Dad, but it wasn't them. It was Malcolm, our parents partner in the tavern. My blood ran cold as I knew something was seriously wrong.
He took his hat and gloves off, looking at one of us and then the other, searching for the words. He got down on one knee between us and took our hands in his. His eyes were bloodshot and it looked like he hadn't slept all night. Then he began to speak, "There's been an accident." He paused before continuing, "Your mother's hurt. She's in the hospital. I don't know how bad it is," he lied, "but your father wanted me to tell you that he's on his way home now." He looked first at me, then at Cindy. Satisfied that he had done his duty, he stood up and walked out, leaving us alone. We sat in shock, not moving, not speaking, just staring at the blinking lights on the tree. Finally, my sister stood up, tears streaming down her face, she took my hand and said in a shaking voice, "Come one Scott, we'd better get dressed." I followed in dazed silence as she took to me to my room. Standing in the center of the room, I didn't move. I couldn't. Cindy took off my pajamas and dressed me all the while uttering assurances that Mom was okay, everything was gonna be alright, you just wait and see. I think she was trying to convince herself more than me. But I wasn't listening anyways. The only thing that ran through my mind was that my Mom is hurt. Badly from the looks of things.
I don't remember what we did while we waited for Dad to come home. Or even how long it took. But I'll never forget the look on his face when he finally got there. He only said one thing, "It's gonna be alright." That was it. He couldn't talk anymore. We sat, the three of us, staring at the presents. Then he spoke, as if he had finally made up his mind about what to do with us. "Well, how about if we get our coats on and go to your Grandparents house?" This was a tradition. Every year on Christmas the whole family got together at Granny's house for christmas dinner, (which always happened around two or three in the afternoon for some odd reason), and to open presents.
Their house was only up the street from ours, so it didn't take long to
get there. We walked into the back door which led into the kitchen. Everyone looked up when we came in and then stopped talking. My uncle Bill was the first one to break the uncomfortable silence. He walked up to my father and said, "So, is she dead yet?"
My father's face flushed with anger, his hand curled into a fist and for a moment, I thought he was gonna punch him. But somehow he got a hold of himself, instead of hitting him, he began to cry. Then he abruptly turned around and walked back out the door. That was the only time I have ever seen my father cry. Granny scolded Bill while my other aunts and uncles escorted him into the parlor. Granny removed our hats and coats all the while asking us if we were hungry or cold. I couldn't speak. I turned around and ran into the bathroom were I cried for the rest of the day.
Dad came to the door hours later and talked me into unlocking it and coming out by promising me we would go and see Mom at the hospital. I don't remember the drive. Or going in to the hospital. My next memory is standing outside of a window, looking at my mother lying on a bed. She had a cast on that covered her from waist to the tip of her head. There was a hole cut in it for her face to stick out. The doctors and nurses told my father that my sister and I could not go in to see her. I became enraged and started to yell. My Dad placed a firm hand on my shoulder to calm me down, then he took one of the doctors aside and began to queitly explain to him that if he didn't let us go in and visit her, he would throw the doctor out of the window of this hospitial. My father could be a very scary man when angered and right now, he was down right frightening. Finally, the doctor got the point and agreed to let us in one at a time. Cindy went first. I couldn't hear what was said but she only stayed for a minute and then ran out crying. It was my turn now.
I was terrified. I hated hospitals, still do. The smell, the brightness, all of it. I walked slowly, carefully into the room. My mother saw me then and smiled wide and full. Her face framed by the white cast looked small and weak somehow. She took my hand and said, "Some
Christmas huh?" trying to make me laugh. But no laughter would come out of me. She could see the fear in my eyes along with the questions. Cautiously she started to explain what happened. The truck hit some ice and went off the road on her way home last night. Debbie's husband was driving. They ended up over turned, upside down in a ditch. She had broken her neck. No one else was hurt. The cast was there to make sure she didn't move her neck at all, because if she did move it, she would die. She started crying then, my father took me out of the room. I cried the entire ride home. Cindy kept yelling at me to knock it off, you big baby! But I couldn't.
When we got back home the presents still sat unopened under the tree. Dad asked if we wanted to open them now? Cindy said yes! But I refused. I told them that it wasn't right, not without Mom here. If they wanted to, they could. But I would have no part of it. Then I stormed off and sat alone in my room, waiting for Mom to come home.
My mother spent two weeks in the ICU ward before they sent her home. We brought the presents to her there, Christmas in a hosiptal, such fun. We had to open the presents for her, then hold them up so she could see what they were. She tried to smile but I could see the pain in her eyes.
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