Rex, the family’s German shepherd would shuffle restlessly by the fire as mother read aloud to the three children in the old family rocking chair. I watched the snow wiggle and dance down from the heavens and thought, “When my sisters grow up, they’ll most likely be whores.” Mom must have felt the same way, which probably explains why she was reading a pamphlet on Chlamydia. Also, it turns out burning newspaper can look a lot like snow.
My sisters and I screamed and cried like the dickens when Kevin told us we had to pay for our own Christmas dinner. “Why don’t you call him ‘Dad,’ like he asks you to,” Mom would say. I always thought that was such horseshit, and I’d say it, too. Nobody talked the whole time at Arby’s until Kevin won $5,000 from a scratch-off ticket, told us to “suck it,” and hopped in his van to move to Mexico. He came back for Christmas the next year, but he didn’t win anything.
Every Christmas season, we’d take in a minority and sit him down and give him a huge meal of steak, garlic mashed potatoes, yams and fresh vegetables. Then, there’d be singing and dancing and everybody would open gifts while the black guy would explain that he had a family too, and didn’t appreciate being kidnapped and would then usually try to escape by jumping down the garbage chute.
Christmas in the country was always something that we looked forward to. Every year, we’d feel a rush of excitement, thinking about the ponies, the goats, the pigs, the hay, the scarecrows and the big red barn that was on the way to the State penitentiary where Dad was doing a nickel to a dime for aggravated assault.
We left out cookies and milk for Santa Claus every year, but Santa never ate them. I suppose it’s possible that he heard about our cat whose gall bladder exploded after my Dad got her drunk on egg nog. That, and we didn’t have a chimney.
My father laughed and laughed when I told him about how I had seen my brother peeking at his Christmas presents. “You’re lying,” he said to me. I was so scared, because dad told us that lying was wrong and now he’d probably get me. Everything turned out O.K., though, because even though Dad caught me in a lie (my brother never got presents—I don’t know what I was thinking), he said I learned a valuable lesson: Faggots don’t deserve Christmas presents.
We gathered around the dinner table and said Grace. Mother read from the Gospel of Luke while father explained how Christmas gifts were a white elephant that caused more trouble than happiness spawned. I don’t know why he said it weird like that, all archaic with the verb at the end, but he assured us that even though they didn’t have the equivalent of a Baker Act in California, we should still be able to commit mother against her will to the sanitarium if we all went there and looked sad and half-retarded. Mother laughed and called Dad a retard and we all wondered who had actually won the argument.
The sun shone in bursts, the eager nimbus clouds of June marched diligently across the sky. “What the fuck are we doing out here in the heat singing ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’?” we all asked. We never discovered what brought our family to sing God’s praises out by the dumpsters in the back of the Denny’s that day, but when there’s that much acid going around, things like that are just inevitable.