I didn’t grow up in a giant house. It was one story, with a finished basement and a carport that was converted into a sunroom. In no way was I ever wanting at Christmas; I was incredibly lucky. But the point is we did not have a big house, and it was packed to the gills on Christmas. Five families – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – Father Duggan, a few of my parents friends, filled our house to the gills every Christmas.
I was the youngest of all my cousins, who seemed to enjoy my belief in Santa and sense of wonder at the holidays. I’d run around showing them my newest Transformer or Ghostbusters toy. One of our traditions was a small grab bag that we had in our basement. The presents would rest on a stand-up piano. Throughout the night, I tried to figure out which one was mine. I’d sneak a peak when I could. My grandparents would give me their presents then. One year, I got a box from my Grandma and Poppy Abdalla that was clearly filled with clothes. I was dejected. There was nothing more useless to me than clothes at Christmas. “Open it,” my grandmother said. I did. There was an Irish shirt inside. I smiled. But on top of the shirt we’re three G.I. Joes.
Score one for the 6-year-old. With an assist from Grandma A.
Well, one year, when I couldn’t have been older than 9 because my grandfather was still alive, as the grab bag ran down toward my time, I noticed there weren’t enough gifts. Sure enough, I didn’t get one. I remember my mother looking at the top of the barren piano.
I was crushed.
“Well, you have a lot of ….” she started to stammer. Then my Aunt Betty saved the day. I can still hear her calling out, “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh. Wait, Cathy.” And she was holding a wrapped package I easily identified. Smidgens. No doubt they had been meant for my cousin Billy. Or Tommy. Or Linda. One of the Gavins. I knew it then. But Aunt Betty made her way over to me and handed me the box.
Now, you have to understand: my father didn’t really let me have much candy as a kid. And when it was around, he’d be very strict about how much I could have.
But this – THIS – was mine. Not the family’s. My own. My precious. If I wanted to eat four, I could have four. I could see my father, out of the corner of my eye, about to warn me. I swear to you my grandfather – who was the biggest hero of my childhood – put his hand on my father’s arm and shook his head, silencing my old man on the subject forever.
I knew that one of my cousins was getting cheated. I knew my Aunt Betty knew I knew. I knew my mom knew I knew. Those Smidgens did not have my name on it. Hell, for all I know, they were meant for my Aunt Betty or Uncle Frank. But Aunt Betsy smiled and said, “They’re yours now, Merry Christmas.”
Do I feel bad that one of my cousins lost out on a box of Smidgens, a treat so wonderful Christ Himself would have left the cross for them? Not really.