This 499 word true story was written for Heather’s Spreading Holiday Cheer contest. Check out the details at her blog: My Demon Spirit (here). I was encouraged to enter because of the efforts of Briane Pagel at The Best of Everything, and if he wins a prize and I don’t I’m gonna send a zombie to eat his brain.
Her Last Christmas
Christmas is that time of year when the pull of my ethnic background is the strongest. Dad’s folks weren’t anything in particular but Mom’s parents were Portuguese and her side of the family always won the weird relative contest.
On Christmas day we always converged at our traditional gathering place, the massive family room at my aunt’s house. An entire wall was covered with a Cheers-sized bar, and a ten foot tall aluminum Christmas tree stood in a corner. A rotating color wheel painted the tree with rainbow colors.
The room would be choked with aunts and uncles, along with first and second and third cousins, most of whom I never saw at any other time of the year. Reigning over the festivities was the family matriarch, Mrs. Gonsalves. I have no idea how she arrived because I don’t remember a Mr. Gonsalves, but she was treated like a monarch: no liquor or food was served until after she’d made her entrance.
How I was related to her is a mystery, but Mrs. Gonsalves looked old enough to have led Adam and Eve out of Eden. Her voice was a croak, and she usually spoke in incomprehensible Portuguese. She stood about four feet tall and was always shrouded in the cheerless colors of a grave. Her hawkish features were usually covered by a black shawl as she sat in a seat of honor, hardly moving or talking until people forgot she was there.
In 1962 I was ten years old, and one of those who’d forgotten she was there. She’d been seated near a bowl of M&Ms and I’d wandered over to fill my pockets. I was surprised when her withered hand sprang from the shawl and latched onto my chubby arm. She pulled me so close that I could see hairs on the mole beside her pointed nose. At first I thought she was going to scold me for eating too much—I got a lot of that—but what she said was far more disturbing and set my chins to quivering. She whispered, “This is my laaast Christmas!”
I shook free, burst into tears and bolted from the room.
In the kitchen, Mom was preparing a Portuguese delicacy, roasted pork marinated longer than the time it took to embalm King Tut. She saw me wiping away tears and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Mrs. Gonsalves just told me something,” I said.
“I’m really busy right now, so out with it. What did she say?”
I gulped. “She said this was going to be her last Christmas. Did you know she was going to die?”
My mother stopped what she was doing and snorted. “That old bat told me the same thing—when I was your age.”
When I returned to the family room Mrs. Gonsalves winked at me.
Many of those gathered that Christmas day in ‘62 are now gone, including Mrs. Gonsalves. But she did manage to survive another twenty-three Christmases.
Wishing you many more Merry Christmases!