Friday, December 23, 2011

Her Last Christmas

     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!


  1. Very cool story, well told. Did that put you off M&M's for life?

  2. ...and the moral of the story is:

    Old people shouldn't lie to little kids on Christmas or they'll have to stick around for another 23 years.

    Your story kinda reminds me of my Swedish step-relatives.

  3. Great descriptions of the old bat. We all have, or had one of those cronies in our families. At least those of us with recent generaion old world roots. I could sense, see and feel the scene. Good job. Mindy

  4. I loved this. I don't think grownups realize how much what they do and say affects kids. But I agree with your comment to English Rider. The encounter may have made me drop the M&Ms in my hand, but it wouldn't have put me off them for life.

  5. And another great story. You write so very well.

    Have a terrific day and may you and yours have a very merry Christmas. :)

  6. OMG! Too funny! The old bat in my distinctly Southern, white trash family was named Aunt Verbal. I'm not kidding! VERBAL! And it fit. She never "disappeared" because she never shut up! Thank you so much for entering my little contest, I'll post the winners on January 5, 2012.

  7. That's a great story. My dad said something about my mom (which unfortunately is true) several years ago to a stranger. He said, "Don't mind my wife...she's been on death's door for forty years." I know it's my family, however, I can attest from experience. My mom has never been healthy and in and out of the hospital for decades. She really has been on death's door for forty years.

  8. I love your posts and nobody makes a better cheese bread than the Portuguese. Happy Holidays Mr Chatterbox

  9. If I was treated like a monarch, I'd stick around for another 23 years too!

  10. How great that your mom told you the truth!

    My grandmother came to many of our holiday celebrations. My son, her dad, had died, but my mother had a strong duty gene. Even though she detested my grandmother, the old woman was always invited, and she always came. Just knowing how my mother felt about her made the whole day awkward.

    My grandmother and my mother are both gone now, but the memories linger!

  11. Sometimes the truth is better than fiction. Congratulations on taking first place! I'm sure glad I didn't have anyone in my family like that. I had an old maid aunt that was bad enough though. I resorted to murder for my story and it still wasn't this good. Poor Santa.