I was nine years old when my mother canceled Christmas in 1960. She announced, “There’s not going to be any Christmas in this house ever again.” With that statement she retreated into my parents’ bedroom. She did not come out of the bedroom for several weeks. I did not know what the reason was for this cancellation nor was I told.
School had just let out for Christmas vacation and now I was to reside in the heavy atmosphere that my mother had just left with no means of escape. It was as though an atomic bomb had dropped right in to my house with my mother’s statement. I had completed a Nativity scene, for school, that was placed inside a cardboard box, blue painted, with clear plastic on the outside giving it a three-dimensional look. I wondered what I should do with this since Christmas was canceled.
There was no Christmas tree. There were no outside decorations. There was no Christmas candy. There was no Christmas dinner. There were no presents. It felt as though Christmas had died in our house, and unlike Jesus it was not going to be resurrected.
I was an only child and did not have any friends. My parents had moved to Los Angeles, California from Tennessee, and did not trust the big city. I was not allowed to have friends at the house because both of my parents worked and I was home all-alone. My mother was afraid if people knew I was home alone I would be kidnapped or something much worse. She was always telling me, “Now don’t tell anybody you are home alone after school. You just come home right after school and lock the door. Don’t open the door for anybody.”
My after school companions were children’s cartoons television hosts, Skipper Frank, Sheriff John, and Tom Hatten from the Popeye show. My kindergarten teacher had told my mother, three years earlier, that I spent too much time watching television. Of course my mother never told the teacher that she wasn’t home in the afternoons. I never knew what it was like to play games, ride my bike, skip rope, roller skate or any other normal childhood activity, since I was confined to my house. My only friends I viewed on the black and white television in the living room and for some reason we weren’t able to play games or converse.
My mother’s violent temper manifested itself from the time I can remember. I learned early in my life to avoid my mother as much as possible. Otherwise I would be subjected to a verbal lashing, “You are so stupid.” She was telling me constantly, “People are no good. You can’t trust anyone. Don’t ever trust your daddy, he is a liar.” By the age of five I had decided I would never have children, as I did not want to inflict the same mental pain that I received from my mother.
The previous year, 1959, I had hidden outside, in the shrubbery, as I heard my mother throwing plates at my father while screaming, “You’re a liar. You lie about everything.” My mother was always angry with my father. I never understood why. He was my daddy and I saw him as a deity.
My father worked long hours in the aerospace industry, standing all day working at industrial machines, and I did not see him very often. He worked most weekends, which left very little time for me. My father came from poverty and was determined to make a better life for his family and himself. I worshiped my father. He seemed larger than life. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. But even my father, with all his talents and ability, could not change what was going on in our household.
The weekend before Christmas my father took me to Folb’s Toy Store and told me, “You pick out whatever you want for Christmas.” I had always wanted a Shirley Temple doll, since I spent a great deal of time with her in television land. So I chose a Shirley Temple Doll. Little Shirley was always an orphan in her movies, who was so precocious that people fought to adopt her. No one wanted me was how I felt. I couldn’t sing or dance I was not Shirley.
I couldn’t play with the doll once I brought her home. I would look at her face smiling at me, and wished Shirley could make everything better, for me, like she did in the movies. I wanted to play with her but every time I looked at the doll I wondered what I had done wrong, making my mother cancel Christmas?
I loved my father so much for making sure that I had at least one toy that Christmas. I knew my father loved me but he had very little time to give to me. I wanted his time more than I wanted presents
Many years have passed since the canceled Christmas. My parents are no longer alive. I have moved many times even to different countries and I still have that Shirley Temple Doll in the original box looking brand new. I never played with that doll. But every time I look at the box and see the doll inside I think of the love that my father had for me that Christmas and I cry.