“A Christmas/New Year’s Story,” Dec. 19, 2017

In some ways, this is an old story. I’ve told parts of it before. But most of it is new and all of it is true. I hope it is true for you.

The December I was 9, my stepdad was drinking more than his usual and he and my mother were either shouting or silent as the dead. My sister, at 14, had moved out to live with friends. And my two younger brothers, with a bad case of croup, barked like dogs day and night.

I was looking forward to two things: Getting a Tiny Tears for Christmas; and after Christmas, spending a week with my dad and his mother on their farm.

Santa delivered on the Tiny Tears, a doll with a hard plastic face. I named her “Tiny,” fed her a bottle and watched her eyes leak like sieves. I knew just how she felt. Then I left her on the sofa and went out on the porch to shoot my brother’s cap pistol.

Minutes later, my mother, in a rage at my stepdad, plopped down on Tiny, picked her up and flung her across the room. When I heard Tiny’s head hit the wall, I feared it might be my mother’s. But it was only Tiny. There are worse things in life than a broken-nosed doll. And Tiny never shed another tear.

Two days later, my mother dropped me at the bus station in Tryon, N.C., where I boarded a bus to Hendersonville. Dad was waiting at the bus stop. I waved. He stubbed out his cigarette and grinned. And suddenly, it was Christmas.

On the drive to the farm, I filled him in on everything, except for how things were at home. I didn’t need to tell him that. He knew. My mother’s mother had made sure of it.

My dad’s mother was a little woman with a big, soft, rose-scented bosom. When she heard car wheels growling on the old gravel road, she came running out to meet us and swallowed me up in her hug.

In the farmhouse, she gave me the Christmas gift she had made for me: A rag doll with a handsewn face. I smiled, thinking that doll’s nose would never break.

“She’s a magic doll,” said my grandmother with a wink. “Hold her close and listen. She’ll tell you things you need to hear.”

I held the doll close and listened. Then I looked at my grandmother.

“What did she say?” she asked.

“She told me I am safe. And I am loved. And I am hungry.”

We laughed and went to the kitchen to get a biscuit.

My grandmother is gone now, but I still have the doll. It still tells me things I need to hear.

That week went by fast. I lay awake each night waiting for my dad to come home from the evening shift at the mill. He’d slip in my room and kiss the top of my head. I’d pretend to be asleep, but I was awake, storing the moments in memory like canned peaches in a cellar for all the cold nights we’d be apart.

New Year’s Eve morning, Dad saddled a horse that he boarded for a neighbor, boosted me up, held the reins and led me around the pasture.

The mountains were all frosted with snow. I felt like a decoration on a cake.

“We need to talk,” he said, and I held my breath.

“I hear things are bad with your mama. I know you love her. But you don’t have to live with her. Your grandma and I want you to live with us.”

The horse snorted. I blinked and the mountains grew blurry.

“No need to answer yet,” Dad said. “Just think about it. It’s your life. You get to choose.”

Late that night, New Year’s Eve, after Dad left for the mill, I lay in bed thinking about his words. I had never thought of my life as my own, let alone, that I had any choice in it.

But at midnight, when the mill whistle blew, signaling the end of a shift and the start of a new year, I made my choice: I would stay with my mother and my brothers. Somebody had to watch over them. But I’d fall asleep each night thankful to God above, knowing I had a home, if need be, with my dad.

It was what I needed to know. And most days, it was enough.

At Christmas, we celebrate the gift of life. And on New Year’s Day, and every day, life begins anew for us all. But the choice for how we live it is ours alone.

Here’s wishing you a place where you feel safe and loved and can always find a biscuit if you’re hungry. May this be our best year, our best life, so far.

 

Comments

  1. Sheila says:

    In the scurry of Christmas preparations, I somehow missed this. So glad I found it tonight!
    And tears are in my eyes also. Your writings touch my heart! May you have a Blessed 2018!

  2. shashi says:

    Really touching !
    Thank you Sharon. You write from heart and I love to read each post.
    Wish you and family a wonderful Christmas!!
    love you !

  3. Donna Hartman says:

    Simply, thank you Sharon for sharing your stories & your heart. My Christmas morning feels complete after reading your account at Grandma’s house. Reminds me so much of my childhood. I had a grandmother just like yours. So thank you for stirring up those good memories.
    Keep writing, you are my favorite part of reading Monday’s newspaper in FT. SMith, AR.

  4. Carolyn Gould says:

    Lovely. Thank you for this story.

  5. Kate Sciacca says:

    Such a beautiful and honest account… I was the 4th of 5 kids and things were quite idyllic (think Leave it to Beaver) for the first eight years of my life… But at nine, when the three older kids left for college and my baby sister was three, mom discovered martinis. It got quite rugged and after a couple years of that chaos dad offered to move the three of us “to a place of our own – where there would be no drinking and life would get back to normal.” We thought about it, the way 5 and 11 year old girls think – and thanked dad for his offer but decided that we wanted to stay together as a family. By 16, after we all stopped enabling, lying and covering up for her, mom found sobriety. There were a few setbacks in the years ahead but, for the most part, I always believed we made the better choice. I read once that “who we were may be our parents’ fault, but who we ARE is our own decision!” So true, yes?

  6. David VanCuren says:

    Thank you for reminding me that because of my God, I, too, have a safe and loving forever place, if not here and now. You are a great revealer for me!

  7. Judy Sheeler says:

    Sharon, you have such an incredible way of being so very honest and transparent in your writings and sharing your stories. I am always touched by them with either a tear, smile, or chuckle, and sometimes all three in the same story! God has used all of your life’s experiences and molded you into the beautiful person that you are! Have a wonderful Christmas with your dear family and may God continue to bless you as you bless others with your story telling.

  8. Mary Ann says:

    Sharon, your columns are always a blessing to all of us. Thank you for writing them! Merry Christmas and God bless you in the new year!

  9. Debbie Fortune says:

    I, too, cried at the stark truth behind the story…little kids love their parents, no matter what…praise God for families that give hope when there seems to be none. Merry Christmas from Monterey, Sharon!

  10. Laura L. says:

    Thank God for having one parent and one grandparent who are kind, loving, respectful, wise, and who provide a refuge for a child. Thank you for the reminder that the new year provides us with a fresh beginning, and perhaps a second chance. Thank you, Sharon, for opening your heart and sharing it with your readers truthfully and faithfully. Your column brings laughter and hope. Wishing you and your sweet family a blessed, joyous, peaceful Christmas, and a new year filled
    with smiles and laughter.

  11. Teresa Brown says:

    I have read your column for years now and each one makes me stop and think about life. You inspire me to try to do it better. Thank you.

  12. Kim felton says:

    Loved this but also made me sad….for all little children that should always feel safe and loved…

  13. Georgann Butterfield says:

    Merry Christmas. It’s nice to know that you are safe and loved, and can make your own biscuits! Thank you for your thoughtful, touching and funny stories. Blessings to you and yours at Christmas and in the New Year.

  14. Naomi Smith says:

    Merry Christmas to you and yours! And a wonderful Happy New Year! I love your columns.

  15. Betty McNall says:

    Merry Christmas!

  16. Carol Drew says:

    Thank you for sharing your stories. Each one blesses my heart! Christmas Blessings to you and your family!! Keep the stories coming in the new year!!

  17. Dick Daniel says:

    Wonderful.

  18. Kay Bare says:

    Okay, my eyes are leaking. From one rescued woman to another, I wish a Merry Christmas to you and yours. K Bare

  19. Carol toothman says:

    Now this made me cry. My mom and dad were pretty bad parents. We were poor and always without food. But sometimes when we needed a place to stay we would end up at my uncle Bill’s house for awhile. My brother and I always knew we were safe there and he always had biscuits..

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