A Story Of The Unopened Christmas Present
The room was quiet. Only the early morning sun hit just lightly on the old floor where once stood a Christmas tree. Amanda was a widow. She had worked most of her life raising two sons by a man who was an identical twin to his other brother. That man's name was Leo. He was a Foster child. His twin brother, Cleo, lived in Honeygrove a good hundred miles away. While Amanda thought about her now dead son Robert who died of aids in the early 1970's, she had always kept one gift in the closet that she placed below the Christmas tree that was never moved from that empty bedroom and while she placed this unopened gift box that was meant for her husband, it was the only reminder of a time, perhaps one of the few times in her life she was really happy.
A man of distinction, a churchgoer, a man who grew up with the American work ethic, spent 42 years working for Vaught Aerospace aka LTV. He drove all the way from Dallas to Grand Prairie, TX every morning and every evening, Monday through Friday. His wife was a simple housewife and mother of twin sons, her only living son now 80 years of age, living in a senior citizen's center in Oak Cliff. Leo was always polite to his neighbors and loved his family dearly. He always dressed to the T in suit and tie and black leather shoes and wore dark rimmed glasses that he would take every morning while reading the Dallas Morning News with a pot of hot black coffee.
David was a veteran from a war that was not waged by those who would kill but by men in the Whitehouse who used their youth to fight a war that had no purpose no possibility of a good outcome. While fighting for the Vietnam war at age 23, his brother, Robert, was younger, at around 17. He was aware that the draft would force his hand. But instead of running away he enlisted at the early age of 18. Into the US Army, and after he was discharged for health reasons, he returned to the big city to live and marry his life partner, Pierce Madden. They were both gay and were living during a time when AIDS was just making itself known to the general population as a death wish disease that attacked homosexuals as God's way of punishing sinful acts between same sex partners, according to many radical religious leaders at the time.
There sat Silent John, on his front porch, next door to where the Fosters lived. Silent John was now retired. His wife was sick with heart and lung disease and all his children were grown up and living out of state. His 3 sons lived in Oak Cliff, his son Tony, lived just a block away but he was busy starting his own life and visits to John's house were few and far between. Usually they were based on the issues John had with his computer. Tony was a computer wizard and John thought highly of him for his ability to do things that his other 2 brothers had no ambition in. Jr. was living with his father and mother, as a stay at home care giver. But his habits of doing drugs, drinking beer and running wild with ladies of the night, downtown girls, so to speak, spent long periods in AA and at Catholic mass helping out with the Eucharist at the altar.
Silent John's sick wife, C H Amelia lay in her bed reading books ranging anywhere from stories about the Bermuda Triangle, Edgar Cacey and his Psychic Cures from miles away, and Gothic Romance novels. Tony, her 5th born, still ran errands to the library for his mother back in the day. C H Amelia had many unpublished stories and ideas that she, over the many years made attempts at getting published to no end. Then there were those hundreds of poems. She would make coffee and eggs for Silent John, as he was stricken with Polio back in the 1920's when a pandemic outbreak of the disease took the lives of thousands of innocent young children or left them permanently crippled as the cure or rather the prevention for this disease was not made available until later, after that pandemic.
Thinking back at the days when all of them were still alive and living their lives happily, he began to think about that one unopened Christmas present that his parent's next door neighbor kept under a tree for years after her late husband died of a stroke after mowing his grass one July afternoon, found dead on his easy chair, with a glass of iced tea in his hand while watching television in his air conditioned living room. The Fosters put gifts away all year. They would then wait for the last week before Christmas to bring down one or two that had been recently wrapped and placed under a small tree, cut down near the old Redbird Airport, back in the days when cutting a small tree was not any kind of real crime.
Tony wondered what it felt like, to have wanted to give a meaningful gift to a loving spouse, but knowing that they would never be there to open it because death did not take a holiday!
It is not what is in the box under that tree that meant so much to Amanda, thought Tony, but the memory of when her husband was alive to receive it.
Thinking back to a time when Tony himself had made a backyard memorial with concrete angels and a bird bath where he spent days looking out at the birds, thinking about his mother, who died in '95 and his father who died in 2002, after the 9/11 event in New York and at the Pentagon in 2001, placing flowers on the ground beside the monument as if it represented the graves of both of his parents, he only visited his parent's grave which was located 30 miles north from his home on the outskirts of the city. He could not bare to look at pictures of his father or of his mother because every time it would bring heavy tears to his face. But the back yard monument was the only way he felt he could expressly emulate the basic concept that perhaps some sense of closure could be felt by imagining their bodies resting for eternity in the Earth with no more fears, no more pains, no more being apart from each other by 7 years.
Tony had a few unopened gifts under his tree a time or two. This was due mainly to the broken family he was a part of, not only his step children but his own brothers and sisters separated by time and miles, seemingly detached and unemotional about the days when things were more joyful and now, with all the things that have gone down since 1995, Tony was only glad to still be around, able to have thoughtful memories of the good, not the bad of his life with a wonderful wife and not dwell on the losses. He placed a musical ball on the tree his wife and him shared Christmas with together in their older age. There were perhaps, still, after the new year ahead, some unopened presents left but Tony would just put them away in the closet, until next year and then, maybe one day, they would come back to visit and then he could finally give them their gifts. But that time might not come. Meanwhile those unopened gifts would just stay, setting on the upper shelf, in the dark, wrapped with care and love and collecting some amount of dust.
Tony had a cup of coffee and sighed. It was just another day in December, a mild winter in the year 2016, a year that was soon coming to a close.
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