December 19, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Past

My family has a history of being clever or cute about the to/from tags on presents. This year my mom sent gifts from "the laundress" and from "Mr. Claus." The laundress referred to her having browsed her building's cache of give-away books in the downstairs laundry room, and wrapped up one she thought I would like. (I suspect I've read it already.)

The other gift was labeled "From Mr. Claus." I said, prior to opening it, is this from Daddy? Yes, it was. He's been gone almost 17 years, and my mother thought it appropriate to regift me with something she had never used that he bought for her.

What was it? A very expensive, very pretty, not-very-practical wallet from Cartier. It probably cost hundreds of dollars 17+ years ago. All it did was remind me that my father is gone, and no one is going to give me gifts like that again. To top it off, the wallet was empty.

The symbolism hurts. To me, it's a reminder that my father left, for all intents and purposes, no money to his children. (He did in his will, but his estate didn't have the cash, so my brother and I had to sign what are legally called "disclaimers," meaning we accepted that we wouldn't receive a cash inheritance from him.)

An empty wallet that my father bought to please my mother: Merry Fucking Christmas to you, to, ma. It makes me weep just to think of it. Sure, I wanted a wallet -- mine is old and fraying. But this -- a regifted present from a man who tried to make his wife happy -- all this does is remind me, more sharply than most years, that my dad is dead, and my mom is cheap and has neither an ounce of sentiment in her nor a clue that this would make me so sad.

She is supposed to know better: she knows on good days I cry at the drop of a hat, and she will never discuss my father, unless it's in the context of a funny story from years ago. Somehow she has inured herself to the emotional pain of losing him, and failed completely to remember that I have not. While he may not have been the best of husbands, he was my father -- and as I recently noted, you only get one, and try to make your adult peace with the person who he is/was.

I had made peace with my father as a person six months before he died. I suppose I should be grateful for that -- that the promises he failed to keep were not due to any meanness of spirit, but simply because he could not provide what he had hoped to offer. That's real life. That's being an adult.

In a good year, the holidays have become something to be survived. I'm not sure this ghost will ever fade, or that I will ever ask my mother for anything other than good, hard cash again. If this is her idea of creativity, spare me. Please.

An empty wallet from a ghost, a man who never got to meet his granddaughter, Kayanna Rosalie, whom he would have adored and showered with all things pink and pricy, a man to whom I never got to say a final good-bye. I love you.

This is my mother's idea of a holiday celebration. It is not mine.

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Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I am sure I have said this before, but all your stories about your father break my heart on two levels: for you and your loss and for some day how my daughter may feel. I truly want her to move on and just remember that she can continue to talk to me, even if she can't hear me respond.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Teresa said...

Yes, those oblivious "you don't know me, you don't know me at all" gifts are worse than nothing. "Nothing" I could get behind as a statement of bucking the holiday gifting compulsion, but obliviously inappropriate gifts inflict genuine pain.

I'm glad to know, because I read your next post before this one, that instead of spending the holiday with your mother you engaged your intellectual curiosity in a little social anthropology.

3:18 AM  

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