Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve Failure—How I Let Down Dylan Thomas and Bored Small Children

The new family sits still for a portrait about three months after the fateful Chrihstmas Eve--Kathy, Heather, Carolynne, and Patrick.

I was a bright, shiny new step father on Christmas Eve of 1981.  Kathy and I had been married all of one week.  With foolish enthusiasm, I wanted to establish our own family traditions for the holiday that, hopefully, would endear me to hearts of my new daughters.  Carolynne, nine years old, Heather only seven.
One night earlier that week I rushed from my job repairing football shoulder pads to a bookstore on Lincoln Avenue conveniently located near a favorite saloon.  Undoubtedly fueled by a couple of shots of Christian Brothers with beer backs, I plunged into the store.  I found what I was looking for—a nice small edition of one of my own favorite Christmas stories with some charming illustrations.
After dinner on Christmas Eve, and some negotiations between the girls and their mother over whether they would be able to open any “under the tree” presents that night—she let them open one—I asked them to settle next to me on the couch.  Kathy played some carols softly on the on the stereo.
I was as excited as I could be.  I could picture the girls, all grown up, reading this same story to their children fondly remembering me, of course.  I opened the book and in my most mellifluous voice began to read.
I think I read four lines before they began to squirm.  After the second paragraph, just as the story was getting going, Heather bleated out pitifully, “Mom!  This is boring!  Do we have to?”  Carolynne seconded the anguish.
Since it was not my intention to actually torture any children, I reluctantly shut my book and let them clamor down to play with the plastic pin ball game that they had opened.  I was heartbroken, but did my best to keep up a brave front. 
The evening got better.  I, notorious heathen in those days, was exposed to my first ever Christmas midnight mass with a half an hour of caroling by the congregation before the service.  We walked home from church in the sparkling cold and tucked in the girls—who woke us about 3 am to open presents.  We made them go back to sleep, but could not delay Christmas morning for long.
I never again tried to inflict my children with the story.  From Christmas to Christmas they would remind me of my foolishness.  It comes up every year around the Christmas dinner table with much laughter, so I guess I did start a tradition of sorts.
Anyway, I still love the story and privately, when no one is looking, read it for myself every year.
This year, I decided to try to share it again.  This time with you.  I hope it doesn’t make you squirm.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales
By Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. 
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

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