Jim Sanderson

Two Christmases

In the seven years that I had been with much younger Summer, I had come to appreciate her parents, who were my age. At the wedding, standing between my best man (colleague and poet Jerry Bradley), who was also my age, and Summer’s father; I whispered, “I bet they’re asking, ‘Who’s the Daddy?’” So I had this tilted sort of relation with Brenda and Lanny. I was peripheral to the family but not truly outside of it, and we had developed our own conversations and rituals, so though their interests were not always my interests, I enjoyed their company. And at Christmas time, mostly Christmas Eve, they were what I had for family. But on Dec. 3, with her aging Yorkie, Dixie, my young wife Summer left me. A week later, my former best man, Jerry, and his new lady, Barrie, out of sympathy or pity, had a birthday dinner for me.

But this Christmas, my in-laws and I obviously had to cut the tether that kept me peripherally connected to the family. So I spent Christmas Eve looking for in-laws who were my age in several bars. I didn’t find any. So I got on to the mission that I always pursue when a woman dumps me, I drive through Texas looking for me. But I had a second goal too. I would find, create, or recreate my own Christmases. Further, I had a third goal. Summer said that she left because I was oblivious to her needs. She even made a list as to the proof of my oblivion. So I wanted to see if she was right.

Christmas Day I drove to see my family in San Antonio, but I knew that I had missed the real San Antonio Christmas. In San Antonio, for me and most natives, Christmas was Christmas Eve. Since the 19th century, the Germans and Mexicans who resided in the town celebrated on Christmas Eve and sobered up on Christmas Day. In my time, gifts were exchanged on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus often came on Christmas Eve. Mass was at midnight. People ate tamales and drank keg beer, a San Antonio tradition. No tamales, no Christmas. Tamale factories took orders in advance and lines formed around them on Christmas Eve morning. You had to wash them down with something. Policemen stayed busy on Christmas Eve. And from those San Antonio Christmas Eves, I remember the local news report, Lone Star Final, filled with that station’s specialty: car wrecks, liquor store robberies, and family shootings, all in the glorious gray of black and white TV. My grandfather, while in his late seventies, after coming to our Christmas Eve party with a jet-black-haired lady friend, drove off a road, with his lady friend, and broke his back. “What the hell was he doing out on that old road?” my father asked. As young as I was, I had my suspicions.

My mother would spend Christmas Eve day making pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches for Christmas Eve. She also bought pounds of chips and every type of dip that she could find. Later, my mother found a butcher at the local Albertson who would sell her boiled shrimp at half price on Christmas Eve. This was at a time when shrimp was still considered an expensive luxury. So my family added shrimp, sandwiches, chips, and dips to the tamales and beer, making our own Christmas tradition. The neighbors and friends brought the cookies, pastries, and candies. I brought liquor.

While my sister and I were in high school and college, word of our democratic and open Christmas Eve parties spread to mine and my sister’s friends. One Christmas Eve, after a local bar closed for the night, the entire crowd came to our party. My father broke up a rolling crap game that had moved to our back porch. On one Christmas morning, we woke to find my friend Randy curled up in used wrapping paper under the Christmas tree. We spent another Christmas morning picking up the tamales shucks, paper plates, and empty plastic glasses that were spread down the block.

Of course before these times, when my sister and I were trying not to believe in Santa Claus, that marvelous duping of children, Santa would come just at dark on Christmas Eve. Since my sister and I were usually the only two children in this small family, the adults