Memory is such a strange thing. Why, for example, can I recall with perfect clarity a Christmas morning more than 50 years ago and yet totally boggle the simple act of mailing a Christmas card just days ago because I forgot something?
As I bring to mind that long-past Christmas I am tempted to use the cliché “I remember like it was yesterday,” but considering my tendency to forget just what specifically did happen 24 hours ago, maybe that is not such a good way to begin.
Let’s just say it is very clear in my mind how giddy with anticipation my younger brothers and sister and I were that Christmas Eve way back when.
We had done everything right: the letters to Santa, the not-so-subtle hints to Mom and Dad, the pages ripped from the catalogs and left prominently lying around the house, the outright pleading for that Fanner .50 cap gun or that Chatty Cathy baby doll. (Both made by Mattel, which seemed to advertise without pause during our afternoon cartoon shows.)
Yes, we felt we had set the stage, and now, 24 hours hence, we were hoping Christmas present paradise would be realized.
We tried to sleep that night. We really did. My brother Mike — with whom I shared a bedroom and bunk beds — whispered from below that he heard something in the living room, and I whispered back from above that, yeah, I heard it, too. Whispers continued until a forceful “You kids get quiet in there or else,” persuaded us five excitable siblings to settle into a restless, long winter’s nap.
Family history has it that about 4 a.m. I made the decision that it was late enough in the morning to officially consider it time to unwrap presents. I was sure Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind, I told my siblings, but just in case, we should make it a really silent night and pad quietly to the tree so as not to wake them unnecessarily.
I handed out presents and guided them in gently pulling apart the wrapping paper where it was taped so as to keep the noise down. Well, being little kids joyous about our gifts, it wasn’t long before the jig was up, and soon looming in the entryway were our two parents.
My memory becomes a little clouded at this point in the story, but I don’t think I got into too much trouble. I seem to remember Dad trying to suppress a laugh.
So many years ago and so clear in my mind.
Two days ago, however, my lack of memory caused me a wee bit of consternation.
I was in the basement rummaging through the box of extra Christmas cards that have accumulated throughout the years looking for just the right one to mail to my sister-in-law in Michigan. I found one, grabbed an envelope from another box and headed upstairs. I wrote a note in the card, neatly addressed the envelope and stuck a stamp in the corner.
It wasn’t until I tried to tuck the card inside that I realized I had picked an envelope that was too small for the card. No way am I going to waste a stamp, I thought. I managed to fold the flap down enough so that it didn’t expose the card, taped it shut and for good measure put a big Santa sticker over the point of the flap. Done.
Just as I was getting ready to move on, I noticed the gift card I had meant to include lying on the table. I had had it in my hand only moments before I wrote the address. Shoot.
I got a sharp blade, carefully cut apart what I had just taped slicing through Santa’s head in the process, put the card inside adding a note explaining the now sad-looking piece of mail, and re-taped it.
For a moment I was irritated at my lapse of memory. But as I stood there assessing the situation, I found myself shaking my head and suppressing a laugh.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.