growing up, there were seven kids in marty's house. as they awoke christmas morning they were to go to their parents' bed. only after all nine people were assembled could christmas begin. one at a time groggy children appeared in the doorway and slowly took account of who beat them to the christmas bed before climbing in themselves. excruciatingly, only after a majority of family members were present could they start calling down the hallway for the remaining slumberers to get their humbug-asses out of one bed and into another.
when the count was down to a single missing person, the youngest walking child was sent to wake the offender, an elder sibling. math had proven that size and age were directly proportional to one's likelihood of getting struck, physically, so they played the odds and sent the cute toddlers down to harass the the sleeping teens (outstanding strategy really and the more i learn about how nat and ken ran their home, the more i revere their work). but, once all were accounted for, the staircase descent could begin.
in my home, each person was handed a present and when everyone in the room had something to open, we all opened them, compared them, complimented them. in marty's home, when the tree came into view and it was apparent that santa had either forgotten or forgiven the year's evil deeds, it was on. an outsider, say one unfamiliar with christmas, may most closely describe what unfolded as bar-fight pandemonium with miniature people.
i need to insert a curious detail here; presents in the walter home did not get wrapped. instead, a child's name was scrawled across the packaging with a fat-tipped sharpie. in fact, there are few things in the walter home that do not have someone's name indelibly printed onto it. i had just assumed with so many people in a house this was the only way to tag something as your own and it wasn't until recently i learned these glyphs were remnants of christmas spoils.
but back to the anarchy. there was not an appointed present-distribution person. it was an every human for themselves sort of affair. children raced and slid into the presents spilling from beneath the tree and began frantically digging for their name. the etiquette was understood, if you drew a sibling's gift it was dealer's choice. you could either shout and toss it to them or simply throw it aside and continue your quest. ken and nat sat by on chairs with pocketknife and scissors, respectively, in hand, extricating the booty from cardboard and plastic parcels that screaming children excitedly deposited in their laps.
after the tree was stripped clean, law was restored. children sat by their stake in the living room examining, assembling and understanding their trinkets, and sometimes others as well. the year of the cabbage patch doll craze, peggy, the youngest, was one of the lucky recipients. upon seeing her fortune under the tree she cried. later in the day when an older brother repeatedly launched the cloth baby across the room against the banister where it would drop to the floor, peggy cried more. her brother would point at the crumpled doll and say "hey peg, look, she's still smiling. she likes it." more crying.
for one stretch marty asked for the same toy three years in a row because it kept breaking. i asked her what child's bauble could garner such commitment.
what was so great about it you had to re-get it three times?
oh, it was so awesome! it was a dog you pulled on a cord and its feet moved and it had a sleuth cap and floppy, leather ears.
what was wrong with it? why'd it keep breaking?
well, when you swing it by the cord over your head like a lasso, it sometimes hits things and then it sometimes breaks.
marty's past is unfathomable to me. it's so opposite of my own. but however loud, silent, cordial or crude holiday rituals may be, this time of year always has and hopefully always will make me bristle in anticipation, just like the children clustered on the christmas bed anxious for what's to come.