Here’s a story about the holiday season. I wish I could say it was about generosity, but it’s really about greed and gluttony. Best wishes to everyone.
When I was growing up, the holiday season always had a special kind of excitement – there were so many people around, no one could watch everything I was doing.
It’s a weird thing for a kid –the more adults, the less they notice. One adult – police state, ten adults – joyous anarchy.
This meant it was possible to tease my younger brother more, or annoy my older brother more. There I was right in the middle, where I could annoy everyone, and since the grownups were so busy, they didn’t notice me!
And there were parties. Everyone in our neighborhood had parties. We would tromp over to their houses and the grownups would stand in the living room and the kitchen and talk and talk and talk, and as long as no one bled to death, the kids could do anything they wanted.
But we were ignored by and large, and it was very rarely we heard any adult say what they said during the rest of the year –
“What do you think you’re doing?”
There is no good answer to that question.
The only sane response is, “I don’t know.”
The best part of all that confusion and commotion was that there was a lot of food around and no one to tell you not to eat it.
My mom made cookies. There were tins and tins of cookies of all kinds. No one knew who ate them.
There was all kind of cheese and crackers at our house and other people’s houses.
No one knew who ate them all.
My grandmother made her famous yeast rolls. They tasted so good with butter on them! She made hundreds of them.
No one knew who ate them all.
The Christmas I was eight, everyone was coming to our house. All the living grandparents (three). Distant cousins. Strangers off the street. Even my brothers were invited, since they lived in the house. So many people were coming, I would be sleeping in a sleeping bag on my parent’s bedroom floor. My mother spent all week preparing the Christmas Eve dinner, telling us not to eat anything in the house.
Our neighbors, the Sogards, invited us to an afternoon party on Christmas Eve. My mom said we would go around 4 o’clock and visit for a short time, while the ham was in the oven, then come back and have our dinner. We had to put on corduroy pants that made weird noises and dress shoes and tuck in our shirts. (“Tuck in your shirt! Tuck in your shirt!”, they said, like it was the only thing that was keeping civilization from completely falling apart.) All the food was in our kitchen, ready to go. My mom had appetizers covered with plastic wrap. I snuck some crackers and cheese and my mom came in and said, “What do you think you’re doing?”
I was eating, that’s what I was doing. Who knew if I’d ever eat again?
At the Sogards, it was almost all grownups, except for their worthless grandchilren – all younger than five years old. You couldn’t even use them as toys – what was their purpose?
Mrs. Sogard started bringing out the food. There were crackers; there was some sausage that was hard to cut; there was a huge block of cheddar cheese – when I cut a piece that must have weighed half a pound, my dad saw me and said “What do you think you’re doing?”
More and more people came. The whole neighborhood arrived, it seemed, and Mrs. Sogard kept putting out food. Soon there was an impossible amount of food – too much to be monitored.
And way too many people for parents to pay attention to me.
And then Mrs. Sogard brought out a very interesting appetizer. They looked promising – tiny little hot dogs, wrapped up in little bits of freshly baked bread that looked like my grandmothers fresh rolls.
“What are those?” I asked.
“They’re pigs in a blanket,” she said. “Would you like to try one?”
“Sure,” I said.
What an exotic food! And they were the perfect size! Why wasn’t all food this size, so you could hold five of them in your hand?
She took a little paper plate and put one on it and gave it to me with a napkin.
“Try one and see if you like it,” she said.
I loved it.
It was the perfect food – freshly baked bread and hot dogs. It had all the important food groups in it.
I circled around and had another one.
My older brother discovered them.
“Pigs in a blanket!” he said. “I love pigs in a blanket.”
Not as much as I did. And I believed whoever loved them more should get more.
My brother took one.
I took two.
“Hey,” he said. “Stop eating all of them. Don’t be a pig.”
I kept circling the table, like a Piper Cub practicing take offs and landings. I watched the grownups. Every time they took a pig in a blanket I worried there would not be enough for me. Desire is nine-tenths of ownership, and they all belonged to me. Every time I thought no one was looking I took a couple more. Once I took four in each hand. No one noticed.
Finally, there was just one on the plate. I was standing close to it, wondering what I should do, when Mrs. Sogard came up. “Oh my,” she said, “those are very popular. Would you like the last one?”
Well, since she asked, I took it – only being polite.
“I’ll have to go get some more,” she said.
I loved Christmas.
She took the plate and disappeared into the kitchen and came back with another plate, filled with dozens of pigs in a blanket.
Who knows how many pigs in a blanket I ate? Too many to count.
On my last attack of the plate, I took five in one hand. My brother saw me. “Stop eating all of those pigs in a blanket! You’ll spoil your dinner.”
He didn’t care about me spoiling my dinner – it was just something adults said, so he was saying it to me. He cared about the pigs in a blanket.
My mother heard us arguing. She came up and I tried to hide them.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said
“Well, you can’t put them back. Just don’t take any more.”
There were no more to take. It was the first time in my whole life I was allowed to eat everything I wanted to eat. I was thankful there were no more, in fact.
Then we went home for our big dinner.
They put food on my plate. I stared at it. Who cared about food? It seemed the most uninteresting thing in the world. I was totally dazed.
“Don’t you like my rolls?” my grandmother asked.
I nibbled on one. Something about them didn’t taste good anymore. Same with the ham and the mashed potatoes and the chocolate cake and all the cookies my mom had been protecting for weeks. All ruined, somehow.
We hung up our stockings. I rolled out the sleeping bag in my parent’s room and climbed in. My brain was excited, but my stomach was not. It woke me up in the middle of the night.
“Get up,” it said. “I want to give some of these back.”
“You can’t,” I said, “they’re yours now. I gave them to you and you have to keep them.”
“I don’t want them.”
“You have to keep them,” I said.
“No, I don’t,” my stomach insisted.
I didn’t even make it to my parent’s bathroom.
My stomach gave back dozens of them – many of them it had barely even looked at. The crime was obvious and impressive. There they were-dozens of pigs in a blanket on my parent’s bedroom carpet.
My mom was up with me all night, while I was dragging myself on my knees back and forth from my sleeping bag to the bathroom.
“What did you think you were doing?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said between explosions. My stomach gave back things I had given it months before.
It was a Christmas I have never forgotten. My mother remembered it, too.
Leave it to my brother to make the final comment on Christmas morning.
I could barely open my presents. I sat on the couch with my sleeping bag wrapped around me, my stomach still turning somersaults. I wouldn’t eat for a week.
“What’ wrong with Bill?” one of my grandmothers asked.
“Look,” he said. “It’s a pig in a blanket.”
It wasn’t funny then.
But it’s funny now.
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