The end of December is nigh, and it’s Christmas time once again. The sneaky little yule-tide bastard crept up on me again much in the same way as Thanksgiving did. I still haven’t quite convinced myself that the remnants of sweet potato pie and turkey from Thanksgiving have been removed my lips. And now, I all of a sudden find these houses decorated with brilliant, choreographed light fixtures mesmerizing me into a state of hypnosis and these near-abandoned shopping plaza once near the point of death prior to the Christmas season now revitalized with renewed vigor via shoppers looking for bargains. Cars upon cars at the malls. People upon people in the stores. Subhan’Allah! Where did they all come from? It seems the transitions between the time intervals seem to be waning to the point where months are becoming as weeks, weeks as days, days as hours, hours as minutes and so. The sensation of witnessing these transitions is…it’s almost as if Allah is sculpting the very fabric of reality right before my eyes.
This Christmas, I found myself back in my home town of Pensacola, a navy-port town at the Western edge of the Panhandle that’s a little too close to the state of Alabama for my liking. Legal and financial circumstances surrounding my mother’s death necessitated that I return home, though in all honesty, I loathed the idea of doing so: too many memories and the nature of stagnation and decay I see in my hometown kept me away. I hadn’t been home since my mother died back in the beginning of October, and I suppose, if the matter was solely within my power, I would not have returned at all. Our affairs, however, are seldom within our hands and are instead in the hands of something greater than ourselves–be it God or chance, whatever your theological (or lack thereof) inclinations are. So there I was, home sweet home, where there’s no place on earth like it.
On the first day of my arrival, I decided to go to my mother’s house. I had in haste left some of my belongings there and wanted to retrieve them. When I pulled up to my mother’s house, I was surprised to find that it had remained intact, especially given my neighborhood. I walked toward the front door, and immediately, the pungent, sweet odor of death, Kurt Vonnegut‘s “mustard gas and roses,” assailed my nose: my mother’s algae gores laid dead in a bowl near the front door. I took a deep breathe and opened the door and walked of the house.
Take it from me: being surrounded by relics from previous life experiences produces odd feelings of nostalgia. As I walked through each room I started recalling conservations I had with my mother from years past. One of them was about Christmas, and since it’s Christmas time, I figured I would share it just as a way of offering an alternative to the sappy, insipid Christmas specials that plague television during this time of year. It took place about a year ago. We were both in the kitchen and my mother was cooking something while smoking a cigarette. (And Yes! I am the freaking Grinch before his heart enlarges with the “Christmas spirit,” and before he had the strength of ten men plus two.)
Mom: “So what do you want for Christmas?”
Me: “I don’t do Christmas anymore mom. ‘Member? Besides, if I wanted something, I’d just buy it myself.”
Mom: “Oh yeah! That’s right! I’m sorry baby. Well, don’t feel like the lone ranger. I’m not too keen on Christmas ma damn self. Ever since Granny died (my grandmother and my mother’s mother), Christmas just ain’t been the same.”
Me: “Momma, she’s been dead goin’ on twenty years.”
Mom: “I know! And for these past twenty years Christmas has been so…depressin’.”
[Pause. Mom took a drag from her cigarette and stirred what was on the stove.]
Mom: “Shit, I ‘member when it was all I could do to make ya’lls Christmas. Hell, sometimes I had to have help.”
Mom: “Um-hum. You ‘member that time ya’ll got them bomber jackets when we went to North Carolina for Christmas?”
Me: “Yes ma’am.”
Mom: “Rita and Don (my aunt and uncle) bought those jackets. I couldn’t afford it. Sometimes they made ya’lls Christmas. Whenever I couldn’t afford shit, they’d always volunteer to buy it, till one day I had to tell ’em to stop. I told ’em to let me be the momma, you know?”
Me: “Really mom. I didn’t know that. Even though you couldn’t afford it?”
Me: “Wow. I kinda feel bad now.”
Mom: “Don’t feel bad ’bout it baby. That’s jus’ what mommas are supposed to do.”
Me: “I mean yeah, but you were already struggling, mom. Asking for those things probably just made it worse.” [jokingly] “Did James (my father) ever help?”
Mom: [looking away from the stove, smiling, getting the joke, laughing] “Who?! James?! Pshht! SHIT! That nigga ain’t never did shit! Not a GODDAMN thang!”
Me: [laughing with her] “Useless motherfucker.”
Mom: [still laughing] “Useless. That’s the word for today: useless.”
[We pause again to catch our breaths.]
Mom: “And you know what I don’t understand? You got people with all this money and they don’t do shit for their kids. Look at what such-and-such did for such-such and look at what they did for ya’ll. All ya’ll ever got from them was some old cheap shit, two dollar t-shirts or a pair of socks, and yet they got all that damn money. And these old folks wonder why nobody wants to do nothing for ’em. They gon’ bus’ Hell wide open. Ever last one of ’em.”
Me: “I guess it’s the thought that counts. I’ve wanted to tell them they can keep their gifts, but I decided not to.”
Mom: “Yeah. Like Granny always used to say, ‘You can’t fight and the Lord fight too. God don’t like ugly and He ain’t too keen on cute.”
Me: “Yes ma’am.”
Me: “So what do you want for Christmas mom?”
Mom: “Me? Shit. The same thing I always asked for. My health and strength is all I want. And maybe a good man. Other than that, I’ont need nothin’.”
Me: [laughing] Well mom, I reckon I can’t help with either of those two. I can’t even help my-goddamn-self.
Mom: [laughing with me, hysterically] Yeah! I guess you can’t help yo self, huh?! That’d be like the blind leadin’ the blind, huh?”
Me: [still laughing] Yes ma’am!
Mom: [still laughing] Boy! You are a motherfuckin’ trip!
Perhaps the profanity is inappropriate for a Muslim blog. Forgive me. But reality is reality: it could care less about our religious sensibilities. As my mom told me one time, “Is don’t give a shit about Should.”
I’m torn between laughter and tears at this recollection. So much pressure was put on my already struggling mother to conform to this materialistic idea of Christmas. An already difficult life exacerbated for the sake of some stupid-ass presents, bringing stores into the black, and helping our crumbling economy by buying shit we don’t need with money we don’t have to please people we don’t even like. Thank you Santa fucking Claus. Merry Christmas! Now go your fat, punk-bitch-ass back to the North Pole and stay there…
After visiting each room, I gathered my things and locked up the house. I decided to visit a close, childhood friend of mine stayed who stayed around the corner. When I arrived, I went into his back yard and into his shed. We “chewed the fat,” talked about old times, and played Cranium with his little sister and her friend.
After thoroughly stomping his sister and her friend in three out of five games, I decided to take my leave. As I was leaving his house, some gunshots fire in the distance, to which my friend riposted rather sarcastically, almost as if he was talking to the gunshots and not to me, “I just don’t feel like I’m home unless I hear gunshots.” Again, some more gun shots ring in the distance and he said with smile, almost laughing. “Ah! You see! That’s how you know you’re home.”
Gunshots in the Ghetto. Now there’s a REAL Christmas special for you.