Chicagoist Presents A New Story By Barry Gifford: 'Christmas Is Not For Everyone'
Whether you're eager for it, ready for it or feel a certain ambivalence toward it, Christmas is coming. For those who share this mindset and for those who just love good storytelling, we're pleased to continue our annual tradition: joining his previous holiday stories, "Christmas Is Not For Everyone" is a new yuletide tale from Barry Gifford. It's taken from his new book The Roy Stories published by Seven Stories Press.
Christmas Is Not For Everyone
When Roy was seventeen years old, his mother got married without telling him. He found out when he came back home to Chicago from college for Christmas. Roy was sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast the morning after he arrived and his mother was standing at the sink washing dishes when she told him that she and his little sister were going to move from Chicago to Ojibway, Illinois, on the Wisconsin border.
“Why?” he asked. “And when?”
“Right after the new year,” she said. “In about ten days. I’ve already sold my half of the apartment building to Uncle Herman.”
“What’s in Ojibway?”
“That’s where Eddie Lund lives. He has a nice house there on Sweden Road. Your sister will have her own room, at least during the months Eddie’s daughter is away at nursing school in Ohio.”
“Who’s Eddie Lund?”
“His family owns a steel company in Rock City, close to Ojibway. Eddie works for Rock City Steel.”
“Ma, who is this guy?”
Roy’s mother did not answer right away, then Roy realized that she was crying.
“What’s wrong, Ma?”
“I’m going to marry him, Roy. Actually, we’re already married.”
“When did this happen?”
She turned off the water at the sink and wiped her eyes with her apron, but did not turn around to look at Roy.
“On my birthday, the day after Thanksgiving.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to bother you while you were at the university. I thought it would be better to tell you when you were home.”
Eddie Lund was his mother’s fifth husband. Roy knew she was embarrassed by this and had been afraid to tell him she’d gotten married again, especially after promising Roy, following her divorce two years before from her fourth husband, a drug addict jazz drummer named Spanky Wankovsky, that she was finished with matrimony.
“Eddie’s a good guy, Roy, you’ll see. He’s coming here today, so you’ll meet him.”
Roy’s father had been his mother’s first husband; he died when Roy was five. Each of the husbands who came after him had considered Roy a nuisance, if not a burden. None of them had any interest in assuming responsibility for him. Roy was his mother’s son, and he learned to keep his distance from her husbands. Since these men never lasted very long with his mother, Roy just waited them out, hoping, of course, that there would not be another. He soon realized, however, that the only control he had was over himself, and since the age of nine knew that he was on his own.
The intervals between his mother’s marriages were when Roy and she got along best. Christmas, though, was always difficult because his mother was so often either getting married or divorced around that time. When she threw her third husband, Dion Braz, a sailboat salesman, out of the house for the last time on Christmas Eve, she said to Roy, “Christmas is a trick on kids.”
Finally she turned and faced Roy and said, “Remember when you were little and I would play the piano and you’d sing? You had such a sweet voice. Why don’t we do it now, Roy, while your sister is sleeping and before Eddie gets here? I always loved it when you sang ‘Count Your Blessings.’ Do you remember that song?”
Roy looked at his mother’s face. She was not yet forty years old and she was still very beautiful. Before he could answer her, the doorbell rang.
“That must be Eddie,” she said, taking off her apron. “He’s early.”
Used by kind permission of the author. All rights reserved.
EXCLUSIVE: A New Christmas Story from Barry Gifford
Exclusive: "The Trumpet-" A New Christmas Story by Barry Gifford.
EXCLUSIVE: Barry Gifford Shares 'A Postcard To Nelson Algren'