Our shoes may have been holey, our pants too short, and our shirts hand-me-downs, but there was always something new under the Christmas tree.
We were a family on welfare: two adults and six children. Yet there was not one giftless Christmas during my early childhood. My parents were most likely in cahoots with the charitable organizations in town, like the Council of Christmas Cheer. Or maybe they worked extra jobs. Or it could have been our kind neighbors. Mom and Dad were frequent pawn shop users, so perhaps that’s how the money came into their hands.
But on one particular Christmas morning, all I cared about was that Santa Claus had visited and left more toys than I had ever seen. There was no unwrapping to do, no tags with names. Just a sea of goodness for us all to share and enjoy: Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Etch-a-Sketch. Coloring books and reading books. Building blocks. Army men. Marbles. Jacks. Dolls.
I plopped on the living room floor next to my brother Norman and looked around at the loot. And then I saw it: a gun with spring-action, rubber-tipped darts. I wanted that toy for my own and let Norman know it. “You can’t have it. It’s mine.” He nodded, and I placed it with the pile I had collected and moved on.
In the midst of Christmas joy and playing a game with another sibling, I heard my name. I looked up and BAM! I was hit in the eye with one of the darts. Norman had decided — for a reason only a 6-year-old could have — that it was time to see how well the dart gun worked.
I was hot with anger and my eye was on fire.
I let out a great howl.
Mom tried to console me, while I tried to understand why my brother had to take the toy I wanted and injure me at the same time. Plus he was laughing about the accuracy of his shot.
I would have punched him if I could have seen him.
Norman’s laughing didn’t last for long, though, because Mom threatened him with the “switch.” She scooted me towards another toy and the drama was over.
Norman’s meanness was forgotten, my eyeball stayed in its socket, and a silly Christmas memory was born and has stayed with me to this day.