The year I was in kindergarten, my grandmother, in a rare moment of insanity, because she hated Christmas, actually came down from Virginia to spend Christmas with us in North Carolina. I can remember the excitement of having her there, which just added to my general five-year-old hysteria during the holidays. I was one of those children who felt sick whenever she was overly-excited, which means that pretty much during the whole month of December, my stomach was never very happy. From the second the Christmas specials began to appear on television, and we took out our Advent calendars, till two days after Christmas, when I sat mad at Budweiser, because they were still showing their Clydesdale holiday ads, and everyone knew Christmas was over, I ate like a bird (oh, to be young again and actually to lose weight during the holiday season!).
That Christmas, my grandmother (“Grandmic” we called her, the “Mic” being a shortened version of our sir name) had gotten my brother Ian a helicopter. It was a very, very cool toy, as far as toys went in those days. It had flashing lights and a propeller that spun around with the help of some batteries. I have no memory of the rest of this story I’m about to relate; I don't even have any memory of what Grandmic gave me that year; but I do remember that helicopter. It was definitely the highlight of that Christmas. I wished it had been given to me.
By the time Christmas dinner was over, though, I had lost interest. The helicopter was broken. Because my memory fails me, I don’t know exactly how it broke, but I imagine a Nutcracker-like scene: Ian had three bossy older sisters, all of whom were probably as enthralled by the helicopter as he was, and none of whom was over the age of nine. Most likely, we should all envision a lot of squabbling and pushing and yanking of the poor toy out of little hands. Some little scientific mind probably got it into her or his head to see what would happen if we pushed the propellers backwards. Eventually, it may have been tossed up in the air to see if it would fly. Ian, once it had been decided it wasn’t going to stay aloft, may have been doing his best three-year-old imitation of Clara saving the beloved Nutcracker when it had suffered a similar gravitational fate, to save his precious gift before it came crashing to the ground.
Grandmic used to love to tell me how Ian and I brought it to her, hoping she might be able to fix it. She was at her sympathetic best, seeing how crushed Ian was, when she had to tell him she was sorry but she couldn’t fix it. I, on the other hand, not seeming the least bit upset – after all, it wasn’t my toy that had broken – apparently looked up at her and said,
“That’s okay, Grandmic. Everything always breaks on Christmas afternoon.”
I have to admit that every time my grandmother would relate this story to me, I felt a swelling of pride. I was so young. How had I already figured out that everything breaks at Christmas?