My Last Christmas In America

Christmas is a sad time for many of us. Not all memories are happy ones. I try to maintain a cheerful disposition throughout the season, although my whole family is now long dead and buried, except for a few girl cousins. And I have no children either, with whom to share the joy that should always be present at Christmas, especially for the little ones. This season, I'm thankful for my girlfriend, my cat, and a handful of good friends.

In 1998, I spent my last Christmas in America with my aging mother. We reminisced about my sister, my only sibling, who had recently passed away before the age of fifty after a long and painful battle with cancer. And we reminisced about my father, who died at a couple of years before my sister, killed by a careless Florida doctor who had adjusted his chemotherapy improperly with disastrous results. My father's meager life insurance had been slowly eaten away by my sister's medical bills. My mother had to pay these herself after the state of Alabama cheated my sister out of the health benefits that might have at least ensured a less painful death. As a result of the financial strain, my mother was faced with losing the tiny, central Florida retirement home we were sitting in during our holiday discussion, but she didn't let this spoil her mood.

Over our Christmas treats and coffee we talked about the fun times our small family had experienced over the years, of which there were many. And she told me things about my father I had never heard before, for instance how many years earlier he had established a substantial trust fund for the orphaned daughters of his deceased business partner. Apparently my mother was the only person who ever knew about the gift, except for the orphans. In a brief interlude to our discussion, that quietly avoided the pain and suffering my own family had felt, I flashed back through the years to the tragic loss of another family.

One Alabama morning nearly forty years ago now, the youngest daughter of my father's business partner woke to the sound of loud noises coming from their kitchen. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she discovered her father at the kitchen table, slumped over his morning newspaper, through which all six rounds of a .38 revolver had left thumb-sized holes before making a bloody, unrecognizable mess of his face. Lying dead on the floor by the table was his wife, the shooter, who had just missed herself once with a second pistol, this time a .22 caliber, leaving a small hole in the ceiling before successfully putting a final round into her own brain. This is not something any nine-year old girl should wake up to see in the family kitchen. Luckily, the other daughter, twelve at the time, was spared this gory sight, since she had been sleeping over at a friend's house. The older daughter was named after her aunt, who was the identical twin sister of her mother. In the wake of the murder-suicide, the two orphaned girls were sent to live in a small, sleepy southern Alabama town with this identical twin aunt, the spitting image their now dead mother who had just murdered their father. I still shudder just imagining what it must have been like, this real-life example of Southern Gothic horror if there ever was one.

My family's successful business was almost totally wrecked in the aftermath of this tragedy, which coincided with the disastrous economic situation in the US during the early 1970's and the Vietnam war, where my first brother-in law was just then experiencing his own, personal tragedy. My parents were children of the Great Depression, poor teenagers during World War II, members of a tough and resilient generation which went on to build a successful America that garnered the world's respect and admiration, all too quickly now becoming a fading memory.

I am the only son of these good people who are no longer with us, the last of the line. And I remember much, both good and bad.

Merry Christmas.

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2 Comments - Leave yours!:

JernejK said...

great post! I can't even imagine what you've went trough! Don't let yourself in the bad mood beacuse of Christmas. I personally don't care about christmas and all the BS around New Year - it's all fake! I have my own celebration when I want! Anyways I wish you all good and merry Chritmas - and remember: what doesen't kill you - make's you stronger:)

Z said...

Thank you for sharing your story, I hope it helps some. Wow, it's quite a story. Mind if I put a link to this story on my blog?

Take care.

...a Czech-speaking American expat living in Prague since 1993.

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