Christmas, ’81

“We got you something you had said you wanted,” my mama told me on the phone.  

“Excellent!” I thought. I wanted a lot of things, but if they had actually gotten me something I wanted, maybe this would be a decent Christmas after all.

It was 1981, and I was living in an apartment within a pink stucco on Springdale Street, finishing up my degree at UGA and working nights at WGAU. It was an AM station that played middle-of-the-road music, the Metropolitan Opera and the CBS Radio Mystery Theater.  

I had moved into this place in the fall and was now living across the hall from two girls and downstairs from a couple whom the girls and I called “the rabbits.” The way they shook the house made you think there was an out-of-kilter washer going somewhere in the place. There wasn’t; it was just “the rabbits.”

I couldn’t go home for Christmas because I worked at the radio station. This was before the rise of satellite-fed radio. It was still necessary—or at least preferable—for there to be a person physically at the station to inform listeners of important events, to play scratched 45s and to stumble through public service announcements and weather forecasts.  

I didn’t mind, of course, because I was at the age when I would rather hang out with friends than visit for boring family get-togethers. My parents—along with my sister, Cathy—came to visit on Christmas Eve, took me out to lunch and then came back to the apartment to give me my presents. I may have gotten them something, too. I honestly don’t remember.

So, I opened the boxes and was disappointed to find a bathroom mat set and an electric heater.  

“You said your bathroom was cold, so we knew you’d want a heater for it.”

Well, damn it, she was right, I guessed. I tried to act happy with it, but I probably didn’t. I could be a dick. I still can.  

They left and went home.

I put the little electric heater in the bathroom and turned it on, and it clicked slowly to life, the fan making a noise disproportionate to the small amount of heat it gave off.  Damn it, I hated that heater.  

Somewhere, there should have been the realization that now I was an adult: I was sacrificing time with family for working and making money; I was getting shitty things I needed instead of cool things I wanted.  

There was no realization then, though. There was just me and that little heater, a ghost of Christmases yet to come.