Granddaddy sat in a vinyl recliner, smoked a cigar that had layered the living room and den in a blue haze, and sipped from a can of Schlitz malt liquor. He’d let me taste it once when I was ten and when I began to experiment with smoking, I stole stubbed out cigars from his heavy green glass ash tray along with my aunt’s cigarettes and my grandmother’s kitchen matches and smoked the stubs behind his Ford truck with a wolf whistle. I never got caught and they couldn’t smell it on me because they were immune.
While I was a little buzzed and dizzy, I stared at the foil Christmas tree, the color wheel turning slowly and casting a myriad of dull colors onto the tree and transforming the same wrapping paper with miniature trees and Santas into even more spectacular wrapping paper. I wondered who would get what, but more importantly, what I would get.
My Grandmother lured me away from the tree and into the kitchen: “You want to lick the batter?”
I didn’t have to answer, and the taste of the banana pudding was a prelude of the Christmas lunch to come: turkey, dressing, green beans, macaroni and cheese, pecan pies, biscuits, and banana pudding. While adults napped in chairs or watched football games after lunch, grandchildren played hide and seek among the azaleas and camellias that surrounded the white clapboard house in midtown.
The anticipation of gifts stretched over the afternoon through games of UNO, Go Fish, or a timed game with clues, Taboo. We picked partners and I got stuck with my grandmother. I knew we’d lose to two smart aleck cousins or my manipulative aunts.
When my grandmother drew the card and had to give me a clue, she said, “Back in 1948 on highway 122, there was a store and filling stationed owned by this family.”
“Granny, I wasn’t born until 1968.”
“Oh, well you would have loved their hoop cheese and crackers.”
The room filled with laughter, the hourglass ran out, and our team was sunk.
The grand finale lasted under five minutes when everyone tore into the gifts. My grandmother had orchestrated the gifts with our parents months in advance. We simply thought she was the wisest woman in the world, which aside from being the best cook in the world, was exactly what she wanted us to believe. That way, no matter the college, job, spouse, and distance from her, the holiday tether was attached and made each of us yearn for home and for her, and all these years later, and her having been gone for over twenty years, we still do. I’d give up all gifts to lose Taboo with her again.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel 'Drifting too far from the Shore', two collections 'Reading the Coffee Grounds' and 'Road Kill Art and Other Oddities', and a novella 'Lead Me Home'. His work has been featured in eleven collections and in over two hundred literary magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Cheap Pop, With Painted Words, among many others.