Christmas Eve we used to spend with the Elliotts at their home on Haymarket Square. My older brothers were working and did not have to go, but my sister and I went with our parents on the bus down to the Elliotts. Now our family was really low-key about Christmas—we got along with a “sweaters and socks” kind of Christmas. But the Elliotts were very different. Every year there was a sensational gift as the focus of conversation. This gift always was opened on Christmas Eve just before we arrived. One year, there was a huge white refrigerator in the living room with a red ribbon around it. This year, we were called to the front window to look out at Charlotte’s Christmas gift—a new red Pontiac with a white ribbon tied in a bow on the roof of the car. We were always very quiet on the walk home after the drinks, the sweets, the lively conversations, and our witnessing the big gift.
I normally beat my parents to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, but Mother was determined that she would be up getting the goose in the oven before we opened our presents and went off to Christmas morning mass. When I opened my eyes and ears to see if anyone was up yet, I could hear my mother swearing at no one in particular. When we reached the kitchen, Mom announced: “The goose is gone! It’s not in the ice-box.” My father stood in his long johns huffing and puffing, ranting and roaring, trying to guess who would do such a thing, cursing his friends and his enemies, but mostly just blubbering incoherently in stunned disbelief.
“For God’s sake, Dan, don’t stand there,” mom yelled hysterically. “Call the police!”
“Jaysus Murphy, woman, I am the police!” my father replied. Then he set off to get a stiff drink—at seven o’clock in the morning! And I don’t mean from the liquor cabinet either. First of all, we didn’t have such a thing and, second, Danny Boy had his own stash hidden in his room somewhere for such emergencies. My father, fortified with booze, dressed and went down the back stairs, following footsteps in the snow through the back yard to the fence, through the fence, and down to the train tracks. The culprit was long gone.
My sister and I giggled (whenever it was safe to do so) as we opened our presents. Father was very subdued for the day. Mother called the Elliotts to tell them about the robbery. She cried and then she laughed. That was a funny thing about our mother: she never seemed to laugh without crying or to cry without laughing. After she hung up the phone, she got down on the floor with us and giggled when we did as we opened the rest of the presents. Within an hour, the butcher rang the front doorbell and presented us with a turkey to help us through Christmas dinner.
As we all walked to Holy Trinity Church for Christmas mass, a light snowfall showed every step as we made our way up Winter Street, but father, who was a step or two behind us, could be heard muttering and cursing to himself about the other footsteps in the snow that had led from our unlocked back door to the hole in the fence.