Christmases Long Past and the Spoiling of Children

I don’t usually wax… well… anything for the ‘holidays’, but a post over at another blog got me thinking about Christmases long past.

(And it’s cold and raining outside, and I don’t have anything foraging related to report right now, so this is what you get.) πŸ˜‰

If it’s the grandparent’s job to spoil the child, mine didn’t get the memo.

One of my grandparent’s (the best one it seems), died when I was still an infant. The remaining three were various stages of either ‘sucking’ or flat out unloving. At least to my interpretation at the time. Of those three, I remember my maternal grandfather being the nicest. I actually felt he meant it when he said ‘I love you’, but it didn’t happen very often. Usually at Christmas.

He was a nice fellow, but very serious, and his wife nagged at him constantly. The funny thing was, after she died, he withdrew even further from his family at a time when he should have been spending more time with us, he was spending exponentially less. We’d only see him twice a year after that, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, until he passed on a few years later. It’s sad to think of, considering that the man was highly skilled and supremely intelligent, yet never took the time to teach us anything. He couldn’t be bothered. Neither could his wife, though she was neither skilled at anything useful (she couldn’t even cook worth a damn), nor more than moderately intelligent. At least my paternal grandmother taught us a few things about a few things. She taught my sisters how to sew and knit and all of that, and all of us learned how to cook a few things that my parents didn’t usually make. My paternal grandfather was a very skilled man as well, but passed on relatively young, and thus, I didn’t learn anything at all from him, unfortunately.

But all of this reminded me of Christmas-time.

Christmas was a big thing when I was a kid. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins would drive in from miles around and some years even the people who lived on the other side of the country would fly in for the holiday. We’d get to see people we didn’t even know existed the rest of the year.

We’d all meet over at my paternal grandmother’s house most of the time, and that little house would be filled to the brim with like 30 people. Folding tables would be set into the living room, and there was always a Christmas goose and all kinds of home made treats and desserts that everyone would bring with them. And my grandmother and great aunt would make traditional Hungarian deserts that they only made once a year. It was awesome.

And grandma, if you ever wondered where those jars of marachino cherries kept disappearing to, that was me. I ate them. All of them.

On the flip side, there was the holiday at my Mom’s parent’s house. We always had to leave the festivities at my other grandmother’s house in order to go over to the place we hated going.

It totally sucked. There we were having fun with the whole family, and we had to leave it to go to visit people who we felt hated us because it was expected of us.

Sometimes we went BACK to my other grandmother’s house, and that was fun. But not usually.

I remember at Christmas time we got nothing at all from my mother’s parents most of the time.

Actually, that’s not entirely correct. They’d buy us US Savings Bonds ‘for our future’ instead of toys. Then my mother would cash them in and use them to buy toys for us that were then given to us ‘by’ my parents. I don’t think my father knew my mother was doing this. He made the funds, but she was the family treasurer. I do remember him getting on her one year about how much she was spending on ‘junk’ for Christmas, and she justified it by saying she’d gotten some money from her parents to buy presents for the kids. Which, of course, was a little white pseudo-lie. She was just using our college money to buy us Christmas presents with. Nice, no? And then giving them to us from HER, like she’d done a single thing to earn them. (Thanks Mom!) πŸ˜›

Apparently over the course of time my maternal grandfather had bought several thousand dollars worth of savings bonds for each of his grandchildren. As every good grandfather should, he was thinking about the future generations and wanted us to make something of ourselves. My cousins got theirs when they turned 18 and had a nice little nest egg and college fund. They all went to very good colleges. My siblings and I had a closet full of useless junk that we’d gotten for Christmas when our mother used our own savings to buy us our own presents. By the time we were college aged, all of our grandparents were dead, my parents were bankrupt, divorced, and didn’t have a buffalo nickel between the two of them.

Then my paternal grandmother had this very annoying habit of asking us what we wanted for Christmas, but then buying us everything BUT what we asked for. I remember one Christmas where I asked for a Star Wars figure. I didn’t get it.

But those were ‘expensive’ ($5) she once insisted. So she bought us a vast multitude of cheaper toys we’d never heard of instead. And she would always say that she ‘didn’t have the money’. (Which, as I found out as an adult from my great aunt, wasΒ  a lie, because her rich sister, my other great aunt, always gave my grandmother serious cash to buy the grandchildren presents with every holiday season. In fact, this same grandmother would give each of the adults a $50 bill for Christmas. Times that by 15 adults.)

Post Christmas one year, I asked I once asked my grandmother why she simply didn’t get me what I’d asked for, for Christmas, and if she wasn’t going to do so, then why did she bother asking us every year what we wanted. She said it was ‘too expensive’, and that she didn’t have the money. I asked her what her spending limit was for the kids on Christmas, and she said ‘About $20 each or so.’

I told her that last I checked $20 was more than $5. She just looked at me like I was from another planet.

I then asked her if they taught basic math when she was in school, and if so, had she failed the class?

I got slapped. πŸ˜‰

Then I got slapped again when my parents found out that I had ‘insulted’ my Grandmother. πŸ˜‰

All I did was ask a simple question. Anyone who thinks that spending $20 per person on Christmas buying a boatload of useless crap that no one wants circa 1985 is ‘saving money’ vs spending $5 on ONE thing that someone DOES want, is obviously is out of touch with both basic math and reality.

She’s long deceased now, and probably a good thing. Had she still been alive when I figured all of this out in a cognitive manner, I’d have given her an earful.

But spoil us? Never. Ever. Not once.

Weekends at my grandparents were one of two things.

If we were at my paternal grandmother’s house, we’d be put to work mowing her yard, sweeping her sidewalk, raking leaves, shoveling snow, you name it. The only reason I liked going over there is that woman could COOK. She’s the one who taught my mother how to cook, as her own mother could feck up cold cereal. If I did an especially good job on something, I could sometimes weasel her into cooking me something from scratch for dinner instead of a can of soup or something. Like Chicken Paprikas.

If we were at my maternal grandparent’s house, we were allowed to do two things. Read or play with toys we’d brought over. That’s it. Don’t talk to Grandpa when he’s watching TV, which was 99% of the time, and don’t talk to Grandma because she’s busy doing anything she can to ignore us, because she not so secretly hated us as we were spawn of our father who was never good enough for their daughter. πŸ˜‰

Oh, and to touch my grandmother’s 5000 piece puzzles, or heaven forbid try to help build it, was a virtual death sentence. I put in one piece one time when I was 5 and I think she hated me for life after that. More so than she would have anyway, for being the devil spawn of my father.

I remember when I was told that woman had passed away, it was like hearing a news headline. β€œPrice of Tea in China increases 3%” Sad, but true. Oh well. You reap what you sow.

One day, in a far off flung time, when I am a grandfather, I shall not sucketh. I’ll love them for who they are, no matter who fathered or mothered them. I’ll teach them to be good people, regardless of whether the parents drop the ball or not, and especially if the parents drop the ball.

I’ll teach them to hunt and fish and I’ll teach them archery, marksmanship, swordsmanship, foraging, and how to chop down a tree the right way with an axe without killing yourself. (You’d be surprised how handy that knowledge is.)

I’ll teach them how to cook, garden, preserve food, and how to tell the delicious mushrooms from the ones that will turn your liver to jello and kill you in 3 days.

I’ll teach them how to use hand tools, how to change a tire and fix basic things on their car, how to fix their bicycle, and how to properly use a shovel. (Were you aware that you probably have no idea how to properly use a shovel? You aren’t alone. 99% of people have no idea how to use a shovel, and don’t know that they don’t know! (Basics here: )

I’ll teach them how to balance a budget and a bank account, teach them what real money is and how to earn it, and how to get out of that rat race that traps everyone in it for all time. Things that my parents and grandparents didn’t have half a clue about. Even when we DID have a gold backed currency.

I’ll play games with them. Real board games. Not video games. Games like chess, checkers, pente, monopoly, life, connect four, chinese checkers, and as they get older, cool and spiffy strategy games that will actually get them to THINK, like risk, axis and allies, Settlers of Catan, Tigo, etc. And educational games like ‘Wildcraft’.

I’ll instill in them a love of reading and learning. I’ll read to them the classics, ancient history, and entertaining fiction that actually teaches you something. Like Robert A. Heinlein.

But beyond all, I’ll teach them to think for themselves and to question EVERYTHING, even and especially from ANYONE who claims to be an AUTHORITY figure.

My lovely wife will teach them how to dance, sew, knit, sing an aria, make jewelry,

I won’t spoil the grandchildren, but I’ll teach them everything I can, about everything I can.

I’ll be the grandparent my grandparents should have been.

And we’ll all build puzzles. TOGETHER. And I’ll praise them for getting pieces in the puzzle, and not act like Satan unhinged because they put a piece in.

And when I pass on, I’ll be fondly remembered as my grandchildren grow into adulthood and teach their own children and grandchildren. Every time they are in the woods taking a walk, or cast a fishing line in the water. Every time they play chess or checkers, they just may think of me. And thus, I shall be immortal in the only way anyone can be… In the memories of my posterity.

Perhaps they will say to their own posterity… “I learned this from MY grandfather. Now pay attention…”

Categories: Holiday | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Christmases Long Past and the Spoiling of Children

  1. TSDH

    You will be a wonderful grandfather.
    That part about authority, I do that , lol. I told my grandson to always question it!!! πŸ˜‰ I always love showing them how to do things. Once when they were down I asked them if they wanted to make donuts, they were amazed you could make donuts at HOME! They loved them and it taught them that it’s worth the time and effort to get somehing really good instead of mediocre. Of course it helps too that when my first grandchild was born I was 43 and was still active and sassy. πŸ˜‰

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