When telling some of the more humorous stories from my childhood, I’m often asked by children or other family to write them down. Although I think something is lost when the stories aren’t told verbally (primarily my voice and facial expressions, and of course, the constant waving of my arms), I’ll have to agree that there is value for the future in writing the stories down and passing them along. So, for your amusement, here is the first of the lot. Hope you enjoy it!
“Just Licking My Lips”
It was almost like the painful, interminable waiting that Ralphie Parker in The Christmas Story had to endure waiting to see if Santa would bring him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The difference in my case was the BB gun was, instead, a set of oil paints that I had dreamed and wished about for at least six months. Did they listen to my begging? Did they think I was old enough for a real grown-up set of oil paints? I wanted them so bad I could taste it. The days drug painfully by as we inched slowly toward December 25th.
I was about 13 or 14 then. The perfect age for dreaming and wishing. Also the perfect age to completely despise my younger sister who was about 6 or 7. What a pest! While I was going through the agonizing beginning of my teenage years, fought with my mother all the time and could do nothing right, this rotten little kid seemed to have been born with the mind of an adult con-artist. She seemed always ready to jump right in and expose any mistake I made, all the while covering up her fiendish plot with the blonde curls and angelic expression whose spell my parents always fell under. Well, it was Christmas and she had her own problems to get past. She was trying to figure out whether or not Santa was real or whether she really needed to spend time kissing up to Mom and Dad.
Finally, it arrives. It’s Christmas morning and, as usual, the heaps and piles of gaily wrapped holiday bounty were spread underneath the tree and spilling out into the living room floor. My eyes were quickly scanning to see if they could identify a rectangular package that looked promising. No, that one looks like clothes. No, that one is too square. No…what the heck is that? Looks like the little kid wrapped it! Finally, my eyes fall on the likely package, toward the back of the tree. I wanted to climb over and dig out the only thing that interested me that morning, but, I had to be patient.
I didn’t have to wait through the opening of the stockings. We were allowed to do that during the night or as soon as we got up in the morning. As you might guess, it always happened during the night. Finally, the packages were being passed out. Shirt, jeans, book…where is it?????? There! Finally, the package is passed to me. I bite my lip, say a silent prayer and start tearing at the paper. Is it? Can it be? YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A full set of real oil paints, paint brushes and books. I was ecstatic! I could act like a true artist now and pretend that I wasn’t sitting on a farm in Missouri, but, on the banks of a river in Paris or London. Ahhh, what bliss!
The morning wore on and we had picked up the paper, eaten a big lunch and some of the grown-ups were taking their Christmas afternoon naps. I wanted the day to be over. I wasn’t allowed to get the paints out and try them while we had all this company. They were messy and would smell up the house. I had to content myself with picking up each and every one of the 24 tubes of paint and familiarizing myself with their names: burnt umber, burnt sienna, cadmium red and orange and purple, cobalt blue. I’m surprised I didn’t make myself high that day, as many times as I unscrewed the lids and sniffed the paints that would identify me as a serious artist. Ahhh, time. It was my enemy.
In the meantime, as with most Christmases, people who had been up too early and had stayed awake too late the night before began to get cranky as evening approached. The younger sister was no help, picking and pestering the whole time, just trying to make herself generally disagreeable. We started snapping at each other and pretty soon, the inevitable happened. Mom was walking through the living room and yelled at us, telling us if we didn’t cut it out she would send us both to bed. Both! All I was doing was sitting on the couch looking at and dreaming over my paints. How could I help it if the seven year old bain of my existence wouldn’t leave me alone? The injustice of it just burned me. As my mother turned around to walk down the hallway, I quickly and without any thought, stuck my tongue out at her retreating back. I knew I was in trouble when the lump sitting next to me on the couch said “Ummmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!”
Mom turned and gave me one steely-eyed look and said, “Did you just stick your tongue out at me?” You see, the universal language between Mom and the little sister was the word ummmmmmmm. It meant I was doing something that my sister could exploit into “I’m bad and she’s good and, oh, isn’t it fun to see her get into trouble?”
“Yes”, I said defiantly. What did she expect? I was being put upon by my little sister and had only been defending myself.
“That’s it. I’ve had enough. I think I’ll just take those paints away for two weeks until you learn to behave better.”
Oh my gosh, did I just hear that correctly? Did she say she was taking my paints away? For TWO WEEKS???? Surely she had to be kidding. Surely she wouldn’t take the one thing I waited for all year and withhold it for the whole of my Christmas vacation? Oh yes, she meant it. The hand came out and took the box of paints from my hands. I would have sooner had food and water withheld. I couldn’t believe I had to wait another two whole weeks before getting to try out those beautiful, beautiful paints.
Thoughts of horrible, nasty deeds I could perpetrate on that awful little sister were swirling in my head. I had to get away before I got myself in more trouble and just slapped her silly. I went to bed.
Time drew on. It was several days later, although not long enough that my paints had been returned to me yet. Again, I was sitting on the couch. Again, the little pest was picking. And, again, we began to fight. Enter the female authority figure (a.k.a. Mom). Again, she laid down the law. And again, she turned to walk down the hallway. Then, I saw it! That little pink tongue peeking out of that seven year old tattling mouth. That’s when I knew the opportunity was mine. I thought quickly and said, “Ummmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!”
Mom turned around and her eyes set upon the younger sibling next to me. She said, “Did you just stick your tongue out at me?” I waited, smiling, as my moment of triumph, my revenge was close at hand. I looked at my sister and waited for her to say “yes” and for the punishment to begin.
“No, I was just licking my lips!” she said.
What? What!!! WHAT??!!!!!! She was WHAT???? Mom looked at her for a minute and then turned and walked away. I couldn’t believe it. Did that really just happen? No, it can’t be possible.
I looked over at my sister who was grinning at my stricken expression. She giggled, hopped up and ran away to play with her Christmas toys. The toys that, a moment ago, should have been taken away for two weeks.
That’s when I knew it. Life as a teenager in a house with a seven year old demon was going to be hard. Mom and Dad were under her spell and there was nothing I could do. If only I had some paints…
Well, that’s what Christmas is all about right? To quote The Christmas Story, “Peace. Harmony. Comfort and Joy… Maybe Next Year.”