A 1980’s Christmas

I watched the movie, Scrooged, with Bill Murray last night. It really is a terrible movie. The ending song is about the only redeeming point, but it got me to thinking about the past.

There was a rental house where my brother and I lived with our mom in West Blocton, AL. It had to be mid 1980’s because our parents divorced when I was five (1980), and we had lived in a trailer before moving to this house.

The house was always cold. My room, with furniture painted like Strawberry Shortcake by my grandmother, was always closed off. Jeremy and I slept in his bed a lot, with his Star Wars blanket, because there was one space heater.

My mom didn’t have a bed, but she slept in the room with big, foam-like furniture, where the fireplace was. From my blurry memories, I’m guessing she did so to make sure the fireplace did not go out.

The Christmas I remember there…we each got one present. Mine was a cabbage patch doll and Jeremy got some Masters of the Universe mountain/action figure set. I don’t remember thinking much about the number of presents, but that the whole atmosphere was just different.

My mother did not like this house and she was still very upset with my dad. She had to bring in firewood from the “scary carport,” and she said the shed behind the house looked like Freddie Krueger lived there. One morning she yelled at us to hurry and eat our cereal and Jeremy cried that it tasted bad. When she finally realized the milk was sour – she cried, too.

My parents fought for as long as I can remember, even younger than age five.

I know this because at one point we lived in the upstairs apartment of my grandmother’s split-level house before they divorced. That house was like a castle to my little eyes, with doors and rooms to explore and hide.

The only Christmas I remember with them being together had to be the last one, and my brother and I got battery-powered CHIPS police motorcycles. I loved Poncherello (Ponch), so Jeremy had to be John, his partner. I was very bossy to my little brother and I wish I had not been that way.  Anyway, We drove around in circles singing the theme song to the popular tv show and pretending to make radio calls to other police.

There was also a big, gray stereo in the kitchen. When my parents would yell, Jeremy and I would turn up the volume on the sound and hide under the table, covering our ears. One time, a glass hit the back wall and the broken pieces fell around me and my brother. I guess when I wasn’t being bossy, then I was his protector.

This second photo is Jeremy with our only first cousin on my dad’s side. Her name is Ariel. Keysha, Jeremy and Ariel… hmmmm. Our names. No comment. 🙂

Trying to sort through memories is one of the MOST painful reasons I miss my brother, because there is a great chunk of my life that no one witnessed but him. No one remembers it from the kid’s point of view and adults sometimes saw it differently than we did.

Whether it was good or bad, I knew he remembered the 1980’s and early 90’s with me, and we could joke about it, or marvel that we even survived. We built forts in the woods, watched Superfriends, the Smurfs, rode in the back of trucks, fought, laughed and cried – and we walked. A lot.

After the trailer and the rental house, there was the time we moved to Bessemer because my mom said there was a channel that played cartoons all the time and not just on Saturday morning. That’s my memory of how she sold us on coming to live with her there. We watched Fraggle Rock and would fall to the floor when the old HBO logo would look like it was coming through the TV (google it).

We played in the storm drains of Westlake Lodge Apartments, and briefly attended Westhills Primary School. We roamed free playing with someone from another apartment building that I’m pretty sure was abused. There are foggy memories of their apartment that my mind has closed off for a reason, and I just don’t open that door.

I hated that school. It was 3rd grade for me (1st grade for Jeremy), and I was the poor, new kid and someone would pop my “training bra” strap in the lunch line. We had to sing the Johnny Appleseed song everyday before lunch, but at least I normally ate a Nestle Crunch bars for dessert.

Some time later, I ended up living with Mawmaw and Pawpaw, and Jeremy went to live with our dad. I was able to go back to my old school and my friends, Amy, Amy and Kristi.

Now, what in the world could have prompted me to write all of this down today? I don’t know that I’ve even included a Bible verse.

Besides the movie I saw last night, I had already been making notes for two weeks from the Vintage Christmas segment my church is having, where someone older talks about their favorite or oldest Christmas Memory.

The CHIPS motorcycle is the first Christmas I can remember, so I would have been five years old.

As I thought forward, I remembered the cold house, the Christmas with one present, and also living in the trailer park where I knew Santa had come in the back door.

It’s amazing what a child’s imagination will see because the large, shadow outline I saw that night could have only been Santa. Years later, I found out it was someone, maybe my grandfather, coming to bring Christmas to my mom and us, and he did have a sack with him.

I also wanted to write down these things before I start forgetting. With Jeremy’s passing this year, he’s not around anymore to remind me of a funny or even traumatic memory, and those are all I have left. He was always supposed to help me write my book.

Yes, there are funny stories, and more sad ones, but these are just from the beginning…before we were separated like the siblings from The Parent Trap.

I was so wrapped up in my own life at times, there are now gaps of his that I cannot remember.

So…stop complaining when someone wants to take your picture this Christmas, okay? Smile normal in at least one photo, and have someone write down the family memories of the day. Take video and save it in the cloud for everyone to access.

It’s so much easier to preserve memories now, and one day you will want those…trust me.


The Big Sister

In memory of:

Jeremy Clay Simpson 3/28/1977-2/25/2017


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