Did I ever mentioned my very first Christmas was when I was 10-year-old?
Before my very first Christmas, this time of the year had always been about the lights, the music, and that old man with a large tummy and red clothes who everyone called Santa. I was living in China back then, and let’s just say, I was completely oblivious to the meaning and traditions of Christmas.
Things changed when I landed in Los Angeles on Winter Solstice and before I could even process what was going on, I was in a car traveling half-way across the U.S. to see my step-father’s parents in Texas. Those two days on the roads are still pretty doozy in my head, as blurry as a week ago as I was being wheeled out in a wheelchair after my surgery. All I knew is we arrived in front of a house.
Knock knock knock
As we waited for the door to be answered, my step-father spoke something to my mom. I couldn’t understand English back then. The only phrases I knew were “How are you?” and “Fine, thank you.”
A large woman answered the door, just how big do they get over here, I remember thinking as I thought back on all the foreign shows I used to watch in China. I didn’t recall seeing such a large woman. Now, I know they rarely cast such a person in a TV show back in the days. Anyway, the woman was my step-father’s sister and if I thought my step-father was a large person before, she was bigger. She wrapper her arms around me and my mom and for a moment, I felt like she was squeezing the life out of us.
After the hugging, she led us into the house and we sat down around the dining table. “She asked, ‘Are you hungry?'” Mom relayed after my step-aunt babbled in English. Shyly, I nodded.
Within minutes, in front of me appeared a bowl of reddish-brown color soup. “What is it?” I whispered to Mom who shrugged in response. I put a spoonful in my mouth and immediately felt regretful and wanted to spit it out. It was sweet, sour, strange, confusing. I realized years later after having the same soup the second time that it was tomato soup, which is still a thing I find impossible to like.
After downing as much soup as I could (without gagging), we went on a tour of the house – bathroom, my step-cousin #1’s room, step-cousin #2’s room (where I’d be bunking), and master bedroom/office (where Mom and step-dad would be staying). Maybe my brain blacked out but I don’t remember meeting my step-uncle and step-cousins that night.
I woke up feeling strange next morning, like I’ve gone and landed on an alien planet strange. I was sleeping on a twin mattress in a corner of someone else’s room. I have never done that, ever.
That was Christmas Eve and I can’t recall anything that happened before the afternoon when my step-uncle decided to take me for a pony ride. “Everyone in Texas must know how to ride a horse.” Mom translated.
“It’s not a real horse, is it?” I asked nervously. It was and it stank to high heavens. I climbed a set of stairs and settled on the saddle while the man led the pony around in circles until I was mildly dizzy before leading the pony back to the original spot. I now feel bad for the pony.
After dinner, everyone gathered in the living room. “It is tradition that everyone gets to open one present on Christmas Eve.” Mom said. I think my present was a pair of socks, which I still have today.
After opening presents, it was time to watch a Christmas movie. I did not understand a single word nor the plot of the movie. The only scene I remembered was the woman in a swimsuit getting out of the pool. I didn’t know the movie until I saw it again in 2020. It was National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. That’s not a traditional Christmas movie!
When the movie ended, someone ejected the tape from the VCR and put in another one but my eyes was struggling to open so I opted out of the second movie and went to bed.