There would be a disembodied voice coming out of the living room. My father sitting in his easy chair, in the dark, in front of an unlighted Christmas tree; I could hear the ice clinking in his glass.
He would say, “Every Christmas morning my brothers and I would find an orange, a pear and a banana under the tree. Now my brothers — Norman, Stanley, Irvin Donald and Walter — they would eat their banana right away, but not me. I would eat one bite of that banana every day for a week. By the end of the week the fruit would be brown, rotten and sour but I enjoyed the last bite as much as the first because everyone else’s fruit was gone but I still had my banana.”
That story by my Dad, was my siblings and my yearly penance for the luxury of being raised in relative comfort. Whether we wanted to hear it or not, it was told to us by my old man almost every Christmas. I think the original purpose was to impart to us how good we had it not having to eat rotten fruit on New Year’s Day. But to those of us who suffered through the telling, it was something to endure and eventually mock. My Dad was prone to melancholy and inclined to reminisce so usually the tale would be told as he sat in front of an unlighted Christmas tree to whatever sibling happened to be within earshot. For us getting fruit for Christmas, and worse, eating a bite a day, seemed miserable but I think for my Dad it was harkening back to a simpler time when Christmas trees didn’t have electricity and fruit was a welcome gift.
So for him they were good memories but for us they were a thing of derision that continues 50 years later. It didn’t help that even from an early age I could do a drop dead impersonation of my old man. He was a tall and thin with long arms and long legs and he wore his pants high on his waist. I would hike my pants to my nipples, talk like he did through his nose which had been badly broken while boxing. My impersonation became a sibling tradition that we would also share with our friends.
To this day I have friends who still reference my Dad’s proclamation. For instance I just wrote my buddy Keith about a minor ski injury and he consoled me with the words, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back skiing soon and in the meantime you still have a rotten banana.”
But now, like so many things in my life that I mocked with a superior pompousness, I’ve come to the realization that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was. When I hear Christmas music playing before Thanksgiving, when the Internet, electronic and print media is replete with adds and frantic enticements to buy stuff that we don’t need out of some seasonal obligation, when cable news outlets actually debate (actually not debate more like assert) the color of Santa Claus’ skin … then I might actually welcome a bite of bad fruit to cleanse my pallet.
Actually my old man’s story of fruit frugality was more than just a reminder of how good his children had it when compared to his childhood in the great depression where he was raised poor, pious and proud. It was more a statement of perspective.
When I was younger I used to mock any mention of ‘the good old days.’ Now I’m less sure. Granted the good old days weren’t so good if you were a woman, a minority or suffering from some disease that today has been cured by modern medicine, but there is something appealing about a simpler world where most people don’t have all they want, but do have most of what they need — a world where expectations are lower and Black Friday has yet to be invented.
Whenever I am back home and around my siblings during the holidays they often request I do my ‘Dad impersonation.’ So I hike up my pants and say, “By the end of the week the fruit would be brown, rotten and sour but I enjoyed the last bite as much as the first because everyone else’s fruit was gone but I still had my banana.” When I do that everyone laughs out loud but I know inside they are thinking ... God I miss him ...
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org