Ahh, Christmas. Proverbially, the most wonderful time of the year. I won’t argue, I think it’s pretty nice. Like a lot of people, other hopeless romantics, I have often dreamed of, prayed and hoped for, a perfect Christmas Day. For some it could be waking to a pristine blanket of snow on December 25th complete with greeting-card perfect cardinals adorning frosty trees. Or maybe the perfect idea is simply chestnuts roasting on an open fire, getting your fill of eggnog and rocking around the Christmas tree.
Maybe the perfect Christmas is just spending it with family. For those who disagree, you have my sympathies. We all have some horror stories.
Yet, I think, we can all agree, at some point, on some Christmas, we have each received a gift that was particularly special to us. I still have mine.
One of my favorite books is Clive Barker’s novel, Imajica. It is a sprawling, epic fantasy which was published in October of 1991. I was a freshman in high school then and at the pinnacle of my Barker obsession. I had devoured every book and short story by him, read every comic book emblazoned with his name, and seen every movie remotely associated with him. I was a Barker fanatic and desperate to know if this new novel would equal or, miraculously, exceed the brilliance of his previous one, The Great and Secret Show.
Suffice it to say, Imajica went to the top of my Christmas list. I told my mother, my aunts, my grandmother, anyone who asked me what I wanted for Christmas, that this book was the only thing I desperately needed in my life.
My family lived in the Bedford/Coffee counties area and we only had one bookstore, Readmore Book-n-Card at Northgate Mall. I think there were a couple of used bookstores divided among the two counties, but they didn’t have the neue Scheiße, to paraphrase Brian Warner. Readmore, roughly, had six or so copies of Imajica. Every time I went into the store, I darted straight to where my precious was shelved (respectfully darted, it was a bookstore after all). I watched as the hardcovered treasures slowly disappeared over the weeks leading up to Christmas. I was confident, though, that one of them would be wrapped and waiting for me under the Christmas tree.
It is tradition in my family to have breakfast at my mother’s house on Christmas morning. The tradition started in 1982 when the house was built on the hill next door to my grandparents. When I was a kid, my grandmother and two of my aunts (my mother’s youngest sisters) would spend the night with us on Christmas Eve. Sometimes, Uncle Calvin would stay, too, but if he didn’t, he was always there on Christmas morning– he traditionally bought the country ham my mother would prepare.
Uncle Calvin was my father’s twin brother. They didn’t look anything alike, mind you, and their personalities were as different as daylight from dark. Uncle Calvin was the dark side. He was the black sheep of the family, and knowing the history of some of my Robinson relatives, that’s saying something.
Henry Calvin Robinson lived the phrase, “Work hard, play hard.” He was a hard drinking, high gambling, baseball loving, honky-tonking, chain-smoking, coarse talking man with a voice like a hoarse frog drug over a back-country gravel road at the height of a summer drought. He was the black sheep of both sides of my family.
I smoked my first Marlboro and took my first sip of Jack Daniels from the plentiful stores my uncle had of each at his house. Lady Caroline Lamb described Lord Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know,” and Uncle Calvin was sort of the Southern man’s version of the phrase. He was quite like Uncle Red from the movie Silver Bullet. Watch it and you’ll get the gist of what he was like.
When Christmas morning of ‘91 arrived, I was excited. I opened all my gifts from my mother– no Imajica. I opened all my gifts from my grandmother and my aunts– no Imajica. I knew my brother wouldn’t give it to me, and he didn’t prove me wrong.
At breakfast, Uncle Calvin arrived, empty-handed except for the ham. He sat across from me while we ate and he casually croaked, “Santa Claus bring you everything you wanted?”
I was fourteen at the time and my views on the Jolly Old Elf had changed. Kris Kringle and I were at the point in our acquaintance where he sent Yuletide greetings in lieu of presents under the Tannenbaum.
With a smirk, I answered, “No. No he didn’t. The one thing I wanted, I didn’t get.”
Uncle Calvin nodded then narrowed his eyes like Clint Eastwood ready to have his day made. In his distinctive voice, my uncle said, “Well, I guess I’ll have to shoot that fat bastard.”
I laughed, hard, mainly because he said “bastard” openly in the presence of my mother and grandmother (my mother has never uttered a profanity, obscenity or vulgarity, but I learned my first cuss word from my grandmother).
As I was hysterical with laughter, Uncle Calvin reached under the table and brought up one last present.
It was Imajica.
I promptly set about reading the massive tome. In January, I promptly contracted mono which forced me to miss nearly three months of school. While I was homebound, I spent my mornings, lifelessly, hurrying through my schoolwork to occupy the rest of the hours of the day with the details of Clive Barker’s brilliant imagination.
Imajica is a great novel. I’m not fully certain it’s at the apex of my favorites because it’s an expertly conceived and executed feat of literature or because of the circumstances under which it was gifted to me. Those sickly days when it was just Barker’s words and myself, I’m sure, helped endear the book to me.
Mostly, I think it’s because of Uncle Calvin’s fat bastard comment.