PETER WATTS IS AN ANGRY SENTIENT TUMOR preview: “Everything I Needed to Know About Christmas I Learned From My Grandma”
In celebration for the release of the irreverent, self-depreciating, profane, and funny PETER WATTS IS AN ANGRY SENTIENT TUMOR, Tachyon presents glimpses from the essay collection.
Everything I Needed to Know About Christmas I Learned From My Grandma
Blog Dec 25 2011
Christmas in a household of professional Baptists has always been a
time to think about the joys of giving. In my particular case this
has proven to be a double-edged sword, the flip side being that it is
not a time to think about “getting”. Devoting any neurons to the
contemplation of what one might get for Christmas, you see, is
unChristian; we are supposed to be concerned entirely with the
selflessness of giving unto others, not whether you’re going to get
that Captain Scarlet SPV Dinky toy you covet. (I was never entirely
sure how to reconcile this virtue of selflessness riff with
the fact that the whole point of being charitable was to get into
heaven while the Rosenbergs down the street ended up in The Other Place, but there you
It was considered
bad form in the Watts household to show any interest at all in
whatever swag you might accumulate on the 25th. On the off-chance
that someone asked you what you wanted for Christmas, you were
honor-bound to keep silent—or at the very least to shrug off the
question with a disclaimer along the lines of I haven’t thought
about it, really. By the time I hit adolescence I’d figured out
how to game this system (just give everyone a hand-made card telling
them that “In honor of Christ’s birth I have made a donation to
Unicef in your name”—nobody was ever crass enough to ask for a
receipt). But even that conceptual breakthrough didn’t stop
Christmas mornings from being generally grim affairs in which people
sat around with fixed and glassy smiles, thanking each other for
gifts they obviously hated, but which they could hardly complain
about because after all, they’d never told anyone what they wanted.
The gifts bestowed upon me during my childhood included pyjamas, an economy-sized roll
of pink serrated hair tape, and a set of TV tables (which, as you all
know, is the absolute fucking dream of every 11-year-old boy).
But the best gift I
ever got was at the hands of my paternal grandmother, Avis Watts, may
Ceiling Cat devour her soul.
Avis was an
absolute master at economy. For example, since my birthday falls
within a month of Christmas, she would frequently send me a single
gift intended to cover both occasions. On the occasion of which I
speak—my thirteenth birthday, I think it was—she even economized
on the card. I didn’t notice that at first: I tore the wrapping off
the box and extracted a flat leather billfold from within,
and—thinking that perhaps there might be some money inside (what
else would you put in a billfold, hmmm?)—I spread its flaps wide
enough for a little card to fall out of the spot where a more
generous soul might have stuck a twenty. It was not a Christmas card.
It was not a birthday card. It was an invitation to a cocktail
party: at least, it was festooned with cartoon pink elephants and
martini glasses beneath the cheery inscription
YOU CAN MAKE IT!
this, Grandma had added in ball-point
To Christmas and
I opened the card
and read the note within:
me this billfold, but I already have a
billfold so I
thought you might like it for Christmas and
tell your father that Uncle Ernie has died.
I had already
learned a great deal about Christmas during the preceding twelve
years. What Avis taught me was a valuable lesson about family, and it
was this: they suck.
It was a lesson
that has stood the test of time across all the decades between then
and now. Many have been the relationships I’ve co-piloted from
blast-off to burn-out; many the collateral families thrust upon me
like disapproving and destabilizing ballast mid-flight, my coerced
attendance at their interminable Christmas and Thanksgiving
get-togethers only serving to reinforce my conviction
to never have one of
my own (and, doubtless, their own conviction that their daughter
could do so much better). The lesson I learned at my
grandmother’s knee has always stood me in good stead.
Now, oddly, I have
encountered a family that actually, well, doesn’t exactly suck. In
fact, it doesn’t suck at all. It took a while to figure that
out. They had to patiently lure me close in small stages,
as though bribing a
feral and skittish cat with small helpings of tuna. Suddenly I was
curled up at the hearth and there wasn’t a fundamentalist Catholic
or a Burlington banker or a weaponized 9-iron anywhere in sight. So,
reluctantly, it is time to put my grandmother’s lesson away, to set
it free, to bequeath it to others who might still find it useful.
I bequeath it to
you. Treat it well. Heed its wisdom; it is right so much more often
than wrong. In fact, it may be truer now than ever, since I might
just have snatched up the last available kick-ass family on the
Most families suck.
Especially this time of year. It is okay to admit that; it is okay to
tell them to their faces. Have a couple of drinks first: that’ll
make it easier.
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