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Her Last Christmas

December 24, 2012
Christmas is that time of year when the pull of my ethnic background is the strongest. Dad’s folks weren’t anything in particular but Mom’s parents were Portuguese and her side of the family always won the weird relative contest.


On Christmas day we always converged at our traditional gathering place, the massive family room at my aunt’s house. An entire wall was covered with a Cheers-sized bar, and a ten foot tall aluminum Christmas tree stood in a corner. A rotating color wheel painted the tree with rainbow colors.


The room would be choked with aunts and uncles, along with first and second and third cousins, most of whom I never saw at any other time of the year. Reigning over the festivities was the family matriarch, Mrs. Gonsalves. I have no idea how she arrived because I don’t remember a Mr. Gonsalves, but she was treated like a monarch: no liquor or food was served until after she’d made her entrance.


How I was related to her is a mystery, but Mrs. Gonsalves looked old enough to have led Adam and Eve out of Eden. Her voice was a croak, and she usually spoke in incomprehensible Portuguese. She stood about four feet tall and was always shrouded in the cheerless colors of a grave. Her hawkish features were usually covered by a black shawl as she sat in a seat of honor, hardly moving or talking until people forgot she was there.


In 1962 I was ten years old, and one of those who’d forgotten she was there. She’d been seated near a bowl of M&Ms and I’d wandered over to fill my pockets. I was surprised when her withered hand sprang from the shawl and latched onto my chubby arm. She pulled me so close that I could see hairs on the mole beside her pointed nose. At first I thought she was going to scold me for eating too much—I got a lot of that—but what she said was far more disturbing and set my chins to quivering. She whispered, “This is my laaast Christmas!”


I shook free, burst into tears and bolted from the room.


In the kitchen, Mom was preparing a Portuguese delicacy, roasted pork marinated longer than the time it took to embalm King Tut. She saw me wiping away tears and asked, “What’s wrong?”


“Mrs. Gonsalves just told me something,” I said.


“I’m really busy right now, so out with it. What did she say?”


I gulped. “She said this was going to be her last Christmas. Did you know she was going to die?”


My mother stopped what she was doing and snorted. “That old bat told me the same thing—when I was your age.”


When I returned to the family room Mrs. Gonsalves winked at me.


Many of those gathered that Christmas day in ‘62 are now gone, including Mrs. Gonsalves. But she did manage to survive another twenty-three Christmases.




Chubby Chatterbox 1967


Wishing you many more Merry Christmases!


Mrs. Gonsalves knew how to create her own bit of fun, methinks. Merry Christmas!
By: Shelly on December 24, 2012
I remember you writing about her. Yep, when we're young we think someone that's 40 is older than dirt. Funny how that changes when we get older. I'm 61 now and feel like a teenager most of the time. My body doesn't know I'm a teenager though. Just saying. A delightful post as always. May you and yours have a wonderful Christmas. :)
By: Comedy Plus on December 24, 2012
I think this quote from Gertrude Stein fits Mrs. Gonsalves--it CERTAINLY fits me: "We are always the same age inside."
By: fishducky on December 24, 2012
Great story Stephen- I only had one Grandmother by the time I was 4 years old- and both Grandpas had passed away years before- so you were lucky to have such an extended family! And hooo boy did your Grandma have fun scaring the daylights outta not only you but also your Mom and lots of others I am sure! Have a great Christmas and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more stories!
By: Kathe W. on December 24, 2012
The good news is that your posts are now arriving via email. What a great photo of you! Have a wonderful Christmas!
By: LL COOL JOE on December 24, 2012
Merry Christmas! And i hope you are around for a lot more than 23, and that i am here to still read your writings.
By: messymimi on December 24, 2012
Reminds me of my favorite line in "Little Big Man" when the old indian went up the mountian to die but returned after several hours of waiting, "Sometimes the magic dosen't work." Terrific story Merry Christmas
By: Cranky on December 24, 2012
Wow! she got you good! Great story.
By: Eva Gallant on December 24, 2012
This is my laaaaaaast Christmassss . . . because maybe I won't decorate next year if I don't feel like it. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 24, 2012
I've had days when I felt like that, too. But a massage, a good meal, and an adult beverage will usually (so far) keep me going awhile longer. :) Merry Christmas my friend. S
By: scott park on December 24, 2012
Mrs. Gonsalves had a really wicked sense of humor. Holy crap...she lived another 23 years. I was also ten years old in 1962. BTW I don't think you look chubby at all.
By: Cheryl P. on December 24, 2012
every family has one....Merry Christmas to you and Mrs. C. Laurel
By: Laurel on December 24, 2012
Oh those Portuguese ... a barrel of laughs. Maybe because they live so long! Merry Christmas to you and yours!
By: Tom Sightings on December 24, 2012
another good story Stephen. wishing you and your family a very merry christmas.
By: Fran on December 24, 2012
What a way to scare an impressionable little kid! If she really had died soon after, you might have been scarred for life. Merry Christmas to you and Mrs. Chatterbox.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 24, 2012
I remember reading that one last year. It's too bad all my immediate family is plain old boring American, though most of my mom's side is like Clark Griswold's redneck brother-in-law in "Christmas Vacation"
By: PT Dilloway on December 24, 2012
Love your story. It vivdly illustrates the way a child's mind interprets thinks. so if Mrs Gonsalves can make 23 more Christmases, I'm sure the rest of us will be around for more good times. I notice the young artist is left handed. cool. Enjoy your Christmas.
By: Red on December 24, 2012
nothing like a little terror to add to the holiday excitement, eh? well may this year be fright free and completely merry for you.
By: lime on December 24, 2012
Another amazing story! Have a great Christmas with your family!
By: Crack You Whip on December 24, 2012
Oh, what a great story. That is exactly why she was the queen...she knew how to create an atmosphere :) What a flare for drama she had!
By: Kianwi on December 25, 2012
A vivid memory, and so nicely told. A great piece of Christmas heritage. By the way, the roasted Pork sounds wonderful.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 25, 2012
OMG, we had a color wheel too. I used to gaze at the tree for hours wishing I was in a different family. :-)
By: Venita on December 25, 2012
Great story.. she was the original drama queen! Love the photo of you from '67.
By: Hilary on December 26, 2012
The more I hear of other people's families, the more I realize that I've been very blessed to have been born into a family with relatively few loons. Sure, there are the occasional off-kilter folks scattered here and there, but most of their insanity was self-inflicted (alcohol, drugs) and was cleared up as soon as the bottle or the pills disappeared. In any case, we never had anyone making predictions concerning their impending death (other than to say, "You'll take away my whiskey over my cold dead body!").
By: Suldog on December 26, 2012
My mother-in-law has been telling everyone she is dying for the last twenty years, yet she is still here - I suspect she will outlive us all. Wishing you and your family a happy Christmas and New Year.
By: Bryan Jones on December 27, 2012
This came via email--hurray! (I am quite behind with the holidays.) She sounds like a character. I am a year older than you--born in '51. You were anything but chubby wen you were fifteen and I am jealous that you had an easel and art supplies!! Kudos!! ;)
By: Rita McGregor on December 27, 2012
I've got a relative like that. She's sworn for the past twenty years that she just knows that God will take her soon. God seems to have other ideas, as she's still alive and well.
By: Patricia on December 27, 2012

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