Christmas, California, and Charlie (#553)

Img_0794_2 We have never made too much about Santa to Charlie (which, I suppose, means that we do not have to worry about telling him that there really isn’t a Santa). When Charlie was preschool age, we considered standing in the lines at the mall to have Charlie meet Santa and pose for his picture. Rather than putting him through a possible ordeal of a long wait, only to have to sit on some red and white clothed stranger’s lap (while we said hastily “he has autism“) and have to answer questions (“Have you been good this year?”) that Charlie does not use to words to express—we have opted out with a “maybe next year.” Charlie has never been one for gifts: The several mondo-sized squishy balls, Ravensburger puzzles, and the pack of sushi my parents and relatives gave to him were all things he certainly wants and knows he wants. Explaining to Charlie about Mary and Joseph and the birth of Christ is a project we are just beginning.

Christmas means family, means California: As I told one of my cousins (he is in his first year of college) yesterday, I have not lived in California since 1986. One transcontinental airplane ride a year is quite enough for Charlie and us; except for last year when we flew out in October for my grandmother’s 100th birthday party, we always visit at Christmas, and we always go to the cemetery.

We go up the winding road to a certain slope that faces west where there is a double headstone reading CHEW across the top. Yeh Yeh, my father’s father, came to rest here in 1975: “From here,” my father told me then, “Yeh Yeh can look all the way back to China.” From up high on the mountain Berkeley and San Francisco stretch out, in sunshine or in fog, and beyond them the Pacific, and the China Yeh Yeh must get to look at.

My grandmother Ngin Ngin’s mother’s headstone is nearby. Great Uncle #1’s is further down the hill with its neat lines of Chinese characters. A minute away are where my mother’s grandparents are buried, and my uncle’s brother, who died young and years ago.
Charlie burst out of the blue car and immediately ran down the slope over grass and gravestones, then up and back down and up again. With the hood of his blue jacket pulled over his head, he looked (Jim laughed) like a cosmonaut, ready to jet off over the Golden Gate Bridge (maybe). My relatives, most of whom have not seen Charlie in over a year, remarked about how tall he has grown (he has); an aunt gave him a DVD of Peter and the Wolf and a children’s ballet; “flow’rs inn,” said Charlie, as he stuck some carnations into the container for Yeh Yeh.

Charlie used to like to walk on a balance beam and he does seem a bit more at ease when we are high up out in nature, above it all. We walked to another part of the cemetery—with the passing years, there are more graves to bring flowers to, more good-byes having been said—Charlie plodding through the grass and soaking his socks.

Many of the names on the gravestones were Asian and, in particular, Vietnamese; others were those of someone’s son who had been born in 1975; Jim and I paused to read a large stone with photos of a husband and wife, he a businessman and ski-shop owner with an Irish surname, she Italian in origin, a vaudeville performer, a fudge maker. “Bue car, Gong Gong red coat,” said Charlie and we drove to another spot where the gravestone read simply “We love you.”
“Ee uvvoo,” repeated Charlie.

We sat at two round tables with my family and had fu juk soup, two kinds of chow fun, steamed eggs with mi fun, choy green as spring. We went back to my parents’ house where Charlie was briefly anxious when, just as he was about to watch an old Sesame Street video he had run to find soon as we arrived on Saturday, my sister and her boyfriend appeared; Charlie watched the video, did his pirate puzzle, and handed out presents. We ate another meal on card tables in my aunt’s large family room with exactly the same relatives we had just had lunch with. One cousin is just Charlie’s age and remembered riding her bike with him when he was still on a trike; Charlie gave Ngin-Ngin (“Bahk Po” to him) one of his “armless hugs” good-bye.

“Gong Gong house, bird!” said Charlie. It was late but holidays are holidays and I rewound the old Sesame Street video as Charlie knelt with squishy balls and a blanket on the couch, and as the video started his face changed—worry was smoothed away—we had made it through another holiday.

Altogether, here in the hills of California.

6 Responses to “Christmas, California, and Charlie (#553)”
  1. Julia says:

    Sam isn’t big on lots of presents, either. Many of his (but also many of his siblings’) are still unopened. The one he liked the best was the copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

    There’s a domino set in another gift bag that he hasn’t gotten to, that will probably go over well.

    We’ll see how he likes the Tinker Toys. (Building toys with teeny-tiny pieces are a bad idea right now, as his sister likes to walk around with little things in her mouth — a month or two ago, she pulled the little tires off a car an older child had gotten in a fast-food meal, and was walking around with little tires in her mouth. The tires and the car went promptly into the trash. Sam received a Lego mosaic set that we will have to supervise use of very, very closely, due to sister’s proclivities. He gets to use the little big-kid Legos at school, as his reward for completing his tasks, but has to settle for the Duplo-sized ones at home.)

    Sister and little brother got presents that make noise — actually, uncle got a toy that sister has taken over (and he plans to leave here for her — he got lots of stuff for Sam, but one toy for the twins to share). The noisemaking toys may need to be put away at times. There’s plenty of time during the week when they’re home and Sam is not, plenty of time for unpleasant noisemaking toys with him out of the house.

    (And everyone here is all about puzzles. Lots of jigsaw puzzles this Christmas for the little ones, 3-D tic-tac-toe for Daddy, which Sam is very interested in, and I’m going to see about fulfilling my own wish for a 5X5X5 Rubik’s cube this afternoon by going to the store at the outlet mall that had them a week ago and seeing if I can get one for less than they were asking then.)

  2. I don’t for sure when I ceased to believe in Santa Claus or if I ever really truly did. I suspect his non existence would have been a bit of logical deduction on my part exercised as a piece of detective work in concert with my Brother who would have thus been enlightened a whole 18 months prior to me in age terms.

    I never ceased completely to believe in Jesus Christ however, than God.

  3. mcewen says:

    We have the armless hug, sort of a full body blow, but it seems to be slightly more socially acceptable that the ‘reversing back into spoons’ mode which is often mis-interpreted. Cheers

  4. Clay says:

    Edith Rose, whenever we would ask her what she wanted Santa Claus to bring her, would respond with “Ice cream. Toys for sissy.”
    She would also repeatedly say “Santa Clause comming bring toys to good girls”. She also has been proned to say “Santa Claus, ho ho ho Merry Christmas” (the “Christmas” gets a bit mangled due to her speech problems, but she gets her point across). As to whether or not Edith really knows who Santa Claus is or is just repeating phrases she has heard, I don’t know.

    She didn’t ever show any excitement about Christmas day and presents. She woke up her usual early time and responded yes when her mother asked her if she wanted to see what Santa brought. But, she did not hurry downstairs. Once she saw the drum set we got her she did show some happiness. She immediately sat down and began singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” while banging out the rhythm on the tom tom and the snare, ending with a crash of the cymbal. For some reason, Edith likes drums. Good we could use a drummer in our family. She also got a Fisher Price laptop that teaches abc’s, phonics and has games. We’ll have to wait and see how well that goes over.

    As for Jesus, she repeats with me her night time prayer to Jesus and tries to execute the sign of the cross, she’ll get it on day.
    She even says before we pray, “pray to Jeesaw”. Like Santa, I don’t know if she actually knows who Jesus or God is. We keep plodding along hoping that sooner or later she will learn. I like to think that Jesus has other ways to reach her and has been talking to her since she was born so she already knows him. Who knows.

  5. A drum set—have thought about that often for Charlie (who definitely got his share of puzzles, not yet a Rubik’s cube). I suppose potential noise has left us wary of actually getting him one (yet). Jim has said the Lord’s Prayer almost every night with Charlie and he can recite (in rather imperfect pronunciation, but you can tell by the rhythm) about half of it (working on the rest).

  6. Clay says:


    I know what you mean about the noise. But, I would much rather put up with the bang of drums, than Edith’s angry screams or the bang of her head on the floor.

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