A Christmas memory from a playlist: Happy 21st birthday, little brother
It’s happened a lot in the past several days. I’ve been listening to a lot of music. As the songs pass, I inevitably have a strong memory associated with a few. Meeting new friends. Childhood memories from a schoolbus. Unrequited love. High school. College parties.
This is a fun one, even though the beginning of the story might not seem so.
When I was seven, Christmas of 1992, I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real. It wasn’t through any sort of intentional revelation on the part of my parents. It was more of a circumstance. My mom was pregnant, and according to the doctors, my little brother was due on Christmas day. As I learned later, according to the original ultrasounds, he was due a week earlier, but because the local doctors were apparently used to seeing goliath babies, they pushed the predicted due date back. Truly, when my brother was born, I remember my mom telling me he was the smallest full-term baby in the whole nursery. And really, he wasn’t that small. Seven pounds and (I think) four ounces, he was only a little smaller than I was when I was born, and I was (literally) a poster child for the hospital I was born at…I had an exceptionally round head for a newborn.
When my brother was born, my biggest concern was ruining my singular perfect attendance record at school. I’d never gone the first half of a school year without getting sick and missing a day of school, and the birth of my baby brother be damned, I wasn’t about to, especially since it was so very close to Christmas break.
My mom went into labor the morning of December 18, very early, and off the whole family went to the hospital. I don’t remember anything of my three-year-old sister’s experience of this event, even though she was there. I don’t even know if she remembers anything about it. Perhaps I should ask her the next time I see her.
What was most important to me, though, as I said, was not missing school. Perfect attendance was always so lauded, and this was the closest I’d ever been, and I was really more perturbed that my little brother decided to come along before the end of term and compromise that for me. I was seven, ok? And I was (and really, still am) a huge little bookworm nerd who liked school and liked to learn.
We lived in Washington (the state) at the time, and my dad had reconnected with an old Air Force friend of his who, I was told, had left the military after his then-current commitment had expired and went back to school. When I was really little, he was pretty much family. I called him “Uncle Richard,” and had my family been religious, I imagine he’d have been my godfather. When we all trekked to the hospital on that early December morning, he arrived as moral support and to help keep an eye on me and my sister in the waiting room. Eventually, he was my ride to school. I don’t remember too many specifics about it all; mostly that I was massively grateful that my dad was letting (?!) me go to school that day to maintain my attendance record (any other kid would have likely not given a shit or been happy to have an awesome excused absence like that). I do remember that he drove a truck and had a classic rock station on the radio. I also remember that I knew and sang along with a lot of the songs, though I don’t remember what songs they were now. I do remember Uncle Richard’s impressed demeanor of my familiarity and enjoyment of the music, though.
The rest of my family also knew of my brother’s impending arrival. Both of my grandmothers had arrived to help with Christmas and the new baby. My mom’s mom (“Grandma”) arrived, and, as I was the oldest and the only other one than my parents with a proper bed in the whole house, was displaced to the couch so that Grandma could sleep in my bed. When my dad’s mom (“Nanny”) arrived a couple days later, I was to be displaced to the floor, except that she came down with horrible food poisoning from the airline meal she’d eaten. As a result, Nanny slept in my bed, and Grandma slept on the floor on an air mattress she’d packed to take care of my ill Nanny. On Christmas Eve, they took Nanny to the ER because she hadn’t stopped being sick for days. The result of this was that I slept on the couch (poorly, with all of the moving about), and witnessed the bringing in of the “Santa” presents.
One of these presents included an electronic Casio keyboard. I didn’t properly know how to play the piano, but I’d always enjoyed playing with the one my Nanny had when we lived with her and Grandpa a year or so beforehand, making up little songs and messing around with all of the preset beats and synth features it had. That Christmas, the keyboard was more or less my “big present.”
I remember feigning sleep on the couch as my parents brought it in from outside and set it up. Had it been marked from anyone but Santa, I’d have been none the wiser for at least another year. But when I awoke the next morning, it had a tag on it, marked from Saint Nick himself. And that’s how I learned Santa wasn’t real. I pretended for another couple of years, cunning child I was, but I realized that as long as I had younger siblings who believed, I could reap the benefits regardless.
Although, I imagine many of you are still wondering about the title. What song from a playlist triggered this memory? Surely, it was a holiday song…this being a Christmas story, and all.
The song is “Smoke on the Water,” by Deep Purple.
The riff from the song was the first thing I learned to play on my Casio. Because it was the first thing my dad learned to play on a guitar (I think) he sort of teased me and told me to play it. I knew the tune, so I worked it out.
So for that reason, “Smoke on the Water” will always be associated in my mind with two things: the birth of my little brother and the year I learned there was no Santa Claus. I’m not even mad.
Happy birthday, little brother. I owe you a beer.