There are a few things that are more-or-less given at the holiday season. One is that you will get socks and underwear from your grandparents (if you are lucky enough to still have them around to give you gifts), another is that someone is bound to wax nostalgic for the movie A Christmas Story, and one is that every theater guild in the world, and television station will insist on totting out the Dickens in one or more of its incarnations. To that short, but inevitable, list I wish to add the perennial return of The Bergquist Christmas Eve Story. Perhaps one day this will be as loved/reviled (take your pick) as any other holiday classic.
I have told this story to friends and family for years and even posted it on my blog a few times. Every year, someone asks me to tell the story again, and every year I get emails asking if I am going to post the story again to my blog. The answer to both questions is "yes." So, here it is.
The Bergquist Christmas Eve Story
By Don Bergquist
Unlike the most of the stories you're subjected to this season, this Christmas Story is true; and none of that namby-pamby changing the names to protect the innocent! I am telling this tale bare, unvarnished, and exactly as it happened.
Our story begins on Christmas Eve, 1969. The place is Miami, Florida; we're in the kitchen of the Bergquist household on Southwest 122nd Avenue in that section of the city quaintly known as Village Green. The time is shortly before nine pm (I guess, I'm only six… I can't tell time) and the reason we are here is to watch the aftermath of a crime. The Bergquist children are in trouble. Again…
The entire Bergquist brood; my sister, Mary, my brothers, Denis and Chip, and I are all lined up against the kitchen wall. We're a police line-up in miniature. Dad is doing his best Colombo impersonation as he strides back and forth before us. It seems that my parents have just discovered the crime.
Someone has carved two small (practically invisible, really) notches into the top drawer of one of the cabinets. Mom is off in another room somewhere. Wherever she has gone we can still hear her ranting. She is "so mad she could spit tacks" as she says. (Something all of us would love to see if she can really do... but none of us ever has had the nerve to ask her to demonstrate.) She cannot believe that she gave birth to someone who could be so dastardly. (Though, these are not the exact words she is using, it more-or-less conveys her intent. I've cleaned it up a bit because this is a family blog!)
"Now, here, you see," he says holding one of his carving knives," we have a dulled knife." It really is dramatic how he brandishes the knife at us.
"And over here," he says, putting the knife on the counter right above the drawer and indicating the damage to the wood "you see the notches in the kitchen drawer."
Dad displays the evidence as he explains it to us and then looks at us expectantly. His intention is clear. But that doesn't stop him from stating the obvious. "One of you has carved these notches with this knife. I will find out who did this. One of you will admit to it or one of you will tell me who did it!" We've all seen the TV show. We know he is waiting for one of us to crack, but we just stand there looking at him.
Well... Mary, Denis and I look at him. Chip just kind of fidgets. I'm not sure that he has made the connection between our current predicament and the Colombo television show we watch each week.
Now, about this time, I expect that you are saying to yourself "But, Don..." which is strange, unless your name happens to be "Don" and you are in the habit of talking to yourself, but I digress…
You're probably asking yourself "Don't your parent's see your name written all over this one? Aren't you the trouble maker in the group? Shouldn't they know that they should at least suspect you? Have I asked enough rhetorical questions for you to resume the narrative yet?" to which I say this:
"You sure ask a lot of dumb questions! Whose story is this anyway? Would ya let me tell it?"
No, but seriously! My point is that you are right. They should know that I am guilty! They should just naturally assume their troubled middle son did this. But no! My parents are idiots! My siblings and I cannot believe how incredibly, excruciatingly, unbelievably, mind-numbingly dim our parents actually are! We keep fearing that the men from the government will some day arrive at our door and inform our parents that they are just to nit-witted to have children and we will never see them again! But that is another story. Back to the kitchen.
So here we are, all cool as cucumbers (you know; the little kind that they make sweet pickles out of) standing against the kitchen wall and none of us willing to speak up and claim responsibility. Dad is livid. "Okay, then" he decrees "we'll just let you sit here and think about it. When one of you wants to tell us what happened, your mother and I will be in the living room."
The idea here, you see, is to let us think about the ways that they might punish us and have us turn against each other so that the guilty party would turn themselves in. It is a sort of mental manipulation that one day the yet-to-be created Homeland Security Administration will call extreme rendition and will be ruled by many to be torture. But on the eve of the seventies, this is still called "childrearing."
Dad's plan is devious enough for me to appreciate, but not good enough to trap me (uh, I mean to trap the guilty party whoever that might be…) into confessing. (Please note that all I have admitted to at this point is that they should suspect me.)
And so, we sit here.
…and sit here…
…and sit here…
My brothers and sister probably wondering who had done it, how the guilty party will be punished, if whoever did it will go free, or what is on TV that we are missing. The point is that we each sit here each thinking our own thoughts in silence.
My thoughts are on Santa Claus. I know that he is on his way and that he will not be stopping at our house if the Bergquist children are still in the kitchen when he makes it to Miami! I have to think of some way to get us out of the kitchen so that we can all enjoy Christmas. It is a selfless act, if I must say so myself. (And apparently none of you are going to say it for me...)
"Look," I say to Chip, eying my elder siblings conspicuously and lowering my voice to a conspiratorial tone, "Chip, we've got to get out of this Kitchen before Santa makes it to Florida or there will be no Christmas here. Now, I would go out there now and tell Mom and Dad that I did it, just to get us out to the kitchen you understand, but you see the laws in the state of Florida say that any kid over the age of six can be legally killed by their parents for acting this bad." I look to my elder siblings for support. I think they just want to see what is going on. Or perhaps they are still thinking about what is on TV. The result is the same... not a word of back-up!
"Now, whichever of them," I continue jerking my thumb at Mary and Denis, "did this horrible thing to Dad's kitchen is in for it! They're old enough that they are goners for sure! You don't want Mom and Dad to kill whichever one of them did this, now do you?" Mary and Denis eye each other. I think that they are following my impeccable logic and thinking that I may have hit on something here. Or perhaps they are thinking that my parents' idiocy had passed down to at least one of the members of our generation.
"As I said, I'd tell them that I did this, but I can be legally killed." I say again. "Now, who do we know who is under six years old who could save Mary or Denis...?"
"I'm three and a quarter." Chip says proudly.
"That's right! You are only three..."
"Three and a quarter!" Chip corrects indignantly.
"You're thee and a quarter" I amend." So you're too young to be killed and since you're the youngest and the cutest they would let you get away with anything. You could tell them you did it and save Mary or Denis... whichever of them has done this horrible thing!"
It is a lovely plan! I am really proud of it. I am still basking in the glow of my own genius when, only seconds after Chip left the kitchen Dad comes back with Chip in tow. He explains exactly how unlikely it is that Chip is actually guilty. He is way too short to reach the knives. He isn't able to reach the drawer. And he can produce no reason he would want to do what he has claimed to have done. No, Dad, for all his lack of mental capacity had seen right through my beautiful plan. Chip is allowed to leave the kitchen and the time passes.
And I'll tell you: coming up with a Plan B isn't easy, what with the minuscule half-life of my Plan A, with the prospect of Santa bypassing our little house on 122nd Avenue, and with Chip dancing around outside the kitchen door as if to say "Ha ha! I don't have to stay in the kitchen because I'm young, cute, and they love me! Oh, and by the way, the Christmas cookies are out here. Ninny-nanny-boo-boo!"
I have to have a Plan B and I need it now! (If for no other reason than to get out of the kitchen so I can thump my brother for so horribly spoiling my beautiful Plan A!)
I look at my siblings, I look at the drawer, I look at the dog... nope, nothing there I could use. I look at the clock. I can't actually tell time yet, but it seems that it is getting late. And then I have it! It is a lovely plan. It is simple, it is elegant, and best of all it will work! There is no way for Plan B to fail!
So, what is plan B? It is the best performance of my six-year career of being a world-class trouble maker. It is worthy of an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, a Golden Globe, or whatever awards you might want to hand me! What can I say!? I am brilliant!
I cry! I flop apoplectic against the kitchen wall. I throw a full-blown Class-A tantrum. I scream and point in the general area of a spot on the wall midway between where my elder siblings are standing and shout that whichever of them has done this horrible thing to the cabinet drawer should just admit it and get it over with. Midnight mass is coming up soon and it is my favorite mass of the year. I want to go to midnight mass tonight. If we don't get out of the kitchen we are going to miss mass and it will be all their fault.
Miraculously (and who says that there are no miracles any more... it is Christmas Eve after all) I am right... it is getting late (I did tell you that I can't tell time, right?). Mom and Dad come into the kitchen, herd us each off to the bath, then into our Christmas Eve finery, and then off to church. The incident is never mentioned again. Santa will stop at the Bergquist household this night and all will be, if not actually forgotten or forgiven, at least not discussed in polite company again.
And I want to go on the record once again. I didn't admit to it then, I haven't admitted to it now. I just can't imagine who did this horrible thing. Not on Christmas Eve, at least!
Wherever you are today, I wish you a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday of your choice.