I would go back to those days if I could. I’d love to have lived in those days as an adult, raising my family. Those were easier times, I believe.
If I had to choose a word—stable. Stable parents. Stable home. Stable routines. Everyone was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there, all the time.
I was pretty well insulated as a kid. Certainly shit went on—that’s what shit does, it goes on. And in every family. But in that window of my life—and as childhood really ought to be—Mom and Dad, even my siblings, kept things in pretty idyllic terms in front of me.
My dad had two heart-attacks when I was a kid. I vaguely remember he was sick. But I never heard or saw anything, from anyone, that suggested cause for concern.
My sister got pregnant when she was sixteen. I was four. No doubt it was scandalous at the time, but I knew nothing of that. Life continued to be entirely consistent—sister got married, had a kid … she’d grown up. All is well. Stable.
All the families I knew—again, from my point of view—seemed as stable and consistent. Speaking in today’s language, they were all two-parent homes. Back in those days, two-parent homes were all we knew. The nuclear family.
I did have a very limited purview. We weren’t allowed in Greg’s house; we were afraid to go to Peter’s house.
Hardly ever saw Greg’s parents. Caught a glimpse of his mom every so often, sticking her head out to yell for him to come inside. We always had to stay outside, there. No kids were allowed in. Ever. You have to pee? Greg would point to a hidden pee-spot in a corner garden. If you had to do anything other than pee, well, you were shit out of luck.
I didn’t care that we couldn’t go in the house. Greg’s backyard was the bomb! (And I didn’t mind pissing in the garden.) Landscaped with hills and rocks, mulch and sand, it was perfect for our make believe wars—all of us kids had admirable collections of army men, cowboys and Indians, and GI Joe action figures; horses, field artillery, jeeps and tanks. Greg’s backyard—you’d have to have seen it to fully understand.
Peter’s folks seemed nice enough. We kids were always a little nervous to go over there—his parents were real religious. That was the reason Peter couldn’t come out to play Fridays after school and Saturday. That was the reason Peter had to go to Jew School.
I should explain—
Peter went to the Jewish Community Center once a week for religious classes … “sorta like a Sunday School” he explained to us. Just not on Sunday. Griffin coined it Jew School.
Peter was a good-natured, self-deprecating humor sort of kid. If you’d ever seen the kid’s halting overbite, you’d recognize what a merciful gift that disposition was for him to possess. Peter, himself, began referring to it that way; “I can’t come tomorrow. I’ve got Jew School.”
Mom tried to explain the difference between Peter’s Jewish beliefs, and those of our Christian family. Best I recall, Jesus was the only difference; Christians believe in Him, Jewish people don’t. “And that’s why Peter doesn’t celebrate Christmas,” she explained, “because it’s about Jesus’ birth.”
Made sense. There he is, right there in the manger scene on our hearth each Christmas—baby Jesus, in the middle of it all.
Not sure where Santa Claus fit into our Christmas story. But, I’m damn glad he did! Santa brought the goods in those days! Got a bike from him one year. A real leather football, another. There was the year he gave me a Captain and Tennille tape … sort of sucked on that one. (That gift led to my introduction to the word gay. Greg Griffin, of course. A story for another time.)
Santa went to every kid’s house, as I understood it. The only reason Santa wouldn’t go to your house and leave presents was if you were a bad boy. Parents leverage Santa to get kids to behave. Works, too! I was one respectful and compliant child as Christmas approached. No Elf-on-a-Shelf bullshit. Santa knew! Like he was omniscient.
Really twisted parents would hit you with, “If you don’t behave, I’ll call Santa right now!” Kids were like, Oh shit! Mom has Santa’s number?!?! (My parents never did that to me. Doug may have.)
Peter was a really good kid. He did all that religious stuff and never complained. And obedient? He made sure he was home on time, every time. The kid never got grounded. He was exactly the kind of kid Santa visits. So what gives?
Greg explained that Santa didn’t go to Peter’s house because “Santa doesn’t like Jews.”
I asked Mom. I didn’t have to tell her Greg said it. She knew. And I knew what was coming: “You are not to play with that boy!” That happened … a lot.
Mom assured me, Santa loves everyone. But he only comes to the houses where people believe in him. Like a Santa gospel. Peter’s family’s faith—the Jewish faith—doesn’t believe in Santa. But Christians, like us … we do. And I should tell you, I wasn’t the least bit confused by this. Made all the sense in the world to me. But damn! I’d be missing Greg for a while. And his yard. Mostly his yard.