It was first grade, and I was six years old. A small group of us gathered around a tiny table with miniature colored chairs and started to beam about our Christmas vacation. There were approximately six of us around the table performing some first grade activity with a teacher with building blocks. Once the activity was done, the teacher asked us all to go around and talk about what we did for the holidays.
“What did you all get for Christmas this year?” the teacher asked enthusiastically.
We all still believed in Santa. Therefore, we bragged about how we heard his sleigh on our roof, and one kid could have sworn he saw a little red glow on his front lawn in the snow.
“I got so many Tonka trucks from Santa!” one kid squealed.
I was still giddy about my Barbie’s that sat under the Christmas tree that morning. One girl shouted that she got an American Girl Doll and I scowled with jealousy. I had always wanted one. I eventually got one a couple of years later.
Then all of our faces turned to Thomas. A boy with dark, disheveled hair and a permanent fruit punch stain on his polo shirt. He stared down at his hands and fingers, nervously biting his lip. I know what you’re probably thinking. Thomas’ situation was probably so sad and unfortunate. Quite the contrary. Thomas actually came from an extremely rich family. His house was insane and overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. So no, you can scratch that idea out of your head. He was no Charlie Bucket. We all knew this too, so we waited patiently until the teacher finally made him speak.
“I got coal this year.”
Wait. That shit’s real?
That was the first time I ever met someone who received coal for Christmas. I mean, good job to the parents! If that doesn’t straighten your kid out, I don’t know what does. But I could see the looks on the other kids faces like, “Damn. I didn’t think that was a thing. I better be extra good from now on.”
I know I mentioned in an earlier post that my mother would sometimes screw with me if I was being a brat by saying she saw a creepy, wrinkly elf in the window watching me like a pedophile and he would report to Santa that I should receive coal. That always worked on me to begin with. But actually witnessing a fellow child receive coal made my heart stop. I think I always questioned my mother’s statements about the elves, but this had confirmed it for me.
IT WAS ALL REAL.
Let’s just say, I was an angel growing up. My mother always says she has very few complaints. I think a portion of that had to do with Thomas’ parents and the gift-giving of coal. I never wanted to be that kid.
Don’t forget to send me your holiday stories for the holiday contest by December 24th to firstname.lastname@example.org!