The Gremlin that tried to ruin Christmas

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Column: Tales From Exit 22

We find Our Hero with one leg in his pants as he hops about trying to catch enough pants to accommodate the other limb.

He didn’t like getting up early. There was no need. He knew that things got done even when he did nothing. His grandfather called it getting up twirly (too early). He got out of bed because it was Christmas morning. He’d be expected.

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He had turned 16. He was one of those unfortunate souls with a birthday near Christmas. He was shorted either on Christmas gifts or on birthday presents.

His free leg found a pants leg and he stumbled down the stairs. He galumphed by the Christmas tree that leaned with the wind blowing through the cracks around the window. He blinked in the light as he walked into the kitchen. The heat from the cookstove hit him like a blast furnace. His mother had made enough food for an army. She’d placed a large bowl of nuts on the table and called it a “joy of almonds.” His father was drooling over the cookies. The old man had been dreaming of a wide Christmas. Our Hero’s younger brother and sister were anticipating opening their presents with a greed that put Scrooge McDuck to shame.

Our Hero radiated an air of coolness and superiority befitting his age. He was too hip to be excited about anything — especially around his parents. The last time that happened was when he swallowed a bee. He believed it was OK to get excited as long as no one else knew about it.

Our Hero occasionally considered money while he was generating bathtub rings. A dollar seemed gigantic when he earned it, puny when others spent theirs. He didn’t know if his parents had any money. If they did, they didn’t spend it. They had to have more money than it seemed. Maybe they’d been saving for a Ford Mustang, that illusive object of his dreams. He passed his driving test on the second try, giving him a driver’s license but no car. He was besotted with the Mustang. That car was the only thing on his mind. Well, it and Michelle Pfeiffer. And Cindy Crawford and sometimes Kim Basinger. He hoped there were keys to a Mustang under the tree.

He watched as his mother slapped his father’s hand and chastised him for sampling the divinity. Deprived of sweets, the old man put his hand on Our Hero’s shoulder and with a smile as wide as the refrigerator, led his son to the front door. He opened it and pointed.

There in the driveway was a car tied in a ribbon. It wasn’t a Mustang. It was an old AMC Gremlin — two-tone in color, either a Jolly Green or Grasshopper Green and rust. It was a deprived car to match Our Hero’s deprived childhood. It was the car of his nightmares.

The snow squeaked under his boots as he walked to the jalopy.

Motivational stories tell of those unwilling to allow anything to dampen their spirits. This wasn’t the case with Our Hero. The sight of the Gremlin dampened his spirits. His spirits were at the bottom of Lake Superior. He wanted to be a chick magnet. The Gremlin would make him the exact opposite.

The Gremlin was dilapidated. It had an unintended sunroof patched with a hunk of tin. The family’s schnauzer had christened each of the tires. Our Hero wanted a car, but not that bad.

The old man was pleased. “It has a little rust but most of it should come off in the first strong wind,” he said encouragingly.

Our Hero was trying to become the person his mother warned him about. It would be impossible to do that while driving a Gremlin.

The old man babbled something about the Gremlin having a manual transmission and because Our Hero didn’t know how to operate a stickshift, the old man would teach him.

Our Hero wanted to run but where? He thought of joining the French Foreign Legion.

They got into the car. The old man started it. The engine purred like a cat with asthma.

The old man headed the Gremlin down the icy drive. The brakes weren’t the best, as the old man discovered when the Gremlin slid into a tree. Nobody was injured but the car was totaled. Not much of an accomplishment. Filling its gas tank had doubled its value.

Christmas doesn’t always live up to expectations. We want things we don’t get. Our Hero never did get his Mustang, but that was OK. At least he never had to drive that Gremlin.

Sometimes the best gift is the one you don’t get.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.