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Mrs. Gonsalves' Last Christmas

December 21, 2015

 

In an attempt to create a Chubby Chatterbox tradition, I’m repeating this true holiday story first posted in 2011. I hope you enjoy it.

 

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Christmas is that time of year when the pull of my ethnic background is strongest. Dad’s folks weren’t anything in particular, but Mom’s parents were Portuguese and her side of the family always won the weird relative contest.

          

On Christmas day we always converged at our traditional gathering place, the massive family room at my aunt’s house. An entire wall was covered with a Cheers-sized bar, and a ten foot aluminum Christmas tree stood in a corner. A rotating color wheel painted the tree with rainbow colors.

               

The room would be choked with aunts and uncles, along with first and second and third cousins, most of whom I never saw at any other time of the year. Reigning over the festivities was the family matriarch, Mrs. Gonsalves. I have no idea how she arrived because I don’t remember a Mr. Gonsalves, but she was treated like a monarch: no liquor or food was served until after she’d made her entrance.

               

How I was related to her is a mystery, but Mrs. Gonsalves looked old enough to have led Adam and Eve out of Eden. Her voice was a croak, and she usually spoke in incomprehensible Portuguese. She stood about four feet tall and was always shrouded in the cheerless colors of a grave. Her hawkish features were usually covered by a black shawl as she sat in a seat of honor, hardly moving or talking until people forgot she was there.

               

In 1962 I was ten years old, and one of those who’d forgotten she was there. She’d been seated near a bowl of M&Ms and I’d wandered over to fill my pockets. I was surprised when her withered hand sprang from the shawl and latched onto my chubby arm. She pulled me so close that I could see hairs on the mole beside her pointed nose. At first I thought she was going to scold me for eating too much—I got a lot of that—but what she said was far more disturbing and set my chins to quivering. She whispered, “This is my laaast Christmas!”

               

I shook free, burst into tears and bolted from the room.

               

In the kitchen, Mom was preparing a Portuguese delicacy, roasted pork that had been marinated longer than the time it took to embalm King Tut. She saw me wiping away tears and asked, “What’s wrong?”

               

“Mrs. Gonsalves just told me something sad,” I said.

               

“I’m busy right now, so out with it. What did she say?”

               

I gulped. “She said this was going to be her last Christmas. Did you know she was going to die?”

               

My mother stopped what she was doing and snorted. “That old bat told me the same thing—when I was your age.”

               

When I returned to the family room, Mrs. Gonsalves winked at me.

               

Many of those gathered that Christmas day in ‘62 are now gone, including Mrs. Gonsalves. But she did manage to survive another twenty-three Christmases.

 

 

 

Chubby Chatterbox, Christmas 1967

 

 

 

 

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Comments

19 Comments
You are so good at these stories, I had missed this.
By: Tabor on December 21, 2015
You're gifted with an amazing memory. How you recall the tiniest detail is bewildering. Your ability of stringing together events, dates, time and who said what leaves me baffled in wonder.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 21, 2015
I think I can answer Daniel for you...what you can't remember you make up and you make it up really well. That's just a guess. Either way, great story well told. Merry Christmas!!
By: cranky on December 21, 2015
Oh my god, 23 more Christmases? Unbelievable. When I was growing up, my mother's entire extended family spent Sunday's at my grandparent's house. By the time I was 7, every time we left, I would say "See you next week" and my grandmother would shrug, unconvinced, and say, "God willing." I left depressed and concerned every week. However, god was apparently willing for nearly another 30 years. Thanks load, Grandma and Mrs. Gonsalves!
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 21, 2015
love this! I can visualize that room crowded and noisy and lots of good cheer! She must have been a character! Merry Christmas!
By: Kathe W. on December 21, 2015
she sounded like a character. :)
By: TexWisGirl on December 21, 2015
I think I remember this story; but in any case, it's a great one!
By: Tom Sightings on December 21, 2015
Is it safe to assume that your mother did not inherit her sense of humor?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on December 21, 2015
23 more "last Christmases" would have given her a chance to see a lot of M&M grabbing and to enjoy the vibe of what sounded like a festive gathering. A Merry Christmas-and many more to you!
By: Tom Cochrun on December 21, 2015
I remember this one but it's just as good this year.
By: Catalyst on December 21, 2015
Still an excellent story, and the old bat probably loved to scare children!
By: messymimi on December 21, 2015
That's a hilarious story. What a wicked little wench. It was also a good way to keep you for swiping more M&Ms. Thanks for the laugh. Thank you also for the condolences. Merry Christmas.
By: Robyn Engel on December 21, 2015
Did you stay away from her those other 23 Christmases? Or did the call of the M&Ms outweigh the fear of the "dying" Mrs. Gonsalves?
By: Val on December 21, 2015
That's just mean. What's wrong with people? Sometimes I'm really glad I'm a hermit and rarely go out.
By: Lexa Cain on December 22, 2015
I think I would have run away crying myself after that! She probably thought she was pulling a good one on you.
By: Terri on December 22, 2015
That would have spooked me, too!
By: Pixel Peeper on December 22, 2015
What a great story. A lot of times I could tell if a grownup was pulling my let, but I bet Mrs. Gonsalves could have gotten one over on me too. R
By: Rick Watson on December 22, 2015
What a great story! Now I'd like to know how your relationship with her was for those 23 following years :) And you are a lefty? And clearly already deep into art at an early age.
By: jenny_o on December 23, 2015
Lovely story... How old was she when she finally died.
By: Jeff on December 25, 2015

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