The Closet In the Basement

On my ninth Christmas Eve, my parents went out— probably to finish Christmas shopping. They had put Arnold, my 17-year-old oldest brother in charge of my other brother, Hans, and me. Arnold told me he wanted to show me something in the basement. It was thrilling following him and Hans down the stairs. My brothers actually wanted to do something with me for once! This could go either very well or very badly.

Our basement has this closet in one corner that was locked year-round. That was where they led me. The door of the closet is made of raggedy, gnarled barn board slats. Up until that night, I was always scared of that door. It looked like what a gate to Hell looks like in old movies, you know? Now that I think about it, one of my brothers probably planted that image in my head.

Hans inserted a key into the lock, then threw open the door. Christmas presents! Tons of them in various states of dress. We ogled the ones that weren’t wrapped, and Hans showed me how to carefully peel back the Scotch tape from the presents that were.

Before I peeked at my first present though, Arnold prepped me on how to act surprised when I opened the gifts the next morning: “Remember exactly how you feel when you see what’s inside, Nathan. That way you can recreate it when you open this in front of Mom and Dad.” I had to ask what recreate meant. Once they told me, I couldn’t get over how smart my brothers were.

After we had our fill looking at the presents, we patted the tape back down. Arnold locked the closet door. When my parents came home that night, we were primly seated in front of the television, quiet as mice.

*****

A few weeks ago, Arnold told me he is moving to Seattle. It’s really good news. He needs a change. His announcement just shook me and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered the night my brothers showed me the Christmas closet.

That’s the memory that comes back to me whenever I walk into my parents’ house and see the presents under their tree. Now that even my niece and nephew are adults, the holidays are less about presents and more about appreciating being together as a family.

That’s what jolted me about Arnold’s announcement. His moving to Seattle is the beginning of the end of that. His son and daughter will still be in Michigan. He’s not abandoning us, but his Christmas visits will inevitably dwindle. I’ll feel his absence. I’ll want to go down to that basement and throw open that creepy closet door hoping Arnold’s in there waiting to surprise us.

 

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25 thoughts on “The Closet In the Basement

  1. I remember feeling sad when I realized that our family traditions had been changing little by little with each graduation, marriage, birth, etc until one year, I realized our holidays looked nothing like they did when I was a kid. But maybe this will set your family up for new traditions. In any event, I loved this story. Great job!

    1. I have no right to be all sad about this. I’m the one who moved away from them 12 years ago. Still, I counted on my family sticking together. I suppose that was selfish of me. Thanks for your comment.

  2. You brought back so many memories here from my own childhood, so sweet! It’s hard when the family is broken up and moves away. Things always change but there are new memories to be made!

  3. When you talked of your brother taking you to the scary closet in the basement, I thought it was going to go in a different direction. Like when my brothers asked me to play Cowboys and Indians. That ended up in the basement, too. Happy your story turned out better than mine in the long run.

    1. When the budget allows, yes, I will go to Seattle. Unfortunately, my parents and other brother don’t like to fly. So it will be either/or. Either I go home and celebrate the holidays with my parents and Hans or I go to Seattle to see Arnold.

  4. Great writing and great memories, Nate. My partners family have done exactly the same thing every Christmas since we have been together (and that’s 21 years now). We all know that one Christmas things will have to be different, but I can’t even think about that right now. I’ve always hated change and with Christmas being such a wonderful time of year for most of us, it’s the one time where I wished change would never take place.

  5. My parents hid the presents in the attic. Every single year, we would go in there and figure out exactly whose gift was whose. We didn’t even act surprised when we opened the gifts, except the one time my mother decided I had too many and did not give me one of them. Yes, I was a brat. This brought back great memories!

  6. Wow, this brought back memories for me! At first when you mentioned the closed, I thought your brothers were going to lock you in it…because my brother did that. But then when you mentioned the Christmas presents! Oh, those are some of my best memories with my brother, searching them out, looking our fill and trying our best to cover our tracks.
    Hopefully you will all find ways to stay in touch!

    1. I’m surprised at how many people commented that they did this too. Judging by the response it seems most kids know what they’re getting before they open their presents!

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