POOPSIE

By John Thomas Tuft

It was to be a glorious Christmas. Older siblings were returning to the family home for the holidays, bringing spouses; or home from college, bringing tales of new worlds. We would spend laughter filled hours catching up, teasing, bragging, telling tall tales over homemade cookies and cups of holiday cheer among all the oh so familiar decorations. I was living at home as I attended the University of Pittsburgh and this gathering promised to be the highlight of my year. My sister Susan was being allowed back into the fold after having been banished when she came out to our parents, but…but she wanted to bring someone with her to enjoy the special atmosphere. I was beside myself. How could she? Didn’t she know how special this time is? How much…how much I needed everything to be as normal and memorable as they used to be?

Christmas Eve dawned cold and crisp, new snow on the ground, everyone warm and home safe. Except

for Susan. Finally, she arrived to complete the circle. She made her entrance through the back door to the kitchen and my heart sank. She carried a bundle of blankets in her arms and as we gathered ‘round she beamed as she unwrapped the precious cargo. “Everybody, this is Poopsie.” I stared at the tiny, scrawny, misshapen figure in her arms. Although she was 13, Poopsie weighed all of 30 pounds. Her painfully thin arms and legs were drawn up, her eyes stared sightlessly, drool ran from her mouth plastering thin, dull, tangled hair to her cheeks. Severe mental handicap. Cerebral Palsy. Requiring 24/7 care at the home where Susan worked as a kitchen manager. How could she do this to me, I seethed. How dare Susan bring this creature into ‘our’ enclave? What earthly reason did my parents have for allowing such a spoiler of nascent nostalgia?

Susan breezily ignored my pouting and set about providing Poopsie with the best Christmas ever. She made a nest of pillows and softest blankets right beside her own bed. She carried Poopsie into the dining room, forcing us to make room at the crowded table for this strange creature. She patiently spoon-fed my mother’s special Jello fruit salad into the gapped tooth mouth, softly encouraging her charge to enjoy the cool sweetness. And me? I resented this intruder, this usurper of attention and need. Susan and Poopsie were ruining my Christmas.

The afternoons would find Susan and Poopsie in the living room, the tree lights on, presents piling up in a display of barely restrained generosity. Susan described it all in a soft, soothing voice, as Poopsie made strange guttural moans and squeaks. Every day Susan would set Poopsie on the floor on her hands and knees. “She can learn to crawl. I know she can,” Susan insisted to my grimaces. “And if she crawls, she can walk. Jack, don’t you get it?” No, I didn’t get it. “And if she walks, she can dance,” she exclaimed with a smile, as she patiently moved each of Poopsie’s limbs through the motions of crawling. Time after time, till both were exhausted. After they both napped, it was more jello fruit salad. My mother cherished them both, welcomed both into the fold. Not me. No way. This was an outrage. I have no idea what gifts I received that Christmas.  

Christmas Day dawned, birthed by the timeless light of hope. The family, and Susan and Poopsie, gathered for the traditional homemade sticky buns and Florida oranges. Okay, and cookies. Then my father read the Christmas story, we said a prayer of gratitude, and then we all gathered in the living room with our piles of gifts. Susan ignored hers as she cradled Poopsie, helping her uncover the plush stuffed duck my mother had wrapped with love. I took all of this in, coldhearted, sullen. Unyielding. That afternoon my brothers and I participated in the annual ‘take out our adolescent need for pain in a rousing game of football against all comers’ bowl. I needed it. Sorry to say.

I came home early. I crossed through the kitchen and stepped through the doorway to the dining room. Something caught the corner of my eye. I looked into the living room. There, in the fading afternoon light, sat my father. In his big easy chair, near the tree. Alone. Except for the bundle of blankets in his arms. The man who expelled Susan from the house for her sexual orientation, from the good graces of the family and church. Yet…and yet, no father ever looked with such love, sang with such softness, cradled in his arms with such tenderness, as he rocked Poopsie in that peaceful serenity. Christmas did not seem to be any disappointment to him in the least.

Susan returned Poopsie to the home and returned for New Year’s Eve.  That evening the phone rang. My mother silently handed it to Susan. Susan listened in disbelief. She hung up and stood there stunned. As she fell into my mother’s arms, weeping, she managed to gasp, “Poopsie died this morning.” And my heart broke as she proclaimed, “I bet she’s laughing and dancing right now.”

It was to be a glorious Christmas.

I wish a blessed Christmas to you and yours. And, for all the holidays, for whomever you include in family. In this year and the next.