Christmas Eve, 1875
Pretending I was the house terrier, I crawled under the parlor sideboard to lap up what fallen crumbs I might find. When Father saw what I was doing, he hoisted me onto the tabletop where Mother’s prized coconut cake rose among a field of confections like a snow-encrusted monticule.
He placed a butter nip on my tongue and said, “Stay here and maybe you’ll get fed properly.”
Such a precious sight was I, that no one could resist depositing in my mouth a butter nip or two. I took them in like an automaton swallowing coins.
“This boy won’t stop,” Uncle Joe announced.
By the umpteenth mint, he and his girls had fallen into hysterics. Even after my stomach had turned, I took in a dozen more. Then it was enough. I vomited, ruining the lovely spread.
“Ah, that’s a Merry Christmas!” Uncle Joe proclaimed.
My cousins began to squeal and I to howl. The women rushed in from the kitchen.
“Oh, Poldy, you haven’t.” Through my streaming tears I could see the disappointment in my mother’s eyes.
Father pushed his way to the sideboard and carried me off to the bedroom. He placed me on the bedspread.
“His jaw is still churning,” Mother said.
Father put his thumb against my chin and peered inside.
“Nips!” he cried. “Oh, Poldy!”
Father stood up, and Mother pried opened my fingers, where two more nips melted yet, each one plucked from the bowl at the last moment. I felt shame. Yet all I could think to do was to slide the remaining nips down my gullet.
“Stop him!” Father cried.
The warm coal of my Mother’s eyes turned to flint. “Stop him from what?” she asked. “Now the boy’s got only himself left to ruin.”