Who can forget the first Christmas with their spouse? I certainly can’t. It was Dec. 24, 1980 and we were living in a coach house in River Forest. Talk about a love nest. We had a comfy apartment above a three-car garage.  

We put up a pine tree that year and bought an ornament commemorating our first Noel but I lost the decorating battle. I had grown up with large bulbs, tinsel and gingerbread men hanging from the tree. She had grown up with tiny lights, garland and no edible ornaments. You can guess how our tree looked that year.

Our family opened Christmas gifts early on December 25th. Her family opened presents on Christmas Eve. So, we went to her family on December 24th. It was a large gathering, with many presents to open. We were still buying grab bag gifts back then. I was assigned to buy a present for a cousin-in-law I barely knew. In fact, the night I gave him the pair of jeans was the first and last time I saw him.

After the feasting and presents and dessert, I felt like we had put in a full day but we had one stop to make. We had to visit another branch of my wife’s family. She assured me that they were poor and it wouldn’t take long for them to open their presents. 

Now, this was back in the dark ages of hard plastic contact lenses and mine had been in for 12 hours. So, my eyes were already uncomfortable. We went to the house of the poor relatives but there were no signs of poverty. They had stacks and stacks of presents to open. Apparently their credit was still good. 

I sat there watching the spectacle, wishing I was wearing spectacles.  Every time I blinked, my eyes burned. It felt like I had two small stones in my eyes. I was wishing for the ripping of wrapping paper to end but it went on past midnight. Finally, it was time to return to our little love nest and remove the rocks. 

I tried to go to sleep but my eyes were burning and involuntary tears were flowing. Every time I blinked, it felt like the contacts were still there. I finally woke up my bride and told her she had to drive me to the emergency room. I don’t remember which hospital we staggered into at 2 a.m. but I was quickly diagnosed with two scratched corneas. They put in some drops to ease the pain and covered my eyes with thick cotton bandages. I was told to leave the bandages on for at least a day.

My wife drove her blind husband home and I finally fell asleep. The next morning, her family descended on our coach house for another round of feasting, followed by my wife and I exchanging presents. I, of course, could not see our guests. I could hear them and I could smell food. I felt very helpless, remaining in a chair lest I should bump into something. I could feel my presents. “Oh thanks, this sweater is so soft. What color is it?”

Everyone was kind and sympathetic about my blindness. I told them I would be careful next year and take out the contacts, before we visited any poor relatives.

 John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.