Uncle Roy and the Box of Chocolates

Submitted into Contest #173 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “Thank you! It’s just what I wanted.”... view prompt


Christmas Fiction Holiday

Uncle Roy and the Box of Chocolates

I love Christmas in San Francisco. As much as I loved the Christmas season and going to the city, there was one annual event that I looked forward to with greater anticipation than any other: Christmas at my grandparents’ house. Every Christmas Eve, dad and I would pack up the car with presents and overnight bags and drive out to Grandpa John’s. We would have a scrumptious turkey dinner, mingle with the other guests and relatives, attend midnight mass and stay through Christmas morning. The hour and a half drive to his home seemed like an eternity.

Grandpa John’s house to me seemed rather large, and the finished basement appeared to outsize the rest of the residence. The basement had all the essence of a curiosity shop. There was a full-length shuffleboard table, a pinball machine and a dart board. There was also a kitchen, wet bar, the rumpus room (probably named from the way I bounced off the walls) and the garden room. The garden room was an adjoining room complete with bay windows; it was the gateway to the backyard’s floral scenery and majestic fountain. It was in this room I found the most stimulating of all riches: Grandpa John’s jukebox.

Although a relic, it was in pristine working condition complete with colored lights and several 78 rpm records, most of which I had never heard of. From the moment power had ignited the amber casing with its fluid red and green lights dancing up the side panels, there was magic in the air.

One of my great anticipations of the visit was seeing my Uncle Roy. Uncle Roy was my dad’s younger brother. He didn’t seem much older than me although he was taller. His speech was nasally and he had trouble saying certain words. At times his mutterings were very slurred, I thought he was imitating a drunk.  He had a buzz haircut, wore glasses, and he was always smiling through his slight overbite. Anyway, I thought nothing of it because I always had fun with Uncle Roy. He was the big kid who didn’t mind playing with the younger ones and his playful antics of waving his arms as if trying to fly always made me laugh. Uncle Roy and I shared his bedroom whenever I stayed over. He loved spending time with me. We were more than uncle and nephew, we were best friends. Uncle Roy was the key ingredient in the recipe for escape from my otherwise mundane existence.

There was one more friend I anxiously looked forward to seeing at Christmas: Angelina Marquez. Angelina (or Angie as I called her), was a beautiful little girl, one year younger than me and my second cousin. She was the perfect complement to all my youthful energy.

Angie loved Uncle Roy as much as I did, and Uncle Roy always made sure to include Angie in whatever we did. The traditional games we played together were fun, but they were nothing in comparison to the games we invented. Our favorite was Romans and Christians. Uncle Roy was always the oppressive Roman soldier while Angie and I, being the good Catholics we were, chose to be the Christians, stalwart and unwavering in our faith. The rumpus room and garden room would serve as the ideal locations for our adventures.

The garden room was two steps up from the rumpus room and that’s where the fun started. Uncle Roy would pretend he was head of the Roman Legion and held our fate in his hands. He would spare our lives if we would denounce our faith, otherwise he would cast us to the lions.

“Deny your God and bow to Caesar”, he would call out in that funny voice of his.

“Never”, would be Angie’s reply.

“Then to the lions you go!”

Uncle Roy would the push each of us into the lion’s den (the rumpus room) where we would fall, cry out and writhe in pain while the lions would come and eat us. Dolly, grandpa’s good-natured collie, would oblige us by playing the lion. She would quickly come to lick our faces as we lie rolling on the floor. On other occasions Uncle Roy would send us to the fiery furnace (the kitchen) to be burned alive or drop us off in the depths of the ocean (the wet bar) to be drowned.

Aside from our Romans and Christians adventures, we would take time out to dance. It was Angie who taught me to dance around age ten. She had been taking dancing lessons for a couple of years and decided it was time I learned. She considered it only fair since she always participated in the games that I made up.

Angie taught me the fox-trot, waltz and swing. Grandpa John’s juke box was the orchestra and Uncle Roy conducted the music. Angie and I would glide across the hardwood floor like ballroom champions. Uncle Roy’s arms waved about freely in every direction – although never in time with the music. He would let out sounds of glee as the music played; when the song was over, he energetically bounced and applauded us. Before the music’s essence had a chance to dissipate he would call out, “More, more.” Angie would turn to him and curtsy; I would press the numbers for another song.

Midnight Mass at St. Agnes was more than just a tradition, it was a spectacle. All the women would be donning their best jewelry and furs, their hands would be complimented with the finest white gloves the Emporium had to offer. The men would be in suits, ties, overcoats and hats. To me, St. Agnes resembled the Louvre more than it did a church. But I did love the music and spiritual pageantry of it all.

Grandpa John stayed behind since Uncle Roy was already in bed. After mass the adults who returned to Grandpa John’s would all have a cup of coffee and smoke cigarettes while Angie and I had ice cream. The guests quietly filtered out while Angie and I retired to our rooms. It was always hard to sleep knowing we would gather together in the morning around the Christmas tree to exchange gifts.

As the years progressed, I grew in stature and became a little more aware mentally. I noticed that Uncle Roy didn’t get any taller and I was catching up with him. I also noticed that he looked much older than I had remembered. Uncle Roy’s personality never changed though. He was always full of enthusiasm and wanted to play like we always did.

His speech never improved, and I thought that odd. By the time I was fourteen I realized that Uncle Roy was different. When I asked my dad about Uncle Roy, he told me that mentally, Uncle Roy would always be a little boy. Even though he was a full-grown man and had been for a number of years, he had the mind and behavior of a ten-year-old. I looked at my dad and said,

“You mean Uncle Roy’s a retard?”

My dad frowned and once again explained to me Uncle Roy’s condition, a rare chromosome disorder, rendered him a child. He reminded me of what a great friend and playmate he always was to me. Dad said it was up to me to be condescending and understanding to Roy’s circumstance and continue to show my love for him just as he had shown for me, because he wouldn’t always be with us.

By the time I was eighteen, I became less and less interested in Uncle Roy’s attention during the Christmas visits and turned my eyes toward Angie who was now a beautiful young woman. I was preparing for graduation and the prospect of university life. Angie was learning to drive. The days of Romans and Christians seemed far behind us now.

As always, Uncle Roy followed us around like a lost puppy. We would journey down to the rumpus room, and I would play the piano for Angie. Uncle Roy started his bounce and began to clap. “Dance “, he said, “dance.” He went up the steps into the garden room. He pointed at the juke box. I gave Angie a look that whispered, “I wish he would leave us alone.” Angie frowning at me, took my hand and said, “Don’t be rude, come on, one dance.”

Angie walked over to the juke box and pressed the numbers; Uncle Roy was laughing and clapping. He could barely control his excitement. I knew what she had picked as I watched the platter removed from the stack and placed upon the turntable. As the 78 single rotated on the spinning wheel, the arm and needle took their position. It was the “Anniversary Waltz”, the first song Angie and I had ever danced to when I was her young, clumsy, stumbling student. I took her one hand in mine and placed my other hand around the small of her back while leading off to the downbeat.

What a special moment it was. With my eyes solely fixed upon Angie’s, all the nostalgia of Christmas Eves’ past came back to me. I glanced over at Uncle Roy in his “magnum opus” conductor mode. How happy he was, he never changed. But the reminiscence seemed to be vanishing. I would be going away to the University and knew a different chapter of my life was about to begin. I wanted to somehow hold onto the memories forever. As the song was nearing its cadence, I pulled Angie closer to me. She put her head on my shoulder with sigh of acknowledgment, “Don’t let it end.”

After our dance we went back upstairs for our annual present. I was still toying with the idea of making tonight more memorable than ever. As we approached the living room, Grandpa John was waiting for us. “Angie, my little Pavlova”, he took a breath as he handed her the caramel suckers with a wink and a smile.

“Here you go grandson,” he said as he patted my back and tousled my hair, as if I was still a little boy and gave me molasses chips. Finally he looked at Uncle Roy. He held up the box of chocolate cherries and said, “I think these are for you, son.” Uncle Roy’s eyes were wide with anticipation. He quickly opened the box as if it were a pirates’ treasure. He immediately picked one out and ate it. I looked at Uncle Roy and said teased, “Hey Uncle Roy, can I have one?”

Uncle Roy seemed protective and withdrawn.  I decided to push it a little further and taunted him, “Come on Uncle Roy, let me have just one.”

He hugged the box of chocolates even tighter than before. I never realized how much they meant to him.

Grandpa John immediately spoke up, “Come on now son, if you don’t share, Santa will take the chocolates away.”

But it didn’t faze Uncle Roy. He seemed more withdrawn. He said nothing and retreated to his room.

Later that night we went to midnight mass as was the tradition. I couldn’t concentrate on mass. For some reason I couldn’t get Uncle Roy and his chocolates out of my thoughts. He had never refused me anything in the past. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t share one lousy chocolate with me. Then an evil idea entered my mind, and a plan was brewing.

When we arrived back at the house, I pulled Angie aside and said, “I’m going to make tonight memorable.”

“What are you going to do?”

“You’ll see in the morning.”

I went to my room and lay quietly on my bed. I waited patiently for everyone else to settle down for the night. I looked over at Uncle Roy sleeping soundly on his bed. I sat up and looked around the room in the silence and darkness. I totally expected to see Uncle Roy hugging his coveted treasure in bed, but he was not. The chocolates weren’t on his desk or dresser either. I got off the bed and proceeded to the closet. No chocolates. I walked over towards his bed. I got down on my knees and looked under the bed. Eureka, there they were.

I slid them out ever so smoothly with the chocolates tucked under my arm and made my way down the stairs to the rumpus room. “At last”, I thought, “Now I’ll show him!”

I opened the box and discovered they were already half gone. “Uncle Roy must really love these,” I thought. I took one out and ate it half laughing while I chewed. The sugary syrup dribbles out the corner of my mouth. As I finished another chocolate, I wondered “How can he eat these things?” I finally finished the last chocolate and threw the empty box away. I quietly went back upstairs to the bedroom where Uncle Roy was still fast asleep.

I was first to arise on Christmas morning; Angie came downstairs a few minutes later followed by dad and Grandpa John and the others. Then we all heard the bedroom door open with a crash as it slammed against the wall. Uncle Roy came running down the stairs crying and ran over to Grandpa John.

“What is it son? What’s wrong?” asked grandpa.

“Oh papa, papa,” Roy was stammering, “Santa took back my cherries because I wouldn’t share them.”

“What? Your chocolates are gone?” Uncle Roy just nodded as he cried. Grandpa John hugged him and tried to console him. My dad was eyeing me with great disappointment. He knew. I glanced over at Angie whose glare of disbelief and anger shamed me. The total loss of respect she now had for me was more than I could endure. I quickly got up, ran down to the basement and into the backyard.

I couldn’t help myself; I started to cry. After several minutes, Grandpa John came outside to find me. I couldn’t look up at him; I just sat there on the cement bench trying to hide behind my tears. He sat down by my side and put his arm around me. I buried my face in his plaid flannel shirt that served a secondary purpose as a towel. As I slowly regained my composure, I looked up and said repentantly, “I’m so sorry grandpa, can you ever forgive me?”

Grandpa John gave me a squeeze and tousled my hair again. “You didn’t take my chocolates”, he softly said, “It’s up to Roy.”

“I don’t think I can ever face Uncle Roy again.” I said shamefully.

“Yes you will. You’ll probably feel awful for some time and deservedly so. Roy’s okay now.  Let’s go open some presents.”

I felt paralyzed as I walked back into the living room. There was an uneasiness within my body that said I was not worthy to sit with the other family members, but I joined them just the same, totally silent. The presents were passed out. If the gifts were any indication, it was a grand Christmas. With the presents out of the way all I wanted to do was to go back home and forget this ever happened.

“There’s one more!” Grandpa John exclaimed. “Let me papa,” said Uncle Roy cheerfully as he picked up one last present that was hidden behind the tree. He walked toward me with a skip in his step and with a nasally tone said, “It’s for you, from Santa.” I held the box with great trepidation. As I slowly began to remove the wrapping paper, my eyes could not believe what lay before them. By the time I had finished taking the paper off the box I was sobbing once again. It was a box of chocolate covered cherries. As I held up my box of irony in order to expose the poetic justice for all to I exclaimed, “Thank you! It’s just what I wanted.”

I stood up, hugged my loving uncle and continued to cry. With my voice cracking I looked at Uncle Roy and asked, “Will you help me eat these?” Uncle Roy laughed out loud and clapped even harder. He had completely forgotten about his cherries disappearing. As I handed the box to Roy, I said, “Here, you take the first one.”

The ride back home seemed especially long that year. I had expectations of a door-to-door lecture, but it didn’t happen. Dad and I just listened in silence to the radio. I believe my dad realized letting me stew in my own juices in the stillness of the drive was probably the worst punishment of all.

That was the last time we spent Christmas together as a family at Grandpa John’s. Uncle Roy would die six months later of pneumonia and sadly enough Grandpa John would be gone in another three. Years have since passed. Even though Angie and I are both married and have families of our own, the two of us still get together on Christmas Eve.

It’s about an hour and a half drive from the city to the cemetery. Angie and I usually meet there in the early morning. Angie brings a portable CD player and I have a box of chocolate covered cherries. When we reach Uncle Roy’s grave, I open the box; Angie takes out a chocolate and so do I. After we finish our confections, I set the remainder of the box alongside Roy’s headstone which reads, “Beloved Son, Beloved Uncle”. Angie gently sets the CD player down and as it plays the anniversary waltz. Then Angie and I dance one more waltz for Uncle Roy.

November 23, 2022 19:36

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A. Baczkowska
22:17 Nov 30, 2022

I enjoyed this story. Is it inspired by real events?


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Helen A Smith
14:56 Nov 29, 2022

Really great story with some unexpected touches Michael, especially about the uncle. Compassionate and nostalgic. Christmas at its best


Michael Gygi
14:41 Nov 30, 2022

Thank you. I appreciate the comment. Made my day.


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Tommy Goround
01:21 Nov 27, 2022

This is very good. I specially like the Romans verse Christian game. The ending is dealt with kindly.


Michael Gygi
18:11 Nov 27, 2022

Thank you for your comments.


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Anne Zubrick
17:00 Nov 26, 2022

love what you did with the uncle by not tell us he had a problem. very well written I would have picked yours to win a prize Enjoyable.


Michael Gygi
18:16 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it. Glad you liked it.


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Wendy Kaminski
15:51 Nov 26, 2022

This story was really well-done, and I enjoyed reading it so much! I was touched quite often by the endearing shares about the family, and it was absolutely like I was there. Looking forward to reading more of your work!


Michael Gygi
18:17 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks Wendy, I plan on submitting more. I look forward to reading yours.


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