The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, columnist
My greatest wish was to be an artist. I liked paint. I liked to sketch and practice my skills with a pencil. I enjoyed making a picture of a scene in the woods. I’d follow the instructions of those artists on TV. I got good at painting mountains and tree-covered landscapes. I perfected the illusion of a river winding into the distance.
I wanted watercolors and an easel. I wanted a blank canvas to paint.
But I never got those things. Some wishes I made at Christmas never came true.
My grandmother loved me. I know this as clearly as I know that she didn’t like me. She lived in New York. The Bronx and later Mamaroneck. We would visit her for Thanksgiving, but at Christmas she’d come to Atlanta. My secret wish was that she would not come.
On TV, grandmothers were loving. They had laps to cuddle in. They baked Christmas cookies. My grandmother ironed compulsively when she visited. The boredom of the suburbs was too much for her New York self. She cooked. She cleaned. She worked hard her whole life and never knew how to show love. I realized this much later, as an adult. As a kid, I thought Christmas would be better without her.
One year, I made a picture for her. It was a face. I can’t remember if it was mine or hers. I was excited to show her my talent.
“That’s ugly,” she said. She wasn’t angry or hateful. The words were matter of fact. I remember looking at the picture with new eyes. The head was too big, the features too small, the shading of my crayon too haphazard. The stinging blow of her comment has never left me.
I put away my artwork. I never again asked my parents or Santa Claus for an easel. I let my dreams of painting die when I was a kid. It was a silly dream.
That’s when I started to write.
Even in my earliest memory, I kept a diary. The incident with my grandmother gave writing a new meaning for me. Writing was secret. Writing was private. I could write and keep my words hidden.
My diary had a snap closure. My spiral notebooks multiplied and were overflowing. I kept a purple journal that I fashioned from a discarded three-prong folder. I added loose-leaf notebook paper as I wrote. I carried the journal with me everywhere I went. The paper grew soft with use and love.
I am still always writing, but I don’t think I’m supposed to be a writer. Writing is a special kind of gift. Writing is a secret thing between you and the page, and the page never gives away your secrets.
Christmas is a funny time for secrets.
All I wanted for Christmas was a set of watercolors. I never got them.
All I wanted for Christmas was a microscope kit. I got it. It ranks up there with one of the most amazing presents I’ve ever received.
I wanted a telescope. Never got it. I still want one.
I wanted a new jump rope. I got it. It was awesome.
I rarely asked Santa or my parents for anything. Gifts are the least of the things I love about Christmas. My best gifts were gifts I never wanted. I’ve had a life of wishes, some that have come true and others that haven’t.
When I was 13 years old, my mother gave me a special gift. It was almost forgotten and couldn’t be wrapped. She hid it under an upside down laundry basket. It lacked shiny paper or a big bow.
An electric typewriter.
This amazing present could store 100 typed pages. As I wrote, the beautiful click clack sound of the typewriter keys could be heard throughout my house. It was something I’d never thought to ask for. It was something I never imagined getting.
I remember thinking, “Mom, doesn’t think it’s silly. Mom, thinks it’s okay if I write.”
It was easy to forgive my grandmother. Art was a frivolous thing she couldn’t understand. I know so much more about her now than I did as a kid.
I don’t know if I’ve ever properly thanked my mom for the microscope kit and the jump rope. I think of all the wishes and dreams that may never come true. I think of the gifts never given. Maybe my mom has forgotten about that typewriter. But I haven’t. I think of it every Christmas. It was the very best gift.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.