Two very different concepts, but both very much ON TOP!
Two very different concepts, but both very much ON TOP!
Here we are again somewhere in what’s probably the most bittersweet or sweet bitter time of the year for most of us. It’s the jolly, holly Christmas to New Year period. It’s the time of year filtered through childhood memories for many and wrapped in holiday music, movies, and hectic preparations to greet folks we don’t often see. We need to force ourselves to shift gears, putting aside worries about health, bills and family drama to put on a happy face for the most wonderful time of the year.
Emotions are curious. The holiday season plays fast and loose with our emotions. For those of us who internalize our feelings, it can be tricky. Smiling is not easy. Showing pleasure or happiness isn’t instinctive. It was easy for me to show emotions in my professional life. But we’re talking about real life. I’m past the September of my years. Getting into the Christmas spirit is harder than ever. I miss childhood.
As a child, Christmas was a time of anticipation. I was the kid in A Christmas Story. The year I campaigned for the two-gun Roy Rogers set was very anxious for me. My hopes were almost dashed when I thought Santa had not heard me as we ripped though our presents that Christmas morning. But my Dad who always had a funny smile during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, motioned to one last present. Yes!! It was the DELUXE Roy Rogers two-gun set with 2 rolls of caps!! Even Mom smiled as I squealed in delight.
I never thought we were as poor as Mom frequently reminded us because we usually got what we wanted on Christmas. Those holiday memories include relatives who are long gone. Our Christmas card list was long and included Aunts, Uncles and Cousins, Grandpa and Grandma who I can still see clearly in my sense memory. I used to carefully print the card messages when I was young. As I grew older, I proudly displayed my penmanship, writing endearments to my relatives. I thought they would be in my life forever.
These days, I am the only one in my family to actually write and mail Christmas cards. I take the time to write messages to each person. Usually I wind up with writer’s cramp for my efforts. But I see my Mother hovering behind me somewhere, nodding her approval. I have to remind myself NOT to buy or write cards to Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma and all those Aunts and Uncles. They’re all gone as are many of my friends.
Something is missing in those cherished memories. I have to force a smile. I’m not a kid anymore. I’m Gramps, one of the old people as my 17-year-old Granddaughter calls my Bride and me. There is a sense of loneliness that won’t go away. The movies are my cure-all.
I grew up as a child of the movies. I saw my first film, The Best Years Of Our Lives, during the holiday season of 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was in uniform and seemed 10 feet tall as we went to the venerable radio City Music Hall to see the movie which is still a favorite with Marilyn and me. Movies and their fantasies have always been a part of my life, my personality. I am comfortable, charming and loquacious when talking about movies. I lose myself in movies, especially westerns and holiday movies.
I can laugh, smile, cry and sing along with favorite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me In St. Louis, A Christmas Story, The Shop Around the Corner, and many other memorable films shared in our collective sense memory. But once the movie is over, it’s back to reality minus the celluloid good cheer. Ironically it was the same way during my life as a TV news reporter. I did holiday stories ranging from heartbreak to feel-good. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people over decades watched those stories and associated me with all the festive times. The real me smiles at the TV reporter me — trying to separate fact from fiction. Print the legend, as they say in that old western.
One of the nice things about this holiday season is catching up with long-lost friends who’ve found me on Facebook. One person, a former mentor, who I presumed dead chatted me up, clearly remembering the years when I was a young reporter full of myself.
Then, there was the overnight radio show I did on WBZ radio in Boston last weekend. It is hosted by my dear, dear friend, Jordan Rich. Jordan has been through a very rough patch recently losing a loved one. But he spread friendship and laughter for his gang of movie mavens as we entertained listeners who called in from all parts of the country to chat about favorite holiday movies.
During breaks and commercials, we laughed and giggled like teenagers. The listeners picked up on our mood and said that it was infectious especially for many who were alone, lonely or depressed. I cried a little when an elderly woman thanked Jordan for being a life line. After the show, now close to 4 am, Jordan and I lingered talking about our lives and our families. We hugged each other for a long time with plans to get together again for a movie night out with Marilyn.
As I walked out the door, I looked back and Jordan was smiling. I felt warm outside and inside. That moment will stay with me throughout the holidays and beyond. It’s good to be able to smile!
It was a quiet day. We open presents on Christmas Eve … a tradition started by Owen’s dad and continued. Besides, we’d never make it to Christmas morning. Kaitlin can barely make it through dinner and by 8 pm has reverted to five years old. She wants to get to the main event.
So Christmas day is peace. Lots of napping. Movies, some carols on the radio or CD. Maybe some old TV shows. Too much food and we have a ton left over from last night. No one is going to have to cook for at least a week. Amazingly, we all forgot dessert. We didn’t buy it and make it. So we are heavy on dinner, but there’s no dessert at all. Not a pie, cookie or cake anywhere in the house. How did that happen?
Happy Boxing Day!
Come join me! I’m here from my home site of Serendipity. Not far away, here in the blogosphere where Scotty can always beam you up! Click here and it will beam you directly to my page.
A friend told me she never knows what I’m going to write about, so it’s always a surprise. That makes at least two of us. Until my little lightbulb goes off, I don’t know what I’m going to say either. I have a lot of varied interests: history, photography, philosophy, religion, politics, ecology, technology. I’m a bit of a geek and I do enjoy my toys. Serendipity is appropriate, I guess. Grab bag would work too.
I try to be on the right side of issues. I do my best to align with the righteous on the side of justice, kindness, and giving everyone the benefit of a doubt. I don’t always live up to my own best self, but I try. You are welcome. Just play nice and remember your manners
Did I mention I love dogs? And photography? Words? I am perhaps excessively fond of cleverness and clever people. Plays on words make me giggle. My favorite piece of music is Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. Which doesn’t mean I don’t love country music, folk music, some very hard rock … I’m nothing if not eclectic.
I write about everything and nothing. Sometimes I’m current, sometimes I wander off. It’s a joy writing without a boss looking over my shoulder. After a lifetime of writing for a living, I treasure the freedom to say whatever I want. And your freedom too. I’m not above mixing it up a little as long as everyone remembers they are really friends!
If you’d like to chat, you’ll find me on COMPANY FOR CHRISTMAS … at http://companyforchristmas.wordpress.com/ today from 11 am to 2 pm (or maybe longer, depending).
Drop by and visit!
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Rich Paschall of SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG has graciously agreed to collaborate with me on Sundays. You will get a taste of his rich and beautiful prose, some of which you have already seen here because I love his work and have reblogged quite a bit of it over the past year. But it will also give me a much-needed day off. I’ve been writing every day for almost a year and I admit, I could use a day to recharge my aging batteries. It’s a win-win. You get some great new fiction — or whatever Rich is in the mood to offer you — and I get to enjoy a little breather.
- – - – -
by Richard Paschall
Kyle was coming home for Christmas. He was bringing with him his college roommate. The boys met during freshmen year and became fast friends. Somehow they maneuvered the dorm manager into assigning them to be roommates for sophomore year. There was no one on earth Kyle would rather spend time with than Michael. So he was glad Michael agreed to come to dinner on Christmas Eve. This was in exchange for Kyle agreeing to go to Michael’s parents’ house on Christmas day for dinner. Michael was going to make a big announcement to his parents and of course Kyle just had to be there.
Kyle’s father had slipped into a den on the east side of the house. All of the family noise was a bit more than his reserved nature could take. Kyle’s sister, Mary, who was 8 years younger than Kyle, was louder than usual and no matter how many times grandma told Mary to “quiet down,” things did not get any quieter. The threat of Christmas carols by Mary and Uncle Roy was enough to drive dad into the den. There he immediately made haste to the bar where a glass of sherry seemed to be in order. Dad only drank a sherry on special occasions and this certainly was one of them.
It was dark now and the neighbors across the street had turned on their Christmas lights. Almost everyone on the block had a nice display so the street was well-lit. Kyle’s dad was drawn to the window to see the lights, look at the gentle snow flurries and enjoy a moment of peace. As he stood there sipping his sherry and waiting for Kyle to appear, he finally spotted his only son walking quickly down the street with another young man right behind. As they got to the walkway that led up to the house they stopped to exchange a few words. Then a sight took dad’s wondering eyes totally by surprise. Kyle kissed the other boy. It was not a short kiss, but long and passionate which they both seemed to enjoy.
Soon Kyle rang the doorbell just to announce their arrival before he put his key in the lock and opened the door. Off the entrance way on the left was a door to the den. Kyle’s father was standing in the doorway just staring at the two. Kyle’s mom came through a big archway on the right that led to the living room. Mary was close behind and eager to see her brother and his friend. Uncle Roy and grandma did not vacate their seats. They knew the rest would join them soon.
First Kyle walked over to his father and said, “Dad this is my room-mate, Michael.” The roommate held out his hand and the father shook it. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Kyle says such wonderful things about the family.” Kyle’s dad just sort of nodded at that, while studying this stranger in his home. The silence was out of character for the head of the household and a bit of a surprise to everyone except Michael, and that is only because Michael did not know him.
Then Kyle introduced Michael to his mother and his “little brat sister” Mary. Michael held out his hand to each in turn but the little brat held out her hand instead as if he was supposed to take it and kiss it, so he did and she squealed and ran from the room. At that Kyle’s mom offered to introduce Michael to the others. Kyle’s father then announced to all, “We will join you in a moment.” With a more serious tone, father said, “Kyle, would you step in here for a moment, please?” This was not a question but rather a command of the type Kyle knew was not good. As the father retreated into the room Kyle followed. Before turning around dad said, “Close the door.”
Kyle only took a few short steps in before his father turned around. He looked at him as if he had never seen him before. It was the strangest look Kyle had ever seen from his father. “Kyle, is there something you should be telling me?” the “official business” dad said in an odd businesslike tone. Kyle figured it was some sort of trick question but knew he should answer it anyway.
“No, dad. I don’t think so.” This clearly was the wrong answer. His dad did not say a thing but his body language spoke volumes and Kyle became as nervous as a first grader who has been caught stealing Oreos from the kitchen. Now the master of the den, the commander of the car keys and the payer of his tuition walked slowly to the window, looked around the outside and turned to Kyle.
“You know, son, that there is a great view of the neighborhood from this window. You can see all of the beautiful Christmas displays across the street. You can see a nice Christmas snow flurry. You can see everyone walking down the sidewalk and turning up the walkway toward the house.” At that Kyle’s father fixed his sights squarely on Kyle and said, “So now is there anything you should tell me?”
Kyle stood motionless as his dad threw a stare at him that went right through and hit the door behind. It took Kyle almost an entire minute before he realized what his father had seen from the window of the den. All the while, that whole long minute of time, Kyle’s father stood there waiting. Kyle wanted to begin “I’m sorry dad…,” but nothing came out of his mouth. He was so nervous and so afraid of his father’s reaction that he could say nothing. It is not that he wanted to be silent, he just couldn’t speak. Fear of saying the wrong thing paralyzed his tongue for the moment. Finally Kyle’s father just nodded that same nod he gave Michael when he was introduced, walked around Kyle, opened the door and walked across the foyer to the living room.
Kyle was knocked off his spot when his mother’s voice came floating into the room. “Kyle, don’t be rude. Come join your guest.” Kyle shuffled across the hall and searched around the room for Michael. He did not look at anyone else as his eyes avoided everyone but Michael. At that moment, with a room full of family, he had no way of telling his mate that he needed a hug and he thought he might need to cry. After a little small talk by grandma and Uncle Roy, Kyle’s mom asked them all to go to the dining room. Christmas Eve dinner was ready.
“Michael, you sit right there next to Kyle and Kyle will sit next to me. I have this end of the table and Kyle’s father will carve things up at that end of the table. Uncle Roy will be there next to you and grandma and Mary will be on the other side.” At that the little brat sister ran around the table and dropped herself on the chair opposite Kyle. She looked at him with a smirk as if she knew his little secret and was going to blurt it out if he did not stop calling her a brat.
Everyone sat in silence until Kyle’s mother looked down the length of the table and said to her husband. “Sweetheart, will you say grace for us?” There was a long, awkward pause before he said, “No. Tonight Kyle will lead the prayer.” At that instant Kyle prayed that something, anything that made sense would come out of his mouth. All eyes were on him as he began, “Bless us, oh Lord…” The words that fell out of Kyle’s mouth were for blessing and thanksgiving, but in his heart he was praying for acceptance. That became the only gift he truly wanted for Christmas this year.
An idea so good I wish I’d thought of it myself!
For twenty Decembers in a row, I maxed out my credit and emptied my bank account buying gifts. A lot of the gifts were items no one really needed or wanted, stuff that just caught my eye. Or because anything the recipient wanted or needed, I couldn’t afford. And worse, they didn’t want the stuff I gave them either. I also got a lot of junk gifts, stuff I didn’t want, had no use for. Felt obliged to keep anyhow, so it cluttered up my house and made me feel obligated to keep the giving and getting cycle going against all logic and reason.
After Garry and I had to stop working in 2001, our financial situation went downhill. At some point in that long, painful slide, I realized I had to do something to stop the hemorrhaging. Christmas was killing us.
It was 2007 when I finally stopped exchanging gifts with everyone except my best friend and her husband, and my immediate family. Immediate family was defined as my son, his wife, my granddaughter, my husband and his brothers.
I tried to think of a subtle approach to handling this, but there wasn’t any. Finally, I simply called everyone. I told them I wanted to stop exchanging gifts. Explained I couldn’t afford it and in any case, anything they really wanted or needed was outside my means. We all wound up buying junk, so what was the point?
At first there were a lot of objections. In the end, though, everyone agreed I had a point and I think they were relieved. Because unless you have unlimited resources, Christmas can wipe you out. After initial objections were overcome, everyone settled down and the idea began to gain traction.
Now, especially with so many of my friends retired and living on fixed incomes, most of the people I know limit gift exchanges. There’s no viable alternative. If Christmas spending is killing your Christmas spirit, you have to talk about it. People will understand.
Set spending limits even (maybe especially) with close family. Even with your spouse. Garry and I have a $50-75 “under the tree” limit for each other. After Christmas, if we have a bit of money, we go shopping together. We hit the post-holiday clearance sales where we each get stuff we really want. I know a lot of couples who do the same thing. It works and it’s fun.
There’s no law that says you have to bankrupt yourself every December. I used to do it because I love buying presents. As much as I had to set limits for everyone else, I had to discipline myself too. I’ve learned to stick to my own rules — a lot harder than I thought it would be.
The end result has been good all the way around. If Christmas has become something you dread rather than look forward to, you might want to restructure your holiday. Try a new approach. More celebration and less shopping. It might save Christmas for you.
‘Twas the week before Christmas, and up in the Hollows,
Solstice bonfires were burning, to toast the marshmallows.
The pixies were snug in their stump, even Jenks,
Who claimed he was tired, and needed some winks.
So I in my parka, and Ivy in her boots,
Were toasting the season, with thirty-year hooch.
When out in the street, there came such a crash,
I thought that it had to be ‘coons in our trash.
Away to the gate, I trudged through the snow,
While Ivy just said, “If it’s Kist, say hello.”
I lifted the latch, and peered to the street,
My face went quite cold. We were in it thigh deep.
‘Twas a demon, who stood in the headlamps quite bright,
With his coat of green velvet, and his uncommon height.
His eyes, how they glittered, his teeth how they gnashed,
His voice, how he bellowed, his tongue, how it lashed
The street wasn’t holy, so on Big Al came,
As he bellowed, and shouted, and called me by name.
“Morgan, you witch. You’re a pain in my side.
“Get out of your church. There’s no place to hide!”
Like hell’s fury unleashed, he strode to my door,
Where he hammered and cursed, like a cheap jilted whore.
But Ivy and I, we circled round back,
To stand in the street and prepare for attack.
“You loser,” I shouted. “I’m waiting for you.”
And the demon, he spun, taking on a red hue.
Ivy stood ready, and I whispered, “Okay . . .
“If he wants to get rough, I’m ready to play.”
With nary a word, us two girls got to work,
Putting foot into gut, of the soul-sucking jerk.
I circled him quick, with a few words of Latin,
While Ivy distracted him with lots of good wackin’
“Get back!” I yelled out when my trap was complete,
And Ivy somersaulted right over the creep.
My circle sprang up, entrapping him surely,
Al fussed and he fumed, like a demonic fury.
The neighbors all cheered, and came out of their houses,
Where they’d watched the whole thing, like little house mouses.
So Ivy and I, we both bowed real low,
Then banished Big Al, in an overdone show.
But I heard Al exclaim, ‘ere he poofed from our sight
“You won this time witch, but I’ll get you one night!”
- – - – -
Kim Harrison, December 14th, 2005
Being a non-observant Jew is effectively no religion. It isn’t like being an atheist because it doesn’t imply a belief in no god. My mother was an atheist. I understand what it means. To me, atheism requires as much certainty as any other faith. You have to know something you can’t really know. It’s faith, even if it’s faith in nothingness.
Given my upbringing and personal preferences, I’m mildly uncomfortable celebrating all religious holidays, including Jewish ones. I feel as if I’m wearing someone else’s clothing. Even when they fit well and look good, I know they aren’t mine. Every year when Christmas rolls through town flattening everything and everyone in its path, I bow to its power and supremacy. I enjoy the lights, music, gifts and season while remaining aware it isn’t my holiday. When everyone is sharing their warm fuzzy memories of Christmas as a child, I have no equivalent memories to share. Not of Christmas or any holiday because my mother, atheist that she was, celebrated nothing. As a kid, I yearned to be part of Christmas. All my friends had trees and got a zillion presents. I would wander around to my various friends’ houses, stay a little while, aware I wasn’t really welcome. Then I would go home. I felt so left out.
When I married my first husband, his family was almost as religious as mine. They were pretty sure they had been — at some point in the past — something, but they weren’t sure what. They celebrated Christmas with enormous energy and enthusiasm, without any bothersome religious overtones. It was an alcoholic’s dream holiday featuring eggnog that might actually kill you. And very tree-ish. My father-in-law hauled in the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in a private home. Paul Bunyan would have been impressed.
That first Christmas (1965), they pulled out all the stops. They had a Jew to entertain. How exciting. A new audience. Jeff passed away twenty years ago, but his mother — she will be 104 in February — still sends a Christmas present. I have one in the living room right now waiting to be unwrapped.
The nine years I lived in Israel gave me perspective. There was no evidence of Christmas. Chanukah was a holiday, but not like Christmas. Passover and Sukkot were big festivals. It was comfortable to be a Jew in Israel. That sounds redundant, but the freedom to live by a Jewish calendar was no small thing. Even if you were entirely non-religious, you didn’t feel the pressure to be involved in what is — theoretically — a Christian holiday, but is — as practiced — Pagan. I like the Pagan part.
Basically, I have no religious affiliation. Jewish by ethnicity and history. And I know a lot about Judaism, admire it, but I don’t practice it and never have. I thought seriously about practicing it but it didn’t fit better than anything else. I’m skeptical of everything, certain of nothing. I have no answers.
So to all of you, Merry Christmas. Have a cool Yule and a grand Solstice. Whatever you celebrate, please — enjoy it! I’ll sing along because I know all the words.
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