MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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 almost Christmas time.

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It’s when we see everything filtered through childhood memories, wrapped in music, movies, and hectic preparations. Ready to greet folks we don’t often see.

We force ourselves to shift gears, putting aside worries about health, bills, and family drama. Put on a happy face for the most wonderful time of the year. 

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Emotions are curious things with which the holiday season plays fast and loose. For those of us who tend to internalize our feelings, it can be tricky. Smiling isn’t easy. Showing happiness is not instinctive.

It was easy for me to show emotions in my professional life. I can still produce a professional smile on cue. But now, we’re talking about real life. As time has marched on, I find it harder to get into the Christmas spirit. I miss childhood.

As a kid, Christmas was anticipation. I was Ralphie in A Christmas Story. The year I campaigned for the two-gun Roy Rogers set was very anxious. My hopes were almost dashed when I thought Santa had not heard me as we ripped though our presents that Christmas morning. But Dad, who always had a funny smile during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, motioned to one last present.

A Christmas Story - 1983
A Christmas Story – 1983

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 poor, though Mom frequently reminded us. We nearly always got what we wanted for Christmas. We didn’t feel deprived.

My holiday memories include a whole tribe of relatives who are gone. Our Christmas card list was long. It included aunts, uncles, cousins, grandpa, grandma. I still see them 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.

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These days, I am the only one in the family who sends real Christmas cards. I write messages to each person and get writer’s cramp for my efforts. But I see my Mother hovering behind me somewhere, nodding her approval. I have to nudge myself not to buy or write cards for Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma … and all those aunts and uncles.

I chide myself, “Hey, you’re not a kid anymore.”

Photograph and card designed and created by Bob Mielke
Photograph and card designed and created by Bob Mielke

I’m Gramps, one of the old people, something our 19-year-old granddaughter likes reminding us. With that reminder comes a sense of loneliness that lingers. Movies are my fix, taking me back in time. Unlike the real world, the movies stay the same.

I grew up 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, 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.

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 the decades, watched those stories and associated me with festive times. The real me chuckles at TV reporter me — trying to separate fact from fiction. Print the legend, they say. Roll everything.

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.

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It’s nearly Christmas again. The big tree has been replaced  this year by a small, imitation tree. The gifts are waiting to be wrapped. This evening, we watched “A Christmas Story” and laughed. As we always do.

And as I write this, Bing is singing “White Christmas”. As he always does. Every year, just in time for Christmas.

A COOKWARE CONUNDRUM

LIVING THE NOWNESS

Last week, I forgot about the shrimp. I set it to steaming and went back to the computer. When I smelled that unmistakable acrid smoke, I said “Oops.” Pretty big oops. I torched a pound of jumbo shrimp, which was bad. More important, I destroyed my favorite pot.

It was a 5-quart pasta/steamer/stock pot. It was stainless steel, about 20-years old. Early Cuisinart. They don’t make that specific pot anymore. I bought something that looked similar, but it turns out that 12 quarts is a lot bigger than I imagined. It’s so big that when it is one-third full of water, I can’t lift it out of the sink, much less hoist it to the stove. You could cook two out of three of our dogs in that pot. At the same time.

Our half pound of pasta got lost in its depths.

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The rest of my cookware is cast iron. I love cast iron. It never sticks and it’s low-maintenance. No peeling Teflon in your chili, either.

But. It weighs a ton. Each piece is heavier than the last. I need Garry to move it. When my wrists are in working order, I can move one (empty) pot using two hands. If there’s anything in the pot, I can’t move it at all.

Tonight, I made chicken and mushrooms in white sauce over vermicelli. I filled the big new pot with water — barely a third of the way and had to call Garry to carry it to the stove. Then he had come back to move the frying pan. Garry did the dishes and came out of kitchen exhausted.

“I’m in good shape,” he pointed out. He is. Excellent shape. He exercises every day. It’s a Marine thing. “I don’t mind doing dishes. But that’s ridiculous. Between that gigantic pot and the 20-pound frying pan … I’m beat.”

“I guess I need to rethink my cookware options,” I said.

“You think?” he said.

It turns out I can get a very nice set of Cuisinart stainless 18/10 for $150. But I’d need to seriously rethink the way I cook.

You can’t cook with stainless the way you cook in cast iron. And what will I do with the stuff I own? No way I can get new cookware without getting rid of the other stuff because it’s completely filling up all the cabinets. And shelves.

On the other hand, we aren’t getting younger and those pots aren’t getting lighter. Oh bother.