As I turn over to the last calendar page for the year I begin to realize that the Christmas season is upon us. I had tried to ignore the merchandising hints in August that yuletide was eminent. I am afraid that the Easter Bunny is going to get bumped out of a job when the retailers start playing Christmas carols in April. It is only natural to relive Christmas memories of the past when a chill hits the air. Many families have a favorite Christmas movie that they ritualistically watch every year. For many “It’s a Wonderful Like” or “Miracle on 34th Street” is a family tradition. Our family may be a bit different in that “A Christmas Story” the movie based on the stories of Jean Shepherd holds the place of reverence as the film that warms our hearts. This movie and the humorous antics surrounding an Indiana family still makes me laugh. Much of the dialogue has become a standard part of our genealogical vocabulary. None of us will ever pronounce “Fragile” properly again just out of respect for the movie. The number 2 seasonal movie would have to be “Christmas Vacation”. Just one look at the relatives in this film would deter anyone in researching their lineage. I envision myself in years to come as Aunt Bethany. She is totally out of touch reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as grace at the table and wrapping up the cat as a gift each year.
I feel the reason these two films are endearing to me is that they are not too much of an exaggeration. Some of these scenes in most families are possible if the holiday is allowed to meander unrestrained on it’s own course. I remember when we were young that my brother found this time of year most difficult for him. He had a problem keeping secrets and it was know that he could succumb during interrogation. You can take comfort in the fact that he did not choose a career in the CIA. The memory of the day that we took that first step into adulthood…never to return to childhood innocence is most vivid over 40 years later. This was the day that we were told that there was no Santa Claus. Of course it fell upon our mom to do the dirty deed. Smart thinking on the part of fathers everywhere. Why not etch that earth shattering revelation in your memory with the bearer of the bad news being your mother. Most dads dodge that bullet. Their time will come soon enough though as their sons reach puberty and they have to explain the cycle of life. From most men I envision this oration of life science to be like the play by play of a ballgame. “He comes out of the dug out. He hasn’t had too good of record so far in his rookie season. He has yet to get to first base but today we feel he has the chance to get on the scoreboard. Here comes the pitch; a little erratic but he manages to take a swing at it. Not the best of form but he connects. The hit is low but he frantically heads for first base. The play is stopped dead before he gets there. In a flurry of dust and disappoint his first attempt was not glorious. Another day he will be victorious…” as his father explains.
My mom sat down my brother and I when we were probably six or so and told us the cold hard truth. The big guy does not exist! I have come to decide the Santa entity was created to show kids how parents will twist your psyche. This head manipulation most likely will continue well into your married life. When Mom dropped the Santa epiphany upon us I think we took it pretty well. Moms have a way of making bad medicine tolerable. Of course it is always bolstered with the “you are growing up” compliments. I have news for parents everywhere. Kids are not so anxious to grow up until they begin to see the driver’s learners permit in sight. This Santa disclosure came with a confidentiality clause though. We were not to tell my cousin Rodney as he still “believed”. Rodney was 10 months younger than I, and 3 months older than my brother.
We swore that we would not tell and I personally thought it might be fun have “one over” old Rod by knowing the scoop. It just so happened that we were going to my uncle’s that very day. We were reminded shortly before the car came to a halt about the “Big” secret we knew and were not to share.
The car barely came to a stop before my brother flung open the door and ran toward Rodney as he came to meet us. I can see vividly my brother whispering to Rod as soon as he came within ear-shot. There was no doubt about the content of the hushed conversation. Rod began to cry. He had been denied the benefit of motherly interpretation as we had when we received the news. My brother felt it best to state the facts to him plain and simple in one painful strike. I think Scott did a service because Rod was ready. He processed this revelation and also came to the conclusion that “well there probably isn’t any Easter Bunny either”. This was not the only time my brother had a problem with a Christmas secret. A few years later my mom wanted a new set of wedding rings for Christmas. She had made all the hints and suggestions. My dad had gotten her a new set of rings and told my brother and I this secret. Scott and I were sitting with Mom at the kitchen table. My mom could be one of those police interrogators just like on Law and Order. Her tactic was build up my brother’s confidence and then come in with the bare knuckles question “Did your dad get me new wedding rings for Christmas”. I chose this moment to leave the room. I wasn’t his lawyer and could be of no help to him. This was before Miranda so he was wide open to subversive tactics. Mom even offered him a plea. I can’t say for sure if a bribe was discussed but recollection has it that there was some mention of money. He was weakening fast. Just as he began to crumble under the millstone my dad walked past the kitchen doorway. To this day there are varying eyewitness accounts as to the exact gesture that my dad used to convey to my brother that it would not be in his best interests to spill his guts. What ever it was it got the point across and my brother left the interrogation room confidence battered but with his secret intact.
My dad always knew how to make Christmas memorable. Like most men he believed that the best present you could buy your wife would be something that plugged in and ran on electricity. This belief is still prominent today. Just walk down the aisle at Wal-Mart and see all those kitchen appliances that some poor unsuspecting wife will receive and never use. How about that combination electric snow cone maker and waffle iron…man that is a great idea because it saves so much counter space. Don’t forget to pick up that 18 volt electric mixer. You know the one that dims all the lights in the house when you beat egg whites. I remember well one of the gifts my dad bought my mom. That present was a pair of electric scissors. This was before the days of infomercials. Were they produced by Ronco? I can’t say because fortunately this was the only pair I have ever seen. My mom did very little sewing. She didn’t like to sew and actually avoided it if at all possible. But boy she had a pair of electric scissors that were guaranteed to streamline cutting out patterns. Now you had to almost use an extension cord to be able cut out a dress because the scissors had a rather short cord. Duh….the guys in R & D missed that one. Now this was during the era of polyester and double knit. If you were sewing you were using these types of fabrics. These scissors sure didn’t waste anytime getting dull. This was another miscue by the manufacturing team. You really had to see a pair of these dull scissors knawing to cut a 3 inch length of knit. It was not a pretty sight mind you. It looked somewhat like a man without dentures eating jerky.
If not a shopper, my dad did see to it to procure some memorable Christmas trees. We lived in the country with acres of trees so my dad felt it was foolish to go out and buy a tree when we had such a forest of bounty. In early years we bought trees from a fellow that had a Christmas tree farm. They were really nice shaped trees and always decorated up really nicely. In later years when my mom and I would begin to talk about going to buy a tree Dad would tell us not to go out and buy one because he had a nice cedar tree spotted. We females would be anxious to put up the tree. But like most men my dad was on the testosterone timetable so that meant wait to the last minute. Finally he and my brother would venture out to cut the tree. I would always have a sinking feeling until they returned because we never knew what they would return with. Some acquisitions weren’t too bad, but one year particularly stands out.
Actually this was the LAST year that we had a live tree. My dad and brother returned from the woods victorious…or so they thought. The tree my dad had scoped out was not quite as full as he had originally remembered, but against the wall one would never notice. Mom and I watched out the window in horror while dad proceeded to put the tree in the stand. If a evergreen tree could have the rickets this poor thing would be a textbook case. As dad stood the tree up in the living room he had trouble deciding just which “side” gave the tree’s best profile. This was an exercise in futility because a good side… Ole Tannenbaum had none. The tree was so sparse that we could have hung basketballs for ornaments and they would not have touched another branch. Like most men my dad sees a chance to make enhancement modifications. You know like when men want to put a V-8 engine in the lawn mower? My dad goes upstairs and gets his fishing tackle box. That’s right boys and girls. Monofilament fishing line is just the thing for tying up those tree branches for that special holiday effect. Even my brother stood mouth agape as my dad proceeded to tie up the tree in foot after foot of plastic bondage. Then the master artist stepped back to view his work and with a “doesn’t look too bad” he turned over closing up the patients wound to mom and I. Close up the patient with what….there was no suture material left. It had been used to crisscross from top to bottom. The poor thing looked more like a warped loom than a stalwart sentinel of the forest. As mom and I proceeded to try and hang ornaments we realized how impossible it was going to be. We became entangled in the network of filaments like flies in a spider web. We usually took pictures of our tree every year or had pictures of Christmas day activities around the tree. If this tree was in any picture they have since mysteriously disappeared. Not exactly one for the decoration memory book.
The moral of this story boys and girls, the next Christmas found a new artificial in our living room. That’s right a tree composed of branches made of plastic filaments. In looking back maybe dad was on to something.