Truth be told, this is not my favorite time of year. Shoppers assaulting each other over games and tech products, Santas in abundance, screaming children, stores stocking Christmas products even before Halloween is over and often times, party goers simply nipping at the Magical Rum Punch just a wee bit too much.
But, this year I thought I should dig deep into my Grinch Bag and pull out some little bit of happy memories and jot them down.
I like to think of the Wonder Years, Rudolph, Frosty and Charlie Brown as having all been somewhat modeled after the Gartlan years on Yolanda Avenue. A "wonder" we didn't kill each other, someone always had a "red nose", someone had a chill, but then suffered a "meltdown" and finally, a little Christmas tree and Snoopy came to the rescue.
The 60s were an adventure. I was whole-heartily convinced my parents were on some sort of fashion-interior decorating acid trip when they initially purchased what was probably back then, stylish and smooth furniture. You know the type...avocado green shag carpet, some sort of bizarre yellow ...was it Goldenrod...not to be confused with GoldenSeal, although I suppose if my parents were into the smoking of the herb, they might confuse their furniture with a really warped trip. No, my parents were the epitome of the all American 60s family, right down to the Plymouth station wagon in hideous yellow, with no air-conditioning, and my Dad's hunter green Ford LTD with an AM/FM radio.
My dad Peter was one hell of an excellent man. Always dapper in his business suits, running out the door to sell real estate in the San Fernando Valley, and Mom packing lunches and sending us off to school. We even had Carmen, the nanny, who I still hold with deep affinity. There were swingsets, slides, fort building, a swimming pool, a dog and a cat. There were raucous fights between siblings, time-outs, "go to your room", "you're grounded" moments that still waft in and out of my recollections. Some pretty awful, some pretty awesome.
Christmas was a 50-50 deal to me. Some memories I have are terrible. I still feel the scars today, and it's affected my interpretation and general dislike of the holiday. But, then there are the golden moments, where the dreams of a little girl come true, and joy moved me more, just as they do today.
We had our traditions. Every family does. We were into the St. Nick Day, and the giving of an ornament for the tree marking that particular year. The purchasing of the tree; I suppose some Rotary tree lot, or church sponsored deal. The tree trimming was completed by the whole family to start with, followed by the lackluster appearances as we got older. And then there was my parents' Epiphany Parties after the holidays.
We had a fairly nice sized living room which you did not dare enter without good intentions. A white sofa, a few nice chairs, a piano, fireplace and a ....HI-FI! My Dad would turn on the record player and load up Bing Crosby's White Christmas, still one of my favorites. And in the corner of that green shag carpeted room, my parents would place the Christmas tree.
Always above 6 feet, although not too much, the delivery of the tree was a grand day. It's as though you just knew Santa was lurking somewhere; maybe the backyard, in the attic, the garage, the side yard. He was somewhere. Although a staunch, Irish Catholic family, we still have some Santa tossed in with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. My mother had a lovely crèche which was fun to unwrap from a box held together with twine, and over-sprayed with fake snow, Christmas tree lights that no doubt had seen better days, and loads of ornaments. Some years it was the tinsel all the way around, other years it was the dripping type tinsel, that was forever being pulled at by the immensely obtuse and completely too heavy, Kirby vacuum cleaner. Thankfully, as far as I can recall, there never was flocked trees. I tend to imagine that being odd since we lived in southern California, and it rarely snowed.
Dad really had a thing for Christmas. He'd make it a Saturday task to hang outdoor lights, and then move inside for decorating. He'd always buy some extra boughs of tree branches. After the tree was decked from head to toe, and even sometime leaning from one side or the other, Dad went to town on the rest of the house. He would take snippets from the extra boughs, and before you knew it, the place looked like a Douglas Fir walked right in the house and exploded. Little twigs of green, tucked into the corner of a frame, or on a shelf. The stuff was everywhere. I still wonder, but never can recall asking, what Christmas was like for my dad when he was a young lad in Ireland. I guess that's on the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" list.
If we were really committed to it, the family would do the Christmas eve Midnight Mass, and then were allowed to open ONE gift before retiring for the night. This habit was easier, when we were older, but as kids, we never seemed to get past 10p.m.
Usually Santa made his appearance sometime after midnight, and one of us would wake up the other kids, and 8 eyeballs would pop open in the wee hours...0400 to see what Santa had left. I think back now to how I might have reacted if a bunch of kids appeared at my bedside telling me to wake up. My parents handled it in stride.
There was the Dolan and Waggoner families who would come for the Christmas dinner, the stories shared over a fantastic meal prepared by my mother, who, quite possibly, made the best sweet dinner rolls shaped in a Christmas tree ever. Turkey, trimmings, dessert. It was a gut busting event. Dad had a thing for Almond Rocha, so by dinner time we had either eaten too much of that, or See's Candies, and became sick off candy cane overdosing. And no Christmas ever passed in our house without first being required to attend Mass.
I still recall counting out change in Bullock's Department Store, at the foot of an escalator, so I could buy my Dad a bottle of British Sterling. We never did the little red ship cologne, but went big on the sterling stuff. There were times spent telling Santa about Barbie dolls, toys, electric rollers, perfume, and the popular but unrealistic, new car.
Sometimes I dream of being able to go back to those memories and actively re-live them. But, like all things past, you visit them a bit, put them away in a box, and tie it with twine until the next Christmas rolls around.