A blog that is a hodgepodge of childhood memories would not be complete if we did not share at least a few holiday thoughts. This time of year was an interesting time in my adolescence. I've been trying to think of a time during the holidays when I was beaten, heart-broken or embarrassed beyond repair, but I simply can't think of any. It's a Christmas miracle! So I guess I'll have to share another positive experience. Don't worry - I'll get back to my old, negative ways at the beginning of the year.
The holidays for every American begin at the end of November. Why the rest of the world hasn't adopted Thanksgiving is a mystery beyond my reasoning. It is a wonderful time of friendship, families and food. Before I hit those awkward teenage years, when EVERTHING is a horrific event concocted by your parents to embarrass and humiliate you, I would look forward to this time of year more than all others.
Every year we gathered at my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Terry's house at the end of November for a feast fit for a king. I'm sure that all of the adults who went had some reason for wishing they didn't have to go each year (my father couldn't stand one of my uncles and complained every year about him), but for the kids, it was a day where we could eat as much as we wanted, of whatever we wanted, and not get yelled at.
Not only was there a never ending buffet of turkey, dressing, potatoes, more casseroles than you could imagine, and desserts of every sort, there was also the ‘unrestricted play factor’ for us kids. Terry and Sherry lived in the country, and their farm was a great place for a large pack of cousins to run wild and get into trouble. November was also a big football time, so the adults would gather in the living room around the TV, while the kids would start up a game outside. Someone would always get hurt. There would be a lot of crying and shouting, followed by parent coddling and finger pointing, and then we would all go back inside and eat a second round of turkey and the trimmings. Life didn’t get much better for a kid.
The other Thanksgiving Day tradition that sticks in my mind was my annual wrestle with my cousin Barry. Barry is the son of my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Terry. We are close to the same age and we would always end up wrestling at some point. I’ve never been one for flagrant shows of masculinity, but for some reason I always thought it was a good idea on turkey day to try and kick Barry’s ass. I’m sure it started out because he was a little younger than me, and I thought I should be able to best him, but he always ended up kicking my ass instead. From then on I made it became my goal each year to make him cry “uncle”, which always ended with me screaming like a little girl because he was making me eat grass. Then I studied Jiu Jitsu, and everything changed.
We arrived at my aunt and uncle’s like any other Thanksgiving: dishes of food in tow and ready for the traditional holiday gluttony to begin. Only I had another tradition that was stronger than my desire to make my stomach swell to twice its normal size; I was finally going to make Barry beg for mercy. I bided my time – eating only enough to satisfy, but not so much as to slow down my stealthy ninja moves – and I waited until the kids all moved outside for the game. I hid in the shadows, like any good ninja would, and watched while all of them scampered and frolicked about chasing an oblong ball like children. But I was no longer a child. I was twelve-years-old young man and a yellow belt in Jui Jitsu. This would be Barry’s day to go down.
After what seemed like an eternity, the football game ended and I came out of the shadows. It was time to make my move. I walked up to Barry and casually said: “Hey, let’s wrestle.” To my dismay, he refused. I was in such shock that he didn’t want to try to kick my butt like he had in the past ump-teen Thanksgivings before, that I just stood there dumb-founded while he went back in the house. It was probably for the best. Jui Jitsu is a martial art that is mostly focused on punching and kicking, which isn’t at all what we did when we wrestled. If I had studied Judo, it might have helped, but Barry was a real farm-boy and he was always a lot stronger than me, so I bet he would have still kicked my ass. I’m not sure if my pride could have taken that sort of a beating after setting my expectations so high. So, I say: “thank you Cousin Barry for not kicking my ass anymore Thanksgivings after I started Jui Jitsu.” It was an early Christmas gift.
Christmas Eve was almost a repeat of Thanksgiving Day; only this time we would be at Grandma and Grandpa Langdon's house. They lived in town, but had a large backyard in which we could act out our hooligan ways. It was usually a bit more subdued because Grandma was a worrier and would come unglued if we got too rowdy. They also held our gift exchange over our heads. The threat to be the only child not to open his present when the time came could keep even me on my best behavior.
Finally Christmas morning would arrive. You felt like it would never come and then once it had arrived, you couldn't believe it was actually the day. My sister, Renee, would always be the first to wake up. Sometimes I wonder if she ever went to sleep. She would wake up before the crickets and wake my brother and I up so that she didn't have to wait alone for mom and dad to get up. I'm not sure why she was so excited. She was the biggest snoop I've ever known, and whenever my parents were out of the house, she attacked their bedroom like a starving dog sniffing out a hidden bone. Most years we all knew exactly what we were getting because Renee had scoped it out weeks earlier. The only mystery was who was getting the battleship game and who was getting the lame clock-radio.
We would all creep down the stairs to the tree. You couldn't make too much noise because if you woke the sleeping bear next to my mother, a Christmas massacre would be on the headlines of every local paper. The scene that greeted us was as close to Christmas magic as you can get. A mound of presents, illuminated by blinking, multicolored lights, dwarfed the Christmas tree and made us giddy with greed. We never had a lot of money growing up, but somehow this never stopped my parents from making us stare in wonder at all the brightly colored presents under that tree. I learned later in life that it is all about the size of the box you wrap things in.
With hours to wait until our parents got up, all we could do was look at the name tags on the boxes and figure out who got stuck with the clock-radio (me). Fortunately, we had our stockings to entertain us. Mom would stuff candy and one small present into each of our Christmas stockings, which we were allowed to open before they awoke. It was probably the only thing that kept us from losing our minds while we waited for the bear to emerge from hibernation.
About the time when we were on the verge of a candy-induced, present-ripping riot, we would hear the up-stairs toilet flush - the bear has arisen. This only meant that now we had to wait for him to have a cigarette, make coffee, drink said coffee, have another cigarette, pee again, stall and watch us squirm, more coffee... you get the picture. My father's greatest holiday joy was watching us turn to stone as we waited for his blessing to open our gifts. By the time he said: "go ahead", we were so worked-up that it only took us seconds to turn a mound of beautifully wrapped gifts into a pile of shredded paper and mangled cardboard boxes.
I could ramble on about 'post-present regret' and 'gift envy', but I've already gone on more than my share. I do hope that you and our readers have a merry Christmas and a happy new year. (Sometimes cliches say it best!)
I did enjoy your post, and thought that the scenes with the Bear were just wonderful. And that clock radio thing reminded me of the way people seemed to assume just because I was a girl, I'd want a doll for Christmas. Dolls were for me what clock radios were for you....
But aside from that, it's a good thing you had plenty to say this week, for I’ve tried peering into the past, but Christmas refused to give itself up and be written about. I do have a few jumbled memories of too much food, of adults drinking too much wine and falling asleep in armchairs on hot southern-hemisphere Christmas afternoons, and of church services that went on way too long. I have some other memories of Great Uncle Richard and Great Aunt Blodwen, smelling of mothballs, creating between them an atmosphere of stupefying boredom, on this their annual and much-dreaded visit.
I think I’d like to redesign Christmas from scratch, and this is how I’d like to do it: I’d do away with gift-giving and gorging and all the other forms of over-indulgence. The day would be like any other, marked only by a single new tradition. Everyone would go on a pilgrimage to a nativity scene set up somewhere humble and ordinary – in someone’s garage or garden shed, perhaps. And there, one by one we’d pay our simple respects, each in our own way. Perhaps a choir could be singing carols in the background. I don’t mean the silly Jingle Bells ones, but the more heartfult ones, the O Come all Ye Faithful ones. There’d be no sermons of course. No point in spoiling the beauty and simplicity of the moment with anything as horrendous as a sermon.
And that would be that. That would be Christmas. What do you think? Would you want to sign up for that kind of Christmas?
I will see you again in a few week’s time, DB, sometime in the New Year. It’s been great getting to know you this year. One of my highlights, in fact. So till then, here's wishing you a happy Christmas and New Year,