Christmas! The “holidays!” New (and better!) Year!
There’s a forced cheeriness about this time of year that has always inspired the opposite for me…my writer angsty side sees dead forest trees shedding needles in protest of being propped in water in living rooms with crap unearthed from the attic boxes winded onto it’s weary arms…yeah, bah, humbug, right?
I trace it to a particular 12-year old Christmas, 1970. The fifth Collins kid, Kenny, would have been a toddler, Janet still a believer, but the three older kids, we were of an age when we bolted out of early morning beds to discover what our parents had bought for us, hoping and hoping those weeks of dreaming fulfilled, please, oh, please? Twelve, the cusp year—I was skinny and in awe of girls-who-liked-boys, seeing my messy family anew, hopelessly adrift most days. My present pile was noticeably smaller than my siblings: socks, underwear, that fake book that was really rolls of lifesavers. I felt my mother’s scrutiny and pasted a smile, forced a “thank you!” while my brothers and sisters squealed (for real) over gadgets and toys. My chest hurt, a physical disappointment, I opened a butter rum roll with precision to avoid looking up. Socks and underwear piled on my lap on the couch.
My mother was flumoxxed, “get up, get up!” she said to me, bed-head hair flattened on one side, wearing her new homemade green velour bathrobe with fake white fur. Another exhortation to quit being so selfish, right? She dug her hands into the couch cushions where I’d sat and pulled out an envelope. I looked at her, mouth full of butter rum, Carol, Bobby, Janet, Kenny gathered. “Open it,” she said.
Inside, five tickets to the Ice Capades at the Boston Garden, a family outing for a family that had never, not once, set foot inside the Garden, the Science Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Franklin Zoo, Barnum and Bailey’s, the Symphony nor the Ballet, not even the Showcase Cinemas (nor apple picking or hay rides or the Chinese restaurant or Friendly’s); a family with a backyard pool and a hundred neighborhood kids for one-on-one basketball or roller skating or riding bikes.
The outing itself was magical, coming home with Carol, Bobby and me squeezed into the backseat of the Valiant, my mom and Dad pointing out an obscure Uncle’s neighborhood wiped out by the building of Rt. 93 in Somerville, looking into the passing livingrooms of the city dwellers from the elevated highway, imagining their lives and loves. Life expanded beyond my suburban neighborhood.
No family Christmas ever lived up to that one. I grew surly in adolescence, our parents divorced, one by one we moved away, the family reconfigured with boyfriends and girlfriends, little brothers became adults.
The period of making Christmases and holidays for our kids with an extraordinarly generous husband capable of finding meaning in the “pile,” the bigger the better, squashed the dread of disappointment, but when even they, in young adulthood said “enough,” the niggling returned, full-blown. What does it mean, this year-end? Especially this year, the year in which I’ve left all of the family, friend and office traditions—the CMO yankee swap and Christmas book group lunch, the Collins Xmas Eve dinner and Pauline Xmas morning breakfast gift opening?
I have no firm answers (sorry…) I’m searching, still. What I can say is this: everywhere I look these days, I see opportunity. In Palo Alto, Stanford’s traditions include a sing-along Messiah in the gorgeous and astonishing Memorial Church, so yes, absolutely, we went…no, my Collins out-of-tune voice silent, but my heart soared with that sound. The two week University shutdown means we can be back in our Florida home and the sun (El Nino has hit the west coast), grateful beyond belief. Dad and Carol will drive down from NC to meetup with us and our kids, the first time we’ve been together for Christmas since they sold that suburban home years, maybe decades ago.
That old Bandera Drive house where my mother unearthed the best Chrismas present I ever got: the gift of a widening world.
That old Bandera Drive house where my mother unearthed the best Christmas present I ever got: the gift of a widening world.