Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blue Christmases

There is a problem with doing an entry a day for nearly 13 years.   Especially when it comes to Holidailies.  Holidailies is great and provides themes for holiday-related entries to make this all very Christmassy or Hanukkah-y or whatever your holiday of choice may be.

Problem is that over 13 years, I have really pretty much done all the biggies, in some cases more than once.  I've written about holiday traditions, and favorite Christmas movies, and traditional foods, and my favorite holidays songs, the best gifts I ever received, my annual Christmas letter, and a whole bunch of esoteric stuff.  I've printed pictures of our famous "train picture" through the years...

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...posted video of the Egg Nog Gala...

and took a photo safari through town to take pictures of nice holiday light displays, as well as documenting my then-boss's amazingly decorated house.

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I kept thinking there must be some facet of the holidays that I can write a "holiday entry" about when the shuffle of music on my iPod came to "Blue Christmas" and it set me to thinking about the dark side of Christmas and how we have come through those dark days and into the light, thanks to two little angels in Santa Barbara.

I want to preface this by saying that my father was a mailman. Christmas is not a mailman's favorite holiday--at least not his. This was proven by the number of times he grumbled "I hate Christmas" from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. You couldn't let your excitement about the approaching holiday show because you never knew when your excitement and happiness about Christmas would cause a rage and then would come the Dreaded Silence. 

He even went so far as to schedule a nervous breakdown over Christmas when I was about 13. I know it wasn't his fault, but I do remember that Christmas and how uneasy we all were, knowing how fragile his mental state was.

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(Maybe the only time he smiled this Christmas, in 1959)

When the holiday finally came and the family gathered together for Christmas, he hated his mother so much that invariably he would get upset with her. In truth, none of us liked to spend much time with her, and sooner or later during the evening, all four of us--my mother, father, sister and I would be hiding out in the kitchen, pretending to be working on the dinner, while my grandparents, godfather, and whatever guests had come to share the evening with us, would be sitting in the living room, until we realized that someone had to go back and be with the guests.

I vowed that when we had kids, we would not have Christmases like that. I think that we pretty much gave the kids merry Christmases, and good memories to remember. At least I hope so.

When they got out of the little kid/Santa stage, the magic came with huge Christmas dinners. We were hosting foreign students in those years, and whoever ended up without a home got invited to dinner. I think our biggest year was 24 people gathered around the dinner table. You'd think we have a huge dining room, but we don't. This is a 22x12 room. We had to borrow chairs and tables from the local community center (where the kids worked, and could borrow them). There was absolutely no room to move. Once you sat down, that was it. No getting up because there was no place to go. I had the only seat that was "mobile" because I was serving food. We might have five different countries represented around the table, in addition to the family.   I loved those years.

The foreign students finally faded away and we were left with just family. In truth, by then we were all ready for smaller dinners. The thing that marked all of our dinners was laughter. I loved the laughter. The kids would put on terrible shows--but as they got older, the shows got better. Some of the traditional dumb skits rolled over from year to year, but they got better at playing musical instruments, and the shows turned into concerts. David, who never learned a musical instrument, did his one-finger rendition of "Deck the Halls," which year after year sent Uncle Norm into spasms of laughter.

I was sometimes sad in those years because by then my mother had re-married and her husband's family always...always... came first. I think there was only one year when she and Fred spent Christmas with us.  We were always set aside for "some other day" that was convenient for her, not the holiday itself, which hurt because I grew up learning the importance of the whole family being together to celebrate and I hated having to take a back seat every year to my mother's other family.

The kids grew up, moved out, and Ned married, but everyone was always able to come home for Christmas, so we still had the big family Christmas, with the special breakfast, where our foster-son Vince squoze the fresh oranges for juice, someone else would do the bacon, and someone the eggs, and I would bake some sort of special holiday bread...and then the day-long "mom's Christmas crisis," trying to get the house ready for the rest of the family, with everybody helping.

And then May 18, 1996 happened.  David was killed.   Our baby was gone. No more would we hear him playing "Deck the Halls" or see his big smile and hear his hearty laugh.  I tried to find an angel in a black leather jacket for the top of the tree that year.  I thought surely I could find one in San Francisco's Castro District, but no luck.  But someone found a keychain of a black leather jacket with "bitch" written in pink on the back and sent it to me.   It became our "David ornament," to join the tennis ball that was our "Seymour" (dog) ornament.  But Christmas was hard that year.  

I'll have a blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue thinking about you...

Instead of going to midnight Mass, we all assembled (with lots of friends and the dog) in the cemetery at midnight, stood around David's grave, put a little Christmas tree there, passed around a bottle of Jim Beam and poured it over his grave.  We sang Christmas carols, cried, and hugged each other.   Then we went home to have Christmas, a bit subdued that year.

We continued the cemetery ritual in 1997 and 1998 and in 1999 the unthinkable happened--Paul died too.  Our middle child.   I didn't even want to put up a tree that year, but Walt did, so we bought one and then, on the day we were going to decorate it, a bunch of wonderful, wonderful guys from the band Ned, Marta, Jeri and Paul were in for 10 years showed up to help us decorate and drink egg nog and make a bittersweet activity much sweeter.

After 1999, I often felt I was going through the motions of Christmas.  Without David and Paul there was a big hole in our celebration, but everyone else tried so hard to make it happy, so I joined in and that made it easier.

Things began to change again in 2008, when Brianna was born and new traditions began to be formed.  As in the years when things moved from my parents' house to our house, because we were the one with little kids, now Christmas is spent at Tom and Laurel's house, so the girls can be home to wait for Santa, and  that has made Christmas new again.

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Christmas 2011

We don't have any firmly established Christmas traditions yet.  We're still working that out.  Whoever can make it, comes.  Sometimes Ned and Marta can join us, sometimes Jeri can be here.  Sometimes Walt's brother and his wife come.  My mother never comes, but says "no, go to Santa Barbara.  You should be with your grandchildren." 

With Christmas in a different location, the big hole that was the absence of Paul and David is much smaller.  I am sad that they are missing watching their neices grow up, but the pain is gone.  Thanks to those beautiful little girls, my Blue Christmases have disappeared and the magic is back again, seen through the eyes of a new generation.

1 comment:

Mary Z said...

There are some Christmas hugs for you in Chattanooga (or any other time, for that matter). I'm so glad you have Bri and Lacie to build new traditions.