DATELINE: November 16, 2020, from Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon coast
Someone gave me a Better Homes & Gardens magazine yesterday, which I normally wouldn’t read unless I was in a doctor’s office (well, before COVID eliminated germy, over-touched magazines). It was on the footstool in our rental and I suddenly got a flashback to the holidays from days gone by. In the 1960s in November, the JC Penney and Montgomery Ward catalogs, and women’s magazines, were to kids what Amazon is today. They were filled with all of the latest toys, as well as traditional favorites, like Raggedy Ann and Etch-a-Sketch and Legos (yes, we had those even in the dark ages! But not the sophisticated kits that exist today).
I remember spending hours in the living room with my siblings hungrily turning each page of the toy sections and being the first to say, “That’s mine!” We knew it never would be, but it was fun imagining an unlimited toy budget. The women’s mags — like BH&G and Ladies Home Journal — had special sections of toys too before the holidays, and we greedily found where my Mom had these in her and Dad’s bedroom or other parts of the house, circling our absolute favorite toys and hoping someone would notice.
At a certain point, Mom would come into the living room and tell us to go outside or go downstairs, as our repetitive toy shouting game wasn’t that much fun for her to listen to. If it wasn’t raining then there were numerous things to do outside in our large yard, such as finding autumn leaves, picking up and eating hazel nuts (we called them filberts) and walnuts, playing in the playhouse my Dad built for us, riding our bikes to the next block to find friends, looking for wet rocks in mudpuddles that were pretty, playing dress up with much older cousins’ old prom gowns and putting on shows with Sound of Music or the Singing Nun as our sound track.
Thanksgiving was the first marker of pre-Christmas and the excitement really began, with the golden turkey, a million side dishes, and pies galore. St. Nickolas Day was the second marker, with our shoes filled with chocolate Santas and sticker books. Andy Williams and Nat King Cole and Bing records were played over and over as the tree was decorated, and then we turned off the lights and just watched the flocked tree and its ornaments glow different colors as the rotating light lit it up green, red, blue and yellow over and over again.
The Christmas pageant at our Catholic school was the third prelude, and we knew we would soon be free for a few weeks as it was usually on the penultimate day before we broke for the holidays. Then finally Christmas Eve, which began with a light dinner, Mom taking us to view holiday lights in the neighborhood, and Santa arriving when we were gone, while Dad was supposedly napping in the living room. Then Rip-Tear as the Grande Finale! And one night when we could eat all the Christmas cookies and candy we wanted without reproach or limitation.
I now know that the excitement and anticipation before Christmas Eve was actually more fun than the Rip Tear event itself. There was always an anti-climatic feeling after that, like what’s next? Afterwards it felt like we didn’t have anything to really be excited about of the scale that Christmas was. New Year’s Eve was ok, and would usually mean we got a Swanson TV dinner, which we thought was wonderful, some type of special treat, like a root beer float, and my parents would usually go out and we’d get to stay up really late with one of my big sisters babysitting, and bang pots and pans in the front yard.
As COVID ravages the world and family gatherings are cancelled, and as Dementia Mom rages and Dad is gone, the holiday memories are what will sustain us this year. Those are sweet memories, and seem even more vivid this year. Some might call it poignant. It is a beautiful and perfect sadness.