For Christmas, the year I was in 8th grade, I got two presents: a little black & white television, and a giant throw pillow. Mom and Dad gave us four younger kids (there were six in total) all the same two gifts. Mom made each of the pillows, which were 5 feet long and a few across, at least. Mine was a black and red animal print, and I loved it. All of us kids dragged the pillows around the house, threw them on the floor, and watched tv or read, or whatever pre- and young teens did in the early 1970s. I remember that the televisions were $50 each and I thought that was so much money, especially times four kids. When I think how much work Mom put into sewing four ginormous pillows, I wished I would have thanked her more than I probably did. She was a stay-at-home Mom then, eventually going back to work when the youngest kid was 11. And so she surreptitiously made these huge things when we were in school and probably late at night. She hid them in the trailer that was in our driveway. Sneaky.
This time of year not only harkens the angels, it does old memories too. And perhaps you are also getting more nostalgic in these Times of COVID; and for those in middle age, even more, as the space between way back then and now widens each year. Remember flocked Christmas trees? How they changed color from the rotating wheel shining on it? I should probably be embarrassed for myself and my siblings for how long we spent laying on the floor next to the tree and staring at how the light transformed the branches, the colors glinting off of the white flock and round, shiny ornaments. Andy Williams, Bing, Nat King Cole, Ella, Doris and Rosemary Clooney records played on the boxy wooden stereo set and we rolled around in front of it singing along, our excitement growing as Christmas got closer. As Swiss-Austrian ancestry influenced our holidays, we also celebrated St. Nickolas Day, so Santa would leave a few chocolates, a color book or other little gift stuffed in the shoes we left lined up against a wall in the living room. That event so primed the pump of Christmas that the energy in the house around Christmas, with baking smells and wrapping paper just adding to it, reached a crescendo sometimes that should have led Mom to the liquor cabinet. But she just kept baking.
At some point I started buying back my childhood and the nostalgic feelings that certain artifacts held. This included the orange-cover Childcraft books, which were a popular type of encyclopedia for younger children in the 1950s and 1960s, with colorful illustrated poems, stories and facts, silly to serious, each book a different theme. Then it was old-fashioned plates and dishes I purchased from antique stores that my grandmother or mother used that reminded me of them. Living far away from my family for more than two decades, nostalgia got me baking the cookies Mom made for us at Christmas, including when I lived in Africa, tripping out my friends and colleagues with Spritz cookies, fudge and Pillsbury’s best holiday classics as the hot, dry Kalahari sun beat down around us.
When I’m being brutally honest with myself, I realize that nostalgia is basically a child’s vision and version of their childhood that may or may not have really happened. There was all kinds of other shit going down in the family that we were all shielded from so that we would have an innocent childhood, thanks to my parents. Later in life Mom or Dad would tell me things I never knew about, incidents that occurred with family members like my Grandmother or one of my Dad’s half-siblings, or his childhood in poverty living with a single mother. My Grandmother was an uneducated, grouchy bitch who wasn’t always very nice to my Dad, but who he always supported despite that. Dad’s half-brother tried to molest him. I didn’t know any of that or hundreds of other things that would have made me or my siblings worry about things that were the realm of grownups. My parents let us be kids and created a set of memories that have given me and my siblings a nostalgic landscape that at times, especially recently, has been sustaining. Healing at best, distracting at worst. You could even say it’s my drug of choice, like an eggnog liqueur with nutmeg sprinkles or a really smooth Sativa pre-roll.
This is the first Christmas without my parents, Dad dying in March 2020 and Mom a year later. 2020 was a sad, damn Christmas. Mom was feeling enslaved in her memory care facility and losing her mind with shocking speed, and we were all hiding in our respective homes trying not to get COVID and feeling sick about Mom (see earlier posts about Mom’s Great Escape from the memory care facility; it’s funny and not funny). This year the Husband and I moved into our forever house on the coast, which took a year to build, and all my siblings are coming to our home for Christmas. Each of us carries both a shared set of holiday memories that bind us together, and our own too, that we try to find a piece of, so we can recapture that idyllic Christmas feeling of yore. Seeking out a balm to heal our wounds from our parents’ painful deaths, a world in sickness and lockdown, and ignorant, hateful people led by one of history’s top egomaniacal frauds, we cling to more innocent times. Christmas lights up and down the blocks of neighborhoods nearby, visits to Santa and a trip downtown where store windows danced with perfect winter scenes, and jumping on a horse-drawn cart and finding the just-right Christmas tree to cut down on the cold hillside, together bring a sense of peace, a deep cleansing breath.
Some might say we’re living a fantasy and we should get real about childhood not being some perfect moment in time. Fine. But what’s the harm in gaining some pleasure from the idyll of childhood, especially Christmas memories? If that brings comfort — just as an alcoholic beverage, a joint or a Prozac might do — than who cares. I’d rather get calm waxing nostalgic over Christmas songs than having to pop some pharmaceutical or slug down vodka to bring the same sense of peace.
So please, holly jolly to your heart’s content this winter of holidays. And all the better if you can release a few demons or a stress ball or two from your mind by thinking back to perhaps happier times, when we didn’t know everything. And that was perfect.
From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon coast.
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