Blue Sky Writing

12/24/06. The ghosts of Xmases past…


I hardly know what to say anymore in today’s tetchy social climate when season’s greetings might meet with reciprocity — “Why thank you. And a cool yule to you, too!” — or militant hostility — “It’s CHRISTMAS, you godless heathen!” And so I find it comforting to recall a simpler era.

My childhood was populated by eccentric relatives who practiced bad taste as a matter of personal expression, not as a mass merchandised tribute to cheese-whiz consumerism. (A wall-mounted bass, batteries included, singing Jingle Bells, comes to mind.)

Once upon a time, I had an aunt, Aunt Nan, and a granduncle, Uncle Wacky, who believed in recycling gifts bearing the stamp of their own brand of odd, damned peculiar, or just plain tacky.

Now understand, Uncle Wacky had always given me, his favorite grandniece, terrific presents for Christmas — one year a telescope, the next, a microscope, and once, in what surely gave my parents some sleepless nights, a chemistry set… Nan, too, usually gave cool gifts, collected on her trips to Katmandu, Bangkok and other points of interest around the world. An avid mountaineer — she and my Uncle Fred had scaled everything higher than a foot hill between New Hampshire and Nepal — she had many colorful and culturally rich treasures to bestow.

The gift giving between Nan, my father’s sister, and Uncle Wacky, however, remained a mystery, a private joke from which my cousins and I were excluded, until, that is, I reached my twelfth Christmas.

I felt I had truly arrived because Nan and Wacky decided to welcome me as the third member to their conclave of taste-defying gift-giving that year — ahead of my two cousins (both older; both boys), Dandy Sandy and Peter, Peter, the Scrabble Cheater.

On Christmas morning, I untied the ribbons, folded back exquisite silver paper with breathless anticipation, and lifted the lid of the shoe box. Nestled between layers of red tissue paper was a dog turd.

The years of re-gifting and parcel post had not been kind, and it was crumbling in on itself, a fragile thing, white and powdery with age. But the following year, as a matter of honor, I wrapped that shoe box carefully in fresh Christmas paper and sent it on to the next hallowed recipient.

Aunt Nan is gone, Uncle Wacky, too. Nan succumbed to pancreatic cancer just before a planned trip to England. The last time I saw Uncle Wacky was at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. He was slipping a woopie cushion into a chair soon to be occupied by the round rump of an Episcopalian bishop. A trickster to the last.

It’s the final days of 2006, and I sit here at the ‘puter, a steaming mug an elbow away, waxing nostalgic about a gay old uncle, a mountain-climbing aunt and a pile of ancient dog poop. Just a little year-end lurch down memory lane where visions of recycled gifts, eccentric relatives and other eggnog-induced visions dance in my head.

Dad passed away last New Year’s Eve, but Mom and I will celebrate his memory and that of other loved ones long gone. We’ve put up a tabletop tree and wrapped a few gifts, boxed and shipped others to faraway places. The neighbor’s house across the way is ablaze with colored lights. Animatronic elves and reindeer gambol on her front lawn. Not sure why she keeps up the tradition, as her children are all grown now.

So I guess we’re set for a quiet holiday. We look forward to eating more than we should, snuggling up by the hearth with a good book and a roaring fire, and enjoying winter’s twilight while the lights outside twinkle both above and below.

It’s a good time to think of times past, to consider those who once gathered around the ancestral fires, sharing in the struggle to survive the rigors of winter’s stark and perilous beauty, a good time to take stock and celebrate renewals. And a good time to wish all a good night.

May the magic of the season fill your heart with joy, and may the new year bring you peace, prosperity and — if your luck holds — a dog turd or two.

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July 12, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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