I hate Christmas.
I apologise. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, a flamboyant overestimation of my annual feelings. I do not hate Christmas. I don’t quite understand it (forgive my hitherto lack of sensitivity, but if we all know historically Jesus was not born on the solstice, why do so many people still insist–and heartily believe!–he was?), but I do not hate it. More aptly, I hate the commercialization of Christmas, and as one who doesn’t celebrate it, that’s the only part of it I have to deal with on a regular basis. So from my vantage I hate all that’s to be done with Christmas–but that’s only because I’m on the outside, looking in.
There was a time, however, when I did love Christmas.
When I was younger, before I turned six and we still lived in Pennsylvania, I remember my mom making new pajamas for us every winter. I remember the tree set up in the far-right corner of the living room upon entering from the front door (or the back-left corner if coming down the stairs, which faced the door). I remember the presents. I remember the pine needles. I remember my dad tilting the tree for my mom to water it. I remember the lights and I remember the tree skirt–yes, that’s what it’s called! I’ve only been trying to pen that name for the past minute–and I remember one special night, on Christmas Eve when I was so young I still slept in my parents’ bed, my mom and I were the only ones left awake. It had to have been midnight by my present standards, but might have only been nine or ten, considering. In any case, we were lying down in bed (and our bed was beneath the window) and I was lying on my back and she was on my right. I recall seeing the street lights coming in through the slits in the blinds. I recall it being utterly and unquestionably silent. Like I said, we were the only ones awake. Not merely in our house–but in our whole neighborhood.
And then, for just a moment, but thirty sacred seconds at the longest, I heard sleigh bells outside. My mom and I glanced at each other, neither of us knowing where the sounds had come from–or who would be making them at this awful hour of the night. And it was then that I knew Santa Claus was real. It was that moment that kept me believing for years.
I still believe. Whether or not that belief is placed in Santa Claus or merely the concept of some such being that is out there, spreading love and good cheer to all, I cannot be certain. By all stretches of the imagination (a strange expression to use for how I’m about to bend it), I know that Santa Claus is not real. And yet I know what I heard, and as they say, if seeing is believing…or to amend it, if hearing is believing, then I believe.
I remember our last Christmas in Pennsylvania. We had just moved across town to another house, one that was on a hill and near the train tracks and had a streetlamp right outside my bedroom window (at this point, I shared my room with my older brother of four years senior). This house also bordered a main road (something I don’t think we’ve really broken from since), whereas our last house had not. I recall there had been a lot of court issues at the last house, which is why we were forced to move, but don’t ask me about it; I was too young to be privy to those details, and if I weren’t, I’ve forgotten them by now.
(On a delightful aside, I have a small handful of memories that only years afterward I learned had never really happened, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I have memories that only years afterward I learned I forgot.)
One thing I loved about this house was that, after stepping outside and going down the concrete steps and crossing the long yard (which always had patches of hay on it to keep the grass growing, due to even more landlord issues), when you finally reached the driveway, there was a bleeding hearts bush. I loved those little flowers. There were always bees over there, but I loved them nonetheless. Honeysuckle and bleeding hearts. They were the flowers of my youth, and in some regards they’ve been the omens of my (so far) adult life: The sweetness of honey and the pain of a bleeding heart.
That’s sidestepping the point, however, the point being the tree topper (it was always a lovely little Mrs. Claus, the cutest thing with such lifelike eyes!). I remember in this house the Christmas tree was in the same corner relative to the doorway, but there were no stairs to come running down on Christmas morning (that was another thing I remember of the old house: my parents would put up a gate at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning and then make sure all of us were awake before we were allowed to go downstairs–they wanted nobody spoiling the surprise). To the left of the entryway here was our piano, and atop it was our tiny TV. It never was a comfortable house to live in, but I did love those bleeding hearts. I recall the mother’s day we spent there: I made a card for my mom, but young as I was (maybe four or five at the time), I wrote “Mummy” instead of “Mommy.”
The highlights of this Christmas (at least as I recall it) were getting the new Hess truck, a staple from my aunt every year, and my younger brother starting to (a) crawl or (b) walk. It was one of the two. I can’t remember which.
Before the Christmas next, we were living upstate New York in the small town of Long Lake in my aunt’s cabin (she owned a motel and a duplex cabin on her mountain, and we were in the right-hand cabin facing it; my aunt lived further up on the summit). I loved this place for a few reasons, and despised it for one. Let’s start there: Spiders. There were spiders everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The daddy long legs I could tolerate–six or seven by now, I thoughtlessly would pull their legs off if I caught them walking outside–but the others left a lasting phobia. I recall, for some time, I had to go to bed in my sister’s room until me and my brother were both sleeping (or else we’d cause trouble and not go to bed at all) and then I’d be moved into my own bed. There was one night while I was in the loft (my sister’s room) that there was this massive spider, at least the size of a quarter around, able to cast a shadow as big as my open hand, just sitting there on the wall. By that point it was presumed already dead, but it haunted me all night long.
The good things far outweighed the bad, however. For one there was my cousin–we were best friends, he and I, and we played together all the time, except when he got chicken pox and my aunt wouldn’t let him come over. Then once I swallowed a penny and later my mom taped it to a piece of paper and hung it on the wall. And there was the mud in the spring I loved playing in, and the winter snows: Snowball fights all the time, and once when our car broke down at the foot of the mountain and we had to hike up to our cabin, I rolled a snowball all the way up that was as large as I was when we finally got there. I rolled it into a snowbank and then we slid down it afterward.
There were also cops and robbers and landlord and tenant, those games I played with my older siblings while we ran about the dirt road between the cabin and the motel. Then once at the summit I was playing with my cousin and we were chasing rainbows. Another time we were climbing over boulders and I fell off it and got a swollen forehead for days. Then one day we were walking down from my aunt’s and there was an earthquake. Ah, good times.
It wasn’t a strong earthquake, but I felt it, and that was enough to be a real earthquake to me. In the way of natural disasters, there was also the microburst: A terrifying and trying night, one that left me scarred with the utmost respect and awe of the weather–especially the wind. If that wasn’t an inspiration in due time, I don’t know what was.
I’m forgetting, or perhaps omitting for last, two–or three–perhaps four–of my favorite things. Number one: There was a fort that me, my sister, and my older brother made in the woods across from our cabin by moving some fallen trees into a rectangular shape. We played there all the time and I loved it–running wild in the wild, what more could a boy ask for? (That later this same wild would petrify me is another story altogether.) Then there was the lady–the lady in the tree that I always saw. Perhaps it was borne from a deep love of Pocahontas and Grandmother Willow, but there was this one tree, right near our fort actually, that always looked like it had a face to me. I swear I spent some days talking to it. It was a great friend.
Then in no particular order, probably of less importance looking back than the two I’ve just mentioned, were New Years and our neighbors. One New Years while we were there we rented Casper (the friendly ghost), and I loved the movie–and that night, I dreamed of Christina Ricci and Devon Sawa. I still recall the dream perfectly: Christina and I were in a car and we drove to this large mansion where Devon was. There was this narrow rafter around the ceiling, and up there was a small square door leading into the wall. I followed him on a rickety ladder up into the hole, which was actually a cavern full of bats and other dark things. I had this dream many times, I think. I definitely had a crush on him. I didn’t know what it was then, but looking back, it’s obvious, isn’t it?
Our neighbors came and went, as most of the time the adjoining cabin was filled with vacationers or other people who were only staying temporarily. There was this one family I was particularly fond of, especially of their two sons. They were about our age and were so much fun. I idolized them. And once again, with what I know now….
It’s memories like this that make me wonder sometimes why I ever even wondered.
All of this still fails to mention so much more! There was Super Mario Bros. 2, there was Tak and Jojo, there was broccoli and cheese soup and paper mache, there was my afghan–that I still use today!–and my crocheting (all I could do was long chains, although my brother could do kippot too), and there was staying up watching our holiday tapes while my mother cleaned our room, and there were Legos–oh, how I loved our Legos! And there was ice skating, and snow-mobile races, and that hill I always felt would take us into the sea since it was so steep and ended at the lake, and there was that one trip to the beach–I think it was a private beach, and the name Cobb comes to mind–when I gathered shells and walked in the sand. Good times, good times.
And, you know, I don’t think I ever realised how much that time up there meant to me until I started thinking back to it now. It all passed in time, however, and time was a little more or less than two years. For a couple weeks we lived at the Sagamore, where my dad worked for a time: I recall walks on those trails with my brother and sister (and the one side fell straight into the lake, and scared me); and I recall hangman; and drawing on notepads with the Sagamore logo; and watching Goosebumps and being mortified by it; and the young woman that occasionally came by that I always felt blushy around. It’s odd, that I recall so much. And I recall when finally we left and I made the decision to never make friends again, because by the time I had made friends, we always moved away. I’d subject myself to that pain no more.
(See, I’m skipping an entire Christmas somewhere along here, when we lived at a place called Peace Pipe. There was Sonic the Hedgehog and making concoctions in the kitchen and more spiders. There was also the Disney Channel, which I came to love, and Jurassic Park, which gave me nightmares, and a movie on the Titanic (though not the one with Leonardo DiCaprio–that crush would come later) and on that Christmas there truly was a miracle: Christmas morning a car drove up to us, people we didn’t know, and they dropped off a box of presents. I got this game called Geo Safari or something like that, it was all about US facts and stuff–and I loved it! I also got a crystal star that I could hang in my window to cast rainbows all about the room. I loved that crystal, though I don’t know where it’s gotten to.)
When we came to North Carolina, however, things changed. But that, my dear, is a post for Christmas Day.