Saturday, November 27, 2004

The shape of things to come...

Michele's 11/26 post about her Thanksgiving traditions with her family--and her mention of horrible childhood holidays--brought back memories for me.

At the beginning of my freshman year in high school, my mother left our home and moved to a town 80 miles south. My father did not exactly cope well with this development. Oddly, they dated for a year or two after she left, and got along much better when they didn't have to live together. But after a couple of years, they came to their senses and got divorced.

In the northwest corner of California where I grew up, many people went into the woods and cut down their own Christmas trees. I realize now that they were probably doing it on privately-owned or even park land. I'd never thought about that until now. So forgive the environmental incorrectness of this childhood event I'm about to tell you about. But first, some major digression...

My father was a member of the Elks Club. For all I know, he still is, although he probably hasn't been to a meeting in decades. Every year my parents would go to the big New Year's Eve party at the Elks lodge. Woohoo! High times, that! My mother, in her quest to be the best-dressed woman in the county (something she accomplished despite my father's unforgivably paltry schoolteacher's salary) would glide out into the living room on New Year's Eve dressed in some fancy number. It would be a 'cocktail dress' in avocado or bright orange chiffon or a snug beige lace sheath. The all-time best was the year she made a floor-length snug gown out of turquoise brocade, with a matching wrap...AND she covered her pumps in the material, too. She topped the whole thing off with elbow-length white gloves. My father would be wearing his (one) suit, with a painfully skinny tie. They were a handsome couple. Somewhere I have a tiny photo of them with my mother in her handmade gown--I'll have to see if I can find it.

My father would have arranged for some high school girl to babysit my little brother and me. I can't remember exactly how we entertained ourselves, but I'm sure popcorn was involved. Keep in mind that this was in the olden days--pre-cable, pre-computer, pre-internet. We're talkin' big ol' boxy TV with an antenna on the roof of the house, which brought us the sum total of two black and white. We would try desperately to stay awake until midnight. (I don't think even Dick Clark's ancient ass was on TV in those days.) If we made it to midnight, we'd walk out into the street in our jammies and bang spoons on the bottoms of pots and pans. Ah, those were the days...

My parents fought...a lot...pretty much all the time. When my mother first left, the first thing that struck me (aside from the empty living room) was the silence. It just seemed so...damn...quiet. It was such a relief. My father didn't really like to do much for the holidays after my mother left, so it was really up to me (since I was a teenager--my brother was five years younger) to try to salvage what I could. My Italian grandmother (my father's mother) gave us her Christmas ornaments, since she had stopped putting up even a table-top tree. They were antique and lovely...and I wish I had them now. We still had a couple of stockings, and I dutifully nailed them to the hideous wood paneling my mother had insisted be installed over the wonderful mantle we'd had.

My father was a not infrequent visitor to the bar at the Elks club after my mother left. One Christmas, the bartender there said he was going up into the woods to get a tree, and asked my Dad if he'd like him to get one for us, too. My Dad took him up on his offer and a couple of days later we had a gorgeous 12-foot tree drying in our garage. (Sorry, environment!) The problem was that our ceilings were only 10-feet high. My father, not being the handiest guy around, trimmed it down. Unfortunately, he trimmed it in half...and kept the BOTTOM HALF. Yes, my lovelies, that Christmas my brother and I could be seen having our pictures taken standing next to a six-foot tree...that was about three feet in diameter across the top. For years, I kept a photo of my Dad standing next to that blocky tree in my wallet. Unfortunately, it (the wallet) was stolen long ago when I had my purse snatched. But I kept the picture because no one ever believed me that someone's Dad would actually give his kids an almost square Christmas tree. Even worse, he made us dismantle it the morning of December 26th. Needless to say, we've never let him forget it.


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