- Gingerbread houses, sugar-covered cookies, and an orange in the bottom of your stocking.
- Ornaments made from macaroni, tinsel wrapped around the roller on the vacuum, and always some fricking walnuts in the bottom of my stocking.
- Getting the toy you really wanted, getting a cheaper version of the toy you really wanted, not getting anything you really wanted.
- Getting clothes, getting clothes that are butt ugly, getting clothes that don't fit.
Of all the thoughts that visit me like Marley's ghosts this time of year, one memory of Christmas stands out above them all - how my dad hated the whole thing.
Maybe there was a time when he was younger, before I was born, when he got some joy from the rituals. But by the time I was old enough to know what was going on he was in his late 40s and pretty fed up with all of it. It wasn't any of that cutesy Darrin McGavin in "Christmas Story" annoyance, or "damn these lights are tangled and this is all such a hassle" fussiness - it seemed to me more like an abiding hate-hate relationship with the whole holiday.
First you had the whole Christmas tree routine. Here you had a man who had planted 5 acres of pine trees on his property, mainly because I think he liked the way they looked out there in the woods, and he was supposed to go to the Thriftway and pay $10 for some pine tree from Oregon or someplace that was probably on a truck for three weeks and was a dried-out fire trap, and bring that thing right into the house and stand it up next to the wood stove. The logic of this activity was lost on a man who had a lifelong fear of fire - a fear that I believe originated in his childhood when he and his brothers caught a garage on fire. I don't think he was very old at that time, and it seems to have left a lasting impression. So while I reveled in the bliss of getting a Christmas tree, all he could see was the house going up in flames.
And then there was the whole gift giving component. Daddy was not a man who hesitated to give a gift, but like a lot of us I think he resented the proposition that there was a specific time when it was required. I know he had no use for the growing consumer culture, the buying of things that you really didn't need. I can't recall a time when he ever "went shopping" in the sense of the phrase as we use it today. His "shopping trips" were to May's for wine and whisky, to Carlson's for some work gloves. Somewhere he bought boots for work, and now and then some Bic fine-point pens, black ink, and as far as I can remember, very little else. (Later in life he did become a fairly avid consumer of second-hand golf clubs and "experienced" golf balls, no doubt making the rounds of rummage sales.) He was all about having just what you need, keeping it forever, getting the very last use out of it. Spending a lot of money on things that would be useless beyond a momentary thrill was a repugnant idea to him.
He was no Scrooge - he loved having the family together - but the kind of Christmas that everyone else was trying to have was a foreign concept to him. Maybe he had seen too much of the real world to invest in fantasy and sentimentality.
Hey kids, more sparkling Christmas memories coming up right here! Don't miss a single installment!