December 19, 2007
Kiss & Tell
Holidays Straight Up
As a child, the magic of the holidays mesmerized me, and I was the first in line to bake cookies, elaborately wrap presents, and compose poems with every word that rhymes with manger: stranger, danger, re-arranger.
I diligently sent out holiday greeting cards until the year I got divorced and figured everyone would understand. I remember the first holiday after that when I announced to my sister who was valiantly hosting my family, "All I want to do is sit in the bathroom and drink tequila."
Now I come from a long line of literate and literal people so true to form when I arrived at my sister's house in Virginia she escorted me to her bathroom where she had transformed this suburban Mecca of linoleum and porcelain gods into a mini chill lounge, lit with 20 votive candles and soft music playing in the background. My sister smiled and presented me with a small decorative tray: lime, salt, shot glass and Patron. I never did send out holiday cards again but the tequila ritual lives on.
Some may say my family is a bit afraid of attachment as evidenced by three cats which adopted us which we all named "cat," but we have always been partial to strays, especially during the holidays. My good friend Lisa who found herself all too often alone at Christmas began dressing up her dogs as the Nativity scene with Pinkie Lou the runt starring as the babe in swaddling clothes. Others might have looked upon Pork Pie the Scottie as the wise man, and Paco the retriever who was very patient with his camel hump and Lisa, who dressed as Mary – the Madonna or whore depending on her mood – enjoying a steak together as fairly pathetic. Yet I always found a subtle dignity in the image.
I tried bringing her on my family's holiday vacations but she found it impossible to keep up with the frenzy to find the nearest liquor store and exhausting to run from skiing to yoga to the fireplace lounge. One year at a bar in Sun Valley a self proclaimed local pot dealer fell hard for her. She managed to avoid him until we got snowed in and realized his day job was the AAA tow guy. We collectively shoved her out the door to flirt to free the 4Runner. After that trip she returned to her dogs and the steak.
When I think back on the magic of the holidays to which I used to succumb I wonder what exactly it was that I was feeling. It wasn't really excitement about material goods as intangible gifts were more my family's strong suit. My mother established early on that Post-it notes served perfectly well as wrapping paper and that when a book is given, the receiver should not lose her place so she can finish it first.
Maybe it's because at this time of year we are acutely aware of missing family members, especially since instead of buying burial plots my family has opted for cremation and now in the living room hutch there sit the ashes of my dad and my dog and to which we will add the rest of our remains until we are all gone and the hutch ends up as some sort of macabre oddity at a yard sale.
Some visitors find it strange that Post-it notes with names accompany the ashes but Coco's tin dangerously resembles English breakfast tea and with incidents such as when I scrubbed my entire body with lavender furniture polish or the time I threw out my mother's entire wardrobe which she had transported in garbage bags, you never can be too careful in labeling practices.
Mostly, I believe, what the holidays do is make us stop for a moment and think. Who are we? Who do we care about? Who cares about us? But mostly the question is, what do we feel deep down when the holidays are served to us straight up?
My advice? If it isn't pure joy, rewrite the rules. Create your own family, your own rituals and your own meaning. You can be the holiday re-arranger.
And since I'm still not sending out cards, I want to wish you all peace and prosperity this holiday season.
You can find more of my writing at HamptonsHeather.com or drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.