Once upon a time, there was
a woman who lived in a small town with her sons. She was going
to school (a brave thing for a mother to attempt in any scenario)
and studying to be a nurse. While this family was not exactly
begging on street corners or rummaging for food in garbage cans,
times were, nonetheless, not the easiest they'd ever been.
And it happened that Christmas
Time came 'round, as it inevitably does, and the mother had to
face the hard fact that she had no money to celebrate the holidays
in the manner they'd enjoyed in years past. There was no money
for gifts, nor even a tree. Her sons listened and nodded stoically,
while inside their scheming little heads scheming little thoughts
were forming, and so they nodded and appeared to accept their
And on Christmas Eve pooled
their resources, and brought home a great beautiful tree, the
scent alone of which sent all into instant reverie and fond remembrances
of past seasons. The mother was touched, of course, surprised
and delighted, and decorations were quickly found and the wonderful
tree soon properly anointed, and Christmas had been saved.
A touching moment, small and
perhaps less interesting to read about than it must have been
to have lived it, but then so much of the best of this Season
is to be found in such small, "homey" moments, the
little extra efforts, the actions that, while not exactly earth-moving
nonetheless communicate one's love, and one's desire to please
with no thought of reward. (Well, I suppose it's inevitable that
one finds oneself hoping for a bit of reward in this gift laden
Ah, but it's something about
this time of year that brings this spirit out, moves us to do
to others more than at other times of the year, and as should
be obvious it is usually the givers who receive the Lion's share
of the pleasure, while the poor recipient is left to ponder on
the best way to "get them back" next year. We all go
through good years and lean years, happier years and more "interesting"
years, but at Christmas Time all the years mingle, and we can
remember all the joys of giving and receiving, of sharing and
singing, all the laughter and humor of the great score of Holidays
past that do seem at times to mark our existence on this planet,
or at least a good deal of the best part of it.
Of course, the sweetest memories
can sometimes make for rather dull tales.
Or so would have been the above
Christmas Tree story if I chose to leave it at that.
But you see, I believe that,
even as family decorated and enjoyed the mother's happy surprise,
there was still a secret gleam in the eyes of her sons.
Yes, I would almost swear it.
We could perhaps follow them,
watch as their mother retired for the evening, watch as one by
one they scurried about the house, into cars, running ever so
mysterious errands into the dead of that magic night . . .
Oh, I should have mentioned
that said mother was a music lover. Particularly, she'd become
obsessed with a then current popular song - and did not own it.
You see, financial circumstances
notwithstanding, she had nothing to play it on. Oh, the grimmest
of grim circumstances: a music lover without a stereo! It was
but one of the many sacrifices forced upon her in her desire
to pursue her dreams, but was arguably the hardest pill to swallow.
The next morning, Christmas
Morning, was a surprise to all. The sons had been busy indeed,
and presents protruded in packaged pageantry from under every
branch of that unlooked for tree. It was a merry time, a joyful
time, and the mother took delight in that, though she herself
had perhaps not gotten very much.
Then, just then, a pause, a
silence if you will, and then from the next room a most extraordinary
noise came wafting. It was, of course, the very song she currently
loved - playing on a brand new stereo that had magically appeared,
with her name on an attached tag.
They say the look on her face
could not be duplicated - the disbelief, the confusion, the dawning
realization - ah well, some things have to be seen to be experienced
properly, I imagine.
And I imagine such scenes dominate
this time of year, and that is why I adore this holiday above
all others (with the possible exception of Halloween, but that's
another story) and treasure its tales.
And, at this time of year .
I remember my brother John,
at the impossibly young age of seven, writing a complete play
- a satire of "A Christmas Carol." I remember fondly
transcribing it, and I remember my brothers and I attempting
on a couple of occasions to actually perform it, with the typical
disastrous results (we fought among each other a bit, I'm afraid).
Our hearts, however, were mostly
in the right place.
I remember setting up nativity
scenes, with the wise men positioned miles away at the other
end of the living room, and the nightly ritual of moving them
a little bit closer to Bethlehem (which as I recall was next
to our fireplace) day by day - a sort of "Virtual Nativity,"
if you will.
I remember years later attending
a Midnight Mass as a light rain began to fall, giddy with the
wine just tasted at my Dad's house as well as with the spirit
of the Season, and finding at the church's entrance a jolly,
rotund priest ho-ho-ho'ing with all his might, and entering to
find the night's events would begin with an entire half hour
of carols, and hearing the mighty organ begin to play, and joining
with the rest of the congregation in that most wonderful of carols,
"The First Noel," and I remember tears in my eyes.
(Don't worry, I'm not getting
religious on you here. My personal feeling is that we all have
our own personal feelings about who made us, and why. The spirit
of Christmas transcends all that, and on occasion actually appears
to make people a little bit nicer, a little more charitable,
and if the mythology or the reality - depending on your belief
- of that long ago event in Bethlehem can do that to such miserly
buzzards as we humans usually tend to be, then God Bless It!)
Above all I remember my family,
both those who are here who I see way less of than I should,
as well as those dear ones now consigned to memory. We have had
giants in our family tree, and a good deal of stories which intertwine
American and particularly L.A. history, and I think I may actually
modify this column somewhat, and in the coming year regale you
with the stories of myself, and my family.
So be warned - write now, and
beg me to stop, if this sounds like a really bad idea.
Otherwise . . .
You've been warned.
But what else would you expect
from the website of a family owned bookstore?
So I bid farewell to another
wonderful year writing at you, I look forward to your feedback,
as always, and -
What? You haven't figured that
Well, just to confirm it -
yes, that opening tale was Christmas 1977 for us. No one who
was there will forget it.
And therefore go all ye forth
and have yourselves an equally unforgettable Holiday Season,
make people happy, and know that by doing so you will have made
whatever Powers That Be smile.