DECEMBER 1998

Christmas again, and time for another brand new column. Again, I traveled back in time, revisited treasured holiday moments from my own past, and found the perfect Christmas tale. (Of course, I couldn't resist throwing in a few extra memories at the end.)

For 1998 I did what I'd done back in 1997 with the Santa Fe Carpenter- I opted for a simple little story: no bells, no whistles, no recipes or links, just a small bit of Yuletide Peace . . .

Christmas '98

 

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 lot.

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 season!)

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.

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 . . .

Well.

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 out, yet?

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.

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