Christmas 1965, 7:00am: Finally! My sister Lauri and I had been staring at the clock since 5:30am. Christmas Eve we had lit the candle in the midnight service and Dad firmly told us, “do not wake us before 7:00!” Our little feet hit the floor and we padded down the long hallway to see what Santa had delivered. We stopped in our tracks. There, under the tree, was an honest to goodness, actual, real, how could it be TURNTABLE. It was a box with an on/off button and a volume button and an arm that moved automatically! Placed beside it was a package in the unmistakable shape of an LP. Could it be? I squealed at possibility of what music lay beneath the wrapping paper. I acquiesced to my older sister, Lauri, who solemnly took charge of opening it. She carefully peeled back the paper to reveal, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]The Beatles[/lastfm]’ Rubber Soul. We were breathless.
December 1999: It was a Christmas of firsts; our first in our new house and the first since the death that June of my father, Asher. The kids were fueled with Christmas joy; Grace, Cooper, and Chloe running from room to room, exploring box after box of Christmas decorations. From the kitchen, I heard the unmistakable crackle of a glass ornament crumbling under the weight of a little foot. I ran into to the living room and there was Grace, her sweet lower lip threatening to turn in the realization that she had broken the one ornament from my own youth, the one that held a million memories.
“It’s okay, Sweetie,” I told her, my own lip threatening to turn, “it’s just a thing. Nobody got hurt and nobody went to jail, Grace, don’t cry.” Privately I repeated that phrase over and over to myself that year. I still miss it.
December 1977: “Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining,” my father’s tenor voice moved from one Christmas hymn to another. When he began the Lord’s prayer, I swallowed hard against a lump in my throat. I remembered as a little girl, lighting the candle as his voice filled the sanctuary of our small church. “And the powwwwer,” he sang, “and the Glorrrry,” so true, I thought. “For-ehhhhh-ver,” he held the note for a perfect count, “Amen”.
The Christmas tree stood bare in my parent’s living room. Two overstuffed chintz chairs and a small Chinese barrel tea table had been moved out to clear a space for it. It was December 12th and as always, we had gathered for my mother’s annual tree trimming party.
“The loops of your Q’s hang open; you are about to make a big change in your life,” my dear Aunt Mae was analyzing my handwriting.
Our longtime neighbors June and Paul touched their martini glasses in a private toast. Boyfriends, cousins, and our widowed family friend of 20 years, Lenore were there. David and George, who had been together for 30 years, were there. My great Uncle John with his thick Armenian accent was there.
“Sooo, tell me David, why haven’t you found a nice wife after all these years,” asked Uncle John, the family patriarch. His face was without wrinkles. An odd tuft of grey hair had escaped the bottle of black dye. David smiled and replied, “Guess I never found the right woman, John.”
4 o’clock. “Time for supper,” sang my mother.
The smell of garlic floated from the bowl of humus on the dining room table into every room in the house and hit me smack in the face. We ate lemon chicken; pilaf; and marinated red peppers that my mother had impaled onto a long-handled fork and roasted over the gas burner.
“Well, let’s do ‘er up, shall we folks?” my brother Mark asked no one in particular.
I sucked in my breath as I opened the first box of ornaments. The layers of cracked yellow tape that held the box together felt icky against my skin. I exhaled. There in the jumble of glass, felt, and crystal, there was the ornament I had come to call, “the planet.”
It was a simple glass bulb. Back in 1947 when it was new, it had been cobalt blue with a sprinkling of silver glitter. The color had faded unevenly, leaving it transparent in places. The blotches of glitter looked like tiny islands floating on a water-stain sea. I had hung it on the tree every Christmas of my waking life.
7 o’clock. My father placed the last ornament, a simple angel, on the top stem. We all stood back to admire it.
“Well, I do believe that is the prettiest tree yet,” my mother said.
“You say that every year Mom,” I replied, “but I really miss the tinsel. Mark, why don’t you do tinsel anymore. Those trees looked like they’d been visited by the tinsel fairy.”
“Well sure,” said Aunt Mae, “he put it on one strand at a time.”
“And that, my friends, is why I don’t do it anymore.”
The door opened. In stumbled my other sister, Diane. In her loaded stupor, she promptly tripped over her own feet and upended the tree.
Christmas 2001: We greeted Christmas with open arms and weary, waiting hearts. 9/11 had changed everything. Everything. For everyone. Everywhere. But Christmas remained. The celebration of the birth of Christ was an anchor that year. Like so many, Thom and I spent each day of the Season in grateful wonder at the blessings of our life. 9/11 did that, didn’t it. Christmas morning, we gathered ’round my mother’s tree and found the first reclaimed sense of joy since the tragedy of that September. We had much to celebrate – including not only Diane’s sobriety, but also the welcoming of her fiancé, Tom.
Christmas 2011: Thom and I celebrated 23 years of marriage in March of this year. Our children are in that wonderful tussle of transition from kids to young adults and are thriving. My sister Diane is holding fast to her sobriety and to her husband, Tom. Along with the Christmas decorations, my sister Lauri and I take out the memory of that first turntable and admire the memory. My brother, Mark is taking incredible care of our dear 88-year old mother, Irene. The years are flying by. It seems each year brings something new for which to be grateful and each year its own portion of trial. May we all find much of the first, and gracefully bear the latter. Merry Christmas.