The following and all of the other episodes to come are snapshots of what goes on in my head, now and in the past. There are times none of this will make sense. There will be times when I might get lucky and the blog I post will be well constructed and will flow like a mountain stream to an awaiting lake below. Other times it will seem like the ramblings of a madman and you’ll ask yourself, “What the……?”
You should probably get used to the latter.
SPECIAL EDITION: CHRISTMAS EDITION 2018 (GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST)
Well, here I am at another Christmas. I’ve made it to my 47th Christmas of my life.
As much as I hate to say this, the feelings I used to get around this time has diminished since I was a kid and since my daughter was small. I don’t get as thrilled and I don’t look forward to it as much.
A lot of that comes with becoming an older adult with responsibilities and worries and money problems. These fears take over and swat those feelings of joy and cheer and thankfulness right out of my mind. I bow my head and wonder if I’ll be able to get anything for anybody this year.
But then, I start to remember what it was like for me as a child. I start to reminisce on those days building up to Christmas starting with Thanksgiving. The smells in the house that only exist during that time from foods and decorations come to mind and I can almost smell them even now.
I have an idea. Something that might help, not just myself, but maybe you, if you’re feeling the same way.
Let’s you and I do a little time traveling. Grab a hold of my hand and let’s go back to a different time, a more innocent time when magic could be felt in the air and in your heart.
It all started with the mail.
That’s right. The mail.
Those poor mail deliverers and the weight they had to put up with. I’m sure many backs were nearly broken and many trucks were nearly put out of commission due to… the Christmas Catalogs!!!
Oh, yes. The Christmas Catalogs from Sears and JCPenney’s. For those that don’t know or remember, these were huge, mammoth tomes of thin colored paper that held within their two thicker front and back covers THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of just about anything you could ever think of or desire. This was our Amazon back-in-the-day.
I waited with primed over anticipation for these tree killers to arrive. Sometime before Thanksgiving they would appear when I came home from school. I would check the place on the dining room table where my mom would put the mail. There would come a day when they would be sitting there just waiting for me the grab them up, plop myself down on the couch in the living room (where I could be seen by my parents to let them know I was looking at the pages and to let them know that I know Christmas was coming and to let them know that I was wanting something from this kid’s bible of Christmas).
I wasn’t one of those kids that scanned through the pages quickly straight through to the toys. Not me. I turned each page one by one looking at everything, taking everything in (I would turn the pages that had the women’s underwear quickly in case parents were in the room) and checking to see if there was something that stuck in my mind that I wanted other than the normal childhood want. Sometimes a jacket or hat would catch my eye but most of the time, the page turning would slow when I reached the city limits of the first toys that caught my eye. Usually, the baby toys came first. Then, as you turned the pages, the toys would become more age appropriate for me. GI Joe figures and Star Wars figures. If there was something I liked, I would turn down the page corner and take a pen and circle the item and I would move on. Two or three things I would circle more than once and go to my mom or dad and say that these are on top choices.
Sometimes I would get two out of three. Most of the time I would get one our of three. Only once did I get all of the big items. I look back now and think I was pretty lucky to get anything at all.
Then there were the decorations. In my time on Earth, we never had a real tree. It was always this artificial tree that you had to put together based on the size of the limbs. I can still smell the plastic twigs as we pulled it each one from the box that it came in. Even the closet under the stairs had this smell and whenever I needed a reminder of Christmas during the summer, all I had to do was open the door and take a whiff.
There were also these electric candle lights we put in the upstairs windows. It’s a wonder we never had a fire. The bulbs, red and orange, would get so hot that if you accidentally brushed against them after they had been on a couple of hours, you would burn yourself, leaving a mark. A lot of Christmas lights back then were just an inferno waiting to happen. We had a power light that had a motor attached. On the stem that stuck out over the light from the motor was a clear colored wheel. As the motor turned, the colors would rotate and change the color on whatever you turned it to. Red, blue, yellow, green, over and over. And it made a slight whirring sound. I remember a couple of times of misstepping and searing my foot or ankle on that thing. As pretty as it was, it was a death trap, a suicide rap (thanks Springsteen). The smell from the over-hot lamp is something I’ll never forget and even the smell of something electrical overloading will make me think of Christmas. Even the smell of burning flesh.
As Christmas came closer, my mom would make fudge. It was so sweet, my teeth want to fall out just thinking about it. But, ohhh, I looked forward to it so much. And, of course, I would eat WAY too much of it. Sometimes after consuming more than a child (let alone a full-grown bull) should, I would spend an hour in the bathroom. In a couple of days, I ended up doing it again.
And speaking of sweets, my grandmother (my mom’s mom) would give me a comb and a box of chocolate covered cherries every year (she had a lot of children and a whole lot of grandchildren and she could only spend so much). I never had much use for the comb but those chocolate covered cherries became a must have during the holidays. Man, I rarely had any of those by the time we got home. They would get gobbled down while I sat in the back seat. But, of course, by the time we rolled into the driveway, I was regretting my decision.
We would have our Christmas rituals at school, like parties. Maybe there would be a present exchange in the younger classes. We might even have a tree in class, a real tree, mind you. And we would make paper Christmas ornaments to put on the sticky with sap limbs of the tree. I would make sure to get sap on my hands so I could smell it during the day. The smell of a real Christmas tree has always been one of my favorite smells. Plus, I could put my hands on my pencil or ruler and have them stick like I was Spider-man.
I have to mention the bowl of fruit and nuts my mom would put out in the middle of the dining room table. Oranges, apples, and pears, plus walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, and pecans. I could never bring myself to eat a Brazil nut due to the way they looked. But I would carry one in my pocket just to feel the lumpy, yet smooth surface. That was Christmas to me, too.
And my mom would put out that infamous bowl of hard candies. Once it got a little warmth to them, they would all cling together and you would need a hammer to break them apart. I usually didn’t part take unless I was really, really desperate.
You would also find me in front of the TV watching specials. Of course, there was (and still is) A Charlie Brown Christmas. A show that made me cry when Linus looks as Charlie after reciting the passage from the Bible and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” I cried then and I still do. I’m tearing up as I write it.
There was also Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas and Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol. This show I recorded with my tape recorder so I could try and copy the voices. And once in a while, relive a little Christmas magic during other parts of the year. I also discovered my favorite Christmas movie. It was the 1970’s Scrooge with Albert Finney. It was so dark and scary at times. This was something I always craved. But in the end, it always brought a smile to my face and more tears to my eyes. And, say what you want, I loved the singing. It is a musical, anyway. I have to watch it every year. Plus, It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe I was mature for my age but I always got the story it was telling. And, again… tears.
I’ve always been sensitive.
Christmas Eve, it was hard for me to just sit down. I couldn’t think of too much other than the next morning. That day and evening went by in a blur. A few times, after dinner, I would go to my room and think about what I was going to get, what Santa was going to bring me.
Let me get something straight right now. Like most kids, I believed in Santa. But going to visit Santa at the local Roses department store where he would be outside in a red enclosed shed, scared the hell out of me. I did not want to meet this fat guy in the red suit. I knew this guy wasn’t the real thing. There was no way. So, I relied on mom and dad to get my list to him. I never mailed a list, either. No letter stamped the North Pole. I left it up to my parents.
Thinking about it, maybe that’s why I didn’t get everything I wanted.
So, I’m in my room thinking about what I might get and wondering where a particular thing would go. I’d make room on a shelf or next to my bed on the nightstand or on the floor. I wanted to make a place, a home, for whatever I got.
Then I would look outside. I would go out into the front yard and look around and then look up into the night sky. Rain or clear, warm or cold. There I would be, searching for a streak or the sound of bells. Anything.
Back inside for eggnog (I still love it) and more fudge. I would limit myself now. I didn’t want any kind of a stomach ache this night. No way. Not ever.
Another glance outside through the upstairs window, careful to not burn myself on the molten candle bulbs.
This kind of anxious movement would go on and on until about nine. Then my sister and I would get told to go to our rooms and to bed. I never thought sleep would come quickly but in a matter of minutes, I was out.
I would awake to the aroma of bacon and coffee wafting through the air. It would take me a minute to remember what morning it was but when I did, my eyes would nearly pop out of my head and I would literally jump out of bed, almost taking my sheets with me as I tore down the hall into the kitchen. I would eat fast, hoping that as soon I was done, mom and dad would be ready to go downstairs to the Christmas tree, too.
Yeah, that never worked. I’m younger than my sister and she knew better. She had tried these things before me and just laughed at me.
The time came to go down. My sister and I were in the lead but as soon as I was about to turn the corner to see the tree and what was under it, I suddenly wanted to stop. Part of me wanted to go back upstairs and wait a while longer.
I knew it would be over, the anticipation, the wonder, the dream of it all. I wanted the feeling to last. A Christmas high.
Then greed and curiosity would take over and I would round the corner as if I was appearing on stage in front of a packed house. Eyes wide to take it all in, whatever was sitting under and around the tree. Under and around that old artificial tree have been gifts like a new bike, a train set (which I still have), a race track (which I don’t have any more), a cool boombox with two tape players (I used that for about ten years until it stopped working), Hot Wheels cars (I still have those), and other things I can’t remember. And clothes and socks which I did need but didn’t want. I remember getting a Dallas Cowboys jacket and a radio that looked like a Dallas Cowboy helmet. I loved the Cowboys. Not because I watched football (or even sports) but because I was born in Fort Worth. It seemed cool at the time.
And I can’t forget to mention our stockings.
Well, they weren’t stockings at all. They were my dad’s tube socks. And they were filled with fruit. Mostly oranges. And these socks would be PACKED. So packed, they would be stretched to capacity. I’m not sure if they would ever fit my father’s feet again. And, every fruit inside of them, be it orange, apple, or pear, I would eat every one of them, though oranges were my favorite. Since then, the smell of oranges always makes me think of Christmas. No matter what time of year, when my nose becomes filled with that citrusy sweetness, it will take me right back to the den in the house of my childhood when I would lift those oranges to my nose and breath it in.
It’s been a long time since those days. I have gotten older and a lot of that Christmas magic that came with being a kid is gone.
But not all. Some of it still resides inside my mind and heart.
I refuse to let it die.
When the money is tight and emergencies come along that take some of that Christmas money out of your pocket and you have to subtract something from the list, when the bills come and they have to be paid, when the kids get older and their own Christmas magic starts to disappear, when Christmas starts to turn into just a debt-filled day off from work, you have to remember when it was special.
Let those magic moments that happened when you looked forward to Santa and something special under the tree, when you gorged yourself on homemade fudge and watched Christmas movies, when you looked up into the night sky for a glimpse of a sleigh and eight (or nine) tiny reindeer, come flooding back. No matter your age, invite the magic back.
It’s been hard for me to feel that magic and I’m somebody that still believes in the goodness of the world (even though I might say it enough). The magic is little more than a flittering flame.
But it’s still there.
It stays with me.
I hope, forever.
All I need is a memory of a Christmas morning from long ago… and the smell of a good orange.
Merry Christmas to you.
-Loyd Elmore Jr.
December 21st, 2018
I’ve decided to keep a blog about how I’m dealing with depression. I’m going to consider this a form of therapy. It might not help anybody else but it might help me.