Merry, Moving Memories

christmas_movieBy the time the clock strikes Christmas Eve in a few days, most of us have watched more than our fair share of holiday movies. Thanksgiving weekend alone, the annual kickoff for all things merry, aired enough sugary Christmas movies to replace the pecan pie. The year I binge-watched Hallmark Countdown to Christmas on a snowy weekend, I vowed, that from then on, to set limits on the saccharine sweet bits that populate the season like sprinkles on a sundae. There’s just so much of that stuff you can inhale before your sugar high propels you to la la land.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” A Christmas Carol

When my kids were small, we nailed all the prerequisite family holiday movies, Rudolph, Frosty to Charlie Brown Christmas. We watched them all – from animated fun to traditional Yuletide schmaltz. We cheered the Grinch’s change of heart and Rudolph’s blinking red badge of individuality. But, like anything else, an overdose of sweet can put your teeth on edge. Maybe that’s why Christmas movies come only once a year. You need time to regroup before getting your annual fix of contrived cheer.

As I grew older and kids flew the coop, shows like Santa is Coming to Town — left. Grown-up shows rang in the season but didn’t always ring my bells. My house didn’t quite measure up to the Martha Stewart-like holiday décor that draped over every available space in every Hallmark movie. All that perfection can be exhausting.  My Christmas lights would never measure up to Clark Griswold and my slowly morphing monochrome color schemed house (think coastal, remember?) would disappoint any self respecting North Pole resident.

I was beginning to like letting my not-so-inner graphic designer out,  the kid with a ‘more white space’ and Pantone color palette in mind. Still, I’d watch those Hallmark movies with a certain amount of wistfulness — and curiosity. Did you ever notice how that snow, that fell artfully on coats and hats never melted? Somehow, hairdos that were pelted with the white stuff never ended up with the wilted, wet dog look I got after snow showered me. And those dollhouse movie towns, bedecked in snow globe perfection. Doesn’t everything seem just a little too blindingly bright, a little too magical? Any resemblance to the world I live in is purely coincidental.

“Welcome, Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.” How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Living in a less than picture perfect world is not a bad thing; it’s a real thing. Unlike a Hallmark holiday-wrapped movie, life isn’t perfect but it’s mostly good, even blessed, not with fairy dust but cookie crumbs, crayon marks, dog hairs and milk (or wine) spills. Still, those Christmas movies, heartfelt or cheesy, come with something for everyone, including a good shot of holiday spirit. Forget the recycled plots and inexorably happy endings. It’s the life lessons, the timeless moral fables that sucker me back in each Christmas season. Continue reading

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Deck the Tree . . . with DIY

YesI_CanMy Christmas tree is not a family affair. It used to be when kids, pets (even hamsters and fish) filled the house, but the empty nest arrived, so did the anal graphic designer mom. Even my poor husband, who once upon a time gamely offered to assist, gave up. He realized there was a light stringing game plan that didn’t include haphazard laying on of strands. I suspect, however, he became more than happy to volunteer help from the safe distance of the couch, contentedly watching Antiques Roadshow. And I’d bet real money that he counted on his finicky wife not taking him up on his offers to help.

Back in the day, when little kids reigned in my house, when gingerbread houses were built, advent calendars were opened and elves, Santas and reindeer abounded, my tree might have been described as eclectically homey. I was less concerned about matchy-matchy and more interested in making sure the dog didn’t swipe candy canes off bottom branches. When a cat replaced the dog, wire securely anchored the tree to the wall so our artistic greenery didn’t crash in the furry alpine climber’s race to the top.

The winter I awaited my last baby was a long, freezing one, complete with a blizzard that snowed us in. My girlfriend and I, two very pregnant chicks, decided to keep our already busy selves occupied with sewing and stuffing pre-patterned patchwork ornaments. At the time, they seemed like puffy masterpieces, maybe even ‘shabby chic’. Now they only qualify as shabby. The hardy few that survived all the years since my baby became a parent herself, earned their places on discreet bottom tree branches of my tree, along with two worse-for-wear drummer boys from my childhood tree. Many ornaments have retired, not so much from age discrimination but an inability to assimilate cosmetically. In other words, they are the plaid bellbottoms of ornaments.

Ornaments with aching sentiment are a completely different story. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, the more they are loved, the more cherished they’ve become. My granddaughter, who will be married next year, made an oversized padded and lace ruffled heart ornament in kindergarten, complete with sewn little charms. Okay, now it has drifted toward the back of the tree, it will always be there and always treasured. A photo of each child and grand, in funky little frames, dot the branches, as well as their grandpa, who is and always will be, front and center. Next to his framed picture, hangs a proud silver knight, symbolic of my guy’s crazy collection. The first Christmas Eve without him, the string of lights beneath those ornaments began to blink. Not all the strings of lights, not even a few rows – just this one section. The following morning, the lights stared me down unblinkingly. If that wasn’t a mischievous sign from beyond, I don’t know what is. Continue reading

HimsELF. . . on a shelf

elf-shelf-1920x640-1024x341Does that red-suited, creepily cheerful holiday imp visit your house each Christmas? If you have anxious little munchkins, the wacky, double-jointed sprite shows his bad self in a different spot each day. Though I’m well acquainted with this Santa tattletale, my grand- teenies just visit so the imp doesn’t do acrobatics in my house. The only mischievous Elf I’d want to see — left the building before last Christmas. Since then, he’s been sighted on shelves around the house, but now stilled in timeless frozen smiles.

Last year, there was plenty of tears, numbness and grief. A plastic smile and lots of fake cheer prevailed. This year, I’m determined not to have a ‘bah humbug’ Christmas. My Elf would HATE that. Oh, he’d definitely understand last holiday’s emotional sipher. In fact, if I WASN’T in in joyless funk so soon after he died, I suspect he’d be more than a wee bit surprised. But I also remember well his favorite retort to any conversation he thought went on longer than he wanted. “Don’t belabor the subject” he’d say. Of course, the phrase was usually uttered after my spousal unit related his views on something — but before I came close to finishing mine. (And yes, it ticked me off bigtime!)

Each person has their own timetable for grief. That ominously annoying phrase really isn’t welcome in that space. Though we might each have a loving village, we come into our healing in our own time. With the expectations of Hallmark happy, holidays don’t really help change the narrative. If anything, as all the firsts morph into the next year, and the next, you might be wondering why you feel even worse. (if that’s possible)  Unless there was a second coming, your loved one hasn’t returned; nothing really has changed — except you. Each holiday comes and goes and, you sometimes you really would like your seriously deflated (I’ve fallen and I can’t get up) spirit not to ‘belabor the subject’. Continue reading