Advent Calendar – Day 4
My Mother’s Christmas Wrapping Was Really Tight(s)
When I think back to childhood Christmases, another one that always jumps out in my memory, is the one where my Sister almost missed her choir gig on Christmas morning because of a wardrobe malfunction. During the 1980’s they didn’t have altar girls, as they do now, at least not in my parish, so the only option for girls was to join the choir. So I would be up at the front of the church with my boyos, and my Sister would be up in the balcony with the Pipe Organ blaring, and good ol’ Tom Hickey (no relation) cutting verses quite dramatically. His performance always stirred me, and was easily imitable and a great source of hours of fun recreating his vocal stylings among my peers. Two of our favorite pastimes were imitating him, and also imitating our parish Shepard, Fr. Mahoney.
From an altar boys perspective, I was jealous that we were not allowed up into the church balcony. It was off-limits to everyone but the choir. When I think back to the days when the church was full to capacity both above and below, it gives me a chill to think of the hymns and prayers collecting in the stratosphere of the church ceiling. I bet it was loud. It never happened on my watch, more’s the pity.
At any rate, I digress…one fine 1980’s Christmas morning, as the hush had fallen over our second-floor North Mead Street apartment, my Sister and I had awoken to the delight of a living room full of treasure. This surely was some form of devilry. We had only gone to bed eight short hours ago, and the living room was empty. Barren, except for the blue ringed light of our gas heater, the snoring of hour Irish Setter Katie, and perhaps the singular orange glow of my Mother’s Newport lighting the room as some form or Northern Star to light Santa Clause’s way to our home. Yes, you could hear her even and enjoyed breathing of her cigarettes; making menthol memories. My father, likely asleep, and she, anxiously awake because everything had to be just right. In retrospect, and having experienced the dance myself, I regard their preparation and execution of holiday happiness delivery to have been of a Master’s skill level.
So we awaken, quite surely, not too long after they turned in. And we explode from our rooms into the living room. Full of piss and vinegar, and candy cane vigor. We stormed to our designated spots. I’ve made mention in prior blogs about how seriously my Mother took this holiday, and the presentation of the presents. We were lovingly spoiled, and there was no deterring my Mother of this. It was a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” situation. I suspect that there was a strong matrilineal legacy of gift giving. My Mother drove it to an excess, and I am grateful for all of it. At times, I wish I could convey that thought to her now.
Well, despite her proclivity to procure piles of presents for each of us; the run up to Christmas Day, came at the expense of other domestic requirements. With all the wrapping of presents, and house cleaning for our family’s visitation on Christmas Day, and the preparation of food for the feast, the laundry would pile up. If you can remember nothing else from this post, then it must be the fact that the laundry had piled up, because without this one detail, what transpired after my Sister and I had awoken to the victory of a living room of presents, cannot be belied by the actions that usurped our opening and enjoying those mysterious gifts.
Now I can’t recall exactly what time it was, but it was around 6:30-7am. And that is a rather large BUT, because much to our chagrin, we forgot the fact that we couldn’t open presents until my sister had gone across the street to church and fulfilled her obligation (luckily, I had completed my obligation the evening before on Christmas Eve).
Yes, you read that correctly, after a year’s worth of anticipation, we had to wait at least three more Goddamned excruciating hours before we could touch present one.
This should have been quite simple, but it was not.
My Sister was directed to get dressed for church, but it was soon realized, much to my parents chagrin, that she did not have the requisite tights to go with her outfit, bought special just for the occasion.
Well, my parents were fit to be tied by Goddamned tights. And you see, this is where that piddly little detail of the piled-up laundry comes to play; there were no laundered tights. All the tights were “in the laundry”. Well, one certainly does not go out into the Winter Wonderland, wearing a Christmas Dress, without the warmth of white tights. God knows, he simply knows, and so does Fr. Mahoney. I don’t believe he did spot checks, but there was a dress code.
So, impatient kids, sleep deprived parents, no coffee made yet, piles of laundry, a litany of finger-pointing, a few “Nooooooooo, fuck yous”, and there we were.
Finally, my parents held a very animated but whispered conversation accompanied with contorted faces, and the realization that a solution was in sight. My father came and led us out of the living room, and down the hall to the dining room, where we were threatened with recourse if we dared go back to the living room. He then returned to the living room. We were simply thinking WTF, before WTF became a universal acronym.
Not soon after he had disappeared, we heard a frenzy of activity coming from the living room we just vacated. My mother channeling the spirit of an old-time prospector tore into my Sister’s pile of presents with a determined focus. We could hear the tearing of paper, followed by what I can only imagine would be my Father replacing the wrapping as he trailed behind her. My Sister started into her crinkle cry face. Being the asshole I was, I giggled.
Apparently, in their conversation, the whispered one which we were not privy to, it was remembered that they had bought white tights as part of another dress ensemble that was to make its appearance at the gift opening revelations. But…and this is a rather large BUT, we were not allowed to open gifts until after my sister returned from Christmas Choir.
So, this one singular moment, was my Mother’s Kobayashi Maru
And, I’m happy to say she passed without having to alter the test in order to pass. Sure there were tears, wrapping paper torn, and clouds of profanity hung over our Christmas gorging, but my Sister got herself some white tights to wear warmly to Christmas Morning Mass Church Choir.
When she got home, she reopened the twice-wrapped presents, and at the end of the day, the newly dirty white tights made it into the mountain of laundry in the hamper awaiting post-Christmas washing.
I won’t ever know if anyone would have been the wiser if she went bare-legged to the church that day, but, and it is a rather large BUT, we wouldn’t have the gift of the memory of our Mother tearing through piles of presents with reckless abandon on one fine 1980’s Christmas Morning.
If you liked this post, take a look at the last one…Advent Calendar Day 3
If anyone is in the Metro Boston this Friday, December 7th, please consider joining me, and my best friend, the West Coast Bandit, as we attend a night full of entertainment for a great cause at: Don’t Forget Your Art!
I performing a piece that means a lot to me. You should really come by and see if the poem is about you. How will you ever know if you aren’t there? Are you willing to take that chance? I wouldn’t, I’d definitely be there, just in case.
MOTHER CHRISTMAS VISITS THE CABBAGE PATCH
My Mother was a woman of vernacular. She had ways of saying things and words to say them. Over the course of our lives together, it became apparent that not everyone shared these words and expressions. In conversations with others, I’d often say things that would get puzzled looks, or giggles.
The Boston “dropped R” only enhanced and amplified the effect of conversing with her. You might get something like “Hi! Howahya? You comin ovah tommorah? Jaysus Christ, it’s wicked hawt. Christophah! Christophah! I saw a patient at the hospital last night with a broken leg, bone sticking out. Skeevatsah!”
I grew an appreciation for the cadence and dance of conversing with her over the years. She “nevah” used punctuation, but ended most phrases with a “ya know?” Which was pregnant with reflection, concession, and a hint at sought validation; though mostly rhetorical.
My Mother doted on my sister and I to an extreme. Most especially, at Christmas. We were spoiled. It was her thing. It is one of the lasting memorable characteristics of her personality, along with her speech patterns that I remember fondly.
Well, a story she was particularly fond of retelling, or enjoyed hearing others tell of it, was that of “The Great Cabbage Patch Kid Doll Carnage of 1983”
The Cabbage Patch Doll Craze of 1983 was a national phenomena. My sister had it in her lusty child sights. I didn’t care so much about it, except a passing acknowledgement that it was “a thing”, G.I. Joe was more in my wheelhouse. I really don’t recall how it became known to us, but somehow without internet, the message got out. Stores didn’t have them to keep up with the demand. Clandestine shipments, ravaged shelves, my Mother had contacts everywhere, searching high and low for one of these damn dolls. I repeat, this was before internet, yet she managed a network of contacts through landline telephones, a calendar date book, and the yellow and white pages. I’m pretty sure she also enlisted help from the Hood Milkman, Meyer the owner of the Family Shoe Store where we got our bobos (generic shoes mocking name brands), and the entire St. Francis de Sales Parents Guild Association.
As days fell from the calendar, so did my Mother’s hopes of presenting the perfect Christmas morning for my sister.
She was wicked desperate.
I don’t know how, but one of the many leads she had, developed into her taking a bus to Manhattan with my father sometime in December before Christmas 1983. It was a precision operation that involved getting to the correct store, waiting in line, and having the right money for the purchase.
When I think of my father being dragged from his weekend slumber to traipse down to Manhattan on the chance of a hope and a prayer that they might get a doll for my sister, I heartily laugh. I don’t think he was a believer. Ma was, though. My sister’s Christmas joy depended on it.
His only consolation was perhaps a few hurried stops at a bunch of New York Street Hot Dog vendors, so he could stuff a Sabrett’s Hot Dog in his restless maw. Not my mother, she was not to be distracted from her mission.
The Blues Brothers were told by God that they had a mission to complete. Conversely, my Mother told God, she had a mission to complete.
So after the long bus trip, the long city blocks, the foot long hot dogs smothered in relish, they finally arrived at the correct place at the correct time. The line was long, but not impossibly long. Somehow, others knew about the shipment, much to my Mother’s chagrin. They padded along. advancing another few steps. At the pace of one complaint and anxiety at a time. My Mother spent her time in the line giving the gooch and stink face to anyone coming back down the line with a sizable box like brown paper bag in their mitts. Each person coming down the line displayed a satisfaction that my Mother hadn’t tasted as yet, and she grew antsy.
Down the line. People in. Bags out.
Blood pressure rising.
After what must have seemed an eternity to my parents, they finally crossed the threshold and made their way to the counters.
Behind the counters were little brown men screaming and yelling at a fevered pitch. New York was and is the melting pot of America, so it stood to reason that my parents would meet up with some people they were unfamiliar with, having spent most of their lives in an insular community.
So the moment of truth occurs:
Sales clerk: So whatchoo, want, lady?
Ma: How much ah, fah the Cabbage Patch Dolls?
Sales clerk: one hundred dolla.
My Mother turns to my Father, “did he say $100 dollars?”
My father nodded. She didn’t intend on paying $100 dollars for a doll she thought was could be bought for less. Although, desperate times called for desperate measures.
She turned back to the sales clerk and said:
Fah each? Awhr fah two?
The clerk looked stunned, then started talking to his associate. My mother, thought she was not heard. Both sales clerks looked bothered and started gesticulating at my mother. Again, she said:
Fah each? Awhr fah two?
Well that just about did it. The sales clerks said:
Get out, of our store, filthy lady! How dare you talk to us like that!
My father getting a hold of what was going on realized what my mother had said, and put together that they thought she was offering “favors” for the dolls.
Dad: They thought you said you would eat them for two dolls, Kath.
After a good laugh, and some explanations, my Mother reluctantly paid the $100 dollars for the doll.
So 1983 was one of the best Christmases ever for our family. My sister got her doll. My Mother got to see the expression of joy that came of my sister receiving the doll. We all got a story to tell, and two Indian/Pakistani gentleman in Manhattan who had a harder time understanding my Mother’s Boston accent than she had in understanding them, were canonized saints for not having thrown my Mother out of their store before she had the chance to drop her r’s, and some cabbage on some Cabbage Patch Kids.
In my Mother’s version of the story, she believed that the gentleman got it wrong, but if you knew my Mother, you would have heard what they heard, as she had a phenomenal Boston accent. It was wicked pissah! Ya’ know…
Doing something tonight that I haven’t done in a while.
There, all the lights are out.
Except the Christmas Tree.
Magic lights, blinking dreams. Heart flutters and sugarplum fairies goading me to remember the short past or long past. It depends entirely on your perspective.
As a matter of convenience I’ve located an app on my smart tv that plays Christmas Ditties. Years ago it was cassette tapes, then it was CDs, then digital downloads. Now live streaming. Buffing along song to song, being carried down the stream of memories that connects me to this holiday season and all the holiday seasons that I’ve made my stake and found my joy within.
This is a truly magical time of year in my heart and in all of my actions. It always has been, as far back as I can remember.
I grew up in a standard household of four. Dad, Mom, Son, and Daughter. There was a dog (an Irish Setter, named Katie), multiple hamsters and gold fish which never lasted, and a two bedroom second floor flat that held sway over my imagination over the formative years of my life.
We were poor, but didn’t realize we were. That might have been the greatest gift of our childhood (of which we had many gifts). Running a house in today’s world gives me a respect for all that my parents sacrificed in order to provide so many good times, and great Christmases.
My Mom, after her Mom, was the Major General of the production. It all started with her desire to create a happy holiday home. My cheeks turn red when thinking about all the things she lavished upon us. We were spoiled in these holiday moments, and graciously gifted many times over by two sets of grand parents and three doting uncles. We all lived within a square mile in those days, and the traipsing back and forth from home to home allowed for us to grow keen of different types of cooking at each home. as well as a nose for our favorites.
I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention how important the church was in our lives, our parish life.
All good things contained within the wilds of zip code 02129, “Chawles’town” to the locals. God, school, family, friends. Life! Holiday life!
My father, a fine accomplice in achieving my mother’s designs, was satisfied to use his artistic talents to create elaborate decorating schemes and turn our apartment into a Winter Wonderland. One year he used tin foil attached to the wall around the Christmas Tree to give the blinking lights an infinity effect, another year he made an entire village out of balsa wood to surround the train beneath the tree, and in yet another year he painstakingly carved snowflakes out of glossy white paper with an Exacto Knife and affixed glitter to them so they could be hung from our suspended ceiling by paper clips.
The magic was real. When the lights went out and the tree came on we were transported to another world.
This was our normal. We didn’t know any better. We never knew of the amount of time and effort that was dedicated to achieving the proper effect. Halls decked.
Mom and Dad, a formidable Christmas Duo, raising bars and setting precedents that I still aspire to each and every Christmas.
The music continues to play, and each verse and chorus puts me in the frame of a wonderful memory.
Recounting is fun, but remembering past warmth n the grinning comfort of a glowing Christmas Tree room is sublime.
I look forward to some deep dives back in time and to bringing some gems to the forefront. Keep measure in coming days, as I plan to elaborate on all that I found good, curious, and magical.
…soon it will be Christmas Day
I want to wish all of my followers, family and friends a heartfelt Huzzah for the Holidays! Whether you celebrate Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Christmas, Winter Solstice, or any other Holiday, I hope that you and yours find the warmth of hearth and home and all that magic that comes of this time of year.
This year was almost lost to me because of the recent death of a loved one. However, inspiration always reminds us that we are beholden to a greater motivation, and that even in the worst of times we must shine on, persist, and do as we do.
I hope that you enjoy what I share with you in the coming weeks. Starting today, and ending January 6, 2018. I will show you what celebrating the Holiday Season means to me.