Holiday Survey Installment #1


December is the month when miracles that wouldn’t get noticed in July shoot to the surface like gas bubbles in the bathtub. Classic tales knock on the front door like friends we see once a year when we return like salmon to where we were spawned. Once again, Great Aunt Molly attempts to top her O Holy Night performance and falls flat of high C. Once again, Gramma Wilkes’ cranberry gel oozes out of the mold like lava, instead of standing at attention like a castle tower. What ingredient did she leave out of the recipe this year?

Each year untried challenges escape from the dusty ornament boxes as they descend from the attic rafters. We pull out surveys of holidays past. On a scale from one to ten, with ten being the most horrific, how do you rate Christmas 1950? 1999? 2001?

In my case, it’s very difficult. I’ll let you decide over the next few days.

Almost a Ten.

Fall 1985 was a doozer. Tim, aka “The Silver Fox,” had followed me to Maui and asked me to marry him. I assumed he was sober. I was wrong. We returned home the day before Thanksgiving. I didn’t see or hear from him until December 7, when he left a message that he’d married his secretary and needed his prescription sunglasses back. I slid into a deep depression and turned off my phone.

My brother and step-father took pity on what was left of my ego and invited themselves over for Christmas day to eat and watch the Twilight Zone marathon.

Sheets of rain came down at 5 am. At 10 am, my front door flew open. My step-father marched into the kitchen and opened the oven door.

“Where’s the turkey?”

“You’re joking.”

He was not noted for patience. Or a sense of humor.

He was not joking. I had not gotten the phone message that the feast was on me that year. This was California, 1985. Retailers still respected workers and holidays. That meant that Thanksgiving hours only accommodated desperate people who forgot whipping cream and sweet gherkin pickles. Christmas? That day was frozen. Only Chinese restaurants were open on this most holy of days.

Low blood sugar had not been discovered yet. Looking back, I suspect my stepfather suffered from it, as he was beginning to turn red. Minuscule beads of perspiration dotted his forehead, and lit up his auburn hair.

“There’s a rainbow.” My brother Jack had always been the sunny one, so I turned to see that he was pointing to a triple wide ribbon in the western sky.

“Hold that thought. I think I see a miracle,” I said. “I’ll be back.”

I raced down a deserted Pacific Coast Highway, chasing the rainbow. The violet light dropped into a skinny alleyway and landed on a screen door that was swinging back and forth in the wind. The door was the back entrance to a family-owned grocery.

“Can I help you?” It was Frank, the owner.

“I need Christmas dinner,” I said.

”How many pounds?”

Half an hour later I reappeared at my own back door. I handed a ten-pound hen turkey and all the stuff to make a feast to my stepfather.

Frank, the owner of the grocery store, had only gone to his store to pick up items his wife had forgotten: whipped cream and sweet gherkin pickles.

Luck? I don’t think so.

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