Red wine awakens my senses, inspires my creativity, and gives me the patience to see that calm is not simply an ideal. It also makes me more loose of tongue than usual and freer with comments and criticism. Last night the copious amounts of red wine I consumed allowed me to calmly reflect on the cycles of Christmas Joy and Misery. In the microcosm of the holiday all of life's ups and downs are magnified. The symbiotic times where joy within mirrors the joy of the season is counterbalanced against the personal heart breaks standing in stark contrast to the prevailing mood. It is with great introspection that I will experience my 1st white Christmas and I share with you the ghosts of my first 40 years.
Christmas 1979 - My First Television
It was always very difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve. My brother and I were so jazzed about Santa and what we might receive, we could not contain this energy and we always had very restless sleep filled with dreams of shitty tinker toys and various other antiquated gifts we would have despised (see above photo). We worked hard on our lists and it was nightmarish to think we would not receive what we had worked so diligently to highlight in the Sears Wish Book. For me, Christmas was everything, because my stupid birthday was only 6 days before and so I was often saddled with the Xmas/Bday gift combined while my brother whose birthday is in May always got killer stuff for both.
In our tradition we would always visit my mother's family on Xmas Eve, Santa would deliver Xmas morning, and we would go to my father's family for Xmas lunch. We also knew what we would get from each occasion. On the 24th my uncle would give us some very cool gift, toys, electronics, and always something unexpected. My grandparents on both sides almost always gave us clothes: BORING! Of course Santa brought the mother-lode of wish list greatness (usually).
In 1979 my uncle gave my brother and I our first television. A totally bad-ass 19 inch B&W from Montgomery Ward. I remember the drive home to Bristol that night with our new TV and couldn't help but be a little disappointed I had to share it with my brother. I remember the 8 track of The Eagles "Hotel California" playing on the way home and I kept asking my mom why the doctor needed cash in the song "Life in the Fast Lane". She never really gave me a satisfactory answer.
I was amazed when we got home that my parents took the time to set-up the tv for my brother and I. Typically anything that required effort on Christmas Eve was brushed aside as my parents told us they needed "grown up time". In this case, the TV was set on our dresser, the rabbit ears installed, and the TV went live just in time to watch the Christmas episode of Little House on the Prairie. My mom loved this show and so it became a household staple. With Michael Landon narrating, my brother and I slept better than any prior Christmas and the TV made such a lasting impression on me I cannot even remember what Santa brought the next day.
Christmas 1982 - Le Divorce
In 1982 we moved from Bristol to Ennis when my parents separated. I was looking forward to Christmas because I knew that Jesus and Santa would answer my prayers and bring my parents back together. On the last day of school and a day before my twelfth birthday my mom sat us down and told us that she and my father were officially divorced. My dad would come to see us Christmas morning, but this brought an end to our family being together like it had always been.
I had received an Atari 2600 the previous year (actually it was the model Atari made for SEARS) and so I knew this year I would get so many games and also my parents would be smiling and Santa and Jesus were going to make it all good.
Christmas morning I received 1 Atari game, Pitfall (how appropriate) and a pair of walkie-talkies. My brother got a load of toys and so he could not be bothered to play Walkie-Talkie games with me and I remember standing out in the cold at my grandmother's house in Palmer, TX and trying to raise anyone on the walkie. I began to say awful things out to the airwaves but I knew if Jesus and Santa were not listening; nobody was.
Christmas 1984 - The End of an Era
My father's parents moved to Fairfield, TX in 1984 to a house I helped to build during the summer. Fairfield had long been part of the family and finally my grandparents would be able to retire to a lovely small home with a pot belly stove and an extra room for guests. As usual my grandparents harvested a sparse little cedar for their Christmas tree and while I always thought it was so ugly, I realize now how cool it was to harvest your own tree from your own land. Of course my wimpy, asthmatic ass would nearly convulse in the presence of the tree and I knew all my toys and cool gifts would be at home and not here where I always got underwear, socks, and some sort of educational item like a pen, a notepad, or some book. At least the Christmas candy was always plentiful and all homemade (fudge, peanut butter fudge, date loaf, divinity, and brittle).
Santa had brought me a new dual tape deck portable stereo this year (SEARS of course) and I longed to be home listening to it. Imagine my amazement when my grandfather after all the gifts were gone grabbed my sad self and took me outside where he showed me the beautiful brand new desk he had built for me. The desk was designed to hold my stereo and my TV while giving me room to work underneath.
My grandfather would pass away 2 months later on Valentine's Day. My desk would be the last piece of furniture my grandfather would ever build. I still own and cherish it to this day.
Christmas 2001 - A New Tradition
My first wife and I split in May of 2001 just after our 3rd anniversary. I dreaded Christmas that year because I had really taken to all of the Czech traditions of my in-laws and especially because my brother was also married to a Czech girl and so these Xmas traditions from our home town became the closest thing to fitting into that close-knit society I ever had. Of course, my brother was still married and my mother had adopted many of the traditions of my step-father who is Mexican.
For the previous 8 Christmas Eves I had been opening gifts with my wife's family, eating a huge meal, and enjoying the bounty of amazing Czech pastries made in the bakery by my mother-in-law, who was a legend in the town. I came to really love all of this and it always made the holiday seem so much richer. I had 2 events with my family and one with hers so I was steeped in tradition and Christmas had become so much fun. Now it was over and I had no idea what to do.
That year my mom invited me to spend Christmas eve with her and my step dad. I obliged and boy was I glad I did!. Mexican Christmas eve is heaven for a food geek like me. There were multiple tamales, pozole, beans, rice, rice pudding, and so much laughter among all the brothers and an amazing number of kids. My step-grandmother cooked as if she wore an angel on her shoulder and I miss her amazing food and above all her welcoming kindness. No one questioned why I was there and I felt completely at home.
I went to bed that night and prayed the agony of my lost life would come to a speedy end, then I cried myself to sleep.
Christmas 2006 - The Joy Returned
On December 11, 2006 I met Juliet Williams for dinner at Gravitas in Houston. Since that night we have spent exactly 5 nights apart and this is the story of why there are not 6 of them.
Juliet and I were sitting in my car just outside of The Tasting Room at River Oaks in Houston on December 23, 2006. Juliet had just found out that her family dog (really her dog) had gone missing as she was preparing to go home to East Texas for the holidays.
I remember Juliet tearfully telling me the story of Sadie and how it would ruin Christmas for everyone if Sadie were indeed gone. I had some final gifts to buy before I left town to my family and so I reluctantly said goodbye to Juliet whom I had only know 12 days and yet I was completely, madly, and irrevocably in love with her.
5 long years and 5 bizarre Christmases later, I finally felt the joy again in the holiday, yet we had to be apart as it was just too soon in our relationship to throw ourselves on each others' families. I had been warned in 2003 by my brother that I done this much too early with a girl who burned me and I was not going to risk any one's hearts this year but my own.
As it turns out Sadie was safe at a neighbors and Juliet and I each celebrated a wonderful Christmas with our families; yet something was not quite right. My family could clearly see in me that something was up as they did not recognize the silly smile on my face that would not wane. Juliet was scheduled to work the day after Christmas so she had to in fact drive home Christmas night.
I was at my father's that night and having spent the previous 2 nights without Juliet I had become increasingly anxious and troubled. We had enjoyed an amazing dinner with my grandmother, my brother, and my father and his wife (she is a total bad-ass) and we were settling in to watch some sports and Xmas movies. I had just spoken to Juliet on the phone as she left her parents and we hatched a plan.
I waited 1.5 hours as Juliet made her way south towards Houston and then I told my family that work was pressing and I needed to go in at the crack the day after Xmas to do inventory. Everyone seemed surprised I would leave and drive at night back to Houston. As I explained my fib in greater detail my father looked at me from across the room and said "you better not be going back to see that girl!"
He knew the truth, and so did I. I could not spend another night away from this amazing woman, and certainly not Christmas night. I am quite confident now that my family approves of my departure as Juliet has brought me more joy and peace of mind in these last 5 years than I ever had in my previous 35+.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a great wife! (or husband :-)
Much love and peace,