Friday, December 30, 2011

The Good Old Days??

Those of us who have reached a certain age, remember how things used to be….

I know people who are quite incensed that things have changed so much since they were young.  They can sit and recall, for hours on end, all the wonderful things that they remember from the good old days….  And I always think of the quote:   ”The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is…….” (Marcel Pagnol)

Having just finished my journal of the Christmas season, I can tell you that the good old days weren’t all that good…..

I remember a project I had to do for an advanced placement class I took in my senior year of high school.  We had to answer “millions” of questions about things that were going on in the world at that time.  Our answers had to be scholarly, as in including references….

I know that my report was 140 type-written pages long.  I also remember staying up all night, the night before it was due, to complete it.  Oh, I had been working on it all semester, believe me.  I was on a first name basis with all the librarians at the Podunk Public Library.  I was there almost every day, it seems.

And I typed my report on an “portable”  typewriter.   Since the questions had to be answered in order, I would leave room for an answer I didn’t have yet and go on to the next question.  In the end, I had answered all the questions but not always with references (“my dad” didn’t count as a reference). 

The reason I bring up that old memory is because I used my typewriter to journal the month of December, 2011, in my December Daily scrapbook.   Thinking back to that 140-page tome I wrote, I am amazed…….still.

You see, even on the soft setting, the keys are still hard to press.  There is no genie living in the typewriter to automatically capitalize the first word in a sentence.  Nor can I figure out how to “cut and paste” something that is in the wrong place…….other than with scissors and glue.

I had forgotten that my typewriter didn’t have an exclamation point.  You had to make your own….  And the numbers don’t include a “1”……I had to use the small “l” instead.  That is, when I didn’t forget and use the “i”…..which looks funny next to a real number….

And mistakes?  Easy.  Start over on another piece of paper…..

I am thrilled that I have a documentary of our Christmas season.  I had fun making it, too.  And using the “old” typewriter is quite the “in” thing to do, in the scrapbooking world, at least.  Too bad there are so many letters typed over because I didn’t want to use the White Out…..

And I think, actually, THESE are the good old days……

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Spirit of the Season...

Since the beginning of time, or at least, since humans realized that the days were shorter and the nights longer, in the winter, we have celebrated the winter solstice.  Different cultures have recognized the time as a rebirth, of sorts, and celebrated with holidays and festivals.

For centuries, different cultures have commemorated the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with a holiday occurring near the winter solstice.  And other cultures have celebrated the birth of the Christ Child in a manger, in a stable, in the Middle East.  More recently, it has become a time to honor African-American heritage and culture.

In a song, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Yet, that’s hard for some to accept.  Was it wonderful when loved ones were thousands of miles away, in harm’s way, fighting a war?  Was it wonderful in 1929 when the Stock Market had just crashed?  Is it wonderful today, with double digit unemployment?  It’s double digit where I live, anyway….

Ah, and the nightly news does nothing to make things merry and bright, does it?  Unspeakable crimes, political shenanigans, death, destruction and despair rule the airwaves, it seems.  Just yesterday, there was a story about a small town north of Podunk, where all the toys donated to make Christmas “merry” for needy children were stolen….

Tonight, on the news, they showed the long line of cars full of people waiting to donate toys to replace those that were stolen.  It’s a small town, but the donators came from towns all over the valley in an attempt to replace more than 3000 toys in just 24 hours. 

It was uplifting to watch families with children bringing toys to donate to other, less fortunate children.  What a wonderful lesson to teach all of us:  it is better to give than to receive…. And tomorrow, the celebration will go on as planned: free hot meal, gifts for the children, and 65 cubic yards of shipped-in snow to help make Christmas merry and bright.

Of course, there are Secret Santas at work all over this country right now.  Some have paid off layaways at Kmart stores so children can have Christmas after all.  And others are paying for tanks of gas for amazed gas station customers.  Still others have taken toys to children in hospitals, or gifts to the elderly in nursing homes.

Perhaps the spirit of the season is still alive and well, despite the economy.  Perhaps there truly is hope for this little blue marble we live on.  Perhaps man’s inhumanity to man has a noble opponent in those who would commit kindnesses to others without expecting anything in return….

Perhaps the spirit of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or whatever you choose to call it, is alive and well.

And this world isn’t all bad….

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Lessons...

One of my favorite things to do, during the Christmas season, is watch all the classic Christmas movies.  Last night, we started with Christmas Vacation, the 1989 John Hughes’ classic.  Full of pratfalls, one-liners, and unimaginable happenings, it’s probably my favorite Christmas movie.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen it, but I see something new every time I do…

Last night, I realized that, more than pratfalls, impossible and improbably story lines, and a cast of true characters, it’s about expectations.  Unreal expectations based on a heartfelt desire to make this Christmas really special……and perfect.

It’s the story of me….sort of….

As far as I am concerned, there was only one perfect Christmas, and that was over two thousand years ago.  And, believe it or not, I was not around then…..

That doesn’t seem to stop me from trying, year after year, to make Christmas just perfect for my family and friends.  Beautiful Christmas trees and decorations, delicious food, the perfect gifts, a house full of family and friends……I want it all.  And mostly, I get it.  Every year….

But that’s not the point.  Try as hard as he might, Clark Griswold just can’t seem to pull off the perfect Christmas.  Whether it’s his feuding parents and in-laws, his bored children, his miserly boss, or the uptight yuppies living next door… one is going to let him have his dream come true Christmas…

And yet, through all the disasters, it comes around to perfection in the end.  Realistic perfection.  The family is all together.  The house didn’t burn down.  Two Christmas trees, a chair and a cat have burned up, but the house is mostly intact.

No, things don’t go the way we plan them, most of the time….  Sometimes, they’re better for all the mishaps.  Who wouldn’t like to stand on the front lawn, watching the Santa decoration launched into the sky by methane gas, and sing the National Anthem?  Especially when surrounded by his entire family, his miserly boss, and a Chicago SWAT team?
Lesson learned: make plans, execute as able, and sit back and laugh at what goes wrong.  Nothing more, nothing less….

Well, maybe without the SWAT team…..

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Christmas Gift.....

As I decorated the house for Christmas yesterday, I thought about something that happened nearly twenty years ago. And every year since then, when I unwrap the figurines for my Nativity scene, I think of the same event.

Way back then, I was setting up the Nativity scene before Christmas. Since there would be “little ones” in the house for Christmas, I chose to put the Nativity scene on the mantle. We had a corner fireplace made of brick, including the mantle.

As I thought about where it came from, unwrapping each figurine and placing it “just so” in the manger or surrounds, I dropped the figurine I was unwrapping at the moment. It bounced with a sickening “ping” on the brick hearth and then on to the carpet. 

I gasped and tears welled up in my eyes. My mother hadn’t been gone all that long and I was devastated to have broken something so special that she had given me. I closed my eyes and decided that, no matter how broken it was, I would glue it back together and continue to use it.

It’s now been forty-one Christmases ago that my mother gave me the Nativity scene. She bought it for me at a little gift shop here in Podunk. It was, and still is, a link to my mother and our family traditions. I have never seen another Nativity like mine: pure white ceramic figurines made by Hummel. They came with a simplistic manger and a gold tin star. 

Even if there were readily available replacements, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Slowly, I bent down and picked up the fallen figurine. It was the Virgin Mary. My tears made it hard to see, so I felt her outstretched hand with my fingers: still there. I felt the base: still complete. I ran my hand over all her surfaces: no chips, nothing missing.

Full of hope, and with my tears dried, I looked at her under a very strong light. Not even a crack, anywhere. I was utterly dumbfounded. How could a small ceramic figurine, with outstretched hand, fall so far, hit so hard and not be broken?

Christmas miracles come in all sizes and shapes, I guess….