Saturday, November 26, 2011

Let the Decorating Begin!

Yesterday I put away Thanksgiving. Today the marathon Christmas decorating effort begins.
I’m an unrepentant Christmas junkie. And I want it all: the Bible story, nativity, Santa, cartoons, the Hallmark channel movies, and the music—all the music.
It’s in my genes. I inherited the passion from my maternal grandfather. He adored the holiday!

This was my grandparents’ house in West Hollywood sometime in the 1940s. Grandpa built the sleigh after he brought the reindeer home from the Broadway Department Store in L.A. He worked there, and they were going to be thrown out. I remember them well. They were made of concrete over rebar and were heavy. I ‘rode’ them when I was little. One of them survived in our garage through much of our childhood until it finally disintegrated.
I suspect Grandpa cut out the Santa on the roof from the same wood as the sleigh and painted it himself.
On the low wall behind the sleigh, you can see three of the ‘little houses’ he and my dad made. They eventually had nearly a dozen in various stages of completion, many of which were replicas of real places. Their ultimate intention was to create a miniature Christmas village on the lawn.
The grass was covered in Ivory soap flakes. I’m not clear how they removed them after New Year, but it must have been messy in the days before blowers. And I hate to think what happened if it rained.
Eventually, Grandpa and Dad made yards of miniature white picket fences they intended to put around the little houses. They were like the larger one in the photo, but only about three inches tall.
The two of them spent months in the garage together shredding their fingers cutting up tin cans and fashioning them into tiny street lamps. This was long before the days of strings of twinkle lights. Somewhere or other, they found miniature bulbs and wired each tiny lamp separately.
Unfortunately, nearly all of these decorations were lost in a garage fire at my grandparents in the early 1950s, caused by a frayed wire on a radio. The greater loss was of Grandpa himself when I was twenty-six months old and then Dad when I was seven.
But the Christmas gene survived in my mother. She loved the holiday, and even on a very limited budget, she decorated. Every year, she used Glass Wax to add ‘snow’ to the corners of our windows. Later, we had Glass Wax stencils and created trees, snowflakes, and other designs.
So today, Larry will reluctantly put up the tree. It’s fake since, although I love the scent of fresh pine, my allergies don’t. A couple of years ago, he replaced our ancient tree with a new one. The appeal was that it had the lights already on the branches. It opens like an umbrella, so his job is pretty easy.
His other job is hanging the outside lights. For years, he put them up on Christmas Eve and took them down the day after. Now that he’s retired, he doesn’t have a really good excuse for putting it off. But that doesn’t mean he won’t.
We have hundreds of ornaments, and it takes hours just to find spots for all of them. That’s my job. Each one is unique, and many are hand-made. Not a single plain glass ball among them. Every year I vow to downsize, but I haven’t figured out which ones I’m willing to part with. Maybe this year…
I don’t wait until after Thanksgiving to start playing the music, however. I have hundreds of Christmas albums, and all the music is on my iPod. If I select the shuffle mode, they show up from time to time in the over 9000 songs I have loaded. (Nearly all of them are from my CDs—another addiction.) Of course, I can only listen that way when Larry’s not around. His preference is to wait until after Thanksgiving. So let the music begin!
I don’t want to miss any of the stories, either. The Christmas movie marathon has begun, and I’m thrilled. In addition, we have to read the Bible story from Luke. Actually, I don’t read it. I recite it.
When I was about six, our Sunday school class memorized the entire passage for the church Christmas pageant. Each of us was responsible for one verse. But, overachiever that I am, I learned it all. And I still remember it. When we visited Israel at Christmas in 1984, the verses all came back as I tried to picture the story in the actual locations.
Another family tradition is reading Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. It is some of the most beautiful writing in the English language, and we all adore it.
I’m too excited to sleep. I can’t wait to haul out all the old, familiar decorations and put them in their accustomed spots. I wish all of you could stop by and see them. Since that’s unlikely, I can wish everyone a blessed and joyous Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering Our Veterans

Today is November 11, Veterans’ Day and I started thinking about my dads, both of them: Larry’s dad, whom we lost on January third of this year, and my own who died fifty-eight years ago. Both were veterans of World War II.
I think of Larry’s dad often. Make no mistake about it, he was mine for forty-five years, and he was my Dad as well.
I don’t think of my own father often. He remains something of a cypher in my life. He died when I was seven, and like most men of his era, spent a great deal of his time working. I have very few actual memories of him, and those that remain exist mostly in old photos.
I wrote about him once, though. In 1993, I wrote a Christmas musical, The Giving Season, which I was blessed to see performed five times at our church. During the story, a young man pauses to reflect on his recently-deceased father. This particular song was the first-act finale and always made everyone cry. That may have been because it was written not for the play specifically but from my heart about my own father.
I share the lyric today for everyone who has lost a father who was a veteran.
The Man I Never Knew
©1993 by Lorna Collins
Who was this man, this stranger,
                This man I never knew?
I called him ‘Dad’ and ‘Father’
                But Father, who were you?

Did you ever have a special dream
                That never did come true?
Did somebody break your heart?
                Did someone prove untrue?

What were the things you cared about?
                What goals did you outgrow?
What were your childhood wishes?
                And how could I not know?

What special songs could touch your heart?
                What beauty pleased your eye?
Did you ever shout for joy?
                And did you ever cry?

Why did you always try to hide
Yourself behind a mask?
And why, in all the years we shared
                Was I afraid to ask?

Who were you my father,
                And what am I to do,
To try to find the secret of
                The man I never knew?

I hope all your memories of the veterans in your lives are sweet today. Honor them and all the other brave men and women who served our country so that we could enjoy all its blessings.