Friday, December 23, 2005

give up Christmas?

After I dressed the tree this year, I thought, "what the hell did I do that for?" It doesn't seem worth it (even though I blogged about it and really do like my tree tradition).

The presents, though, I'm fond of. I think part of it is that in my family, we have pretty much given up doing Birthdays. My husband's family, sure, but if I send something to my sister or my Dad or something, it's because a good idea for a gift happened to come to mind at precisely the right time.

I am beginning to feel like Christmas, for me, is a little like when your house is getting pretty messy, but then you find out guests are coming, so you do the cleaning you should have been doing all along. Christmas says, "okay, ignore them the rest of the year, but at least right now, come up with a way to show that you were thinking of them."

I don't get stuff from any of them, actually. Mom made me take a card for her account, so she could say every year, "we didn't get around to sending anything, but you guys go out to dinner on us, okay?" And that's cool! So I don't have to play the whole reciprocal gift-giving guilt-trip game. But I always send something, wrapped up. No gift cards. Something that shows that I know what's going on in their lives and want to be involved, but can't because I'm far away.

I figure, if I don't know what's going on in their lives, I shouldn't send anything at all. It'd be pointless.

So... will I keep "celebrating" Christmas? Probably. But I don't spend a lot, and if the shopping crowds are too much for me, I don't go. I can always send the present after Christmas, when things have calmed down. Because the commercial aspect sure isn't about Jesus. And the love aspect isn't dependent on a calendar.


reposted from 12 December 2005 on another, lamer, blog site

In September 2001, Luther was deployed. I was expecting the news, but I had to hear the reality by telephone from a hotel lobby in San Francisco. By the time I got home, he was gone.

In December, with our first Christmas as a married couple looming and Luther far from home, I went out to get a tree. We had a tiny two-bedroom apartment, with a room for the kids who were two states away, and a room for Luther and me and all the stuff that didn't fit elsewhere. There was a window in the livingroom that looked out on the apartment complex lot, an obvious place for some seasonal cheer. I like being by myself, but at that time, it was heart-breakingly lonely.

After getting the tree, I wanted to feel sorry for myself. I like the Christmas season for the sappiness, and I fully intended to enjoy it. Some wine or beer, some chips and dip, a romantic movie guaranteed to make me cry... all these things seemed more appropriate than ever.

At Eckerd's for some chips, I found this reindeer ornament. It remains my "Luther is far from home" memory, but it is also beautiful.

love tree

reposted from 11 December 2005, on another, lamer, blog site:

I don’t have a problem with Christmas. I loathe the inflatable decorations, and I could live without all the “Christmas is about the children” crap, but to each his own. My Christmas is about a tree, some presents, some good food and drink. It isn’t about Jesus and God, and it sure as hell isn’t about the children –at least, not especially. It’s a time of year when you get to have a little frantic fun, show the people close to you that you’re thinking about them, and remember stuff. That’s about it.

When I was a kid, we always had a real Christmas tree. Mom and Dad would drive us in the Volkswagon beetle to hunt down and kill our own tree at Horton’s Tree Farm. Toronto’s streets were slushy, but at Horton’s Tree Farm, there was endless snow. It always felt like my face was going to freeze off. We’d locate the Perfect Tree, and then Dad or my sister would chop it down and we’d drag it back to the lodge, where we’d have hot apple cider or hot chocolate and hot maple syrup candy, hardened in snow to a chewy consistency.

At home, Mom put lights on the tree, swearing the whole time as the needles pricked her hands and forearms. Then the ornaments would go up. Our ornaments were always old things that we’d had forever. Nothing fancy. Tarnished glass balls. Tinsel.

Later, these old things were gradually replaced by things that Paul brought to our family, or by new things that he and Mom collected. They started buying things when they were traveling, and occasionally added items to commemorate events or to remember a pet that had passed away. I had my own tree, wherever I was living, but I always tried to join Mom and Paul for the decorating of their tree. With all the memories and stories coming out of the box of decorations, tree decoration at Mom and Paul’s gradually became a special, annual event of its own. A nice dinner, some music, some wine, and with each ornament, a story or remembrance. I loved this event so much, I kept my own tree quite bare for the first few years. I limited my ornaments to lights and glass balls and a few new ornaments each year. I decided to let the collection grow through experiences, so each new ornament would signify some part of my life.

This is the tradition I brought South with me, when I moved here.

Luther had bought an artificial tree and lights and some plastic ornaments, so that he could have Christmas for his kids, when they came to visit him. When I joined him here, the artificial tree got replaced with a real one. We “hunted it down” at Home Depot with the kids, and brought it home on the roof of the little Subaru Justy. Then the ornaments from both little families were merged.

Last night, I decorated our tree of memories. Lights first, strands surviving from both our households. Stars next, the Georgia wire frame star up top, and the shiny filigree one from Toronto just below, perched in the branches. Luther teased me about having any star up top, since I am not a Christian. I don’t believe in God, I said, but I believe in stars!

After the lights and stars, the plastic balls go up. They mean more to me than any of the other ornaments. They are from such a difficult and sweet time, when Luther was alone and apart from the children he loves so much, purchased very much to say to them, “I’ll always love you.”

I’m glad that I’m able to share my tradition with him. I’m gladder still to have my Christmas tree filled with the love he feels for his family, along with the love I feel for my own. That’s what Christmas is about, to me. Some frantic fun, some time with family, and a pretty tree full of memories.

Eulogy 4.0

reposted from 08 December 2005 on another, lamer, blog site

Last night I said a sad goodbye to my good friend, 4.0.

I knew 4.0 only briefly. We met in college. I remember thinking she wouldn’t have anything to do with someone like me, but I was wrong. We wound up spending a lot of time together, some late nights, some really early mornings, and a lot of words. I was really impressed by her ability to always give it 100%, you know?

I was proud to have 4.0 as a friend. I even bragged about her! I actually felt smarter in her presence.

At times like this, you’re always tempted to say, “It isn’t fair.” But that’s not right. This isn’t about what’s fair. 4.0 never relied on “fair” to get her through things. Nor will I.

And it’s hard not to think that I lost 4.0 before her time. But let’s be honest, we all knew it was time. All the drinking sure didn’t help, and—well, I’ll just refer to her other problems the way she would have referred to them herself: “Distractions.”

4.0 was like that. She always had the perfect word for things. But now she’s gone, and it is time to move on.

Next semester, I hope to make a new friend. I’ll try to give her more time and effort than I was able to give to 4.0 these last few months. Until then, I plan to play hard and have fun and remember the good times, when I thought 4.0 would be with me forever.

In closing, I’d like to share a little thing she used to say to me. It may not make much sense to you, but 4.0 would understand.

4.0, I give you an A . Excellent work, my friend.

with this follow up, 19 December 2005:

Today I received the report on the autopsy performed on my dear friend, 4.0. Many of you will recall that I gave the eulogy at her funeral. I truly appreciate the many kind words, cards, and stuffed animals sent to console me. They really did help!

All your good thoughts surely contributed to the situation that has now arisen: The autopsy report has come in, and I am a little embarrassed to share the findings. In a situation such as this, 4.0 would no doubt quote Mark Twain in saying, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Some of you, I am told, will better understand this as, "The bitch is back."
4.0 is recovering nicely. Time will tell whether she will be able to achieve her former health. I will certainly be looking to contribute what I can to her general well-being! My only real regret --and this I say in confidence-- is my own reticence. I am just so lazy! and now I will have to live up to 4.0's standards again. Don't get me wrong! She's top drawer, the best of the best! I just... sometimes wish I didn't have to strive to meet her level of performance.

Oh well. I'm glad I'll have her with me at the start of the spring semester! I'll be studying Marketing with Dr. Barnum, and I'll be building my portfolio with Dr. Hopper. It will be good to be working with 4.0 again, and giving her all I have. I look forward to the challenge 4.0's own personality has always represented.

To 4.0 herself, I have only one thing to say: Bring it on.

introducing: my Paul

reposted from another, lamer, blog site

Paul came into my life sometime after my eighth birthday. He is not my stepfather.

When I was eight, my father moved out of the house. I remember it because we had one of our regular Saturday family meetings, and the topic was something like, “you two have noticed that your mother and I have been fighting a lot, so we’ve been talking about how to solve that problem.” The proposed solution was that Dad get a place of his own. We’d still see him all the time, but he wouldn’t live in the same house, and so he and Mom wouldn’t have to fight. My sister and I agreed that this was a good solution for all concerned. Dad got an apartment downtown.

I don’t remember a big deal around meeting Paul. Both my parents already knew him, so it’s quite possible that my sister and I had already met him before he and my Mom started sleeping together. What I do remember is running into him in the hall occasionally at night (adults slept naked for some reason, but I don’t remember thinking he was ugly or anything), and that he had the COOLEST APARTMENT EVER. It was on Avenue Road, and the kitchen had black and white tiles and a cafĂ© table with stools, and the livingroom had deep shag carpet, wall to wall drapes, and velvet chairs, one green, one red. We typically went there before or after my basketball games at the Y. Paul listened to jazz and read a lot.

The idea of having a stepfather or stepmother simply never came up. I had a mother, and I had a father. Their relationships with me had not changed. Paul became a part of my life, and I liked him and I guess he liked me. He was my mother’s boyfriend. Later, he was my mother’s life partner. I talked to him about stuff. He offered his wisdom when appropriate. I moved in with my Dad when I was eleven, and after that, Paul seemed like the only real adult in my life. As I grew up, more and more I found that my parents had to be taken care of, but Paul never seemed to need me. He just was there if I needed him.

Years later, I came to refer to Paul as “my third parent.” Today, however, I was told with no hesitation by a co-worker… that Paul is my stepfather. I sat there, a 38-year-old who has had Paul in her life for about 30 years of her life, and was told that Paul is my stepfather whether I use the word or not.


I can’t tell you why most people assume he is my stepfather. I can tell you why Paul is not my stepfather, and it’s this: Because my sense of “family” is not about a child living with a mother and a father. My sense of family is not so restricted. To me, family is two or more persons who are bound to each other for life. When a child is involved, family is the people that child can go to come hell or high water, for love and for protection, whether he needs to do so or not. But new family members don’t replace or substitute for the originals. I have a mother. Her name is Mary Ann. I have a father. His name is David. Any people they chose to add to my family when I was still a child, whatever gender or sexual preference or nationality… would be part of my family. Period.

Would they be, automatically, parents? No.

Paul was not my parent when I was growing up. I already had parents. I tried to respect other adults who were due respect, which he was. I conversed with them as equals when possible, and (sometimes) deferred to them as knowing elders otherwise. In my teens, I referred to Paul as either my friend or “my mother’s life partner.”

It’s as an adult that I realized how much he has meant to me, how he has always been there for me –but more to the point has always been there for my mother and enriched her life so much in ways that have supported my own. It’s as an adult that I can say without hesitation that I would simply not be me if it hadn’t been for Paul being a part of my life. It’s as an adult that I can talk with him in a kitchen in Newfoundland and wonder how I can ever repay him for what he has given to my mother and, through her, to me.

He is not my stepfather. That would in no way express what he means to me. Paul is my Paul. And I’m so very glad he is my friend.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

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