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Holiday Conversation Starter

So I’m working on a special treat for my Christmas cards, wanting to “up my game.” It involves Christmas traditions that I love, memories of the holiday and of course my secret talents. Others have wonderful themes that make my eyes turn green with their creativity (I’m looking at you, Drea!).

So i started asking people two questions. 1. What is your favorite Holiday tradition, both from when you were a kid and now. And 2. What was your favorite present as a child at Christmas? These questions work across generations, too.

And it brings you closer to your family. Because in this time of Corona, there might not be a lot under the tree. We can always give of ourselves, tho. The gift of listening. Maybe a secret talent. Maybe just being a voice on the phone.

During World War II, Dad returned home at Christmas time. He brought his mom and sister a roll of… tinfoil like tape. It was used to jam radar devices while flying. My Auntie Mary told me the story, about how he brought it home and they used it to decprate the tree. They were poor– a poor we can’t imagine now. But that tape…. that tinfoil tape made her holiday.

Do yourself a favor and ask questions. Make up your own, or use mine. But ask. Find out about life in the family before you were born. It is the best gift you can give yourself. I have very few stories of my mom’s childhood, because she died when I was 24. Before I knew I needed those stories.

The holidays will be different. But that doesn’t mean they have to be horrible. Wrap yourself in your family’s stories, write them down and savor them. Who knows, Next year, you can turn those answers into a game of trivial pursuit!

Christmas

Its a little early, but I love me some Christmas, especially when I am a little down. 2020… well, its been a year. I wrote this for a group I’m in.

Way back when…

Santa loves me… he always brings me the bestest Christmas Stocking (that’s a lie.. I know it’s Mom—I believe in the magic of being Santa but not one person.. I have known since I was tiny, when Christmas was on a Sunday and Miss Teacher brought in a birthday cake and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus).

Mom’s stockings rocked. They were…. They were LOVE. She knew me, she got me. It was a mix of silly and sublime, books and toys and hair pretties… even as I grew older. The stockings were designed for each person, thought and care put into each one. And a grand design—what would occupy us until everyone was up on Christmas morning so we could do the family thing.

One year, as a teeney bopper, I thoroughly ruined my own Christmas. I love hints, but I never want to actually know what I’m getting. Why? Because one year all I wanted were some gherkin (????) Boots. Thunk low heeled ankle boot, totally 80’s. She would not tell me, not a clue nothing. Then I told her “I hope you got the x style and not y, because you know I hate y.” she responded with “Of course I bought you x!….. oohhhhhh….. you……!” I got them early. I also got my stocking early—10 or 11pm, she said “Don’t open till Christmas!” I was a good girl—I toed the line. I stayed up watching “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and opened up the stocking at 12:01 am. I loved it. That satisfaction lasted mee until…. I woke up in the morning with no excitement. No expectation. I already had the present I wanted and the stocking. I never did it again.

Too few years passed, I stayed at home while going to college…

And then she died.

I was 24, still at home, going to school. But Dad stepped up, stepped out and made me a stocking so amazeballs that I cried. I didn’t think I would get one. He loved me. He got me. I can still remember the porcelain doll peeking out of the top of the stocking, the Meatloaf CD tucked inside, they Tylenol with the gift card addressed to Daddys little headache. Oh my gosh, the TAGS that man created!

But then Dad remarried and she had her own grown children and grandkids as a priority. I was still at home until I graduated, but… I left soon after. The last time I went home for Christmas ,, her daughter got diamond earrings in her stocking and I got perfume that was someone elses favorite. That I was allergic to. That shit show ended when her daughter told me, in my mothers kitchen, that I was the redheaded stepchild.

I didn’t celebrate on Christmas morning with my Dad until I moved back in with him. And the stocking and christmas love was back. Because its not about the money, its about someone who gets you. Who turns up and shows their love. A well thought out Dollar store stocking means more than diamond earrings. Because it was never about the earrings— I cant wear them. I don’t wear much jewelry, although I love necklaces and hang them on my wall.

On Mothers day, a few years ago, my son found my dad on the ground unable to use his legs. Massive stroke. He recovered, but his driving and shopping days were over. I bought every damn present under the tree, and in the stockings. It took all the… wow, the anticipation, out of Christmas.

The next year, I signed up for the Santa Exchange in the Chatting group. I finally had something under the tree that I didn’t know what it was. I put that Priority Mail box under the tree and it drove my family nuts. I didn’t shake, didn’t peek, nothing. I kept it until it was the last gift to be opened. My delight in the presents was… it was wonderful.

Since then, I keep the tradition of keeping that gift for last. I broke down in Walmart one year, just sobbing “I want my mommy”. My best friend stayed with me in the candle aisle until the storm passed and she asked me what was going on. So I dumped it all on her—and it amazed me that someone who had a close knit family, whose parents were still alive, felt the same way. For the past 2 years, we take our boys to Walmart and they have whatever we can budget and I take her kid shopping and she takes mine. (I’M SORRY 20202 IS MY FAULT BECAUSE I WANTED AND GOT A SUITCASE FOR OUR TRAVELLING WWAAAHHHHH!!!!!!) However, my kid gets me. And she reigns him in to a certain extent. Just like I do with hers.

Still, that Chatting gift stays under the tree until everything else is opened. Everyone wants to know what’s in that box.

I want to make the anticipation last…..

America the Beautiful

So I went off Facebook on Thursday. Before I did, I wrote  a post letting people know that  I was turning it off for a while, and that my heart hurt.

It hurt a lot.

I was ashamed to be an American, that’s how much it hurt.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

(Note, from America, by Kathrine Lee Bates, 1914 version)

I wasn’t seeing a lot of good on Facebook. Or a lot of brotherhood. Well… except for people that are just like them. The Paris attacks, we had 24hour coverage of. And I understand that we hold a strong affection for Paris. It’s the city of dreams for many of us. We’ve either gone there, or dreamed of going there. What happened was horrific, and reminded many of 9/11…

But what about all the other tragedies that happened that day? November 13,2015 was a horrible, horrible day in world history. In simple human lives lost. And yet…. I’ve only seen 1 news outlet even touch the fact that only Paris received the heart rending support.

Then the hate began.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

(America, Kathrine Lee Bates, 1914 version.)

People seem to forget that we are “the melting pot”. That we are a nation built (or stolen) on immigration. Ask the Native American’s if the Pilgrims are the hero of their story– or the villain. We have a long history with immigration, and it’s not always pretty.

Why does history matter when we’re dealing with a different enemy? (I actually read this and almost cried at the stupidity). Well, history might not tell us a lot about the current enemy. But it sure shines a light on us. And it’s not the  flattering, Hollywood set lighting either. It is harsh and ugly.

The memes that I’m talking about are basically sheep bleating to keep the wolves away. Only, they’re not keeping out the wolves. If you want to see the numbers break down, then go and check out Scalzi’s post on it here  He says it much better and more concisely than I can.

So, basically, we’re screwing the families. Just like we did to the Jewish immigrants before we stepped into WWII. We turned them away, as did other countries. And their boat had to go back to Germany. We sentenced them to death. Make no mistake about it. Our fear, our sheep mentality, cost people their lives.

And people are ok with making that mistake again. Forget what lady liberty has inscribed:

“Inscription on the Statue of Liberty”

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Author: Emma Lazarus

Just take that and throw it out the window. What we claim to hold dear is not, after all, dear to us. We want to slam our doors to the huddled masses, to people who have left everything behind to try and flee to safety… and people are ok with letting them go back to an enemy we hate. We’re not only ok with it…

We’ll one up it.

Yes, it has been suggested that we keep a “database” on Syrian refugees. Really? Really? Do you want them to sew a gold star onto their clothes as well? Or tattoo a number on their arm? Or maybe we should incarcerate them upon entry into the US because of their ancestry, regardless of if they are innocent. Or Americans. The worst deeds done in recent human history, and some people are not only willing, but eager to repeat them.

Never mind what it says in America:

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

See that. Those ideals we hold so dear…. Talking about the military and MERCY.

MERCY.

MERCY.

Something that is sadly lacking on Facebook right now. And it’s not only the froth that’s coming out on their pages. It’s the bullying that goes on with it. If you don’t agree with me, you’re an idiot. All liberals are flighty ditz balls who don’t like the military (to which I say bite me). Ban the Syrians! Let me keep my guns! Go away!

Give me a freaking break.

So I’m taking a break from Facebook. Because it broke my heart.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

(America, by Kathrine Lee Bates, 1914 version)

Hopefully, God will shine his grace on us. Even though we are so undeserving right now. We’ve thrown brotherhood right out the window, and a lot more of what we hold dear. Maybe if the news could just report the actual, you know, news… instead of a candidates views of it, things would get better.

Or you know. If people would get their faces out of Facebook, and actually put a book in their face. Or talked with people. Had an honest debate with no name calling…

Yah. Instead, I’ll be on Twitter. Or with my face in a book.

 

 

 

When Nightmares Come to Visit

Halloween was my favorite non-Christmas holiday for a long time. I loved decorating my room for it, actually had boxes of Halloween decorations. It was spooky and fun: a night to pretend to be someone other than yourself, and imagining that ghouls and goblins really are around the corner. I was living with my parents, going to Cal State… when I found out that not all Halloween Nightmares end.

I did not celebrate Halloween (other than handing out candy) from the time I was 24 until I was about 38. One year, during that time, I went over to my brother’s house to hand out candy while he and his wife took the boys out trick or treating. That first night started a tradition, a way of raising a toast…

You see… my mother, she who loved the very dry and sometimes tasteless British sense of humor died on Halloween.

That particular Halloween Nightmare— you don’t ever shake. You learn to live with it, but it’s always there. I can’t remember parts of that day– I must have blacked out while picking up a chair and throwing it at a window in the hospital. I remember many friends who helped, who made phone calls and came by the house to hold my hand while I made phone calls. I also remember going to the airport to secure the flights for my sister in Missouri and my brother who at the time was in Arizona.

My friend Jackie drove me. It was a good thing she was there, because I remember wanting to punch Raggedy Ann in the face. Yes, a lady at the ticket counter, dressed as Raggedy Ann gave your good old Wynelda Ann a temper overload. Jackie quietly stepped between us, defused the situation.

When we returned to the house, it was just getting dark. Trick or Treaters were starting to swarm the streets. The neighborhood that I loved, the holiday that I adored… suddenly was way too much. As a group came up, the kids just starting to come up the drive, I told the grown ups “no Candy.”

“No candy? What’s wrong with you?!!” It was someone I knew, someone I’d known since childhood. He probably meant it in a joking matter, but I couldn’t…

“Mom just died.”

I don’t know how he did it. But there were no trick or treaters that night. None.

My soul sister came in from Reno, spent that first Halloween night with me.

After that, I couldn’t get into the spirit of dressing up, of decorating. Halloween lost its appeal for me. Slowly, the boxes of decorations disappeared.

Then came the toast. It was quite a few years after Mom had died. I was watching the house and handing out candy for my brother, Charlie. They came home, and were separating out the candy. “Hey, a Butterfinger! That was mom’s favorite candy bar!” Soon came to find out, she would con me, my dad and Charlie into buying her just one candy bar… sometimes on the same day. She was diabetic, so if we had known… well. If we had known then what we know now, we would have bought her a bag of full size bars.

SItting there, on their living room floor, Charlie, Beth and I held a toast with Butterfingers, to Mom. It’s a ritual, a tradition now. Even when all I did for Halloween was hand out candy, I always made sure that I had a Butterfinger. Sometimes alone, sometimes with family.

And the tradition spread through parts of the family.

After all that, I’m here to tell you… Sometimes nightmares come to visit, and they don’t leave. But you can learn to live with them… and start enjoying what you once loved.

Because I have a child now. He’s 9 years old. I’ve dressed him up and taken him trick or treating, but haven’t decorated beyond the general fall decorations that my dad has. That changed this year. Princeling wanted to decorate. Please mom! Please!

Love the dollar store. Love it! Halloween items were a true BOGO, and we got a bunch. Mostly stuff he chose– a mummy hand, a skull candelabra centerpiece, signs for the yard, big spider and webbing… I tried to steer him away from outright demons and ghouls, because my dad… but he had fun!

But then there’s my 2 items. That’s right. My. Two. Items. I actually found 2 things that I thought were cute. And then they needed to be mine. And they were BOGO, so how could I not? They are black and purple and witchy and sparkly and they had to be mine. I’ve started up my decorating again… Last night, we watched the Dreamworks Scary/Spooky collections on Netflix and laughed our butts off.

This morning, I’ll go over to my neice’s house and raise the toast with Princeling, the niece and her family. We’ll probably also have the toast again tonight with Pappa.

It’s hard to learn to live with your nightmare. Hard to learn to walk everyday with it.

I plan to dance with it tonight. I think Mom would like that

My wish for you is that you give yourself time to learn the steps. It isn’t easy, it isn’t nice.

Living with grief is of like trick or treaters. Sometimes you’ll get a ghoul, and sometimes it will be a princess. But you always have the power to decide which candy you’ll feed your nightmare.

And there will come a time, either soon or in the distant future, where you can dance with your nightmare and celebrate the one you’ve lost. It takes a while.It takes a lot of ugly, messy tears before you can get to the point where you can remember them with joy and not want to ball.

But you’ll get there.