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Dear People of the Web,

I’m falling into my hibernation period and snuffling around for something new to keep myself occupied in the cave until the world thaws and the crocus sprouts.  So I’m wondering, how do you do Christmas? If you would be so kind, please pick a question or two and share your answer in the comments below:

What holiday songs do you have on repeat?

What Christmas movies are you binge-watching?

Are there fattening recipes you’re making that we need to know about?

What wish-list books are you gifting or re-reading or hoping Santa brings?

 

 

Δ My Answers Δ

Δ Music Δ

As for songs, I can’t help but love The Murdering Crow’s version of the Snow Miser Song:

Δ

Δ Movies Δ

I haven’t made it through the movie The Year without a Santa Clause yet.  Maybe this is the year.

The Nightmare before Christmas gets played nearly every year. Lines are quoted; songs are sung.  “There Goes Christmas” is what we tend to say around here in a cartoonish voice at the slightest disappointment or provocation. It never loses its funny.  I’ve also been known to mechanically chant, “Making Christmas. Making Christmas. Making Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmas….” with a blank stare while wrapping presents.

Δ

Δ Food Δ

I don’t cook as a general rule, but when I get a wild hair around this time of year I make my Kiki’s banana bread.  When inspiration really strikes there could be pumpkin pie or banana pudding.

Δ

Δ Books Δ

“It makes one’s mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment.

–David Sedaris

David Sedaris’ Crumpet the Elf from Santaland Diaries is fun and available on NPR.

Last December, my near-and-dear read me nightly bedtime stories from one of his childhood books, The Animals’ Merry Christmas.  Published in 1972, its pages had a rich and musty scent and were embellished with drawings, dialogue, and musical notes from his 7-year-old hand. The Animals Merry Christmas.jpg

My favorite character was Pussy Cat Smart.

Come here Lion

It was a super sweet gift.

She most certainly will not be getting out of bed to get dressed for school, thankyouverymuch.

From the kitchen Momma has hollered for her to “GET UP!”  and with an edge in her voice added, “…and that’s the last time!”

This happens to be the second of Momma’s “last time” warnings. The warnings started after an entire series of ineffectual attempts to get her out of bed.  Momma went so far as to pick out an outfit and physically  try to force her into it. This was a grave offense.  She is six and a half years old and can dress herself. A lot of screaming and wrestling went into that fiasco before Momma abruptly aborted the mission to try out a new tactic: cooking breakfast.

But all the clothes and breakfasts in the world will not make a bit of difference.  She’s not budging. It is so cold in her bedroom it hurts to breathe. To protect herself from the temperature, she has ducked her head under the blanket to breathe her own body-warmed air. Her feet are pulled up beneath her flannel gown.  She has folded herself into a little ball to preserve heat.  She has gathered all the loose edges of the sheets and blankets and tucked them under herself to keep the mean air from biting her.   So Momma can threaten spankings all she wants. There are worse things than Momma’s spankings – like being attacked by the cold air outside the semi-warm cocoon she’s created beneath her covers.

It’s not just the cold terrorizing her, it’s also the snakes. Daddy killed one in his bedroom just the other night.  He chased it around the room hitting it over and over with his guitar until it was dead. She didn’t actually see it happen, but she did hear the accompanying soundtrack.  The oddly musical killing featured forceful, pounding rhythms and vibrating, jangly strings that reverberated inside the instrument’s hollow body with each blow. It was definitely not a song usually played in Daddy’s repertoire. She was horrified when she found out the cause behind Daddy’s improvisation. Now she imagines the coiling and roiling pit of snakes that surely resides under her bed. Daddy, the Slayer of Serpents and her Champion Defender, has already left for work.  So no ma’am, she will not be getting out of bed today.

Momma’s footsteps now creak down the hallway and stop at her room.  Uh-0h.

“Come on and get up. I made biscuits and it’s warm in the kitchen.  The oven door’s open.” Momma says sweetly.

The brat beneath the blankets cries, “Nooooo, it’s too cold! And biscuits are so yucky. They’re mushy and gross. And there are snakes!”

“There are no snakes. And I’ll toast the biscuits.  You like them like that, remember?”

Momma steps closer. Under the covers the child braces herself in anticipation of the coming struggle.  When it doesn’t come, she realizes Momma’s footsteps are fading down the hallway. She hears rustling and softly percussive kitchen sounds. The oven door creaks then snaps shut.

She hugs her knees in and shivers.

A few minutes later, the oven door creaks open, then Momma is standing by her bed again, working loose a corner of the sheets.  Delicious warmth touches her skin. Her clothes! In her blanket cocoon, she dresses in her oven-baked shirt, warm pants, and toasted socks, then she emerges a new creature.  She jumps off the bed and runs out of her room before the snakes can get her.  She follows the scent of toasted bicuits to the warm kitchen. For the rest of the day the scent of biscuits and love lingers all around her.

~~*~~

ReminisScent I

He fires up his joint and takes a deep inhale.

She watches, a little afraid and a lot disappointed, as his eyes go flat and boring.  It’s stinky and smoky and dark and she’s cold.  She doesn’t like it here.

He is usually so much more fun than this, especially when they watch Saturday morning rasslin’ together. Between commercial breaks he roars and picks her up over his head like he’s Jerry “The King” Lawler and she’s Junkyard Dog.  He turns in a slow circle showing his imaginary audience how strong he is while she clings to his wrists for dear life and screams, “No! No! Put me down!”

“Down?? You want down?”

“Wait! No! Stop! Please! Maaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!”

She screams in terrified delight as he body slams her down on the couch.

She lies there stunned for the 3 count while he flexes and makes his face look mean like he’s the Incredible Hulk. Then he lumbers off to the kitchen to get a Coke out of the ‘fridge.

Momma always yells at him at this point in the routine, “Stop doing that! You’ll break her ribs!”

“Well, I have to win the match somehow,” he replies.

“I mean it. Don’t do that. You could make her lungs collapse and kill her.”

“Nah, I’m just toughenin’ her up.”

Saturday morning rasslin’ is the real He-man rasslin’ and definitely not to be confused with that “kissy face” wrestling that they do in the Ol’-limp-kicks.  She is still trying to work out what exactly the Ol’-limp-kicks is.  It is a sports thing, she knows. They’ve explained that it happens every 4 years.  She is 4.  It is something to do with her birthday?  They said no. They said it happened even before she was ever around – before she was even thought of.  There is something deeply suspicious about this.  How could things go on without her around? The question makes her head feel funny, so she thinks about something else.

She wishes it was Saturday morning.

But it’s not Saturday. He passes the joint to his friend, who takes it, glances at her, then back and him. Between hits he asks, “Do you think she knows what we’re doing?”

Of course she knows what they’re doing. They’re being bad.  Momma would be so mad. Daddy smokes Lucky Strikes, which is bad Momma says.  But Daddy doesn’t smoke “wacky tabacky,” which is way more bad.  She doesn’t say any of this. Even though she is looking at them, they are looking through her and talking about her like she doesn’t understand English or like she is deaf.

She knows about being deaf because a really long time ago, when she was 3, she lived in Texas and her best friend in the whole world lived next door and she was deaf for real.  Daddy had explained it all to her then. He told her that her best friend was deaf and dumb.  It’s not nice to call someone dumb, she told him.  He said he wasn’t being mean – it wasn’t that kind of dumb.

He said, “You know how some people can’t hear and they’re called deaf?”

Well, no, in fact, she didn’t know anything about that. How come they couldn’t hear? What did they hear if they couldn’t hear?  Was being deaf like when the wind blows everybody’s words away? Or did they not even hear the wind? Do deaf people’s ears ever ring when nothing is actually ringing like hers sometimes do? Does being deaf sound like the way you hear under water? Do your ears feel full of water when you are deaf?

Sometimes Daddy seems to know a lot and sometimes he doesn’t seem to know much of anything at all. She sorta-kinda got the idea, though.

Daddy went on, “When people can’t talk they are called dumb. It’s just a way to describe someone who can’t talk.”

Dumb isn’t a nice word, Daddy,” she reminded him again.

Besides, she understood everything her best friend said.  Her best friend didn’t say things the way everybody else said things, so you couldn’t listen with just your ears.

She misses her best friend. When her family moved back to Memphis, her best friend stayed in Texas.

She remembers Texas and the night they met.  She was outside her new house with Momma and Daddy. The sun was about to go to bed for the night when the neighbors came out of the house right beside theirs.  And there was her best friend.  They both squealed and immediately the chase was on.  Running, running, running. Cool grass on bare feet. Lungs aching with the effort of breathing around giggles, squeals, and exhaustion. The sheer joy of having a friend. Of being seen!

That night as she scratched at her berjillion mosquito bites, her parents murmured in sad, serious tones things she didn’t comprehend.

“… woman in a child’s body”

“Can’t imagine…”

“…must be hard.”

“What a shame.”

She didn’t understand her best friend was “different” until one day during another endless game of Chase, she tripped over a broom in the driveway. Face slides across bumpy concrete. Pebbles scrape tender skin on palms and knees.  Best friend sees her fall and panics, collapsing to the ground beside her. Hands flapping. Moaning. Best friend didn’t fall, why is she crying? Oh, oh, face on fire. It hurts. Best friends crying together. Blood-curdling screams.  The scene strikes fear in the heart of both Mommas, who rush out to fix their injured children.

Mercurochrome is dabbed on her scrapes – even on her nose.  “Hey Rudolph, what happened to you?” Daddy will say when he gets home from work.

Momma decides it’s better for her not to play with her best friend, who is so much older. She might hurt her, accidentally.

Bruises and scrapes will heal in a few days.  Other kinds of hurts take much longer.

Morning light.  Tired eyes open, squinty. Through the fringe of eyelashes the air is alive with fairy dust.  Eyes wide now. Mamma and daddy need to see this! There are whys that need to be answered. Why did the fairies come and decorate the air? And why did they leave?

She doesn’t yet know the word “mote,” but she is an expert on glitter. She decorates paper plates with glitter and glue.  And she can make a necklace with macaroni and string. The macaroni necklace needs glitter and glue! She’ll have to tell mamma.

The air is so pretty.  It’s just like the water drops in the bathtub that turn to diamonds when you look at them right.  No one else seems to see them.  It’s always, “Hurry up.  Get out of the tub. I’m tired” or “Come on, we need to dry your hair before you get sick.”

She discovers momma and daddy still asleep, oblivous to fairies and air that glitters.

Daddy is better at why. She pads over to his side of the bed where he is asleep on his back. She stands there patiently waiting for him to wake up. An eternity of 10 seconds passes.  She stares at him trying to force him awake with her will.  Nothing. She stands there wondering what is the best way to wake him up without making him grumpy. She has an idea! She  will open his eyes for him so he can wake up seeing the sparkly air.  She positions her fingers above his eye lid and then pops it open.

He jumps awake like he’s been shot.

She runs away as he  yells, “Valentina! What the hell are you doing?!”

She adds another why to the ever growing collection: Why does nobody ever seem impressed that the whole world sparkles?

When I was but a wee lass, my mother would deposit me at my grandparents’ house at the onset of summer vacation to “spend the night” and there I would stay all summer. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a change of clothes or even a toothbrush, but my grandparents, resourceful people that they were, managed to provided whatever was needed. Year after year this was the routine.

My grandparents’ storage shed, where they kept the dryer and a deep freezer full of hamburger patties and freezer-dried buns, had the most intriguing scent.  I’m convinced it was the lingering fragrance of the 1950s, though probably it was just a bouquet of old insulation, dryer sheets, and mildewed wood.  Whatever it was I have never smelled anything else like it anywhere. Somehow the scent persisted through the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Inevitably, other family children wound up at the grandparents’ house to stay the night (for real just the night) while I was there. My grandmother would occasionally ask one of them to go to the shed to get the laundry out of the dryer.  I was rarely asked to perform this chore, probably because I was the youngest and least reliable. Plus, going to the shed by myself scared the heck out of me. In fact, I might have left an accidental trail of her panties from shed to house once when on this mission by myself…out of fear, mind you, not out of spite.  It’s hard to run away from imagined monsters while burdened with a load of heavy laundry.

Despite this fear, I didn’t mind accompanying the appointed laundry retrievers to the shed because I loved smelling the room and because all the other family kids were bigger than me, better at fighting off offending monsters, and thus terribly interesting.  I didn’t want to leave any of them alone for even a minute for fear of missing something fantastic that they might do.

So there we would stand with “not enough room in this shed for both of us” (whatever) while he or she dealt with hot laundry and I huffed the scent of the 1950s.

I really miss that scent.

Any scents from childhood that you miss?

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