Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Believe it or not, Christmas didn't end for me until yesterday afternoon. We had a get-together at my parent's "community room" - they live in a senior apartment complex these days, which doesn't sound nearly as nice as it really is.

Check this out: This place has a library with internet access, a media theater with widescreen and current movies and a popcorn machine, an "entertainment suite" with a full kitchen (that's where we were), a wellness center, workout room, rocking chairs on the outside patios, and a club room with a fireplace where everyone gathers for poker, bingo, or potluck dinners.

I remember when my sister and I found this place a couple of years ago. After years and years of begging him to sell, my mom had finally decided to leave my dad in their way-too-big, poorly-maintained home in a not great part of town and find somewhere smaller, warmer, safer, more manageable, with alot less HIM. Fortunately for her, we found this place. Unfortunately, he showed up not too long after to harangue and aggravate her some more.

When we first spotted this place, I remember thinking then that it was unbelieveably gorgeous, especially compared to the apartment I had after my divorce. I lived in a shithole and paid more than my parents were going to pay for this place ($650 a month, because it was built with federal funds earmarked for seniors in our county, and my parents qualified for lower rents because they were living on Social Security alone).

SO . . . we gathered yesterday to have a meal together (I had a little italian place cater it . . . chicken parm, baked ziti, garlic rolls and salad for 20), and we had a White Elephant gift exchange and gave all the kids gift cards.

As we were gathered there, I thought about all of the Christmases past that we had shared together, nearly 50 of them now if you count the first Christmas for my oldest sister, and more than 40 if you start counting when I, the youngest, was born. As usual, there are are some stories that surface year after year, and we seem to never tire of telling them, even though we have all heard them over and over.

I guess alot of families do that.

I decided to put them here, for posterity:

The Charlie Brown Christmas: I was around for this one, but I was only 2 or so, so I don't remember this one firsthand, but my sister cackles with glee everytime she thinks of Christmas morning, 1968. As usual, she and my other two brothers woke up at the crack of dawn to go see what Santa brought them. She was 10 that year, and the brothers were 9 and 8, respectively. While she and my older brother checked out the Santa swag, the younger brother barely took notice of the Santa presents under the tree and instead began to investigate the contents of his Christmas stocking. Reaching in, he pulled out what he interpreted to be the Holy Grail . . . . he began running around the room, shrieking, "I got a Charlie Brown coloring book! I got a Charlie Brown coloring book!" In his excitement, he ran smack into the doorframe of the living room, and got knocked out cold. Silently, my older brother stood over him, looking down on his seemingly lifeless body. "Should we get Mama and Daddy?" my sister whispered, barely breathing herself. "Nah," said older brother, already stealing the chocolate out of the comatose brother's stocking "He'll be alright."

Over the River and Through The Woods: For some reason, in the early days of my family, my parents would pack three small children (all three were born within 3 years, God bless Catholics) into a small Ford and travel cross-country during the holidays. I guess it was a product of their mixed marriage: my dad is a New Jersey Yankee and my mother is an Alabama southern belle, so seeing family during the holidays meant some serious travel. As I understand it, the year this happened was particularly cold and wintry as they made their way from Orlando, Florida to Lodi, New Jersey and my mother was convinced that snowsuits were necessary for the children. Somewhere along their journey, they stopped at a roadside diner and herded the kids in. If you have ever seen "A Christmas Story", you know how hard it is to wrestle kids in and out of snowsuits, so my mom decided to just unzip my older brother's suit to his waist and sit him in the seat. Well . . . maybe it was the long drive, maybe it was the temperature inside that snowsuit, maybe it was the greasy, hot air in the diner, but my brother started looking kinda . . . green. Before anyone could react, he threw up a bucket of puke, but amazingly, he had barfed up everything right inside his snowsuit. Without missing a beat, my mom zipped him up, puke and all, and hustled him out the door. Merry Christmas!

Santa is an E.O.E.: During Christmas 1972, when I was 6, I had my heart set on a GabbaGail doll.

This caused no end of laughter among my older siblings. I think I wanted her because MY middle name was Gail, and they thought it was funny, because I guess I talked alot. My name (Rita Gail) regularly was morphed into "ScreamaGail", "MeanaGail", and this year, GabbaGail was added to the rotation.

No matter, I was amazed that a doll would repeat anything I said, and I fervently wished for her, circled her picture in the Sears Wish Book and asked Santa for her. Lo and behold, Christmas morning came and the old fat man had come through. A beautiful Kenner box was under the tree for me with my very own GabbaGail inside. Barely able to breathe, I opened the box in the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree at 5 am that Christmas morning, but even the magic lights couldn't disguise the fact that my GabbaGail wasn't quite . . . right.

For one thing, her eyes were painted on crooked. And the part in her hair was sewn in a zigzag pattern. And when you pulled her string to record your voice, what played back was some kind of devil-possessed backwards Alvin and the Chipmunks voice. I was devastated, of course, but my siblings were unable to resist the lure of telling me that I had a doll made by a retarded elf. For some reason, that made perfect sense to me, and I actually wanted to keep the doll. My mother convinced me that Santa wouldn't be upset if we returned the doll after Christmas to get a "good" one. I remember studying that doll for hours, thinking alot about that retarded elf.

Side note: We did take the GabbaGail back, but I prudently chose a beautiful French baby doll that I still have to this day.

1975: The Year of Oz: Christmas 1975 was the year that I got my MEGO Wizard of Oz Emerald City and all the dolls. Hands down, the coolest Christmas gift I ever got as a kid.

Sadly, even though my mother worked for Sears at the time, and Sears had an exclusive Wicked Witch's Castle, she thought that it looked too "spooky" and opted to get me the MUCH more common, and easily found Emerald City.

I have lusted after a Witch's Castle for over 30 years now, and I still have my Emerald City and my dolls. In the original box.

Hope you all created some good memories this holiday season. Oh, and Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Puppet Slam - the proof

Remember that puppet slam at Dad's Garage theater I talked about a couple months back? Some brilliant person actually videoed and uploaded a snippet of the greatness - a heartwarming story about some drunk geeks at DragonCon here in Atlanta.

Please to enjoy:

The Ballad of Beau

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Marathon (Wo)Man

Whew! Thanksgiving was a delicious blur. The turducken was to die for, I think it will be a new Thanksgiving tradition. I can't possibly convey its deliciousness with words, so maybe this photo of its boneless awesomeness will help.

Other than that, let's see . . . . we hosted 18 for Thanksgiving, maybe 20 or so for our after-thanksgiving potluck, and then 15 for an after-after Thanksgiving family dinner.

I got scads of new dishes from Hubby as an early Christmas present, and we have nearly finished our decorating and shopping.

Holy crap, is there any way that I could actually be well-prepared for Christmas weeks early?

It just may happen this year.

Wish me luck.
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