Thursday, December 08, 2005

An Oddball Misfit's Christmas

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I've always felt apart from any given group. Even when I briefly found the drama clique in school to be friends with for about a year and a half after my entire school life of being a loner, I felt apart from them. I never went along for the sake of going along. The wheels in my head were alwys turning apart from the group. Besides experiencing any event as it happened, my brain was writing an essay about it: how did I feel about what was going on? How would this look to me a year from now? How would I have felt about this last year? If only they could see me now.

As a kid, I cleaved to my small family because of this. we generally got along, and home was a place where I could express myself, unlike the outseide world. I was mt normal, loud and boisterous self at home, polite and passive at school.

Maybe that's part of why I like Christmas. My folks didn't have any money, as my dad was a teacher, and my mom was always going to school to be one.But they always managed to make Christmas shine for us. Mostly, it's because my mother loved it so much. She decorated the entire house. We always had a big, real tree. Or two or three, when they brought home the one from school. We always had music playing--actually, it wasn't bad stuff. We're all musicians, so we had jazz music and classical music on the Magnavox console. Mom was a great cook, so we had great food. Plus, I always felt her taste was above normal, so the decorations weren't schlocky. Mom was the one who taught me what schlock was, and Christian art was always the target of her derision. The Praying Hands was always one of our jokes.

One could assume that the only reason one might love christmas is because one had wonderful christmases as a kid. I don't know. My mother lived in a home with a terribly abusive, probably partly crazy father. They were really poor, too. What would make her love christmas? Well, her mother probably tried her best to make a christmas too. They were all musical, they probably had good music. They were all performers as well. They all did concerts and plays, just like we did. In fact, it was a Chrstmas Opera where my Mom and Dad got together.

There are so many things that come back each year that remind me of really good times. So I love christmas. I love the music, the decorations, wrapping presents, sending cards, and especially the food. But I'm not a christian, and I especially hate crowds, and I really hate dishonesty.

I have been to my big, extended family get together at christmas once in 15 years. I don't hate them. When I did go last year, I had a good time. They are christians, and prefer a christian celebration. They pray. I have to be careful not to offend. The thing is, they've changed. They used to sit and talk about how gays were disgusting. That was the last time I showed up in years, except to bring my gay partner to the Thanksgiving dinner. I've opened my mouth and offended a couple of times. I didn't mean to. I mentioned something I learned in college abotu comparative religion--the Egyptian creation myth. I didn't think it would offend. After all, my dead sainted grandmother was a mythology teacher. How I wished she had been there. One of my uncles said something like "well they learned their lesson in hell."

After that, I would go for vacation to my parents' house, but I would stay home with my brother for the reunion, or go back to school. It was nice.

I hate malls with a passion. I hate crowds, and I hate all the stores for young, tiny women. I hate the kiosks with stuff with your name on it. Or pseudoscientific nonsense. I developed my own way of shopping, before the internet. I found Christmas to be a great excuse to enjoy shopping in downtown seattle. And go by bus or train--NEVER my car in such traffic! I shopped in antique stores and boutiques. But the best was by catalogue. Why kill your spirit at a place liek the mall, unless absolutely necessary? The internet is the best thing to happen to christmas. Who needs to go to a mall?

But the one thing that made shopping fun was a tradition my brother and I developed one year. We decided to make shopping for Mom and dad a yearly event after one shopping trip that left us rolling on the floor. We shopped at Stan's Merry Mart.

You might know a place like this. Merchandise from 1980, still on the shelp, still with its original price. Shellacked log cookies with a semi-truck and a clock. Dolphin figurines as ugly as you can imagine. Velvet Elvii. Year after year we would find something so unimaginable I'd hurt myself laughing. My folks love their jigsaw puzzles. What better puzzle than Jock Ewing of Dallas, holding a Scotch? From there we would go to the mexican grocery, and buy strange fruits and candy: creamy jello. And what better stocking stuffer than a trout? It couldn't have been better if we had shooped at Archie McPhee and got them Famous Rabbi Trading Cards--which I did. They looked good wrapped in the green paper festooned with bacon strips (pictures, not real)

Voila! No more shopping hassle, no more unpleasant family dysfunction.

Things have changed for me quite a bit. I don't really know what the traditions are here, but I like my in-laws, so that's helpful. I miss my folks, so I have to travel out there at great expense. I have to create my own traditions now. But it doesn't have anything to do with what I think I'm supposed to do. Even though I still like some of the s'posed tos. I program my radio station with songs and Old Time Radio tales. I don't really want much. Just some room for a tree and a table for Smorgasbord. The rest of it I can shut out. Turn off the depressing Christmas specials. Go to a movie. Make a tradition out of whatever.

I think the better you arrange your situation, the better you can tolerate things you find distasteful of other people. Sure, we fight against Christianity. But that doesn't have much to do with Christmas, anyway. Why fight it? It's like trying to stop the sun from rising. And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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