Thursday, December 24, 2009


Derek the researcher: “What were some of your best Christmas memories?”
Me: “Oh, I don’t know.”
Inside me there flares the spark of a tiny conflict. The storyteller can feel the start of the best stories. And this would be good. Isn’t that what researchers are looking for—stories I mean?
Well, it would be good, except that the best stories, of course, gain their power from tension, from crises resolved, laying the bad against the good. So up pops the other me, the me that’s having a pleasant dinner, not wanting to take all the attention, not wanting Christmas to seem like one crisis after another.
The other me wins this epic struggle. Thus, we enjoy a pleasant dinner. But the storyteller never gives up. Once you get her going, she’s hard to stop. She wants to start 12 stories, one for each of the 12 days of Christmas. But compromises have to be made. She started half of them. Here are their beginnings.

1. On Christmas morning when I was 9, or possibly 10—I don’t think I can say for certain—I found a little suitcase waiting for me under the tree. Inside that case were two things. The first was a small gray second-hand accordion. The second was an identity crisis. The accordion was temporary—gone a year later. The identity crisis—not so much.

2. Marriage is the blending of many things—not the least of which is Christmas traditions. Both of us had grown up cherishing Christmas traditions of one sort or another, so perhaps it is not too surprising that we should have tried, in 1976, to combine all our Christmas dreams into one short day. The idea had was a thing to anticipate. The reality has often been summed up by me in five little words: I’ll never do that again!

3. One of the things I always loved about Christmas was the annual concert a mile-and-a-half down the road at Cambridge School. I loved the hiss of the gas lamps, the chuckling at the teen-age plays, the perfect recitations given by my sister, the visit from Santa, the candy bags we got, the aroma of coffee boiling on the stove, the puff of heat from the wood fire. And then there was the year that things got too hot for everybody.

4. My mother was an independent sort. There were certain things she always did without much help from others—decorating cakes, sewing beautiful dresses, running organizations, and making gravy. And though she did all these things in great quantity during the first fifty years of my life, I think it’s safe to say that I never once helped with any of them. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that I rarely run organizations, never decorate cakes or sew beautiful dresses, and continue to experience a certain amount of stress when it comes to making gravy.

5. I never had much patience with parents who spend Christmas morning playing with the toys while the children look on sadly, waiting for a turn. I never was one of those parents. I always thought that putting together the prized model, or assembling the toy, was a job that should wait until the child was ready to ask for it to be done. Then came the year that changed everything, the year Ruth asked for a keyboard.

6. Out of the mouths of babes come the pronouncements that shape our future. It was Laurie who gave us the name that stuck, she who, coming upon us chatting in the living room after Christmas dinner, sighed and said: “Oh, three baggy sisters!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is remarkable, a useful idea