Monday, December 20, 2010


If I’ve said it once in my adult Decembers I’ve said it a hundred times: “I’d like to see Miracle On 34th Street, the old version I watched as a kid.” And every year the TV would show umpteen versions of the Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeers, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Home Alone—you get my drift. Every year somebody would say: “Oh yes, that movie comes on every Christmas.,” and one time I started to watch it, but it wasn’t the old version I remembered so I wandered off to write a letter.
Yesterday I popped in to say something to Mark and Tracey. Tracey was decorating the tree and watching White Christmas. “Oh,” I cried, “White Christmas!”
“How do you know that?” Mark asked, turning from the computer where he was playing a game of some sort.
“Because I see it every Christmas when I’m looking for Miracle On 34th Street.”
“I have Miracle on 34th Street,” said Tracey. “I watch it every year.” Now here is something. How could I have missed this last year? This was Tracey’s second Christmas with Mark. Did she have my movie in this house last year? Yes, she did.
And so it came to pass that last night, after we got home from the Christmas story concert, I went to the family room, pushed back the recliner, and settled down with David to watch Miracle on 34th Street, the old version with colour added, only I can’t tell colour TV from black and white, so the modernization effect did not trouble me. And there they were the scenes I remembered from—how many decades has it been? The child whose practical mother taught her not to believe, the handsome hero who loved her mother, the Santa Claus who revolutionized department store Santa business, the trial for mental incompetence, and finally, oh finally, the new house for Christmas when all signs pointed to the fact that there would be no new house, hence no reason to truly believe. And there, in the new house, as David pointed out, was the cane that the old Santa carried.
Bless David. The evening was wearing on, but he had managed to stay awake to tell me the ending. It’s a terrible frustration for blind movie-watchers, this stuff on the screen that only sighted people get. You can faithfully watch a whole movie alone and then not know how it ends.
I’d forgotten the end of this movie, though I didn’t remember I’d forgotten until we got there. I had known the ending because my mother told it to me. She told it in wonder, the way David told it, the way Doris and Fred experienced it in the movie. We were sitting at the kitchen table still piled high with dinner dishes—dinner on the farm was eaten at midday. Soup remains grew dry on the bowls, the crackers lay in their wrapping. Mom had reached over to cover the cheese. The kitchen table was strategically placed for a clear view into the living room. We could watch TV from the table. This was the afternoon movie. We must have accidentally got interested. We would never have planned to watch it together. We didn’t watch movies together. We always did the dishes after dinner in those days. But this was Christmas. Even though we were busy, there was extra time.
In this memory my mother, the kitchen and the movie are all perfectly focused, every detail as I knew it then has replaced our family room.
As David and I watch this old movie my own children, now adults, move around the house. Every so often a head pops in, sees that we are watching, and pops back out to pursue its own pursuits. These are my children, living the days of early adulthood when the memories of childhood go into hiding, stored away for future surprise. And I wonder, in a few decades, what small happenings, small as the cane at the end of their movie, will take them back with absolute clarity to a treasured time spent with us that they didn’t even know they were noticing.

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