I remember fondly the build-up to Christmas in the Whale home of my childhood.
As I recall, the countdown began in earnest the afternoon my mother retrieved from their places in storage all the accoutrements and flub dubs and decorations of Christmas.
Seeing those things emerge from the box one by one was like clasping hands again with friends gone too long from sight. And for the little kid I was, a year was a long time. First out, the strips of shiny red plastic my mother hung on the walls every Christmas season. Simple things but curious in their power to instantly “joyful” up a room.
Next came the skeins of Christmas bulbs, the reds, the blues and greens and orange, clicking against each other. There’s magic there to a kid, long before the lights become a concern to the adults we grow into, tasked with checking which ones work and which don’t.
My favorites among those treasures were “the bubblies.” If there was another name for these beauties, I never heard it. All I knew was that they worked a spell on me, as the lights inside the scalloped plastic shells heated the colored liquid that rose in bubbles into the glass piping. They still speak to me of happy days.
And of course, my mother pulled from that box all the Christmas projects her kids had made and clumsily painted and glued together for all those school projects. Those are the things that in every household where they appear make the Christmas display unique to that time and place.
Of course there were occasions when I went with dad to fetch a tree, then watched him set it up with a few colorful expressions in the process. When that was done, we all grabbed tinsel and baubles to drape in generous amounts on the branches, as the perfume of the tree rose in the nostrils.
I cannot remember an unhappy Christmas from my young days. My parents knew how to make joy happen.
In my memory today, I recall only two or three of the actual presents I got. They seem to have taken a back place to the happiness and warmth of the season, and I have to say my folks had an innate sense for that.
I do remember that somehow they managed to follow a list I recently came across on the web advising no kid should receive anything that “breathes or poops” — someone will have to take care of it, and experience proves if it’s a critter, it won’t be the kid who does that — or anything that will make a hellacious mess smeared on the walls.
To that humble list, I’m sure if there had been such a thing then as St. Nick’s tattletale minion, popularly known as Elf on a Shelf, it would never have made an appearance under the tree. My folks were not the gimmicky type.
It seems to me creepy enough that a popular Christmas song tells kids how this old fat guy in a red suit “sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake?” But did he really have to dispatch this tiny toady who, as parents tell their kids, runs off to squeal to the parental units when he eyeballs Susie filching too many cookies from the jar, or Johnny leaving his socks on the floor?
On the other hand, I do remember games, puzzles, laser guns, Tonka trucks. And something one of us got, and I have long since forgotten who, called Incredible Edibles. That was a big box full of “goodies” kids could mix together and cook on a heated surface or in a small oven, including rubbery, worm-like things tasting of chemicals. I can still smell and taste them 54 years later.
But the chief memory that box made for us was the day when we kids got together at the instigation of my big brother, Jim, mixed all that noxious stuff with whatever we could find in the cupboards and presented the mess, hot and gross to the old man. He ate it all right, but he never forgot the shudder of horror it gave him.
“What are you going to do? Your kids present this awful thing to you, you’ve got to eat it, and look like you enjoyed eating it. But it was disguuusting,” he’d say, drawing out the word in his characteristic way. Good times, good times.
May Christmas live and smile as pleasantly in your heart as it does in mine. Have a good one.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.