A Christmas Memory

8 Dec

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Mom is the oldest of six kids.  An Irish Catholic family: three girls, three boys. 

…It was a crazy dynamic from the beginning because though they had music in common, Gram was a free-spirited, brash and often outlandish Artist, and Gramps was a detail-oriented mathematician and engineer.  It was almost like watching two species of animal exist together, and yet somehow, it (obviously) worked.

…And of those six offspring (which would later have thirteen kids of their own), each epitomized a little freak-peculiarity of their own…because of the melding of the two worlds in Sciences and the Arts, forever  surrounding them. Not all of them inherited the high-infused academia, but they all were gifted in things “Artistic.” 

From cartooning, to interior design, to crafting, to writings, to wonder-inventions made out of old rusty stuff you would normally find in garage sales or at the local dump.  And, they all have criminally hilarious senses of humor…ranging from the uber dry wit of a Cliff Claven, to the twisted-viewed observations of someone under the influence of heavy hallucinogens.  Fuck your classroom “Chemistry” class…THIS is what really happens, when you join two dynamically different elements into one beaker and produce a family with it.

I am reminded on a continual basis of why I love them.

…Because they do things like (for instance) accidentally adopt twelve too many animals, plank-board ‘tween bridge railings…just because…make lighting fixtures out of car parts, build a Japanese landscape in their backyard, or sit down and type out random memories on FB for us all to read and laugh about.

So, today’s blog will be guest-served by one of them, because it was too good for me to pass up: the voice too dead-on in which it was written, the memory too crisp to merely smile at and go along my merry little way.

This one is from “Uncle Big Guy.”

…So titled, by me, when an infant…as (at over six feet), he is well of at least six inches taller than any of the other leprechaun-sized people in the Crane family gene pool.  We are told he (the youngest of the six kids) was the one who got all the “Swede,” back from Gram’s side of the family.  But all I knew was: he was (and is) a giant…who used to let me walk on his back to pop it, or land-surf…who always had a collection of musty-smelling empty Jack Daniels bottles lining his windowsill (his libation and collection-obsession since probably birth), and who could turn anything…absolutely the most normal everyday observations…into breathless hysteria, making you piss your pants just by the way he retold them.

…He still does. 

…And this is one of our many shared family Christmas memories, as he retold it to the FB world, today:

“My Mom loved the Holiday’s, she decorated the whole house for every one of them, including the change of the seasons. Having the house totally decked out every Christmas was awesome as a kid and has stuck with me my whole life, it is the main reason I now decorate my own home, it brings back a lot of memories of past Christmas’s of mine and I hope is building similar happy memories for my Son.

Every year we got a live tree, not overly big because the nice big ones were ‘too Goddamn expensive,’ this tree would then be stuffed into our Volkswagen bus for the trip home, leaving any of us other passengers to try to squeeze in around it if we also wanted to make the trip back. There was no fighting over seats in our van because all the seats had been removed so we could haul firewood in it. Dad was fiercely proud of the fact that he could haul ¾ of a cord of firewood in our van and not bothered in the least that when not hauling wood, his Children sat in folding lawn chairs in the back desperately holding on to anything within reach to keep from being thrown to the floor in the corners or at red lights. More than once I saw someone proudly showing my Dad their fancy new car only to have him say ‘Yeah, but how much wood can you haul in it?’

Moms answer to our less than grand Christmas trees was to put the whole thing on top of a rickety old metal trunk, making it appear a full foot taller than it actually was and had the added benefit of making it completely unstable. First the tree had to be placed into the ancient tree stand, I affectionately referred to as ‘that finger eating Sonofabitch.’ This pathetic stand had the multiple threaded rods that you would twist equally from all sides in an attempt to secure the tree to the stand until enough tension built up within the ring surrounding the tree that the whole thing would violently rotate ¼ turn around the trunk with incredible speed, generally taking a finger or two with it. At this point the stand becomes useless, basically just another decoration as the only thing holding the tree in it is the force of gravity, then this whole affair is carefully lifted and placed onto the slowly collapsing metal trunk.

This impending disaster always sat in the corner of the living room, directly in front of the two corner windows, which not coincidentally, had permanently installed cup hooks in their case work solely for attaching the long strands of bailing wire required to hold this Christmas miracle in the upright position. The entire operation described above took place not 10 feet from the wood stove which Dad liked to keep at a cozy 215 degrees, so emerging from under the tree soaked in sweat and tree sap an hour or so after climbing in, left you looking like a large, pissed off, glazed doughnut with pine needle sprinkles and broke fingers.

With the tree up it was time for decorations. Putting up the decorations with Mom was a running history lesson, after dragging all the boxes down from the attic, each one was carefully opened and unwrapped and almost every single piece had a story to go with it. There was the whole box of handmade ornaments from Grandma that usually hung in a row across the top of the bay window in the kitchen, it just wasn’t Christmas until Grandmas balls came out. Opening each new box was like seeing old friends and Mom would very often say things like ‘ OH.. those were from so and so when we lived back in the little yellow house, remember Dad?’ and Dad would say ‘is there a door open in the back of the house? I feel a draft.’ The next one would come out and Mom would gush ‘Oh.. we got these when C was born, or was it P, Do you remember Dad?’ and Dad would say ‘T, check the back of the house and put some more wood on the fire, cold in here.’ The next treasure unwrapped would bring , ‘OH these are very old.. be careful, Mama made these’ from Mom, and Dad would ask if we were going to eat at some point tonight.

Regardless of lyrical content the tree was always beautiful.

I don’t mean to put My Dad in a bad light here, he was just a very ‘practical’ Man , he wasn’t against tradition, it’s just that sometimes they differed from mom’s, sometimes to a frightening degree.

One Christmas, Mom’s Mom, Gramma, was with us for Christmas when my Mom’s tradition of lighting a candle in the window ‘so loved ones can find their way home,’ collided head on with my Dads tradition of ‘closing the Goddamn curtains at night’ to stop the draft. This led to the development of the new Christmas tradition of sprinting through the house with a flaming curtain rod. This pyrotechnic celebration took place right in front of my very old and unsuspecting Gramma, who, relaxing on the couch with a book at the time, was almost gifted a severe cardiac event.

Anyway, the whole point of this story is that one of the things my mom did for us was to do these large drawings on tag board with colored pencil. These drawings were very detailed depictions of a ‘cut away’ house where you could see inside into all the rooms. In these rooms she would draw all us kids and Grand kids celebrating Christmas or outside playing in the snow covered landscape. These poster sized drawings showed staircases and fireplaces and Christmas trees being decorated. You could find toys and books and rugs you recognized from real life, they were “cartoony” but very cool and you could look at them for a long time and discover new things.

Every Christmas these would come out and be put up on the wall, they were part of Christmas and I have never forgotten them. Fast forward to a few years ago and I am flipping through a magazine that sells puzzles among other things and there on the page is a picture of a puzzle that I swear my mother could have drawn. Long story short, I bought it with the intent of putting it together, making it a permanent piece and putting it up at Christmas, that was two years ago. Two days ago I took this puzzle down and started working on it, now, I am not a puzzle guy, but over the last two days of working on this I have remembered years of Christmas memories and thoughts of my crazy Mom and Dad and all the good times we had.

I don’t remember what I paid for this puzzle, but it sure as hell was worth it, and it is the reason I had to come in here and jot down this story. Wishing you all the happiest Christmas,

God bless people,

T.”
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…I remember that van…pitching over out of the chairs on turns, and doing drawings in the back with colored pens Gram always kept in her purse, as we waited for Gramps to get off work, in the Forest Service parking lot.

…I remember hearing about the drapery fire story, and Nana’s impending heart-palpitation “episode,” which followed it.

…I remember all the gillions of times Gramps voice would bark out from the kitchen, or his chair in the living room, “Somewhere there’s a door open. I can feel a draft!” And all our immediate whisking though the house to find and fix it.

…And I remember all of those posters Gram drew, so well. Especially the last one. Always hanging in the hallway. A kind of Christmas “Where’s Waldo” of hidden family story elements, and jokes, and events, and happy, happy memories.

Like this one.

Thanks, Uncle Big Guy, for the ‘”member when.”

Love,

Boo.

~D

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2 Responses to “A Christmas Memory”

  1. The Fella December 9, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    That was wonderful. Made me start reflecting on my own family’s ridiculousness and wonderfulness . Thank you!

  2. She Writes A Little December 9, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    I wanna hear some of your stories, bub…cuz with your fam, I *know* you gotta have some really good ones 😉

    P.S. You, Marty n’ Me need a pre-Holiday funk one night. Will be checkin’ in with you.

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