semi-pagan, slightly literary, and very commercial Christmas,"
our father would always announce on Christmas morning, when,
long before the midwinter dawn, Eva and I would team up in
the hall outside our parents' bedroom. Jittery with excitement,
we would plead with them to get up, to come downstairs, to
hurry, while they yawned, insisted on donning bathrobes, on
washing their faces and brushing their teeth, even--if our
father was being particularly infuriating--on making coffee.
the clutter and laughter of present-opening came the midday
dinner we used to take for granted, phone calls from distant
relatives, Handel's Messiah issuing triumphantly from the
CD player. At some point during the afternoon the four of
us would take a walk down the dirt road that ends at our clearing.
The brisk air and green forest would clear our senses and
our palates, and by the time we reached the bridge and were
ready to turn back, our father would have inevitably announced,
"This is the real Christmas present, by god--peace and
quiet and clean air. No neighbors for four miles, and no town
for thirty-two. Thank Buddha, Shiva, Jehovah, and the California
Department of Forestry we live at the end of the road!"
after night had fallen and the house was dark except for the
glow of bulbs on the Christmas tree, Mother would light the
candles of the nativity carousel, and we would spend a quiet
moment standing together before it, watching the shepherds,
wise men, and angels circle around the little holy family.
our father would say, before we all wandered off to nibble
at the turkey carcass and cut slivers off the cold plum pudding,
"that's the story. Could be better, could be worse. But
at least there's a baby at the center of it."
Christmas there's none of that.