of Austerity

December 30, 2011

One might assume, as much as I mention or write about him, that my Father and I were close. We were not.
In fact, it’s accepted that in the end, he despised me. Accepted, being the operative word.
Perhaps it’s as easy to assume, knowing that, I’ve come to romanticize his memory in hopes of somehow shedding that awful truth. Perhaps.
He was flawed, very, but then who among might cast that first stone? Not I, that’s for sure.
For all his flaws, he was also had a great hand in determining the Man I’ve become. Flaws and all. But then…he would, wouldn’t he.
I’d liked to have been able to pick and choose among his many influences and so it’s at this years end that I, in my romanticizing, will again forgo cursing.
Mark, my Brother, remembers differently but I cannot recall a single instance of my Father cursing. Not one.
Lord knows I gave him cause.
This will be my fourth, or fifth, attempt in what has become, for me, a New Years ritual. My last attempt, failing miserably and the first, having lasted the longest.
I’ve noticed, there is a point one reaches, after a few months, that it is the curse that suddenly sounds oddly out of place. That is the hump. Some time later, hearing someone swear aloud, can actually have me cringe. I imagine it’s a little like giving up meat…the longer you go without, the easier it is and the more distasteful it seems.
Only, sitting down to a nice, medium rare prime rib hardly has you seem an imbecile. Swearing, incessantly, certainly does.
Now, I hardly notice it. That, in itself, is disturbing because in my best attempt, it was shocking to hear how often foul language was used as filler in conversation. How people would, like a small child’s “huh?”, insert the F-bomb at frequent intervals to allow for their thoughts to catch up with their mouths.
That’s where I’m at currently.
My disdain for swearing is not out of some priggish notion of 19th century charm or civility…fuck that…but from a gaining appreciation of austerity.
A good. solid profanity can be, if used sparingly, a very powerful thing.
My Father had little trouble getting my attention (keeping it, was another matter) but had I ever heard him let go with a forbidden expletive, I would have known that serious just got very serious.
It’s balance I’m looking for here.
So, out of some romantized idea of tribute to a flawed but distinct presence in my life and my want of just being more like him, I will, this New Year, try again.
Wish me luck and please….don’t make me angry.

of Seasoning

December 5, 2011

One indicator that I’m getting older is that I can choke up listening to Christmas music.
Granted, not just ANY Christmas music, but the Nats and Bings of my youth can easily produce a lump.
Attributable somewhat to my love of the Season, the indefinable spirit that fills many of us, the near atmospheric anticipation of children, but also to memories of my Grandmothers overheated living room, filled with Family, of the smell of kitchen labours, of napping beneath her coffee table, never having felt safer and…her perpetual, never ceasing, stack of LP’s, monitored and prompted by the ever vigilant, black hook shaped arm of her Hi-Fi.
It reminds me of long, back seat, in the middle, feet on the hump, (Mark would claim car sickness and so always get the window. He could just have as easily said “cuz I’m older. Shut up”) drives from the high desert to her house in Downey and then Fullerton. Or the Uncles that would gather us up and take us out evenings to see the spectacular neighborhoods of lighted displays and my Fathers predictable frustration in untangling our own lights, year after year.
It can transport me back to midnight Mass pilgrimages to Rome or to the smell of a fireplace, lit with burning coal, in England.
My Father and Mother were unequaled in their design of a small boys Christmas delight. For a Man that might otherwise, kindly, be considered miserly,  Dad pulled all stops for Christmas and the joy and season it promised.
There was the fake tree (allergies, I’m told), blinking lights and heirloom decorations, illuminated characters forgotten and packed away most of the year, again and again newly regaled with oooh’s and ahhh’s once brought to life. The cherished Manger beneath and the ritualistic placing of the guiding star. Even a cardboard fireplace assemblage to properly hang our stocking (made by Mom, of course, and with our names glittered in definition). Once, a coat rack stood in as substitute, with twisting strands of pine like decoration, wrapped its length, on a Christmas we spent in a Hotel in Naples.
Like every year, Santa found his way in there too.
Christmas mornings were after restless nights. They were, for my Parents, always coffee first…THEN the heaps of brightly coloured, finely wrapped packages, waiting their own imminent demise at the hands of grinning, giddy children.
Three of us, then four. The fourth, a gift herself, of sorts.
I cannot ever remember being disappointed. There was all the plastic army men a boy could want, toy guns, A bicycle I never got to ride, and even a genuine Samsonite briefcase I begged.
There was the long cherished, best friend of my childhood, my own version of Hobbes (of Calvin)…My stuffed Santa.(there is still an accounting to be made there, Mother…WHO finally made him “go away”?)
There were easy bake ovens and doll houses for my older Sister and G.I Joes and water pump filled rocket stations for my older Brother.
Cole and Crosby can bring all that back to me but so can the voices of silly little characters from forgotten Christmas Season specials.
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, for one. Those of Kris Kringle, Burgermeister Meisterburger or the Winter Warlock can have me back, in pajamas, rapt in front of a tv, mouth hanging open and someone, always, “suggesting” I close it.
Very recently, I came across a audio version of that Special and when I began playing it, the affect it had on me was startling. As I listened, within moments, I recalled the anxiety I felt as a child, for Kris and his flight across the  mountains of the Whispering Winds, the sympathy for the children of Sombertown at not being allowed toys, my dislike of the Burgermeister and his underling, my thrill at the Winter Warlock being redeemed. As I listened, I found myself recounting and even vocalizing the next lines in the drama.

~~~~~I’ve imbedded audio to enhance this tale. Please click on the “play” links~~~~~

For those of you with small children, or having had them, this may prompt a shrug and a…”So?”.
I’ve wondered since, if you could remember the first time you sat down with your little ones, for the first airing as a Family, if it had a similar affect and if you’ve since become numbed to it from exposure. I hope not. It’s a wonderful experience.
I’ve also wondered, because of the ever ready, on demand, media environment, that children today will appreciate the novelty of what was, for us anyway, annual rituals.
Every year, we highly anticipated, not just Seasonal specials, but annual screenings of movies as well. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (ooooh the child snatcher with the net!!), Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music.
I’d ask, are there a new season of movies and specials that elicit that same reaction from our children? Is Bill Murrys “Scrooged” or his awesome “Goundhog Day”, the delightful “home Alone” or Jim Carreys “Grinch”, even if just fancier tellings (as ours were) of older stories…are they, for them, my “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”? I hope so. I hope they can look forward to the retelling and rewatching as much as I did and I hope that when they get older, the memory of them will incite a flood of emotion as my own have.
Yes, I’m getting older, but I prefer to think I’m just Well Seasoned.

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