My Gifts To You

A few Decembers ago, I was being really very Scroogie and not at all in the mood for the holidays.  Ever since that time, I’ve practically made it my business to immerse myself in holiday cheer (and I don’t mean by diving into a punch bowl).

No, what I’ve discovered is that nostalgia is the secret sauce that puts me in the festive swing of things. So, starting the day after Thanksgiving, I play holiday music in the house as I put up Christmas decorations and wrap the presents. Then, every night I tune into one of my favorite holiday programs – the one’s I grew up with.

My love of holiday films was sort of ignited by accident. At the age of 16, I saw a made-for-TV movie titled “It Happened One Christmas” starring Orson Wells, Marlo Thomas, Cloris Leachmen, Doris Roberts, Christopher Guest, and Beans Morrocco…an all-star lineup.

To hear the SNORK Christmas Classic “What The Dickens? Click here! 

Marlo Thomas plays Mary Bailey Hatch, a woman contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. She’s standing on a bridge and just when she’s about to jump, her guardian angel, Clara Oddbody (played by Cloris Leachman) jumps in the water and Mary ends up saving her instead.

As I described this plot to my parents, my father said, “It’s a wonderful life.”

I smiled at him. “Yes, dad. It sure is. So anyway, this guardian angel shows Mary what the world would have been like if she was never born…”

“No,” my father interrupted, again. “It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s the name of the original movie.”

He then explained that I was watching a knock-off of a great American classic. When I finally saw the Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed version, I never looked back. It’s A Wonderful Life was the gateway drug that got me addicted to classic films in general and Christmas movies in particular.

Then about four years ago, I discovered the joy of listening to vintage radio programming, which inspired me to start SNORK, the podcast.

This brings me to the two little presents I’d like to give you, since you’ve been so good this year.

First, if you’ve been enjoying my podcast, I’m giving you a slew of old-time radio shows, all with a holiday theme.  Click Christmas Old Time Radio to enjoy everything from Burns and Allen to The Gift Of The Magi!

My second gift is a list of the best Christmas movies and shows of all time (or at least as far as I’m concerned).  You can’t watch these and remain a humbug!

Holiday (1938)

This wonderful tale spans Christmas and New Year’s Eve, making it my favorite holiday twofer!  Cary Grant’s Johnny Case (a dashing, handsome, regular Joe) is engaged to the fabulously wealthy Julia Seton, played by Doris Nolan.  But is she really the right girl for him?  Perhaps he’d be better off with Julia’s down-to-earth sister Linda (played by none other than the great Katharine Hepburn). There are great party scenes, acrobatics, tantrums, and excessive drunkenness.  What more could you want from a holiday movie?

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck’s Elizabeth Lane has made a name for herself writing a food column about her incredible culinary and hostessing skills.  There’s only one problem – she can’t boil water.  Watch one lie lead to another and another when her unsuspecting publisher decides to run a feature of her entertaining a war hero for the holidays.  Where will Elizabeth get a Connecticut farmhouse, a husband and a baby in time for Christmas?  The movie also stars Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.

White Christmas (1954)White-Christmas-1954-15

It’s kind of a toss-up as to who performs the “Sisters” number better – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen or Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in semi-drag.  With energized choreography and songs you know well enough to sing along to, this holiday classic will put you in a merry mood. It will also encourage you to go easy on the Christmas cookies as you marvel at Vera-Ellen’s teensy-weensy waistline.

Desk Set (1957)Here’s Katharine Hepburn again, this time matched with Spencer Tracey. She’s the head of a television network’s research department and is dating an ambitious man who underestimates and under appreciates her, while using her smarts to advance his own career. Tracy’s an efficiency expert who’s wants to outfit her department with a computer called EMERAC (which Hepburn and her office mates think will replace them).  In one of my favorite scenes of all romantic comedies combined, Tracy takes Hepburn out to lunch – on the roof of her office building – and gives her a personality/IQ test.  It’s priceless.

Elf (2003)

Who doesn’t love Buddy the elf, his childlike innocence and his legendary sweet tooth? Fun and funny, Elf is the only Christmas movie on my list that was produced in this century.  Why?  Because unlike the recent oversupply of sappy, sentimental, tear-jerking films, Director Jon Favreau goes for old-school charm and comedy.  So, if you’re tired of crying into your fruitcake because some kid needs a Christmas miracle to find his deadbeat dad who is a perfect kidney match for his dying baby sister or because Gramps has to sell the farm but then buys the farm when he falls into the wheat thrasher on Christmas eve…well, you get the point. I’m talking to you Hallmark Channel!

A Christmas Carol (1951) and Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

 

I can’t choose between Alastair Sim’s Ebenezer Scrooge  and Jim Backus’s Mister McGoo’s Ebenezer Scrooge.  So I won’t!

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

When David Niven finds himself preoccupied with building a cathedral and losing perspective on faith, charity and his lovely wife and daughter, he prays for guidance.  Enter Cary Grant as the angel Dudley.  Loretta Young, as the title character, teams up with Dudley (not knowing he’s heaven-sent), to help her husband reconnect with his family and his congregation.

A Christmas Story (1983)Christmas wishes in 1940’s Indiana can be frah-GEE-lay for a kid who wants nothing more than a BB gun under the tree – but his mother’s worried he’ll shoot his eye out.  Narrated by its author, Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story follows Ralphie Parker as he schemes and daydreams over the elusive Red Ryder.  Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillion, as Ralphie’s parents, charm and delight.  I love everything about this movie – it is perfect!

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Natalie Wood’s natural, flawless performance makes you forget you’re watching a movie. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle – just a kindly old man or the real deal?  It’s a heartwarming story about generosity, faith, second chances and, of course, Macy’s.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s hard to imagine, but this beloved Christmas classic was not well-received when it was originally released in 1946.  Now, no holiday season is complete without it.  When Harry Bailey wishes he’d never been born, his guardian angel takes him on an eye-opening odyssey.  He learns that his life touched so many others for the better and that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

This list is far from complete. It doesn’t include all the TV shows I’ve loved since childhood, like the original Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without A Santa Claus, and so many others.  And if I’m going to see them all before the end of the year, I better get cracking!

In the meantime, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  See you 2016!

Believing Is Believing Revisited

The holidays seem to be sweeter when there are children in the family.  My kids are practically adults now, but it wasn’t that long ago when they were still daydreaming about flying reindeer or bunnies bearing chocolates.  There is something about that wide-eyed wonder that brings out the children in all of us.

One day, however, you might find yourself at an unwelcome crossroads – the day they express your doubts and you’re faced with the major decision of how you’ll handle it.

**Listen to the podcast and hear it straight from the source! Click Here.***

What did I do?  Found out in this story called “Believing Is Believing“…

“Aha! I knew it!” I could hear my daughter’s squeaky little voice coming through her bedroom door. She was maybe about 7-years-old at the time.

Emerging triumphantly into the hallway, she began waving something in my face. At first, I thought it was a grain of rice, but her maniacal grin revealed a new gap along her bottom gums.

“Look!” Sure enough, she held one of her baby teeth between her fingers. “I lost this last night, but I didn’t tell a grown-up…and this morning, the tooth was still there…and there was no moneyI knew the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real!

Now, another parent might have buckled. Another parent might have choked. But you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to outfox this fox.

With the cool detachment of a seasoned poker player or sociopath, I said, “Well of course she didn’t come. The Tooth Fairy communicates telepathically with grown-ups. If the grown-ups don’t know you’ve lost a tooth, she won’t know you’ve lost a tooth.”

My daughter eyed me suspiciously. Then declared, “Well, I don’t believe she exists.”

I’m not going to lie (to you). This stung me. She was still so young and I was not ready to see her give up on those charming childhood traditions.

Deciding to push another button, she added, “And I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either!”

Seeing that I was still squarely on-kilter, she pounded the final nail into my mommy coffin… “Or Santa!”

NOOOO! Not Santa! On the inside, I died a little bit that day. But on the outside, there were no cracks in my façade. I knew that my reaction would either prolong those fairy tales for a little while, or make her a cynic well before her time.

Without skipping a beat, I called her bluff, “Gee, that’s too bad.”

“Why?” She looked worried.

“Because when you stop believing, they stop coming.” I had her right where I wanted her. But my girl is pretty cagey, having not fallen too far from the tree.

“Hmm…” she thought for a minute. “What if I fake believe?”

Incredible, I thought. This kid is relentless. But I just shrugged my shoulders and calmly said, “Nope. That’s not how it works.”

“OK, fine,” she grumbled as she left to replace the tooth back under her pillow.

Turning on my heel with my head held high, I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and ran the shower to conceal the sound of my sobbing.

My son is a different animal entirely. He instinctively knew it would be sad for me when he “learned the truth” about Santa. I should probably confess here that when I discovered he’d outgrown Baby Gap and graduated to Gap Kids (as was explained to me by a cold-hearted sales associate with no soul), I literally started crying right there in the middle of the store.

Anyway, it was a few days before Christmas when he said he needed to talk to me. He had that look people get when they know they’re going to tell you something you’re not going to like, but have to tell you anyway.

“I have a confession to make,” he began.

You’re 12, I thought. What could you possibly have to confess? I felt a chill run through me.

He stammered and stalled a little bit. Unlike his little sister, he was trying to let me down easy. “Well…I snooped.”

“Snooped?” I asked.

“I looked under the bed in the guest room…”

I immediately knew. And he knew that I knew. You see, all the presents from Santa are wrapped in distinct “Santa” wrapping paper with special gift tags (written in a curlicue hand that does not resemble mine), and stowed under the guest room bed. He had found his presents from Santa when Christmas hadn’t happened yet. This inconsistency in the holiday timeline could not be wriggled out of. I was trapped.

With wide eyes and a sweet loving heart, he said, “I’m sorry mom. Don’t feel bad. I’ve actually known for a while now.” And he put his arm around me. “But don’t worry. I won’t tell her.” The her he was referring to was, of course, his little sister. He was blissfully unaware that she’d already pulled the plug on me during the Tooth Fairy fiasco.

But now, here’s the funny thing about all this: kids really don’t know everything. If they thought for a moment about all those visits to St. Nick they would know that he does exist.

I have never stopped believing. In fact, every year, hubby and I pay that sweet old elf a visit before we go to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. And every year, he is just as jolly and warm and welcoming as the year before. And every year, as I’m walking through Macy’s Santaland, I am a child again, believing in peace on Earth, goodwill toward man, and the everlasting spirit and joy of the season. It fills me with a kind of love and comfort that can only be described as magical.

One day, my kids will experience this same enchanted feeling again. How can I be so sure?

Because, I believe.

Selfie with elf = Elfie

 

Tidings

image

SNORK wishes you the sort of holiday that makes you blow eggnog through both your nostrils (in a good way!).

Merry Christmas!

Believing is Believing

“Aha! I knew it!” I could hear my daughter’s squeaky little voice coming through her bedroom door. She was maybe about 7-years-old at the time.

Emerging triumphantly into the hallway, she began waving something in my face. At first, I thought it was a grain of rice, but her maniacal grin revealed a new gap along her bottom gums.

“Look!” Sure enough, she held one of her baby teeth between her fingers. “I lost this last night, but I didn’t tell a grown-up…and this morning, the tooth was still there…and there was no money! I knew the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real!

Now, another parent might have buckled. Another parent might have choked. But you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to outfox this fox.

With the cool detachment of a seasoned poker player or sociopath, I said, “Well of course she didn’t come. The Tooth Fairy communicates telepathically with grown-ups. If the grown-ups don’t know you’ve lost a tooth, she won’t know you’ve lost a tooth.”

My daughter eyed me suspiciously. Then declared, “Well, I don’t believe she exists.”

I’m not going to lie (to you). This stung me. She was still so young and I was not ready to see her give up on those charming childhood traditions.

Deciding to push another button, she added, “And I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either!”

Seeing that I was still squarely on-kilter, she pounded the final nail into my mommy coffin… “Or Santa!”

NOOOO! Not Santa! On the inside, I died a little bit that day. But on the outside, there were no cracks in my façade. I knew that my reaction would either prolong those fairytales for a little while, or make her a cynic well before her time.

Without skipping a beat, I called her bluff, “Gee, that’s too bad.”

“Why?” She looked worried.

“Because when you stop believing, they stop coming.” I had her right where I wanted her. But my girl is pretty cagey, having not fallen too far from the tree.

“Hmm…” she thought for a minute. “What if I fake believe?”

Incredible, I thought. This kid is relentless. But I just shrugged my shoulders and calmly said, “Nope. That’s not how it works.”

“OK, fine,” she grumbled as she left to replace the tooth back under her pillow.

Turning on my heel with my head held high, I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and ran the shower to conceal the sound of my sobbing.

My son is a different animal entirely. He instinctively knew it would be sad for me when he “learned the truth” about Santa. I should probably confess here that when I discovered he’d outgrown Baby Gap and graduated to Gap Kids (as was explained to me by a cold-hearted sales associate with no soul), I literally started crying right there in the middle of the store.

Anyway, it was a few days before Christmas when he said he needed to talk to me. He had that look people get when they know they’re going to tell you something you’re not going to like, but have to tell you anyway.

“I have a confession to make,” he began.

You’re 12, I thought. What could you possibly have to confess? I felt a chill run through me.

He stammered and stalled a little bit. Unlike his little sister, he was trying to let me down easy. “Well…I snooped.”

“Snooped?” I asked.

“I looked under the bed in the guest room…”

I immediately knew. And he knew that I knew. You see, all the presents from Santa are wrapped in distinct “Santa” wrapping paper with special gift tags (written in a curlicue hand that does not resemble mine), and stowed under the guest room bed. He had found his presents from Santa when Christmas hadn’t happened yet. This inconsistency in the holiday timeline could not be wriggled out of. I was trapped.

With wide eyes and a sweet loving heart, he said, “I’m sorry mom. Don’t feel bad. I’ve actually known for a while now.” And he put his arm around me. “But don’t worry. I won’t tell her.” The her he was referring to was, of course, his little sister. He was blissfully unaware that she’d already pulled the plug on me during the Tooth Fairy fiasco.

But now, here’s the funny thing about all this: kids really don’t know everything. If they thought for a moment about all those visits to St. Nick (such as the one that I previously documented here in SNORK) they would know that he does exist.

I have never stopped believing. In fact, every year, hubby and I pay that sweet old elf a visit before we go to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. And every year, he is just as jolly and warm and welcoming as the year before. And every year, as I’m walking through Macy’s Santaland, I am a child again, believing in peace on Earth, goodwill toward man, and the everlasting spirit and joy of the season. It fills me with a kind of love and comfort that can only be described as magical.

One day, my kids will experience this same enchanted feeling again. How can I be so sure?

Because, I believe.

Selfie with elf = Elfie

Selfie with elf = Elfie

What the Dickens?!

Let is never be said that I am a Scrooge during the holidays.  But for some reason, this year, I just can’t seem to get my merriment on.

I first noticed it while picking out our Christmas tree.  Normally, I give the same attention to buying a tree as I do to buying a house.  Every year we wander the tree farm, circle back, and mark possible candidates before making that final cut.  This year, it took all of five minutes rather than the usual thirty.  Here’s how it went down:

Husband:  “How about this one?”

Me:  “Yeah, sure.”

We put the tree up as soon as we returned home and it stood naked in the living room for an entire week.  Finally, I strung lights on it.  Two days after that, I slapped some ornaments on with the same enthusiasm one normally reserves for dental work – I just wanted to get it over with.

At first, I chalked up my lack of interest to fatigue but, since I wasn’t busting my back with all the usual Christmas rigmarole, that was a lame excuse.  Perhaps I was depressed?  Since I’m not prone to the blues, that was unlikely.  Was I just being lazy?  Well, laziness is relative.  By my own standards, I did think I was being lazy, but that was only a symptom, not the cause.  I finally settled on my health as being the culprit.  I’d been fighting a cold for a few weeks.  Maybe it was getting the better of me.  So I decided to take a goodly swig of NyQuil, straight from the bottle, and go to bed.

In the middle of the night, I felt someone poking at me.  It was a young woman in her twenties.  She was wearing a shiny suit with big shoulder pads, chunky gold jewelry and enough Stiff Stuff in her perm to paralyze each and every follicle.

I jolted awake from my NyQuil stupor. “Who are you?”

“I am the ghost of Christmas past,” she explained.

Judging by her outfit, I’d say she was the ghost of Christmas 1983.

“Come with me,” she said.  “Touch my sleeve.”

The feel of her garment suggested a Qiana-rayon blend.  Now I was sure she was from the ‘80’s.

The next thing I knew, we were watching three women, sitting at a kitchen table, making ornaments from cornstarch and baking soda.  I quickly recognized them: my sister, my friend Laura, and me.  This was my first apartment, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Puffing away on cigarettes, we were having the best time shaping and baking and painting the ornaments, while watching It’s A Wonderful Life.  It was colorized that year, but we didn’t know it because our 12” TV was a black and white set.

“I remember that!  Oh, we had so much fun that day.”  I was delighted by the memory.

On the corner of the old kitchen table sat a stack of Christmas cards that I lovingly hand-addressed in calligraphy.  I remember pouring over boxes and boxes of cards, until I found just the right ones.  Drawn in black and white on the outer flap, was a picture of a brownstone.  The only touch of color was a green Christmas tree topped with a  gold foil star, visible from a second floor window.  Inside it read, “A tree glows in Brooklyn.”  I loved those cards and wished I’d saved one.

“There’s more to see,” said the spirit.

Next stop: Rego Park, Queens about 10 years later.  I was a newlywed.  This time my sister and I were in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies with my little niece.  Baking cookies with me had become a traditional holiday activity for my friends and relatives.

Rego Park Christmas

Rego Park Christmas with my sister and niece.

We only observed the scene for a moment before dashing forward to 1998 and the suburbs of New York.  There in the great room of our first house, with my 8-month-old daughter on my hip and a pastry bag in my hand, I was decorating gingerbread men, while my three-year-old son rolled out more dough, getting flour in his hair, his eyelashes, between the slats of the hardwood floors…  That year we had a holiday housewarming to celebrate becoming homeowners.  I baked about 300 cookies to serve and give as gifts.  Seeing it in this vision, I felt the same warmth and pride and excitement all over again.

Housewarming cookies

Housewarming cookies

In the corner of the room, outgoing Christmas cards were piled on the desk.  They were each addressed with an Avery inkjet mailing label and pre-printed return address stamps.

In the other corner stood our big, bushy Christmas tree, displaying many of those handmade ornaments from my Brooklyn days as well as new ones purchased from the store.

Turning around to see more, I found myself back in the bed of my current home.  My husband was out cold, and seemingly unaware of my recent time travels.

Now, I don’t know about you, but once I’m awake, I have trouble getting back to sleep.  So I went downstairs for a glass of water.

On my way to the kitchen, I walked past our Christmas tree.  Even though I still have some of those original cornstarch ornaments, none of them are hanging from its branches.  Nor are the dozens of others that I’ve collected throughout my adult life.  This year, I grabbed the first storage box of ornaments I saw and only those made it onto the tree.

We moved into our current home, a 19th century Victorian farmhouse, back in December of 2005.  That year, I went crazy with the decorating.  A neighbor said, “It looks like Santa threw up in here!”  And it did.  Not a single surface or nook was spared.  It was cheerful and festive for as far as the eye could see.

I’d scaled way, waaaaaay back on the decorating this year. The wreath on the front door was thrown together about three days ago with ribbon and some plastic holly I picked up at the drugstore.  But at least it fairs better than the giant wreath on the barn, which is completely bare.  Not even a bow to sass it up a little.

There are no cookies in the kitchen, no Christmas cards to be mailed.  The happy little snowman village, which I normally display on the kitchen mantel, is nowhere in sight.  No Christmas countdown calendar.  No jolly mural drawn on the kitchen blackboard.  Nope.  There is just a little bit here, and a little bit there.  If you pass by my house, you wouldn’t just wonder if we celebrate Christmas, you’d wonder if the house is currently vacant.

As I looked around, I had to admit something to myself: I completely half-assed our present Christmas.  But there is nothing I can do about it now.  Christmas is just days away.  It’s too late.  Heaving a heavy sigh, I decided to take some more cold syrup and go back to bed.

Just as I managed to drift off to sleep again, a little girl popped up from beside the bed, all excited and bubbly.  “C’mon!  C’mon!  Come see!”

I took her hand and she led me back downstairs.  As we passed the living room, the lights and tinsel were almost blinding.  Every branch was jam packed with glittery ornaments, both old and new.  There were so many packages piled under the tree, wrapped in shiny paper and bows, that they covered half of the floor.

In the kitchen stood an older version of myself.  I was baking cookies with three of the most adorable little children I’d ever seen.  They were calling me TaTa (my family nickname), and we were all laughing and carrying on.  I could tell they were my grandchildren and was overcome with the most intense feelings of love.  The kitchen mantel was alive with the bustling little snowman village and from the window, I could see the barn, lit up like a used car lot, giant decorated wreath and all.

This is my vision of Christmases yet to come.  I know I will eventually get my merriment back on, bake the cookies, send the cards, decorate the dog, and so on and so forth.  For now, less is more and I’m OK with that.  So I’m taking the pressure off myself, making a cup of tea and heading to the couch to watch Christmas in Connecticut for the umpteenth time.  But before I do, I’d like to wish that all of your holidays are filled with joy, wonder and spirit (whether they be induced by over-the-counter medication or just the pure love in your heart).

Merry Christmas from SNORK!

Merry Christmas from SNORK!

White Christmas

The excitement of Christmas, and all ita wonders, can dwindle for some of us, as we age.  Rather than embracing a time for rejoicing, or devotion (should one reflect on the actual meaning of Christmas), the season can become a drudge of extra chores that nobody needs to add to their overloaded agendas. Often, at this time of year, people become cranky, depressed, and envious of their associates whom do not partake of these traditions.  My friend Vanessa, a Jehovah’s Witness, manages to look fresh as a daisy throughout the entire month of December and feels not a smidge of stress.  I love her, but sometimes that really pisses me off.  But I digress…

I noticed a sag in my own Christmas enthusiasm beginning in my teens.  By then, I well knew the “real” story behind the origin of those gifts under the tree.  And rather than waking up before the sun and bouncing around until we were allowed to rouse my parents (6:00 a.m. and not a minute earlier), my siblings and I would shuffle into the kitchen whenever, put the coffee on, and wait for the last slug-o-bed to emerge (always my brother Michael, even to this day).

Then, in my thirties, something truly magical happened…I had a child.  Not the second Christ child (although my mother might disagree) – just an ordinary baby boy, born in a Manhattan hospital rather than a manger.  Seeing Christmas through my child’s eyes reignited all that joy and anticipation and contentment.  I was obsessed with creating Christmas traditions and memories that my son, and later my daughter, would want to share and repeat with their own families…caroling, midnight mass, Advent calendars, gingerbread houses…

One of the biggest rituals involved Santa Claus.  The first year that my son was old enough to comprehend old Saint Nick, I insisted that the one and only true Santa was at Macy’s in Harold Square.  All those other “Santas” were actually Santa’s helpers because the one and only true Santa was at Macy’s.  Did I mention Macy’s?  The only true Santa…there…at Macy’s (no, they aren’t paying me to say this).  When we’d see a bell-ringing Santa on a street corner, I’d remind my son, “He’s Santa’s helper because, you know where the real Santa is, right?”

“At Macy’s!” my boy would squeak.

So, on an early December Monday at about one o’clock, my husband and I took our impressionable toddler to Macy’s to meet the one and only true Santa.  I was so excited I nearly wet my pants!  I had never been to Macy’s Santaland before.  It was everything I dreamed of and more.  We had strategically chosen a time to go when it wouldn’t be crowded.  Let there be no distractions!  I wanted him to feel like we were the only ones in this enchanted place, so he could really take it all in.  We were all giggles and jitters.  What a moment!

After strolling through this fairy tale, our time had come.  All the build up, all the picture books we’d poured over, all of our (my?) dreams were about to become a reality.  We were ushered in to see the one and only true Santa Clause.  And that’s when this happened…

The One and Only True Santa

The one and only true Santa Claus was a gentleman of color.  He was not the image of Santa pictured in our copy of A Visit From St. Nicholas, or the one that sat atop of our Christmas tree, or the one on all the Coca Cola billboards!  Now readers, I would never lie to you.  So I have to say, this was something of an “oh shit” moment for me.  I had spent weeks telling my son that all the other Santas were bogus and only the one true Santa was this man sitting before him.  It was all very confusing (for me).  My mind started racing now what do I do?  What must he be thinking? How will I explain?

Well, I learned a big lesson that day.  I didn’t have to do or explain anything – and I was ashamed of my reaction – because my little boy didn’t skip a beat.  He climbed up on Santa’s lap, had a sweet chat with the jolly old elf, told him what he’d like for Christmas and gave him a warm hug before parting.  To children, at least mine (and I’d bet most), Santa is Santa, plain and simple.

Since that year, we have seen many Santa’s at Macy’s and elsewhere.  They have come in every possible shade a human being can be.  So, regardless of what you may have read, or heard on Fox News, there really is only one true Santa.  And he looks like love and peace, harmony and joy.

A Man For All People

I've never seen him before in my life.

I’ve never seen him before in my life.

It was late on the Christmas night of Hubby’s 48th year.  We were all sitting around the dining room table, digesting our dessert.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, he turned to me and stated, “I know what I want for my 50th birthday.”

I didn’t like the way he said it.  Maybe it was the way he brought it up, apropos to nothing.  It could have been the fact that he was giving me two years’ notice.  Whatever the case, I was instantly suspicious.

“What is it?” I ventured, my eyes narrowing.

“I want a birthday party with everyone I’ve ever met.”  The room fell silent.  We all stared at him, waiting for the punch line.

When he offered no further details, I asked, “Everyone, as in the whole family and your closest friends, everyone?  Or everyone, as in your family, friends and your pre-school crossing guard, everyone?”

“Yes,” he said.

Hubby enjoys ruffling my feathers from time to time, especially when he has an audience.  That night’s spectators included my mother, whose buttons he likes to push even more than mine.  Right on cue, she harrumphed, “Oh, that’s ridiculous!”

“But it’s what I want,” he shrugged, as if he couldn’t help it.  For good measure, he played the sympathy card, “How many 50th birthdays does a guy get?”

I wasn’t taking the bait, “Since I can’t afford to rent Madison Square Garden, what’s your Plan B?”

“There is no Plan B.  This is what I want,” he persisted.

Mom had my back.  “Are you crazy?  I never heard of anything so silly.”

I patted her hand, “He’s just playing with us, Mom.”

“No, I’m not.  And I want it here.  In the house.”

Hubby say what?  In the house?  He bypassed all my lessor warning levels:

DEFCON Green: commenting on dirty dishes in the sink. 

DEFCON Yellow: suggesting I ask my friends for fashion tips.

DEFCON Red: critiquing my cooking.

With an extremist’s indifference to world peace or the preservation of human life, he nonchalantly pushed me to place my nuclear missiles on stand-by.  DEFCON White: Let’s throw a huge party in the house.

Let me explain.  I have a thing about over-stuffing our home with people, especially when booze is involved.  At the risk of sounding obnoxious (I’m just going to put it out there), I have some nice things – antique furnishings, hand-tufted rugs, pricey doodads.  These are things for which I overpaid, but had to have (you can’t put a dollar amount on love, my friends).  These treasures cannot be replaced and there’s nowhere to store them for safekeeping when we have company.

Hubby knows that I experience anxiety when we’re planning big gatherings.  In my defense, allow me to put things in perspective…

At one of our parties, I watched helplessly as a guest balanced a glass, of the reddest red wine, on the arm of my bright yellow, custom upholstered chair.  I nearly fainted.  I only remained upright because I knew the tremor I’d produce, by hitting the floor, would tip the glass.  On another occasion, while cleaning up (and I’ll stay up all night to clean after a party) I discovered that someone had dropped a huge glob of Ooey Gooey Pizza Dip on the dining room floor and tracked it all through the house.  I had to take a Valium.  Another time, somebody placed an opened gallon jug of milk in the refrigerator…on its side!  Who could have possibly thought that was a good idea?

After every bash, I’d begin my litany of rhetorical questions: Was everybody raised in a barn?!  Don’t people have any respect anymore?!  Can’t I have anything nice around here?!  Who’s pants are those hanging from the chandelier?!…

 Without the slightest trace of judgment, Hubby always offered the same matter-of-fact conclusion: “When people drink at parties, they don’t always realize what they’re doing.”  Swell.

So the prospect, of cramming everyone he’d ever met into our house, was more than I could bear.  I was certain an army of plastered revelers would trash the place beyond repair (even though I’d never met his pre-school crossing guard or the guy who sold him his last suit, and didn’t know if they drank).

Seeing the look on my face – something akin to I’m trying to be good-natured about this because it’s Christmas, and I don’t want to kill you in front of the children – he backpedalled a tiny bit, “We can put up a tent in the backyard.”

“Your birthday is in the winter,” I hissed.

“We’ll get those portable heaters,” there was hope in his voice.  “And they have those fancy outhouses that come on a truck and look like real bathrooms.”

He had done research, which meant he was 100% serious.  My systems were “go.”  BLAST-OFF!  “Well you can have your stupid party with everyone you ever met, except for one person!  I!  WILL NOT!  BE THERE!”

Mom dove in, “Why do you have to do this to her?  Do you know what they’ll do to this house?  Do you think this is funny? Who put you up to this?”

He shrugged again, unable to fathom what all the fuss was about, “It’s just what I want.  I am who I am today because of all the people I’ve encountered in my life.  We all touch each other’s lives…everyday…if only in a small way.  It shapes us.”

Now, it was my turn to take a step back.  This was a true statement.  He delivered it with such genuine heartfelt emotion.  So sweet.  So profound.  So ineffective in halting the hives blooming across my torso.

At this point, my sister threw in her two cents, my brothers were laughing and shaking their heads and probably making bets, my father (the smartest person in the room) left the table, my aunt was rolling her eyes and my nephew said he thought it would be awesome.  It was getting loud and heated.  Yet, no one from Hubby’s side of the family said a word.  Why?  Because he’d waited for them to go home before he mentioned this gem of an idea.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

The argument spilled over to breakfast the next morning, the following week, and well into the New Year.  The subject of “the party” would come up regularly.  To our friends and family, it was a running joke.  To me, it was a source of nasty fights and excess stomach acid.

After about 15 months, he finally wore me down.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  He could have his precious party, but with one caveat: it would not take place at the house, or anywhere near it.  He agreed.

So I began the fool’s errand of planning an impossible-to-plan event.  I went through Hubby’s old yearbooks, date books and calendars.  I asked his friends for leads.  I went to his favorite places and flashed his photograph, asking if anybody knew him.  I always used his bar mitzvah picture (secretly hoping no one would recognize the 13-year-old boy with the slicked down bangs and aviator eyeglasses). “Do you know this guy?” My question was consistently greeted with, “Why? What did he do?”

One day, something shifted in my thinking.  I had become so twisted by the whole idea that I’d overlooked a key detail…I was in the driver’s seat!  I was planning this party.  I would set the parameters.  This was going to make it a whole lot easier…

Rule #1: No ex-girlfriends.

Rule #2: If Hubby hadn’t mentioned a person in the past year, they were off the list.

Rule #3: I would limit the number of guests to 200.

Rule #4:  Every guest had to live within a 25-mile radius (I did not reveal Rules 1-4 to Hubby).

Rule #5:  I refused to invite our former landscaper, whom I fired for digging up my heirloom dahlias and hollyhocks, because he thought they were weeds.  A landscaper can’t tell the difference?  Do not even get me started!

“The party” was still a crazy idea, but it was becoming a lot more manageable.

With less than a week to go, I was running around town, finishing up last-minute errands.  My first stop was at the dry cleaner.  When I walked in, Mr. Kang avoided my gaze.  “What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’m really sorry, but I can’t make the party.  My wife says I can’t go to any parties without her.”

My plan was working.  The directive was to invite everyone Hubby had ever met.  Since he’d never met our dry cleaner’s wife, I could not invite her.  Bwahaha!  Evil, I know.

My next stop, the drugstore for wrapping paper.  As I approached the counter to pay, Stephanie P. (the checkout girl) apologized for having to cancel.  “I’m really sorry, but I can’t make the party.  I decided to start the Master Cleanse this weekend.”

In the land of lame excuses, I’ve noticed this one picking up steam recently, outranking “that’s my poker night” by a wide margin.  But I didn’t care.  The herd was thinning.

The service station was next on my list.  As I stepped from my car to gas ‘er up, the attendant, Mr. Aliakbalahar approached me.  He hung his head low and whispered, “I cannot come to the party.  And by the way, you misspelled my name on the invitation.”

And another one gone.  And another one gone.  Another one bites the dust!

At this point, you might think I’m sounding pretty horrible.  But the truth is, I’m no Warren Buffet and cannot afford to throw lavish parties for large sums of virtual strangers.  Also, how could Hubby possibly enjoy anyone’s company when surrounded by that many people?  Wouldn’t quantity cancel out quality?  Would his memories of his 50th be anything beyond a blur of unfamiliar faces?

So as my “fringe” guests started dropping like flies, I held hope that I could still throw a great shindig without breaking the bank or completely overwhelming the birthday boy.  And that’s exactly how it played out.

Instead of a room packed with people who touched his life by schmearing his bagel or rotating his tires, Hubby actually knew every one of the 60 attendees.  More importantly, everyone knew him.  Nobody felt obliged to be there, or showed up only for free pigs-in-a-blanket (classy, no?).  What did Hubby come to realize that night?  We were all there because we love him.  When all is said and done, isn’t that really the best present a guy could get on his 50th birthday?  Hubby thought so, too.