“The Christmas Set” is a poem I wrote several years ago. It still remains unpublished, and I may post it to Scribd if I can ever find a copy of it. (One of my Facebook friends actually thinks I keep my notebooks, papers, and manuscripts in logical order. How naïve is that?) I wrote it to describe the last Christmas my mother, father, and I spent together. This was in 1973, when I was 10.
I called it “The Christmas Set” because we were play-acting, and we were performing for an audience. Our family custom had been to open gifts on Christmas Eve, because on Christmas morning when I was eight, I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm and woke my parents at 4:30 a.m. to open presents.
The year of “The Christmas Set,” my parents had been at each other’s throats for most of the day, and this was so customary that I could usually pick up the latest issue of Mad, put a record (usually Dave Brubeck or the Beatles) on my mono phonograph, and retreat to my bedroom. When I was younger, the sound would terrify me, and I was come into the room, tearful and white-faced.
One of my gifts that year was a new cassette recorder, a Superscope with a condenser microphone. I was enthralled by this, because I did not know that you could record without having to hold a mike in your hand. When my parents finally laid off the high-volume bickering long enough for us to gather around the tree, the tape recorder was in a big box marked PAUL–OPEN THIS FIRST!! I did, and my mother’s plan was to christen it with a taped letter to her father (my grandfather) in Florida. So, once the tape was rolling, we were a page straight out of Norman Rockwell, laughing and joking as we opened presents, including the clay ashtray I made for my mother and the paperweight I made for my dad (a painted rock with a velvet pad glued to the underside). I remember getting three blank cassettes, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, the 1974 Information Please Almanac, and my first diary. Mother pleasantly talked about how we were going to the midnight service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Dad talked about how our paperboy’s Irish setter had chased me when we stopped by his house to deliver his gift, and I talked about the Christmas program at school. (We did not mention that when I came home from school, Mother was on her way to the hospital by ambulance after taking an overdose of pills with liquor.)
I knew the tape in the machine was only 30 minutes per side, but I never wanted it to end, because once someone pushed the STOP button, the happy family, and all the shalom bayit, would be gone like a soap bubble.
Tonight, I did more in the way of Christmas activities than I have since the shopping season began. (A caveat here: In my eyes, it is still Friday night, although my Emerson Research digital clock shows 2:34 a.m., Saturday morning, December 18. I haven’t been to bed, and it’s still dark outside, so it’s Friday night.) This was the end of school until after the first of the year, so Susie remained “sick” today, mainly because Dominion had early dismissal. After work, I took the bus up to Walgreen near Graceland Shopping Center so I could pick up a photo print I had ordered online. At Steph’s suggestion, I stopped in Dollar General and bought a three-foot artificial tree, a little taller than the scraggly little twig in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and brought it home. I know it doesn’t compare to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father going out in the Big Woods near Pepin, Wisconsin and felling the family tree.
We’re going to decorate it sometime tomorrow–when, I don’t know. I’m going to a Qabalistic Christmas Ritual tomorrow afternoon at the Masonic temple in Westerville with my friend Steve. (Once a typesetter, always a typesetter–I love spelling the word this way because it’s one of the few times I can use a Q without a U immediately after it.) Later in the evening, I may be going to a concert at The Dude Locker on Hudson St.
I can heave a sigh of relief and say the Christmas shopping is over and done with, and I did not have to dive into the mosh pit that began in the stores on Black Friday and will continue until well past midnight Christmas morning. After dinner, Steph and I exiled Susie to her bedroom, pulled up Amazon.com on Steph’s laptop, and bought Susie’s gifts online. They will be arriving from different places, and I hope that all of them are in our mailbox by Christmas Eve. If not, Susie will have something to look forward to in the days between Christmas and New Year’s. After Steph went upstairs, I went online and ordered her gift, and now I am crossing my fingers and hoping it arrives by the 24th. (When I worked at the Cincinnati post office, the December slogan was “We deliver for Yule.” I hope that’s still true. More importantly, I hope they deliver by Yule!)