This sabbatical year is nearly over with just one more holiday ahead. I call it that because we are taking a year off from many events and practices that we do as part of our normal routines. I, like …
This sabbatical year is nearly over with just one more holiday ahead. I call it that because we are taking a year off from many events and practices that we do as part of our normal routines. I, like so many others, struggle to find balance in this time of pandemic, knowing I have so much to be thankful for as others are going without. I reflect deeper and many times need to draw on my sense of humor and pleasant memories to cope.
One fabulous thing about it being a sabbatical year and being isolated, is that I am FREE from answering the standard question that I generally get asked this time of year because my birthday is December 24. “Did you always get gypped out of presents with a birthday at Christmas?” Then I generally sigh and answer, “No, I got my birthday gifts in the morning and opened Christmas gifts that night.” While growing up, it never rested well with me that so many people would assume getting gypped out of gifts was the norm! “What cheapskate would do that to their kid?,” I thought. I figure just because my parents had a wee babe at Christmas does not excuse them from doing some financial planning and stepping up to the plate with that extra load at the holiday.... “Come on mom and dad, let justice prevail!”
All of my Christmas memories do not revolve around being a selfish daddy’s girl. We three kids did learn the true Christmas message in Methodist Church Sunday School back in Hoyt Lakes. Although my parents were not church-goers, we kids had to go to Sunday School.
This never made any sense to me...why would they care? I pondered it for years, then I found out from mom when she was eighty-one, and her “starched-walls-of-appropriateness” had cracks and holes in them, that Sunday was their “sex-day,” so they needed us out of the house.
I can now look back and thank the universe for sex drive, and them pushing me out the door for Sunday School. It was where I first learned about the Biblical message and appreciation for Christmas music. Sunday School was held in the church basement with all the kids gathered tightly around the light blue painted piano singing carols and hymns. The edges and corners of this key piece of my music foundation were nearly rounded under the many coats of paint.
While holiday parties, concerts, fairs and tavern get-togethers are on the back burner this year, I have more time now to steep myself in Christmas reflection. I haven’t had the amount of time or undistracted self-space to do this in quite some time because I either had a spouse, kids, or many social events to attend to. Living alone with my three cats, we enjoy holiday music of every kind...nearly every day. The house is decorated inside and out. I put up two Christmas trees and nearly every night sit in the silent darkness with my glasses off, hugging a cat, relaxing and admiring the blurry tree lights. It’s a new thing for me to behave like this...and I question if all my faculties are still in order? Maybe I question simply being able to finally allow myself to slow down. Stop and smell the balsams!
I have artificial Christmas trees now, but remember my younger brother Kurt and I going out into the woods every year to cut down a real tree for my bedroom. One year we were gone so long that my mother was angry because she thought we froze to death in the woods somewhere. As she was scolding us from back in the kitchen we were both shoving this balsam tree through the front door, carrying it quick through one end of the living room, scratching the painted doorways as we heaved it around the corner and down the hall into my bedroom. Now that was stressful, but it was worth it and Mother never noticed any scratches, or if she did, we did not heard about it.
My grandparents, who lived in International Falls, would usually drive down and spend Thanksgiving day with us. They would bring a box of wrapped Christmas presents that my mother would take upstairs and place in the attic for a few weeks. This “set-up” for failure by my mother became my largest annual downfall of will power. I would last about two weeks, then sneak upstairs, find the gift and like a highly skilled surgeon begin the dissection. With pinkie fingers extended and eyebrows tense and arched like the Blatnik Bridge, I very carefully lifted the tape so that I could see the box inside, as those first waves of guilt wooshed over me...but I kept going. Consequences of getting caught were not grave. The tsunami of guilt hit when I’d opened the box to reveal its insides, repacked and rewrapped, it was slinking back downstairs to join my honorable family members not involved in covert yuletide activities. Delaying gratification has never been my strongest suit.
Grandma’s gifts were often a disappointment anyhow, and I never remember anything worth breaking the law over. The phrase, “It’s the thought that counts,” isn’t easily digested when you’re a kid. One year during these covert activities, the vandalized gift revealed a stretchy, royal blue, white-dotted body suit with a snap crotch. “Oh no, I thought” ...high maintenance peeing ahead...fighting with snaps meant less time at lunch with my boyfriend! “Oh man, and who wore royal blue? A size medium?” I made the best of it with my arms looking like big “draft-blockers” mom tucked on the floor next to the back door! The year prior had been perfume in a glass bottle shaped like a clunky old boot. Another year I was gifted a hat she had knit that was the color of runny-baby-endings with shiny sew-on metallic disks adorning it. Really, was it the thought that counted? Perfume excluded, the embarrassment of wearing stuff like that to school was really rough. With those gifts adding to humorous memories, grandmother also left us lovely knit afghans, needlework pieces and fancy beaded Christmas tree ornaments we admire to this day.
Like most families, we have a silly streak..or rather...a silly swath and have always enjoyed doing gag gifts. One year, in my mid-twenties, I started crocheting a pair of white slippers for my sis-in-law. I had nearly completed one of the bottom soles when boredom, followed by the silly-swath, hit me and I decided to take the project in an alternate direction. The slipper sole looked like a pantiliner. I dashed into the bathroom, emptied a box of Lightdays Pantiliners to get the box, and went full steam ahead with my idea. After attaching a rough black Velcro strip all the way down one side and placing it in the box, I had created a “painfully” hysterical gag gift for sis.... Tightdays, the first crocheted pantiliner with Velcro attachment strip....now washable. When sis took it out of the box we gals doubled over in laughter. Even mom chuckled through somewhat pursed lips. The guys...not so much, but you’ll have that with guys. It’s not their situation. We still re-gift it every few years just for the laugh. A family classic.
One fall I drove up to Russ’s Junk Store, north of Nashwauk and found a set of ceramic raging bulls quietly biding their time on the dusty shelf. They had been somebody’s treasure from ceramics class back in the 1970s no doubt, and ended up in the junk store up in the woods, waiting to get back in the game. They were unrealistic and gaudy, having been painted in a blaze orange crackle glaze with explosions of gold and dark brown that was popular then. My younger brother was thrilled when he opened the package. His raging bulls were conversation pieces for years and sat on his coffee table.....bottom shelf.
I have found much enjoyment and unharnessed plenty of creativity during this sabbatical year. Through life’s hardships, I have become skilled at drawing on cherished memories and invoking humor in the everyday activities. There are still the few family members and co-workers I gather with, and always hope for the best in health for ALL as we venture into 2021. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!