My family is bananas about Christmas.

It started, I think, with my Grandpa. In the old Super-8 movies, there are elaborate sets around the christmas tree. Each year, he would spend weeks building faux Santa’s Villages or North Pole cardboard stand-ups. Then he would spend Christmas Eve putting them up and filming them with his camera. Grandpa Ralph* was a graphic designer–so these were no joke, yo.

They had six kids and my grandpa worked to make Christmas a magical time for them. He had a little Santa in his heart and my mom inherited that in spades. When I was a kid, there was always Christmas carols blasting year-round and christmas itself was super fun. My mom always baked tons of cookies and we got to frost them. We made ornaments together and we always had a blast putting up the Nativity Scene (which my brother called “the Bethlehem barn”. We weren’t very religious.)

The thing about Christmas for me is that it is about family coming together. It’s about seeing how much the kids have grown (we’re a huge Irish Catholic family–so there are always a million kids running around) and eating someone’s overly-cooked turkey. It’s about the transition from the “kid table” and reminiscing with my cousins about the good old days when we would make a “play” for my aunts and uncles and perform for them between dinner and presents.

It’s also about my sister’s kids now. She has three and I plan to spend as much time with them over the holidays as possible.

*We never called him that. It’s weird for me to write that–we always called my grandparents Grandma and Grandpa Bowling, a nickname I made up when I was 2 because I couldn’t remember their last name and my Grandma loved to bowl. Apparently, I decided that their names were Grandma Bowling and Grandpa Golf, but for some reason only the bowling part stuck. It was always weird for me to hear my cousins call them Grandma Jeanne and Grandpa Ralph.

Anyway, years ago (it’s actually dated September 30, 1997–A little more than a decade ago) I wrote a great story about my grandpa and holidays and my family. I had to dig through about five journals to find it. When I did, I remembered that the journal in question got rained on at the Michigan Women’s Music Fest about five years back–so I would have had to recreate some of it–it blurred a lot. This is a pity, because it’s a nice little story, but I can’t read it enough to share. (I started typing it up but I had to stop because I couldn’t read enough of it to write it all down).

Then I remembered that I transcribed this story into a poem. I just went looking for that, too. I found a ton of great work I’ve done over the last ten years, but no family Christmas poem.

So, (is the anticipation killing you?) here’s a recreation of the best that I can remember. I feel a little sheepish about it (does revealing this ruin my edge?) But I like it enough to share.

The bulb pops on
and the hot lamp
floods the doorframe
lighting it with
yellow and white
like blazing desert.

I can feel the temperature
rise and the doorframe
starts to smell like
cooking wood
as I stand,
cool in the kitchen,
black coffee in hand.

I am grown up now
you see, too hip
for excitement over
little things like
Christmas morning.
I take my coffee, black
like my Dad. We are
colleagues in morning
beverages. I feel
sophisticated in this
twin ritual.

I blow on the coffee
and stare at
my little brother
who dances around
wiggly with excitement.

“CAL FIRST!” Mom yells
from behind the lens
in the next room.

He tears out
of the kitchen
and down the three steps
to the living room.

I can hear his muffled
cries over the whir of
the camera. “Just what
I always wanted!”
he yelps.

My sister is next;
we go youngest to oldest.
As the oldest, it is
my job to hold down
the fort in the kitchen
being so adult
at 16.

She strides out
slowly, she knows
despite my cool
that this will annoy me.
She knows I am
just as excited as my
little brother. Hidden
behind veneer of hip.

My mom finally
yells for me to come
down. I slink out,
thick ceramic mug
in hand. I sit on the couch
the light is blinding.

We open presents
again, youngest to oldest.
I sit on the couch
patiently. My dad
sits on his chair,
feet on the ottoman.
We are twinning again
raising mugs to lips
silently surveying the scene.

I ape him and
put my feet on
the coffeetable,
knocking the Nativity
slightly. My brother
calls this the
Bethlehem Barn
and the head of one
of the Wise Men
rolls down by my big toe.

Chuckling, I replace it.
It’s been glued so
many times, it’s crusty
and the plasticky crust
holds head to body.

The light of the tree
glows romantically
as my sister and brother
open presents, the fire
in the fireplace crackles
and carols hum in the
background and me, cool
thinks, “This is what it’s about.”

Family together
and moments of peace
on earth and joy
captured on Super-8
to last throughout the
years.

JT, 36, Chicago, USA 

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