In December 1991 Ray and I were spending our first Christmas living in our own place. It was a tiny studio apartment whose windows overlooked an alley behind a bar. I was in the middle of getting divorced. Ray had had a recent significant job change that was complicated by the involvement of one of his exes. So we were both broke and most of our personal property was at least temporarily in someone else’s custody.
His mom or his sister had given us a small artificial Christmas tree that had been boxed up in a garage for some time. Ray came up with a few old strings of Christmas lights somewhere. We had bought a single box of very cheap glass ball ornaments in multiple colors, and a similarly cheap tinsel star tree-topper with a cluster of lights. So we had the small tree perched on a chest of drawers. It’s the kind of first Christmas stories lots of couples tell. One of the things I really liked about that silly star treetopper is that it looked exactly like one my parents had bought when I was a baby, and had been my childhood treetopper until sometime in grade school when they replaced it with an angel.
One weekend a couple weeks before Christmas, we helped one of Ray’s friends, Miss Lee. She was an older woman that Ray had met when he had worked as a nursing aide a few years before. She had only recently moved from a nursing kind of facility to a sort of assisted living apartment. It was the first time in years that she had had more than a single room of her own, and she had recently gotten a bunch of her things that had been in storage at a relative’s house, including a box of Christmas ornaments. She had been told she could have a tree and that the maintenance staff would take care of disposing of cut trees after the holiday. So she needed someone with a car to take her to buy a tree, and then help her set it up.
Miss Lee lived in the south end of Seattle, not far from one location of the former Seattle institution known as Chubby and Tubby. Chubby and Tubby started as an army surplus store run out of a tin shed in the Rainier Valley neighborhood of Seattle by two friends after they came home from serving in WWII. They moved to a bigger location in Rainier Valley in the mid-50s, then opened at least two other stores (the one in north Seattle being the one I shopped at most often), before the owners passed away, then eventually their heirs sold the locations and closed down the stores in 2003. Chubby and Tubby was a strange store that’s really hard to describe. They sold blue jeans and tennis shoes and fishing poles and tools and gardening things and… well, just a whole lot of weird stuff. Always cheap.
And every December, each Chubby and Tubby store offered Christmas trees for sale, cheaper than you could find them anywhere else. In the 80s and 90s the price was alway $5 a tree, no matter what size. I’ve talked to people who remembered during the 70s when Chubby and Tubby trees were only $3. The owners sold the trees at a loss. They said they wanted to make sure that people who couldn’t afford a Christmas tree could have one. The trees were usually Douglas Firs, and they were… well, they were never very symmetrical. They were never as scraggly as the proverbial Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but they were always unique. I had purchased at least a couple of Chubby and Tubby trees in the years before this particular December. We hadn’t bought one ourselves that year in part because I didn’t think we’d be able to dispose of it easily afterward. Also, the loaned artificial tree was even cheaper.
Anyway, Miss Lee wanted a Chubby and Tubby tree, in part because she had fond memories of getting trees from Chubby and Tubby when she was younger, but also because you can’t beat the price. Before we’d gone to the store, we had untangled her strings of very old lights and determined that at least one of them was probably a fire hazard and shouldn’t be used. So she also hoped to find a cheap string of lights or two at Chubby and Tubby as well.
It was less than two weeks until Christmas, and Chubby and Tubby was absolutely packed. It took Miss Lee a while to pick out her tree, mostly because she wanted one small enough to fit in the spot she’d chosen in her living room. And then there were strings of lights and ornaments to look at. There was one particular string of Christmas lights that Ray was very taken with. A string of a couple dozen lights with plastic teddy bears wearing Santa hats. It was at Chubby and Tubby, so it was cheap, but even cheap was out of our own budget at the time. Miss Lee wanted something simpler, with multicolored lights for her own tree. She offered to buy Ray the string of Teddy Bears, but he told her very firmly no.
At each check-out line they had a bucket of odd little brass keys. There was a contest. Every customer could pick a key out of the bucket, and then try the key on this Treasure Chest at the front of the store. If the key opened the chest, you’d get a gift certificate good for certain items in the store. Miss Lee told Ray to pick a key and give it a try. The key he picked unlocked the chest. Ray asked her what she wanted to use the gift certificate for, and Miss Lee said, “It yours.”And yes, the string of Teddy Bear lights was one of the things he could redeem the gift certificate for. So we took home the string of teddy bear lights.
We got the tree back to her place, got it set up, helped her put her lights on the tree and hang her ornaments. She told us little stories about each ornament as she unwrapped them. It was a fun day.
When we got home that night, Ray hung up the teddy bear lights in the window over our bed. That silly string of teddy bear lights hung either in windows or on our tree every Christmas for the rest of Ray’s life. Ray died mid-November of 1997, not quite six years after that first Christmas living together.
For Christmas 1997 I barely did any decorating. Ray had only been dead a few weeks at the time we would normally start pulling decorations from the basement. I knew if I started unpacking our ornaments and such I’d break down sobbing and I wasn’t sure I would stop. I barely felt brave enough to open the storage closet in the basement to pull out one of the smaller artificial trees that I knew I could get to without opening other boxes. I decorated using some ornaments and a string of lights Ray had purchased on sale somewhere a week or so before he died, thus they were already upstairs and they didn’t have a history of Christmases with him.
In 1998, as I unpacked boxes of ornaments, I broke down crying several times. Ray had loved Christmas so much, and so many of the ornaments evoked memories of when he had found that particular decoration and showed it to me in the store. Or times he had fussed with where to hang it to best show it off, et cetera.
Yes, one of the times I broke down was when I pulled the teddy bear santa lights from one of the boxes. I hung them in the bedroom window that year. The next several years I put the teddy bear lights up. At least once on the tree, but usually in one of the windows. The last few years I’ve gotten them out and looked at them, debating whether I should put them up. They’re more than 20 years old. At some point old electronics, even something as simple as strings of mini lights, break down and/or become fire hazards. So I would plug them in, look them over, and some years I’d decide to put them back in the box. But most years I have still hung them up.
Our building, which was the last home Ray lived in and has been my home for a bit over 20 years, has been sold and the new owners want to do major renovations. They’ve given us advance notice that everyone’s going to be evicted sometime before 2017 year is over. So this was my last Christmas in the place that was Ray’s last home. I’ve been… moodier than usual this holiday.
I put the teddy bear lights in the kitchen window. Every evening they turned on and shown their silly light until the wee hours of the morning. I checked them frequently, but they never showed signs of problems.
But when I took them down out of the window, I noticed that several stretches of the wire are stiffer than other sections. The plastic doesn’t actually crack when you bend it in those locations, but clearly 20-some years of use is taking its toll.
While we were packing things and taking the tree down, I was looking at all of our decorations with a critical eye. If we have to move, it would be silly to move old ornaments and lights we know we’re never going to use again. I now have a couple of big boxes of old light strings and the like to recycle, and a big pile of other decorations that I think are in good enough shape to donate, if I can find a place that will take them.
And those teddy bear lights (or at least the string itself) shouldn’t be used again. No one wants the lights to start a fire some December in the future. So its time to says good-bye to Ray’s teddy bear lights. 25 Christmases later, they’ve earned a rest.
Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!
Fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness,
Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,
And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!
We need a rainbow Christmas now!
And if you’d like something a big less sassy:
Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow At Xmas (Live 2000)
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
(I know the resolution on that isn’t great, but I love the live performance with the live boys’ choir. If you want to see a more glossy production with dancing Christmas trees, click here.)
Which isn’t to say that the dinners haven’t been good and enjoyable. And as crowded as everything gets when we’re all crammed in at Mom’s small place, if we had more (shall we say) elaborate food, it would be even more difficult. It’s just that there is a part of me—primed by memories of epic childhood holiday dinners, plus a boatload of pop culture expectations, and memories of elaborate holiday dinners I’ve cooked as an adult—that keeps wanting it to be more. It’s emotional baggage, rather than any actual shortcoming of the event, right?
Which means that I have to spend a certain amount of time before the holiday psyching myself out to not be disappointed, and (perhaps more importantly) to not act as if I’m disappointed.
This year I’m responsible for the relish tray, a salad (specifically Mom wants me to make the salad my hubby dubbed Foofy Salad), and pies. All are things that are easy to transport and don’t need to be cooked or heated when we arrive. And it has the upside of leaving me certain that there will be pie. Later this weekend, we’ll be cooking a dinner with some of the traditional holiday dishes that we don’t get on the actual day.
Before I queue this up and finish packing, I want list some of the things I’m thankful for; if for no other reason to remind myself that there is still a lot of good in the world:
- my wonderful, handsome, sweet, smart, talented, and sexy husband
- people who love
- people who make art, stories, music, and other creative things
- radio and other wireless technology
- people who help other people
- my friends—wonderful, talented, nerdy, loving, and some of them nearly as crazy as me
- people who make things work
- my wonderful, talented, hard-working, handsome husband who inexplicably puts up with me (who absolutely deserves to be on this list more than once!)
- people who sweat the details
- people who don’t sweat the details
- my job
- satellites and space craft and telescopes
- my extended chosen family, which yes overlaps with several other times on this list (not just the third)
- technology that lets me carry my entire music library in my pocket, access the world’s libraries from the palm of my hand, read silly things people say halfway around the world, all while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store
- my family, yes even the most exasperating, because they’re part of what made me who I am, and I’m sure that I drive them just as crazy as they drive me
- people who clean up after disasters
- good food, drink, and opportunities to be merry
- my sexy husband who keeps me sane, fixes things I break, finds things I lose, and perhaps most importantly, inspires me to ignore my worst impulses and go high when others or the world goes low
Thank you, everyone who reads this. Whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope that you are surrounded by love. I hope your life contains more blessings than troubles. May you find joy, and may you know that you give others reason to be thankful.
Our plans for this evening are to do the usual handing out of candy while we watch some spooky movies. The movie plans are Young Frankenstein and The Three Stooges in Orbit. I usually pick out three movies, but Michael never stays awake for the third. And at midnight I’m supposed to start NaNoWriMo (even if I can’t stay up very far past midnight, since it is a work night), so we’ll probably stick with just the two. We’ll see. It’s not as if it’s very difficult to pick another movie out of the 970-or-so that my hubby has uploaded into our digital library from our vast disc collection…Because of the weirdness happening with our building being sold, we had been asked not to do some of the outdoor decorations that we usually do this time of year. This has had a dampening effect on my mood, so I haven’t even put the plastic light-up jack-o-lanterns in the windows, let alone any other decorations. I need to shake the funk soon–at least before Christmas decorating time!
I hope we get a few more trick-or-treaters than last year. I realize I’ll increase the odds if I manage to get at least some decorations up before sundown. I’m currently planning to slip out of the office early to make sure I’m home before then, so there is still hope. Some years we get a lot, but usually it’s a few handfuls. One of the problems is that a lot of other folks on our street don’t do the candy thing and/or their houses have no decorations so our whole block often looks gloomy and deserted.
Though truthfully, as long as we get more than we did the year a neighbor parked a huge U-Haul truck in front of our place and spent the evening trying to get moved out of their apartment (we got exactly one person – my godchild, who doesn’t live in the neighborhood, but would be brought to our place and to the homes of some relatives of their other godparent who lives nearby).
I love handing out the full size candy bars. And I love seeing kids in costumes. Especially the younger ones who get so, so excited when I kneel down and hold out the bowl packed with big candy bars! As my husband likes to say, “Fun size isn’t!”
Anyway, if you celebrate Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or the Day of the Dead, I hope that it is a great holiday for you. And if you’re feeling a little down, enjoy this clip from the Woodland Park Zoo of an otter and a jack-o-lantern:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I love America. I have a favorite Founding Father (and I can go on at great length about why he’s my favorite), and I have a second favorite (and I can go on at equally great length as to why he’s my second favorite and why I understand that a lot of people prefer him over my fave). I can quote whole sections of the Constitution from memory. I get irritated at people who leave their U.S. flags out in the rain or fly them at night without illumination. I get teary eyed when patriotic music plays. I believe, even though many of the men who signed the document didn’t, that the Declaration of Independence was right when it said that we are all created equal (though I really wish it said people instead of men). I believe that America’s ideals are great, and wonderful, and visionary, and worth fighting for.
But I’m also painfully and personally aware that neither our laws, nor our society, nor most of our institutions live up to those ideals. America has seldom been great if you were not a cis white heterosexual male—preferably protestant (or let’s be honest, with a veneer of being a protestant Christian). If you were lucky enough to fall into that privileged category as a child, or the next best thing, to be the child of such a person and therefore protected by their umbrella of privilege, yes, America seemed really cool when you were younger.
Part of that was all that privilege, but another part was that most real world problems weren’t yours to worry about. Your parents were responsible for keeping a roof over your head and food on the table. If your family wasn’t poor, you spent at least part of your childhood completely unaware of most of the downsides of the world. Similarly if you were lucky enough to have loving, non-abusive parents. So of course life seemed simpler then. It wasn’t any simpler. Violent crime rates were actually much higher (because they have been steadily decreasing for decades), for instance. A lot of diseases we have treatments or even cures for now were completely untreatable. If you weren’t white, male, or straight, the law denied you all sorts of rights many take for granted, and often actually criminalized your existence.
And it’s not as if things are perfect and enlightened now: Millions of Americans Have Nothing to Celebrate on the Fourth of JulyI mention America’s flaws not because I hate America, but because I love it and wish that we would live up to our ideals. As Elie Wiesel (the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died Saturday) said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
No one who calls themselves an American patriot should sit in silence while injustice, racism, sectarianism, homophobia, or misogyny are being perpetrated in our name. James Madison (called Father of the Constitution, though he preferred to be remembered for authoring the original Bill of Rights) warns us, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
It is our silence and indifference that erodes the promise of liberty. It isn’t the immigrant (besides, unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors are immigrants), it isn’t the person who adheres to a different faith than you, or to no faith. It isn’t the lesbian couple trying to buy a wedding cake. It isn’t the trans person wishing to use a public bathroom. It isn’t the African-American mother demanding justice for her 12-year-old gunned down in a playground by police. It isn’t people asking to close some of the loopholes in background checks before guns are purchases. It isn’t the Jewish person asking that we not have a manger scene in city hall. It isn’t the recent immigrant working two jobs and trying to fit in English as a Second Language class while getting their kids through school.
None of those people or events are what has made America anything less than great.
It’s people who call themselves “patriot” who blames any of those other people. It’s the people who call themselves “patriot” and lecture people on line about racism while their own user name is literally a vile racial slur. It’s the people who call themselves “patriot” who sits silents while others denounce people because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, sexual identity, et cetera.
Judging others for being different and denying them the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not American—love, acceptance, and helping our neighbors is.
We Are America featuring John Cena | Love Has No Labels:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
But especially because of those racist reasons that have prevented a Federal holiday recognizing Lincoln, I think it’s important to remember that this holiday is not Presidents’ Day, unless you’re in one of the 10 states that have a state holiday this day which is called President’s Day (my state isn’t one of them). Five states still recognize a state holiday for Lincoln (Illinois, California, Connecticut, Missouri, and New York), though schools and state offices often remain open on that day.
And don’t get me started on the fact that because Washington’s Birthday Observance happens on the third Monday of February, George’s actual birthday, February 22, never lands on his Federal holiday. For shame!
“For those alone today, I didn’t find my one until I was 30. She was 50. There’s no ticking clock on finding the right partner.”
I’ll just add that there are many kinds of love. That you can love and be loved without being in a relationship. That you can find love and be loved by more than one person. That a lot of love is discarded or missed by some people because they assume that the relationship escalator is true and that all relationships have to ride that thing to the exact same destination.
And don’t believe the myth that you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself. Sometimes, it works the other way around. Sometimes, letting someone you love into your life is what helps you find the lovable in yourself. Love isn’t always symmetrical and mutual. And it doesn’t have to be.
We’re celebrating a friend’s birthday with a group of mutual friends today. Because love is love.
“Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.”
…which most people think is a Christmas song, but was originally simply a traditional song, and was more likely to be sung at Easter and Lent than Christmas.
Today is also Boxing Day, a confusing holiday for many, including the country of its origin. It used to be a day for wealthy people to give boxes of clothes and such to their servants. Don’t confuse it with the modern concept of a gift, though—the clothes in question where those that had belonged to and been worn by the employers. The servants didn’t necessarily keep the clothes themselves, but rather turned around and sold them. Before cheap mass manufacture of clothing became the norm, clothing was handmade and if you weren’t well off you couldn’t afford new clothes. You purchased hand-me-downs. And the custom of giving cast-off clothing to servants became so entrenched that it was virtually a contractural obligation.
I do like the description of the modern observance I’ve seen of, “You spent Boxing Day at the pub celebrating with your friends because you spent Christmas with the family.” My Boxing Day is going to include driving to another town to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens a second time with a different set of friends. So I guess that counts.
Yesterday I did more-or-less my usual weekly collection of links: Friday Links (Ho! Ho! Ho! edition), and as usual after the post had gone up, I came across a few more interesting stories that either relate to things I posted yesterday, or it doesn’t make much sense to wait until next week to link to them, such as Cards Against Humanity Just Blew Everyone Away With This Open Letter. Wow. Paid time off is something that lots of people in the world never get, even in the alleged wealthiest nation on the planet. It would be nice if more people who have the resources thought about that. It’s nice to see someone at least trying to set an example.
Over the course of several editions of Friday Links I’ve posted a couple of stories about some of the Gay rights organizations that have closed down their operations or re-tooled during the last year. There have been a lot of others. It makes sense, just as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell five years ago made the mission of organizations that were focused solely on allowing gay and lesbian military personnel obsolete, the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has left those groups whose only missions was marriage equality redundant. A lot of people have lamented these closures, correctly pointing out that there is still a lot of inequality in the laws, and plenty of legal and cultural battles to fight, yet. While it is true that part of the reason for the closures is that most of their donors figure the fight is won, so why donate, that isn’t all that’s happening: Gay Groups Are Not Shutting Down, They Are Clearing the Way for the New LGBT Agenda.
That headline is a bit misleading on two counts. First, yes, several specific organizations are literally shutting down. I get that what the author means is that most of the people involved are moving on to different groups to focus on the next steps in the fight. The other inaccuracy, IMHO, is that idea of the next steps being a new agenda. Maybe the specific battles seem new and different, but the agenda has been for a long, long time quite simply: full equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, et cetera, and nothing less. Marriage equality was a significant step because of the thousands (literally) of legal rights that our society ties to marriage (with no other way to obtain those legal protections), as well as the cultural step of recognizing that queers do love, their love matters, and it is the same love non-queers experience. But it was merely another step toward that goal of full equality. And there is still a way to go, including the simple step of securing the right to marry (and everything it entails) against the attempts to limit that right or take it away outright.
The battle isn’t even really new. As Alvin McEwan has pointed out several times, the lies and the tactics used against us have been the same for decades (at least), they just get tweaked and repackaged as social attitudes shift.
Enough about that! Today is also the third day of Christmas. Though most people think that Christmas is all over, so if I don’t want to wait eleven months to get this two things in, now’s my last chance: The Real Attack on the Spirit of Christmas — 2015. It’s the people who scream mostly loudly about the War on Christmas who are actually trampling all over the religious teachings of the man who they claim is the reason for the season. And: Hank at Vlogbrothers talks about why Christmas (and the Holiday Giving Season) often come under such significant fire (from apparently all sides).
Finally, the band Radiohead has given everyone on interesting seasonal gift: Last year we were asked to write a theme tune for the Bond movie Spectre. Yes we were. It didn’t work out, but became something of our own, which we love very much. As the year closes we thought you might like to hear it. Merry Christmas. May the force be with you. I’ve embedded it below. If that doesn’t work, click the previous link to go to their Bandcamp page and give it a listen.
Happy Boxing Day! May the Force be with us, every one!
Happy Christmas! Blessed Yul! Happy Hogswatch! Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!
…and bless us, every one!
(And don’t forget to check out Friday Links (Ho! Ho! Ho! edition).)