Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past


My mum embodied the Spirit of Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday, and she made every one of my childhood Christmas’ as merry and bright as she could.

She’d grown up in the depression – she knew Christmas wasn’t about money. When times were tough, she’d tell us it would be a “Hoodoo McFiggin” year – that meant the only presents would be things she had to buy us anyway, just to keep us clothed and fed – underwear, socks, boots. Presents were lGrinch xmas means a little moreovely, but some years, presents could wait. Christmas was about gathering with family, and sharing what we did have, and what we had to spare was love.

She just had so damn much joy and childlike belief in the season that it all came naturally through her to us … the breathless lead up that began months before, when she’d start asking my sister and I what we were going to ask to receive from Santa, and the admonition that we must be very sure of what we’d tell the Big Man when the day came … this was serious business! We were to name only one important item we really, really wanted. If there were other gifts, they would be of Santa’s choosing. We’d spend hours arguing over what toys were best, what we really wanted, and we’d change our minds a zillion times before our visit to Santa’s Kingdom.

cindy lou whoNor were the needs of others to be forgotten. We’d be given a small amount of money, and a list of those we needed to delight with thoughtful gifts. It’s extraordinary how far $5.00 could go back in the sixties. We would have been mortified to not have a gift to give to any of the family who had brought a gift for us. Some years would find us digging through our own stash of precious things, in order to find something we could wrap quickly and present to an unexpected guest.

In the run up to the Day itself, we’d drag out the boxes of carefully packaged ornaments that Mum had collected through the years. She’d linger over the battered aluminum stars made from pie plates, reminding me that she and I had made those together, one year when I was very young, and recovering from the mumps. She’d carefully unwrap the fragile glass ornaments she’d had since she and dad first married, each colourful globe a warm memory. soap bubble ornamentAnd she’d always linger over a set of orbs, some round, some tear-shaped, so transparent they reflected rainbows, so precious and delicate, “they’re like soap bubbles , Roxanne! Aren’t they beautiful?!”   

We had to have a real tree. She felt there was no point in having a tree if it didn’t come with that delicious smell, and the scratchy feel of pine needles under foot. The tree would find a place of honour in the dining room, and strict instructions about its care and watering were delivered. After the tree was set into the metal holder, she’d draw a bright red and sparkly cloth gently around the base, and then add puffs of ‘angel hair’ to make the tree look like it was floating on a cloud.

xmas tree old timeyShe’d drape the tree’s branches with long strands of tiny glass beads, the beads a little more worn every year, but shining nonetheless. The box of tinsel was precious too; after Christmas we’d gather as many of the used strands as we could and save them for the following year. We had two special toppers for the tree – one, a paper plate collage of an angel adorned with cotton batting that I’d made in first grade, the other , a plastic doll dressed as an angel, it’s halo tipped jauntily to the left, a scratch of pen ink faintly visible on it’s cheek.

Christmas songs would be playing on the little record player, and we’d all sing along as we decorated. Jodi and I liked to make up new and naughty words to some of the classics, just to make mum laugh, before she’d chide us to “Behave! Santa hears and sees everything you do!”

Once the tree was up and decorated, we went into a two week hiatus, where the other 50 weeks of naughtiness were replaced by determined niceness. We’d wait brearankin bass productionsthlessly for the Christmas specials to appear on the TV; without video or DVD, you had to be home to see “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or one of the other animated delights, most of which seemed to be Rankin Bass productions.

As my sister and I got older, we began to appreciate more adult offerings; Jodi loved “It’s A Wonderful Life.” My favorite was “Holiday Inn,” with the moment I waited for being when the heroine posed in silhouette against a giant red paper heart, before dancing through it … and breaking poor old Bing Crosby’s heart.

 

 

And of course no Christmas was complete without the scary, but ultimately uplifting, black and white classic … Alastair Sim in “A Christmas Carol.” God bless us, everyone!christmas-carol-1951

There was also one special box that contained nothing but photos, recipes, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and a few very treasured books. Our favourite to read and to have read to us was Erwin L. Hess’ Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past,” a large full coloured collection of holiday poems, stories, artwork and photos, from 1961.

xmas and snowbound n the treasured past

We remember our best Christmas.  A flashback appears and this favourite Christmas plays on a very special screen in a picture of color, and we see the scenes we remember so well.  Immediately our story we’ll begin to tell…It snowed early that year.  In those days the holiday spirit was in the air with the first fall of snow.  Sleigh bells jingled and that meant Christmas was near!” 

We loved that book; it epitomized an ideal Christmas, one that we’d never had, nor likely ever would. But it held a promise, so much so that the phrase, “Christmas and snowbound in the treasured past” became our family code for how we imagined paradise to be.

First_Snow Jay MaiselWere winters colder then? Not always … one memorable Montreal Christmas Eve, the family toddled off to church in summer dresses and sandals, only to emerge into a starlit night made brighter by soft, fat flakes of snow gently falling onto the sidewalks. But that was an aberration; most Christmas Eves were ‘see your breath’ cold, brightened by our new knit hats and mittens that Gram had made to keep us warm.

Cold, colder and coldest was more often the weather on Christmas day. During my teen years, the habit was to gather at one of the uncles’ house to carve the roast beast. The best parties were at Uncle John’s big house in Chambly, as there was plenty of room for the kids to play, and even a special room where we could have our own holiday meal, manners and decorum cast aside, while the adults ate, smoked, clinked glasses and laughed about adult matters. We felt a little sorry for them – they didn’t even get to watch TV while they ate!  50s kids watcing tv

No matter where the party was held, in time the celebrations would wind down, and we’d gather our outdoor clothing, say goodbye to the umpteen cousins, and kiss all the ‘grumps,’ (grown ups) before piling into the car for the long ride home, across snowy roads and an ice-laced Pont Cartier, and then along Sherbrooke Street for miles, our bellies full and heads nodding, and inevitably slipping into sleep just before the car drew into the driveway. If we were small enough, we’d even get carried to our beds, where our new pjs and slippers awaited us.

It was a very different time, and, as with every generation that comes along, we were creating our own version of what Christmas should look and feel like. My mother’s memories were precious, but no more precious than the one’s she created for my sister and me.

Times change, and families are usually smaller than they used to be, and often times, a great deal more complicated. The name we give to that wonderful time of year when we get together to eat and sing and laugh and pray may be Christmas, or Hanukkah, Kwanza, Ramadan, or even Festivus. Heck, call it “Christmahanakwanzika“ if you want to.

What we call the holiday doesn’t matter – what matters is that we take the time to find that small, still place in our hearts, where peace and goodwill live. We gather with our families and friends to join our hearts and hands, to share what we have, and to give thanks that we … together … made it through another year, and are ready to enter another year, whatever it may bring … together.

coexist xmas

 

 

Hoodoo McFiggin’s Christmas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZm0WoTl1wU

 

(first published Dec, 2015: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/roxanne-tellier-christmas-and-snowbound-in-the-treasured-past/)

 

You Can Choose


There are so many things in life that we can’t control – the luck of when and where we’re born, and to whom, for instance. In life, there will be happy surprises and tragic accidents; transcendent moments and unexpected betrayals; passion and loss. That’s just how life works, in all its great beauty, heights and depths. Some stuff you get to decide – some you don’t.

One thing is certain – you’ll never know what might have been if you hadn’t been born you.

Onism – n. “the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die-and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.”

We are born narcissists, and that’s what knocks us back when key moments occur without warning. We live under the illusion that we are in control of our lives; fate knows better. Even the most meticulously planned course of events can take a left turn, and topple us into joy or despair, forcing our emotions to run the gamut. The world keeps turning, the pieces of the planet’s puzzle drop into place, and that’s just the way it is. No choice but to deal with what we’ve encountered, but much choice in how we handle our feelings. 

path of rosesWhat gets strewn along your path as you navigate the years may surprise you. Spoiler alert … it’s not all gonna be roses. Roses need manure to flourish, so expect a lot of horse shit on that path.

Everything’s relative. Perception is reality. You may think your life is horrible, but to someone with even less of what they need, you probably look like you’ve got it made. What we choose to value says a great deal about character. If your house was on fire, what would you choose to save? What makes you get up in the morning and begin another day? Depending on how you see your life, you can feel gratitude for what you have, or feel chronically and spitefully short changed.

Lachesism: “Longing for the clarity of disaster, the desire for revelation.

There will always be tides in life, times when you feel alone, and wonder if the blackness around you is all there really is. You won’t know if you can take any more, and you’ll wonder why you should bother to even try. But the truth is, when life is tough, you can cave, or you can triumph. You can struggle on alone, or you can reach out to accept help, and to offer others help. Your choice.

We can overcome our infantile narcissism, but it takes insight. To ‘sonder,’ means to realize that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. Yes, you are the star of your own inner movie, but everyone else is also living their own epic. And what you do impacts upon everyone around you, whether they play a major or minor role in your blockbuster.

Once you’ve understood that all whom you encounter have as much weight and importance as you do in the universe, it takes a concerted effort to dismiss how your own behaviour changes their realities. The way you approach your emotions will have consequence. Your choice to be optimistic or pessimistic, to be altruistic or self-centered, will color the worlds of those around you, and by extension, everyone those people interact with, and so on, ad infinitum.

It’s ironic; to be truly aware of one’s own importance in the universe is to understand that everyone else is just as important.

Scary, eh? Most of us never realize the full magnitude of our actions, and unfortunately, some who do dream of using those very repercussions to achieve dominance. Again … a choice.

can't photoshop uglyWe’ve all known people who have captured our attention through their strong personalities. We call some ‘Suzy Sunshines,’ and others ‘Debi Downers.’ It has little to do with how they appear on the surface, though years of channelling strong emotion and inner convictions will eventually shape our physical forms.

Some intuitively understand the power of personality. We call those people celebrities, or movie stars, or politicians.

But for most of us, it’s the little ways we operate that matter. It’s easy to urge others to join in celebration, but much harder to open oneself to mourning. And yet both of these circumstances will alter the people around you, however subtly.

Kenopsia, n. “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.”

It’s important to work through that emotional gamut of joy or grief; to feel is to heal. Denial, anger, despair, rage, numbness, isolation, desperation – we need to know how they feel to know when the hurting stops. But we also have to know when to stop allowing these emotions to control us, and by extension, those around us who love us, but who have psyches of their own to protect.

Getting outside our own immediate impulses may be difficult, but it’s also a chance to understand the difference between the savage and the civilized mind. Our natural inclinations lean to a need for comfort and the attainment of our own immediate gratification of physical needs; civilization imposes the strictures necessary for all within a society to live peaceably. Civilization involves rising above the knee jerking of base impulses to a sober rethinking of how our primal reactions of rage or revenge to events beyond our control will eventually destroy the fabric that holds each society together.

When we hurt, when we’re tired, it’s so very hard to work towards a nobler self. We ask ourselves is it worth it? Is it even possible to take the high road? Or is it already too late?

… you can choose.

 

first published Dec 6/2015: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/roxanne-tellier-you-can-choose/

Is It Foolish To Be Positive In A Cynical World?


I haven’t written much lately, and there’s a reason for that; I’m deeply saddened and disappointed by much of recent human behaviour, and I’m fighting against becoming cynical.

To be inspired to write, to communicate your thoughts and beliefs, is to be aware of the world around you. Everything is grist for the writing mill, whether good or bad. You “write what you know.”

main stream media owned by 6 corpsWhat are the messages we are receiving, from mainstream media, from social media, from our friends? What are we processing and regurgitating, aloud, in print or digitally? Are we absorbing the constant bombardment of information, filtering it through our own belief systems, and coming up with something that makes sense, or are we just letting it wash over us, as all too much to contend with?

In the face of injustice, as in blatant racism, or as in how those with money and power are treated differently to those without, many rush to justify what is clearly morally wrong. Unable or unwilling to actually parse the injustice, they make excuses, pushing aside their own moral concerns to side with the abuser rather than the abused. In time, that constant re-working of what goes against their own inner morality leaves them unable to clearly delineate right from wrong – every issue becomes subject to exceptions. Actual scientific facts become ‘unproven.’ “War is peace. Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.” (1984, George Orwell)

Our cultural heroes are no longer men and women of strong moral character, willing to sacrifice for causes to improve mankind. Rather, we put pop stars and billionaires on pedestals, and worship their most banal efforts as triumphs. And, befitting this shallow mindset, we first build up these ordinary people, and then we tear them down, mercilessly.

candycrowleyfatshamingThe ‘mean girl’ caricature, once parodied and satirized, is now considered normal behaviour for many with little themselves to offer, beyond snide disapproval or belligerent tirades. Those who, through luck or machinations, are in positions where they could actually improve the lives of their fellow man, instead choose to belittle those who already have very little.

“Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls would scarcely get your feet wet.”

99 want peaceLately this rush to demolish what took centuries of effort and sacrifice to create – a modern civilization with dreams of equality and peace – seems to have accelerated beyond all control. It’s difficult to remain positive and to continue to believe in the fundamental goodness of the human race.

And the irony of those attempting to pull down the pillars of society lies in the truth that they have no concrete plan for a new form of society beyond their only motivation; power, and to impose absolute control over everyone else’s lives.

I do believe in mankind. I also believe that we are at a turning point, a time when it’s still possible to turn the ship around, and get back on the right course. For civilization to move forward, we need to stop believing that social, political and religious differences should be met with intolerance. And we must demand of the people we have put into power that they work for the people, not against the people.  radical belief